Jean Kilheffer Hess, executive director
I didn’t have the guts to be a history major in college. The eighteen-year-old version of me couldn’t quite grasp what job might be at the end of four years of studying history. By blessed coincidence I did have the opportunity to work as a student assistant to Dr. E. Morris Sider in the Brethren in Christ Archives on the Messiah College campus. What an experience!
Computers had recently appeared in administrative offices, and my main role involved “word processing” correspondence and book chapters and archival reference labels, among other things, for Dr. Sider, a prolific author and respected historian. He assumed that a Mennonite from Lancaster was up-to-date on Mennonite matters, broadly speaking, so I scrambled to educate myself in order to be a worthy conversation partner.
We talked church politics, theology, and social movements while I learned about the priorities and work flow that happen behind the scenes in preserving, interpreting, and telling the stories of people following Jesus together as church. I became broadly interested in Anabaptist history, and suddenly the idea of career work in the historical realm didn’t seem so outlandish.
More than twenty years later, I am grateful to be part of an incredible team at Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, one of the most vibrant Anabaptist culture- and history-focused organizations in the world.
This story happened to me, but it’s not really about me. It’s about the importance of mentoring and calling young adults to excellence and understanding. It’s about historical connection that honors the wisdom of experience while opening doors for the energy of youth.
Dr. Sider became a friend, and I’ve been privileged for him to be present at important moments in my life and work. I was not at all surprised when I found a letter on my desk in his distinctive handwriting: “I was delighted to read . . . of your appointment. I send you my best wishes for success and enjoyment in your work.” Thank you, Morris. Thank you for everything.