Laurelville Mennonite Church Center turns 70
By A.J. Panian
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
When a group led by the late Abram Jacob “A. J.” Metzler established the Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in 1943, its decision to do so became what the center's current executive director, the Rev. Michael Yoder, classified as a “hinge of history.”
“When you look back through history, you see people making decisions. Some are dramatic, some involve long processes and don't appear as significant,” said Yoder who assumed leadership of the Mt. Pleasant Township facility in May.
“Then you look back and say ‘Wow, that really changed the shape of what things have become.'”
Metzler and his fellow Mennonites made such a decision, he said.
“They said, ‘We ought to do something to provide space for younger people to develop relationships with one another and to develop their relationship with God,'” Yoder said.
In the beginning, the bucolic, 43-acre property, tucked away off of State Route 982, was the site of the first Mennonite campground of its kind in North America.
For decades, the destination has been frequented by members of the Mennonite Camping Association as one of 43 different camping sites in the United States and Canada.
This weekend, the center's annual fall gathering — this year called “Hinges of History” — will take place.
Yoder said he expects many to attend who have impacted development of the center, along with those whose lives were bettered by all it has to offer.
They will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its founding.
“People are very excited, and they are looking forward to coming back here to celebrate,” Yoder said. “People have fond memories of the times that their lives were impacted at Laurelville.”
Local man's life hinges on time spent there
Few can speak to the benefits of passing days among the plush trees, ornate shrubbery, open meadows and babbling streams which cut between the glacier rocks at Laurelville as can Scottdale's Maynard Brubacher.
Brubacher — who served for 21 years on the center's board of directors — also worked from 1972 to 1978 as the facility's resident manager.
“It was a great time of growth for me,” said Brubacher, a master contractor and the proprietor of Brubacher Enterprises.
In 1964, Brubacher was an 18-year-old still living in his hometown of Kitchener, a city in Southern Ontario, Canada.
While there, Brubacher saw a flier for Laurelville while attending Kitchener Mennonite Brethren Church.
“The church had a notice to sign up to take part in a one-year voluntary service position there, so I signed up,” he said.
Over the course of his 12-month sojourn, Brubacher befriended Kenneth and Laura Ann King, who lived at the center.
Toward the end of that time, Brubacher was working on a project on the center grounds when Jan King, the couple's daughter, visited from her home in Hesston, Kan.
“She came up to me and started asking me about what I was doing,” he said. “I guess she thought what I had to say was pretty interesting.”
The pair spent their first official date shopping for a Christmas gift for King's parents.
By 1966, they were married. Today they have two children, Steve Brubacher, 41, and Rachel Weaver, 40, along with several grandchildren.
Rachel's husband, Michael Weaver, served as president of the center's board of directors for the past four years.
“Dozens of couples have that same story,” Brubacher said. “We decided to go off to school together at Goshen College in Indiana.”
After they graduated from the school in the early 1970s, they spent a short time living in Kitchener before Laurelville called the Brubachers back.
“I don't know if I would have had the courage to start my own business if it wouldn't have been for the experience of being a manager there,” Brubacher said.
In addition to overseeing up to a 35-employee staff in summer months, Brubacher said, he devoted an estimated 3,000 volunteer hours to complete various projects which increased the center's overall functionality.
“I think, with our backhoe and a little bulldozer, we installed 3,500 feet of sewer line; that was a one-year project,” he said.
In addition, Brubacher said he devoted roughly 1,000 volunteer hours in 2005 to constructing the Youth Village Cabins there.
“It's been a good partnership,” he said.
Pittsburgh Kids Foundation to arrive for fifth decade
While Yoder will serve as the Fall Gathering's keynote speaker, the leader of worship services during the event will be the Rev. Mark Williams, director of urban ministries for the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation.
In November, members of the foundation will mark the 50th year of spending every weekend of that month at Laurelville.
While there they play games and hear contemporary worship and Gospel-centered messages.
“The impact of that program is shown by more than 100 senior pastors in Pittsburgh area churches who were dragged out to Laurelville as kids,” Brubacher said.
Center is open to all visitors
Laurelville's staff provides for attendees of all kinds, including Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts groups, and the pool is open to the public during the summer months.
“The center provides facilities for those outside the Mennonite church for activities which tie into its mission of providing a certain setting for interaction and relationship-building,” Brubacher said.
During his time as the center's previous executive director, the Rev. John H. Denlinger, worked hard to open eyes in the area to the availability of the grounds for local purposes.
“Obviously, it's quite a milestone for any organization to last 70 years, it speaks well to the legacy of Laurelville, that legacy is obviously bigger than one person or group of persons,” Denlinger said. “To be successful for that long requires a lot of people willing to share of their time and gifts.”
Denlinger also expressed excitement for the future of Yoder's tenure there.
“I think Michael's time will continue to be strong and Laurelville will continue to be an important resource not only locally but on a national scale, as well. I think it's in a good place; it's ready for another 70 years.”
In recent years, the center has been the annual site of the G7 Conference — a summit on municipal resource sharing coordinated by Mt. Pleasant Borough Manager Jeff Landy and involving Mt. Pleasant Borough, Scottdale, Connellsville, South Connellsville, Everson, New Stanton and Youngwood.
“It was a site we picked because of the setting; it's good for creative thinking, and people feel very relaxed out there,” Landy said. “It turned out to be even better because of their hospitality, and that's why the (G7 committee) has voted to keep holding it there.”
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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