John Sharp signs A School on the Prairie

Faculty member John Sharp, author of A School on the Prairie: A Centennial History of Hesston College 1909-2009, signs a copy of his book for Duane Yoder ’81 and former faculty and staff member, of Harrisonburg, Va. at the book’s premiere

John Sharp, author of A School on the Prairie: A Centennial History of Hesston College 1909-2009, got to write his name many times during the book premiere and reception in Bontrager Student Center Friday evening, Sept. 25. Throughout the Centennial weekend, 400 of the 450 history books ordered by the college bookstore were sold. Sharp signed many of them during the premiere and encouraged the high bidder at the auction of the “first” copy of the book to increase the bid an extra $50 to get his signature on it.

Sharp received numerous accolades for the history book that he said was his obsession for the past four years. The books arrived in Hesston from Cascadia Publishing House on Aug. 31.

In a video, Cascadia publisher Michael King said that Sharp crossconnected the stories of the college and church, so that the Hesston story is the Mennonite Church story. He said the book has “500 pages of intriguing anecdotes.”

Sharp reported that having to choose what to include and what to leave out was one of his most difficult challenges. He quoted a piece of advice given to writers: “Leave out the parts people will skip,” but said that wasn’t at all helpful.

Sharp thanked people who began brainstorming the plans for a Centennial book eight years ago, for making room for college archives in the basement of Smith Center, and for organizing the archives, copying numerous articles from church and student periodicals, offering counsel, editing, but not micromanaging the project. Some of those named were former President Loren Swartzendruber; Interim President Peter Wiebe; President Howard Keim; archivist Sandra Richard; volunteers Bill Zuercher and Becky Roth; publisher Michael King; historians James Mininger, James Juhnke, and Joe Miller; Centennial committee co-chairs Elam Peachey and Dallas Stutzman; and, most of all, his wife, Michele Miller Sharp, and the couple’s children.

Sharp said his research indicates that Hesston College is at its best when it is innovative, flexible, egalitarian, and attentive to the church.

President Keim said, “This book will help us understand our own culture and Hesston College’s place in broader Mennonite history.”

Sharp said, “The story goes on, and leaves the writer behind. I hope (the book) will stand on its own two feet – after all, it has a spine.”

Also making their debut Friday night were the Hesston College Centennial Cookbook; “…in the fragrant and velvety air,” a CD of Hesston College Music; a video DVD of Glimpses of A School on the Prairie; and Centennial “Living the Vision” pottery mugs made by Steve and Jane (Kauffman) ’74 Fry of Elk Falls (Kan.) Pottery. Four hundred of the 500 cookbooks printed by Baker Brothers, Hillsboro, sold during the weekend.

Ken Rodgers said he got the idea for a Centennial music CD from a similar project at St. Olaf College. The Hesston CD has 30 tracks, beginning with a monophonic recording of “God So Loved the World” sung by the college choir directed by John P. Duerkson in the 1950s. Rodgers credited Phil Hoffman for digitizing the music from LP records and cassette tapes to preserve it and make it available for the Centennial CD.

DaLonna Schroeder, academic assistant, edited the cookbook, which grew to contain 935 recipes. The earliest recipe is a 1912 cookie recipe submitted by a granddaughter of A.L. Hess. The fun part of her work, Schroeder said, was hearing the stories from many people who submitted recipes. Both stories and recipes are included in the book.

Gary Oyer created the DVD, using photos and script supplemental to those in the history book, which was limited to 10 photos per chapter. Dallas Stutzman said his teenage daughter watched the hour-long DVD and found some ideas for good pranks she might like to pull when she comes to Hesston College. The DVD was described as “an outstanding piece of work.”

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