COLE CAMP — Nearly 200 people gathered Saturday afternoon for the dedication Cole Camp’s German Immigrant Memorial that recognized the sacrifice of families who came to America to find a better life.
The event was hosted by the Cole Camp Low German Club. Emceeing the event was project chairman Neil Heimsoth, who conceived the idea of a monument several years ago while he and his wife Marilyn were in Michigan.
“We call it our immigrant memorial, but it is more than that,” Heimsoth told the crowd. “It is also a freedom memorial. For whatever reason they came to this country, and there were many, many reasons, freedom was associated with those reasons.”
Heimsoth said the immigrants came to America to find freedom from a deteriorating economy and freedom from discrimination and persecution.
“The pursuit of freedom comes with a price,” he added. “Leaving loved ones, old friends, elderly parents and the certainty of facing and dealing with all sorts of uncertainties.
“In recognition of all this, their sacrifices which they made not only for themselves, but for their children and their children’s children, and finally for us, we dedicate this memorial,” he noted. “We have what we have and are what we are simply because of them.”
Keynote speaker was Dr. Joachim “Yogi” Reppmann Ph.D., an authority on German immigration to America. Reppmann was born in Flensburg, Germany, and is a professor of German at St. Olaf and Carelton Colleges in Northfield, Minnesota. He has written 12 books on the subject German immigration to the U.S.
Reppmann read a poem titled “The Immigrant” to the crowd.
“I can not turn my gaze from you,” he read and translated. “I must behold you constantly, and watch as you with busy hands pass the boats-man on your own.”
He noted that the poem describes the emotions of traveling 4,000 miles, with only a few belongings.
“Giving up everything for a concept of hope for a better future for you and your family,” he said.
He noted that as a historian he was curious about the “driving force” behind the immigration of the area’s German population.
“Over 6 million German speaking, (and) probably around 1 million Low German speaking Europeans, had left Europe between 1830 to 1930, coming over to America,” he said. “A mass movement. There is no other ethnic group in the world which is larger and came to the shores of America. Gigantic.”
He noted that many left because of socioeconomic reasons. Many Germans who were laborers could not make enough to feed their families.
“Very few immigrants came as adventurers, out of religious or political reasons,” Reppmann said. “The vast majority, maybe 95 percent came out of socioeconomic reasons.
“There was this concept of hope, that going over to Missouri, to Cole Camp and to Benton County, where there was very cheap land they could hope to sustain a family,” he added.
Once the immigrants came to Cole Camp they began to write to those back home in Germany telling them how good it was in American. “Push and pull forces” caused even more German families to brave the journey.
Reppmann said for the early German immigrants is was a one-way journey — they knew they would never go back home.
“This monument is another ‘business’ card which brings Cole Camp on the map,” he noted. “Not only here in Benton County and the German-American community, it will be realized and will be recognized in Germany as well.”
After the dedication was over Reppmann told the Democrat that Marilyn and Neil Heimsoth were the mainspring behind the project.
“If you do not have somebody like Neil, he is happy-go-lucky, but he has the energy and the vision and the concept,” he said.
He noted that Marilyn Heimsoth is “strong” and is true to the cliché that says “behind a successful man is a smart brilliant woman.”
“It is very difficult to find people like Neil,” he added. “To see that someone over 80 still have that willpower, that inner voice, (saying) ‘this must happen before the older (people) die,’ is really moving.”
During the dedication event the Cole Camp Gemischter Chor sang, and the German American Society of Tulsa Blaskapelle (brass band), of Tulsa, Oklahoma, played both the German National Anthem and the United States National Anthem. Cole Camp Mayor Burton Bormann spoke as well as state Rep. Wanda Brown (R-Lincoln) and state Sen. Mike Parson (R-Bolivar).
The dedication coincided with the 25th annual Sängerfest that featured German singing ranging from folk songs to classics. Singing groups featured this year were choruses from Tulsa, Kansas City, St. Louis and Cole Camp.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.