Kaufman House Dedication

Remarks by Kirsten Zerger, on behalf of the E.G., Hazel and Edna R. Kaufman family

October 4, 2003

Most of us have been to at least one place that has a special and indefinable "spirit" ... the great cathedrals of Europe, the Dakota Black Hills, the rubble of the World Trade Center. These kinds of places have an almost palpable feeling and power that a visitor can't help but be touched by.

As we gather to dedicate this building to its new purpose, it seems fitting to ask "What is the spirit of this place? What life has been lived here and what traces remain?" This was a place of robust discussion and hard work...fueled by an unquenchable curiosity about every dimension of life and absolute confidence in the ultimate grace of the divine.

As Jim Juhnke wrote in his biography of E.G. Kaufman, Creative Crusader: "Ed and Hazel laid down no rules against free and open discussion of ideas, however, unorthodox. Their children became interested in new ideas, ready to absorb information from prominent lecturers and performers at Bethel who visited in the Kaufman home. They made sure that their children understood that in this home no question was too radical to ask, no intellectual terrain too dangerous to explore, in the quest for truth. God would reward an honest seeker."

This was a meeting place for people from all over the world. My mother and uncle shared many vivid family meals with visiting dignitaries like Haille Selassie of Ethiopia and Eduard Benes of Czechoslovakia, national journalist Drew Pearson, socialist presidential candidate Normal Thomas, and German pacifist Martin Niemoeller. What surely lingers in this room from those times is a potent alchemy of cultures, languages, religions, philosophies, good food and fellowship.

What did it mean to grow up in such a stew? All one need do is look to E.G. and Hazel's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a wonderful multi-cultural mèlange of Mennonite, Chinese, Australian, Jewish, Catholic, Nepalese, Buddhist, Guatemalan Kekchi, and Mexican heritages.

For 20 years, every Bethel College senior was invited to join the President and his family at table in this house, and to share his or her post-graduation dreams and goals. Imagine: the college president and his family taking time to reflect on and give personal counsel to each graduate.

This is the place where Hazel proved, as Robert Kreider once observed: "that she knew how to live with greatness ... she ministered to the needs of a warrior husband, ran a calm household, was a dear friend to her neighbors, and protected her husband from vanity with gentle teasing."

This house also held a great love story, of Ed and Hazel ... and one you can catch a tiny glimpse of if you read E.G.'s note about this house on the collage just inside the entrance to this room. But this house and that love story also saw enormous pain and grief. It is the place where Hazel wasted away with leukemia. She slept on the first floor at the end, probably right about here ... and E.G. pounded out his grief at her early death at age 52, as he tore through the 2nd and 3rd floors ... dismantling the family home just as surely as Hazel's death had dismantled the family itself ... and at the same time creating a new identity for this space: student apartments.

But there is another spirit in this place; one that never lived here but one that will happily settle into the new life of this space that her generosity made possible: that is the spirit of Edna Ramseyer Kaufman. Edna's was the spirit of an inveterate world traveler who welcomed and accepted everyone she met, relishing rather than fearing the differences and challenges she experienced on her numerous journeys.

When she married E.G., she crossed a great cultural divide. The differences between the gracious Ramseyers and the plain-speaking Kaufmans were obvious, and in the iconoclastic sixties and seventies, that style difference made Grandma Edna quite unacceptable to us teenage Kaufman grandchildren. Nonetheless she persevered with endless patience to accept us and our differentness ... and in the end, although she did learn to tolerate our sometimes loud voices, I think it was we who learned the greater lesson: the value and power of her softer, less judgmental voice.

Edna offered the spirit of welcome and acceptance to everyone she met. Her gift was to bring unusual combinations of people together around good food and fellowship, and she often talked about the fundamental role a shared meal could play in successful peacebuilding.

So what is the spirit of this place? It is the spirit of welcome, fellowship, and hard work...seeking all truths...hearing and affirming many voices...truly a good home for The Kansas Peace Institute and the Community Mediation Center.

Education and Training Community Mediation Center Great Plains Consensus Council Congregational Health