|Volga Germans Celebrate Kansas Heritage
"Volga Germans Celebrate Kansas Heritage." Topeka Capital Journal, 29 July 2001.
WICHITA -- It looks like a cookbook
of Volga German recipes, but it contains so much more.
The newly published "Recipes and Remembrances" does offer
tried and true Volga German recipes: knockwurst, Wiener schnitzel
But it also celebrates the lifestyle, values and beliefs of thousands
of Volga Germans who 125 years ago this summer settled in closely
knit Catholic communities in central Kansas.
This weekend, descendants of those early settlers returned to Ellis,
Russell, Rush, Wallace and Wichita counties to celebrate their roots
with church services, community parades and feasts.
The editor of the cookbook, Ethel Younger, has been assistant administrator
for the past 30 years at Victoria's St. Fidelis Church, widely known
as the Cathedral of the Plains. She is a fourth-generation Kansan,
who speaks with a no-nonsense German accent.
Younger said the cookbook not only has the old recipes, but it
has the names, prayers and stories of the families who helped built
the Volga German communities.
The early Volga German settlers left their mark on Kansas by chiseling
limestone from the prairie and using the 700- to 800-pound posts
to build barbed-wire fences, marking off fields and homesteads.
"They lived the dream. They came here with nothing, and through
hard work and using the freedom they had here, they were able to
sustain themselves," said the Rev. Maris Goetz, pastor of St.
Younger's great-grandparents, Andreas and Katherine Dinkel, were
among the first Volga German immigrants to settle in Ellis County
in 1876, homesteading on a farm just northeast of Victoria.
A century earlier, her family, like so many others, had left war-torn
Germany for Russia's agrarian provinces, living near the Volga River
As political tensions grew in Russia, some of the Volga German
families began moving away. Besides religious freedom, Kansas promised
good, cheap land and hope. And the gentle, rolling hills and valleys
reminded them of home.
Their culture has persisted, said Dave Webb, historian and assistant
director at the Kansas Heritage Center in Dodge City.
"Just look on any Kansas map and see their communities still
there," Webb said. "Other cultures have been diluted with
time. It's not true for the Volga Germans."
Kansas Volga German communities were known for producing short,
stocky people who worked long, hard hours canning their own food
and butchering their own cattle, pigs and chickens.
They could be stubborn or, as Younger says, "bullheaded --
but everybody got schooled early that you don't get by with that
stuff. You got in trouble at school, you got in trouble at home
They built exquisite churches in communities such as Schoenchen,
Catharine or Katharinestadt, Munjor, Pfeifer, Herzog and Victoria.
They "not only settled the land, they brought farming practices
with them that worked," said Marilyn Holt of Abilene, who has
taught workshops for history teachers on immigrants.
During World Wars I and II, when anti-German sentiment raged throughout
the nation, the Volga Germans couldn't speak their native tongue
in public, read German newspapers or sing beloved German hymns.
But they continued their traditions in private.
In addition, Younger said, her great-grandparents faced the same
challenges other Kansans did. They lost three children in six days
during the 1918 flu epidemic. And the Dust Bowl of the 1930s seemed
"But their faith took hold and took them through," she
That's one reason the cookbook is important, Younger said.
Goetz said this summer has been a time to reflect on and honor
a heritage that still thrives today in Kansas.
"Once again churches are overflowing; people are singing the
old German songs," he said.
Reprinted with permission of Topeka Capital-Journal.