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 & Elisabeth Boldt Willems Zimmermann 1906-1943

©Loretta Willems                                                                                                     December 2, 2009 (modified 10/9/2013)

Heinrich & Elisabeth:

The Zimmermann-Willems Marriage

“ On 18 March 1906 [Elisabeth Boldt Willems] joined hand in marriage with Brother Heinrich Zimmermann, preacher of the Mennonite Brethren church.  They lived in Bruderfeld, Saskatchewan for fourteen years, and in the year 1920 they settled for the first time in California  and in the year 1926 for the second time.”
                                                                                                      EBW Z Obiturary (Zionsbote 5 Jan 1944)

Family lore says that Heinrich and Elisabeth’s marriage was arranged by the church, which makes sense.  Heinrich lived in Winkler, Manitoba; Elisabeth lived near Waldheim, Saskatchewan, a distance of about 400 miles.   The chance that they would simply run into each other was almost nil.  However, the Canadian Mennonite Brethren community was small and intimate[1].  People in the various churches kept in close touch with each other.  People at the Bruderfeld MB church[2] in Saskatchewan, Elisabeth’s church, surely learned very quickly about the death of Maria Dyck and the widower and children she left behind.  They would have thought immediately of the widow Elisabeth Willems in their own congregation.  People in the Winkler church, when Maria died, would have almost immediately remembered the death of Cornelius Willems in Saskatchewan and the widow with nine children he left.   Matchmaking activity was an almost inevitable outcome. 

   Arranging a marriage between the widow and new widower would have felt like Christian service to the people in the Mennonite Brethren churches, a way of taking care of two families for whom the churches felt concerned.  Heinrich and Elisabeth, I’m quite sure, saw the churches’ match-making activities in that same light, saw it as God’s hand working through the church to meet their need.  They were lonely; they each needed a partner to help carry the work and burdens of life, partners who shared their faith, belonged to their small, Low German Mennonite Brethren world. 

Heinrich and Elisabeth’s lives fit together in so many ways.  Both of them were lonely; both had children they were trying to parent alone.  Elisabeth had a farm, and Heinrich, who wasn’t yet settled in the new country, was free to pick-up and move.[3]  Each gained by that marriage.  Heinrich got a farm and home for his children; Elisabeth acquired a husband seven years younger than she was, a valuable asset for a land-owning widow.  And this man was not only younger—just turning forty, healthy and sweet-tempered—he was a preacher as well.  That Heinrich was a preacher would have been a real asset in Elisabeth’s eyes.  To be a preacher was to be recognized by the church community as a person worthy of respect, a man worth listening to.  To be a preacher’s wife was to share in that respect. 

Marriage: 1906-1934

            The marriage of Heinrich and Elisabeth 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, 1/3/1997
The obituary that Elisabeth wrote for her husband Heinrich gives the basic facts of his life.  It includes material that he wrote in his 1905 letter to the Zionsbote as well as a simple time-line of his life after Heinrich and Elisabeth’s marriage.  The focus of the obituary is Heinrich’s spiritual life, his conversion and call to serve the Mennonite Brethren community as well as the events of his final days—the sermon he preached just days before the stroke that killed him as well as the public witness to his faith in his last conscious moments.  Reading it one gets a sense of a marriage centered on family, faith and church.

 The long, expensive trips between Canada and California hint that their life together was financially comfortable.  However, other than the mention of those trips and the description of Heinrich’s last days, one sees very few details of Heinrich and Elisabeth’s life together after their marriage.  Fortunately, there are other sources that help fill out the picture a bit more.  

Mennonite Brethren Church Records: Canada

“Pastors in the Brotherfield Mennonite Brethren Church have been: Peter Nickel, Peter Dyck, David Klassen and Heinrich Zimmerman (all short term between 1901 and 1910); David Dyck (1910-1923); Henry A. Willems (1922-1950); Henry M. Willems (1948-1956); …”
                                                                                                                   Mennonite Encyclopedia

“The historical Anabaptist-Mennonite pattern of a multiple lay ministry was perpetuated in early Mennonite Brethren churches in Canada.  Congregations elected and ordained brethren from their own midst to serve as preachers and leaders” (308).
                                                                        J. A. Toews History of the Mennonite Brethren Church (1975) [4]

The Mennonite Encyclopedia entry for the Brotherfield Mennonite Brethren Church lists Heinrich Zimmerman as one of the pastors between 1901 and 1910.  In 1910, another man, David Dyck, began a lengthy term as pastor.  However, that does not mean that Heinrich stopped preaching.  Preachers were ordained for life and were expected to serve the church where they were members as long as health allowed.  Preachers received no salary, and having more than one preacher in a church spread the weight of responsibility for sermons to more than one set of shoulders, making the load less heavy.

Heinrich Zimmermann’s name is listed as one of the preachers (Prediger) in the Saskatchewan Mennonite Brethren Yearbooks during the years that David Dyck is identified as the pastor of the Bruderfeld Mennonite Brethren Church.  Heinrich is also listed as one of the Prediger at the Bruderfeld congregation for the years 1923-1926 when Henry A. Willems* was beginning his long pastorate.  Those records also show that Heinrich served as delegate from the Bruderfeld church to the annual meeting of the Northern District (Canadian) Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches for the years 1911-1914 and then again in 1916.[5]  Heinrich may not have been one of the illustrious MB leaders, but he was active in the church and knew well at least one of the men whose names figure prominently in the history of the MB church in Canada.  That man was David Dyck, the man who succeeded Heinrich as pastor of the Bruderfeld church.  David Dyck was not just a preacher; he was an ordained “elder,” the only one in Canada.
*[Yes, Henry A. Willems is a relative—my grandfather’s first cousin]

The Office of “Elder”

“In the household of the M.B. Church, the order obtains, that one elder or a substitute for the elder acts as a moderator and leader of local churches.  The other ministers are his co-workers.  With the various affairs of the entire denomination the suitable elders and other brethren are entrusted.”                                                   1902 Confession of Faith  (in Toews, 304)

“The ‘elder system’ was … retained until about 1920, although relatively few ministers were ordained to this office in M.B. churches in America.  According to a survey made in the fall of 1971, no elder was ordained in Mennonite Brethren churches after 1919.”
                                                                                                      Toews, 305

  J. A. Toews, in his History of the Mennonite Brethren Church, states that during the years of the “elder system,” Prediger were ordained to preach only.  The other functions of the church: baptism, administration of the Lord’s Supper, and the ordination of preachers and elders was reserved for those who had been ordained as “Elder” (Altester).   As with the office of  Prediger, ordination to the office of “Elder” was for life.   Unlike the Prediger, the Elder’s authority extended beyond the individual’s home congregation.  Whereas a preacher/Prediger usually preached only in his home congregation, elders/Altester often traveled extensively. 

Elder David Dyck

     “According to available information, no brethren were ever ordained as elders in Canada.  Several elders, however, came into Canada from the United States and from Russia.  Elder David Dyck, who came to Canada from Colorado in 1895, ministered in Winkler and Waldheim (Sask.)” (308).
     “For eleven years Dyck gave effective leadership to the [Winkler] congregation and also engaged in an extensive itinerant ministry.  In 1906 he moved to Borden, Saskatchewan, however, to claim a free homestead in that newly established province” (155).
     “In 1910, [David Dyck] purchased a farm four miles west of Waldheim and served both the Bruderfeld and Waldheim congregations as elder for many years.  He also traveled extensively and preached frequently to Russian congregations.  He served as moderator of the Northern District (Canadian) Conference on thirteen occasions, and also represented the brotherhood on the Board of foreign missions” (158).                
                                         J. A. Toews, A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church

 “Brother Dyck was here when the illness was so bad that she [Maria] sweated profusely and her breathing so difficult that she asked us again and again to sing and to pray.  Once she asked Brother Dyck to pray over her, for so it was written, and the dear brother did it, we prayed together.  At 4 o’clock Brother Dyck went home and I sat with her.”                                                             HHZ Zionstote letter, 17 May 1905

Elder David Dyck was the pastor of the Winkler, Manitoba M. B. Church from 1895 to 1906, which means that he was there when Heinrich and his family arrived from South Russia in 1903.  In fact, Heinrich mentions Elder Dyck and his pastoral care in the letter he wrote to the Zionsbote in 1905.  Heinrich speaks of two separate visits “Brother Dyck” made to their home to see Maria when she was so very sick.  Heinrich refers to Dyck as “Brother” rather than “Elder,” but the tone of the reference is deeply respectful. 

David Dyck may well have been the primary matchmaker in the marriage arranged between Heinrich and Elisabeth.  He traveled frequently to the various MB churches in Saskatchewan as part of his duties as Elder, and in1906, the year Heinrich and Elisabeth married, he moved to Saskatchewan, where he took up a homestead in Borden, which is on the north side of the North Saskatchewan River about 25 miles from Waldheim.  He was there four years before moving near the Brotherfield church in 1910. 

California: Mennonite Brethren Church Records

“The Mennonite Brethren …first settled in Fresno County in the fertile San Joaquin Valley around 1904.  The first church to be organized was the Reedley congregation in 1905.  This church, beginning with fourteen charter members, has grown to be not only the largest Mennonite congregation in California, but also the largest church in the North American Mennonite Brethren Conference.  Present (1971) baptized membership stands at one thousand three hundred and thirty-five.  Serious tensions over questions of church policy and discipline led to a withdrawal of one hundred and fifty-five members in 1925.  This group organized as the South-Reedley M.B. Church under the leadership of J. H. Richert.  The congregation met in a hall south of Reedley for a number of years but relocated to Dinuba in 1937” (146).
                                                     Toews, History of the Mennonite Brethren Church, p.146.

Heinrich and Elisabeth’s names can be found in several California Mennonite Brethren sources.  The earliest is the Membership List, (Glieder=Liste), for the Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church, which records that Heinrich and Elisabeth joined the church on December 19, 1920 and left May 25, 1923.  The latter date, when they withdrew their membership, corresponds with their return to Saskatchewan to live another three years on their farm. 

While the Zimmermanns were in Saskatchewan, the years 1923-1926, the Reedley church experienced a period of serious conflict that resulted in one hundred and twenty five members leaving to form a new congregation, originally known as the South Reedley M. B. Church.  This congregation moved to Dinuba in 1937, changing its name to the Dinuba M.B. Church.  The original Membership List went with it.  It was the South Reedley congregation that the Zimmermann’s joined when they returned to California.  The membership list records that they joined on September 29, 1926.  They remained members of this congregation until their respective deaths. 

Heinrich’s name is also listed in another California Mennonite Brethren source, the published records of the Pacific District Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches in North America for the years from 1927 until his death.  That publication lists him as one of the ordained preachers for the South Reedley MB Church.  The citation for the Handbook for the years 1927 through January 1929 is given below:

Pacific District Conference Handbooks

Verhandlungen der 18. und 19. Pacific District=Konferenz der Mennoniten Brudergemeinde von Nord Amerika…25 Sept. 1927… [and] Jan 1929:   Sud-Reedley, California: 
J. H. Richert, Rt.B. Box 423, Reedley, Cal., Ordinierter Prediger  und Leiter;
H. H. Zimmermann, R. 1, Box 69, Dinuba, Cal., Ordinierter Prediger;
J. J. Wiens, Box 247, Reedley, Cal,.Ord. Prediger

Why Heinrich and Elisabeth joined the new congregation rather than the larger, original M.B. church in Reedley when they returned to California is something we can only guess at.  Part of the reason may simply have been convenience.  The Zimmermann’s had a Dinuba mailing address, and the new congregation met in a hall south of Reedley, which would have been closer to them than the big Reedley M.B. Church.  It could also have been a matter of church size.  The church in town was huge, and Heinrich and Elisabeth were used to small congregations.  They may have found the big church rather overwhelming.  Heinrich may also have felt that the new, smaller congregation had a greater need for his gifts than did the big, well-established Reedley church.

 On the other hand, Heinrich and Elisabeth may well have sided with the dissenters who split from the original Reedley church.  They, too, may have desired a stricter discipline than was exercised in the big Reedley church.  (My dad mentioned once that many people complained about how the big Reedley church was becoming too “Pentecostal.”)  The new South Reedley congregation was likely more “old-fashioned” in its views, more like the Mennonite Brethren Church that Heinrich and Elisabeth were familiar with. Whatever the reason or reasons, I’m sure the decision was made with prayer, a deep search for God’s guidance.


Memory: Rev. Huebert

“The father of Sister Willems, a minister of the Gospel, made quite an impression on me.  He was not a very able speaker, but when he would get up and say something, I sensed that it had been saturated in prayer.”
                                                                 Rev. G. B.  Huebert, minister of the Reedley M.B. Church 1934-1937

My sister Jacque recently sent me a box of family pictures and papers from my father’s files she thought I might want.  Included were some old tapes, one of which my dad made in at Grandma and Grandpa’s Golden Wedding celebration in February 1959.  The fidelity isn’t great—I can’t recognize who is speaking unless their name is mentioned, but it is fun to hear the singing and rather awesome to relive an experience that took place fifty years ago last February.  Fifty years.  That is how long Grandma and Grandpa had been married when the tape was made.  Listening, it suddenly hit me that Grandma and Grandpa’s wedding took place 100 years ago this year!  Amazing.

One of the things that I was particularly delighted to find on the tape was a talk by Reverend G.B. Huebert, minister of the Reedley MB Church from 1934-1947.  In it, he makes the comment above about Grandma’s father, our Great-Grandfather Zimmermann.  What is particularly important about this find is that it presents a view of our great-grandfather that comes from someone outside the family, a “someone” who was not just “anyone.”  Reverend Huebert was one of the leading MB preachers of his time, the first paid minister of the largest Mennonite Brethren Church in North America.  And what he has to say is that though Heinrich Zimmermann was “not a very able speaker,” he yet left a lasting impression on him because he sensed that HHZ’s words were “saturated in prayer.” 

Memory: Mary & Rosie

Aunt Mary was seventeen when Heinrich died in 1934; Rosie was seven.  They have vivid memories of their grandparents, and their memories provide a view of Heinrich and Elisabeth that is very different from that of official records and adult observers: 

“We always heard them coming.  Grandma would sit in back and he’d sit in front—He had a new Chevrolet and he’d drive it in second gear.  It made such a racket!  We’d ask, ‘Why do you drive it in second gear?’  And he said, ‘Well, it goes too fast!” 
                                                                                                            Aunt Mary  (1996)             
  Aunt Mary’s little story about Grandpa Zimmermann and his new Chevrolet is on the tape I made on a visit with her and Rosie in January 1996.  I had asked them about their memories of their grandparents— I wish I could put the recording itself, not just the transcription of their words, into this document.  I’d love for you to hear the laughter, hear their voices, hear how they say the words.  Even with just the printed words the story is funny, the image of a tiny old couple, the little old woman dressed all in black sitting upright in the back seat; the little old man in the front seat anxiously driving slowly down the road, the engine making a racket because it’s being driven in second gear.  But it is even funnier when you hear Aunt Mary telling it, hear the sound of her voice, the way she shapes the words.  The whole tape is like that.  And it isn’t just Mary, Rosie’s voice, too, is so very expressive, their laughter a delight.  But the bare words are better than nothing.

Interview: 1996

Do you have any memories of your Grandpa and Grandma Zimmerman?
Mary:  “Well, Grandpa was such a neat housekeeper…—and he would keep house.  Oh, Yes.”
Rosie:  “They were adorable, little bitty, bitty people.”
Mary:  “He was shorter, a little taller than Grandma.  But he had one bad eye.”
            Rosie:  “He had a beard.”
Mary:  “Not long, but just stubble all over. 

 Did your Grandpa Zimmermann have a temperament like your mom?”
Rosie:  “Real easy going.”
Mary:  “He loved to tickle the kids.”
Rose:  “What did he have in his pockets when he came over all the time?  I can’t remember, was it candy?  Or was it cheese?  It was something.”
Mary:  “I don’t remember that.”
Rosie:  “Oh, we just looked forward so much because he would always give us something.”

What was your grandma like?”
Mary:  Very quiet.  Very quiet, and very sober.”
Rosie: “ Not very pleasant.”
Mary:  Not much laughing around her.  And she’d scold us at times—we’d laugh too much.  I think that’s where Clara got the idea that laughing was a sin.  --When she was little she’d be so sober-faced, and she’d say, ‘Laughing is a sin!’”  

Rosie:  Wasn’t it Helen one time —oh this is kind of pitiful ‘cause Grandma Zimmerman was kind of senile already,--and Helen said that this was one of the commandments that Jesus laughed.  And Grandma’d say, ‘No!’  And Helen said, ‘Yep. It’s in there.’”  

Mary:  After Grandpa Zimmerman died, Grandma split all her money between all her kids.  She was going to live two months at each home, but slowly they all started to back out.  Finally they had a meeting and decided that they should all pay me a bit so I could afford to stay home and look after her.  Uncle Jack paid the first ten dollars, and I never saw any money after that.  Mom was stuck with her.”

Mary: “Let me tell you something funny.  She was in bed, and she was disgusted with her brothers and sisters that they didn’t come to see her more often, and this one time she said, ‘Well, Uncle Cornie came over, and he says, ‘Well, how do you feel?’ (in German), and she said, ‘I’m dead!’ And he said, ‘you don’t look dead!  Well, when did you die?’  ‘Last night.”  -- She was convinced she had died!”

Rosie:  I can remember she had some apples, a good one and a couple of rotten ones, and she gave her company the rotten ones!”

                Looking back, Rosie and Mary realized that their grandmother Zimmerman probably was suffering from dementia most of the years she lived with their family.  But  they were very young, and to them their grandmother was simply funny.  And, as Rosie remarked, “We laughed all the time, at everything!” 


The Widow Zimmermann: 1934-1943

In the year 1934 it pleased the Lord to also take [Elisabeth’s] second husband from her side into the home above.  Again she stood alone.  Since the home-going of Father Zimmerman, our dear mother has lived alternately with her children.  She died in the house of her oldest son C. Willems, northeast of Reedley.  Her high age was the cause of her home-going; she was bedfast the last two months, and unconscious five days.  Her departure was a gentle sleep.  She reached the age of 84 years, 11 months and 24 days.  She remained faithful till her death.”
 Zionsbote Obituary for Elisabeth Willems Zimmerman (5 Jan 1943), [full text at end of document]

Mary:  “I remember she was sitting under the clock at the house on Milsap.  She was knitting, and she said, in German, 
     --‘Can’t think.  Can’t knit any more.  My knitting days are over!’

“We didn’t take it seriously.  We thought, ‘Oh, she’ll forget that’, but she didn’t—she didn’t take up knitting again.  She was done!  She must have had a little stroke or something.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Elisabeth was just a few days shy of her 85th birthday when she died on December 5, 1943.  Now that more and more people live into the their 90s and 100s, reaching the age of 85 is no longer a big deal.  But in the 1940s, that was not the case.  Average life expectancy was just 39 years for women born in the 1850s, the decade of Elisabeth’s birth.  Elisabeth lived 46 years beyond that average life span.  And when you consider that she had borne nine children in the harsh conditions of what was then the frontier, her almost-85 years looks remarkable indeed.  She must have had a strong body, a tough constitution.  However, those last nine years of her life were definitely a task, for her and for her family.

Elisabeth’s decision to sell all her property, divide the proceeds among her children, and spend the rest of her life in their homes put a real burden on her family, a burden that seems to have primarily fallen on our grandma’s shoulders.  Did Elisabeth realize that her children did not really want her living with them?  Did she feel herself unwanted?  Or did she just place herself in her children’s care, trusting that they would do their duty and take care of her whether they liked it or not, confident that they would work things out?   We don’t really know.

We do know, however, that she was deeply religious.  She had been schooled in the attitude of trust, trust that God would provide her needs in this life as well as trust that there was something far better awaiting her.  That hope may have helped her find patience with her failing body, the loss of active life, and the necessary dependence on her children.  Her faith taught that death was release, the door to a new, perfect life.  Her task was to wait, to endure that which was necessary to finish up this life.  And she seems to have done just that.  Her long, slow decline did not allow her to actively testify to her faith in the hours before her death in the way that her husband Heinrich did, but the family member who wrote her obituary witnessed for her, declared: “She remained faithful to her death.”

Obituary: Elisabeth Boldt Willems Zimmermann,
Zionsbote (5 January, 1944)

Sister Elisabeth Willems Zimmerman, maiden name Boldt, was born December 8th in the year 1858 in the village of Pastwa, Molotschna, Russia.  In the year 1875 she emigrated with her parents the Jakob Boldts to America.  Protected by God’s sheltering hand, they arrived on August 18th the same year in Mountain Lake, Minnesota.  It was quite difficult to adjust to the new land and to the new situation.  Despite the severe struggles, she stood faithfully at the side of her parents, and was helpful in making a home in the midst of poverty.

In the year 1879 she was received into the church through the baptism of sprinkling by Preacher Aron Wall.  This did not satisfy her heart, however.  Through diligent searching of the Word of God, she found the Lord Jesus had been baptized in the River Jordan.  After serious anxiety and prayer, she found forgiveness in the blood of the Lamb and was with her first husband C. Willems baptized on 5 May 1880 by Elder Heinrich Voth and received as a member in the Mennonite Brethren Church at Mountain Lake.

In the year 1900 they settled in Saskatchewan, Canada, where they made their home at Bruderfeld, in the hopes of making their life work on the farm easier. Man thinks, but God arranges.  God’s ways were appointed differently.  In the year 1902 her husband, our father, became ill and was taken from her side through death on August 8th.  Alone with nine children, of whom 8 children were born in Mountain Lake and one in Canada, she looked into a dark future, and in looking to the Lord, who is the Lord over widows and orphans, she overcame this pain.  This first marriage with our father C. Willems was [contracted] on 24 March 1881.  This marriage was blessed with nine children, who are all still living.  Happy was the marriage, difficult was the pain of parting.

On 18 March 1906 she joined hands in marriage with Brother Heinrich Zimmerman, preacher of the Mennonite Brethren church.  They lived in Bruderfeld, Saskatchewan for fourteen years, and in the year 1920 they settled for the first time in California and in the year 1926 for the second time; since that time our parents have lived in the vicinity of Dinuba and Reedley.  In the year 1934 it pleased the lard to also take her second husband from her side into the home above.  Again she stood alone.  Since the homegoing of Father Zimmerman, our dear mother has lived alternately with her children.  She died in the house of her oldest son C. Willems, northeast of Reedley.  Her high age was the cause of her homegoing; she was bedfast the last two months, and unconscious five days.  Her departure was a gentle sleep.  She reached the age of 84 years, 11 months and 24 days.  She remained faithful till her death.  She leaves four sons, five daughters, five stepchildren, four daughters-in-law, five sons-in-law, fifty-two grandchildren, all living, and eight grandchildren preceded her in death. [She also leaves] four brothers and two sisters and a number of relatives and many friends.  Her hour of deliverance struck Thursday, December 2nd, at 8 o’clock in the evening.  We rejoice in blessed hope of a reunion.      
                                                                                    The Children*

* [Translated 4 June 2006 by Peggy Goertzen on behalf of Loretta Willems, transcribed 4/29/08 by LW]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

[1] According to the Yearbooks for the Northern District Mennonite Brethren Conference, total membership of the MB churches in Saskatchewan was 1,000 in 1910, the year the conference was organized.  In 1914, when the Manitoba churches were figured into a total, membership for all Canadian MB churches was 1,317.
[2] According to the Yearbooks for the Northern District Mennonite Brethren Conference, total membership of the MB churches in Saskatchewan was 1,000 in 1910, the year the conference was organized.  In 1914, when the Manitoba churches were figured into a total, membership for all Canadian MB churches was 1,317.
[3] Evidence for the conclusion that Heinrich and Maria saw Winkler as only a temporary home comes from HHZ’s Zionsbote letter: ”Two weeks before her end, it seemed as if things might get better; she could sit in a rocking chair, we could even rock her, and when we sat there in the evenings and talked about how the Lord had guided us and that we would perhaps still be able to stay together and settle somewhere, then she became cheerful.”            

[4] J. A. Toews.  A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church: Pilgrims and Pioneers.  (Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House), 1975.

[5] Heinrich was definitely an ordained Prediger, but when he was ordained, I don’t know.  The obituary Elisabeth wrote when he died states that “he was called by the community to work in the realm of God” soon after his conversion.  The Yearbooks for the Saskatchewan Mennonite Brethren Conference lists him as Prediger (preacher) for the years 1914 (Waldheim) and 1916, 1918 (Bruderfeld).  He is not listed for 1920, 1921, 1922 and1923—the years of Heinrich and Elisabeth’s first California sojourn.  Heinrich is again listed as Prediger for the Bruderfeld Church for the years 1924, 1925, 1926.  The Saskatchewan Yearbooks do not use the designation, “ordained,” after any of the church leaders. 
However, the Yearbooks for the Pacific District Conference, which includes Reedley and Dinuba, do note whether church leaders ordained, and Heinrich is listed as Ordinierter Prediger (Ordained Preacher) at the South Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church (which became the Dinuba M.B. Church in 1936) beginning in the year 1926—[the church had three ordained preachers].