David Goeke is of Wendish descent. Interestingly, for a good portion of his life, he didn’t know it.
David Goeke is of Wendish descent. Interestingly, for a good portion of his life, he didn’t know it. He grew up speaking German. He enjoyed going to visit his grandparents in Manheim, Texas. He had occasionally as a child heard the term “Wend,” but it meant nothing to him because he was, of course, German…because his family spoke German.
David remembered, however, an elderly pastor who attended Trinity Lutheran Church in Austin. This elderly pastor spoke German and, of all things, Wendish. David recalls him trying to teach the young boy these strange words that were very “guttural” in sound. To top it off, he gave David a book titled, The So-Called Wends of Germany and Their Colonies in Texas and Australia by a fellow by the name of Engerrand. David was curious…but, set the book aside.
As a high school student, David attended what was then called Concordia Academy in Austin, Texas, (now Concordia University). He heard that term “Wendish” more and more….and he was curious how that many of the fellows at Concordia (this was an all boy school) came from the Lee County area from whence his mother came. Furthermore, he realized that several of these guys from Lee County also spoke German…and again, from time to time, that term “Wend” popped up. David and a few of his classmates enjoyed bantering German about from time to time…and also shared an interest in German books. These were guys with names like Noack, Schatte, Handrick, etc.
One day, when a rather “out of it” librarian decided to empty the stacks of all the old German books at Concordia because no one used them and they were in the way, this librarian filled bag after bag with these books and threw them on the sidewalk to be picked up by the trash collectors. Well, David and some of his buddies got wind of this and immediately started salvaging these books. Among them were some books in Wendish. David, however, had no particular interest in them because German was his second language. So, some of other guys got the Wendish books. However, some of the books that David salvaged, while German, had been owned by people with names like Birkmann, Studtmann, Wukasch, etc.
Well, David finally graduated from Concordia High School (the longest 10 years of his life….just kidding). He attended Concordia Jr. College and then made his way to Concordia Teacher’s College in Seward, Nebraska. In 1970, he graduated with a B.S. in Education with a theology major ….and received his first call to serve as a teacher and Youth Minister at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas.
Strangely, the pastor was a fellow by the name of Eldor Mickan. David knew that surname from Concordia, Austin, too. Now David and Eldor Mickan got along very well. Eldor Mickan also spoke German and also had a love of reading and books. Strangely, Eldor told David that Mickan was a Wendish name. One day, Eldor showed David a new book that he had acquired. It was called, In Search of A Home (a paperback) by a fellow whose name was George Nielsen. David began to read it and to his great surprise began to find names of members of his family in this book. Then he saw the passenger list in the back and nearly fell over. There they were. Members of his family like Kieschnick, Birnbaum, Pilak, etc. That discovery set David Goeke on a new quest to learn of his heritage.
With time, David began to seek out people who were familiar with the Wends. Through certain of these people, he began to learn of people who lived in what was then West Germany, but, who had East German connections. Goeke began a fairly intense effort trace his genealogy, utilizing these West German resources…who happened to be “displaced” Wends.
Over a period of, he learned that he could actually make contact with Wends in East Germany…but, that his letters to them (and those to him) would often be opened and scrutinized. Through the West German connections, Goeke learned of some elderly, and fairly prominent Wends who stilled lived in East German. Among them was one Theodor Schütze, whose first language was Wendish and who was still able to read the old Wendish handwriting in which Pastor Jan Kilian wrote many documents in both Wendish and German. Many of these documents were obituaries. David, having received the permission of Rev. Paul Hartfield to look through some of these obituaries, made copies of certain of the Wendish obituaries and sent them via a West German correspondent to Mr. Schütze in East Germany…for the cost of some coffee and corduroy which was smuggled in with the request. Schütze translated the Wendish to German, and David translated the German to English. That singular event, thrust David into an even greater interest in the Wends.
At about the same time, David heard of an organization called the Wendish Culture Club. It was the offshoot of an invitation extended by the newly organized Texas Folklife Festival which hosted a multi-cultural event in San Antonio, Texas, showcasing the many ethnic groups of Texas. As a result of that invitation, five little ladies came to San Antonio for the second year of the festival. Thus, was the birth of what is now the Texas Wendish Heritage Society. David has regularly participated at the Texas Folklife Festival for 30+ years.
Back in those early days, the Wendish Culture Club consisted largely of women. There were, however, some men in the organization. Among them was one, Ted Lammert, who served as one of the early chairpersons. David learned that the group was to meet and decided that he would go to a meeting and learn all that he could. He came armed with two briefcases full of data that he had collected. Upon arrival, he knew no one. Mr. Lammert introduced himself and asked what was in the briefcases. David told him. He said, “We don’t have a program planned for this afternoon. You’re it.” Thus began David’s involvement in the group. He spoke that day chiefly on Wendish folklore and customs. When he started talking about customs that his mother had celebrated such as Vogelhochzeit, the eyes of those little ladies lit up.
Over the years, David became more involved in Wendish research, having interviewed some of the “old timers,” having gathered data from Germany, having developed more correspondents in Germany who supplied him with a wealth of information, and so on. It happened too, that Dr. Sylvia Grider was writing a book about the Texas Wends and used David as one of several consultants in gathering her data. For a period of time, David was actually acting as a “broker” of sorts to sell Dr. George Nielsen’s book about the Wends.
David had the great privilege of interviewing the last man in Serbin who spoke a fairly fluent Wendish, namely, Mr. Carl Miertschin. When the Texas District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod hosted its 75th anniversary convention celebration, David was asked to serve as a consultant. At David’s encouragement, Mr. Carl Miertschin was present and sang acapella the great Luther hymn, “A Mighty Fortress” in the Wendish language, to an audience of hundreds of people. Twenty five years later, at the 100th anniversary, David was again asked to be a consultant. Among other things, he, together with the outstanding assistance of Ron Lammert, “constructed” a mini-museum at the convention hotel site, highlighting the history of the Texas District, with a heavy emphasis on its Wendish roots.
In 2004, on the occasion of the Sesquicentennial of voyage of the Wends from Germany to Texas, a voyage led by Rev. Jan Kilian, David was approached by Dr. David Zersen, then president of Concordia University Austin, to do a sort of “one man” portrayal of Rev. Kilian. With the very able assistance of the Rev. Martin Doering who served as Master of Ceremonies for the event, David “appeared out of nowhere,” garbed as the Rev. Kilian. Rev. Doering did a masterful job of quizzing the aged pastor who appeared in a “back to the future” sort of scenario. Since that time, David has made similar appearances on no less than ten occasions, from everything from family reunions to a presentation to the convention of the Texas District at its 100th anniversary. Rev. Doering (a third cousin to David) has been part of that presentation on several occasions.
In later years, David’s involvement in Wendish research waned, but he never lost his interest. Suddenly one day, an old schoolmate of his from Concordia Austin, one Weldon Mersiovsky, called David to inform him of a trip he was planning to make to Iowa for something called the World Wide Wendish Workshop. Weldon had for some time been on the trail of many things Wendish and had an almost inexhaustible interest in Wendish research. It was his intent to attend the gathering in Iowa and then make a trip to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, to take digital photographs of Wendish documents, chiefly the obituaries that Pastor Kilian had written. The Concordia Historical Institute had become the repository of these original documents back in the days when the Rev. Arthur Graf served St. Paul, Serbin, and felt the need to find a safe haven for these very fragile and important documents. At any rate, Weldon asked David to make the trip with him. Having known Weldon since college days, he knew, too, that trying to say no to him was rather like trying to get chewing gum off the bottom of one’s shoes. So, David said yes and made the trip and was happy that he did. Weldon was able to locate an individual in Germany who could still read the old Wendish handwriting. This individual translated the Wendish to German. In the beginning, David began the task of translating the German to Wendish. When David found himself with time constraints, Weldon solicited the help of a number of very gifted translators to help him with this task. The value of that task cannot be put into words. That brings us up to this point of time in 2013.
It would be very remiss of David not to give tribute to Weldon Mersiovsky. Were it not for Weldon’s intense interest, concern and very hard work, it is safe to say that we may well have lost extremely interesting and valuable information regarding the Wendish people, especially in Texas, but also in Germany. All who bear the name of Wendish ethnicity owe to Weldon an inestimable debt of gratitude. Back in college days, certain people (not David , of course) called him by a nickname of “Well Done” (as in a steak). He didn’t particularly like that nickname. Today, however, that nickname would take on a whole new meaning. Weldon has done an outstanding service to the Wendish community. So, David and hundreds of other people really need to say, “Well done, Weldon”.]]>