Historian Weigel Dies
Lawrence Weigel, a prominent researcher and historian of local Volga-German heritage, died Sunday.
Weigel, 88, who was nationally recognized for his collection of Volga-German folklore, was considered by many to be the region’s most significant recorder of local German history.
Friends and acquaintances remembered Weigel, who battled Parkinson’s disease for years, as an honest, caring and widely-respected person.
“I remember going to some of the national conventions and everyone new Lawrence Weigel no matter where they were from,” said Francis Schippers, a childhood friend and founding member of the Volga German Society.
Weigel was best known for his extensive work tracing genealogies. He also transcribed hundreds of folk songs, was a widely published author and donated all of his big research to the Center for Ethnic Studies at Fort Hays State University.
Weigel’s work alone makes up 70 percent of the university’s total collection.
“I don’t know if the collection would have become what it is today without the donations he made to it,” said Patty Nicholas, special collections-university archivist at FHSU.
Weigel’s skill in remembering details of the Volga-German dialect and folklore placed him heads above other German story tellers in the area.
Josephine Riedel knew Weigel for nearly 60 years. Years ago, she invited him to speak at the Ellis County Historical Society. He captivated the audience, she said.
“He told the story in German and then he told it in English and he brought the house down,” Riedel said.
Reidel and her husband, Al, were good friends with Weigel. She remembers him coming over for dinner and playing the organ and singing for them.
“I just hated to hear the news that he passed away,” Riedel said. “Because to have someone pass away with that much intelligence is hard to lose.”
Weigel was too poor to finish college. But that didn’t stop the self-made historian from achieving international recognition for his research.
In 1995, the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia gave him the Distinguished Service Award at their international meeting. In 1983, FHSU recognized him as an international folklore scholar.
“He may not have gotten a degree or finished school,” said Nicholas. “But he sure taught a lot of people about the people who came before them.”
Leonard Herrman met Weigel 60 years ago and became “friends ever since.”
Herrman said Weigel poured himself into his work and was the most noted historian Ellis County has seen.
“I don’t think it could have been any better. He put everything he had into it,” Herrman said. “All I can tell you is I thought he was a great man.”
Weigel was considered the resident expert when it came to consulting book authors.
“He’d have a real knack of putting things down in German,” said Schippers, who consulted with Weigel extensively while writing “Unsere Leute,” (“Our People”), which he finished last year.
Weigel’s ability to translate English into the authentic dialect made him invaluable, Schippers said.
“He was always wanting to know if he could do anything to help you,” Schippers said. “He shared so much of his information with everybody.”
Reidel also sent her writings to Weigel who could read them and give her advice.
Selfless, was the way she described him.
On Saturday, Reigel gave a copy of her finished book, “Life’s Golden Dream’s Come True” to Weigel’s daughter who read him part of it as he laid on his bed.
Riedel said that after his daughter read to him, Weigel said, “I’m glad Jo got her book finished.”
Friends say that was just like something Weigel would say. He was always happy for someone else’s success.