Ralph and Margaret became engaged in July 1942, but decided not to share the news with family or friends right away. Margaret continued with her schooling. She was still taking a full load of classes in pursuit of a teaching degree, working as the secretary to the president of Hesston College, and teaching the occasional class, as was needed.
On Sunday, May 30, 1943, a week after commencement, Margaret and Ralph were married. Rain fell on the wedding party as they left the church, water staining her wedding dress, forever. The next day, the couple finished packing their car and drove to Oregon. They moved into Margaret’s parents’ house. Ralph quickly got a job working at a flax plant in Macksburg, but kept looking for a job at a dairy farm, while Margaret began keeping house and canning.
On November 9, 1943, Ralph was hired at Staehley Brothers Dairy. Since he was replacing a man who was transferred to a second farm owned by the Staehley’s, Ralph and Margaret were able to move into the man’s former house, giving them a place of their own. However, on December 24, 1943, Ralph received his notice to report to Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camp No. 55 in Belton, Montana, cutting their new adventure short. This camp was operated by the Mennonite Central Committee. Nineteen days later, Ralph boarded a train at 5 p.m. and Margaret began looking for work and a place to live.
Margaret found a place to live with the Merklins family in Portland, and a job with Meier & Frank downtown. She worked in their accounting department, increasing her skill set. Margaret continued to attend Hopewell, on Sundays, via the bus. Her separation from Ralph was soon to end because they had begun making plans, in April, for her to join him in Montana. On May 13, 1944, he arrived in Portland to take her back with him. Ralph rented a cabin for Margaret to stay in while he was onsite at CPS camp. The cabin was in Apgar, 3 miles away from Belton. It had one room with a bed, stove, cold water, no sink, and an outhouse. (1) Ralph would stay with her when he was allowed time away from camp.
When asked about one of her favorite memories of that time, Margaret smiled and said, “I learned that bears like cheese.” One night she heard a bear outside her cabin breaking into her cooler and eating her cheese. She never wandered outside the cabin a night and never again let the local bears get to her food. On May 30, 1944, Ralph and Margaret celebrated their first anniversary with a hike to the lookout on Apgar Mountain.
Three months later, Margaret received a job teaching near Kalispell. In September, she began to get sick. After a trip to the doctor, Margaret was told she was expecting her first child. She decided to resign from her position. However, Margaret was soon offered the first full-time secretary position back at Hesston College and she began to pack. Marvin Ralph Shetler arrived on May 3, 1945 weighing 7 pounds, 11 ¾ ounces and 20 inches long. (2) Ralph met his son nine days later.
After the war ended, Ralph, Margaret, and Marvin moved back to Oregon. David Allen Shetler was born January 14, 1947, but due to icy roads and work, Ralph was not there for his arrival. Margaret writes in her book, Life Companions, that “fathers were just in the way! They weren’t allowed in either the room or delivery room in those days.” (3) Margaret gave birth to more children: Howard Eugene, Jerold Wayne, Ruby Margaret, and Lawrence Carl (To learn more about the family, please check out Margaret’s book, Life Companions).
Some of Margaret’s archival work began when she helped Katie Lind write a book on Amish and Mennonite history in two counties in Iowa in 1988. She traveled to several places doing research on the project to aid Lind with her manuscript. Collecting information, gathering genealogical history, and copy editing became a large part of Margaret’s life. Both she and Ralph kept diaries for much of their life, leaving access to past moments that are honest, vulnerable, and powerful.
In April 1988, Margaret attended an “exploratory meeting” to discuss the formation of a local Mennonite Historical Society (OMHGS) in Oregon, which would later become a reality and lead to Margaret’s position as head archivist. Ralph passed away on October 18, 2004. Margaret writes about the days after his death in her book: “Cooking for two was hard; for one it is even more difficult . . . I continue with my archival work and regular quilting at church as well as other historical and genealogical interests.”
Margaret’s handiwork can be found in many areas regarding the preservation of Mennonite history. She has helped several authors with their books, written her own, helped with copy edits, gathered missing history for presentations, and collected history on the Shetler family. Her passion for history, the desire to share moments, is evident when you meet her. The matriculate thought Margaret places into the mere verbal telling of her life only highlights the detail orientated mind that has blessed the local PNMHS with a breadth of living history.
1 Pg 37
2 Pg 40
3 Pg 45