Two Ministers Make Eastex Town Known Over the Nation

The article, found by Dave Goeke in the Wendish archives of the Institute of Texas Cultures in San Antonio, was first printed in the Houston, Texas Chronicle sometime between 8 and 15 March 1968. We know that because John W. Behnken died on 23 Feb 1968 and the article mentions that it was written two weeks after his death.

It is worth mentioning that the town of Fedor acquired its name from Fedor Soder, one of the first postmasters and a store owner in the community. Soder came from Mecklenburg, Germany and first lived in Cat Spring before he moved to the Fedor area. He allegedly is of Jewish descent but that has never been verified.

it is also worth mentioning that Fedor is not in East Texas but is located in Central Texas, a few miles nortwest of Giddings.

Two Ministers Make Eastex Town Known Over the Nation



Chronicle Correspondent

            Fedor — This rural Lee County community of less than 100 population, with a Slavic name and inhabited by people of Wendish and German ancestry has become known throughout the nation because of two men.

            First, the Rev. John W. Behnken, who became president of the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) in the United States, Latin – America and Australia, spent part of his boyhood here and may have gained his inspiration for the ministry in this environment. He served as president for 27 years and several more as president emeritus. His career ended with a heart seizure two weeks ago in Hollywood, Fla., at the age of 84.

            Second, the Rev. Gottlieb Birkman, long-time pastor of Fedor Lutheran Church, and Dr. Behnken’s stepfather, was a recognized authority on insects and a person with intellectual vigor. He corresponded with entomologists in colleges, universities and other areas who were interested in his “finds.” Three specimens, about which nothing had been recorded were named for the pastor: Birkmaness, Birkmenza and Fedorenza (after the community).

            Old-timers of Fedor like to reminisce on Pastor Birkman and his search for rare insects and his study of their ways. They remember how he taught his sons and stepsons about the life and habits of ants, bees, beetles, butterflies and wasps.

            The boys carried with them into the fields and woodlands bottles with chloroform for preserving the rarest specimens found. These were sent to entomologists and brought modest fees that went into a college fund for the boys. Fedor residents considered it a marvel that Pastor Birkman could read the Bible in English, German, Spanish, Greek and Hebrew. Near the age of 90 and nearly blind he found comfort and relaxation in reading with the aid of a magnifying glass, from Bibles printed in varied languages.

            At one time 12 children, including two sons and a daughter of widow Behnken, who became the pastor’s second wife, lived in the pastoral home at Fedor. The Birkman group by the pastor’s first marriage (to the daughter of Pastor Kilian, leader of the Wendish emigrants at Serbin and Fedor in Lee County) were George, Paul and Alma, all now dead. The Behnken children were John W., Meta (who became Mrs. Steglich, now of Austin) and William F., now living in retirement in Houston. The second Birkman group, by the marriage of the pastor Birkman and Mrs. Behnken, were: Ernest and Carl, now of Houston; Ella, who became Mrs. Martens; G. C., Frieda, whose husband, Walter Gersh, was drowned at San Luis Pass shortly after being married; and Herbert, now a college professor at Ft. Wayne, Ind.

            The blended group lived together as brother and sisters, neighbors said.

            The Rev. Dr. Behnken was known as a man with a particular regard for working people. He had lived and labored on a farm. He had worked with migrant laborers in the wheat fields around Winfield, Kan., where in the school months he began his preparation for the ministry—27 years as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Houston and 27 years as national head of the Missouri Synod Lutherans.


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