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signed from the six member board. Many other members withdrew from the MEl Society and on March 12, 1908, a number of people, unhappy with the Altona location, met in Plum Coulee and formed a new society whose aim it was to build a new school in Gretna. This school later became the Mennonite Collegiate Institute (MCI). H. H. Ewert, who had never been enthusiastic about the decision to relocate in Altona, resigned as principal of MElon April 1, and shortly thereafter became principal of the newly formed MCI.
In September of 1908 the MEl was officially opened in Altona, and shortly thereafter the newly built MCI also opened its doors. Both operated with the purpose of producing qualified teachers for Men nonite schools, both offered a similar curriculum, and both competed for the same students. Competition and acrimony were rife as accusa tions of political and moral turpitude were hurled by both sides and both schools claimed to the the true successor of the original MEl. Gretna supporters were particularly incensed when an Altona group dismantled the old MEl building in Gretna and rebuilt it as a teacherage in Altona. This last move was considered unforgivable by Ewert and was to antagonize Gretna people for decades.
The appointment of 1. 1. Balzer, a Minnesota minister and long time theological opponent of Ewert, to head the MEl only exacerbated the situation. This controversy not only split the Bergthaler Church, but poisoned the already intense rivalry between Gretna and Altona. The Bergthaler rift slowly healed after Bishop Funk resigned in 1911, and Jacob Heppner, a Winkler man and Ewert supporter became bishop. The school and town rivalry, however, continued for many years and its legacy is still evident today.
The Gathering Storm
By 1911 many of the traditional social and settlement patterns in the R.M. of Rhineland had been disrupted. Municipal government had in large part taken over the duties of village government (roads, drain age, taxation for schools) and many villages had abandoned their traditional open field economies. Similarly, Church control over schools slowly eroded as English Canadian Nationalism increasingly involved the state in Mennonite education. Some of the effects of these developments had been mitigated, but no group completely escaped the incursions of the larger society. The Reinlaender Church members ignored the district school and legislation and the Sommerfelder Church to some extent combined church and municipal leadership. All that was needed to tum these developments into a serious crisis was a catalyst. This the War provided.