History of the Bukovina Society

From: the BSA Newsletter
vol.8, No.4 – December 1998

Oren Windholz

During 1988, several people were writing to one another about their common interest in Bukovina heritage. Irmgard Ellingson wrote a book on the Lutheran Swabians from Bukovina who homesteaded north of Ellis, Kansas, founding St. John’s Lutheran Church. Her work grew from the period when her she and her husband Wayne ministered there. This put her in touch with Paul Polansky, an Iowa native living in Spain. Paul had dedicated considerable private resources to the collection of Bukovina history and assembling a data base of ethnic German immigrants to Bukovina from which he had ancestors. Paul noticed the family history of Oren Windholz, on file at the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, contained Bukovina names from his maternal Erbert family. Paul related that Irmgard had invited him to visit Ellis where two major colonies of Bukovina Germans had located beginning in 1886, the 35 Swabian Lutheran and as many Bohemian German Catholic families. At that time only a few people had pursued the history of the migration from Bukovina to the New World also among them Dr. Sophie Welisch of Congers, New York.

Polansky had traveled to the former Bukovina, a risky adventure during the Communist era, but he brought out many color slides and information not otherwise available. Just a small notice in local newspapers resulted in a packed house greeting him at St Mary’s School auditorium in September of 1988. Everyone in the room was spellbound to learn so much about the country of their ancestors, most having some family oral history but little more. He further thrilled many by calling, up family trees on his laptop computer. The demand was so great for his expertise, he agreed to return the next morning to accommodate the crowd. Paul and his wife, Irmgard and Oren and Pat Windholz met later for coffee to talk about the future. They hatched plans to form a steering committee to conduct a heritage festival celebrating the immigration to Ellis. Irmgard received an invitation to the 40th annual meeting of a Bukovina German society in Augsburg and suggested a delegation attend. These very people did that in May of 1989 after visiting the Polansky Estate in Spain. In Augsburg, the delegation was among some one thousand Bukovina Germans attending, many in awe of seeing cousins after 100 years of separation. Virtually all of the German society members were descendants of the people who remained in Bukovina and were returned to the German Reich during the Umsiedlung of the Second World War. They overwhelmed the delegation with inquiries of their American relatives. Not comprehending the vast expanse of North America they asked, “Do you know of my cousins in Canada?”

Irmgard met with Windholz on the morning of December 10th in 1988 during which they made plans to form the Bukovina Society. Their organizing committee included Bernie Zerfas, Darrell Seibel, Joe Erbert, and Ernie Honas. A public meeting was held the next day resulting in an association named the Bukovina Society of the Americas. Although the roots were in the ethnic German heritage of Western Kansas, the association was established broadly to include others of Bukovina interest in North and South American locations. A board of directors was elected from the assembly comprising the organizing committee members, Dr. Sophie Welisch, Paul Polansky and Bob Schonthaler with vacancies to be filled later. The first officers were Oren Windholz, President, Darrell Seibel, Vice President, Joe Erbert, Secretary, and Bernie Zerfas, Treasurer.

In March of 1989 the new association adopted By-laws and finalized plans for the July 19-22 festival, intending it a one time heritage celebration. This program featured Irma Bornemann representing the Bukovina Societies in Germany, Paul Polansky, Dr. Sophie Welisch, Roy Kerth and Lawrence Weigel who gave presentations at the Ellis High School. The week ended with a grand German dinner and dance at St. Mary’s Gymnasium which featured the 25th Anniversary Hochzeit of Reinhold and Margaret Boschowitzki. After the meeting, the board was expanded to include Irma Bornemann, Raymond Haneke; and Wilfred Uhren from Oklahoma. The tremendous success of the heritage festival and the many requests for another led the new board to schedule another celebration for July of 1990, and the society has met each year since. To reflect the broad representation of the society, an international board was created to expand society influence and to assist the local corporate board delegated with the duties of business operations. A delegation of board members and spouses traveled to Regina, Canada at the invitation of the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society to speak about Bukovina heritage. A long list of prominent speakers have assisted the society each year at their own expense to provide quality programs.

Little could the organizers have dreamed on that cold weekend in December of 1988 the Bukovina Society would grow to over 100 life members and 150 annual members in a non profit corporation. Or have our own headquarters and museum thanks to the trustees caring for the former First Congregational Church and the City of Ellis. Or the steady stream of researchers, dignitaries, and Bukovinian descendants who have visited Ellis the past 10 years from Germany, Canada, Brazil, and all directions around America. Or the honor by the University of Kansas and the University of Munich for recording our history and the other authors and researchers who have published a flow of books and articles. Or the many society members who have returned to Bukovina to visit the homeland and shared it with others. Or the over 100 people from around the world who are in constant and common communication through e-mail promoting Bukovina heritage thanks to Bev Muntain and associates in Canada. Or the home page on the Internet which brings many new people into our ranks thanks to Larry Jensen. Or the ever expanding data base of nearly 10,000 names in the society computer thanks to Werner Zoglauer. Thanks to the many people not named in this historical account who have contributed so much to the Bukovina Society and to Pat Windholz who traveled this great chapter in my life with me.