Brethren in Christ Bishop Remembers President Ike

Ray I. Witter, bishop in the Brethren in Christ Church and cousin to President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Eisenhower Presidential Library and Archives)

Last week, we blogged about the Brethren in Christ Sunday school roster bearing the name of future president Dwight D. Eisenhower. (We’ve also blogged previously about a Life magazine article describing Ike’s childhood church, as well as Ike’s 1960 commencement speech at Messiah College.)

Now, as a follow-up, we’re sharing an interview conducted by the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Archives with Ray I. Witter, a bishop in the mid-century Brethren in Christ Church and a cousin of the future President.

According to his biographer, J. Wilmer Heisey, Witter was a long-time minister, bishop, and evangelist in the Brethren in Christ Church, spending most of his ministerial career in Kansas. Witter’s mother was sister to David Eisenhower, father of the future president.

In this 1964 oral history, the Brethren in Christ bishop reminisces about his Kansas childhood, his visits with Cousin Ike, and the Eisenhower family. He also shares about the Brethren in Christ Church and some of its distinctive beliefs and practices.

Here’s a taste:

MR. BARBASH [oral historian]: Did Ida Eisenhower [Dwight’s mother] ever make any comment to you about Dwight’s selection of a military career?

REV. WITTER: Yes, she committed herself even to the pointed question ‘why he ever took up such a vocation’ and her belief it was not of God and that it was Satan, she was much opposed to military and wasn’t too happy, naturally. . . .

MR. BARBASH: Rev. Witter, did you get to talk to Dwight Eisenhower when he came home here in 1952 to start his campaign for the Presidency?

REV. WITTER: No, I didn’t contact him at that time. I contacted his brother, Milton, about that time and I put this question to Milton — when they were talking just before, prior, I asked Milton, “Will Dwight accept if he is nominated?” I remember Milton, emphatically, said “No, he doesn’t want it. I don’t think he’ll accept it.”

MR. BARBASH: Rev. Witter, after Dwight was nominated and elected, did you ever have a chance to visit him in Washington?

REV. WITTER: Yes, we visited him in Washington, we raised a family reunion. I had my three children and their companions with us and we had a nice contact there in his private office there at the White House.

To read the entire interview, click here.

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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