Mennonites and the Marlboro Man

The Marlboro man, pictured as a cool-guy cowboy in a fresh country setting, ruled cigarette advertising from 1954 -1999.

Credit: Google Images
Credit: Google Images

Smoking then was considered glamorous and cool, a way to fit in with the crowd. One of our most popular presidents, Ronald Reagan, was formerly a cigarette model for Chesterfields, even advertising that he would give cases of the product to his friends for Christmas.

Credit: Google Images
Credit: Google Images

As the Marlboro Man’s ads evolved, the Surgeon General’s warning of health hazards appeared on cigarette packs. Now of course, smoking is taboo in stores and restaurants, and smokers are often viewed as outcasts.

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Mennonite farmers in Lancaster County during the 1950s and 1960s grew tobacco as a prime cash crop. But as Shirley Showalter points out in her memoir, growing tobacco was both a tradition and controversy among Lancaster Conference Mennonites. “After George Brunk’s tent revivals, many farmers plowed up or stopped planting tobacco,” she comments. My own Dad stopped planting tobacco then, substituting tomatoes and corn in our acreage in Bainbridge, Pennsylvania. Shirley divulges her dad’s decision about farming tobacco in her book BLUSH (173).

Here are some photos of young tobacco plants, Mother Ruth in the tobacco fields and then a snapshot of the drying process before the crop was sold to a tobacco company.




The issue of tobacco production and use appears in the Statement of Christian Doctrine and Rules and Discipline of the Lancaster Conference Mennonite Church (July 1968) but as an advisory to only ministers and their wives:

“Inasmuch as ordained brethren and their wives by their teaching and example exert strong influence within the brotherhood, it is required for the spiritual welfare of the church that they give evidence of willingness to subscribe to . . . the following standards of faith and life.

Listed as “f” in a range of a – h points is this directive but only to the ordained: “the non-use and non-production of tobacco.” (29)  Apparently the issue of smoking and its health hazards posed a serious dilemma to the church with lay members who relied on tobacco growing as a way to pay the mortgage.

Many of my uncles smoked cigars when they were together. Even my dad would occasionally join in as a way to socialize.

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I recently found a map of Yellowstone with a Conoco ad in the 1960s using the pleasures of smoking to promote their brand of gasoline:


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A young boy named Jeremy learns about the dangers of smoking in an imaginative book entitled The Boy Who Grew Too Small.


Leave a comment below if you want to contact Author/Illustrator Cliff for more information about his book.

Other comments about this post – welcome here too!


Coming next: A Corny Post


Anna Mae and Hiram: A Mennonite Wedding

This is the wedding portrait of my mother and father

Ruth Landis Metzler and Ray Martin Longenecker 

October 26, 1940

Ray and Ruth Longenecker_4x5_72

June is the month for many American weddings. And so is August. Because many Mennonites were farmers, Mennonite weddings often took place in October, a month that signaled a break in heavy farm work after most of the crops had been harvested. My dad was a farm implement dealer, so his work cycle mimicked that of the farmers he served, which would probably explain the October date for the wedding.

The bride and groom, my parents, are dressed in Mennonite attire and comply with the rules for weddings prescribed by the church in this era: no bridal party prancing down an aisle to “Here Comes the Bride,” no flowers, and definitely no exchange of rings.

Excerpts from Article II, Separation and Nonconformity, Section 2. Public Worship. (19) from the Statement of Christian Doctrine and Rules and Discipline of the Mennonite Church, 1968:

  • “We deem it improper to employ instrumental music in worship and church activities.”
  • “Weddings shall be conducted in a Christian manner avoiding all vain display and in accordance with the prescribed regulations for weddings.” 

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Anna Mae Longenecker’s father John is my dad’s first cousin on his father’s side of the family. Anna Mae with her brothers and sisters lived on the farm at Bosslers Corner, a farm bought from William and John Penn by Robert Allison in 1762,  and subsequently bought from Jacob Bossler by John and Nancy Longenecker and kept in the Longenecker family for five generations.  On the lawn of this homestead, one of John’s daughter’s, Anna Mae, poses  for wedding photographs with her new husband, Hiram Aungst.

Anna Mae Longenecker with her sisters on her wedding to Hiram Aungst.
Anna Mae Longenecker with her new husband and sisters posing for wedding photos on the lawn of the John Longenecker homestead.

Either the rules for wedding have relaxed a little in the ten or more years since my parents’ wedding, or brides have become more bold. This wedding accessories include corsages for attendants, a white Bible with streamers for the bride and the groom and groomsmen in non-Mennonite suits and neckties.

As the video shows, there was muted frivolity after the wedding which included rice throwing. Yes, it was real rice, not bird-seed!

Note the cars decorated in full post-ceremony regalia, worthy of any “fancy” wedding.



Then and now: Your thoughts on wedding ceremonies welcome.