Weigel Honored for Preserving Heritage
Clarkin, Mary. "Weigel Honored for Preserving Heritage." Hays Daily News, 10 August 1995,
Every village settled by the Volga Germans had a storyteller.
Lawrence Weigel does not claim that title for himself, but the
Hays resident does know a lot of stories. And songs. And jokes.
Weigel’s knowledge of Volga German folklore turned him into
a local speaker and tour guide. But his writings and research also
made him known outside Hays and Kansas by scholars and devotees
of the subject.
Last month, Weigel’s contributions on the local, state, national
and international levels were recognized at a conference in Calgary,
Alberta, Canada. The American Historical Society of Germans from
Russia named Weigel as recipient of its top honor, the Distinguished
Despite its name, the AHSGR is an international organization with
more than 10,000 members.
Weigel has picked up his share of plaques over the years, but this
one “means an awful lot,” he said.
The 78-year-old Weigel did not travel to Canada for the convention,
so the award will be presented to him at a reception Sunday at Kennedy
Middle School cafeteria. The reception is from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Weigel grew up in Victoria, a second-generation American. But the
Volga German heritage shared by so many immigrant families to Ellis
County became a vivid part of his childhood.
They were the descendants of Germans who migrated to the Volga
River region in Russia in the 1700s, with their descendants leaving
Russia for America in the 1800s.
Weigel can recall listening to the old men playing cards, telling
stories and jokes in German. Many youths find little interest in
hearing stories about the past. Not Weigel. His fascination started
at a young age and stuck.
A German dialect was spoken in many Volga German homes in Ellis
County, but it was during a four-year stint in a seminary in Pennsylvania
that Weigel learned “high German.”
He is comfortable speaking, reading and writing in German –
and offers his translation skills free of charge.
His latest translation task involved taking a letter written in
English by a woman in Dodge City and translating and typing it in
German. He will send it back to Dodge City so the letter writer
can sign it and mail it overseas.
Weigel, who played the trumpet and sang in local bands, figures
he played at an average of 100 dances a year – for about 30
It was his collaboration with Ellis Countian Nick Pfannenstiel
in the 1950s, however, that led to the written preservation of German
songs. No longer did generations have to rely on the oral tradition
to remember the songs of their parents or grandparents.
The two worked in tandem. Pfannenstiel played and sang, while Weigel
put it on paper. Pfannenstiel died in the late 1950s, but Weigel
carried on, compiling hundreds of German songs.
Weigel and his wife Elizabeth raised four children. A basement
room in the family home on Centennial Boulevard became what Weigel
called “my Volga German room.”
He worked at Allied Inc., but some nights he would stay up until
11 p.m. or midnight, working on Volga German history in his basement.
The neat but compact room contains the tools of an historian and
folklorist: a manual Royal typewriter, an electric organ, and a
cassette tape machine.
Tapes of speeches and songs are shelved and labeled. Five and a
half years’ worth of weekly columns about Volga German traditions
written for The Ellis County Star are bound in a collection.
“I’m a great guy for documenting,” he said.
Weigel’s current projects are translating the German diaries
of his great-great-grandfather Joseph Linenberger. He also professes
excitement about delving into the census records that are becoming
available of Volga River villages in Russia.
Weigel was nominated for the AHSGR award by Leona Pfeifer of Hays
and Rupert Pfannenstiel of Munjor. They, like Weigel, are members
of the AHSGR Sunflower Chapter.
“Equally as important as his accomplishments,” Pfeifer
and Pfannenstiel wrote in their nomination, “is his unselfish
willingness to share all of his material to help anyone seeking
Weigel contributed hundreds of items to the ethnic collection at
Fort Hays State University’s Forsyth Library. When plans were
announced to create a Volga German House in Hays and fill it with
memorabilia, Weigel, who was now retired, went out in his pickup
to pick up donations. The Volga House is west of the Ellis County
Historical Museum at 100 W. Seventh.
Bell’s palsy now affects Weigel’s speech, but he finds
“it’s funny” he can still sing.
“It’s just been a work of love,” said Weigel,
who delights in showing a letter written by a nephew in California.
The nephew, Ed Weigel, traveled to Ellis County in 1990 for a family
reunion. The Volga German’s story impressed him.
“When I was young if I had known who I was and what I was
my life would have been easier,” Ed Weigel wrote.
“What emerged was an exciting and fascinating story. I was
not the product of ignorant old country peasants, that I was led
to believe. Our people were a bold, adventurous lot with great courage
and strength of character. ... They were not just a part of the
world, they helped shape the world.”
For Lawrence Weigel, that has been the driving force behind his
labors, and also his reward: “To get young people to realize
they were from great stock.”