Wednesday, June 18, 2014

More than Legs and Lederhosen

by Carmen Doyle

Fort Wayne has a rich German heritage. While at Germanfest it is obvious how much Fort Wayne wants to celebrate its German heritage, it can be easy to overlook the real importance of Germans in Fort Wayne in favor of beer steins and wiener dog races.

One of the most influential people in encouraging German immigrants to come and stay in Fort Wayne was Henry Rudisill. Although born in the U.S., Henry could speak German, and for many years was the only person in Fort Wayne who could speak German and English. This skill made him highly valued among the many German immigrants who came to Fort Wayne.

When Henry Rudisill arrived in Fort Wayne to manage the landholdings of John Barr, he had a difficult time finding people to help clear land. Rudisill wrote to Barr and suggested hiring some German emigrants and sending them to Fort Wayne to help with labor, even writing that he thought the Germans “were more to be depended on” than local Americans and that hiring “whole families it would be better” because “they are more industrious and temperate.”

Henry Rudisill may have been one of the biggest influences on German culture in Fort Wayne, but he wasn’t the only one.

Bishop Luers was consecrated the first bishop of the Fort Wayne Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. Born in Germany, John Henry Luers had come with his family to the United States when he was 14. In his 13 years as Bishop, Luers laid the cornerstone for the Cathedral and created as many schools as he could find teachers for. He also brought an order of nuns from Germany, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.   

The Poor Handmaids, led by Mother Mary Katherine Kasper, another German immigrant, established their mother house downtown. The sisters also started the first hospital in Fort Wayne--St. Joseph Hospital.

For more on the Poor Handmaids and St. Joseph Hospital, see our blog

Jesse Hoover
Catholics were not the only German influence on Fort Wayne. Henry Rudisill was instrumental in bringing Jesse Hoover, a German speaking Lutheran minister, to Fort Wayne. Hoover was able to preach in German and English and was considered a wonderful speaker. Susan Man McCulloch, a teacher, told her friends that Hoover was such an excellent speaker it was difficult to endure the poor speakers. There was a large German Lutheran population in Fort Wayne and many were eager to hear sermons spoken in German. Many people came for miles to listen to Hoover’s sermons. 

Susan Man McCulloch

Unfortunately, the German Lutheran population, although large in numbers, did not have much money and it was difficult for Hoover to be able to support himself. He opened up a school and his wife took in boarders to make ends meet, but at times Hoover was still unable to support himself and his family. (For more on Jesse Hoover, see the Old Fort News, Vol. 50:1, 1987 "Fort Wayne Celebrates the Arrival of the first Lutheran pastor: Jesse Hoover")

Jesse Hoover died suddenly about a year after coming to Fort Wayne and was deeply missed by both German and English speakers. The next Lutheran pastor, Rev. Friedrich Wyneken, had been born and educated in Germany. Wyneken became too conservative for many parishioners, who left to found another Lutheran church in Fort Wayne. When the pastor succeeding Wyneken, Wilhelm Sihler also became ultra-conservative, Henry Rudisill led other parishioners to form a new Lutheran church that spoke English.

Germanfest may be over, but the German influence on Fort Wayne continues, beyond bratwurst.

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