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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kansas Trip

Two weeks, 450 pictures, and 3300+ miles later, I'm back. The trip to Kansas has been a dream for years and now it is a memory. How much do you want to hear? You can choose to stop reading whenever you wish.
We left home on May 16 and spent the weekend with Cheryl and her family in Ohio. There was a heavy frost when we left there on Monday morning (18th) and that was the last we wore any kind of sweater of jacket. That whole week was warm and sunny. We could not have asked for nicer weather.
We stopped at one cemetery at Lancaster, Ohio, which I had missed when we were there last summer and then went on to visit some of Leroy's cousins at Bainbridge, Ohio. His cousin, Chester Martin, took us around their community and showed us where people live, the produce market, bakery, grocery & craft store, etc. We stopped at Mahlon Stauffers and thoroughly surprised them. She used to paint things for me when they lived at Ephrata. Chester's brother, Eugene, and his wife as well as Leroy's cousin Elise (Sensenig) and Paul Stauffer, were also at Chester's for supper. Those cousins had a rollicking good time visiting. We could hardly tear ourselves away to make it to our motel in Erlinger, Kentucky, by bedtime.
On Tuesday we visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky. There are beautiful gardens outside the museum. It is well worth your time if you get a chance to go there.
Wednesday (20th) we drove from Louisville, Kentucky, to Latham, Missouri, where another of Leroy's cousins lives. Shannon and Miriam (Stauffer) Zimmerman moved out there more than 30 years ago. Their church has gone from a few families meeting in their house to a congregation of about 150. They took us around the neighborhood and gave us supper. I knew some of the history of that area so we stopped at a couple of the oldest Mennonite churches in that area, built in the 1870s. After supper we went to another cemetery where I knew someone was buried. Shannon owns over 500 acres of land plus the four acres where their new house is built. They know the area well.
On Thursday (21st) we drove to a spot a little west of Coffeyville, Kansas, where Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie stands. The lady who works in the gift shop there declares the house actually stood half-a-mile away where she lives. Whether or not the log cabin is on the exact right spot did not matter to me. The house has been recreated the way Laura described it in her book and the prairie across the road has been returned to its native state. That is good enough to give a person an idea of how it looked when Laura lived there.

On our way from the Little House to Newton, we stopped at Neodesha where Leroy wanted to see a guy about Novo engines. It was 9 p.m. when we finally got to the home of our hosts, Ed and Marge Harms, in Newton. They had invited us to stay with them and only on the last day did I learn they are listed in Mennonite Your Way. They were wonderful hosts and did everything imaginable for us. They had plans to be away overnight on Friday night but gave us the key to their house and insisted we stay there anyway.

Friday (22nd) was our flexible day. We began with a lengthy breakfast with about a dozen people at The Bread Basket in Newton. Then Ivan & Bert Bontrager (sitting next to Leroy) took us to the Mennonite Heritage Museum at Gossel.

The museum at Gossel features the history of the Russian Mennonites who settled there in the 1870s after coming in by train to Peabody. Two entire congregations immigrated together. One of the immigrants brought with him the Turkey Red seed wheat which turned the Midwest into the breadbasket of America. Although our interest was not as much in the Russian Mennonites as in the ones who had migrated to the area earlier from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, it is still part of the local history out there and was interesting to see. The Russian Mennonites had some customs which are different from those in our German background. For example, this is the roller they used to thresh wheat. It was hitched behind a horse and dragged over the stalks.

After we finished at Gossel, we went through the Kauffman Museum which is across the street from Bethel College in North Newton. They have a larger display of Mennonite artifacts than at Gossel. The Martyrs Mirror collection is housed there. They have seven of the copper plates used to print the pictures in the Martyrs Mirror in Holland in the 1600s. We were there until it closed and then went for supper and hung out with the rest of the crowd who were staying at the motel. More people kept dribbling in through the evening.

Saturday (23rd) was the big Good Tour of the Peabody area. Meredith Mauck, who was hosting the reunion weekend, had arranged to have one of the school busses provide our transportation. We got a real taste of Kansas! Most of the roads we drove on were dirt roads and clouds of dust blew right through the open windows. Don Good, who was the tour leader, planned a route that included family farms, Mennonite churches, and cemeteries. One of the most tragic Kansas pioneer stories was told at this little Brunk family cemetery where the father and siblings of George R. Brunk I are buried.

Henry G. Brunk contracted Typhoid Fever from drinking contaminated water along the way as he took his family from Illinois to Kansas. Most of the family were sick when they arrived. Henry hurriedly threw up a crude shelter and died eight days later, on October 21, 1873. He was buried on a corner of his new farm. A few weeks later, Henry's wife, Susan, gave birth to a son whom she named Henry Jr. In December two of the daughters also died and were buried beside their father. Henry Jr. died when he was four months old and was the fourth Brunk to be buried here. Susan was left with only four children, one of whom was George R. and also expected to die. But he survived and went on to became a well known bishop of the Mennonite churches in central Kansas and later in Virginia. His son, George R. Brunk II followed in his footsteps and was a well known evangelist.
The bus tour included one totally unplanned surprise. We started going down a dry country road when the bus hit a soft spot and all four wheels sank. The first tractor which came by and tried to pull us out was not powerful enough to do the job. The farmer went home and got a bigger tractor which effortlessly pulled us out.

Sunday morning (24th) we went to the Grace Hill Mennonite Church with Ed & Marge Harms. Grace Hill is one of the churches which immigrated en masse from Russia. Ed's ancestors were among them. After church we returned to the Peabody Elementary School for the Good reunion. The nine grandchildren of Isaac B. Good are the nucleus of this reunion, but other more distant cousins also attended. One of the Good traditions is homemade ice cream and they far exceeded the need by providing nine freezers of ice cream. After the reunion we made a short run to Hutchinson to see what we were told are the biggest grain elevators in the world. One row is a half-mile long, and there was more than one row. Hutchinson was the furthest west we traveled.

On Monday morning (25th) we began our trek back east. We stopped at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Strong City, Kansas, and took a free bus tour of the prairies. The bus took us way out back where nothing could be seen except the rolling prairies and cattle grazing. It was beautiful in its own way. Leroy wanted to see the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City but we missed the last tour by 45 minutes. They made an unannounced early closing because it was Memorial Day. So we drove east a couple hours instead and stopped at Columbia, Missouri.

Tuesday (26th) we drove to Carbondale, Illinois, where I wanted to stop at a cemetery. Joanna Coughanour, the sister of my great-great-grandfather, Josiah Powl, is buried there. It was raining when we got into town but by the time we had lunch and found the cemetery the rain had stopped. The longer we were there the brighter the sun shone. So I did not get drenched and got some nice pictures of the stones. From there we went to my cousin Anna & Vernon Weaver at Bluford, Illinois, where we spent the night. They have been living in Illinois for 34 years and this is the first time we got there to see them.

Wednesday (27th) was my big research day. I had been searching for years for the burial place of Lavina Griffith (a sister of Joanna and Josiah). The last trace I had of her was in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1880. About a month before we left I got a tip that told me she was buried in Paris, Illinois (20 miles west of Terre Haute), where both she and Joanna had lived for about 15 years. I made a quick stop at the public library in Paris and then went to the Genealogical Library a few blocks down the street. I spent a couple hours looking at their records of the Edgar Cemetery (which is a HUGE city cemetery) and marking the spots on a cemetery map which I wanted to visit. Leroy waited patiently and went for some lunch while I worked. Then we went out to the cemetery and walked two hours to find all the stones I wanted to see. I took about 100 pictures in that cemetery alone. After years of searching, I finally found Lavina's resting place which also told me her birth and death dates. She was the hardest to find, but now I have seen all the places where Josiah and his siblings are buried---Lancaster County, Pa., Stark County, Ohio, Jackson and Edgar Counties, Illinois. Many of the descendants of both Joanna and Lavina are buried in this cemetery. One of them was actually buried while we were there.

I ended the research day at the Vigo County Public Library in Terre Haute, Indiana, where I found Lavina's obituary on a microfilm of the 1884 newspaper. I could not find one for her husband who died in 1874. Obituaries were rather sketchy in those days. I also found a few other things at the library. They have the largest historical section I have ever seen in a public library. I could have spent days there! It was 8 p.m. when I decided I must quit. I was too tired to drive east as I thought we might, so we got supper and a motel right in town. This day was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

On Thursday (28th) we drove back to Cheryl's place in Ohio and spent the night there. We left around 7:30 Friday morning and drove the last stretch home. It was a great trip. My dreams have become memories that will keep forever. We met a lot of friendly folks and I owe them a debt of gratitude for making our visit to Kansas such a pleasant experience.

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