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Kalona 2003

Jacob’s Progeny Meets West of the Mississippi

By Carolyn Nafziger, Daughter of Shem T., DJH 3840


The year 2003 marks the 265th anniversary of our ancestor's immigration, and the fourth quinquennial (occurring every fifth year) descendants' continent-wide reunion. Reunions sponsored by the Jacob Hochstetler Family Association began in 1988 to commemorate 250 years since the family's 1738 arrival in America.


About six hundred descendants gathered at Iowa Mennonite School in rural east central Iowa on July 12, 2003. Jacob Hochstetler's great-great-granddaughter Susanna Miller Gingerich was among the early Amish Mennonites to settle west of the Mississippi in 1846, in Iowa Territory very near the present site of the school. Visiting began before registration and was interrupted, sometimes with difficulty, only for programs and seminars.


Festivities began Friday evening at the Fairview Conservative Mennonite Church between Kalona and Sharon Center. Round tables in the spacious fellowship room and name tags showing which of Jacob's four adult children was your ancestor aided introductions. Small family o groups were evident, but most of the 265 at the banquet were strangers when the evening began.


The delicious meal, served family style, was a great starter. Raw potatoes, one hundred pounds of them, were cooked and whipped for real home-cooked mashed potatoes. Second helpings were appreciated with very little food left over. Most of the forty fruit pies were also consumed, with ice cream. A quartet from Sharon Bethel Amish Mennonite congregation provided a cappella music.


Dr. Frank Yoder's descriptions of detectives, curiosity seekers, and searchers "Making Sense of the Past" helped to explain and justify the very apparent interest in our family history. Yoder is a Kalona native and a historian.


Saturday's scheduled activities were a mine for genealogists, whether mainly detectives, curiosity seekers, or searchers. Hallways and foyers were filled with displays and vendors with a variety of items to sell and many publications, showcasing many inspired family projects for posterity.


Displays included Joseph Hostetler's 1787 Froschaur New Testament, and "Then and Now" regarding John's Little House. Loren Wengerd brought his beautiful Tom Lions painting by Sam McCausland, now deceased, recently appraised at $45,000, and had beautifully framed prints for sale.


Family charts to the third generation lined a wall in the gym. Registration on the charts, at the appropriate location, was encouraged. Genealogy helpers in the library were available to help discover individual family lines.


Two videos and eight seminars during three morning sessions required hard choices. Seminar leaders were Marti Swanson of Illinois (German Childhood of Anna Schonbeck Miller), Eldon Hostetler of Nebraska (West of the Mississippi), Beth Hostetler Mark of Pennsylvania (Primary Hochstetler Documents), Paul E. Hostetler of Pennsylvania (Writing Your Life Story), Daniel Hochstetler of Indiana (Updating Your Branch of the Family Tree, and slides on European & Colonial Background), J. Virgil Miller of Florida (Both Sides of the Ocean), and Jim Hostetler of Virginia (OMII-SAGA).


E Book sales were brisk, especially J. Virgil Miller's new Both Sides of the Ocean, Beth Hostetler Mark's new collection of documents, Our Flesh and Blood, and John Showalter's new Index of Unnumbered Persons in DBH. Author Evie Yoder Miller introduced Eyes at the Window, her historical novel based on the infanticide in 181o. It will be available later this year. Vendors included the JHFA, Iowa Mennonite Historical Society, John R. Showalter, Paul Wengerd, Loren Wengerd, Eldon Hostetler, and a number of others.


The noon carry-in meal was soon served in several lines. Two long tables also in the dining area in the gym held an interesting array for the silent auction to benefit the "John's Little House" project in Spruce Forest at Grantsville, Maryland. This included a well-built toy barn, sewn items, decorative wooden birdhouses and other well-crafted donations and historical publications. Lumber salvaged from the house after the tornado was used to frame photos of the original house and had a starting bid of $100.00.


Among other H/H/H souvenirs were suncatchers, 3-ring binders, a pin, a glass dish, and various other items, all with the delicate official JHFA edelweiss "H" logo.


Children and younger adults were present. As at most reunions, church conferences, and gatherings, the majority of planners and attendees were early retirement to elderly. In contrast to many in distinctive Amish garb, a man wearing a skullcap, a black-skinned man, and a spouse from southern Asia were visual reminders of the diversity of the family of Jacob Hochstetler today.


Twenty five states from coast to coast, including Washington, Oregon, and California, Texas, Florida, North. Caro-lina, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and the province of Ontario were represented. Bessie Yoder of Kalona, Iowa, age 97 on July 27 was recognized as the oldest person at the afternoon program/business meeting. "Gott ist die Liebe," was sung by the assembly, who also prayed (or heard!) the Lord's Prayer in the German language used by our ancestors.


Yoder suggested on Friday evening that, rather than celebrating a massacre, we learn who we are as we search for meaning in that tragic event. Jacob and his sons continued to be sustained by their Christian faith. Rachel Kreider's play, Overcoming Evil performed as Reader's Theater on Saturday afternoon, ponders whether Jacob's refusal to kill influenced the outcome of the French and Indian War, and challenges our faith.


Thanks to good organization and planning of the Jacob Hochstetler Family Association many descendants have been inspired again by new and renewed acquaintances with extended family and revisiting our common history.


Carolyn Nafziger from Minier, Illinois served on the Historical Committee of the Illinois Mennonite Conference. She is the past editor of the Illinois Mennonite Heritage Newsletter of the Illinois Mennonite Historical and Genealogical Society. In 1995 she co-authored with her cousin Esther Glick the large Descendants of Frederick Swartzendruber and Sarah Yoder (DJH 3820) book.

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