By OREN WINDHOLZ
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
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
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.
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
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.