Heat Can't Dampen Festivities

Aust, Scott. "Heat Can't Dampen Festivities." Hays Daily News, 23 July 2001.

A Volga-German Homecoming: 125th Jubilee Celebration

Sheldon Werth, 7, enjoys the ring toss during the games as part of the Volga-German Homecoming 125th Jubilee Celebration on 7-22-01 in Schoenchen. Sheldon is the son of Steve and Laurie Werth of Schoenchen. (Photo by Steven Hausler)

A blazing sun and triple-digit heat did little to dampen spirits at Sunday's Schoenchen festivities, the second stop in a week-long celebration of the 125th anniversary of the founding of Volga-German communities in Ellis and Rush counties.

While older folks sought the shade when visiting with neighbors and maybe had a beer and a bratwurst, the youngsters moved back and forth between the dunk tank, dart throw and hoop toss, seemingly oblivious to mercury readings of more than100 degrees.

After a morning Mass celebrating the 100th anniversary of St. Anthony Catholic Church, most people spent the day under the "big top" set up on church grounds.

Four polka bands took turn s entertaining the crowd, including Herman and Lauraine Dinges, the Country Dutchmen featuring the Dorzweilers from Catherine, Rosie's Polka Band with Ed Pfeifer, and Elmer VonFeldt's band.

Tony Leiker, 62, who grew up in Liebenthal and Schoenchen and attended Hays High School, has compiled more than 155,000 names of descendants of the Volga-Germans.

Now residing in Lubbock, Texas, Leiker said he used about 40 years' worth of genealogical information provided by Lawrence Weigel and another 40 years' worth of data provided by Alvin Konlofske, Garden City, as well as two genealogists in Russia to compile a vast family tree of Volga-Germans.

Some of the original family names native to Schoenchen include Werth, Bieker, Zimmerman and Tauscher, Lieker said.

"I've got 56,000 Brungardts alone," Leiker said. "I didn't intend to do it on all the families, I intended to do it on the Leikers, and I discovered the Leikers were related to everybody else."

Originally, Leiker said he started out in genealogy as a help to his sister, Jane Dreiling, by putting the information on a computer. But it soon became a hobby.

"It's still a hobby," he said. "I go back to the original settlers in Russia, from Germany, and list their names and where they were from."

Though family stories would be interesting to compile, Leiker said he only has the names and family trees.

That would be overwhelming," he said.

Wes Turner, left, visits with his brother Roland, both of Quinter, as they escape the heat under a tent on 7-22-01 during the Volga-German Homecoming 125th Jubilee Celebration in Schoenchen. Six towns in Ellis and Rush counties are celebrating their 125th anniversaries together during a week of activities. (Photo by Steven Hausler)

Wichita resident Saundra Werth leafed through the Werth family book with her husband, Marcellus, whose grandparents were natives of Schoenchen.

The Werths had been in Park for a high school reunion and stopped in Schoenchen on their way home but said they won't have time to go to the other communities' celebrations.

I have to go back to worth tomorrow, Saundra Werth said. "It would be fun. He's retired, so he could do it, but I have to go to work."

Area Volga-Germans are descendants of a group of Germans who settled in the previously uninhabited steppe regions near Saratov, Russia, on the Volga River in 1762 in response to an offer made by Catherine the Great of travel costs, religious freedom, 30 years of tax exemption and freedom from military duty.

They prospered in that area until 1873 when a law was passed requiring the induction of their sons into the Russian army. Scouts were sent o America, and the first groups arrived in Ellis County in 1876.

Leiker said his grandfather, Peter Enslinger, served six years in the czar's army and was being recalled for more service but escaped through Poland and came to Kansas.

Schoenchen, founded in 1877, was a spin-off from Liebenthal because of conflict among the first settlers

Reprinted with permission of The Hays Daily News.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller