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Events to Celebrate Influence, Heritage of Volga-Germans

McDonald, Liz. "Events to Celebrate Influence, Heritage of Volga-Germans." Hays Daily News, 19 July 2001.

A Volga-German Homecoming: 125th Jubilee Celebration


More than a century after their arrival in western Kansas, the influence of the German immigrants from the Volga River region in Russia is still prevalent in area communities.

Beginning this weekend, events in the six communities founded 125 years ago will celebrate that Volga-German influence and heritage.

Francis Schippers, secretary and treasurer of the Volga German Society, hopes that the events not only will commemorate the history but also help preserve the ancestry and traditions of the area.

"We wanted to have separate celebrations in the communities while we still have them around," he said. "We hope to bring back people but also share the story of the Volga-Germans with the younger people of today."

Schippers said they have produced several publications to enrich the community celebrations, including a cookbook, calendar and children's coloring book.

"The coloring book is very elementary, so kids can get an idea of what a Volga-German was like 125 years ago," said Larry Werth, chairman of the Volga German Society.

An exhibit at the Hays Public Library, "From Far Away Russia: Russian-Germans in Kansas," highlights the heritage of the immigrants through historic photographs, quotes and newspaper articles.

Mary Ann Thompson, who arranged for the exhibit to come to Hays, said the display offers an accurate look at the immigrants' lives.

"Amazingly, most of the photos are from Ellis County, and they show the arrival of the Volga-Germans," she said. "It ties in very well with everything that is happening with the local towns."

Thompson, who also heads the library's Kansas Room, said she believes the influence of the Volga-Germans is most apparent in the agricultural sector.

"They changed the economic perspective of the area, because it wasn't really an agricultural area. They found that farming would take care of them," she said.

Liebenthal, Catherine, Pfeifer, Munjor and Herzog were founded in 1876, and Schoenchen was started in 1877.

On Saturday, Liebenthal, the oldest of the communities, will celebrate with a Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church, lunch and a traditional wedding march. The church bells also will be rung 125 times to symbolize the years spent in Rush County. Liebenthal's original founders were among the large group that left Saratov, Russia, in October 1875.

Because of a conflict among the first settlers, a group of individuals broke away from Liebenthal and settled the community of Schoenchen in 1877. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of St. Anthony Catholic Church, and residents will celebrate on Sunday with a Mass and the removal of the church cornerstone. A time capsule with 2001 memorabilia will be buried, a traditional German meal will be served at noon and a carnival and dance will follow in the evening.

The founders of Catherine were the first to leave their Russian homeland in October 1875. Arriving in Hays the following March, they named their establishment after the town they left in Russia, Katharinenstadt, the largest and most important of the colonies on the Volga River. On Monday, a polka Mass at St. Catherine Catholic Church will be held, and a memorial visit to the cemetery will follow. In the afternoon, there will be food booths, bingo, carnival, dinner and a dance.

Tuesday has been set aside as a day for family reunions.

The community of Pfeifer will celebrate Wednesday with tours of the Holy Cross Shrine, Mass, dinner and musical entertainment. Pfeifer's founders arrived in groups from August 1876 to November 1877.

Munjor, founded by the largest single expedition of Russian immigrants, will hold a Mass at St. Francis Catholic Church on July 26. In July 1876, 108 families left Saratov, Russia, and arrived in Herzog, now Victoria, in August before moving to their town site.

The homecoming activities will conclude with the celebration in Victoria July 27. Before taking the name of Victoria, the community was settled as Herzog on April 8, 1876. Herzog became the largest of the Volga-German colonies established. They will celebrate with a Mass with Bishop George Fizsimons at St. Fidelis Catholic Church, followed by a luncheon, parade, entertainment and dance.

A limited number of brochures with details about the week's celebration is available at the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, 18th and Pine.

--The Volga German Society also has a Web site detailing the week's events at http://www.haysusa.com/html/volga_german.html.

Reprinted with permission of The Hays Daily News.

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