Do you realize that unique to this country and especially this county are the heritages of other lands being lived over and over. Where the establishment and tradition, or call it institution, if you will, is being questioned along with religion, we have only to look about us to realize that without tradition, this country could not have survived thus far.
For instance, in the extreme northwest corner of Carroll County, but a short distance from the Crawford County line, we find a church building which has been a landmark for many years. It is the church of the German Presbyterian congregation of Wheatland township. The original settlers carried the same names one may find today on the mailboxes along the road. Van Glan and Huendling . . .
The Wheatland area was settled by the Ostfriesen, a class of Germans coming from Ostfriesland, a small part of the German empire, stretched along the coast of the North Sea. The church building in itself, which was built at a modest cost of $1,400, is outstanding in no way. While it is an attractive place of worship, with stained glass windows and its mail order organ, it is the life within rather than the structure which puts one in awe of its survival through the years.
Just within the door is the original communion service. On a rear wall, “Rev. L. Huendling, Pastor 1876-1915.”, a man of great moral strength who must be credited with the church’s early survival and continuance. In the years 1874 and 1875 several German Protestant families had come to this part of Iowa and settled in the Wheatland area, and adjoining parts of Sac and Crawford Counties. The land had been given by the government to a railroad company for a railroad through the district to Council Bluffs. This concern offered for sale to settlers land at $8 per acre, $2, if cash. The cash payment was all the money the settler possessed, but a few of them had a few hundred dollars to construct small dwellings. Very often the pioneer wives accompanied their husbands, but some stayed behind, until the men were established on the land.
Interesting enough a shanty was added to the rear as a summer kitchen as money allowed, which explains the architecture of many farm homes in Iowa. The prairie had to be broken, grain had to be purchased for seed, food expenses to be met for beast and man. Tools had to be bought with which to work the land. Generally the settlers found it hard work to provide for themselves and their families.
The construction of a church seemed almost too much to plan for, yet “What would it profit a man if he would gain the whole world and lose his soul?” “A man does not live by bread alone”. Children must be trained not only for working on a farm, but they must learn the needs of the immortal souls.
The original founders were Herman Garrels, Charles Garrels, Roelf Freeze, Gwoka Ocken, Gottleib Van Glan, Janna Christians, Wobbins Garrels, Ella Garrels, Taalke Freeze, Johann Ocken, Mary Van Glan, Jurgen Christians, and note if you will the fine old country names. And too note that most churches are made up of persons with common religious practices, while the Wheatland Presbyterian Church was an extension of common German background and customs.
There is a unity and purpose of fellowship that goes beyond the actual religious program. And who were the people other than just names on a corner stone perhaps. Roelf Freeze, originally from Neermoor, was the first settler to arrive in the area, at a time even before the town of Breda existed. The Garrels family from Leer had been merchants in the lumber import business back in Germany. There are still Garrels in that business today in Germany. Another family from Neermoor, the Schonebooms, were a sturdy lot of sailors who were always moving to places where they could find unfenced land. Many of them left Wheatland when other settlers arrived and put up fences. The Von Glans were a prominent family from Leer, who had farmed in that area.
These families and the others who settled the Wheatland area carried on much of their business in Breda (founded about 1877, and sent their children to country schools, located approximately every two miles, or to the public school in Breda. After a parochial school was established in Breda, however, much of the business of the area transferred to Wall Lake.
The Rev. Huendling was a man of many talents and he was always eager to preach the good word as far and wide as his carriage would carry him. He, through his service and efforts, aided the establishment of the Emmanuel Church of Carnarvon in 1883. He welcomed every modern invention and incouraged anything that provided better living on the bleak Iowa prairie. He helped establish Mail Route 1 out of Breda, and the second in the entire state. He advocated the installation of the telephone and worked to help the community receive a high power electric line. One cannot discuss the Wheatland Presbyterian Church without a few words on the Rev. Huendling for they were synonymous for 39 years.
Why were the people of Ostfriesland different? One gentleman originally from Stractholt, who had an unusually sharp memory, declared, “Wherever the Friesland people have settled in the world they have been known as independent thinking and stubborn people.” The Middle Frisians, jealous of their independence, repeatedly expelled the counts of Holland who sought to conquer them. Their country remained in “Immediate dependence on the Holy Roman Empire through the Middle Ages. Feudalism was never accepted there. When William Penn was forced out of England he went to Ostfriesland and studied their constitution. These ideas were incorporated into the laws of Pennsylvania at a later date.
The settlers had left in Germany, limited opportunities, crowded conditions, and to come to America was the dream of many. Without a doubt, as old history books state, Carroll County is unlike any other in the state of Iowa. There is little waste land. The countryside is not troubled with destructive waters. But its peoples have made it great. A drive through the Wheatland area, and one sees immaculate, well-cared for farms, reminiscent of the old country. In church, the old German customs were carried across the waters. For instance, the women always sat on the east side and the men in the west. This custom continued until around 1940, and today some older people still retain this habit. A common cup was used for communion, one for women and one for men. Another interesting practice, either originating from Germany or from sheer boredom, involved a silver box containing perfume on a sponge which the women would pass down the row for all to sniff. Services were traditionally very long with a conservative message generally based on the Bible and avoiding any social issues of the day. There was little involvement in missionary work, which is contrary to most Presbyterian practice. The Sabbath was a special day of contemplation with a minimum of work. The old German custom of respect for the elders influenced the lives of the people greatly.
The Wheatland Presbyterian Church today had a remarkable young minister in Rev. Roger Williams. A visitor is greeted by a colorful sign above the bell. “Joy”. And within that is exactly what one finds. We all have images, either from childhood, or perhaps movies of the minister’s wife. Merry Williams, a native Californian, is a happy young Christian. Rev. Williams, is a native of Indiana, and when we asked how they like living on the Iowa prairie it was a foolish question. Between the two, their baby, Shawn, and their foreign exchange student, Miriam Emerick, from Chile, whose father is a Presbyterian minister as well, there is laughter, fellowship and true Christian spirit.
Across the road lie the founders and some of their descendants. Within the classrooms are bright posters, “Oh, Be Swift to Love, Make Haste to be Kind.”
We spoke of the new youth movement toward Christ, and asked what in his opinion had brought this about. “The realization that the answer lies not in drugs.” How long had it been since we had met someone as young as these two so fired with the spirit of the Lord? “Religion is not old to you, but new, isn’t it?” And the young minister said, “Yes,” but to our suggestion that he belonged on a college campus, he replied, “No, I am too conservative, and besides here I can reach them before they get to a college campus. I hope they will know what it is.”
Then we learned that the young people of Wheatland can’t wait for Sunday. And why not! On leaving we drove past the old church, and took a turn through the cemetery. There were years in which the changes came and the old German was dropped in favor of English. Each ministry has brought its own change. The descendants of the founders who live on the same land, have had the foresight to bring young blood to the Wheatland Presbyterians. They know that their children and their children’s children may not remain in Wheatland and they are still, as their forbearers, attempting to take care of the needs of the immortal soul.
We will be going back to Wheatland to bring you a story from Miriam Emerick, from Chile, and just to attend a Sunday service. Who says a feller can’t go to church twice on Sunday?