Interview with Elizabeth Schwarz

Here follows an interview with Elizabeth Schwarz from Loveland, Colorado, widow of Hugo Schwarz and mother of Marilyn DeVries, at whose home in Michigan the interview took place.


MHH:  Mrs. Schwarz, where and when were you born?

ES:  I was born October 21, 1920, in York County Nebraska.

MHH:  Who were your parents?

ES:  My parents were Theodore and Lydia Ehly.

MHH:  What can you tell me about their background and your background?

ES:  My grandparents came from Russia.  They emigrated from Germany into Russia, and from there, they came to America.  And my father  and mother were born in the United States.

MHH:  What made your ancestors come from Russia to the United States?

ES:  Mostly because of the government.  I know my grandpa left before his parents to avoid the army in Russia.

MHH:  They settled in central or east-central Nebraska.  Was there a large population of German-Russians in that area?

ES:  Yes, there was.

MHH:  And what type of religion or what type of church was characteristic of these people?

ES:  They were Reformed.  Not Protestant Reformed, of course, but Reformed.  I always went to a Reformed church.

MHH:  Did they have their own clergy?

ES:  For a while.  Yes, my parents were married by Rev. Hofer.

MHH:  I’ve heard the name.

ES:  I was baptized by him.  Rev. Hofer was the only minister that that church ever had.

MHH:  Really?

ES:  Well, no, I’m wrong there.  I think they had one before.  Anyway, after Rev. Hofer died in 1929, that church remained unto this day in the German language.  No minister.

MHH:  Really?

ES:  Right.

MHH:  Does it still exist today?

ES:  It still exists today.  Every Sunday they hold services led by the elders.  Rev. Hofer used to write out his sermons.  And that’s what they read for a sermon.

MHH:  Really!

ES:  Really. They have Sunday School.  Last time I was there was 2–3 years ago, and they had about six children.  After they grow up, they get married and they move away or join other churches.  They don’t stay there.  They have very few young people—mostly older ones left.

MHH:  So you are knowledgeable in the German language?

ES:  Yah.  I can still read it and talk it some.

MHH:  You can understand the sermons that they…

ES:  Ach, I can understand better in English, you know.  I can’t say that I ever understood those sermons, and I went there until I was married.  Then we were excommunicated.  And when Rev. Hofer…it’s a long history.

MHH:  No, go ahead.  You were baptized in that church?

ES:  Yes.

MHH:  What happened next?  You made confession of faith?

ES:  I made confession of faith.  And then, after Rev. Hofer died they had 4–5 elders.  Two of them were brothers-in-law to my father-in-law.  Well, my father-in-law (Grandpa Schwarz), he was the only one that had an education., so Rev. Hofer appointed him to read the sermons.  Towards the last Rev. Hofer was blind.  He preached, but he couldn’t read any more.  So he appointed Dad to be his Sunday School teacher and whatever he needed.

So then they continued for years.  Finally trouble started.  They took Dad off of the Sunday School and the reading.  Finally they held him back from the Lord’s Supper.  I can’t tell you the exact problems that started.  I was too young to care, really.  But then anyway, they held him back from the Lord’s Supper.  So none of us children went either.  If Dad can’t go, we can’t go either, you know?

So that went on for awhile.  Finally, because we didn’t go to the Lord’s Supper, the consistory came around with letters to each of the men asking them to come to a meeting at the church such-and-such a time, you know?  So they attended that meeting.  And there they were warned, If you don’t repent, you’re gonna be out next Sunday.

MHH:  They didn’t give them much time!

ES:  No, no.  So that’s what happened.  We still kept going to church.  And finally they read the names off.  We were all excommunicated.

MHH:  And approximately how old were you when this happened?

ES:  I was eighteen and a half when I got married, and after we were married, we were excommunicated.

MHH:  You and your husband.  Was he a member of the same congregation?

ES:  Yes.

MHH:  But you’re not sure as to how the trouble started or what the issue was?

ES:  It was doctrinal, but, they just didn’t agree with what Grandpa Schwarz was teaching or was saying.  And they were the ones that were wrong, because he pointed out scripture after scripture.  They would just not submit.

MHH:  So, after you were married and then excommunicated, what happened next?

ES:  We met at Grandpa Schwarz’s house.  He had a big house, and we all met there on Sundays.  We had Sunday School and also read Rev. Hofer’s sermons.  I don’t remember that we ever held the Lord’s Supper.  But I know several children were baptized by the elders during that time.  I can’t say how many years, but we were married in ’39 and we moved to Colorado in ’43, and it was between that time.  After Dad died in January of ’43 we were so hated.  People couldn’t even talk to us or look at us. Finally, one day my mother-in-law said, “I’m so tired of this. I’d like to move to Loveland if somebody else would.”  My husband said, “We’re going.”  So we had our public auctions, both of us.  My brother-in-law had a big truck.  He loaded our furniture and we took off for Colorado.

MHH:  Were you farmers in Nebraska?

ES:  Yes.

MHH:  So you had some roots.

ES:  Oh, yes.  Hugo’s uncle bought this farm and we rented from him.  That was our livelihood.

MHH:  So it was no small thing for you to pick up and leave.

ES:  No, it wasn’t.

MHH:  What made you choose Loveland?

ES:  Because he had relatives out here—an uncle, and cousins.  His cousin Irene Schwarz married Gus Huber, and he was from Sutton, from that same church.  But he had left before all this trouble came in.  So they kept after us to move to Colorado.  So that’s where we ended up.

MHH:  Was a German Reformed congregation in the Loveland area?

ES:  Yes. We were in the Reformed Church.

MHH:  You were excommunicated in Sutton.  Was Loveland a member of the same denomination of churches?

ES:  No. In fact, the Sutton Church didn’t even belong to any classis or synod or anything.

MHH:  Was Loveland part of Eureka Classis?

ES:  Seems to me they were.  I think they were.

MHH:  From the standpoint of Reformed Church government, what was your status when you went to Loveland?  Did they recognize the discipline and the excommunication of Sutton?

ES:  No.  They didn’t even bother to ask.

MHH:  So, you were accepted as members in the congregation in Loveland in 1943?

ES:  1943, yes.

MHH:  When you got to Loveland, what did you do as far as making a living was concerned?

ES:  My husband worked for Crow Brothers Nursery and I worked in a dairy—bottled milk, made ice cream and things like that.

MHH:  And at that time, did you have children?

ES:  No.  We had one child that died in 1946.  And then Marilyn was born in 1948.  And then Phyllis in 1950.  We rented a farm.  We lived on a farm. We had a lot of cows’ milk. And that was our income—the dairy.

MHH:  What are your memories of that period in your life as far as the church was concerned?

ES:  It didn’t mean much.  I have to say that.  It really didn’t mean much.  We were taught to go to church,  but  we did things on Sunday that I wouldn’t think of doing now.

MHH:  For example?

ES:  Oh, we’d take a ride to Wyoming.  It wasn’t necessary.  I have to go back.

MHH:  Please do.

ES:  This Reformed Church in Loveland had a Lutheran minister from Greeley.  They hired him as a Reformed minister in Loveland.  So he came over and he preached, I think  every other Sunday?  He would come over and preach in German, but finally it turned into English too.

MHH:  I can see you’re struggling with the idea of having a Lutheran minister speak in the Reformed Church.

ES:  Right.  I think some of them asked him, “How can you be a Lutheran minister and preach Reformed?” He said, “Well, over there I preach Lutheran and over here I preach Reformed.”  (laughter)  Anyway, we went there several years, but we just weren’t satisfied with what we heard.  Gus huber was an elder in the church and so was my brother-in-law Albert.  They went to Rev. Schoenhaar [the Lutheran minister] and said, “We’d like to have our own minister.”  He said, “Well, OK, that’s fine.  I’ll resign.  I’ll announce it next Sunday in church.”   Sunday came, we all felt so good.  We could have our own minister.  Well, after his sermon, he announced that he’s not going to leave.  He was going to stay.  He had talked to the other elders, andthey talked him into it, you know.  They didn’t want another minister.

There was an older man, Mr. Kitzman, who was an elder, and he had relatives in Dakota.  So he went off to visit relatives, and he met Rev. [Herman] Mensch.  He heard him preach and he liked what he heard.  So he asked him if he would come to Loveland and preach for us during the week, so he did.  He came down and preached, and we all enjoyed him.  I don’t know how many times he came down and preached for us on Sunday, but that didn’t go on with the other elders.  Finally they put a lock on the church door.  We couldn’t go in there anymore.

MHH:  These were the ones who were in favor of keeping the Lutheran minister?

ES:  Right.

MHH:  So there was division in the consistory?

ES:  Oh yes.  So there was another split for us there. We fought for the church building, and took it to court, but we lost the church building. So then we rented a school house south of town during the summer months when there was no school.  By fall we had to get out.  So then we rented kind of a little school building behind their church that they weren’t using  for I don’t know how many years.  Then for some reason we hadto give that up.  Then about four miles north of Loveland was a a two room schoolhouse that had sat empty for years, so we just thought we’d rent that.  We all had to go in and clean it up because it had been empty for years and years, and that’s where we ended up.

MHH:  How big of a group, roughly, was this that we’re talking about?

ES:  Very small.  I would say, maybe twenty.

MHH:  And during this time period, what did you do as far as preaching was concerned?

ES:  I should go back again.  When Rev. Mensch was here, he recommended that we should go to the Mission Committee in the PR churches.  So then, through him, we got Rev. [George] Lubbers.  Rev. Lubbers came here and he was here three or three and a half years with us.  After Rev. Lubbers came, then every once in a while we had one of the ministers come and preach for us.  Rev. Kuiper came and preached for us in the schoolhouse.  And, yes, Rev. Lubbers brought Rev. C. Hanko.  But Rev. Lubbers was our missionary/minister.  And we’d gather in the evenings sometimes with Rev. Lubbers.  We learned a lot from Rev. Lubbers.

But then everything turned to English, see.  That was was my biggest problem.  I memorized everything in German—catechism and everything.

MHH:  Was there a significant number who spoke German in the congregation, because your services were all in German?

ES:  Yah.  All of us that came from Nebraska were Germans.

MHH:  Did folks as a whole have a struggle with switching to English?

ES:  I think most of the older people did.

MHH:  Later on a lot of Dutch people moved to Loveland. Was that a problem to the German folks in Loveland ?

ES:  No, that was no problem.  We enjoyed them.

MHH:  Well, they’re sort of cousins, right?  The Dutch and the Germans?

ES:  (Laughter.)  I don’t know.  You talk Dutch, I can’t understand you.

MHH:  Maybe distant cousins?

ES:  Rev. Lubbers used to say, “Oh, it’s so similar to the German.” And he’d say a word.  Well, it was altogether different to me than the German.

MHH:  Tell me a little bit about Loveland congregation and some of the history of Loveland.  When it started out, it was obviously quite small.

ES:  Yes.  It was. I can’t remember how many families we were when we started out.  Maybe seven-eight-nine families?

MHH:  That’s all?  Much, much smaller than it is today, that’s for certain.

ES:  Oh, my.  We outgrew everything.

MHH:  Where did your growth come from in Loveland?  Was it internal growth, was it external growth?

ES:  I think it was both.  There was some growth; some got married.  But I think most of it came from outside.

MHH:  Are there any events in the history of Loveland congregation that stand out in your mind?  For example, how did you come to have your church building?

ES:  After we rented this two-room schoolhouse I talked about, we outgrew that, and we figured we’d either have to build a church of our own or rent something.  Gib Griess (brother-in-law of mine) owned the farm about a mile east of that school, and he donated some land so we could build a church there.  And Rev. [Henry] Kuiper kept after us to start our school.  Well, even before we moved out of that schoolhouse, we had our own school.

MHH:  You did?

ES:  Yes, we did.  Rev. Kuiper came in 1958; he was the first minister we called.  So, we started our own school in the basement of that building.  We had five children, and Ruth Kuiper taught the first year.  And from there the school grew There were more kids coming.  So after we built the church, we had school in the basement. We finally grew into two teachers.  Now we have four, and it’s still growing. We outgrew the basement too, so we built a new schoolhouse.  We finally outgrew the church, so we built a bigger church.

MHH:  Those are good things.

ES:  Those are good things.  Ach, the Lord has blessed us!  We’re rich.  And I think he still does.

MHH:  So, would it be fair to say that Loveland is a well-unified congregation?

ES:  I’d say.  I think so.

MHH:  Mrs. Schwarz, I’m going to ask you a question that I regularly ask during these interviews.  You’ve lived a long and eventful life, you’ve seen a lot, you’ve lived through a lot, you have changed locations, you have changed church membership, and there probably have been a few bumps in the road; as you look back on your life, my question to you is this:  How would you compare the church of today with the church of your youth?

ES:  I think it’s much stronger and our children are taught a lot more than we were, because we have our own Christian school to start them off with.  And I think spiritually, through the preaching and the discipline, and all those things, we have grown and we have been strengthened.

MHH:  Are there any issues that you would like to address, or any opinions that you would like to express on virtually any subject?

ES:  I can say this:  That I am thankful that my children grew up in the Protestant Reformed Church.  They know a lot more than I do, and can understand it better, can express themselves better.  But I’m still thankful for what the Lord has given me. And now we’re going to celebrate 50 years this fall as a church.  I think we’ve had 8 or 9 ministers through these 50 years. Wonderful.

I just thank the Lord for giving us all these years.

MHH:  I can tell that you’re very appreciative and very thankful.

ES:  I am.

MHH:  And I appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to talk to me and that you have been very free in expressing your opinions. I thank you kindly for participating in this oral history project.

ES:  You’re welcome.