“I get in on a lot of interesting ‘inside’ conversations and information,” says Bill Zuercher of Hesston, Kan. Consider that the understatement of the year.
When the Mennonite Church USA Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) meets twice a year, Bill is there taking minutes. When Mennonite Church USA has delegate assemblies every two years, Bill is the recorder.
When South Central Conference has Ministerial Commission meetings, Bill takes notes. He does the same for the Ministerial Leadership Commission of the Western District Conference that meets five to six times a year. He took minutes for the WDC Discernment Task Force’s six meetings and continues to be the minute-man for the Church Planting Commission of WDC.
Eleven years ago, Bill was asked to be the coordinator of volunteers at Hesston College, matching the needs of faculty and staff with the gifts and time availability of volunteers. He said yes and has been fulfilling that role ever since.
About the same time, he agreed to be the recorder for Hesston College’s Board of Directors that meets three times a year. That expanded to a weekly commitment to take minutes of the Administrative Council and a monthly gig with the Inclusion and Diversity Council. New on his plate is the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains Board quarterly meeting.
Moving on to his congregation, Whitestone Mennonite in Hesston, one would assume he takes minutes there, too, and he does—monthly for the elders’ meetings and several times a year for the leadership team.
From 1990-1999, Bill was the administrator for the South Central and Western District conferences. Since 2004, and as a volunteer, he is ministry coordinator for South Central and carries various administrative responsibilities for both South Central and Western District. He has been the the Mennonite Church USA representative to the Agri-Urban board since 2004 as well.
A man can’t sit all the time, so Bill does grounds work and pulls weeds on the Whitestone Mennonite campus, and he takes crossing guard duty for two weeks every year in Hesston.
Who is this Bill Zuercher? Does he have a life beyond his penchant for volunteering? Does he have a wife?
Bill Zuercher, 78, does indeed have a life and a wife. He grew up in Idaho on a potato farm and knew he never wanted to farm. He worked office jobs in the summer and enjoyed his high school business classes. He admired his uncle, who was a career administrator.
He met Joyce Gingerich when they were both at Hesston College. Joyce grew up in Iowa and Nebraska with volunteering DNA in her blood—both of her grandfathers and her father were nonpaid ministers, and her grandmothers and mother were hospitality saints and faithful partners in their husbands’ roles. Joyce’s mother found time to write a book about her own father, The Life and Times of Daniel Kauffman.
Joyce and Bill married in 1958, and rather than waiting for a summons from the draft board, Bill chose to find his own conscientious objector service assignment. The newlyweds headed to Frankfurt, Germany, for two years of service with Mennonite Central Committee, where Bill worked as the business manager of the European MCC office, and Joyce became the housemother for 10 other service personnel.
When their service term was up, Bill and Joyce returned to Goshen, Ind., where they had both earned degrees from Goshen College prior to marriage. Goshen wanted Bill to put his business degree to practice as assistant business manager, and Joyce became a stay-at-home mom.
Two years later, Brook Lane, a Mennonite psychiatric center in Hagerstown, Md., contacted Bill about an opening for an administrator. For a man with hospital administration as a long-term goal, it felt like an answer to prayer. So the family moved to rural western Maryland, and Joyce, with her elementary education degree, was a part-time homeschool teacher to short-term, homebound students and an occasional classroom substitute. After four years at Brook Lane, Bill entered Duke University’s master’s in hospital administration program in Durham, N.C. Graduates were encouraged to go to big city hospitals and work their way up.
“That wasn’t my interest,” Bill says.“We learned about a hospital system in Appalachia and went to Harlan, Ky., an economically depressed area that offered unusual opportunities.”
Bill was the hospital administrator in Harlan for 13 years, long enough for him and Joyce to help start a Mennonite church there. Long enough for two of their three children to graduate high school in Harlan. Long enough for Joyce to create her own volunteer ministry in the community.
“We were there the second year after segregation was stopped in the schools,” Joyce says. “Black people still lived in certain areas. I met some other women with some of the same thoughts and ideas I had, and we took groups of young children to the library story hour we had started and on field trips to places they’d never seen before.”
For several summers, they sponsored college student volunteers to do recreation with the children. When there was a flood in 1977, several of the women worked with clothing distribution, and that service continued after the flood. That year they helped start the Harlan Mennonite Fellowship.
Joyce taught kindergarten and first grade full-time and felt led by God to an isolated, poor, white community. It was a 40-mile drive to her school, but she wanted to teach there because she knew
that’s where the needs were.
“I remember once when the principal was going to blame a child for something because of his family background,” Joyce recalls. “The child put his hand in mine, and we just stood there together. It felt to me like the principal did not value the child at all, and I did.”
Part of Joyce’s Title 1 teaching job included visiting the homes the children came from—an experience that helped her understand the children much better. “Chickens sometimes got up and left the house when I came in,” she says with a smile. “And I’ll never forget the fearful single mother’s wind-whipped trailer house on the crest of a mountain ridge.”
With their two daughters at Goshen College, Bill and Joyce moved to Hesston in 1981. Joyce taught first grade in a rural school, and for four years Bill worked from Hesston as administrator for Mennonite Health Resources, consulting with small Mennonite-related hospitals in Kansas, Colorado and Oregon.
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