TO MY DEAR FAMILY
For quite some time you have been asking, and reminding me to write down a few things I remember about my childhood and early life. I can't procrastinate any longer. Yes, I am 80 years old now and according to the Bible (Psalm 90:11)) I might be running out of time.
Since I did not keep a diary, the things I wrote down are only memories and not in chronological order.
You better keep your diaries your to date. Soon your children will ask you questions.
PART I: RUSSIA
"Her name is Tina," the neighbors said when a little baby girl arrived at the Regehr home. "No," my father objected, "she was named after Martin Luther's wife and her name was Kaethe." (This was told to me by Katharina Giesbrecht.) That was many, many years ago - 80 to be exact.
My first hurdle came when I was just 8 months old. I had polio. It affected my whole right side and my head. Mother told me that just the way she had placed me in the cradle I would stay. I didn't move my head an Inch. They tiptoed to the cradle often, to see if I was still breathing. The head got better by itself, but not the right side. They first noticed that when I outgrew my shoes so quickly. Shoes were tried on on the right foot, which was already not keeping up its growth with the left foot.
My parents spared neither time nor money to take me to famous doctors, but to no avail. At last they found one doctor, a Dr. Wall, in Muntau (Molotschna) who thought he could help me with electric treatments (chalvanic current). He said there wasn't enough strength in the right side to keep growing and it needed this extra boost (treatments) as long as I would grow.
That meant that each year, fall and spring, mother and I would have to go to Muntau or Halbstadt, which was close by, get room and board for one month, and during that month get daily treatments. Later, when I got a little older, mother would sometimes let my older sisters accompany me.
I faintly remember two boarding places. One was at Perks in Halbstadt and the other at Tzerdicks in Muntau. At Perks I must have been quite a novelty, since all the other boarders - and there were quite a few - were students going to the Commerce School. The other place was in Muntau at Tzerdicks. That lady spoiled me very much. If I wanted syrup on my mashed potatoes instead of gravy, she gladly gave it to me in spite of mother's objections. She felt so sorry for the little girl with all her problems.
Too bad we couldn't keep up these treatments long enough. Civil war and Revolution put an end to travel, and even communication. It was too dangerous. Sometimes, people who ventured out, disappeared and were never heard from again, like your Uncle Dave's father.
I was born in Reinfeld on October 16 (October 3, Old Style), 1003. My father was Rev. Gerhard P. Regehr who was the Elder (Aelteste) in the Einlage Mennonite Brethren Church and district. This was a big district and I remember that father had to travel a lot.
Mother was the daughter of Jacob Siemens and Anna (Peters) Siemens. This Mr. Peters, my great-grandfather, was only 11 years old when he came along with neighbors from Prussia. When he was older he bought much land and became very rich. He settled his daughter Anna, my grandmother (Mrs. J. Siemens), in Reinfeld, and her sister. Helen, Mrs. Pauls, adjacent to Anna in what was called Helenafeld.
Reinfeld was a chutor (estate) and was beautiful. My father was a gardener. He ordered roses from as far away as Italy. One row of roses was especially kept for making rose--jelly. (I even made that jelly in Yarrow. I obtained the rose petats from Nursery Reimers.) We had a very big orchard with many kinds of fruit trees and many walnut trees. Our house was very, modern, too, we thought. It actually had a bathroom with running water and a toilet that flushed. In those days that was something unheard of.
Father must have liked it there because he said: "Hier moechte ich schon begraben sein." ("Here I would like to be buried.") Little did he realize what all was in store for him and that he would he buried in Yarrow, B. C. Later Reinfeld was completely destroyed by bandits.
By the time I was old enough to go to school we we had moved to Nicopol, a fairly big city. You must he wondering why we moved away from beautiful Reinfeld. As far as I know, Grandfather Siemens was very anxious to make father, his son-in-law, the manager of his big business in Nicopol. Grandfather Siemens had built a five-story brick flourmill in Nicopol. The machinery was all imported from Germany. I think the reason for that was that it was not available in Russia.
The mill complex was quite big. Besides the mill and warehouse, there were a number of houses on the yard, where some of the employees lived. Mr. Regehr (no relation), who lived with his family back of the office, and was also employed as a bookkeeper, was the only man I ever saw milk a cow (that is, in Russia). It was considered women's work. We children always gathered there and watched him milk. They had a son Peter who shocked all of us one evening when he put a live worm on his outstretched tongue. I can still see the worm squirm. It looked so dreadful. They had other children, but for some reason I don't remember them. They probably didn't do anything as outlandish as Peter.
Nicopol was quite a big city with a population of about 35,000. It was built on the banks of the Dnieper River and we lived just across the street from that river. Here I started school. My First grade teacher was Miss Thielman (We met her again and associated with her many, many years later in Minneapolis, Minnesota where we lived at that time).
In school we had to learn the sound of each letter and laboriously put the sounds together to form words - That was a slow method, hut by the time we could read, we certainly knew our phonics.
My sister Lydia went to the Gymnazium (a school [or girls) and my brothers to the Commerce School (a school for boys).
Those were happy (days we spent in Nicopol until the Revolution broke out in 1917. Then everything changed. The Dnieper was usually tile border between various fighting factions: Red Army, White Army, and Machno, a released convict who had gathered quite an army of other convicts. They had adopted a black flag as their banner which meant death and they certainly lived up to it.
Not far from us, near the river, were railroad tracks. On those tracks was an armored train, occasionally shooting across the river at the enemy. We could see the red flashes of bombs exploding and hear the blasts, a few seconds later. When the bombing raids started from across the river in our direction, the teacher dismissed us and instructed us not to walk home along the street close to the river. At home we all went to the basement and waited until the raid was over. Quite often the schools were changed into temporary hospitals for the wounded soldiers.
It was during Machno's reign of terror that a typhus epidemic struck Nicopol. It was spread by soldiers who simply walked in and demanded food and lodging. Some villages looked like ghost towns. There were not enough healthy people left to look after the sick.
My parents left Nicopol and went into hiding. We, my sister Lydia, Henry and I lived with grandmother in one room at our neighbor's house. Soon my uncles, who had to flee from Reinfeld, came to Nicopol disguised as Russian peasants. Some other relatives joined us. All told we were 9 people living in that one small room where my uncle Jacob Siemens got typhus and died. The miracle was that nobody else got sick. We had no regular funeral for him nor a coffin. At about 5 o'clock one morning a few men took his body out to the cemetery in a wooden box.
Since schools were so disrupted, a few neighbors hired a private teacher who taught us in our neighbor's living room. Mean while the Vogts had fled from their Chutor (estate) and moved to Nicopol. Mother and Mrs. Vogt became good friends, my brother Henry and David Vogt became good friends and Olga was my special friend. Olga liked to memorize poetry and so did I. We two girls usually memorized at least twice as much as Mr. Schellenberg, our teacher, assigned. Schiller's "Lied von der Glocke" we had memorized in a short time.
Books were scarce. My neighbor girl, Tina (who is now Mrs. Wallace and lives in Clearbrook), used the textbooks until suppertime and I used them in the evening.
Scribblers we filled twice. The First time we wrote with a pencil. Then we drew lines across the other way and filled it the second time with ink.
We were without electricity since the mill was not running any more. One way of producing our own light was by placing a wick in a saucer of oil. By that faint light I did all my homework and read many other hooks.
We always had hired help. One of the girls who worked for us had earrings. I liked them immensely and wanted some too. She offered to pierce my ears if I got permission. Mother was shocked when I asked, but she sent me to dad who was working in the office. He had no objections. The girl went to work immediately by rubbing my earlobes and the needle with rubbing alcohol. Then she pierced my ears and pulled silk threads through my ears. I had to keep moving these threads frequently until my ears healed.
During the German and Austrian occupation of Russia my grandparents' house was swarming with activity. My grandparents and their three maids lived in a very big house. Part of that house was now occupied with soldiers and was also used for office space. One young man, a lieutenant by the name of Paul Lamatch, became a very good friend of my oldest brother Jacob. When he went home on furlough to Vienna, my mother had asked him to bring along various things, which were not available in Russia any more: a ring and locket for my sister Lydia and for me brand new gold earrings, to replace my old "proste" earrings. He also brought along a little machine which would enable us to give me electric treatments again. These treatments had been interrupted during the difficult times.
The German occupation did not last very long and we were back to anarchy and turmoil.
It was again, while we were hiding in No. 7 Sagradowka that we heard of some people who were lucky and managed to escape with the retreating German army. Father had made arrangements to meet such a train very early one morning. We left with horses and wagon while it was still dark. All at once we found ourselves surrounded by soldiers on horseback. Somebody must have notified the authorities. We were taken to a village where father was interrogated all day long and we came back to No. 7 late that night. We praised the Lord for saving father's life. The soldiers were very angry and quite a few times it looked as if they were going to take father out and shoot him, but they calmed down again.
While back in Nicopol, we still had contact with Reinfeld. On one of our visits I heard the grown-ups talk about the atrocities that were happening all around us: how the bandits, in search of gold, simply yanked the earrings out of ladies' ears. That frightened me. I was wearing my beautiful gold earrings and desperately wanted to same them. That's when I discovered a cabbage patch in the garden. I counted the row and the cabbage heads and carefully hid my earrings inside a very young cabbage plant.
Amazingly my earrings and father's gold pocket watch were the only two items we brought along to America.
Mother had a lot of fine jewelry. Grandfather went on many business trips to foreign countries and usually brought along some fine jewelry for mother. She lost all that; Lydia lost her locket and ring and I lost the little electric box which made it possible to get the electric treatments at home.
Other things disappeared and became scarce, too, like clothing and food. I remember having a dress made from small flour sacks and eating biscuits made from coffee grounds and just enough flour to hold the dough together.
In 1921 & 22 we had a great famine in Russia. Our family was hit hard. The soups were getting thinner and thinner and the pieces of bread smaller and smaller. In fact, the bread was weighed off. How we would have liked to eat the whole piece for breakfast, but we had to save some for the other two meals. More and more children came to the door begging, and the time came when we had nothing to give.
I remember very small children clawing at the frozen potato peelings (thin peelings from cooked potatoes which we had put out for the few chickens we had).
Father's feet were beginning to swell from starvation and we children were tired and listless.
Each morning, wagons pulled by horses would drive along the city streets and pick up the dead children. It was at this time that we heard that help was on the way. It was during President Hoover's a administration that food was sent to starving Russia.
In Nicopol we were helped by ARA (American Relief Administration). In the colonies help came from the AMRA (American Mennonite Relief Administration) which was actually the beginning of MCC.
Father helped in the office and was paid with produce rather than money.
For the starving children up to 16 years of age kitchens were established where they served one meal a day. I qualified and remember standing in that long line of starving children with a little disk in my hand. The food was dished out and we had to eat it there. They feared we wouldn't get it if we took it home. I looked forward to Sundays when we got a cup of cocoa and a piece of white bread. The bread was very fluffy and such a treat.
It is estimated that some 5,000,000 people died during the famine of 1921 and 1922.
Negotiations had been started with the government to allow the homeless Mennonites to leave Russia and immigrate to Canada. Father saw to it that we got on the list of those who wanted to leave Russia. Privately, with the help of a friend, he also applied to Germany. Both places granted permission at about the same time. It would have been so much easier for my parents to go to Germany since they knew the language but they chose America. Father wanted to get away as far as possible from Russia. We have always been grateful that my parents made that choice.
Since Nicopol a big Russian city, was kind of isolated from the Chortitza Colony, where all the action was, my parents decided to make one more move and that was to Kronstal, right next to Chortitza. They were afraid we would be overlooked and left he-- hind if we stayed in Nicopol. Here in Kronstal we lived in a Russian hut with dirt floors and a thatched roof, waiting for the train that was to take us out of Russia.
We had to wait six months before the day finally came.
Before we leave Russia I have to tell you about an experience which took place when I was only nine years old. I was under strong conviction and knew that I needed Jesus to come into my heart. Even at that age the burden of sin seemed heavy. I told my parents about that. It must have been summer because we were all outside. My parents took me in their bedroom. All three of us knelt down at the bed and all three of us prayed. Great joy came into my heart. I knew my sins were forgiven. This joy I wanted to share with my friends. I didn't just want to tell them about it, I immediately wanted to convert all my friends and must have made a nuisance of myself.
I am sorry to say that this fervor didn't last. There were many years when I was a very lukewarm Christian and it was years later, while we lived in Minneapolis, that I rededicated my life to Christ, but I'll tell you about that later.
When World War One started in 1914 about 100,000 Mennonites lived scattered throughout Russia, mostly in the Ukraine.
Most of them lived in colonies, that is, in groups of villages. The oldest colony was Chortitza often called the Old Colony.
Molotschna was the second colony and the largest by far. It consisted of 56 villages. It was unique in that it was not only the largest colony in Russia, but in the whole world (I have been told).
There were many other colonies. Your dad came from the Nikolajewka Colony named after Tzar Nicholas, but of course I did not know him in Russia.
These colonies flourished. The houses were beautiful, well kept and surrounded by big orchards. They built their own churches and schools, orphanages and other institutions. They were allowed to use their own language and they had religious freedom.
That all changed when Russia went to war with Germany. The Mennonites, who had made Russia their home for over 100 years and had been loyal citizens of that country, were suddenly regarded as enemies.
Just three years later (1917) there was a revolution in Russia. That started a reign of terror, anarchy, starvation and murder. Our family was not spared. Of mother's close relatives who were all very rich, 36 people were murdered; of father's relatives, who were not rich, only a few died a violent death.
Quite a few Mennonites had left Russia after the Franco-Prussian War (1872 - 1878), due to a sudden change in the government's policy regarding military service. They went to Canada and the United States. Mountain Lake, Minnesota was settled during those years. I mention it here because we lived there and I went to high school there.
But now let's go back to the Chortitza railroad station where the train is waiting.
The train waiting for us was made up of freight cars which had to be cleaned first. The first four trainloads of refugees all left from Chortitza probably because they had more than their share of homeless people. We were on the third train which left July 13, 1923 at 5 p.m. with 765 passengers on board. (On the 9 days on the train I got some help from Mr. P.D. Loewen who was on the same train we were and who evidently kept a diary. He supplied me with dates and the names of places).
From Chortitza to Zaporoshye and then on to Charkow in three days. There we stayed a little longer, since we had to have a bath, were vaccinated against cholera and had our clothes disinfected. Then we proceeded to Kursk, Oral, Briansk, Smolensk, Vitebsk, Novo-Sibirsk and then to the border station Sebesh, where we arrived July 22, 1923.
There was one more examination at the border where our passports were checked, then the stepladder was taken away and we left Russia through the Red Gate that you see on so many pictures.
At the Latvian railway station Zilupe we transferred our belongings to Latvian railway cars. At the next station Reschidza we met CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) representatives who took over from now on. The CPR was willing to transport all the immigrants on credit. It ran into millions of dollars. Here we got our first meal - a very good soup with rice.
Here, too, our eyes were examined and of the 765 immigrants 189 were rejected clue to trachoma, an eye disease. These, with some of their close relatives, stayed behind. In all, there were 232 who were kept in a temporary detention home in Lechfeld, Germany. Here they received treatment and later joined their relatives in Canada. My father corresponded with a relative for over six months before she could join her family. How much longer some had to stay I don't know.
Before we go on to Riga, Latvia I should mention a few things about life on the freight cars. We had to supply our own food. Since there was no refrigeration we lived mostly on roasted buns (Zwieback) and dried fruit. We had "samovars" (Russian tea machines), in which we could heat water for tea and coffee. They were heated with kindling wood and charcoal and therefore had to be taken outside.
The train usually pulled unto sidetracks and made long stops. At one place about nine of us got off too soon and saw the train pull out without us. After much discussion with the depot agent, He finally stopped a freight train and sent us along to the next station where we caught up with the other passengers.
There were no rest rooms. Whenever the train stopped in a wooded area we were all sent out - all the Adams to one side of the tracks and the Eves to the other.
When we arrived in Riga, we separated from the other immigrants. They went to Liebau, a Baltic seaport where they embarked and went to Canada. We, our family, and our grandmother, went to the United States.
After a ten day wait in Riga, we could finally move on by train through Latvia, Germany, Holland, and Belgium where we boarded the ship "Belgenland" to Antwerp, Belgium.
Our finances must have been very depleted by now. I am quoting from a newspaper article which someone in the group had written: "Our total cash now consists of l0¢. With us were our four children, and we owed the fare for the entire voyage."
Our finances were in a similar condition. During those 10 days in Riga father sometimes went browsing in the city. One time he came back with one orange which we faithfully divided among our family members. As far as I know, that was the first time in my life that I tasted an orange.
The English Channel is always stormy. Very soon most of us got very seasick, including the sailors. After a brief stop at Southampton, England and Cherbourg, France we had fair weather and pleasant sailing.
What thoughts must have crossed our parents' minds? Here we left Russia with very few possessions and no money. All our property in Nicopol was confiscated and Reinfeld was completely destroyed. We came with nothing but debts to a country where we didn't know the language. How would we all be able to earn a living?
Well, that question didn't bother me much although I wasn't that young any more. We arrived in New York harbor just a few weeks before my 15th birthday, a day ahead of schedule and therefore were not allowed to disembark.
All that I remember is that it was very, very hot and I had to wear a warm jacket because the dress I wore, the only dress I had, was so full of holes. Somehow that wasn't important.
My parents trusted the Lord and knew He would provide as He had done in the past.
PART II: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
With great anticipation we looked into the future, wondering what it had in store for us. From the ship we had a good view of New York harbor and its islands.
One such island was the home of the STATUE OF LIBERTY, a very impressive structure, especially at night when lit up.
Another island, Ellis Island, was our destination. In those years 1923 - all immigrants, coming from the east, had to go through Ellis Island.
We entered a big hall or auditorium swarming with immigrants. There must have been hundreds of them or maybe a thousand. Very likely other ships disembarked that day too.
We had to line up at various desks representing different countries (I think) and there wait our turn to have our papers checked. From there we were sent to smaller rooms for another medical check-up. When we finally returned, grandmother was missing. They told us to wait for her. We waited and waited. It was getting dark outside and the big hall was practically empty. They were getting ready to close up for the night. Where was grandmother? At last a man came, opened a side door and told us to wait for her there.
We must have looked quite forlorn standing near the door, not knowing what to do next. At this point another immigrant, who spoke German, came to our assistance. He showed us where to put our baggage and then explained that this would probably be our temporary home now, that we might have to wait a long time. He was already waiting three months. He also told us that grandmother was probably in the hospital.
Later on in the evening a very big man came in and called out in a loud voice: "Any British subjects?" If there were, they could go out first, the rest of us had to stand in line and wait before we were shown our sleeping quarters. That went on every evening and at every meal. The British were always first and the rest considered margarine a treat.
We had recently experienced a famine in Russia and thought the food was fit for a king.
After a few days on the island, father got permission for the first time to visit grandmother in the hospital, where she received treatments for her eyes. They thought she had trachoma. If she did not respond to treatments she would have to be sent back to Russia. Father told us that in that case we would all have to go back. We would not let grandmother go back alone.
Those were anxious days that followed. Many prayers went up to the Lord. After waiting and praying for a whole week longer, grandmother was finally released from the hospital and we were ready to continue our journey. She did not have to go back to Russia. She had had trachoma as a young girl and the scars still showed. She did not have trachoma now and therefore was not a threat to anyone.
We were now heading towards Akron, Pennsylvania by train to the home of Orion Miller, who was very much involved with immigration. After a friendly welcome and a meal they took us across the street to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wolf, Mrs. Miller's parents (That home is now the MCC center). They had a big house and lots of room.
One young immigrant was already there. He was one of the 62. That was a group of young Mennonite men who had escaped from Russia and came to the United States via Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey). Since there was no law to fit their case, they had to stay at Ellis Island till Congress had made such a law. Later on we met a number of those young men belonging to the group of 62.
Since we had arrived a few days ahead of schedule, the little house we were to move into was not quite ready. Those few days we spent with the Wolfs who made us feel very welcome.
The Weavers, who lived in a fairly large house, had four quite young children and a hired man by the name of Mr. Riediger who lived with them. He had just arrived recently and was one of the 62.
Mr. Weaver's mother, a widow, lived close by in a nice new house. Also close by was a little one-room country school. The teacher of that school had room and board with Mrs. Weaver Sr.
This Saturday morning, when we arrived, a group of onlookers had come to either welcome us or out of curiosity, they had contributed so much to the refugee cause. Here at last they saw a family. In that crowd of onlookers was Miss Esther Eby, the school teacher of that little country school. She invited me to come to school. I gladly did so the following Monday, and never missed a day that year.
There must have been 20 - 25 pupils in that school representing all eight grades. Here I was a big girl, two or three weeks before my 15th birthday, entering grade one.
Miss Eby must have given her students a lesson on how to act; at least it seemed that way. Nobody made fun of me. Everybody went out of his way to be kind and polite. Even the grade 7 and 8 boys were happy to carry my books.
Once a week when we had singing we were allowed to choose favorite songs. I remember how Miss Eby's face shone when I finally was bold enough to suggest my favorite song.
Not only did Miss Eby teach school during the day, but she soon invited the adults of the farm to come to her boarding place two evenings a week to study English. That included our family and Mr. Riediger, the hired man. I always went along, too, even though I attended public school during the day. School was so much fun. I just couldn't get enough.
Mother cried a lot. She was homesick. The people were very kind to us and invited us often. Whenever they celebrated anything they invited their relatives and us. Still mother felt lonely.
One day father made a proposition. We would stay one year and then decide where we wanted to make our permanent home. Meanwhile father and Henry helped on the farm.
They soon realized that all these rich farmers in this area got wealthy by raising tobacco. Father didn't want to make a living by raising tobacco nor working with it in any shape or form, He didn't need a year to decide that.
Father had written a series of articles on why we left Russia which were published in the "Zionsbote", a German weekly paper, printed in Hillsboro, Kansas. A lot of mail started to come in response to these articles.
It was during this time that father started to correspond with Rev. N.N. Hiebert, a returned missionary to India. He lived in Mountain Lake, Minnesota and offered his assistance if we wanted to relocate. We accepted and soon were on our way to Mountain Lake, Minnesota.
Mountain Lake was settled by Mennonites who came from Russia in the 1870's. Church services were still in the German language at that time. We all felt quite at home here.
This move had set us back financially. The money father and Henry had earned on the farm that winter was earmarked for paying debts - our travel expenses from Russia. A kind man from Scottdale, Pennsylvania, whom we did not know, had paid all our travel expenses to the "White Star Line" and we owed that money to him. Since our move to Minnesota required money, we just had to postpone paying our debts. However, eventually we were able to pay all our debts with interest.
When we arrived at the depot the Hieberts were there to greet us. Their neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Fast, an old couple who had no children, sort of adopted grandmother, they took her in as a temporary guest. They had a car and later on always stopped for her on their way to church. The rest of us could easily walk. Much later they came to father one day and told him they wanted to pay grandmother's travel expenses from Russia.
A family by the name of Klassen, who had three grown - up daughters, came to claim us, Lydia and me, as guests. Sadie, the youngest, was a high school student and an excellent piano player. I listened spellbound to her playing. Later on we became good friends.
Mr. Hiebert must have done some preliminary work, because it didn't take him and father long to find a place to rent. It was the last house in town with a small barn and pasture for three cows. That's where I learned how to milk cows (I am still afraid of cows).
Father was really appreciated in church. He was a good minister. People liked to listen to his sermons. The church elected him to be their itinerary preacher for which he was very well paid. He travelled as far as North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and other parts of Minnesota.
Fall was approaching and I was looking forward to attending school. My parents sent me to a Christian private school of which Mr. Hiebert was the principal. In Pennsylvania I started in grade one and then skipped around in various grades. Now I was enrolled in grade 8 and Mr. Hiebert was my teacher. As always I enjoyed school and had excellent grades. However, at the end of the year, I didn't do so well on the government exams. The questions were so big and vague and didn't seem to cover what we had studied. I guess I just didn't know enough English.
Mr. Hiebert must have convinced the high school principal that they would have no problems with me, at least I was allowed to enter high school. I was even allowed to make high school in three years. That I regretted later on. I liked school so very much and would have liked very much to stay on another year.
A feeling of inferiority came over me when I looked at all those students in that assembly room. They probably had all passed government exams. I was the only one who hadn't. That feeling persisted even after report cards came out and my name was on the honor roll.
I had some wonderful teachers in high school. I remember especially Miss Andrews - young, beautiful and with golden blond hair. I thought that is what angels
must look like. She went to the mission field in Africa the following year, but this year I had her as my teacher in two subjects, Algebra and Ancient History. How happy I was when she asked me to be her daughter at our next mothers and daughters banquet.
Money was scarce at our house, so whenever the school or class voted on anything that required money, there would be at least one vote against it. Of course everybody knew whose vote that was.
It was during my freshman year that Sadie Klassen, a friend of mine, took me to a basketball game. What I saw absolutely amazed me - the screaming, the shouting, the jumping and the cheerleaders. Were these the same people I had considered sane and normal this afternoon? They were and nobody seemed alarmed. I had just learned something new about school life.
The Hieberts kept on being good to us. They took my parents along where possible, and when they took their children on picnics or fishing they took me along too. I actually caught a fish on one of those fishing trips, but I did close my eyes when somebody put a worm on the hook. Neither could I take the fish off the hook. It is strange that the Humane Society hasn't done anything about fishing.
One summer Hieberts needed strawberry pickers. My parents sent me to help. After picking for a few hours Hr. Hiebert came over to where I picked and told me a Bible verse: "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth the corn" (Deuteronomy 25:4). He must have observed me and noticed that I hadn't sampled a single strawberry. He told me the juiciest strawberries were to be eaten.
The good high school years came to an end. Lydia had been very sick with a burst appendix, blood poisoning and other complications. That set her back two years. However, she made up her work by attending summer school and night school in Minneapolis, Minnesota which was about 60 miles away. We now both graduated from high school in the year 1928.
Some people in Mountain Lake wanted to hire us, but father advised us not to accept. If you want to get rich first and then go back to school, it will never happen. He had some good friends in South Dakota who had offered to lend us money, should we want to continue our education. There were no government loans available to students in those years.
We were fast approaching the Depression years. Father's friends, who had farmed for over 30 years, now lost their farm. In spite of that they lent us each (Lydia and me) $200.00. That had to be enough and it was.
This was a State Teacher's College and therefore we did not have to pay tuition. We rented a small light- housekeeping room and learned to shop for cheap groceries such as sauerkraut and other items. Thursday evenings we waited on tables at the YMCA and got a good meal.
We had enrolled in a one-year teacher-training course, which would entitle us to teach in a one-room country school like I had attended in Pennsylvania. This was the last year that course was offered. From now on all teachers would have to train for two years.
I had corresponded with Miss Esther Eby, now Mrs. Whitman, all during my high school years and received a beautiful book for my graduation.
This year at college was not easy, especially the two weeks practice teaching which we had to do in a country school about 10 miles from college.
Two students were assigned to one school. Every night Wanda Carlisle and I wrote lesson plans until all hours of the night - often 2 a.m., but more often 3 a.m., and once or twice till 5 a.m. Exhausted we would drop into bed for a few hours and then hope we wouldn't fall asleep on the job. If it was very cold or snowy outside, the farmer where we boarded five days a week took us to school by horse and sleigh.
Miss Armstrong, our supervisor, came every day to pick up our lesson plans and return the previous set. The weather was had. Cars and trucks got stuck everywhere. Secretly we hoped Miss Armstrong would get stuck at least once, but no such luck. She came every day. She drove as far as possible and then waded through snowdrifts on foot.
We realized that we were now teachers and had to start looking for a job. It was in the early 1930's. Our country was in a deep depression. These years are sometimes referred to as the "Dirty Thirties". I wrote many application letters, but to no avail. They wanted experienced teachers. There were few vacancies, because teachers did not resign unless they had to. How would I ever get experience?
I needed the job desperately. I wanted to pay debts. I owed the doctor, the dentist and those people in South Dakota who had lent me the $200.00. Then I read an ad in the Minneapolis Tribune which stated that Alaska needed teachers. I thought all my problems were solved now. I would apply there. Certainly nobody would want to go to Alaska! How wrong could I be! After a long wait the reply finally came. There had been only 30 + some vacancies in all of Alaska and they had received about 800 applications. At the end of the letter was the familiar sentence that "No inexperienced teachers were considered." That took care of Alaska and I had to start writing application letters-again.
One weekend when I came home my parents told me that a school board had been there and asked for me. My parents told them I would not be back until the Easter holidays. I doubted whether they would be back. Very likely an experienced teacher would have persuaded them to hire her, but they did come! They offered me their school and I accepted, of course. Then came the question: "How much do you want?"
Now some of us girls at school had discussed this question before and most of them thought asking for a $100.00 a month was too much. It would diminish our chances of getting a school. However, now that I was asked the question, I dared to say, "$100 a month." They were willing. So now I finally had a school. It was not an easy school. For those $100, I had to teach all eight grades from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. From 3 to 4 p.m., I had to teach German. The government allowed the schools to give instruction one hour a day in any foreign language. This district wanted German.
There was one thing that puzzled me. After writing all those application letters, this was a school I had not applied for. They offered me the job; they were willing to pay $100 when most schools did not pay that anymore and they knew I had no experience. Why? I meant to find out and I did. In the States they have 9 months school and therefore 3 months summer holidays. During the summer they had 6 weeks Daily Vacation Bible School where they taught German besides Bible. My father was one of the teachers. These school board members were so impressed with his teaching that when they discovered he had a daughter looking for a job their minds were made up. I also discovered that this school had never paid $100 a month before. It was my father's reputation, not mine, that persuaded them to offer me their school.
I took paying debts very seriously. Of my $100 check $20 went for room and board and $80 for paying debts. I kept no spending money except at Christmas. I needed a new dress desperately.
Not having spending money could be embarrassing at times. Sometimes when we girls walked along the street somebody might suggest that we each get ourselves a 5¢ ice cream cone. I tried to avoid situations like that because I just didn't have a nickel.
We had lived in Mountain Lake at least 7 to 8 years when my parents decided to move to Minneapolis. Henry had gone there a long time ago to find work and study as a mechanic. Lydia went there to become a social worker and I came home as many weekends as possible. My parents wanted to make a home for us children in Minneapolis. While there we attended the German Baptist Church and made many friends.
You remember way back I told you that I was a very lukewarm Christian. That began to bother me more and more, especially now that I got into new school districts and met many new people, many of whom were not Christians. Did they know I was a Christian?
It was while we lived in Minneapolis that a famous preacher by the name of BilIy Sunday came to Minneapolis and held meetings in the First Baptist Church down town.
That Sunday morning when I was there he spoke on Jeremiah 8:20 and 22. How that sermon spoke to me! The whole message seemed to have been designed just for me. I felt I had wasted so many years and promised the Lord things would be different from now on. I was always shy and quiet, but I believe people sensed that I loved the Lord.
Helen, my dear friend from high school years, had moved to Kansas where she attended Bethel, a Christian college. She wrote glowing accounts from there and enticed me to come to Bethel. Of course she knew I wanted to go to college that year anyway.
I had taken my second year of training at the same school where I took my first year. According to law that was enough but most ads in the papers read: "Unless you have a degree you need not apply." I realized that sooner or later I would need more education. Schools could demand and get just about anything. This was still Depression and the wages were still going down.
This was also my last year I took off from teaching. My fourth year college I took in summer schools.
My parents were very supportive of my going to Kansas which surprised me at that time, but now, when I look back, I think I know why.
For a few years - off and on - I had been seeing a young man. My parents probably thought this was as good a time as any to break up with him and it should have been, but it didn't work out that way. He kept on writing. Since Bethel was a small college and students distributed the mail, they soon caught on.
I stayed in Kansas three years - one in college and two teaching. Then I came home for good, I thought. My bachelor friend showed up too. When he suggested marriage, I stalled. That alone should have told me that he wasn't the right person.
Now I have to go back to our family's history for a little while. When we left Russia, two of my brothers had to stay behind. One brother was married and the other brother had to serve in the army. We considered waiting for the latter, but realized that by that time my younger brother, Henry, would have to stay and serve his time in the army. We emigrated and hoped my brothers would soon follow.
It took a few years before they came. By that time the doors to the U.S.A. were closed and they came to Canada. One brother eventually married and settled in Ontario. The other lived in Winnipeg and worked in the same printing shop as Kornelius, your dad, did.
Now he prepared for what follows. It is stranger than fiction. One evening when Kornelius came to see my brother he noticed some pictures on a dresser. One of them was from our family and a friend. Kornelius looked at the picture once and instantly knew whom he would like for his wife, He never wavered.
I am still convinced that the Lord guided Cupid's arrow that time when dad looked at the picture. The picture wasn't even pretty, but of course, that depends on the beholder.
You know that your dad always was a man of determination. Once his mind was made up about anything, he would go after it. Now he needed help. He asked my brother to come with him to a small restaurant close to the printing shop. He had something to tell him. After they each had a 5 hamburger he told him that he was in love with his sister and wanted to marry her. Just like that. He wanted my brother to introduce us later on that year when we were planning to come to Canada.
Ordinarily my brother would have loved to be of assistance, but now he hesitated. Did he know his sister well enough? After all, for many years now, we had lived in different countries. We had seen each other just a few times during those years because all of us were too poor to travel.
So now my brother told Kornelius some of the drawbacks. First of all, due to polio, I limped slightly. That seemed to go in one ear and out the other. He also told him that I had a boy friend. He still wanted to he introduced.
That wasn't so simple either. When we finally came a few months later, we were invited to so many places as a family, that there wasn't much time left.
This particular day we went to Elm Creek, about 60 miles away, to see my cousin Alma. Kornelius was getting desperate. He had taken his holidays to coincide with our visit and now this. He came to see my brother, who had his own little printing shop by now, and told him, "At least let's talk about her." That they did.
How surprised they were, when we returned a few hours later. The gate and fence of that farm were plastered with quarantine signs. I know at least one person who wasn't sad that they had diphtheria.
Yes, we met and had a few dates before we went back home. Of course I knew what he had in mind, but wasn't tuned in to such a speedy courtship. I promised him, however, to correspond with him.
That was really a very good way to get to know him. He was a quiet person, but could express himself so well on paper. How I treasured those letters. I was looking forward to them.
The rest is history. The wedding date was set for October 2. I went to summer school yet and did some other unnecessary things, Kornelius thought.
I think I should tell you something about this last trip from Minneapolis to Winnipeg which is about 500 miles.
Since we were five passengers in the car, there wasn't much room for anything else. I decided to buy a second-hand trailer to take along my few belongings.
Father and I studied the ads and then went looking. Neither one of us knew anything about trailers. The one we bought looked very nice (It was a two-wheel trailer). The owner must have just given it a new coat of paint.
Our troubles started soon after we left Minneapolis. We had a blow-out and the garage man, where we stopped, told us the trailer was such an old model, that they had discontinued to make tires for it. They really tried hard to help us. They phoned to other garages and second-hand places and finally came up with something similar which they had to adjust. The only trouble was that it was almost noon now and we were just barely out of Minneapolis. Late afternoon we started to look for a cabin and had a problem again. It was mother. She feared public places. I still remember, many years ago, in Russia, when father came home from a trip, that mother would personally inspect every garment and check every seam to see if any unwanted insect had sneaked in. At that time we had much help in the house, but this job she did herself. She didn't trust anyone else.
Now she didn't want to sleep in the cabin. She feared bedbugs. She slept in the car. I forgot who slept there with her, was it father or I. I just know we didn't let her sleep in the car alone.
The next morning we made good progress till about noon. All at once we heard a terrible racket behind us. We saw a wheel rolling ahead of us over the ditch and into a ploughed field. It was the wheel from our trailer. Here my memory is a little vague. I don't know who fixed it, but somebody did, because we were soon on our way again.
Our next stop was the border. Since I was moving to Canada I could bring in all, my clothes, personal things, even furniture providing I had owned it longer than six months. If less than six months I had to pay duty on it. That meant the car could come in duty-free, but not the trailer, How happy we were to arrive in Winnipeg even if it took us 2 days instead of one. The Lord had protected us and kept us from having a serious accident. Everybody was happy.
PART III: CANADA
This part is to be brief because you remember some things yourself and should include them in your diaries.
My brother Jacob in Winnipeg was the oldest in the family and I the youngest. There was quite a big difference in our ages. He sort of took over now. He printed the invitations and sent them out to his friends, Kornelius' relatives and friends and to many friends my parents knew from Russia.
There were many guests at that wedding and I must have been the only one who didn't know most of those guests. My friends were mostly in Minnesota and Kansas.
I did have a very beautiful wedding dress, though, which I bought in Minneapolis for $17.00.
Rev. Herman Neufeld married us and Mr. K.H. Neufeld from Winkler was the M.C. Now you know that there was never a dull moment anyplace where K.H. Neufeld was present.
We lived in Winnipeg only two years before we moved to B. C. Two very important things happened during that time.
First, my mother died and was buried in Winnipeg. I took that hard. I wanted to have her visit us often and to learn so much from her. Now she was dead at only 70 years of age.
The other important event was that both Kornelius and I were baptized. I knew he was a Christian, but He was not baptized. Neither was I.
Very early in the morning (at 7 a.m.) on a bright Sunday in August, 1944 we gathered at Bird's Hill Park where Kornelius and I were baptized in the lake. Since it was so early, the park was fairly empty, but a large number of church people had gathered at the lake. How happy Kornelius and I were that we had finally heeded the Lord's command to be baptized.
We had been to B. C. once to your grandfather's funeral. We liked it so much that we decided to move there.
That was quite an undertaking. Dad resigned from his job at the Rundschau. He was paid $9.00 a week for that job. They offered him the job as manager of the business. That might have paid a little more, but we wanted to move.
We had to sell our house which was one of the nicer ones in North Kildonan. We sold it for $1,000.00. I brought along about $600.00. and the old second-hand car which eventually took us to B. C. The lot we had bought on our first visit to B. C. That $1600.00 had to be enough to build a small printing shop and buy some second-hand machinery. There just wasn't any money left to buy a house. There was a small "cabin" on the lot. At least that is what the owners called it.
Actually it didn't deserve that name. It was a small, rat-infested shack with no running water. Since it had no foundation, it didn't do much good to close up the rat holes. New holes would appear soon. If it snowed outside, we had snow on the window sills. The bedrooms were very small. When I changed the sheets on our bed, I had to crawl over the bed. There just wasn't enough room to walk around it. When we had a blizzard or a cold-spell, we took our bedding to the print shop and all slept on the floor. It was just too cold in the house. Even with the small heater going day and night,
the vinegar on the table sometimes froze.
We lived in that shack for five years before we thought that we could afford to build. Those were difficult years. I must admit (to my credit, I guess) that I never complained or nagged dad about our living conditions. I knew he worked hard and did his very best.
We also bought two acres of raspberries to tide us over until the printing shop would bring in enough for our livelihood. For those raspberries we did not have to pay cash, but a share of the crop until they were paid for. From now on you, boys, always had something to do during summer holidays.
The time came when we actually moved into our new house. How beautiful everything was. It wasn't big, but adequate. It had a basement and a good foundation. No rat would ever dare to come in. Best of all, it was paid for. We sold the old shack for $65.00 with the stipulation that the buyer would remove it from our property.
Dad, true to his nature, immediately started to improve our yard. There were quite a few fruit trees, we had already planted many flowers and now we had a vegetable garden on the spot where the "cabin" had stood. The lawn was always kept immaculate.
Once, when I was outside, a truck stopped on the other side of the road. The driver came over and asked for permission to take a few pictures. He said he drove by there often and always admired the place.
If dad looked after the print shop, 2 acres of raspberries and the yard, you are probably wondering what I did.
I was kept very busy, too. I helped dad in the printing shop. I read many, many proofs, folded and assemble papers and was his errand person. When he ran out of paper, he called the paper company in Vancouver, who rushed out the paper on the first bus and I drove to the Chilliwack bus depot to get it. Sometimes I delivered
work. In summer I took the berry pickers to the raspberry field early in the morning and got them again about 5 o'clock in the evening.
Besides that I cooked and baked and canned a couple of hundred quarts of fruit and vegetables every summer.
Dad's work kept increasing. Yarrow was really too small a place to support a printing shop, but he got most of the work from outside of Yarrow. Some work came from schools, from churches and businesses. He printed books for customers in Alberta and even Ontario. They knew if he printed it, there wouldn't be problems with mistakes.
Yes, we eventually sold our raspberries and got much more involved in community affairs and church work.
Since Kornelius was good at writing he was often chosen to committees and asked to write the minutes.
For many years I taught Sunday School and for quite a few years Saturday School. I also helped in the Ladies Circle (Frauenverein).
When the immigrants started to come I taught English to New Canadians, which I could do right in Yarrow.
A few years later, I started to teach for the Adult Education Department in Chilliwack. I had a grade 10 English class from 7 - 10 p.m. The only drawback was that I had to drive home alone from Chilliwack quite late at night. Sometimes it even snowed.
We lived in Yarrow almost 30 years. It had been hard work, but we enjoyed it. We also enjoyed good fellowship in the church. You, boys, all went to a private Christian school and took music lessons.
When dad was 75 years old, not the usual 65, he finally thought of retiring. We bought a place on Majestic Crescent, Clearbrook. The house was brand new, but no landscaping had been done.
Dad went to work again. He picked up all the stones and there were many, disposed of them, planted a few fruit trees, shrubs, evergreens and a lawn.
We lived there only eight years. Dad was beginning to tire easily especially when cutting lawn. Of course, he was in his 80's now. We decided to make one more move into a condominium with no lawns to cut and no stairs to climb. We found one close to our church, C.M.B. (Clearbrook Mennonite Brethren). We were both in fairly good health when we moved there in 1981 and we usually walked to church.
We felt very much at home in that church. So many people from Yarrow had already moved there. Some people Kornelius knew from Russia and some had even been his students in Russia. The main thing, of course, was that they preached the true Gospel.
Dad's health was beginning to deteriorate in July of 1987. But I won't go into detail. You all saw him. He died April 17, 1988.
Life is so different without him. Sometimes I almost caught myself talking to him and then realized he wasn't there.
We liked to live in this apartment. He sometimes mentioned that this was the nicest place we had ever lived in, but of course, he hadn't seen the place yet, where he is now. That place is described in John 14 verses 1, 2, and 3.
Sometimes I get homesick for that mansion, too. Meanwhile, the Lord keeps me waiting for that event. I am praying for all of you. I am praying that all of us will meet there.
Biography Courtesy of Ben Neufeld.