Summer’s here. Know any students looking for summer jobs?
The summer when Mary Emma Showalter’s now classic Mennonite Community Cookbook was released in 1950, various college students sold the cookbook as a way to make money for their college expenses.
Eugene Souder was one such entrepreneur who had about 15 young women and men selling cookbooks under his loosely organized effort.
He says the John C. Winston Company, (publishers in conjunction with the early “Mennonite Community Association” in Scottdale, Pa.), put out a notice that they were looking for someone to round up students, who could sell the cookbook to acquaintances, church members, friends, or neighbors—and perhaps door-to-door. “I don’t think I saw that initial notice put out for sales reps, but someone recommended me. So they came recruiting me,” recalled Eugene in a phone interview recently.
“It was simple—I had one or two meetings of interested persons at Eastern Mennonite College (now EMU), inviting them to earn some extra money that summer.” Eugene himself was between his junior and senior years of college. For all who know Eugene, most would agree that the “e’s” in his name stand for entrepreneur par excellence. He reflected, “It was fun to recruit. That was basically all I had to do. I got a commission off of each sale, and the total that year was enough to cover my expenses for my final year of college.” Eugene added that he didn’t sell more than five himself, and that there were more women than men selling the cookbook.
Dan Hertzler, a classmate of Eugene’s and former editor of Gospel Herald, recalls that a year at EMC at the time cost $550, with a $100 discount for Bible majors. While Dan was later connected with the Mennonite Community Association and has long been associated with Scottdale, Dan didn’t help sell the cookbooks.
Eugene confesses he didn’t sell many himself because he was heavily involved in a budding men’s quartet at EMC that went on to help launch the long running Mennonite Hour radio program in 1952, which led to the whole international Mennonite Broadcasts, Inc. organization—(which eventually became Mennonite Media, which joined with Mennonite Publishing Network to form MennoMedia in 2011. A quick mini history, more here!)
“So that summer of 1950, I didn’t really have that much time to actually sell; I was surprised at the good return for my time,” Eugene says. The cookbook initially cost $3.50 for the plain edition; a deluxe “chapter tab” edition was $4.50. “They were very fair in the commission they paid me.”
Eugene went on to a long career as a pastor, graphic designer, and founder/editor of at least three church magazines: Our Faith, Together, and Living. Living is the only one still alive—and I’m the editor. You might guess that Eugene recruited me for that job, so I know what a good convincer he is!
Jay B. Landis, a former professor in the English language and literature department at EMC, was one of those who sold the cookbooks. But neither Jay nor Eugene remember it being through Eugene’s circle of sellers. “I sold a few—maybe to my mother and a few others,” Jay confesses. Jay was just out of high school and working a full time job to make money for college, so his involvement was definitely limited.
Jay and his wife Peggy now live in the home where Mary Emma and her eventual husband, Ira Eby, lived in Harrisonburg. When Peggy was an officer of the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community Auxiliary, she offered a dinner for their annual auction: a meal at their home with recipes cooked from Mary Emma Showalter’s cookbook, including the famous seven sweets and seven sours. “Some of Mary Emma’s nieces and nephews were the eventual recipients of the dinner, and during the course of the evening, we read several of the essays Mary Emma included at the beginning of each chapter of the book,” Jay recalls.
Eugene summarized his experience of earning enough money for a whole year of college as “The easiest money I ever made. Sometimes it is surprising what good things come your way.” Like other students of his time, he graduated debt free.
We would love to hear any stories from others who were involved in “selling Mennonite Community Cookbooks” in the early 50s! Most sellers would be in their mid to upper 80s by now. Do you know anyone? A parent or grandparent? Let us know!
Mennonite Community Cookbook made a great shower or wedding present in the 50s. It still does! Order here.