Coming to America
Bukovina Society Promotes Recognition of a German Group Which Settled in Western Kansas
Bill J. Ohlemeier
Director of association services for Kansas Electric Cooperatives (KEC), Inc., Topeka.
Posted with permission of the Kansas Country Living
December 1, 2002
For residents and visitors to Western Kansas, a visit to Ellis should include a stop at the Boyhood Home of Walter Chrysler. But, in addition to the Chrysler Home, Ellis has added other attractions. They are the annual Bukovina Fest and Bukovina Museum.
What is a Bukovina Fest? It is the celebration and reunion of descendants of pioneer farmers who migrated from Bukovina, (also spelled Romanian “Bucovina” or German “Bukowina”) around the turn of the century. The Ellis County area is the largest concentration of these settlers in the United States, with farms extending into Trego, Rooks, and several other Western Kansas counties.
JULY 17-19, 1992, are the dates for the Fourth Annual Bukovina Fest. And, based upon the previous three felts, the one this summer should be bigger and better than ever, according to Oren Windholz, the founding president of The Bukovina Society of the Americas. Windholz lives in nearby Hays.
”The Bukovina Society of the Americas was founded to recognize the heritage of pioneer farmers who migrated from Bukovina to America,” Windholz said.
Windholz recalls the rich Bukovina heritage which was passed on to him by his mother, whose father came from Poiana Micului, in Bukovina, Austria. “For years I knew and learned of the Austrian people through the stories they told,” Windholz said, adding, “I grew to appreciate the pride they had in passing on the German language.” Windholz was instrumental in organizing the first Bukovina Fest in America in Ellis in July 1989.
Don’t start searching the atlas for the location of Bukovina, unless you have an old atlas. Bukovina, which translates into “land of beech trees,” was a. sparsely populated crown land in the most eastern regions of the Austrian Empire. About the size of Connecticut, it was located northwest of the Black Sea. In 1945, Bukovina ceased to exist when it was divided between the Ukrainian region of the Soviet Union and Romania.
However, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, Bukovina was sparsely populated and underdeveloped. So, the Hapsburg ruling family recruited German speaking people to settle its virgin forests in Bukovina. Lutherans from the Rhine-Palatinate and Wuerttemberg in Germany and Catholics from the Bohemian Forest of Austria (now in present day Czechoslovakia) migrated to Bukovina and set up glassworks, wood products industries, and farming.
AFTER NEARLY 100 years of inward migration and occupation by Germans, Romanians, Slovaks, and Hungarians, the Bukovina forest:, fewer and farmland became scarce.
Meanwhile, many in Bukovina, particularly the younger men and women had been hearing about America and its opportunities. Soon, they joined other eastern Europeans for the migration to America.
Although some of the Bukovina Germans vent to South America and Canada, there was a large group that chose Ellis for their homestead opportunities in the late 1800’s. Stepping off the train in Western Kansas in the middle of a vast prairie was a stark contrast to their homeland, but the hardy pioneers carved out successful lives to which their descendents can attest.
It is to recapture the zeal of those immigrants and to learn more about their ancestors’ homes and home life in Bukovina that the Bukovina Society was formed and the annual Fest begun.
The previous Bukovina Fests attracted nearly 200 members of the Bukovina Society. There also. were visitors from Canada, Mexico and Germany. The fest features music, stories, food, and fun. Much time is devoted to genealogy. Today, there are approximately 250 paid members of the American Society and about 400 more who participate in the meetings and support the Society and its programs. A similar society has existed in Germany for nearly 45 years. Members of the American Society correspond with the members of the German Society. Many American members have attended the fests in Germany and, likewise, members from the German Society have come to Ellis for the July reunion and meeting.
The Bukovina Society members enjoy presenting lectures about Bukovina and the migration to America by the Bukovinians. Frequent programs have been presented to civic organizations, schools, and church groups. The Society has a quarterly newsletter.
LAST SUMMER, the Society opened a headquarters and museum in an historic church building in Ellis. Run by volunteers, the headquarters and museum is open to the general public during the summer. The headquarters and museum are housed in what was once the First Congregational Church. Founded in Ellis in 1873, the church is believed to be the first organized congregation in the town. The church was closed in 1971. Shortly thereafter, the Ellis Arts and Historical Society was formed to preserve the historic building; and oversee its operation.
In addition to serving as the headquarters and museum for The Bukovina Society of the Americas, the old church is used by the community for meetings, meals and receptions. The chapel is the site of an occasional wedding.
Future plans of the organization include presenting a slide program to all the schools in Western Kansas about Bukovina, and erecting a memorial in Ellis City Park.
Individuals interested in learning more about The Bukovina Society of the Americas, ordering any of its printed material, or arranging a lecture program and/or tour in the museum, should contact the Bukovina Society, P.O. Box 81, Ellis, KS 67637.