A reunion of the Salzburg, Austria, Pax unit was held September 18-21 at Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre in Niagara Falls, Ontario. PAX, the Latin word for “peace,” was the name given to Mennonite Central Committee’s overseas voluntary service for men of draft age in the middle of the twentieth century. From 1961 to 1963 Pax men built six houses and a church building in Hallein-Rif, Austria, for refugees from then Yugoslavia, most of whom had German roots.These refugees belonged to the Nazerener or Neutäufer church, an Anabaptist group.
The refugees were living in old World War II barracks in Salzburg since the War ended in 1945. The Pax men also lived in the barracks until the new houses were ready for occupancy; then they moved in with the families while the church building was being completed.
Attending the 2014 reunion in Canada were 15 Pax men and 14 spouses, coming from Ontario, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado, and Idaho. In a Sunday morning worship service Rick Cober Bauman, Executive Director of MCC Ontario, spoke to the group regarding current programs in Canada.
Previous reunions of the Salzburg Paxers, starting in 1970, were held in Goshen, IN; Hesston, KS; Mountain Lake, MN; Vineland, ON; Salzburg, Austria; Williamsburg, VA; Monterey, CA; Akron, PA; and Boise, ID. The group agreed to meet again in two years.
Pax men attending the reunion were Ervie Glick, John Arn, Robert Unrau, John Driedger, Wilmer Weaver, Dave Kulp, Allan Mast, Gilbert Friesen, Wayne Yoder, Lowell Bender, Lester Yoder, Corney Klassen, Glen Showalter, Merle Brenneman, and Dick Boschart.
400 S. Streeter Ave.
Hesston, KS 67062-9058
REUNION OF THE SALZBURG, AUSTRIA, PAX UNIT
September 8-11, 2006 Asilomar Conference CenterMonterey, CA
Fifteen of the former PAX volunteers who served at the Salzburg project,along with 13 of their spouses, reunited at the beach-side convention center located at Asilomar on Monterey Bay Peninsula in California from Friday evening, September 8, to Monday noon, September 11, 2006. David Gerber,current MCC representative located at Newton, Kansas, himself a former Greece PAXer, was invited as a special guest. Arrangements were capably handled by John Loewen, Reedley, CA, and Merle Bitikofer, Dallas, OR, and their spouses, with Merle Brenneman developing the program.
As other units do as well, the Salzburg Unit members have enjoyed a special close association with each other over the years since the late 1960’s. In the early years, we attempted to meet every five years, including one time in 1995, when we met at the project site in Austria. However, recently we have met every three years. Each one would testify to the profound impact that our experiences of working and living together intensely during formative years of our lives has had on us. It is the memories, the values instilled in us, and the purpose given to our subsequent lives that draws us to each other still, perhaps even more in our advancing years.
The Salzburg project was a lesser known effort lasting just three years from the spring of 1961 to the winter of 1964. In the waning months, the unit dwindled to just a few men as wrap-up and finishing tasks brought it to a close, but it had reached as high as a dozen men at times. Both the
Enkenbach project and the Karlschule of Vienna project were concluding in1961. PAXers working on those projects were then brought together to start the Salzburg project. Six houses, some of them single family dwellings and some for multiple occupants, and a church were constructed on land donated by Church World Service. The land was gravelly river bottom at the convergence of the Koenigseeache and the Salzach rivers and nestled among the first of Austria’s majestic alps, “Sound of Music” country. The recipients of these houses called themselves Nazarenes, an Anabaptist group with roots in Switzerland not unlike Mennonites but coming to Austria as refugees out of then Yugoslavia during WWII. For 16 years they had lived in barracks built for the German army, unable to afford proper housing. Their leaders learned of MCC and requested help. Peter Dyck was instrumental in arranging for PAXers to provide the labor while the Neutauefer offices in Switzerland provided funds for materials. PAX men lived among the families in those army barracks during the first 18 months of the project, then moved into the new houses as guests of the families until all work was done.
In 2003-4 major renovations and expansion was done to the church building.Four of our group were privileged to attend the dedication of the new assembly building and participate in festivities in June, 2004. Frequent contact with families of the community occurs yet today, as a close familial affinity with them has persisted over the years.
As all ex-PAXers will testify, reunions draw out stories of fun and escapades of every color from participants. Nearly forgotten events and attitudes are refreshed and sharpened. A strong sense of brotherhood had developed. Even our spouses have bonded together in unusual ways. That is why we meet.
Attendees are pictured in the photo that accompanies this writing. They are:
John Arn, Lansdale, PA
Lowell Bender, Bittinger, MD
Merle Bitikofer, Dallas, OR
Richard Boshart, Lebanon, PA
Merle Brenneman, Arvada, CO
John Driedger, Gowanstown, ONT
Gilbert Friesen, Mountain Lake, MN
Ervie Glick, Harrisonburg, VA
Corney Klassen, Jordan, ONT
David Kulp, Pottstown, PA
John Loewen, Reedley, CA
Allan Mast, Hesston, KS
Robert Unrau, Boise, ID
Lester Yoder, Belleville, PA
David Gerber, special guest, Hesston, KS
These fifteen represent approximately 70% of those who spent significant time at Salzburg, not a bad representation.
Key sessions began with a meditation and singing followed by sharing from four couples about significant events and developments in their lives. Blocks of free time on Saturday and Sunday allowed for special activities,including whale watching on Saturday and a stroll through Cannery Row and the marina of Monterey Bay on Sunday. Of special importance to all of us
was input from David Gerber on Saturday evening on “MCC Today: Challenges in a Broken World,” and on Sunday evening on “45 Years Later: What is Our Current Peace Witness?” In the first, David reported with the aid of photos about his MCC work in response to the tsunami of 2004 that devastated the coast of India.
At another session, Ervie Glick reported about discussions held in March of 2006 at Akron regarding a possible launching of a kind of “PAX II”, more than likely to be called “International Voluntary Service” in response to a gift from the Bob Histand estate. Al Keim, Calvin Redekop and Ervie Glick met with David Worth and Ron Flaming of MCC, as well as Orval Schmidt and Owen Hess of Goshen, and John Lapp, former MCC executive. MCC executive director, joined via conference telephone. A feasibility study will be conducted by Mennonite World Conference. Much work remains to be done.
The Salzburg PAX unit reunion was held September 10-13, 2009, at the MCC Welcoming Place. Twenty nine attended, including spouses. The group stayed in the excellent accommodations of the Africa and the America Houses on campus. Persons attending had traveled across the U.S., Canada, and Germany to attend this event. The Mennonite Central Committee PAX Program (an alternative to Military Service), built six multi-family houses and a church for an Anabaptist German speaking group related to Apostolics, refugees from the former Yugoslavia, primarily Serbia. Paxmen built these houses in the early 1960’s just outside Salzburg, Austria, close to Hallein.
The previous reunion took place in Asilomar, Monterey, California. The group meets every three years at a location decided by a committee. In two years 2011, however, they may hold the reunion in Austria to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the project. The customary three year reunion site is still being investigated by a new committee.
This year’s committee consisted of Lowell and Verna Bender, of Bittinger, Maryland; Ervie and Mary Glick of Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Dick and Cathy Boshart of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The agenda of the Akron reunion included daily gatherings with PAXers sharing recent life experiences, motivations for Christian Service as PAX molded their lives, and common peace concerns in the world. Cultural events included a tour of the MCC Material Resource Center, a visit to the Ten Thousand Villages store, an Amish Country Tour lead by Faye Irene Landis (wife of PAXer Bob Landis), a meal in an Amish home, and performances at the Sight and Sound Theaters. On Saturday evening other local PAXers were invited to attend and share a joint meal of Austrian Bratwurst sandwiches and fixings, with the local PAXers bringing Pennsylvania Dutch desserts. The group then met together with 52 present. Following introductions, they shared their PAX location and years of service and the effects it made on their lives. Germany, Austria, Greece, Nepal, Morroco, and Algeria were places of service.
Sunday morning the attendees participated in a worship service led by moderator Lowell Bender and Ervie Glick, song leader. The devotional meditation was presented by Wayne Yoder. His wife Linda sang a supporting solo.
Mennonite Central Committee Africa representative, Bruce Campbell-Janz gave an update of current MCC work in various locations in the world, He also gave information about a new program called “SEED” which provides service opportunities for persons who will commit to two years overseas. The reunion group decided to donate money to the SEED program to encourage young people to choose this challenging and rewarding service.
Former volunteers at the Salzburg, Austria, PAX project will hold their triennial reunion September 10-13, 2009, at Akron, PA, in MCC facilities. The program includes an open session and dinner for all interested area ex-PAXers Saturday evening, September 12, at 7:00. Contact Richard Boshart firstname.lastname@example.org if you are able to attend.
Other events include sharing times, singing, a tour of Lancaster County and Amish meal, an performance at Sight & Sound Theater, and a tour of MCC Resource Center and Ten Thousand Villages.
The gem of all PAX projects ran from spring of 1961 to 1964, with up to 12 men in the unit at one time and dwindling to only a few as the program wound down. PAX built six multi-family houses and a church for an Anabaptist German speaking group related to Apostolics, refugees from the former Yugoslavia, primarily Serbia. Close ties continue between the volunteers and the families of the Siedlung at Rif, some 10 kilometers from Salzburg near Hallein. At the reunion, we will deliberate whether we want to hold the next reunion in Austria in 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the project. The reunion in 1995 was held there with much joy and emotion, gratitude for the gift of service that resulted in new homes and economic footing for the future. Some 35 PAX men and spouses are preregistered for the September, 2009, reunion.
Planners of the reunion include Richard Boshart, Lowell Bender, and Ervie Glick.
Oopah! Members of former PAX teams in Greece met for a reunion at the MCC Welcoming Place in Akron, PA, June 5-8, 2008. Coming from California, Oregon, Florida, Canada, New York, Kansas, and other distant states to meet with local members, the group of 100 included spouses and children. Peter Dyck, who was MCC’s director of European and North African work during that time, was a speaker and guest. Orville Schmidt presented a video of a Greek PAX tour in 2004.
The PAX program began in Greece in 1952 and ended formally in 1972. Projects for agricultural development and research, fruit and vegetable canning, and building of farm buildings for demonstration and education were undertaken in northern Greece and on the island of Crete.
Local members organized the reunion event. Introductions and reminiscences began the program. On Friday a tour of Lancaster County included visits to MCC’s Material Resources Center and Ten Thousand Villages’ warehouse, and the Mennonite Information Center with the Hebrew Tabernacle. Dinner at an Amish home was a highlight of the day.
Saturday’s visit to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, Lancaster, PA, had special meaning as Father Alexander Veronis briefly explained the icons decorating the church and distinctive features of the Greek Orthodox faith. Young people from the church, dressed in traditional costumes, exhibited their Greek dancing skills for the enjoyment of the group.
Also on Saturday’s program, after Peter Dyck related the story of PAX’s beginning, Ron Flaming and Chris Landes brought the group up to date on MCC activities and issues.
Joining the Greek Paxers for the Sunday worship service were students at MCC’s Summer Peace Building Institute. After Ken Sensenig’s sermon, Sikhylulekile Mkandla from Zimbabwe responded with a few words about forgiveness and peace in her country. Many of the group committed to pray for the leaders and people of Zimbabwe for changes of heart that would alleviate the suffering there.
Fifty six years ago a number of young men from various Mennonite communities met at Akron to launch a new program called Pax .If this experiment proved successful the program would continue.. The Pax program did go on for twenty five years. From Oct. 8-11 2007 many of these same men reunited at Camp Amigo near Sturgis Mi., this time not as strangers but more like brothers because of the bonding that occurred in those Pax experiences.
Attendees were Menno Gaeddert who was unit leader at Espelkamp,Marvin Gehring,Roger Hochstetler Homer Kolb.Jay Lehman, John Mann, Richard Oberholtzer, Luke Rhodes, Arnold Roth, Albert Roupp, Richard Rush, Willard Stucky, Robert Swartz, Carl E Yoder, Melvin Helmuth and William Yoder. Frank Heidebrecht from Hamburg Germany showed pictures of his work of sending supplies into Kosovo. Franks’ family was one of the families that got one of the Espelkamp houses and he caught the Pax spirit. Also present was Anna Holdeman and her two daughters. Anna is the widow of Ivan Holdeman who was one of our group.
In the summer of 2006 I received, as many of the Bechterdissen PAX boys did, a letter inviting us to come to Bechterdissen and to be a part of the 50 year celebration. I put the letter aside with out much further thought. Earlier in the year some relatives had asked if I would take a group to Germany. As the plans for that trip were being made I kept Bechterdissen in the back of my mind. We had planned to go to Germany the beginning of Sept. and I thought I would visit Bechterdissen after the trip with the relatives. I communicated with Heini he asked if I could come earlier and help celebrate the 50 year celebration. So I changed my visit from the end of my trip to the beginning and booked a flight for August 28 arriving there on the 29th. I also wanted to leave the following Sunday morning to meet my relatives. I told Heine about my planes and soon received a call asking if I could possibly come so I would be there on the 27th which was a Sunday or Sept 2. Sundays were the most important time because more people would be there. So I changed my flight and left here on Friday the 25th and arrived in Germany the 26th
The celebration went from Sunday to Sunday. The first Sunday Peter Huebert spoke and the choir sang. And in the evening there were interviews with people who were involved with establishing and planning the Gemeinde . Monday was open. There was no meeting. Tuesday evening was a program by the various choirs. Wednesday there was a breakfast for the retired “Senioren” people with activities afternoon and a slide show in the evening. Wednesday they had a breakfast for the women and in the evening they had personal testimonies about what God did in your life (the first time for sharing like this).
Friday evening was praise worship young people style with a group “Guido Baltes and Band” (also a first). Saturday was a fun and food time with a church picnic, and Sunday there was a guest speaker Dr. Bernhard Ott from the Schweiz with a gemeinsames Mittagessen. That was the activities for the week. I was there for the first Sunday but left to go to Frankfurt the following Sunday morning so I missed the last day. The church was quite full most of the time. I think they have about 700+ members.
I stayed with Karen and Heinrich Tyart, their house is right behind the church. I had met them about ten years earlier and Daniel their son had spent two weeks with us when he was in the USA. So we didn’t have to get acquainted but were able to continue were we left off ten years ago. Heini of course took good care of me also. Heini is also good friends with the Tyarts so they worked together to make me feel at home. Heini had me over several days at his apartment in Bad Salzufen. He is a very good cook and we spend time visiting the town, swimming in the spa pools and just sharing. As I think most of us know Heini was a bright light in our Bechterdissen experience and I am really blessed to have him as a friend and a Christian brother. We shared, reminisced, some times wept together. I met and spoke with many others in the church: the pastor, others in leadership and others. I visited also with Wilfred Regier and his wife. Wilfred doesn’t look any older than when we worked together 50 years ago. I met for the first time Fritz Wedler and his wife, in fact I went with the Tyarts to their house for “Kaffee und Kuchen” and what a nice couple they are. Some of you probably worked with him. I was disappointed I didn’t get to see Lothar Teuchert and Rudy Schultz. I have such good memories working with both of them. The young people, of course, didn’t experience the PAX era but I did speak with some of them and it was interesting to find lots of similarities with young people here in the states. They as most young people are groping for their identity and Daniel Tyart is working with them trying to give them guidance and direction.
Sunday evening I was able to speak on behalf of the PAX boys who worked in Bechterdissen. It was a walk through the history of the Bechterdissen Gemeinde. Various people still living, who had a part in bringing the community together, were brought up on stage and interviewed and asked questions. I sat and listened to stories I had not heard before about the work that was put into this project. We all know about the paper work necessary to do any thing in Germany and these were stories about the beginning. When it came time for me to go on stage and be interviewed I walked up and the people began to clap and I felt all the appreciation for all the work that you all gave so freely and joyfully. I felt like this appreciation was not for me, I only did a small part, and I knew I needed to share this gratitude with all of you who contributed. I felt so much gratitude I could have wept. It was genuine and real and I wish all of you could have been there to feel the appreciation. I shared about how I felt I was giving two years of my life and receiving almost no money for doing it. I sorta felt a little selfrighteous about it back in the 50’s. I shared I was excited about the adventure and seeing Europe and I wasn’t aware what God was doing with me and with the people in Bechterdissen. And then later after I returned home I realized how little I really gave and how much I received. I shared that the experience changed my life. It enlarged my world. I experienced real Christians in Germany and I knew God was much bigger than I could have imagined. That was the essence of my interview and I trust and believe you would have said some thing similar.
I was amazed that some things we did 50 years ago would be remembered and appreciated to this day. I decided that we did it as unto the Lord and because of our attitude God used it to bless us and others even remembered for over 50 years. Let me tell you again your work as a Pax boy was and is still to this day very appreciated Just praise God for what he did through you.
That is a birds eye view of what went on during that week of celebration and thank God I was able to represent you and I hope you felt like you were there with me.