Kreider helped start thriving thrift shop network

Feb 14, 2019 by

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NORTH NEWTON, Kan. — Lois Kreider, who helped develop the first U.S. Mennonite thrift stores and was among the first Mennonite Central Committee workers in Europe after World War II, died Jan. 31 in North Newton. She was 94.



Dedicating her career to supporting MCC, she volunteered in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland and helped establish thrift shops across the U.S. and Canada.

Born Feb. 8, 1924, in Pekin Ill., to Norah (Lambert) and Oscar Julius Sommer, she graduated from Bluffton (Ohio) College in 1945 with a degree in home economics and married Robert Kreider on Dec. 30, 1945, at Bethel Mennonite Church of Pekin.

The Kreiders worked with MCC in postwar refugee relief efforts in Europe from 1946 to 1949. She took on significant roles with child-feeding programs, often making do with whatever could be gathered or traded. Raisins donated from Reedley, Calif., were exotic and unfamiliar to children wary of what appeared to be bugs on their rolls, but Kreider convinced them to give it a try. Robert Kreider wrote in an  autobiography, “Some called the raisins kleine Mennoniten (little Mennonites) and delighted in how many they could find.”

She managed the MCC guest house in Basel, Switzerland, in their final year in Europe.

While Robert Kreider taught at Bluffton in the 1950s and 60s, Lois Kreider volunteered with area organizations. She maintained a friendship with Edna Ruth Byler that began during her time with MCC in Pennsylvania. Working with Byler — founder of the fair-trade organization Self-Help Crafts, later known as Ten Thousand Villages — Kreider brought yearly sales of Self-Help goods to Ohio in the 1960s. But a store didn’t materialize until a family trip to Canada.

She became a little bold

The first MCC thrift shop opened in 1972, in Altona, Man. In remarks at the Bluffton (Ohio) Et Cetera Shop’s 40th anniversary banquet in 2014, Kreider said her family visited Altona the following summer to take their daughter Karen to camp and happened to learn about the initiative.

In Bluffton, a local businessman had visited the MCC headquarters in Pennsylvania, learned about the self-help program and suggested it could work in Bluffton.

“He brought this report to the First Mennonite Church council,” she recalled in comments reprinted in the Bluffton Icon.   “A committee of six men was appointed to study the feasibility.

“Feeling some may not be fully aware of what was already being done with Self-Help, I became a little bold. . . . Soon there were inquiries from churches in eastern Ohio and Archbold. And a store opened in Reedley, Calif., and Souderton, Pa. And on and on. It is a remarkable story of growth these 40 years.”

Kreider helped open the Newton, Kan., Et Cetera Shop in 1976 and managed it through 1990. Today there are more than 100 thrift shops in the U.S. and Canada. Those stores generated about $15 million for MCC last fiscal year.

“Thrift is such an important part of the MCC story,” said MCC Central States donor relations coordinator Anna Yoder in 2016 at the Newton store’s 40th anniversary celebration, which honored Kreider. “None of us would be in this room tonight if it weren’t for you.”

Kreider responded that it was her privilege to be part of the program from the beginning.

“It has grown beyond our dreams and imaginations,” she said. “I am thankful.”

Survivors include children Esther (William) Eash, Joan Kreider, Karen (Stephen) Kreider Yoder, David (Heidi Regier) Kreider and Ruth Kreider; 13 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and a brother, John Sommer.

Preceding her in death were her husband, Robert; an infant daughter, Ruth Marie; and a brother, Ted Sommer.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 19 at Faith Mennonite Church in Newton.

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