“Our father, Jacob C. Willems, went to be with the Lord on Sunday, November 8, 1964, in the Dinuba Convalescent Home, at 1:35 p.m. He was the son of Cornelius and Elizabeth, nee Boldt, Willems and was born on August 8, 1883, in Mountain Lake, Minnesota. He reached the age of 81 years and 3 months.
My grandfather, Jacob C. Willems, was born in Mountain Lake, Minnesota. That is one of the facts I learned as a child, but it was simply that, a fact. I never thought about it, never felt any connection to it. Mountain Lake was just a place where the Willems family happened to stop before moving on to their real destination—Canada, the place where my grandparents met and married, the place where my father was born.
Then, one day as I checked to see what the library at the University of Missouri in Columbia might have on Mennonite history, I happened upon a book titled, A History of the Settlement of German Mennonites from Russia at Mountain Lake, Minnesota. It was a small book published in 1938 by the author, Ferdinand P. Schultz, a teaching assistant in history at the University of Minnesota. Surprised and delighted that such a book existed, and that the MU library, only five minutes from my house, would actually have a copy, I checked it out and took it home.
As I read Schultz’ book, Mountain Lake became real. It was as if a window had suddenly opened onto a period of time in my family’s life that previously had been blank, a period of time that encompassed a whole generation. My family lived in Mountain Lake twenty-five years. Grandpa’s father, Cornelius, lived there almost all his adult life. Twenty years old in 1875 when his family arrived in Mountain Lake, Cornelius was forty-five years old in 1900 when he moved his family to Canada. It was in Mountain Lake that Cornelius married Elisabeth Boldt, my grandfather Willems’ mother. All but the youngest of Elisabeth and Cornelius’ nine children were born before they moved to Canada. My Grandpa, Jacob, who turned seventeen the summer of 1900, also spent a significant part of his life in Minnesota—all his childhood and most of his adolescence. That Grandpa was born in Mountain Lake, Minnesota, was now more than just an isolated fact.