123 years after her death, an immigrant woman has a marker at her final resting place


GravestoneEventSingingFull687 AdelgundaHeadstoneNames514 They gathered to celebrate a ?common mother? and a family project that took some 36 years from conception to completion.

Adelgunda Penner Suderman Dueck finally has a memorial stone at her grave, more than 123 years after her death in 1888, and 39 years after she was re-buried from a pasture to a rural cemetery near Hillsboro.

Some 45 extended family members, plus interested friends, gathered Sunday afternoon at Gnadenau Cemetery, two miles south of Hillsboro, to dedicate the new stone.

Under overcast skies, they were reminded of their shared history, they sang a hymn of praise, and prayed with gratitude for a woman who is matriarch of an extended family that has grown to nearly 5,000 descendants, and the spiritual heritage she inspired.

The 3-foot stone, easily visible from Indigo Road, includes Adelgunda?s full name, birth date and death date, the names of her two husbands and marriage dates, and the names of seven of her children: Heinrich Suderman, Johann Suderman, Adelgunda Jost, Maria Unruh, Helena Dyck, Jacob Suderman, and Katarina Dueck Funk.



It is positioned between the tombstones of two of her daughters and husbands: Adelgunda and Peter Jost, and Maria and John H. Unruh.

?This is just a reminder of God?s grace and his goodness in bringing a lot of the members from Johann?s family to Canada, now to Germany, and our families to here,? said Karen Suder?man Penner, a Hillsboro native now living in Newton, who has helped spearhead the project in recent months.

?We won?t know why that grace was extended to us,? she added. ?This is a way for me to say thank you, Lord, for the spiritual heritage that I have from my grandparents and then my great-grandparents, whom I didn?t know.?

Adelgunda?s story

Adelgunda Penner was born July 18, 1805, in Molotschna Colony, South Russia (now Ukraine), to Jacob and Adel?gunda Penner. The Mennonite colony was established 13 months before her birth; it?s likely her parents were still living in a crude earthen-and-straw hut.

In 1825, she was married to Heinrich Suderman, who was born in West Prussia. In addition to the seven children identified on the memorial, Adelgunda and Heinrich had at least one other child, Helena, who was born about 1833 and died two to four years later.

After the death of Heinrich in 1842, Adelgunda married Klaas Dueck, a minister. They had a daughter, Katarina, who inherited a Russian clock dated 1842?likely a wedding gift to her parents?that was still in the possession of descendants at least into the 1970s.

After her second husband died in 1869, Adelgunda lived with daughter Katarina and son-in-law Peter H. Funk, immigrating with them to the Brudertal area northeast of Hillsboro in 1877, and settling on a farm near what is now Marion Reservoir.

Coming with the family was Adelgunda?s orphan grandson Peter F. Suderman, youngest child of Johann.

The three-generation extended family boarded a train in South Russia June 5, left Antwerp, Belgium, on the steam?ship ?Vaderland? June 12, and landed in Philadelphia June 29.

From there, they and the rest of the 606 Mennonite passengers were met by eastern Pennsyl?vania Mennonites, who assisted them through the immigration station at Pier 54, fed them and helped them transfer to the correct Pennsylvania Railroad train.

The train arrived in Peabody at 1:30 a.m. July 4. They went by wagon to Brudertal July 5 and purchased a farm on one-fourth section of land July 9.

Buried with no marker

In late 1885 or early 1886, Adelgunda moved to the farm home of her eldest daughter Adelgunda (married to Peter Jost) in the Alexanderfeld community about one mile west of Hillsboro. She lived there until her death, April 15, 1888, at age 82, having suffered the last years of her life with lung disease and old age.

She was buried without a memorial stone in the family pasture, where her son-in-law Peter and daughter Adel?gunda also were buried upon their deaths 1891 and 1896.

In 1971, a new owner of the Jost farm wanted to plow the pasture, so Jost family descendants removed the three graves June 10, 1972, with re-burial in Gnadenau Cemetery but, again, no marker for mother Adel?gunda.

Examination of the remains, conducted by the county corner as a required verification procedure, indicated mother Adel?gunda was shorter than average height, perhaps of stocky build, and had a bump in the bone structure of the skull that would have appeared as a large wart on her forehead, which fit her known description.

The family knows of no surviving photograph.

Initial interest

Descendants first expressed interest in erecting a memorial stone when great-great-granddaughter Carolyn Zeisset included the story of Adelgunda and her family in the book, ?A Mennonite Heritage,? printed in 1975.

The story showed that Adelgunda?s five younger children all immigrated in the 1870s and ?80s to the Hillsboro area. The memorial stone was again discussed at a Jacob Suderman family reunion in 2005, and a fund was started.

Suderman Penner said many family members have contributed to the project, whether by donating money or passing on historical information.

The project picked up steam this past June when members of the ?Canadian Sudermans,? descendants of Johann Suder?man, gathered in Hillsboro and Newton to learn more of the Kansas stories of Adelgunda?s family.

?They wanted to find memorial markers and there were none,? Suderman Penner said. ?They really came into this project and gave it a boost.?

The initial idea was to put a flat marker between the graves of two of her children buried at Gnadenau Cemetery because the two stones were too close together to accommodate a larger stone for Adelgunda.

But the Unruh stone was loose and need to be anchored.

?The memorial company we contacted said we could put in a common base, and that there was room to move that stone farther to the right to make more room for a nice memorial to Adel?gunda between the two,? she said. ?It gives a family appearance, and more of a unified look.?

While the front of the stone bears her name and the names of her children, the backside features her surnames, ?Penner Suderman Dueck,? and a Bible verse near the base from Proverbs 13:28: ?Her children rise up and call her blessed.?

?We wanted all three of her names so that people who drove by and pulled to the side could quickly see this is where the marker is,? Penner Suderman said.

A difficult legacy, too

While descendants here celebrate Adelgunda?s migration to the U.S., she also is tied to a difficult legacy back in Russia.

Her son Johann died before the family immigrated, and all of his children stayed in Russia, except for his 4-year-old orphan son, Peter, who came with Adelgunda and the Funk family.

Johann?s grandchildren lost most of their land and several their lives during the Bolshevik Revolution. Any who retained land then lost it during the Stalin era, and more died as a result of deportation to Siberia or in Stalin?s Gulag camps.

Some of Johann?s grandchildren immigrated to Canada in the 1920s, a few to Paraguay in the mid- to late 1940s, and others from Siberia to Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

?When you look at the Johann Suderman family, and all they?ve been through the years…there?s no way to understand how God led Jacob and all of his sisters and their mother to this country,? Suder?man Penner said.

?Having worked with this for about five months now, this has really become precious to me, to think of this common mother to all these people scattered all over.?

The Free Press is indebted to Karen Suderman Penner for the historical information at the heart of this story.

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