This article by Rev. G. Birkmann and translated by Ray Martens first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt in February 1933.
In Memory of Teacher Gerhard Kilian in Serbin, Lee County, Texas
Born, 1852, Died 1916
Thirteen years have gone by since the death of Rev. Hermann Kilian and not quite seventeen since the departure of his older brother, Teacher Gerhard A. Kilian. The people in St. Paul’s congregation who at one time went to school with Kilian and who are now between 25 and 75 years old will often remember their former teacher, as, likewise, will those former students who now reside in other area of the state, the number of whom may mount to several hundred.
Here I would like to put in place a small memorial to this devoted Teacher Kilian (and, likewise, the former Rev. Hermann Kilian in a later issue of the paper). A new generation is arising, and in this quickly changing time period one easily forgets the precious times and the previously well-known men. But it says in the Holy Scriptures, “Remember your teachers who have spoken the Word of God to you, etc.”
So it is that we wish first to remember the teacher, and I would like to record some recollections about him and his work.
I first met him when both of us were still boys in the so-called “Saxon Mill” in St. Louis. At the end of August, 1867, a number of boys coming from the western states wishing to travel via St. Louis to Fort Wayne to the college there—about ten in all—came into this building. One stood alone, and I approached him and asked whether he too wished to go to Fort Wayne. He answered, “No, to Addison.” He wanted to go the training program for teachers. I asked for his name. “Kilian,” he said, and then I discovered that he came from Texas. I had little acquaintance with Texas, though I had seen the name on the map, an area so large that it took up almost boundless space on the map.
I have never forgotten this first encounter with him, and it was of interest to me when I came to Texas nine years later to greet Teacher Kilian in Serbin, already in his teaching ministry for four years. He was the second teacher of our Synod in Texas. The first was Ernst Leubner, who became teacher at St. Paul’s already in 1868, but who in 1870 assumed the same position in the newly founded St. Peter’s. In 1872 Gerhard Kilian entered as teacher at St. Paul’s alongside his father, Johann Kilian.
He occupied his position for forty-four years, at first from 1872 until 1886 as the only teacher, with 70 to 80 to teach from time to time, and in fact in three languages: German Wendish, and English. It is not hard to tell what a burden of work lay on him, and, yet, he worked not only during the hours of school but also before that early in the morning and in what may be called free time, that is, at recess and at noon, working with the children falling behind to encourage them and to support them as much as possible so that they not remain back behind the others. Certainly one would not demand this of a teacher, but that did not bother him—that was just his way. If at some time children were absent from school, in the afternoon after school was dismissed he saddled his horse and rode quickly to the relevant houses and inquired about why the children had not been there. So it was that he arrived at a point at which it seldom happened that children were absent without a good reason. I do not get this from hearsay, but can testify to it out of my own observation.
He possessed, as can already be deduced from what has been said, an unusual energy and an untiring zeal, the like of which one seldom finds. In his school everything had to go like clockwork; punctuality and order where his nature, and he required that of his students. It is correctly said, although I heard it for the first time much later when more weight was being placed on learning the language of the land, “Kilian would have rather have promoted more English in his school than, for example, Wendish.” But when one places oneself back forty and fifty and more years, then one well understands Kilian’s intentions. For at that time Wendish was still the main language at St. Paul’s, which had regular Wendish services and in whose houses and families Wendish was the ordinary language.
English was seldom heard. Even in Giddings about everyone did not speak English, but German, and there were a number of other congregations in the area where only German was spoken, and, to be sure, English was promoted in school, but only in passing, because one did not anticipate what change the time would bring in this respect.
Kilian was strongly committed to his students learning to read fluently and to write well. Among his former students are more than a few who can write well and skillfully, and who are not behind others also in English. People in Serbin can adequately confirm this for me.
Teacher Kilian was married twice. His first wife died already in 1881, shortly after the death of his mother (or shortly before). Both died of pneumonia. She, Kilian’s wife, left him three little daughters, if I am not mistaken. His second wife was one who is still living in Austin with her children, the widow Anna Kilian, née Gersch. She also bore him several daughters as well as sons, all of whom, so far as I know, are still alive and in good condition. Also in his household in Serbin, everything happened properly and in order with Teacher Kilian, punctual, neat, and clean—”a place for everything and everything in its place.”
In his association with people, he was friendly, unassuming, and pleasant, as I conclude from my personal experience over many years. He was not as confident and engaging in his nature as was, for example, his brother Rev. Hermann Kilian, who upon first becoming acquainted showed himself to be kind and one to whom you had to become attached immediately.
The teacher did not have this gift to the same extent, but, without a doubt, he was trustworthy and upright in everything that he said, and kind, and in the eyes of everyone an upright Christian. He had used himself up in service to the Lord and his little lambs almost before his time.
He was born in Weigersdorf, Prussia, in 1852 and came with his parents (Joh. Kilian and his wife) and arrived at Galveston with the Wendish immigrants at the end of 1854. At Christmas time the immigrants were in Houston, where Rev. Caspar Braun took care of them as much as possible. Then in January of 1855, Rev. Kilian with his little son, Gerhard, set out on the long trip to Rabb’s Creek on an oxcart—the boy up on the seat while the father and others marched alongside in their military boots over the Houston Prairie, which stood under water. After a week or so they finally arrived at the pine forest and then in the region of Rabbs Creek, where the immigrant group bought a league of land in February of 1855 and settled permanently.
So far, Gerhard was the only surviving child of the pastor—a number had died in Germany. Soon after arrival in Serbin another little child was born, but soon died and became the first body to be to be laid to rest in the cemetery. Therese, Hermann, Bernhard, and Hulda were born in Serbin. Hulda, born in 1861, became my first wife, and so I had much reason to visit the Kilians in Serbin. I also often spoke with old Rev. Johann Kilian and naturally had much contact with my brothers- and sisters-in-law. So it is very dear to me when I have opportunity to write down my recollections.
As my dear wife Hulda lay gravely ill with nerve fever [?] in September of 1892, her siblings went to the trouble of administering necessary care. Teacher Kilian and his wife were also very helpful. But God called to himself my dear wife on October 14, 1892, and then again it was my relatives in Serbin and Mrs. Peter (née Kilian) who took in the motherless children. The teacher and his wife took my son Paul, and then he was allowed to experience their care. I cannot remain silent about such loving service as I here remember my dear departed brother-in-law, Gerhard Kilian.
Teacher Kilian too died of the same treacherous disease which had cost his sister Hulda her life. Soon after the convention in Malone in 1916—it was during vacation time—he went to visit his children in Austin and became ill and after a number of weeks entered his blessed rest. As people expressed the wish that he might recover again and go home, he answered as he pointed upward, “I will go there.” Remember your teachers who have spoken the Word of God to you, whose end is in sight, and follow their faith. G. Birkmann