Feb 29, 2012

Angwin Sign
About Angwin...
Angwin is a community of about 3000 residents on Howell Mountain. We are in a coastal range of northern California, about 70 mi. north of San Francisco.
The Village ranges from 1600 to 2200 ft. elevation, overlooking the scenic Napa Valley. It is surrounded by vineyards and forests.
Many Angwin residents work for Pacific Union College, a liberal arts college with a national reputation, or the nearby St. Helena Hospital.

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Recent Articles heading
Recent Stories...Click to view

Broken Songbirds

I remember seeing in sadness one day the broken body of a songbird lying on our patio. It reminded me that for several years we had listened for the short, sweet song of a sparrow who reported the coming of nightfall. Every dusk. Then, for some unknowable reason, it left us with our memories.
In a few days when time has softened the sharp edge of sadness over the passing of another broken songbird, I will start our cassette of "The Bodyguard" and fast forward to hear Whitney Houston sweetly sing once more, "I will always love you."
- Duane Cronk


Advertisements in the Angwin Reporter
We have produced this website for years as a personal community service absorbing all of the costs. But the time has come to receive the financial support from two advertisements, the first of which appears at the left.
This is a "Thank You" to Dr. Robert Williams of Angwin Dental and to Geoffrey Calkins, owner of Advanced Instruments, the hearing aid office in Napa which has served Angwin people for years. Do I urge you to patronize these two? Yes, indeed, because both serve Angwin people with very professional competence.
- Duane Cronk, publisher

From Russia's Ukraine to South Dakota to California
Angwin genealogist adopts "Once-upon-a-time" Mennonite community
Sixteen years ago, Mike Dirksen, long-time Angwin resident, began exploring his family's early American origins. Mike is a retired schoolteacher and principal, computer whiz, airplane pilot. His father was a highly regarded school administrator. His grandfather was a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. His great grandfather, Abraham, was one of the Mennonites from the Ukraine who immigrated to America. Abraham was one of the founders in 1877 of a Mennonite community called Brotherfield (Bruderfeld) in South Dakota.
Mike became curious about the genealogy of the Dirksen family and his research became a serious hobby. He created a website: Dakota Dirksens (www.dakotadirksens.com) which has become a go-to source for anyone whose Mennonite ancestors settled in the Dakotas.
After following his own family ancestry, Mike turned his attention to the whole Brotherfield community. In the process, he learned much more about the people who tilled the virgin prairie, endured blizzards and swarms of crop-eating locust, celebrated weddings and kept their dead in frozen barns until the ground thawed sufficiently to bury them.
* * *
They were farmers looking for the cheap land America promised. Crowded into the hold of the S. S. Vaderland with its total of 800 immigrants, they arrived in Philadelphia on July 28, 1876. The next morning found them boarding an "Immigrant Train" to South Dakota. They rode to where the rails ended, in the Dakota Indian Territory. (This was only a few days after the Lakotas had wiped out Custer's army in the Black Hills).
Over the next few years, 33 immigrant families carved out farms in Brotherfield. Their Dutch Mennonite names included Dirksen, Buller, Reiswig, Ewert, Falk, Guenther, Heinrichs, Isaac, Loewen, Neufeld, Peters, Richert, Schmidt, Schafer, Toews, Unruh, Voth, Wall and Wedel.
Some of these names appear in the Angwin Telephone Book.
Bound by commonalities modern society has almost forgotten, their Mennonite community was shattered when, in l885, a Seventh-day Adventist German-speaking evangelist, Louis R. Conradi, came to preach his faith in the "Present Truth". Fully half were converted to Adventism. Both faiths shared deep common roots, but the fracturing of the tightly bound community was a traumatic event.
* * *
Mike's ancestors cast their lot with the Adventists. His grandfather would become a dedicated minister, building or rebuilding 25 churches all over the Midwest. He spoke Plauttdietsch (Low German) language while reaching out to the thousands of Germans flooding Middle America.
The Brotherfield Adventist component migrated northward and founded New Home, ND. Over time, some of their descendents drifted westward to Shafter, California, creating the German SDA church there. Dirksen has discovered the first church membership book, 1915, with names of all the founders. To a genealogist, finding this tattered book is like tapping into the mother lode. It is priceless.
The list includes the names of several Angwin families, who share the same journey as the Dirksens - from the Netherlands, to Russia, to Dakota Territory, to California. Stop one of these old-timers in the College Market and ask him to say something in German. And yes, he will.
* * *
Because of the division of Brotherfield into both Mennonite and Adventist components, Mike turned to history sources in both churches. Steadily he has built a collection of sources, documents and immigrant pioneer photographs, pertinent to the genealogy of many Russian Mennonite immigrants and early German-speaking Adventists in North and South Dakota.
Mike's Dakota Dirksens website draws almost 1,000 visitors a month. His knowledge of this unique once-upon-a time community has helped amateur genealogists around the world to weave the tapestry of their ancestral story.
A few days ago, Mike reports, he found a satellite image of his great grandfather's farm in the Mennonite community in Russia. These breakthrough discoveries are what keep him in a state of high excitement.
Although the Brotherfield community has disappeared from South Dakota, the immigrant families who settled there in the dim past are a present reality for Mike. Their courage and endurance have given him a new and deeper appreciation of those who survived hard times and whose descendants have carried the family name to many American places.
Even to Angwin, up here on Howell Mountain.

Mike travelled to North Dakota to find the old church which his grandfather pastored years ago. The structure had deteriorated sadly so Mike brought home one of the hymnal racks. In the picture below he stands in front of family photographs mounted on his wall.
Mike Dirksen holding old church book holder

Plat map of the Brotherfield community, founded in South Dakota by Mennonite families from the Ukraine area of Russia. Mike is developing the family tree of each one of these 33 families.
Plat map of the Brotherfield community

Mike came across a treasure chest of Brotherfield and other Ukrainian immigrants links when he discovered the official membership register of the Shafter, CA., church (the Shafter SDA Church) when it was founded in 1915.
official membership register of the Shafter, CA SDA Church
prairie swing
The great prairies that covered the Dakotas and into Canada looked like this - flat to the horizon with very few trees on which to hang a swing. But an enterprising father could build one and his fearless daughters could fly away, while all the neighbor girls waited their turn.
Mike's great grandfather & son
Mike's great grandfather with one of his sons. Mike hopes someday for one of his grandfather all dressed up like this.
six Angwin families (Dirksen, Toews, Slack, Hie, Nelson and Avina)
A 1908 photo links six Angwin families to their 300-year family tree.

One of the happiest milestones in Mike's journey into his family past was finding a photograph taken in 1908. He has established that the couple on the right are Jacob and Sarah Dirksen, his great grandparents.

Mike has also identified the bearded man in the middle as David J. Toews, who is the great grandfather of Angwin residents, Clifford Toews and Mayme Wall Slack. Mayme, now 96, lives in Angwin near her daughter Tina Nelson, long time Angwin resident. Tina's sister is Anna Hie who was for many years the school nurse at the Howell Mountain Elementary School. David J. Toews is also the great-great-grandfather of Mrs. Victor Avina, also of Angwin. The young woman in a plaid blouse in the front row is Anna Toews, who married Mayme's first cousin Peter T. Wall of Shafter, CA, where the family of Abraham Toews (with the hat) lived for many years.

So six Angwin families (Dirksen, Toews, Slack, Hie, Nelson and Avina) see ancestors in this picture taken 104 years ago. It nails down a line leading back to early immigrant forefathers in South Dakota, who had come from Mennonite communities in the Ukraine, and before that, from the villages of the Netherlands. An exciting genealogy discovery for Angwin.

Angwin school goes green
The Howell Mountain Elementary School is the first and only school in Napa County so far to be officially recognized as "Green." It has won applause for recycling, composting, using safe and GREEN products for cleaning, reducing waste throughout the school and implementing other School Board policies for promoting "greenness."
Wow! Angwin is proud of you!

Tom Stubbs, principal, holds a commendation from the Napa County Board of Supervisors, flanked by (left to right): Barbara Nemko, superintendent of the Napa County Unified School District, Susan Bell, the faculty member who initiated the green program. and Diane Dillon, county supervisor, District Three. Susan is wearing a green shawl created by First and Second Grade Teacher Rosayne and her students.
Tom Stubbs, principal, with Barbara Nemko, Susan Bell, and Diane Dillon