The Romanians Are Coming!

– by Paul Miller –

My parents, Clarence and Lourine Miller, took advantage of a program through the Lutheran Church to sponsor a refugee family from Europe to bring them to the United States.  Both of my parents were of German heritage.  My Father was born in 1904 and grew up speaking German in the home before he learned to speak English.  My Fathers’ parents were born in America but since his grandparents also lived in the house they conversed in German. Clarence’s grandparents arrived in Kansas from Prussia in 1868 and settled in Wabaunsee County with seven children which included Clarence’s father Paul. Four of the children were born in Prussia. My mother, Lourine, was 9 years younger than my father; her parents also were born in America but grew up speaking German.  Mother spoke some German but could understand quite a lot when others conversed in German.

Katherine and Johann Priedt

Katharina and Johann Priedt. Photo courtesy of the Miller family archive.

Johann and Katharina Preidt, along with their 20-year-old daughter Kathy, were to arrive in the Spring of 1956.   Shortly before they were due to arrive, my grandfather, Gus Stuewe passed away from a heart attack.  He was my Mother’s father.  With this unexpected tragedy added to the arrival of the Preidt’s, I’m sure my parents had all they could handle.

I was, of course, too young to participate in the preparations to accommodate the Preidt’s.  A small house on our farm was readied for their arrival.  The excitement of having someone from a foreign country arrive to work and live near us was what I most remember.

We always were told the Preidt’s were considered refugees.  I am not sure what their history entailed leading up to when they arrived in America.  I do know that they were Romanian citizens and that Mr. Preidt was conscripted into the German army during World War II when Germany conquered Romania.  He was a cook in the German army.  They departed from Austria when they came to America.

The Preidt’s were of German heritage as many in Romania were.  Many Germans had immigrated to Romania between World War I and II.  I believe German was their spoken language, although I know they spoke Romanian and a couple different dialects of German.  When Mr. Preidt would lose his temper, which was seldom, we would laugh and say he must be cussing in 4 or 5 languages since there was a long stream of foreign words many of which did not sound like German.

The day finally came when the Preidt’s were due to come to Alma.  Alma still had passenger train service at this time and they were arriving at the little depot in Alma.  I can remember the anticipation as our family waited in the car for the train to arrive.  We had little idea as to what to expect.  I’m sure the Priedt’s felt even more trepidation as their train pulled into the station.  What sort of people would they be forced to associate with here in America?

Mr. and Mrs. Priedt and their daughter Kathy disembarked from the train.  It seems they had very few belongings.  I remember just a handful of beat-up suitcases.  All their worldly possessions would fit into the back of our car.  Of course, since my Father could speak fluent German the ice was quickly broken and introductions and questions were flowing freely.  I know that neither Mr. Preidt nor Mrs. Preidt could speak much English.  I can’t remember if their daughter was able to speak English.

Bell tower of Lutheran Church in Drausen, Romania

Bell tower of Lutheran Church in Drausen, Romania. Photo credit Nancy Crenshaw-Miller.

We took them to their new home 10 miles south of Alma on our farm.  My parents had installed a wood cook stove in the kitchen and a wood pot-bellied heating stove in the living room.  Mrs. Priedt was elated with the accommodations.  She had a refrigerator and electric lights and most exciting, a black and white TV.

As I was so young, I don’t remember how quickly the Priedt’s settled into the routine.  I know that my Dad and Mr. Preidt seemed to work together as a cohesive team.  Our farm was a very diversified operation.  We had a cow herd, a farrow to finish hog operation, grain production, and put-up hay and silage for the animals.

Mr. Preidt evidently had not learned to drive in Europe.  I can remember my Father teaching him to drive our 2-ton truck in a large field across from our house.  He had plenty of room to maneuver without hitting anything.  Mr. Preidt was soon driving our tractors and trucks doing the work around the farm.

Mrs. Preidt remained at the home as a homemaker.  She would pitch in when we were doing work with the livestock such as sorting hogs for market.  She learned to speak English very quickly by watching soap operas on TV.  She was a very happy woman and could best be described as jolly.  She also joined the women’s clubs at church and in the community.   Both of them became like a second set of parents to me.  They were not afraid to discipline me when it was warranted but mainly, they showed much affection and interest in all of us kids.  Due to the fact that my Father and Mr. Preidt always spoke German when they worked together, he never became fluent in English.  He had a distinct accent with German words intermingled with English words that I could understand completely, but other people struggled to comprehend.

As you may have noticed I have continuously referred to them as Mr. and Mrs. Preidt.  Even when I think about them today, 50 years later I still think of them as Mr. and Mrs. Preidt.  That is a testament to the respect I had for them.

Their daughter Kathy soon left home and moved to Topeka and found work there.  She married and had a large family.  One of her daughters was also named Kathy so we referred to them as big Kathy, middle Kathy, and little Kathy.

Mrs. Preidt purchased a large loom.  She primarily made rag rugs and sold them in the community.  We still are using some of her rugs that were made in the 70s.  I can remember watching her at work at the loom.  It was a huge contraption that she manipulated using both feet and hands.  I could never quite figure out how it worked but it was fascinating to watch her weave.  Usually, the TV was on in the background tuned to her favorite soap opera, As the World Turns.  Any type of fabric was saved for her to use with the rugs.  Even old blue jeans and overalls were repurposed into her product.

They also raised rabbits and Mr. Preidt had a couple of sows that he raised litters of pigs from to sell along with our own pigs.

One of my fondest memories was celebrating Christmas with them.  For the first few years, the Preidt’s did not have a car of their own.  We had a station wagon that our family of six plus Mr. and Mrs. Preidt would load up in to go to church.  On Christmas Eve, on the way home from church, we would first stop at the Preidt’s house.  Mr. Preidt would stoke up the stove and Mrs. Preidt would pass around the much-anticipated Christmas pastries.  My Mother was a great cook and baker.  She would make at least six kinds of Christmas cookies and of course pepper nuts, but the pastries that Mrs. Preidt made were a treat all to themselves.  My favorite was the flaky cream-filled turnovers.  She also made jelly-filled pastries and other cookies unlike what we were accustomed to.  Then a toast was made with some of their homemade strawberry wine or a shot glass of schnapps.  Even though we had presents waiting for us under a tree just a quarter mile away we did not want to miss the stop at the Preidt house.

Eventually, the Preidts purchased or perhaps were gifted a car from a gentleman in Alma.  It was a 1955 Chevy which I always thought was a cool car.  Mr. Preidt was really proud of that car and kept it in mint condition. This gave them much more freedom to shop and visit their daughter and grandchildren in Topeka.

Mr. Preidt had some very distinct ideas about health and the avoidance of getting sick.  He was very careful about not getting too hot in the winter when working.  He would not bundle up like the rest of us in cold weather so that he would not overheat and sweat.  He seldom wore gloves until the temperature would get down to single digits.  In contrast, in the summer he often wore a sweater vest until it was much too hot to stand.  He did suffer from asthma and took medication for that malady.

The Preidts lived and worked on our farm for 13 years from when they arrived.  Mr. Preidt’s issues with asthma finally resulted in their having to leave the farm.  It was a major loss to our family and also to the community to have them depart.  They moved to Topeka to be near their daughter and Mrs. Preidt helped raise her grandchildren.  She also continued to make rag rugs which she would then sell.  Mr. Preidt found work at a discount store called Wild Willies.  He worked there for several years and I’m sure was a valued employee until he finally retired.  We never lost contact with them.  They would come out to visit several times a year or we would stop in to visit them when we were in Topeka.  Of course, if we needed a rug or someone else requested one, we would pick one up.

Hay elevator at work at the Priedts

Hay elevator at work at the Priedts. Photo courtesy of the Miller family archive.

Mr. Preidt lived to be 72 and Mrs. Preidt lived 10 years longer than her husband. She was the same age as my mother.  They were both active in the Lutheran Church in Topeka and the two of them are buried in Topeka.  I was honored to be a pallbearer at both of their funerals.

My sister Joy is a world traveler as are all my siblings.  She went to Romania a number of years ago and knew the name of the Preidt’s home village.  She was with an organized tour group but asked her guide if there might be an opportunity to locate this village and visit.  He was happy to set this up and they found the small village of Drausen.  The village was located in a bucolic setting of green hills in the northern part of Romania, much like the area of the Flint Hills where the Preidt’s ended up living their life.  They were directed to the one remaining German couple in the village.  This couple had some old church records listing some of the various German families who once resided there.  The Preidt family name was in those records.  The ancient Lutheran church was still standing.

A few years later my wife Nancy and I also visited Romania.  We had a private guide the entire time who gave us a tour through the country.  While corresponding with him prior to the trip, I also mentioned that we would like to include a visit to Drausen.  He accommodated us since the village was near the circuit in which he planned to take us.

The visit for me was very emotional as it was for my sister Joy, as well.  To walk the streets of the village where the people who were so very special in our lives came from meant so much.  The church where they attended was in the process of being renovated.  While we were looking around the village a neighbor saw us and came out to ask what we were doing.  He happened to be the caretaker of the church and had a key for us to enter.  We toured the interior and asked questions about its history.