Pete Klassen was born August 14, 1924 in Chihuahua, old Mexico. His parents Gerhard Johann Klassen and Anna Harder Klassen were living in the Ukraine. Because of severe persecution, no religious freedom, and forced starvation the decision was made to emigrate to the United States. They came over in the hull of a freighter. Some of them got food poisoning on the ship. His father was a school teacher and minister in Russia. By faith he brought his family to America. Pete said his mother was a loving person to their eight children—Anna, Mary, George, Annie, Helen—born in Russia, Bennie and Wanda born in Goessel, KS. Pete’s father told him that he almost died due to starvation while in Mexico. His family, after living for 2 years in a mud hut with very limited provision, was allowed to cross into the US to get their visas in Canada. In October of 1934 Pete went with family to the Marion County Court House to become US Citizens.
After arriving in Goessel, there wasn’t enough money to support all the family and Pete, approximately age 2 ½, went to live with H.J. and Helena (Klassen) Voth on the farm. During his school years he attended Gordon Grade School living with family and then spending summers back on the farm with the Voth’s until his 16th birthday. Circumstances delayed his ability to graduate from high school and after 2 years at Whitewater high school he left to work and help support family. Pete recalls while attending Whitewater High School running the 100-yard dash in 9.9 seconds. He said runners a full head taller than him laughed at him until his short 5’ 7” frame left them in the dust.
Pete’s mother had heart problems and an open sore on her leg that never seemed to get better. Typhus, contracted in the Ukraine, eventually took its toll and his mother passed away on September 16, 1935. The family had moved to Elbing earlier that year. His father did janitorial work at the Goessel, KS nursing home upon arrival in KS. Gerhard managed the Farmers Co-op general store in Elbing, KS from 1935-1943 and then purchased the store in 1943.
Pete was a Staff Sergeant in the US Army from 1944-46 as a non-combatant cook in the medical corps in Germany. He said he really enjoyed this but also stated that there was quite a bit of resentment against non-combatants at times. Things weren’t always easy. He was a member of the local American Legion Post 65.
After getting out of the Army dad went to call upon Lorena. She said she saw this handsome young man talking to her mom about taking her out. Their first date was to a church meeting. He married Lorena Hiebert on May 24, 1948. They built a new home in Whitewater in 1960 and moved in one week before their 6th son, Roger was born. They were married for 69 years.
When Pete returned home from the Army in 1946, he began his grocery store business with his brother, George. In 1956, he bought out his brother’s interest in the store when George bought another store in Buhler, Kansas. Their other brother, Bennie, owned a grocery and hardware store in Elbing which was formerly their father’s.
Pete loved dealing with the public. In reminiscing Pete recalled customers handing him a shopping list and then he would go fill the order for them. He would make two or three grocery deliveries a week to elderly shut-ins or people who didn’t drive anymore. Every year he would make Christmas baskets of food to help people he believed could benefit from it. He liked helping people. More than once someone would come in and say they didn’t have money to buy groceries and he would tell them to get about $10 worth of groceries telling them they didn’t have to repay him. He moved and expanded his story in Whitewater in 1969 eventually selling it in 1988 and retiring.
After only a year away from the business he went to work again cutting meat for the Hesston locker plant. He had just left work when the Hesston tornado struck in 1990. He later drove for Farmers Repair and eventually for Car Quest in Newton hauling auto parts a few days a week. He took the winter off in early December of 2016 and never went back to work. He was 92 and complained because he didn’t know what to do.
Pete was active in the community serving as mayor of Whitewater for 20+ years, serving on the local school board as well as the Wheat State Manor board for several years. Pete tried wherever he could to support local businesses. He frequented the local restaurant in his retirement years, Mom’s Café, and loved to visit with locals. He was a longtime fan of Wichita State basketball holding season tickets for approximately 40 years. He was also a K-State Wildcat and St Louis Cardinals fan.
Pete and Lorena raised 6 boys, Gary, Charles, Rodney, Russell, Warren, and Roger. He supported his boys in their school and sporting activities and helped them deliver the Wichita Eagle to the residents of Whitewater for many years. He was proud of his boys and often said he was blessed to have good boys who never got in trouble and never had to bail them out of jail. He always found jobs for his boys when they got to high school stating he didn’t want them running the streets and getting into trouble. And he loved his 6 daughters in law and was always thankful for them. He also loved teasing them. He always treated them as if they were his daughters. His grandchildren always brought a smile to his face. His greatest heart break was when Gary, his first born died in 2013.
Sunday morning Pete and Lorena were seen loading their 6 boys into the car and driving to the Zion Mennonite Church. Pete served in many capacities in the church including being a deacon. His faith in God was instilled from his father and he passed it on to his children. He was even more proud of the fact that all his boys had Christian homes and sought to continue passing along their faith in Jesus Christ to their children. Each of the boys have stated numerous times that they were proud of the spiritual legacy passed to them and the spiritual and Godly example set by both of their parents. His sons asked him about when he came be a Christian. He said that he went to an evangelistic meeting at the Missionary Church in Elbing and came forward receiving Jesus as his Lord and Savior. His mother, Anna, helped with leading him to salvation at that same meeting.
Pete is preceded in death by his parents, son Gary, 2 brothers and 4 sisters and is survived by his wife Lorena of the home, daughter in law Carolyn of Newton and her 3 children and 2 grandchildren; sons Charles (Karen) of Augusta and their 2 children and 4 grandchildren, Rodney (SuZan) of Shawnee, KS and their 3 children and 4 grandchildren, Russell (Ran) of Wichita and their 3 children and 4 grandchildren, Warren (Debbie) of El Dorado and their 2 children and 5 grandchildren and Roger (Pam) of Whitewater and their 6 children and 5 grandchildren and Pete’s sister Wanda Plank of Wichita.