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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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The H.H. Zimmermann Pulpit

            One of the delightful surprises of writing this blog is being found by other Willems and Zimmermann descendants.  The photos of the pulpit below were sent to me by Dennis Zimmerman who lives in Winkler, Manitoba.  He is another great-grandchild of Heinrich H. Zimmermann.  HHZ’s son Henry (1895-1977) was Dennis’ beloved grandfather.

            The pulpit is in a scale model replica of the Brotherfield Mennonite Brethren Church near Waldheim, Saskatchewan.  I’d heard that my great-grandfather Zimmermann made the pulpit for the Brotherfield MB Church, but gave it little thought.  The snapshot my dad had was dark.  I couldn’t see any details, just saw the usual pulpit shape.  I had no idea how beautiful it was until I saw these photos Dennis sent.  

            My aunts Mary Davis and Rosella Noble said that their Grandpa Zimmermann was a carpenter and made beautiful cupboards in people’s houses when he lived in Reedley.  They also said he painted flowers on them.  Those flowers can be seen on the top of the pulpit.    

            Heinrich Zimmermann was not just a carpenter.  This pulpit is a beautiful piece of furniture, and I’m wondering if the factory where he worked in Sergejevka might not have been a furniture factory.  The Mennonites in Russia did build furniture, and this pulpit looks very much like some of the painted furniture in the book, Mennonite Furniture: A Migrant Tradition (1766-1910).[i]  I’ve not yet found mention of a furniture factory in Sergejevka, but that does not mean there wasn’t one there.   I will see if I can find out more information.

[i] Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen & John M. Janzen, Good Books, 1991.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Publication Announcement

The photos below of the Zimmerman-Willems family and the earlier one of Maria Dyck Zimmerman have been published by the California Mennonite Historical Society in their Fall 2013 Bulletin.  They accompany an article I wrote about the Heinrich H. Zimmerman 1905 Zionsbote letter.  It was mailed out last week and can also be read on their website at the link given below.  This is an excellent publication, and back issues are well worth reading.  They include not just individual life stories, but articles by Mennonite historians and scholars as well.

The article in the CMHS Bulletin is short, only 2000 words.  The full story of Heinrich & Maria Dyck Zimmermann is posted on the Pages section in the column on the right.  All it requires is a “click” to bring it up.  Also in the “Pages” is the story of Heinrich H. & Elisabeth Boldt Willems Zimmerman.

While I’m at it, I’ll include a link to another published piece I wrote that can be found online—“Jacob & Agnes,” the story of my father’s courtship and elopement with my fourteen year old mother and the scandal that ensued.  It was published in the January 2012 issue of the Journal  of the Center for Mennonite Writing at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana.