Provident Bookstore Photo Collection

Written by Forrest Moyer on February 1, 2017
Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville, PA

This month we’re featuring a photograph collection recently donated to the MHC: photos of the former Herald/Provident Bookstore in Souderton, mid 1950s-1990s.  The oldest photos date back to the original Herald Bookstore on Main Street and its move in 1957 to the new Souderton Shopping Center at Bethlehem Pike and Route 113.

The store was later renamed Provident Bookstore and eventually sold out of Mennonite hands, becoming Berean Christian Stores and finally Lifeway Stores, before closing permanently in February 2016. Long-term employee Edie Hunsberger Randolph saved the photos and brought them to the MHC.

These are just a few images from a collection that documents the important work of the bookstore in providing Christian literature for Souderton and the Indian Valley in the 20th century. The catalog record for the collection can be viewed here.

Before Provident, there was Herald

In 1937 J. Silas Graybill opened Graybill’s Bookstore on Main Street, Souderton. In 1939 the store was bought by Mennonite Publishing House (Scottdale, PA) as one of a network of bookstores they were developing in the U.S. and Canada. The Souderton store was renamed Herald Bookstore, after Herald Press, the book imprint of Mennonite Publishing House.

The original store was located at 220 North Main Street, built into the front of Silas & Rebecca Graybill’s home. Below is an interior view, probably taken circa 1957, when the store was preparing to move to the new location at Souderton Center. Note the large fan in the center of the far wall. Remember those days of poring over books in a store or library on a hot summer day with no air conditioning?

Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville

A new store, 1957

As you can see in the photo below, the opening of Herald Bookstore’s new location at Souderton Shopping Center was June 21, 1957. What appears as the end of the shopping center was later built onto. Today it is the section occupied by the Ten Thousand Villages store. Acme Market was to the left.

Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville

At the grand opening, local Mennonite bishop John Lapp joined with store manager Claude Shisler, representatives of Herald Press, Lutheran pastor William Seaman, and business leaders in blessing the work of the store in its new location.

Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville

Left to right: Mervin Miller, sales manager, Herald Press; Claude Shisler, manager, Herald Book Store (and pastor of Finland Mennonite Church); John Lapp, bishop, Franconia Mennonite Conference; Dr. William Seaman, pastor, Emmanuel Lutheran Church; George McCandless, manager, Acme Markets; Lloyd Nace, burgess, Borough of Souderton; Clifford Durell, owner and builder, Souderton Shopping Center; A. J. Metzler, publishing agent, Herald Press.

Provident Bookstore staff

Numerous Mennonite folks (and others) worked at Provident Bookstore over the years, some in their youth and others for decades, providing quality service to costumers seeking Christian literature and music, stationary and many other products. Able leadership was provided by managers Silas Graybill, Claude Shisler, Mark Moyer, Ted Hughes, Ken Reinford, and Doug Landis.

Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville

Herald Bookstore staff, 1962: Back row (left to right): Silas Graybill, Kermit Styer; Middle row: Mark Moyer, Claude Shisler, Harold Rosenberger, Edith Derstine (Tully), Marie Gehman Clemens, Emily Shisler Lapp, Frances Krupp Cassel, Esther Yothers, Naomi Hackman (Alstein), Rebecca Histand Graybill, Alma Keyser; Front row: Lorraine Kratz (Kulp), Pauline Sell, Nora Moyer, Lois Alderfer (Zook), Jeane Stutzman (Fretz), Dennis Detweiler.

Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville

Staff, 1993: Doug Landis, Scott Godshall, ______, Lucille Roth, Sue Benner, Phil Alderfer, Mary Johnson, Arlene Landis, Jeane Fretz, Janine Roby, Dan Reed.

Our heritage: the pleasure of good books

In the digital age, it’s appropriate to remember how important printed books have been to the education of humanity, and how the content that we enjoy in digital formats was often published first on the printed page. Ideas were introduced and shared widely in printed books. We give thanks for the work of Herald/Provident Bookstore in providing Christian/Mennonite/Anabaptist educational and recreational reading for several generations of local people.

This Herald Bookstore display from the mid-1960s says it well: “A part of our heritage is the pleasure of reading good books.” May our enjoyment of good books continue into the new millenium.

Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville

Virginia Kriebel (Deeds) and Audrey Kriebel (Villanueva) at a Herald Bookstore display, probably in the Union National Bank building during the Souderton Diamond Jubilee, 1962.