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Building a Church was a Priority for Catherine

Aust, Scott. "Building a Church was a Priority for Catherine." Hays Daily News, 23 July 2001.

A Volga-German Homecoming: 125th Jubilee Celebration


One of the first things the Volga-Germans did upon arriving in Kansas, regardless of the community, was make preparations for building a church.

Harold Dorzweiler, in charge of today's Catherine festivities, said Catherine was no exception.

"They started about 10 to 15 years ahead of time. Every farmer would donate so much of his crop, and they started a fund," Dorzweiler said. "Once they had enough together, they started construction."

Construction began on the church in 1890, and it was dedicated in 1892, he said.

"The most important thing to them was to build the church," Dorzweiler said.

Today's celebration began with a Mass at St. Catherine Catholic Church and a dedication of a new cornerstone.

"Pete Felten redid our cornerstone because the old one was crumbling," Dorzweiler said. "He took the old one out, made a new one, and made it to look like the old one," he said of the well-known Hays sculptor.

Following the cornerstone dedication, a new stone memorial was dedicated in the cemetery that lists the names of all the pioneers buried there.

"The old part of the cemetery, when they first got here, a lot of the markers were just iron crosses. There's no names on them or anything," Dorzweiler said. "So by the old church records, we've made a huge granite stone that's going to have their names on it, date of birth, everything, for the old pioneers."

However, the stone is not finished because a machine broke down, Dorzweiler said, but the dedication ceremony will continue.

There were food and beverage booths, bingo and kids games during the afternoon. A parade featuring old machinery will be at 5:30 p.m., and a dance will be from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.

"We're going to have a threshing demonstration with an old threshing machine at 2 p.m., and we're going to do it again about 6 p.m. because some people wanted to see it after they got off work," Dorzweiler said.

Additionally, there will be tours of the church and the old school building all day.

Souvenir hunters also can get a special cancellation commemorating the 125th anniversary celebration in the lobby of the post office from 3 to 4 p.m.

Catherine Postmaster Ramon Schmidt said the cancellation mark will feature the Stone Hill, a local landmark, a bush and berries representing local blackberries used to make pies, as well as the German name for the town, "Katharinenstadt."

"We have a special folder they can get from us, made for these special stamps," Schmidt said. "It will have a first-class stamp in there, and we will put the postmark on there."

Schmidt said people also can bring a piece of paper instead of getting the special folder, but it must have a stamp on it before the cancellation mark can be used.

They can bring a postcard if that has a stamp on it, a piece of paper, an envelope, but it must have a stamp on there, and we'll cancel it with this," Schmidt said.

If someone misses the opportunity today, Schmidt said they can mail a request to him for about the next 30 days.

The founders of Catherine were the first to emigrate form Russia, leaving Katharinenstadt on Oct. 22, 1875. They arrived in Hays on March 1, 1876, and rented a building at 13th and Fort.

The settlers drove their wagons daily to the present town site and constructed dwellings. Catherine was established on April 8, 1876.

Catherine has changed quite a bit in the last hundred years or so. Dorzweiler said in the early 1900s, the town probably had a population of around 1,000 or more and had a couple of general stores, a bowling alley, clothing store and a number of pubs. Today the population is probably less than 100.

One thing that is interesting about Catherine and the other communities is the fact that particular surnames can be associated with each community.

"For instance, if your name is Schmidt, or Staab, or Karlin, you can almost bet that your ancestors were from Catherine," Dorzweiler said. "Now you go to Munjor, you get into Befort and Gross, and names like that."

Dorzweiler said the reason for that is families tended to travel together from Russia and stayed together when founding new communities

Reprinted with permission of The Hays Daily News.

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