RELIEF SALE: He gave to give even more

Myrta Bartel of rural Hillsboro, along with her family, has discovered a unique way to honor her late husband, Johnnie, who passed away last summer.

After his death from esophageal cancer in July 1999, the family established a memorial fund in Johnnie?s name with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the relief, service and development agency of North American Mennonites and Brethren in Christ.

But they knew that just giving the money to MCC was not what Johnnie would do.

?Johnnie never just gave money,? says Myrta. ?He always wanted [the money] to bring more.?

With that in mind, the Bartel family commissioned a professional woodworker from Inman to build a china cabinet to be sold at the Mennonite Relief Sale in April.

The project was financed by the Johnnie Bartel memorial fund, with all proceeds benefiting MCC.

?It was a family decision,? says Myrta. ?It?s what Johnnie would have done.?

The Bartels have four married sons, Ron and Brenda, Marlin and Cheryl, Doug and Pam, and Brad and Rita, all of Hillsboro. Their daughter, Kathy, lives in Harper with her husband, Joe Zimmerman. The Bartels have 13 grandchildren.

Myrta believes the china cabinet serves as a witness to Johnnie?s life.

?Johnnie believed strongly in the concept of spending little and creating much,? she says.

He also had a real passion for what MCC stands for and what it?s done. That?s why, for years, Johnnie had taken a portion of their First Mennonite Church MCC offering and purchased items from merchants in Hillsboro and Marion to be sold at the MCC auction. Often the merchants gave generous discounts and donations. These items would then be sold at the sale often bringing more than their original value.

?So we thought, let?s help (the memorial) grow a little,? Myrta said.

The Bartels contacted Bruce Neufeld, a professional woodworker in Inman who agreed to build the cabinet.

According to Neufeld, the oak cabinet is five feet wide and 80 inches tall. In addition to three lighted glass shelves, the cabinet has three drawers and two doors for storage.

Over the last 20 years, Neufeld has made a number of projects for the MCC sale. Although he did not know Johnnie well, he agreed to build the china cabinet in part because of Johnnie?s involvement with the sale.

Says Myrta: ?Johnnie has been connected with the sale from the very beginning, back to when it started in Hillsboro.?

Johnnie volunteered in numerous capacities, most recently serving as the general manager of the miscellaneous auction building.

In that role, Johnnie was responsible for receiving, displaying and scheduling sale items, as well as working with the auctioneers. During the weeks prior to the sale, says Myrta, Johnnie spent quite a bit of time preparing.

?The week before,? she says, ?he went to Hutchinson every day to get the whole thing set up.?

Myrta helped her husband with the sale. ?I gave out bidding numbers for years and years,? she says.

The sale will be different this year, Myrta says. Auctioneer Floyd Gehring, with whom Johnnie worked closely, also passed away last year.

?Johnnie was a man who loved life,? says Myrta. She remembers a husband who was generous with his time, and was a witness in his own way.

?When you have Christ in your heart,? says Myrta, ?you?re willing to help others.?

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