My grandparents, Jacob & Lena (Zimmerman) Willems, were step-brother and step-sister in a marriage my family says was arranged by the Mennonite Brethren Church. Grandma's father, Heinrich H. Zimmermann (1866-1934), was a widower with 5 children, whose wife, Maria Dyck Zimmermann (1861-1905), died soon after the family arrived in Canada (1903) from a Mennonite colony in what is now Ukraine. Grandpa's mother, Elisabeth Bolt Willems (1858-1943), was a widow with 9 children whose husband, Cornelius Willems (1885-1902), died two years after the family arrived in Saskatchewan in 1900 from Mountain Lake, Minnesota, the place where the family settled after emigrating from a Mennonite settlement in Crimea in 1875. Jacob & Lena were married in 1909. They moved to Reedley, California in 1919.

There is an even earlier couple important to this history, Gerhard Willems (1820-1900) and Katharina Rempel Willems (1823-1875), Cornelius' parents. Their story reaches back to the early years of Mennonite sesttlement in the land they knew as South Russia, a story of migration from the North Sea to the Black Sea, from Eastern Europe to North America.

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Heinrich H. Zimmermann (1866-1934) Zionsbote Obituary

©Loretta Willems                                                                                                                                                    September 2013

Heinrich H. Zimmermann Obituary

            The marriage of Heinrich and Elisabeth Boldt Willems Zimmermann lasted until his death 28 August 1934.  Their life together lasted twenty-eight years, longer than either lived with their first spouse.  Most of what I know about the years of their marriage comes from the obituary Elisabeth wrote when Heinrich died.   Below is the full text as translated from the 12 September 1934 issue of the Zionsbote:

       “Heinrich H. Zimmermann, our dear husband and father, was born on 29 March, 1866 on the Kuban, Russia.  There he spent most of his youthful years.  He himself writes in his notes that his father died in 1866 and that his mother moved when he was four years old to Prangenau in the Molotschna.  Later he then returned to the Kuban. 

     “In the year 1890, on October 14, he married Maria Dyck.  From this marriage 10 children were born to him, of whom 5 preceded him into eternity.  In the year 1892 he declared his faith in his Lord and Savior and in May of the same year he was baptized and taken into the Mennonite Brethren community.  He mentions in his report that he was active in Sunday school in his simple way and was allowed to enjoy many blessings.  Soon after his conversion he was called by the community to work in the realm of God.  
    “In the year 1903 he emigrated to America with his family where they settled near Winkler in Manitoba.  Since his dear wife was already sick with tuberculosis in Russia, this climate seemed even less bearable for her and in April ,1905, she died.

    “In the following year he married me, Elisabeth Willems, born Boldt, in Bruderfeld, Saskatchewan, where we have lived for 17 years. In the year 1920 we moved to California and have lived here near Reedley since that time, with the exception of a few years, when we were again on our farm in Saskatchewan.

     “In June of this year he was able to take a trip with me, now his surviving widow, to British Columbia and all the way to Saskatchewan, Canada, in order to visit children, siblings and friends.  Arrived back safely, he reported to the community about his trip and the blessings that they enjoyed.  On August 19 he gave a sermon over the text he loved on the ten virgins from Matthew 25.  It was his last address.  On August 25 in the morning he had a stroke, from the effects of which he died.  On the first day he could still speak and was also conscious; then he became weaker until he very quietly died on August 29 at about 7 in the evening.  His hope remained firm until the end.  When he was visited on the first day and prayers were said, he still said a clear and understandable ‘Amen’ to them.

     “In the firm belief in his Lord and Savior he entered that realm where joy will be the fullness and beloved being.  Every storm is over when I am home at last.”  He was 68 years and 5 months of age.  He left behind me, his mourning wife, 5 children, 9 step-children and 60 grandchildren, as well as a sister in Russia.”
                                                                        Translated by Linda S. Pickle,for Loretta Willems 1/3/1997