Welcome back, alumni!  At Belleville Mennonite School, our relationship with alumni is important to us. We hope that you remain an active member of the BMS community, and participate in our programs and giving opportunities.

During my 13 years at BMS I learned a lot about the value of community. The small school environment and intentional work of the faculty and staff to develop the lives, intellect and character of each student certainly helped develop my foundational values. I had good and bad times, easy years and really hard years. The community was consistent in its presence in my life.  I didn't appreciate how meaningful and formative that community was for me until I was away from it for a number of years.

Community- in the sense that I am thinking of it- doesn't just happen. It isn't just a group of people who happen to regularly be in the same place. It's a commitment to being authentically present with one another, honoring and nurturing the individual qualities of each part to promote the wellbeing of the whole.

Reflecting on how my time at BMS prepared me for life after graduation, the gift of being supported, redirected, celebrated and challenged by that formative community is most meaningful to me. I carry those values into both my personal and professional life now and always enjoy coming home to the BMS community that has those same qualities it did when I was a student.

This testimony was provided by Katie Neer, Class of 2003.  Katie is a Nurse Practitioner at Bryn Mawr Hospital and resides in Conshohocken, PA. Katie’s parents, Lynn and Margaret (Hartzler) Neer sent their younger daughter, Charity, ‘05,to BMS as well. Margaret graduated from BMS in 1965.

Remembering those we loved who have passed  

Belleville Mennonite School is honoring and reflecting on the lives of the following people who were very special to the BMS family and played an important role in the school’s functioning and history.  Join us in praying for strength and peace for their families as they suffer the loss of their loved one.
“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8


Jane Yoder passed away on February 28, 2017 after a courageous battle with cancer.  Jane was a '72 graduate of BMS and also a former secretary at the school.  She was a special lady that is near to many of our hearts.   Jane and her husband Ray, ’70, sent their children Jason and Krissy (Yoder) Bonson to BMS until they graduated in '99 and '02.  Jane is survived by Ray, her children, and 3 grandchildren. (Jane is pictured at right in 1972) 

Sallie Yoder passed away on January 27, 2017 at Valley View Haven.  Her husband, Merle, preceded her in death on March 21, 2007.  Sallie and Merle volunteered hundreds of hours to BMS over the years.  Sallie helped in the cafeteria, with the “Public Suppers” and with other fundraisers.  Merle and Sallie’s children all graduated from BMS; Ralph in 1967; Victor, 1968; Marlin, 1971; Mary Beth, 1973; Karl, 1977; and Shirley, 1979.   (Sallie is pictured, left) 

Don Mathews passed away on January 27, 2017 at his home.  Don was the maintenance director at BMS and was well-liked and respected by everyone at the school.  His four children all graduated from BMS, Don Jr., graduated in 1975; Venita (Mathews) Wagner in 1977; Lenette (Mathews) Spiegel  in 1979, and Lynda (Mathews) Long in 1983.  His wife, Cornett, 10 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren survive him. (Don is pictured at right) 

Ruth Ann Hostetler was an integral part of the school’s Race for Education fundraiser each year.  She also donated many hours of time to making quilts for the Auctions.  Additionally, Ruth Ann was a custodian at BMS for many years.  She passed away on November 8, 2016 at her home.  Her husband, Alvin, preceded her in death on January 5, 2013. Ruth Ann is survived by 4 children, 5 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandchild. (Ruth Ann is pictured at left) 


Martha Kanagy, a 1977 graduate of BMS, was a supporter of the school in many ways. Martha passed away on May 21, 2016, at her home. She is survived by siblings Roy Kanagy and wife, Rita (Mast), of Belleville, and DaVida Kanagy, also of Belleville. She is also survived by 1 niece, 3 nephews and 10 great-nieces and nephews, all who were very special to her. (Martha is pictured at right) 


Peter H. “Pete” Herman was known by many of our alumni from his work with them for the WMRF/MERF Radio Student of the Month Program.  Pete also helped do announcing at the BMS Auction for the past few years.  He was a kind and generous man to our students, to the Church and to the community.  He passed away on April 12, 2016. (Pete is pictured here) 



The Bender’s     The following was written by Roy, BMS Class of 1972, and Connie, his wife.  Roy is not a Big Valley native.  Until the age of nine, he lived with his family in Somerset County, PA in Springs, a hamlet located a mile north of the Maryland state line.  His parents are Paul (who died in 2009) and Leona Bender, and he has six siblings:  Lois Ann Arnold who lives in NYC, Class of ‘68; John Paul living in North Carolina, Class of ‘71; Titus the only sibling still living in Belleville, Class of ‘75; Miriam who lives in Virginia, Class of ‘78; Loren who lives in Lancaster, Class of ‘82; and Kevin who died as an infant in 1972.  (Roy and Connie are pictured above) 

Roy moved to Belleville in 1963 when his father became the principal of BMS, a position he held for six years.  (Roy’s dad) also taught math and science.  Roy began BMS in fourth grade.  In his teen years he worked on several farms and after graduation and not anticipating going to college tested milk for DHIA and then worked at the Allensville Planing Mill.

When plans to settle down in Big Valley changed in 1974 he followed the wheat harvest in Kansas.  After that he went into Voluntary Service in Homestead, Florida where he met Connie Kreider, his future wife, and was encouraged to go to college.

Connie, a native of Lancaster, attended Locust Grove and Lancaster Mennonite Schools.  After graduating in 1973 she worked for Witmers Greenhouse.  Then in 1975 she went into Voluntary Service where we first met.  We unknowingly had a common connection.  Her father invented a cow stall that became very popular, even among farmers in Big Valley.  They were called “Show-Ease Stalls.” Herbie King became a dealer so he knew the Kreider family.

Roy happened to work for a farmer who put in these stalls while remodeling the barn.  So Roy knew about the Kreider family, not Connie specifically, while Connie had no clue about Roy.  We look back and say that if we had known each other in high school we probably would not have married.  God has a delightful sense of humor!  Connie comes from a family of six siblings.  She is the oldest followed by three brothers, a sister, and then a brother, the same lineup as Roy’s family!

This May, we will celebrate 40 years of marriage.  Our married life began in Hesston, Kansas for college, then to Spring Valley Mennonite Church for Roy’s first pastorate, then on to Elkhart, Indiana where Roy attended seminary.  After that our family moved to Pinto Mennonite Church in western Maryland where Roy began a second pastorate.  We have two boys, Darren who lives in Indiana with his wife, Espri, and three young daughters, Viola 7, and Eleanor and Sylvia who are four-year old twins.  Ryan, our second son, died from a severe seizure disorder at age six.  Those were some very dark days for our family.  Then in 1994 we moved to Lancaster so that Connie could fulfill a dream of working in the family business.  Darren attended Lancaster Mennonite School, and Roy took on a third pastorate at Witmer Heights Mennonite Church. (Roy and Connie's son, Darren, is pictured above with Espri and their children.)

Then in 2009 Connie was given the opportunity to become president of her family’s business, which she took and then two years later we bought the business and moved it from Lancaster to Ephrata.  She also renamed the business, “ShowEase Inc.”  We no longer manufacture stalls but are still in the agribusiness world.  If you ever get to Ephrata we would love to have you stop in.  The business is very easily identified with its sign standing 80 feet in the air.

In reflecting on his time at BMS, Roy notes that the teachers helped foster a sense of love of scripture.  Brenda Kauffman was the teacher who got him hooked on current events.  Roy also enjoyed playing varsity basketball in his senior year.

It is because of this business that we were asked to share our story.

The Gift of Music   Belleville Mennonite School is known for its rich and long-standing history of excellence in music.  Alumni and students from each generation have an appreciation for music that can be connected back to their time at BMS when they were under the instruction of exceptional music teachers and directors.

One of those notable and significant musical instructors that spent many years at BMS is Ray French.  Ray’s musical roots date back to his childhood where his natural love for music was encouraged by his parents.  Ray witnessed his dad singing bass at church where music was formally introduced to him and his siblings.  He also recalls playing the trumpet and singing in elementary school.  Another notable memory Ray has is when Joe W. Yoder, the author of Rosanna of the Amish, provided singing schools to area churches.  One of Mr. Yoder’s  singing schools was held at Mattawanna Mennonite Church, near McVeytown and also near Ray’s childhood home, and Ray was privileged to attend.  There Ray learned singing techniques that he has used for the entirety of his life. (pictured above is Ray in 1957)

Ray continued explaining how music was encouraged when he was young, “Our parents were behind us 100%..they encouraged us to use our talents all of the time!” Ray has childhood memories of singing in music class at the school in Mattawanna where he attended until he was in 8th grade. (pictured left is Mary Alice French)

Ray then attended BMS from 1951 until graduating in 1955. “When I started going to BMS we were the first family from the McVeytown area to go there.” He continued, “After we began going there, about a dozen other kids from our area started going.” 

“What I learned about music at BMS was the foundation for me.”  Ray further explained that Alphie Zook was the catalyst for his intense interest and extraordinary knowledge of the art of music.  He also talked lovingly about his sister Mary Alice.  Mary Alice dedicated 19 years of her life to teaching music at the school.  “Mary Alice and I also sang together a lot when I was a kid.” He continued with his trademark jolly laugh, “We would switch parts in the middle of singing.” 

“The French family's influence on music at BMS actually starts with (my) great aunt Mary Alice,” Charity Kauffman, ’03 and former elementary music teacher at BMS, stated.  Charity continued, “It was under her direction that beloved classics like Mary's Lullaby Tiny King were introduced to BMS.”

“I remember those little children sang their hearts out!” Mary Alice remarked as she recalled directing the mass choir made up of students from 1st through 12th grades.  Today, these favorites are once again sung at the annual Christmas program.  Their melodies ring through the hearts and minds of hundreds of BMS alumni, especially during the Christmas season.  Charity added, “I remember being thrilled when I was old enough to sing those songs (Mary’s Lullaby and Tiny King) at Christmas under Ray's direction.” 

Ray said a highlight from his days as a high school student at BMS was performing the cantata “David the Shepherd Boy,” with lead roles played by Urie Sharp and Arlene (Peachey) Byler, both from the Class of ’54, and himself.  Ray also told of how his talent of music was encouraged by his music instructor, Alphie Zook.  Notably, Alphie allowed Ray to be the assistant choir director his senior year.

“I knew before I left high school that I was going to major in music in college. I’ll never forget hearing Goshen College choir when they visited BMS,” Ray explained and continued, “As I watched them perform I said ‘I’m going to do that some day!’”

After graduating from BMS Ray worked on telephone line construction in Maryland with his brother, followed by attending Eastern Mennonite College (now Eastern Mennonite University) from 1956-1957.  Ray was the first child in his family of 11 children to attend college.  After Ray’s first year of college, he was contacted by BMS superintendent, Laurie Mitton, and Urie Peachey from the BMS board of trustees and was asked to return to BMS to teach music.  “With only one year of college under my belt, I taught music at the school until 1958.” he said. (pictured above is Alphie Zook)

Additionally, Ray was tasked with building “B Course” curriculum, or ensuring that an Arts program was established. “In those years we really built the choir,” Ray said.  A notable student of his was Beryl (Hartzler) Brubaker,’60. “Boy! What a voice she had!” he remarked.  Other musically gifted students during that time that Ray recalled include Tom Peachey, Ken Hartzler, Jason Byler, and George Yoder all from the Class of ‘59, and Urbane Byler, ‘58.

It was also during that time Ray initiated taking the BMS choir to attend the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association competition.   That particular year the competition was held at Heinz Chapel at the University of Pittsburgh and they placed second.

During Ray’s first year teaching at BMS, Laurie Mitton was as Ray stated, “An amazing mentor to me.”  He continued, “Mr. Mitton had me have the choir on standby for performing at any time when the state education superintendent would show up.  We were on call.”  Ray also remembered that the art and music room was located in the former high school building at the left, rear corner. “It was twice as big as the room that is used now,” he said.

It was during this time that Ray began attending Maple Grove Mennonite Church in Belleville.  There he was the choir director and youth group leader.  Under his direction the choir performed up and down the east coast.  “It was amazing!” he exclaimed.  The church’s choir also recorded live on tape at the local radio station, WMRF.   “Invitation to Life!” Ray said with a laugh when declaring the name of the radio program.

After teaching at BMS for the 1957-1958 school year, Ray returned to EMC to earn his associate’s degree in music. Upon graduating from college, Ray married Wilma Smucker in 1961.  They moved back to the Belleville area and he and his brother, Andy, created the Belleville television cable system. Following that venture, Ray and Wilma bought a Christian bookstore in Whitehall from Lena Roth called Vallee Book Service.  Then in 1964 the French’s renamed their business Friendship Bookstore. It was originally located on Main Street in Lewistown and then was moved a few miles away to Fourth Street, and finally making its longtime home in the downtown area of Lewistown near the former Dank’s building. (pictured left is Ray teaching in the 80's)

Today Friendship Bookstore is owned by Theil and Andrea Kauffman.  Andrea is the daughter of Ray’s older brother, Mark, who has since passed away.  Theil and Andrea’s children Larry, ’01, and Charity, ’03, both have a love and talent for music.

During Ray’s respite from teaching, he directed a 125 voice community choir in the area and also conducted Handel’s Messiah at Grace United Methodist Church in Lewistown.  These ventures built up to 1976 when he prepared a mass choir of 300 voices in Hershey and they performed, “If My People.”  Ray explained, “Jimmy Owens wrote the thing and he came in and directed it when we performed at the Hershey Sports Arena.” Ray continued, “We performed all over Pennsylvania. What a movement of the Holy Spirit.”

It was in 1980 when it was discovered that Wilma had developed an inoperable brain tumor.  “I felt the Lord calling us to sell the bookstore,” Ray explained.  “I needed to take care of Wilma.”  

In 1981 John Yoder the BMS superintendent at the time, called Ray while he was working at the bookstore and asked if he knew of good candidates to interview for a music teaching position at BMS.  I said, “What about me?”  Ray continued, “Mr. Yoder called back later and said ‘What about you!?’  So in 1981 I began my long teaching career at BMS.”

Ray began to build a strong music program at BMS when he first arrived.  “When I got the choir moving in the 80’s, the men were wearing tuxedos and the ladies wore white blouses with big bows and long black skirts. That’s also the time when I introduced contemporary music in chapel.”  He continued, “We hosted the Mennonite Schools Education Council high school choir festival here in the 80’s. We performed our concert at Lewistown High School and practiced at BMS.  I will never forget that concert!  The superintendent at the time, Orville Heister, showed up in a white tuxedo!”

Also during the 1980’s Ray and Mrs. Sherry Morgan created a district choir festival co-op with 200 voices.  BMS and Indian Valley hosted the festival and Marie (Peachey) Byler, ’64, was the cook for all of the meals that were served.  “Everyone just loved the food!” Ray explained. “They had never had food like that before!”  Ray continued, “That’s where I met so many of my lifelong high school choir director friends.  It’s just wonderful!”

It was also during this time that Ray created a solid middle school music curriculum which included a junior high choral group consisting of 7th-9th grade boys and girls and also instructional class time dedicated to Music Theory.  “So many guys became such great singers because I could get them when they were in 7th grade.”  Ray also chaired the annual Junior High Music Festival held at Lancaster Mennonite School during these years.

Also during this time Ray took his choirs, both high school and junior high school, to area churches to perform on Sunday mornings and for Sunday evening services.  “We did every church around,” Ray said.  “I remember going to Ryde Methodist Church…our choir was bigger than the congregation,” he said with a laugh. (pictured above is a glimpse of a choir festival)

Ray pointed out, “The music department and athletics lived together peaceably in the 80’s.”  He continued, “That’s because of Herb Zook.  We had a good relationship and still do.”  Ray said, “The success of music came from administration giving me practice time with choirs during school which was unheard of in other schools.”  He emphasized, “There was such a wide open acceptance for music there.”

Alumni might remember the cumbersome white wooden boxes that the choirs stood on to perform.  Ray said, “I created those boxes to sit on top of each other!”

Wilma’s condition continued to worsen and on October 27, 1986, she went to be with the Lord in heaven. Before passing though, she was able to attend a Concert Choir performance that Ray directed at the Faith Promise banquet.  “We laid a beautiful quilt over a Lazy Boy recliner and brought Wilma in and seated her in front of the stage,” Ray explained.  “It was so emotional.  But Wilma was so delighted to be there under me while we performed.”  He added, “I don’t know how we did it.”

A longtime friend of Ray’s, Jean Boonie, commented, “Beautiful memories (were) shared with Ray and his deceased wife Wilma. (We) shared many wonderful times together.”

Then in December 1987, Ray married a friend, Louise Moffet.  Louise’s spouse had also passed away. “Our friend Steve Moore wrote and sang us a song at our wedding; it was called Old Friends New Love,” Ray said with a laugh.

In 1995 BMS celebrated 50 years of existence and Ray had a big hand in the planning for those festivities.  “I had Alphie Zook come back and direct Gracious Father which was sung at the school in the 1950’s,” Ray recalled.  “At the end of the song he presented me with his baton. I will never forget that!”  Ray continued telling the story of that 1995 concert where he led a mass choir of alumni. “I had other songs to conduct using that heavy baton. I got so tired!” Ray said with a big laugh.  Today Alphie’s baton that he passed on to Ray is displayed in a trophy case next to the high school music room.

Ray recalled working alongside other music teachers such as Andrea Yoder, Patty Loudenslager, Carla McMullen, and Faith Minihan. 

Ray enjoys reminiscing about his talented music students.  He referred to many of them by name.  Some of those that he mentioned include Conrad Kanagy, 82; Cecilia Peachey, ‘83; Rhonda Harshbarger, ’84; Lisa (Yoder) Sunderland, ’90; Ritchie Peachey, ’94; Christy (Zook) Schelenberg, ’97; Michelle (Yoder) Sensenig, ’98; and the Clymer children.  “Maria (’95) was exceptional, Gina (’90) was wonderful and Hannah (’98) astounded me!”

Ray spoke about a special young man, Clayton Workinger, ‘91, who has since passed away from a tragic house fire in December of 2004. “Clayton was one of my best friends with whom I stayed in touch after he graduated. He really responded to singing even though he hadn’t formally sang until high school.”  Ray continued, “He did some solo work for me when he was in Touring Choir. He even continued taking voice lessons after high school until he died.” The last few hours of Clayton’s life were spent doing what he loved most and what Ray had so lovingly impressed upon him, singing. Clayton finished up a recording of his singing a few hours before the fire broke out. 


Ray also remembered, “When Michelle did her personal recital for her capstone experience upon graduating from Messiah College, I was privileged to attend and witness her playing all of the classics from memory for one hour,” Ray remembered.  “I also remember that Christy accompanied district choir one year.” Ray continued, “I’ll never forget looking at the faces of the other conductors as they wondered ‘How in the world?! What a talent!’”

Lisa (Yoder) Sunderland, said “That dear man gave me a great foundation and encouraged my love and pursuit of music ministry.”

Charity also remarked, “As a music educator, Ray gave students a language through which they lifted hearts, minds and voices to the beauty of who God is and what He's done.” (pictured above is Ray during a visit to BMS in December 2015.)

JD Yoder, said “Mr. French gave me my love for music.”

Ray taught four part harmony and tried to emphasize the importance of conducting congregational singing so that his students could direct choirs in their churches.

In December of 1997, Ray said, “I started hearing from God that I should retire. And that’s the only way to say it.”  I remember not wanting to do so.  “That year our entire choir flew to Sarasota, Florida with Leon and Lynda (Byler) Miller, ’70, to take part in the MSEC choir festival.” “Fantastic!” he said.

Close to the time when Ray announced his retirement from BMS, he received a phone call from a pastor at Inter Mennonite Church (now Kingdom Life Ministries) in Hesston, Kansas.   After the Lord opened several doors, Ray accepted a position at the church to mentor a pastor.

“There’s been a lot of mentoring since 1998,” Ray said.  “I still sing today! All of the time! …In the car, at home and at church!”  Ray and Louise attend Ephrata Community Church near their current home in Lancaster County.  “We roll the rafters with our singing!  It’s good stuff!” he said with a laugh.

Ray has three daughters.  One of them, Rebecca (French) Rhodes, retired from Brandywine Heights High School after teaching music for 27 years.

Today, the French love of music continues through the generations.  BMS’s finance manager, Rachel French, who is married to Andre, a great-nephew of Ray, had this to say, “It's heartwarming to see the French music tradition continue in my family with my children. My sons all have a love of music, whether it's singing, playing musical instruments, or just enjoying listening to a variety of musical styles.” She continued, “I am glad to raise my children with this heritage of music.”

BMS has always been known for having a distinctive music program and the school is grateful to the Lord for blessing it with wonderful musicians, both students and teachers.  The hard work and effort that have been put into establishing this program have not gone in vain and it continues to be a flourishing part of the school’s curriculum. Today’s elementary, middle and high school music teacher is Mrs. Hilary Hearn.  Additionally, Mrs. Tara Spicher provides instrumental music lessons. Annual Christmas programs that include PreK-5th grade, the middle school choir and the high school Concert Choir are hosted in the gym each December.  The elementary students also perform an annual Spring Musical Program and the middle school choir and Concert Choir continue to perform programs at area churches, along with performing at the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Music Festival and the Association of Christian Schools International Fine Arts Festival.

     Because of BMS   

by Kari Swigart

I wasn't looking for a teaching job in the mid 80's, but the Lord had other plans. Between Stan Miller talking to me about enrolling my then toddlers in BMS, Donna Glenney testifying about her teaching experience and Darlene Byler preparing to take maternity leave, God pulled, pushed and prodded me onto a path that God alone was designing.

BMS was a big part of the Swigart family from 1988-2009.  As many of you know, that involvement draws in grandparents and friends as well.   Now in 2016 I am a grandmother to two and one half grandchildren, the next due in August.  When my husband Steve and I were asked, "Why do you send your kids to BMS?", the answer was, "Because God led us to do it".  Now, six and a half years after our youngest graduated from BMS, that is still my answer.

Because of BMS:  When issues would pop up, I could sit face to face with an administrator or board member who truly cared about my concerns. When 9/11 happened on a September school morning, as a teacher, I drew my preschoolers close to pray and was assured as a mother knowing my own 3 children were cared and prayed for. I knew too that they were praying for our world at that moment. When Y2K and the year 2000 loomed, over and over we heard, God is in control. Amen!

Because of BMS:  I clearly heard the Lord speak into my life about pastoral ministry.  I left BMS as an educator in 2004.  I left with great memories and a call to pastoral ministry. I have served as a United Methodist pastor for the last 15 years. That original path to BMS led me to seminary and to the opportunity to serve the Lord as a pastor. God is in control!

Because of BMS:  Steve and I were privileged to watch all three of our children graduate from college. Kate from Lock Haven, Dan from Eastern Mennonite University, and Nathan from Penn State, University Park . All are amazing adults too! Kate is working in human resources at Geisinger Lewistown Hospital, Dan is a police officer in Lancaster County, and Nathan works for the federal government in the USDA Animal and Plant Health services in Columbus, Ohio. Without BMS to launch them, none of that would be possible. Considering all three of our kids were with their teachers from preschool through graduation at BMS, nine months out of the year, 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, as parents we better be sure they are in the place God wants them to learn and to be influenced. God is in control! Because of BMS:  My teacher colleagues were and are counted among my best friends.  I observe with joy the progress BMS is making while still treasuring the history of the school and more importantly seeking God at every turn. God is in control! It is only after we step faithfully onto the path God has laid out that we truly discover that truth and not only are we better for that, but generations of Christian disciples to come are impacted for the Kingdom.

God, indeed, is in control! Praise be to God!

Where God wants her to be: Meredith’s journey  


Meredith Spicher was a very ambitious, fun loving young lady during her days as a student at Belleville Mennonite School, and today she continues to excel with that work ethic and spirit as a sophomore at Hesston College, Hesston, Kansas. 

Meredith’s preschool and first grade teacher, Mrs. Tamela Peachey, said that Meredith’s unique spirit could be witnessed from a young age.  “Meredith was an easy going and free spirited student who enjoyed being with her friends at school from a very young age!” Pictured is Meredith (far right) in a portrait for the Hesston College drama performance, Little Women. (photo credit,

When Mere, as she was often adoringly referred to, attended BMS she loved the close-knit community the school provides as she relished in the close relationships she established with her classmates, other students and her teachers and coaches.  Meredith also worked hard in the classroom and took advantage of the school’s extracurricular activities. She said, “at BMS, you can be involved in multiple extracurriculars at one time, which is so nice because you're not just another face, you have a role there.” 

Meredith played for four years on the Varsity field hockey and basketball teams where she showed valuable leadership to her team mates. Meredith’s high school Art teacher, Mrs. Tambra Peachey, had this to say about her, “she is one of those people who are contagious!  She could influence people and I think she did that at BMS.  Mrs. Peachey continued, “she wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed...”  She also took part in the fall drama performance each year where she displayed her giftedness in performance arts and singing. Meredith was in the high school Concert Choir and took part in District and Regional choir competitions as well.  

Gina (Hartzler) Spicher, ’86, Meredith’s mom explained her daughter’s transition from BMS to college well by saying, “We as parents are so thankful for Christian Godly leadership at BMS that plays a role in the lives of our children.  Its worth goes beyond the tuition that's been spent. We are indeed proud of Meredith and her desire to first, be where God wants her and second, to not make a hasty decision about her future.” 

Gina said that her road from BMS to Hesston was not clear at first.  “Meredith spent her senior year searching and searching for what God wanted her to do following graduation.” Gina continued, “she prayed so much about it. I know that her high school teachers and the biblical teaching she received at BMS was crucial in her desire to be wherever God wanted her to be.”

Gina further said, “She was accepted into a mission program along with five different colleges that senior year. She received great support from her peers at BMS in each of these avenues. Everything seemed to open up for her and yet it really came down to her waiting on God and realizing that He would be faithful in the end. And in His timing she chose Hesston. There was no writing on the wall, but because people were praying Hesston became the clear choice.”

“I love it!” was what Meredith had to say about her time at Hesston so far. She continued, “You're not just a number here, everyone's on a first name basis and it's such a beautiful campus. You'll never walk to a class without seeing someone you know, whether from your World Literature class or from intramural volleyball. Everyone's connected and it's amazing!”

Meredith takes private voice lessons and is involved in the Bel Canto Singers which is a group of singers who must audition to be selected.   She is an RA where she serves as a leader of her residence hall.  Additionally, she plays soccer and will take part in the spring musical. 

Meredith’s ability to manage her extremely full schedule and succeed in many areas of her young life can be attributed to the gifts God gave her, to her parents Keith, ’85, and Gina, to her home church, Locust Grove Mennonite, and to BMS.

Making the Connection    Keith and Gina sent all three of their children to BMS from PreK-12th grade.  Their oldest, Aaron, graduated in 2008 and is now married to Mrs. Tara Spicher, the BMS private music lessons teacher and 4th grade Reading teacher.  Morgan, the Spicher’s middle child, graduated in 2011 and is now the Varsity field hockey coach at BMS.  Morgan and her husband, Simon Foote, send their son, Ethan, to PreK at BMS.  Gina’s mother, Sara (Renno) Hartzler is a 1961 graduate of BMS. 

Pictured above left to right: The Spicher family at Aaron and Mrs. Tara Spicher’s wedding.  Keith holding Ethan, Gina, Aaron, Mrs. Spicher, Meredith, Morgan holding her daughter Audrey, and Simon.


What I Remember


Elaine (Peachey) Swartz, Class of 1963, shares a few of her memories of BMS and Big Valley.  

“I had four aunts that boarded (BMS) teachers.  Aunt Nannie Peachey, Aunt Mary, Aunt Lydia Peachey and Aunt Naomi Yoder (the late Percy Yoder’s late mother) had an apartment above their home on Main Street, Belleville, where the teachers who were from out-of-town lived.  Thanks to these four ladies, many of the teachers were able to live in a private home, enjoy home cooked meals, packed healthy lunches (I'm sure with home baked treats, and I know home canned fruit, etc).  I do remember some romances that bloomed from these single teachers time at BMS.

None of these aunts went beyond 8th grade at the White Hall School where my parents later purchased, and remodeled and lived for their retirement home, but all  of them were interested in Christian education.  Yes, this was a way of income for them, but they truly believed in the Christian emphasis.

I am sentimental and have a soft spot for the valley in my heart.  Growing up the security and genuine concern of church, school and family made for an emotionally secure kid.

Lena Roth, a minister’s wife, was my second and third grade teacher at the old cement school at the corner by (the former) New Holland.  She taught us Bible verses that started with each letter of the alphabet.  I remember, the letter “A” was, "As the mountains are around about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people."  That phrase is from Psalms.  I always compared that to the mountains around Big Valley, and felt so secure.”

Congratulations, Elaine!


Elaine Swartz, LPN, was named the Living Legends Award recipient for 2014 from St. Mary’s of Michigan Standish Hospital. She has served residents of Arenac County in Michigan for over 40 years.

In 1965, Elaine received her nursing degree from Chambersburg Area Practical Nursing School in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Her first job was at Williamsport General Hospital, a 500 bed facility, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. She was selected to be part of a pilot program in which five LPN’s were introduced into a new concept, team nursing, on a med-surg floor. The hospital was pleased with the work that was accomplished by the LPN’s and they began to hire LPN’s as part of their staff.

In 1967, Elaine began her journey with Standish Community Hospital. At that time, she provided care to patients in almost every corner of the hospital, including Obstetrics, Emergency Room, Acute Care, and Critical Care. In later years she assisted patients and

residents in both the Skilled Nursing Facility and Rural Health Clinic, as well as in area doctor’s offices. In 1993, Elaine was recognized as one of the top 25 nurses in Michigan by the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. In 1994, she became the Associate Health Nurse and served in that capacity until 2008. Elaine officially retired from St. Mary’s of Michigan Standish Hospital in 2013.

Elaine and her husband, Olen, have four children (Olene, Jeff, Sheila, and Jason) and five granddaughters. In her spare time, she enjoys quilting, sewing, gardening and canning.

Enjoy this interesting story from Dr. James Payne!  Dr. Payne is married to Mrs. Marian (Yoder) Payne, a 1954 graduate of BMS.  

The Paynes Get Together at BMS

When asked to teach eighth grade at BMS, I said, “No.” I had over two years of college to complete. Prayer changes things. I wrote back to BMS and said, “Yes!”

At the beginning of the year, the BMS faculty got together at a mountain cabin where Ezra Peachy produced a pig roast for the group. As my birthday is the beginning of September, someone brought in a birthday cake which two of the lady teachers proudly presented to me. What impressed me though, was the first grade teacher’s entertaining the young children of another teacher.

After one year at EMC, Marian was in debt for what she had borrowed to pay the year’s expenses. Asked to teach first grade and knowing she was the best prepared teacher available, she agreed. I came to BMS when she was beginning her second year at BMS. When Alphie Zook, due to illness could not continue directing the high school chorus, Marian took that on, too. Over her lunch hour, someone monitored her first grade while she spent the time practicing with the high school students.

It wasn’t long until, recognizing Marian’s qualities, we began dating. Beginning to teach eighth grade, I was told what a difficult class I was given. Lacking library books, I went to the public library in Lewistown to check out books for my class. Also, from my psychology course, I learned of an approach to improve reading in which the school invested.

Marian took the chorus to various churches to give programs. I was her chauffeur! The memory that resides in me forever is when after one of the songs, she turned toward the audience and sang a solo in German.

For years, Marian heard remarks from students and others who fondly recalled her input on the chorus. Besides her first graders, she also taught music to grades 2-4.

On June 1, the day after school closed, we were married, ending our productive period at BMS. (the above photo is at Dr. and Mrs. Payne's wedding reception held in the BMS gymnasium on June 1, 1957)

Dr. and Mrs. Payne currently reside in Richmond, Virginia.  

Alumni Award Recipients 2005-2015

2015:   Ray Byler, '53 and Jewel (Mummau) Peachey, 00
2014:   Dr. Dennis King, '64 and Brian Renno, '96
2013:   Harry Lee Renno, ‘63 and Rebecca Barr, ‘00  
2012:   Dr. Beryl Brubaker, ’60 and Katie Neer, ’03
2011:   Julia Alleman, ’61 and Michael Yoder, ’96
2010:   Marv Peachey, ’60 and Dion Peachey, ’95
2009:   Irene Shrock, ’59
2008:   Elam Peachey, ’58
2007:   Lester Yoder, ’57
2006:   Joanne Kauffman, ’56
2005:   Ralph Metzler, ’55

Each year Belleville Mennonite School awards alumni with the Alumnus of the Year award, and a Young Alumnus of the Year award.  The recipients are nominated by fellow alumni and are individuals who represent a life of service, peacemaking and leadership under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

BMS alumni are represented all over the world and many of them are accomplished professionals or service-oriented missionaries.  As you come across BMS alumni, keep this award in mind and nominate a deserving alumnus!

The Class of 1974 celebrated their 40th reunion on May 17, 2014!

The Class of 1953 also celebrated a reunion on the weekend of May 18, 2014.  They are celebrating a belated 60 years! Congratulations!

Check out two interesting alumni stories by clicking here and here.

Please share your alumni story with us!  We love to hear alumni success stories and also are encouraged to see how BMS has worked in the lives of those who have graduated from the school.  Email, to share your story.


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