Men’s chorus celebrates 50 years
Hillsboro group had 500 members at peak
The Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus gave its first performance in May 1969 in Hillsboro with 180 singers. The event was staged in conjunction with Mennonite Central Committee’s relief sale in Hillsboro and was made up of mostly Mennonite Brethren church choir members.
The chorus will return to Hillsboro almost 50 years later, on April 7, this time with 220 singers. The concert will be at 7 p.m. in Richert Auditorium at Tabor’s Shari Flaming Center for the Arts. Rehearsal will be 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Greg Bontrager of North Newton is the director.
Although the 1,500 people in that first audience reportedly enthusiastically received the performance, Vernon Wiebe, one of the original organizers, was disappointed because he had dreamed of a chorus of 500.
Wiebe arranged to include singers from other Mennonite conferences in Kansas, and in April 1970, the chorus performed in Century II in Wichita with 495 members. They sang to a packed house of 2,500 people, with 1,000 turned away at the door. It fell just short of Wiebe’s dream.
Over time, membership decreased and now sits at 220 to 230 men.
Kenneth Jost of Hillsboro was one of the charter members.
“I really enjoyed it, especially when there were more than 500 singers,” he said. “We ran out of places to sing.”
One memory he won’t forget is singing with a girl.
“I sang with a girl,” he said. “She stood beside me. She was a Bethel College student who sang tenor.”
Jost sang in the chorus for 46 years, quitting in 2015. He plans to be at the April 7 concert.
David Brown of Hillsboro has been singing in the men’s chorus since 2011. He said the program would include some Christmas carols.
“We don’t get to sing around Christmas time, so we decided to have Christmas in April,” he said.
One song will be in German.
In 1995, Carol Duerksen of rural Hillsboro wrote a book about the first 25 years of the men’s chorus. When contacted, she said, “That was a long time ago.”
She surmised that the drop in chorus members happened as older men left the chorus and not enough younger men joined to replace them. She said she had the April 7 concert on her calendar.