Excerpts from Emilie (Woelfel) Michalk’s "Reflections on my Life" by Edward Bernthal and George Nielsen

This article appeared in the October 2008 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society of Serbin, Texas. (www.texaswendish.org)

Emilie (Woelfel) Michalk was born in Thorndale on January 31, 1898, to Nicholas and Magdalena Woelfel. Eighty-six years later, she told Edward Bernthal the story of her life. Although her heritage was German, she married a Wend, Adolph Michalk. Mr. Bernthal, now living in Waupun, Wisconsin, married Emilie’s daughter, Bernice.

After graduating from Concordia – River Forest, Mr. Bernthal taught at Lutheran schools in Galveston and Racine, Wisconsin and served as Director of Christian Education in Waupun. (Conrad Bernthal, the pastor at St. Peter’s Church in Serbin from 1892 -1906 was a relative.) Edward was gracious enough to permit me to edit sections of Emilie’s life’s story for the Newsletter. Many of the names and places she mentioned in her story were part of the Wendish experience in Texas and in addition her “Recollections” tell about a third generation Texas Wend who became a missionary to France.

Recollections on My Life

We lived on a farm about three miles west of Thorndale. I started school when I was seven. The school was in two buildings, one for the lower grades and one for the upper. Teacher Werner’s son, who was a seminary student, and the pastor [A. W. Kramer] helped with the teaching. All the classes were in German. Later on English was taught in the afternoon. There were more than a hundred children in the school. Very few went to high school.

On the farm I had to help gather broomcorn to start the fire in the stove, gather the eggs and feed the chickens. I also learned how to chop cotton, pick cotton, chop and gather corn. We also raised potatoes. Since I was the oldest girl I had to help take care of the younger brothers and sisters. When the others had the measles I had to milk the cows too. We had a favorite cow we called “Schakah” (because she was a speckled cow.) [Schakah is the Wendish word for a speckled cow.] The washing we had to do on a scrub board.

We drove to church in a two-seater buggy. Father and mother sat in the front seat holding the smaller children. The rest of us sat on the second seat. The services were in German. We had our first English service in 1913 when the Texas District met in Thorndale. They had English services in the evening during the convention. I was confirmed in 1911.

My mother died in 1912 of pleurisy and pneumonia. Mother was 38 when she died and my youngest brother was less than a year old. Later my father talked about getting married again but we did not want that to happen. And he never did.

In 1913 our family moved to Bishop, Texas. Father and mother had decided on this just before mother died. The reason we moved to Bishop was because the land down there was being offered for sale by a developer F. Z. Bishop, after whom the town was named. He had built a fine hotel where he entertained and housed the people that came on the train and were interested in buying land. Other families from Thorndale were moving to Bishop to buy land. Among these were six Michalk brothers. They were John (who later became my father-in-law), Willie, Henry, Charlie, Robert, and Sam. Sam became a land agent for Mr. Bishop.

… How did we move to Bishop? We had to move all our household things, farm machines, and animals by train. There were four horses and two cows (including “Schakah”). Mr. Kap pler, a neighbor of ours who was moving with us, went along in the train that brought the two families. Father went along in the train that was moving the things of the two families. It took three days for the train to arrive with our things. We lived in the rented farm house about eight miles from town. We grew cotton, com, and some small grain. The area settled by the group from Thorndale was called “The Concordia Settlement.” The settlers built their own church which they named Concordia Lutheran Church. Our first pastor was Rev. [E. J.] Moebus who was married to a daughter of John Kilian, the pastor of the Wends. We lived about a mile from the church.

Father bought 160 acres of land and rented a farm home. Unfortunately, he lost the land by foreclosure within two years. But he remained to farm some land that he rented. We had to haul our cotton to the gin in Bishop. The round trip by wagon and mules took most of the day. We children had to be picking cotton while Father was going to town. Father told us “When you are lazying around the devil is riding you” so that we wouldn’t play around in the field instead of doing our work. We had a fair crop in 1914 and 1915. But one year a hurricane and another year the drought ruined the crops. [Pastor Moebus noticed that many of the Lutherans who bought land in the Valley, lost the land and moved away. An estimated amount of $500,000 was lost by Lutherans who hoped to make the Valley their home. H. W. Bewie, Missouri in Texas (Austin: The Steck Company 1952), p. 84]

Uncle Steve Woelfel had farmed in West Texas and wanted our family to move up there. Father took a train trip up there and was persuaded to leave Bishop and move to West Texas. Father and Paul went up alone to build a smokehouse and dugout home. They lived in a tent. Meanwhile I was left in charge of the rest of the family in Bishop.

While we were living on the farm in Bishop (1916) I got interested in Adolph Michalk. We had gone to school together in Thorndale. We were both in the bridal party for Walter and Lydia Moerbe’s wedding. After the ceremony everybody gathered at the house for the wedding celebration. People sat in the parlor and sang songs. I remember that Adolph played the violin. On the 4th of July there was the church picnic in Moerbe’s Woods. The young folks gathered at the church to shoot off their fireworks. They had about 40 Roman candles to shoot. We were told that when you see a shooting star you should make a wish and it would come true. I did. The next Sunday the youth got together for a house party. We played “Looby Lou” and other games like that. Each boy had to choose a partner. Adolph chose me. That fall Adolph left for St. Louis to go to the seminary. He asked me to write to him. Over the years there were 99 letters in all. I saved them for a long time. I think they were buried in a barbecue pit at Riesel many years later.

In 1917 father asked us to come up and meet him in Dallas. He had decided that the family would try to make a living by picking cotton. He had two mules and a covered wagon in which we slept as we moved from place to place picking cotton. There was Father, Paul and I, and three sisters and three other brothers in the group. In the fall father hired himself out with the wagon to haul goods for other people and we girls got jobs as housemaids in Dallas. The next summer father decided to return to Bishop to pick cotton, and after the season was over, we moved to a rented farm in West Texas between Wilson and Tahoka, about twenty miles south of Lubbock. I lived there until I got married.

Upon graduation from the seminary Adolph got his first call which was to Galveston. I wanted to be a June bride, but we had to settle for July 1 as our wedding day. It was the custom in those days to have the weddings on Tuesday. We were married in our house near Wilson. Rev. [John] Kollmeyer, a classmate of Adolph, performed the wedding ceremony. The next day I packed my trunk and got ready to leave on the train for Bishop. We got to San Antonio by noon and to Bishop by the 4th of July. On Sunday afternoon all the people got together at Adolph’s house to celebrate the wedding. It was a large gathering with much food but no beer. The county had gone dry on July 1. We stayed at Bishop for the rest of the summer and left for Galveston on August 28. I still remember the fish smell in the air when we got off the train.

After we had been in town just one week Galveston was hit by a hurricane. We stayed in the house overnight but the next morning the landlord persuaded us to go to the courthouse for safety. At first we rented a Baptist church for

$1O a month and later the third floor of the YMCA. The church and parsonage were completed in 1921. We had lived in the new parsonage for about six weeks when Bernice was born.

In 1930 when we were expecting another baby (Dorothy) we received a second call to Fedor. I remember arriving at Fedor. When I first saw the house we were to live in I didn’t want to get out of the car. The yard was overgrown with weeds. There was one big room that was to serve as the bedroom for the whole family. I asked Adolph for permission to talk to the elders about the house and they agreed to make some changes. The bathtub was moved into the pantry and new cabinets were built in the kitchen. But the congregation was helpful too. The members invited our family out to meals. They brought us fresh produce. We had three gardens in which we grew most of our own vegetables. We also had two hogs to butcher and one cow for fresh milk. When the war broke out, Paul (b. 1923) joined the Air Force and became a navigator. He was shot down over Germany during the last days of the war and was listed as lost in action.

In 1946 Dad [Arthur] got a call to Riesel. I was glad to get to live in a better house. It was also easier for Dad to get to his Mission Board meetings which were held in Waco.

[In 1948] Dad got a call to go to Alsace and Lorraine in France to serve a group of the Free Church [independent of the state church] congregations there. [Alsace and Lorraine became part of Germany in 1871 but reverted to France in 1919. A large portion of the population spoke German.] That was a laugh! “You want to go there?” I said. But Dad felt that it was a call from the Lord and he decided to go. He had been recommended since he could preach in German. We sailed on September 24, 1948 after Dad had a meeting with the Mission Board in New York. I was seasick for the first three days of the trip. The steward told me to eat apples. We lived in the parsonage at Schillersdorf. The parsonage was built of heavy brick and not very modern. I cooked on a woodstove and we heated the house with coal. Half of the house served as the church. It seated about 100 people. Dad served four congregations. Besides Schillersdorf there was Obersoulsbach, Woerth, and Lembach.

We came home for three-month furloughs in 1953 and 1956. We returned home to stay in 1958. Before we left for France in 1946 we had three grandchildren. By the time we returned in 1958 there were about a dozen.

After returning Dad served a congregation in Smithville from 1958 to 1962. He retired on January 1, 1962 and we decided to move to Giddings. We had the New Year’s Day service in Smithville that morning. The young people of the congregation helped us load our things after the service. By 4:00 in the afternoon we were drinking coffee in our house in Giddings. We lived at 1208 E. Austin Street from 1962 – 1974. Dad was assisting the pastor at Immanuel in Giddings but had problems crossing Highway 290 in front of our house. After Dad had two accidents we decided to buy a house closer to the church.

We lived at 427 N. Leon for two years before Dad died on June 12, 1975. He had preached at the nursing home on that Wednesday. After listening to the news we went to bed as usual. He died in his sleep of a cerebral hemorrhage.

[Emilie died on February 11, 1992 at the age of 94.]


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