No. 14, Winter 2001
Mary J. Regier: A Life of Generosity
A dream was being realized – the dream of Mennonite Brethren and Krimmer Mennonite Brethren having a school of their own. On September 14, 1908, Tabor College would open its doors in Hillsboro, Kansas. Henry W. Lohrenz, Tabor’s first president, issued a public invitation to all the constituency and “friends of the school” to gather for the opening festival on Sunday, September 13. To the amazement of all, thirty-nine young people from Mennonite Brethren and Krimmer Mennonite Brethren homes in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon and California, arrived to enroll. Although the promised new building was not complete, instruction began in temporary classroom space in the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church. One of the charter students that first day was Mary J. Regier, a twenty-four-year-old woman from Henderson, Nebraska.
Mary J. Regier was born September 4, 1884, to Johann J. and Maria (Schellenberg) Regier, the only surviving daughter of her father’s second marriage. Raised in the German community of Henderson, Mary was very familiar with Christian ministry and service. Her father had been elected to the preaching and teaching ministry while still in Russia in 1873, and shortly after emigration to America was ordained as an elder in the Mennonite Brethren Church. Nurtured in this spiritual atmosphere, Mary accepted Christ as her Savior at the age of fourteen, was baptized September 4, 1898, and joined the Henderson Mennonite Brethren Church. The following year her older brother, John S. Regier, was ordained as a Mennonite Brethren evangelist, and later as a minister.
Quiet and unassuming, Mary took her studies at Tabor seriously. She enrolled in English, geometry, botany, ancient history, civics, expression, music, Bible and the life of Christ. She watched the student body grow that first year from 39 to 103. Two years later, Mary’s brother Abraham enrolled at Tabor. The following year, her brother John was invited to be one of the five lecturers at Tabor College’s first Bible conference, held in 1911. Mary graduated from Tabor in 1912.
Several years later, the unspeakable happened. Early on the morning of April 30, 1918, the two-story Tabor College building caught fire, and within an hour the building was reduced to ashes. Faculty, staff, students and townspeople, however, refused to be daunted by this tragedy. They cried, “Tabor still lives!” The dream of a school built on a Christian foundation would not be destroyed. But what could be done?
Tabor quickly began raising funds for construction of a new administration and classroom building. Ten months after the fire, a local German newspaper announced that “a good friend, who formerly attended Tabor College and who treasures the high worth of a Christian school, has bequeathed the nice sum of $15,000 to Tabor College with the determination that a girls’ home be built with it.” Mary J. Regier had donated her inheritance, a $15,000 annuity on a farm in Henderson. Who would have thought it possible to build two buildings out of the ashes of one? Who would have thought, who would have dreamed, and who would have made it possible? No one but Mary.
This single act of generosity spurred others to give, and construction began on this second building in March 1919. The following spring the new ladies’ home, built of rough-faced red brick with cream-colored terra cotta ornamentation, was completed. Its design was a simpler version of the more elaborate Tabor College administration building, also completed in April 1920. The building, described as both “beautiful and practical,” contained twenty rooms for students, laundry facilities, a kitchen and dining room. For twenty years, Mary Regier served as the matron of this ladies’ home.
Mary’s vision was to foster the spiritual lives of young women. She cared, and demonstrated that caring with action. She not only gave of her material means, but she gave of her time as the dormitory matron. She also served as the founding president of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) at Tabor and led workshops on prayer. Years later, when Tabor built a new library, Mary J. Regier again donated the sum of $15,000, this time designated for the acquisition of new library books.
After leaving Tabor, Mary spent twenty-one years as the matron of a college women’s dormitory in Emporia, Kansas. Later in life, at age sixty-five, she married Jacob J. Hiebert. Her life ended on January 31, 1970, in Hillsboro, but her testimony of what one woman could do – through vision and sacrifice in the name of Christ – goes on.