On July 2, 2019, I had the privilege of sitting down with John Hostetler, one of the longest serving MCC staff members, for an interview in the MCC U.S. Archive Library in Akron, Pa. All quotes are from John.
John Hostetler is 94 years old and an MCC alumnus who likes to read, watch college basketball and go on walks each evening to watch the beautiful sunsets.
He has an apartment in Fairmount Community Center near Ephrata, Pa., and, according to him, gets his own meals together thanks to his microwave. He’s attended Akron Mennonite Church since it started in 1959, when it met in the Brownstown Firehall.
During the interview, John sported a red gray flannel and blue jeans along with a gray Phillies hat with a purple bill. But when asked if he was a Phillies fan, he tossed the hat onto the table.
“I’m not a Phillies fan. I like them, I’m not against them,” he says. “I prefer Cleveland and Cincinnati of course. I’m an Ohio boy at heart.”
John was born on July 29, 1925, on a farm in Ohio to Uriel and Clara Hostetler, growing up with two sisters Mary Lou and Carol. He worked on the farm with his father, where he enjoyed milking and taking care of their ten Holstein cows. He continued his work on the farm throughout his schooling, until, as a 19-year-old in 1944, he was drafted to serve for the U.S. in World War II.
Being Mennonite, John couldn't serve in the military and stay true to his faith at the same time. So instead of taking up arms, he opted to join Civilian Public Service (CPS).
Being Mennonite, John couldn’t serve in the military and stay true to his faith at the same time. So instead of taking up arms, he opted to join Civilian Public Service (CPS). CPS was an alternative service program during WWII administered by MCC and supported by historic peace churches. The program was for conscientious objectors unwilling to serve in the military.
He started with CPS in mid-July of 1944 at Sideling Hill Camp, in Wells Tannery, Pa. While there, he and other CPSers landscaped for the purpose of later planting trees on the turnpike banks near the camp. After six weeks of work, Sideling Hill Camp closed and John arrived at a camp in Downing, Idaho and was assigned to a small side camp in Nevada. The side camp was smaller, with 15 men, and were assigned special tasks.
At the camp, he was part of the loading crew with a flatbed truck. Each day, the crew would travel from the camp to the foothill of the mountains in two trucks and cut saplings for fenceposts.
“I was a passenger in the flatbed truck. All I had to do was stay on the flatbed truck and receive the saplings and lay them on the [bed].”
John remembers one member of the crew who got off easy.
“The driver of the flatbed truck would sit in the cab all day long; he didn’t have to work,” he says with a grin.
After his time collecting saplings, John worked as an attendant in a mental hospital in Morristown, N.J. He enjoyed the work in the sick ward for those with physical ailments the most, where he learned to take patients’ temperature and pulse and changed bedsheets daily.
His CPS work ended in July of 1946. While thinking what to do next, his good friend, Bill Swartzendruber, convinced him to go to Goshen, Ind., to attend a Mennonite college there.
“Bill said, ‘My older brother went there for a year and then he returned to the farm. And we can do the same.’ Well you can guess what happened… I attended all four years.”
He studied at Goshen College for $600 a year, even receiving a scholarship for $200 a year for serving two-years with CPS. John studied typing, economics and accounting, graduating with a business degree in 1950.
“This was good for me but one thing… I did not know what I wanted to do.” So, he started working at a feed mill south of Goshen, keeping records and doing accounting work. He worked there for almost a year until he decided the work was not compatible with his long-term interests. He packed up and drove home to his farm home in Ohio, living with his parents until he decided his future.
In summer of 1952, he was approached about serving with MCC in Europe. At the same time, his father offered for him to take over operation of the family farm. All he had to do was buy a tractor.
John was at a crossroads... Ultimately, the feeling of needing to do service work made him decide on MCC.
John was at a crossroads with two viable options presented to him. Ultimately, the feeling of needing to do service work made him decide on MCC.
“I should try MCC for a couple years before I settled down.”
His father took John’s decision graciously and was even nice enough to support him while serving in Europe.
"[My father] asked, 'What will it cost to keep John in Europe?' ...and he said, 'Ok, I'll take care of that.'"
“I didn’t know this until ten years later, [but] unbeknownst to me when my father arrived the day before [I left Akron for Europe] he went into the finance office. And he asked, ‘What will it cost to keep John in Europe?’ and they told him how much and he said, ‘Ok, I’ll take care of that.’ Here I had turned down his farm offer and he came [and paid for my support].”
At the same time, he and John’s mother were supporting a Mennonite missionary in India through the Mennonite Mission Board.
John served in Europe for six years, earning $10 a month doing budgeting, finances and purchasing cars for MCC’s programs in Europe. During his time there, he met his wife, Katherine Penner, when she started serving with MCC in Europe in 1955. By 1957, they were married in Frankfurt, Germany. He fondly remembers a 3-course meal with 75 friends following the wedding, that cost only $1 a person.
MCC photo/Archives (1956)
They wanted to start a family, so the Hostetlers moved back to the U.S. in 1958. But that wasn’t the end of John’s journey with MCC. He received a letter several months later from one of his friends, William Snyder, Executive Director of MCC. It said that Snyder would soon be in the area and that he would like to take the Hostetlers out for a meal.
John remembers Snyder taking them out to a Chinese restaurant, inviting him to come and work for MCC in Akron as the material aid director. He would oversee the receiving and sending of relief supplies overseas. John accepted, and by June of 1959 he was working with MCC again.
MCC photo/Gerald Handrich Schlabach (1981)
In the late 1960s, he was instrumental in the decision to construct the first phase of the Material Resources Center (MRC) in Ephrata, Pa. He also encouraged volunteers at the MRC to use a loom to weave recycled textiles into rugs. Today, the MRC produces 250 rugs each year that are sold at the MRC, surrounding thrift shops and relief sales to benefit MCC’s ministries.
He also played a part in expanding the production of the already established meat canning truck, more than tripling production during his 32 years as Material Resources Director of the MRC.
MCC photo/H. Blosser (1961)
In 1991, John decided to formally wrap up his time in Akron and transition into part-time work in constituency relations with MCC East Coast. During his time in that role, MCC received a letter from a woman from a small Mennonite church in Pennsylvania who suggested that churches should collect pennies and donate the money to MCC. MCC thoughtfully considered her idea, and so John introduced the idea for Penny Power to the Pennsylvania Relief Sale in the early 1990s. Penny Power became a fundraiser that encouraged the collection of people’s spare change to benefit MCC’s programs. John oversaw Penny Power, now called My Coins Count, for the first 12 years of its life.
John remembers the first fundraiser for the PA relief sale bringing in about $9,000 dollars and the last sale when he was in charge bringing in over $100,000.
MCC photo/James Wheeler
Until recently, John has continued to work for MCC. Each Tuesday and Friday, he went into the Ephrata Re-Uzit Shop to help with Booksavers, sorting books to either be sold at the Re-Uzit Shop or recycled at the Material Resources Center.
“Until I joined MCC, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Once I was in MCC, I was happy.”
John’s life trajectory demonstrates how one can find meaning without following a pre-planned sequence. He found where the needs of MCC and his own interests converged and stepped into such roles. When he joined MCC at the age of 27 years old, he never planned to be the longest serving of all MCC workers. He never dreamed he would first join the organization when it was 24 years old and still be working for its benefit as the MCC centennial approached!