Retired Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) Executive Board (EB) staff member Carol Epp, passed away April 24. Epp was the office manager for convention planning for nearly 20 years. This interview has been edited and reprinted from an interview published on the MC USA website in Sept. 2015, after Epp’s retirement.
When did you start working for the Executive Board staff?
Carol Epp: I started working for the Mennonite Church General Board in October 1990; we were referred to as General Board staff. We were a small staff and rented space on the sixth floor of the Elkhart Truth building at 421 S. 2nd Street in Elkhart, Indiana.
Which roles and responsibilities have you held over the years?
Carol: At first I was half time, doing the bookkeeping for the African American Mennonite Association and the Hispanic Mennonite Convention (as it was called then) and helping with the General Board bookkeeping. During a convention year, I added a half-time convention registration position and became a full-time employee. At some point, I also did the bookkeeping for Native Mennonite Ministries.
Until 2003, the adults’ and children’s conventions were organized by General Board staff, along with volunteer committees consisting of members of the conferences in which the convention was taking place. For example, Oregon ’91 was planned and carried out by people from that area. The Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries (MBCM) planned the youth conventions. Atlanta 2003 was the first convention that was planned by one office — the Convention Planning office.
Most recently, I’ve served as convention registrar; helped with the logistics of planning committee meetings; coordinated transportation for servant projects, field trips, etc.; recruited various convention volunteer coordinators; and contracted with security providers.
How did you experience changes in technology in your work over the years?
Carol: When I started, people would mail in their completed paper registration forms for convention, and I would use a basic computer to enter the information. We then mailed participants’ confirmation letters. We didn’t have internet at the time.
Atlanta 2003 was the first time I had worked with an online registration process. The learning curve was high. Now, of course, everyone can go online to register, pay and make their hotel reservations.
Which conventions stand out in your memory?
Carol: Every convention was unique. Oregon ’91 was the first one for which I served as the registrar for the adult convention — not knowing what to expect probably made it the most memorable. What stands out most for me from that convention was that we rented a computer in Oregon to use to enter registrations, but it was newer than the one we had been using in Elkhart. So we spent more than a day trying to transfer the registration data from our floppy disk to the rental computer. They finally had to find an older computer for us to use.
At Wichita ’95, I was rooming with another staff person and woke her up in the middle of the night with my screaming. I was having a nightmare in which I was locked up in a small registration box. That day, I had been looking all over for one small box with registration packets but hadn’t been able to find it before the convention center was locked for the evening. After worrying about it, I finally convinced a guard to let me back into the center and then was able to find the box, but it didn’t stop me from having the nightmare.
After Orlando ’97, we were getting packed up to leave, and the police were moving in for one of their events. We were all going in and out of the same room. One time when I came back into the room, one of the policemen asked me if that was my gun lying there on a box. Of course it wasn’t my gun — what would I have needed it for at our Mennonite convention?
At Columbus ‘09, I spent several hours in the emergency room late at night with what looked like a rash on both legs. It turned out to be an inflammation of the blood vessels. They wanted to keep me there overnight for observation, because they thought it was heart-related, but I told them I didn’t want to stay. The heart monitor hadn’t indicated anything unusual, so they agreed to let me leave.
Any highlights from your time as an EB staff member?
Carol: Convention planning brought me in contact with a wide variety of people with different personalities and ideas. It was always fun to watch a new committee work together. One of the advantages of the conventions happening throughout the U.S. was that I got to visit new cities and meet new people. Conventions were always exciting, as well as stressful.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.