Bukovina Heritage Bridges the Miles
By OREN WINDHOLZ
Posted with permission of the Ellis Review, Ellis, KS 67637
July 3, 2002
After several years of letters and phone conversations to fellow Bukovina descendants in Canada, a long planned trip to their homeland was made by members of the Bukovina Society of the Americas.
Led by President Bob and Sue Schonthaler, the delegation consisted of Joe and Arlene Erbert, Oren and Pat Windholz, Darrell Seibel, and Ray Schoenthaler.
They responded to an invitation by Carl Buehler of Esterhazy, Saskatchewan, a member of the Society and speaker of the Second Annual Bukovina Festival.
Boarding an RV, provided to the society by Mr. and Mrs. Bob Schibi of Hays, the party drove after work on Thursday, Apr. 25 through the night arriving in Regina, Canada the next afternoon, picking up Irmgard Ellingson at the Amtrak station in Minot, ND.
Hitting the ground running they visited the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society library and met with professionals interested in Bukovina history.
On Saturday morning the Bukovina Society members met with officers of the Romanian Canadian Cultural Club, followed by a tour of the facility.
The crownland of Bukovina, formerly a part of the Austrian Empire, was taken over by Romania between the World Wars, and since then divided into the Soviet Union in the north, and Romania in the south.
The Cultural Club, though many members are from Bukovina, adopted the larger geographical boundaries of Romania for their organization.
The first Romanians to emigrate to Canada arrived in the 1890’s and were Germans from Bukovina, relatives and neighbors in the old country of the pioneers to the Ellis area of the same time period.
The land in the province of Saskatchewan was a stark, empty prairie like the Kansas land our ancestors broke out. The railroad and a quarter section of land for 10 dollars brought these tough pioneers to the region to avoid what the government feared would be an open area for the Yankees to move in to.
The Romanian Club was established in 1928 and has a program to preserve their heritage through a library, language classes, travel, ethnic dancing and sports. Their world renowned dancers make a major tour each year and have been requested for the local Bukovina Fest in 1992.
While visiting the club, the Kansas delegation saw a practice session of young children aspiring to join the dancers as teenagers. The club, named after the famous Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu mandates the officers can only be direct descendants of Romania, though all other family can belong.
Their contacts with cultural organizations in Romania will be helpful to the Bukovina Society delegation who received an update on their ancestral homeland by the officers.
There are a number of German communities in Romania still enjoying their heritage from special treatment granted them in recent years through the efforts of the West German government. They made financial and technological assistance to Eastern countries contingent on ethnic Germans being. able to use the German language and celebrate traditional customs.
The practice of religion was difficult, however, as the deposed Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu nominally allowed churches to remain open, but weddings and other services were required to be performed by state officials. This program encouraged many clandestine after hours religious ceremonies.
Saturday afternoon, the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society provided program time for a history, of the Bukovina Society given by several of. the Bukovina Society members.
The meeting was well attended and the registrants were keenly interested in future cooperation between the organizations.
The evening social activities were at the Austrian Canadian Club, The Romanian Club, and ended with entertainment by Joe Erbert on his accordion.
Sunday morning, the Bukovina Society members toured the area north of Regina, visiting. towns founded by Bukovina Germans, usually of 200 to 600 in population. Only one general store but several large grain elevators were in each village, and only one church, either Lutheran or Catholic.
A large indoor ice hockey rink, and indoor curling rink (an ice game) was in each town, signifying the major activity during the long, cold winter
Touring the countryside, it is remarkable how similar the terrain is to Western Kansas. The Rockies are far to the west robbing them of much rain, with the valleys having the only significant tree stands.
A drive through the river valley nearest the German villages is much like the Saline valley in northern Ellis County.
St. John’s Lutheran Church members, some of whom are Bukovina society members and distant cousins, hosted the travelers for a brunch after services. A discussion of common heritage, German songs and warm hospitality marked the end of our journey, but the start of future relations with Canadian Bukovinians.
On a chilly spring morning, as new found friends said goodbye on the wind swept hill outside the church, the final similarity with Ellis County was sounded out by a meadow lark.