[ Return to Index ] [ Read Prev Msg ] [ Read Next Msg ]

Wernli, Jacob 1828-1901


Posted By: Mary Holub, volunteer (email)
Date: 9/28/2009 at 22:25:20


Prominent Citizen and Educator Called to Reward

The death of Professor Jacob Wernli which occurred at his home on Main street in Le Mars on Monday evening at about five thirty o’clock will be most keenly regretted by citizens, not only of Plymouth county where he was prominent as a citizen and educator but by hundreds of worker in the field of education in Iowa and adjoining states. In his early life he sought the educational field as the one in which he could accomplish the most good for his fellowman and he persistently followed that channel to the closing of his earthly career and in doing so left hundreds of living monuments in the young men of Plymouth county whom he had directed to seek diligently for education. His entire life was devoted to his chose avocation and how well he succeeded will be told in future by those young men and young women who he directed in that channel. No better monument could be erected to his memory than the one he has left in the living.

The going out of his life was painless, loving hands ministered to his every want and as the summons came he closed his eyes as though in peaceful sleep and with a smile on his face he passed to his reward.


The early life of a man of his calibre cannot fail to be of interest especially to the young. How he rose from a poor boy, left his home, became a stranger in a strange land, and by virtue of his innate ability and steadfastness of purpose gained for himself a competence and an enviable reputation as a student, thinker and educator.

Jacob Wernli was born in Thalheim, Capton Argan, Switzerland, on July 13, 1828. He was the son of an industrious and well-to-do farmer. His mother was a woman of rare natural talents and goodness of heart. His parents in their spare moments from the busy cares of life early incalculated on the mind of the boy those characteristics which marked his career in after life. The boy learned to work and make himself useful as soon as he was capable and learned to be a practical farmer, a knowledge which stood him in good stead on his arrival in the land of his adoption. He attended the district school in his neighborhood and displayed such aptitude for imbibing knowledge that his teacher and minister of the parish prevailed upon his parents to give him the necessary tuition for admission to the State normal school. This preparation was given him by his kind pastor who refused recompense. In 1847 he passed the examination for admission into the normal school, when out of seventy-five applicants forty were rejected. In this place of learning young Wernli was under the direct tuition of Dr. Augustin Keller, one of the foremost teachers of his day and received most careful instruction and training for a teacher. In the spring of 1850 he graduated with high honors and was chosen teacher in his native place. In the fall of 1851 he was called to the principalship of the schools in a large manufacturing town in an adjoining county. In 1853 he caught the “emigration fever” from glowing accounts he heard of the land of the brave and the home of the free. Although with bright prospects and future honors almost within his grasp and with every tie to hold him in his native land he determined to emigrate and see adventure and perchance fortune in the western El Dorado.


With his young wife, whom he had recently married, he set sail for the Occident and on the first of May, 1855, after a perilous voyage lasting two months, he set foot on the western hemisphere. His first home in the new land was in Wisconsin at that time the paradise of all emigrants. Mr. and Mrs. Wernli took up their abode at Oshkosh. The small stock of money they had brought with them was nearly exhausted by the expenses of the voyage and journey. Eighty-eight dollars in gold represented their entire fortune. The two labored at anything and everything that was honest. Mr. Wernli did not divulge his profession. His early training as a farmer was utilized. He was by turns, a day laborer, farm hand and teamster while his good wife used her deft fingers in sewing and at times in the harder work of washing and ironing. They bought a small house while living here and later sold at a profit investing the money in Waupeca county where they began farming on a raw eighty acres of land. Mr. Wernli devoted all his spare moments to the mastery of the English language and being already a linguist, soon mastered the intricacies of the foreign tongue. In 1858 he was elected clerk of his school district. His duties in this position brought him in contact with schools, teachers and scholars. He found school houses without apparatus, teachers without knowledge, methods, system, purpose and life. His heart and brain were stirred and the natural bent of is mind, his innate love of learning and his ability to teach all urged him to return to his profession. He did this and in 1859 commenced teaching a country school at a meager salary and taught until 1861. His reputation became known and his attainments respected and he was elected county superintendent of schools in 1861 and re-elected in 1863. From this time on his way was upward. His methods and his work of reform became known far and wide. In 1864 he was chose principal of the schools of Milwaukee; in 1866 to the position of assistant principal of the First State normal at Platteville and in 1868 as principal of the Northwestern German and English Normal school in Galena, Illinois. Assiduous work in his profession impaired his health and after five years toil in Galena he was forced to resign. He then went into business in Chicago as a partner of H. Enderis, who had a flourishing book and stationery business. The turmoil of a large city and the incessant pursuit of the almighty dollar were not congenial to the man and he longed to return to his chose profession. During his residence in Galena he made several trips to northwestern Iowa and realized that this was a garden spot with unlimited resources and boundless possibilities.


In 1875 Mr. Wernli came to Le Mars and for more than a quarter of century his life has been an open book to the citizens of Le Mars and Plymouth county. Here many of his ambitions were realized, his projects fulfilled and the impress of his work carved in the annals of the northwest. Here he found peace and comfort and passed his declining years in the knowledge of duty well done and life well spent in the midst of his large family, many of whom are grown men and women, bearing their burdens and taking their part nobly in the strife of life.

On his arrival in Le mars, Mrs. Wernli with his sons engaged in the book and stationery business which was later disposed of to A. B. Steiner. Mr. Wernli was elected principal of the Le Mars schools which position he resigned in 1877. On resigning this position he devoted his time mainly to conducting teachers’ institutes, receiving applications from all over Iowa and Dakota. In the fall of 1881 he was appointed superintendent of schools in Plymouth county by the board of supervisors to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of F. W. Guernsey. He was elected that fall to the office and held it for four years, refusing to visit his aged mother in Switzerland, whom he had only seen once, in 1870, when he made her a brief visit, since coming to America. In 1887 he established the Northwestern Normal school and Business college in this city, with the purpose and hope that it would be converted by the Iowa legislature into a State Normal and thus train teachers for the northwest. Here he spent the strength of his manhood and the greater part of his private means in purchasing and furnishing a fine building and maintaining a school after the best ideas. Too much cannot be said of the loftiness of his aims and the value of the institution he inaugurated. The institution grew and prospered and acquired renown through adjoining states. The professor’s whole hears and soul was in this prospect. The foundation of the college had been his dream for years and alone and unaided he found its inception and aided its growth and standing. After several years of ceaseless labor and incessant toil he began to realize that the weight of age was pressing on his frame and brow and he cast about him for a successor to carry on his work so well begun. Prof. J. F. Hirsch, now of Charles City and Prof. A. W. Rich now of Cedar Falls were the men who succeeded him in carrying out the work which he had begun and the further history of the normal college is too recent to bear recapitulation in this sketch.

Prof. Wernli was not permitted to remain in the retirement which he had fairly earned for again in 1893, he was offered the nomination for the office of county superintendent and elected by a large majority and re-elected in the fall of 1895.

Mr. Wernli’s name was offered twice in state conventions for the important office of state superintendent of education and for a number of years he was a member of the educational council.

He was a member of the Masonic order and had attained high rank, having acquired the Thirty-second degree and was also a Knight’s Templar.

He was twice elected delegate to the general conference of the M. E. church. Once to go to Brooklyn and once to Philadelphia.

In politics he was a staunch republican. Early in life he joined the German Methodist church of which he was a devout and consistent member and for two years was superintendent of the Sunday school of that church. In social life he was quiet, modest, retiring and unassuming. Gifted with versatile talents, and more than ordinary ability he was withal one of the pleasantest and kindest men to meet. He was equally at home in the mansion of the titled or the wealthy as in the sod house of the horny-handed son of toil who earns his bread by the sweat of the brow. He had a sincerity of soul and steadfastness of purpose which gained him friends wherever he went. He was single hearted, generous and possessed of a mind singularly broad and expansive. Like great men he was simple in his tastes. His home life was beautiful and pastoral. He took interest in and understood the fruits and flowers of the field. He considered the lilies of the field and knew how they grew. His heart was near to nature and many of his happiest days were spent on his beautiful fruit farm south of town, surrounded by his large family of children and solaced by his wife, his faithful companion and ready helpmate for years. His path in life was without reverces and he tasted of the bitterness of misfortune but on the other hand he enjoyed the sweets, and in living and working for other he lived for himself and in so doing found his need of joy and recompense.

Mr. Wernli was twice married. In 1853 he espoused Annie M. Steiner who died at Milwaukee, December 16, 1866. Four children survive this union, William, of Grand Encampment, Gottlieb L., cashier of the First National bank, Chas. A. manager of the Plymouth Roller Mill company and Mrs. C. E. Haas. In 1867 he was united in marriage with Miss Christina Kehres at Platteville, Wis., who with nine children survives him. They are George, Hermann, Louis, Annie, Frank, Ot, Clara, Minnie and Elsie. Herman and Louis reside in Minneapolis.

All the members of the family were present at the funeral except William, who unfortunately arrived in Omaha three hours too late to make connections to enable him to arrive at Le Mars in time for the funeral. He arrived on the midnight train.


The obsequies of the Jacob Wernli were held yesterday afternoon at the German Methodist church which was crowded to its utmost capacity, people coming from all over the county to pay honor and respect to the memory of the deceased.

The serviced were conducted by Rev. H. Kaste, pastor of the church and Rev. T. McDonald of the Methodist church and were simple but impressive.

The chancel was heaped high with floral offerings and the coffin covered with beautiful wreathes, the last tributes of loving hands. The choir rendered several selections, favorite hymns of the deceased. Rev. W. T. McDonald read the scripture lesson, taking for his theme the beautiful words from the second epistle of Paul to the Timothy, “I have fought a good fight, have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

Rev. H. Kaste preached the funeral sermon in the German language and gave a brief sketch of the life of the deceased and eulogized his good work and deeds. Rev. McDonald spoke in English and in his remarks dwelt largely on the religious side of the deceased’s character, of his abiding faith in a higher life, and of his great intellectual and moral attainments. At the conclusion of the services at the church, the remains were conveyed to the city cemetery followed by a very large concourse of mourners and consigned to their last resting place with a few brief words of hope and prayer. Six of the stalwart young sons acted as pall bearers.

Among the out of town friends at the funeral were Edward Kerby, Rev. Schuldt, H. Velsch, of Sioux City, and Mrs. Arnold Steiner of Sibley.

The First National bank of which the deceased was formerly a director, the office at the court house and a number of business places were closed during the afternoon out of respect to the memory of the man, who has been an honored and revered citizen of this community for nearly thirty years.

From: Le Mars Globe, July 27, 1901


Plymouth Obituaries maintained by Linda Ziemann.
WebBBS 4.33 Genealogy Modification Package by WebJourneymen

[ Return to Index ] [ Read Prev Msg ] [ Read Next Msg ]