Day for a ‘saint’By Elaine Sommers Rich
Clayton Kratz was born Nov. 5, 1896, and disappeared in Russia in 1920. If I belonged to the Orthodox, Catholic or Anglican branch of the Christian family, I might well be remembering Richard Hooker on Nov. 5, Martin of Tours on Nov. 11, Margaret Queen of Scotland on the 16th, the disciple Andrew on the 30th and others on the dates in between.
As a Christian, I claim all saints as part of my heritage. But I am a Mennonite, and we do not canonize saints nor celebrate special days for them. If we did, however, I think we would celebrate Clayton Kratz Day on Nov. 5. Clayton Kratz, Orie O. Miller and Arthur Slagel were the first Mennonite Central Committee relief team. They took food and clothing to Russia in 1920 to help suffering Mennonites caught between two armies in Ukraine.
In 2008 a masterfully written book by Judy Clemens, Lost Sons (Herald Press), tells as much as is known about Kratz’s disappearance. The story is told through a fictional character, Stan Windermere, a detective on leave from the Goshen, Ind., police department. He and his wife, Rose, are under much strain because their son Jamie, a naval officer, on an undercover mission, has been reported missing in action in Russia. Windermere takes a job as night watchman at the MCC warehouse in Goshen but is forbidden by his employer to carry a gun.
What fun it was to read a book with such a familiar setting! Buggies in the parking lot. Eighth Street Mennonite. Ten Thousand Villages. Bumper sticker “God Bless the Whole World — No Exceptions.” Names such as Brenneman and Yoder. Where else could I read a sentence like the following? “He reached into his pocket and came out with a key hooked onto a purple-and-white key chain shaped like a maple leaf.”
But to get on with the story: One night Windermere sees pictures of Daniel Gerber and Clayton Kratz on a worker’s desk. He learns that Kratz, like his own son, disappeared in Russia. He determines to find out everything he can about Kratz, meanwhile hoping fervently for news of Jamie. Clemens uses the days of the week as her organizing story device, alternating between Rose Windermere’s voice and husband Stan’s. Between chapters are short excerpts from Kratz’s own communiques back to MCC headquarters or friends in the United States and other historical tidbits about him, plus a few fictional bits about son Jamie.
Author Judy Clemens was herself quite a detective to dig out all the information Windermere discovers. He goes through Goshen yearbooks, Maple Leafs, for the years in which Kratz was a student there, 1918-20. Windermere searches for every photograph of Clayton H. Kratz. Winner of Interclass Oratorical. On the spring baseball team. Business manager. He goes to the Goshen archives; finds materials from Kratz’s home community, Blooming Glen, Pa.; reads Geraldine Gross Harder’s biographical story for children and youth When Apples Are Ripe (Herald, 1971); views the John Ruth 1997 and Sidney King 2001 videocassettes; even finds the recent discovery of some 1922-23 C.E. Krehbiel notes. All this sleuthing he keeps secret from Rose, for she is becoming increasingly alienated from him because of his obsession with Kratz and the Mennonite peace position.
I can imagine that author Clemens had difficulty figuring out how to resolve the intricate plot, but she does so successfully. In the end, Jamie comes home. Husband and wife are reconciled. The “patriotism” and “peace-minded” Elkhart community factions accept one another’s differing points of view through the efforts of a Goshen College professor of peace studies. Clayton Kratz, dead for almost a century, remains the central character in Lost Sons.
I am sure that, were he a real person, detective Stan Windermere would agree with me that, if we celebrated such, Nov. 5 would be a Clayton Kratz name day among Mennonites.
Elaine Sommers Rich lives in Bluffton, Ohio.
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