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Siblings of all Ages Take in Munjor Celebration

Gasper-O'Brien, Diane. "Siblings of all Ages Take in Munjor Celebration." Hays Daily News, 27 July 2001.

A Volga-German Homecoming: 125th Jubilee Celebration


MUNJOR ­ There was a pair of brothers from Argentina who came to learn more about their ancestors.

There were brothers from out of state who came back to their native town to visit relatives.

And there were 6-month-old twins who came because their mom, who went to grade school in Munjor, brought them along with her.

No matter what the transportation - by plane, car or stroller - siblings of all ages and everyone else who attended Thursday´s Volga-German celebration in Munjor seemed to find something that interested them.

Thursday was the fifth day of the six-day celebration commemorating the 125th anniversary of the Volga-Germans settling communities in Ellis and Rush counties. The sixth and final celebration was set for today in Victoria.

Frank Jacobs, president of the Topeka Chapter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, met brothers Nestor and Fernando Beier from Argentina over the Internet.

The brothers´ grandparents were some of the Volga-Germans who came to Kansas from Russia in the early 1900s but wound up in South America when they couldn´t find work in the United States.

The Beiers learned about the Volga-German lineage in Ellis County through the historical society Web site, and Jacobs - a native of Ellis County ­ invited them to America for this week´s celebration.

While Fernando Beier understands little English, he indicated through an interpreter that he was enjoying the experience.

"It is so beautiful here," Fernando Beier said in his native Spanish, with a big smile on his face.

Herman Dinges brought his polka band from Denver to play at all six of the celebrations, and on Thursday, his older brother, 84-year-old Richard Dinges from Portland, Ore., helped out on the saxophone.

The Dinges brothers grew up in Munjor, and after Herman played at the area´s Volga-German centennial celebration in 1976, some of his cousins asked him back for the 125th event, too.

"We´re happy to be here," said Herman Dinges, whose musical performances throughout the week were all volunteer.

"And we hope we can make it at the next 25th anniversary," he said with a laugh, adding that he would be 97 years old in 2026. "I´m sure going to try."

The music was soothing enough to put 6-month-old Julia Werth to sleep as her twin brother, Dylan, kicked and cooed patiently beside her in their double stroller.

"At least it´s not so hot today," said their mother, Julie (Richmeier) Werth, who attended school in Munjor through sixth grade and was married to Darin Werth in Munjor´s St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.

While the first celebrations this week endured through in the suffocating heat, Mother Nature was much kinder to those attending Munjor´s celebration Thursday.

An early-morning thunderstorm made for higher humidity, but a slight breeze and shade and temperatures in the high 80s provided a pleasant atmosphere for people to sit around and reminisce.

Norbert Haas from Olathe and a native of Ellis County talked about how his descendants were among the first families who moved from Munjor to incorporate a new town site 7 miles to the southwest at Antonino.

"Munjor had a hundred and some families and was getting pretty crowded, so several families started their own town," explained Haas, who grew up in Antonino. "Antonino will celebrate its 100-year anniversary in 2004. I'm looking forward to that, too."

"I was here the day this church burned," said Gene Rohr from Hays, who grew up in Munjor.

He spoke of the devastating fire of 1932 that gutted the church, the central point of the lives of the Munjor community. But he also remembered how the community pulled together to rebuild the church.

While the church and a close-knit community were vital to the first settlers, it also is important to young people of today.

Kolleen Leiker, 23, has lived in Munjor all of her life.

Her marriage to Aaron Dome on Aug. 4 will be at the church, where she was baptized, made her first communion and was confirmed. And Leiker and Dome plan to make their first home in Munjor.

"We both wanted to live in a small community, and we were able to buy my grandmother´s house here," explained Leiker, the daughter of Herman and Rosie Leiker of Munjor. "I had always hoped I could stay here, and my grandmother´s house had a lot of memories attached to it. So this worked out great.

Reprinted with permission of The Hays Daily News.

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