I Wish I'd Been There .
The consulting editors
of the Mennonite Historical
Bulletin respond to the question: What is the one event in
Anabaptist-Mennonite history you wish you could have witnessed
-- and Why?
My Mother and the One-armed Preacher
by Russell Krabill
I wish I had been at the Sugar Creek Mennonite Church
in Wayland, Iowa, when the one-armed preacher from Kansas preached.
That was almost 100 years ago -- about 20 years before I was
born. My mother was 10 or 12 years of age, but she never forgot
The preacher was Joseph F. Brunk (1865-1943). Joseph's father,
Henry G. Brunk, was a native of Virginia. During the Civil War,
to escape military service, he left Virginia and moved to Illinois,
where he and his family remained until they moved to Marion,
Kansas, in 1873. Eight days after arriving on the plains of Kansas,
Henry died of typhoid fever, at the age of 37, leaving his wife
and seven children. Eight-year-old Joseph F. was one of those
children. His younger brother, George R., was two years old.
The family later moved to McPherson County, Kansas, where Joseph
grew to manhood.
Young Joseph "worked out" to help his family survive.
When he was 12 years old, his hand was caught between the rollers
of a cane mill, and his arm had to be amputated below the elbow.
However, he continued to help his widowed mother with the farmwork.
After his marriage to Marietta R. Gray in 1888, Joseph farmed
until 1903 when he bacame superintendent of the Orphan's Home
near Hillsboro, Kansas. From there he and his wife moved to Kansas
City to help organize the Mennonite Mission. He served as superintendent
of the Kansas City Mission for a number of years. In 1905 he
was ordained to the ministry by Daniel Kauffman.
Brunk was a pioneer. He assisted in establishing the Mennonite
Sanitarium near La Junta, Colorado. A few years later, he had
charge of the Old People's Home near Rittman, Ohio. He also helped
start a mission in Hutchinson, Kansas. Then for a number of years
he served as pastor of the Catlin Mennonite Church. In 1936 he
and his wife returned to Newton, Kansas, where he died in 1943.
Brunk did considerable traveling, promoting, and preaching.
One of his trips took him to Wayland, Iowa, my mother's home
community, in 1897 or 1898. It had been announced that Joseph
F. Brunk would be coming to the Sugar Creek Mennonite Church
on a certain evening and that he would preach in English. My
mother had never heard an English sermon. She was thrilled when
her father decided to take the family. My mother was Mary Ann,
the oldest daughter of Ella and C. H. Roth. She had three younger
siblings: Jesse, Lena, and Seth. The family was loaded into the
spring wagon and transported the several miles in the gathering
darkness to the new meetinghouse, which had been built in 1891.
Evening meetings were not common. The building had no electricity.
It was dimly lit with kerosene lamps. The poor lighting and the
flickering shadows produced an eerie effect. This was the first
evening service Mary Ann had ever attended. The speaker was impressive.
Joseph Brunk was a large man with a booming voice. And to make
him more impressive, he had only one arm. That night he preached
on the second coming of Christ, and my mother came under conviction.
Several years later, in July of 1904, at the age of 16, she
was baptized by Sebastian Gerig, her great uncle, in the same
1891 meetinghouse where she had heard the one-armed preacher.
Russell Krabill is a retired pastor and founding chair
of the Michiana Anabaptist Historians.
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, July, 1996