Do you know: the Mennonite community
By Richard Karns
Special to the Herald Review
Did you know there was a Mennonite community in Osceola County?
In taking with Ruth Crockett about the article I wrote on the Curtis side of her family, she shared with me about her family's Mennonite connection. I asked Ruth if I could put her article in place of one of my writings on Did You Know, and she agreed. Here is the article written by Ruth in 2000:
The Mennonite community flourished in southwest Osceola County in the latter half of the 19th century. It seems like a well-kept secret that even our Old Rugged Cross Museum has a few facts on their existence. The probable explanation is that the Mennonites in the region, Holderman Mennonites, did not believe in photographs or other like imaging and were not prone to advertise their presence or activities, being very reserved and conservative in their lifestyle. Being a descendant of these pioneer people on my father's side, I am heir to a great deal of oral and written history concerning their origin and travel.
My great-grandfather, John Buerge, was one of the hardy group arriving in Richmond Township in the 1860s from Canada. Three of John's brothers, Christian, Daniel and Jacob Jr., also migrated to this area.
The Mennonite meeting house (church) was built on what is now U.S. 131 by John Buerge on Daniel's land, which much later became the site of Virgil Beifuss' buildings on Roth Street and 3 Mile Road. Some of the Mennonite names that attended the church were Siebert, Diller, Otto, Wesenburg, Dresher and Wilson.
My great-uncle, Christian Buerge, was a minister at the church at one time. The Rev. Mr. Fricke was the presiding elder as was the Rev. August Peters. A school was conducted at the church building and the classes were conducted in German. My father attended the school and could scarcely speak English until he was 7 years old.
The Holderman Mennonites had split from the main group because they felt they had not maintained the fundamentals of Christianity as they saw them. As a side note, the Amish had some centuries before splitting from the Mennonites for similar reasons.
John Buerge's home, known locally as the Wekenman House built in 1866, stands south of the city limits of Reed City just beyond the sloping hill near Lutz Tree Farm, on the western side of Old U.S. 131, which is now Machinaw Trail. Behind the home some distance on the property was where Dorothy (Kienitz) Chasseur and her husband, Rudy, reside in a Mennonite cemetery. There is only one marked grave, Lydia Buerge, my great-aunt who died in 1910. It also is believed that John Gingrich, my great-grandmother's nephew, who was only 20 years old, is buried there.
John Buerge and his wife, Anna Gingrich Buerge, lived in their Richmond Township home until 1912, at which time they moved to Harrison, where they died in 1920. The church disbanded between 1912 and 1914 for want of a pastor.
Today, the automobiles speed south of Reed City on Old U.S. 131 a mile a minute, while a century ago Mennonite horses and buggies went at a snail's pace into town from my great-grandfather's house. Passersby could water their horses at his watering hole by the highway. Women, heads covered with black kerchiefs, and the bearded men working in the fields could be seen from the road.
The Mennonites, many of them Swiss and German, arrived in Osceola County around the middle of the 19th century, but the religious movement began in 1537 when the Dutch priest named Menno Simons joined the movement that basically opposed infant baptism as being "unscriptual." Before this, the movement called the Swiss Brothern broke from early Christian reformer Zwingi. The 17th century saw persecution waged against these religious people and they faced death and property confiscation, forcing them into other areas of Europe. Further persecution developed as the years passed and they ultimately immigrated to the U.S. and Canada.
My dad, although not a Mennonite, shared some of his early recollections of these turn of the century days in Osceola County. My great-grandmother, Anna (Gingrich) would hitch up horses and head for town to sell her butter. She was one of three other women who were able to get an extra nickel for the butter, which was considered superior.
Behind the old house on the hill south of the city was a spring house and the creamery products would be stored in that cool place. My great-grandfather had built a shack for processing syrup and my dad would stay with his grandfather through the night, sleeping on the floor covered with his grandfather's coat.
Many of the Reed City Mennonites left the area in the 1912 to 1914 era and moved south to Ithaca, where hundreds of them now have their farms, businesses and make their homes.