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...Where the 'Kuppelmann' Goes

[Kuppler or Kupplering]

...their first conversation was of farming 'and how we were going to arrange our farm'.

Musland, Pamela. "...Where the 'Kuppelmann' Goes." KEM News, February 1992, sec. C4-C5.


On a cool night in March of 1923, love knocked at the door of John Iszler near Danzig. The door was opened and there stood a "kuppelmann" (matchmaker) by the name of John Wendelin. At his side was a young man named P.F.A.Z. (Phillip Frederick Andrew Zacharris) Geiszler, or "Alphabet," as he was affectionately known. P.F.A.Z. had come to ask John Iszler for his 19-year old-daughter's hand in marriage. Her name was Lydia.

The fair Lydia had never met or even seen P.F.A.Z. until that moment. While the kuppelmann talked with her parents, she sat in another room with P.F.A.Z. He was a young farmer who lived 22 miles away. So it seems only natural that their first conversation was of farming "and how we were going to arrange our farm," recalls Lydia, now 88 years old.

"They came to the house and wanted to propose," she remembers. "But I thought, `I'm going to wait a while.'" And so once or twice a week P.F.A.Z. would travel the 22 mile distance on horseback to court Lydia until their marriage six months later in September. They raised six children on a farm east of Ashley. He died in 1966.

Lydia's bold decision to wait six months before marrying P.F.A.Z. was not a common tradition among Dakota Germans at that time. Engagements were generally not practiced among area Germans from Russia until the 1930s, as is recorded in Shirley Fischer Arends' book, "The Central Dakota Germans".

While Lydia had never set eyes on P.F.A.Z. before, she confides that he must have caught a glimpse or two of her somewhere. In cases where a young man did not have a particular girl in mind for marriage, the services of a kuppelmann were also employed.

The young man would make a list of eligible wives and then he and the kuppelmann and the boy's father, or a relative or friend of the father, would dress themselves in their Sunday best. With ribbons and bows attached to the horses' bridles, the group would set out on their journey. First stop would be at the home of the girl who appeared at the top of the list. If she accepted their proposal, their journey ended. If not, they continued in succession on their way to each girl's home on the list until the marriage proposal was accepted.

Jake Groszhans of Ashley recounts a great fanfare surrounding one kuppelmann's arrival. "The horses looked beautiful. There were ribbons and roses and the horses walked with their heads held to the side. I think the horses even knew what was going on."

As a young boy of 12, Gottfried G. Nitschke of Ashley remembers a neighbor boy coming to baby-sit while his parents and his oldest brother Gottlieb traveled to Long Lake, S.D., for Gottlieb's wedding. Just days before, he had been introduced to a young girl, Katerina Heyd, through his minister who was also a kuppelmann. In the words of the late Gottlieb Nitschke, he recalls his thoughts at first seeing his wife: "I think she was all right."

Immediately after the ceremony, she and her husband and his parents drove a team of horses back to their family farmstead near Ashley. For several months, Gottlieb and Katerina lived with his parents until their home was built. The year was 1908. To this union, 11 children were born (two were stillborn).

"When they `kuppeled' them back then, they stayed together," notes Groszhans. There were no divorces, and through good times and bad, marriages endured. If a marriage was bad, the kuppelmann was to blame, as a favorite saying went: "Jedem kuppler ein paar schuh, und dann den teufel dazu." ("For every matchmaker a pair of shoes, and then the devil along with them.")

Gottfried Nitschke adds that some men didn't want the girl so much as they wanted their land. And to be sure, the kuppelmann was not popular among most women because they wanted more freedom of choice and time to choose for themselves.

Love works in mysterious ways, so the saying goes. And for kuppelmann Willie Eszlinger of Ashley, "kuppeling" tactics can be as much of a mystery.

In the mid-1930s. Eszlinger drove his bachelor uncle to Lehr to meet a widowed woman by the name of Philippina Scheuffele. Neither he nor his uncle, Christ Eszlinger, had ever met Philippina before, and when they arrived at her home they were not forthright about their visit. Instead, they told her they wanted to see the home she had for sale. So while she was busy showing the house, Willie was busy watching his uncle for signs of approval.

After a few minutes though, they confessed why they had come. Christ and Philippina visited for about an hour and then they departed. Willie recalls Christ telling him on the way home, "I think she's interested. I think it's gonna be a wedding."

A week and a half later, they were married in a quiet ceremony. Theirs was a happy union.

Willie Eszlinger's "kuppeling" days are not over by any means. The 83-year-old smiles and says, "If I can help someone, I will." Love still knocks on doors.

Reprinted with permission of KEM News.

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