In 1932, Evelyn Kreider hopped on a bus with all of her possessions stuffed in a trunk and made her way to Goshen College.“I was ready for fresh air and broader insights,” said Kreider, who was born and raised in Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania. As a prospective student, Kreider was personally recruited by the academic dean, Harold S. Bender.
Kreider, now 101 years old, lives in a cottage on Dogwood Court, part of the Greencroft Goshen campus. Her home is decorated with literature –some news-related, some religious; print sections of The New York Times (which she reads daily) rest on her couch while copies of the Mennonite Quarterly Review are scattered around her living room.
As Kreider reminisced about her years as a student at Goshen College, she smiled. She mentioned days spent boating on the Elkhart River in the late summer and times spent walking around the town of Goshen (cars were beyond reach for most people during the Depression years). Kreider said that she and her friends passed the time playing get-to-know-you games on the lawn.
“It was assumed you would get to know who everybody was,” she said. “And we did. Sometimes you even learned to know people who [were] going to become a life partner even on a summer day on campus. It was quite astonishing.”
Kreider met her late husband, Carl, on the campus lawn. The couple was married in 1939 and spent almost 63 years together before he passed away in 2002. Carl Kreider, who had a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton, served as dean of Goshen College from 1944-1970.
Kreider also had a link to the president’s office. Her brother J. Lawrence Burkholder served as Goshen College president from 1971-1984.
Kreider served the Goshen community as best as she could. When her late husband was dean, her house would often be opened for guests of Goshen College – typically guest speakers and visiting professors.
“It was a privilege but also a responsibility,” she said. “At that time, I had small children. So there was always the tug-of-war between the beautifully-set table and the toddlers.”
Joe Springer, curator of the Mennonite Historical Library and board chair at College Mennonite Church (the church Evelyn attends), is a long-time friend of Kreider’s. Springer is the same age as her youngest son, Thomas, and the two men grew up as friends. Springer remembers going over to Kreider’s house during high school.
“She treated us as well as she treated her husband’s important visitors,” said Springer. “She has a gift – which comes from the decades of hospitality where she was the gracious hostess – she is able to still engage virtually anyone in appropriate conversation.”
Even today, Kreider enjoys hosting visitors – especially from Goshen College. Her small dining table is set with her finest china and the brightest daisies she can find.
“My coming to Goshen College was important for many reasons,” Kreider said.
She said it solidified her interest in Anabaptist history and encouraged her interest in peace and justice as a way of life.
“I think I have a new grasp on God’s mercy and God’s grace [because of Goshen College],” she said. “Sometimes we get the idea that we’re favored people, and I think that’s mistaken. I think everybody is favored by God.”
She still has questions about that favor, though.
“I don’t understand the way the world works,” she said. “Some, like us, have it so much easier than those people who arrive by boat on the shores of Greece. I think it pushes me to find ways of doing what I can here for peace and justice in the world, starting in Goshen.”
Kreider was one of the founders of a club called Seniors for Peace. Though many of the group’s early leaders, including her husband, have since died, the group still gets together once a month to hear stories about injustice in the world and what they can do to stop it. Kreider has been a part of candlelight vigils, protests and other events in the name of justice.
When asked how she stays hopeful in pursuit of peace, Kreider said, “By the grace of God.”
“I can’t add one minute to my life,” she said. “It’s all by God’s gift. And I know that it’s not anything I’ve done that gives me merit; it’s just a gift. I’m grateful and I want to use these added days in a way that gives… thanks to God and mercy and love to people I meet. I keep thinking about how much love it would take to counter all the hate in the world and I think that if each person loved one person it would eventually get there.”