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Catherine Descendants Scramble for Momentos

Leiker, Joy. "Catherine Descendants Scramble for Momentos." Hays Daily News, 24 July 2001.

A Volga-German Homecoming: 125th Jubilee Celebration

Harry Dorzweiler, Catherine, Glenn Schmeidler, Hays, and Frank Polifka, Catherine, put binded wheat onto the belt that takes it to the thrasher during Catherine's 125th Jubilee Celebration in Catherine Monday afternoon. To celebrate the community's heritage, a 1928 Case Thrashing machine was brought in from Spearville to separate the wheat from the straw the way their Volga-German ancestors did. (Photo by Karen Mikols.)

CATHERINE - Descendants crammed into the tiny, historic Catherine Post Office Monday afternoon in search of a special memento to mark the 125th anniversary of the Volga-German community's settlement.

In addition to commemorative mugs, cookbooks and history collections, Postmaster Ramon Schmidt, a fifth-generation postmaster in Catherine, said he thought a special one-day stamp cancellation would be an appropriate token for the celebration.

After all, he had tried once before, in 1992, to commemorate a hometown event with a special stamp cancellation, but he said since the centennial anniversary of St. Catherine Catholic Church was a religious occasion, the postal marking wasn't approved.

And although the large, historic limestone church ramains at the center of town and was the stage for many of the day's festivities, the cancellation featured two other images that Schmidt said were "near and dear" to Catherine residents.

On the right is a sketch of Stone Hill, where Schmidt said he and other Catherine youngsters would drag their sleds in the winter to slide down the snow-covered hill. On the left is an image of schwartzbeeren branch, a berry frequently used to make kuchen, a sweet German dessert.

Both images are "important parts" of the local Volga-German history, Schmidt said. Just as most youngsters recall playing on Stone Hill, many also remember feasting on schwartzbeeren-flavored treats.

Reminiscing has been an integral part of this week's historic celebrations. And as current and former Catherine residents lined up inside and out of the local post office, they continued their reminiscing.

When Al Schmidt, Manhattan, made his way to the front counter, he was astounded to see a mark that he left at the post office decades ago -- a small, colored sticker - still was stuck to the top of the postal counter.

Behind the old boxes that used to be used in the Catherine post office, postmaster Ramon Schmidt, stamps a special Catherine stamp for a resident. Schmidt has been postmaster since 1984 and is the fifth generation postmaster of Catherine. (Photo by Karen Mikols.)

He proudly pointed it out to others in line and even mentioned it to his older brother, the postmaster.

Al Schmidt said the history of his small hometown "is mindboggling." He lived there until about 20 years ago, and now, even though he makes frequent trips home to visit his mother, Nora Schmidt, he said this visit was particularly special.

"I still remember the centennial. That was such a big deal, and this - this is great," he said. "it's hard to put into words. It's just neat to get all of these people back in town."

Julie Schmidt-Dannhardt brought her two sons, Evan and Ryan, 11-year-old twins, from their home in San Antonio, Texas, for the day's events. Although she never lived in Catherine, she said her family made regular voyages to the Ellis County community, her father's hometown, every summer and every Christmas holiday.

Schmidt-Dannhardt still has an aunt and uncle who live in Catherine.

Now, since her sons are old enough to appreciate some of the area's history, she said the celebration was a perfect excuse to make another trip to Kansas. She shared her childhood memories with Evan and Ryan, and as soon as she stepped up to the post office counter, she asked Ramon Schmidt a question that was repeated regularly throughout the day: "So, are you a Schmidt, too?"

Her sons kind of laughed at the question but soon learned that their mom wasn't off base. Only one man, Joseph Wasinger, has ever served as the local postmaster and not been a member of the Schmidt family.

Even though Evan and Ryan said they enjoyed the day in Catherine, Evan was leery of spending a lot of time here.

"It's really small and fun, but you couldn't live here," he said.

Reprinted with permission of The Hays Daily News.

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