New acquisition: Ethiopia memorabilia of Jacob & Mildred Clemens

Written by Joel Alderfer on July 9, 2020

Last year, the family of the late Jacob R. and Mildred Landes Clemens of Lansdale, PA, donated a travel trunk filled with cultural artifacts, memorabilia, photos and papers collected by their parents during two years of relief work in Ethiopia. Jacob and Mildred were sent as relief workers with Mennonite Central Committee to Nazareth, Ethiopia, from November 1946 through 1948.

Their trunk of memorabilia had been given to their daughter and son-in-law, Mary Ann and Brian Hagey, who recently gave it to the Mennonite Heritage Center on behalf of the family. I also want to thank Mary Ann and Brian for their assistance with the compiling of the this post.

About to sail from New York, 1946.

When the Clemens’ were called to service in Ethiopia, they were members of the Plains Mennonite Church (near Lansdale, PA) and lived in Towamencin Township, Montgomery County. Jacob was a bookkeeper at Martin Century Farms, a dairy in Lansdale.

With Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), they both served at the Mariam Mammo Memorial Hospital in Nazareth, Ethiopia. Mildred first worked as a matron at the residence of the mission and relief workers in Nazareth, but was soon asked to take some training and then served as a practical nurse in the hospital, giving medication, drawing blood, and assisting with surgeries. Jacob served as administrator at the hospital, but also functioned as an business manager for the entire MCC program in Nazareth. MCC partnered with Mennonite Board of Missions and the Sudan Interior Mission in this work.

For descriptions of their work, I’ll give excerpts from several of their letters written from Ethiopia to folks back home:

[letter by Jacob R. Clemens]
Nazareth, Ethiopia
January 26, 1947

Dear Mom and Pop [Jacob C. & Hanna Clemens],
… this week the first patients were admitted to the hospital. A little boy, 3 years old, weighing only 10 ½ lbs. It had never eaten anything except the mothers milk. It was very weak and nothing but skin and bones. The mother and father were admitted with it and all three received a bath and clean clothes. When the woman saw her husband, all cleaned up and with new clean clothes on (they had been in rags) she first was speechless. The she went over and felt the clothes and then talked excitedly. She said that we were God. The nurses tried to tell her that we were not God, but we were doing it because of His love. The baby is already responding to hospital care and beginning to eat. You can imagine the joy of the parents…

In Ethiopia, 1947.

[letter by Jacob R. & Mildred Clemens to their pastor and spouse, John E. & Edith Lapp, Lansdale]
Nazareth, Ethiopia
April 14, 1947

Dear Bro. & Sister Lapp:
… Another project we have running at the present time is that of DDTing every house in town. Two native men supervised by Truman Diener have now sprayed the inside of about 500 houses. They do from 60 to 70 houses per day. Doctor Conrad feels that this will go far in the control of malaria, which is one of the worst and most prevalent diseases. One of the interesting sidelights is that this project will provide a fairly accurate census. Up to this time we were lead to believe that the population of Nazareth was about 5000. We know already that this is an under-estimation and that the figure is somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000. This explains why the work here has turned out to be much larger than was originally anticipated.
[“DDT” is a colorless, almost odorless insecticide developed in the 1940s, which is now banned in many countries. It was initially used to combat malaria, typhus, and the other insect-borne human diseases. “Doctor Conrad” was Paul L. Conrad who worked with Mennonite Board of Missions at the hospital in Nazareth.]

[letter by Mildred Landes Clemens]
[Undated; 1947 or 1948]
Nazareth, Ethiopia

Dear Mom and Pop [Samuel & Emma Norma Landes],
Came from church thrilled to see so many eager little faces there. This past Thursday we gave out the Christmas bundles which were sent from little boys and girls at home through M.C.C. [Mennonite Central Committee], so we believe that many of them [the Ethiopians] came perhaps expecting us to give out more bundles but some I believe came to show their gratitude. Jake went outside and counted them… he judged there were about 290… One little boy wore just the underwear which he received, after all they are not used to so many clothes at one time. Some had heavy skating caps on, another little girl sun glasses. It certainly seemed like real relief work when we were handing out the bundles and what a joy it was to come across a bundle from someone [back home] which we know. Jake took my picture giving Philip’s [Clemens] bundle to a little boy… With each bundle they received a New Testament in Amharic… Tell little Abie Godshall we gave his very nice bundle to a little boy who had been coming to church regularly and this past week he came to Clinic with his arm broken between the elbow and wrist… He stayed in the hospital 2 or 3 days and came back to church this morning. This little boy will write a letter in Amharic and then we will have one of the interpreters translate it and send both to little Abie.

The following clip of film shot by Jacob Clemens includes Mildred handing out MCC “Christmas Bundles” as described in her letter.

MCC and Mennonite Board of Missions workers in Ethiopia, 1947-48. Those identified – back left: Jacob R. & Mildred Clemens; far right: Dan & Blanche Sensenig.
Written on back of photo: “This is Bodossa the house boy who does the cleaning and serves at the table” – an Ethiopian young man who apparently worked in the shared house of the mission and relief workers, 1947-48.
Back of photo: “Plowing the garden”
Back of photo: “Ethiopian wedding. Left to right: groom, bride, bride’s brother and Zobania, watch-man.”
Cultural artifacts found in the trunk.
Tilixo, or fly chasers, formerly used by wealthy Ethiopian men.
Embroidery work probably by Ethiopian women, with religious text in Amharic. Attached paper label gives translation: “Who separates us from Christ’s love[?]”
Jacob Clemens did go cheetah hunting in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, this was in the years before this incredible animal was protected.
Skin of the cheetah shot by Jacob Clemens, now in the MHC collection.
Jacob and Mildred Clemens on a vacation visit to the Great Pyramids at Giza, Egypt, probably in 1947.

After their return from service in 1948, Jacob resumed work at Martin Century Farms, and he and Mildred lived and raised a family near Lansdale. In the late 1940s and 1950s, they were frequently invited to visit other Mennonite churches and speak about their service experience in Ethiopia. Mildred would usually have a children’s story session in these churches.

Report from Ethiopia: Young People’s Bible Meeting, Plains Mennonite Church, December 1948. Both Jacob and Mildred Clemens spoke — it’s interesting that Mildred’s maiden name is given on this church program, although spelled wrong here — Landis.

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2 replies to “New acquisition: Ethiopia memorabilia of Jacob & Mildred Clemens

  1. Christine C. Mast Hill -

    Jake was my mother’s first cousin. We knew them as Jake and Mim. My dad, Reuben Christophel worked at Martin’s Century Farms in Lansdzlr, Pa. I have a picture of seeing them off at LaGuaerdia Airport in N. Y. Dad drove us to NY for that experience.
    My grandmother was Edna Clemens Schlosser and a sister to J.C. Clemens. I believe you have her original journals at your heritage center.


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