by Alma Nieland Gaul
When Henry Nieland started out on foot across Germany
in the mid-1860's he had two overriding thoughts--to escape the
draft of the Prussian army and to come to the land of opportunity
where anyone with a strong back and a strong will could own land.
At 17 he was leaving his home and family never to
return. He would face an Atlantic voyage on a leaking steamship
and would have to learn that the cob, and not the tassel, bears
the corn plants grain.
The day started with Mass in St. Bernard's Church,
celebrated by Fr. Yetman. The altar bore beeswax candles from Ramsdorf
Germany, and ribbons of yellow, red and black representing the colors
of Henry's native land and red, white and blue representing the
land he picked to be our home. Beside the altar was one of the willow-reed
baskets he fashioned in the the 1940's -- one of the "fruits
of the vine which earth has given and human hands have made"
spoken of in the Offertory.
At the end of Mass, Louis Nieland [one of Henry's
three surviving children] and Andrew and Walt Nieland [sons of Henry's
eighth child, William) sang "Holy God We Praise Thy Name"
The words might not have meant much to the younger
generation, but the rendering of Heilig, heilig, heilig" needed
no translation. It spoke of a family proud of the faith its ancestors
relied on in coming to this land.
That German still is remembered by some of our family
is not insignificant. Immigrants often were shamed into putting
the ways of their old country behind them. Sometime they were mocked
as less-than- intelligent if they could not speak English.
After Mass the group descended on the Breda Legion
Hall where the Nieland name is inscribed in a place of honor among
those who served our country in time of danger.
Here it became obvious that Henry's sister, Mrs. Gerhard
[Mary Ann] Boes was right when she wrote to him from America that
"meat was placed on the table and a person could eat all he
Roaster pans full of chicken, roast beef and ham and
casseroles, smaller bowls of salad, vegetables, pies and brownies
and plates of tomatoes covered two long tables. It also became obvious
that you don't have to invite a Nieland to the [table] twice.
After dinner was a time for looking around and saying
"How are YOU related?" A time for inspecting the guest
book and seeing 273 names -- names from New Jersey to California
and Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wisconsin in between.
A time for youngsters to sneak back for more brownies
then might be good for them, a time for chatter and recollection
and picture taking. A time for slides by master-of-ceremonies David
Nieland, showing the home area of Germany and the lane Henry Nieland
walked down when he started his great adventure.
A time for an encore of "Grosser Gott" and
of poetry, by poet-laureate, Walt Nieland. In part, he wrote "He
taught them to save / He taught them to pray. / If I say so myself
/ That's good even today. / I'm proud to be a member / of this noble
clan / And I'm sure I owe a lot /To this humble man."
It was a time for reunion of a scattered family linked
by the common bond of ancestry. An ancestor who was every man who
came to this country hoping for something better than in the tired
continent of the kings and czars ... and found it.
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