by Wendy Nugent
The Free Press
A History Channel crew will be filming in Newton, Goessel and Halstead this week to help tell the story of Mennonite immigration from Russia to this area some 145 years ago.
Karen Penner, board member for the Warkentin House Museum in Newton, will be one of the sources to be interviewed.
“The History Channel is planning a four-part series on immigration to the United States,” Penner said. “I’m assuming that means four one-hour parts. It’s just one little section of the whole immigration story.”
Alex Dwiar, of Neutopia Inc. of London, will begin filming with a three-person crew in the Newton, Goessel and Halstead areas Thursday, Dec. 1.
Neutopia is a subcontractor for the History Channel, Penner said, and Dec. 1 coincides with the Parade of Lights evening in downtown Newton.
“They’re doing all of this in one day,” Penner said.
Penner wasn’t sure which part of the Warkentin House will be filmed, as a lot of it will be decorated for Christmas. There is one room from which they can easily remove the holiday décor, Penner said, while giving a short impromptu tour of the home’s downstairs.
The historic home is on the Kansas Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1887 and is the former home of Bernhard and Wilhelmina Warkentin.
Bernhard is credited with bringing Turkey Red Hard Winter Wheat seed to Kansas, which is what interests the History Channel.
Before moving to Newton, the Warkentins resided in Halstead.
“Bernhard Warkentin came to Kansas about 1870 looking for farmland to grow Turkey Red Hard Winter Wheat,” according to Newton Photo History on Facebook.
“After settling in Halstead with his wife, Wilhelmina, he bought Monarch Steam Mills and organized the Newton Milling Co. They moved to Newton as soon as their landmark house was finished in 1887.”
In Halstead, the crew plans to film at the barn of the Little River Stock Farm, Penner said, which is at the Warkentin House there. The Warkentin family still owns some land in Halstead.
The home in Halstead is along the river behind what was Bernhard’s mill. At the barn, descendants of the Warkentins will be filmed.
“I think probably there will be six or seven of the descendants there,” Penner said.
Next on the agenda is the Warkentin House in Newton, where Penner will be interviewed.
“And then we’re going to the Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church on (Kansas) Highway 15,” she said, where they’ll probably film the church yard.
While in the area, the film crew also will visit the Goessel Mennonite and Agricultural Museum.
“The thing he is interested in there—there’s a box,” Penner said. “This is an original feed box handmade in Russia by one of the Mennonites who came.”
She said that immigrant Peter Janzen used it to transport the Turkey Red Hard Winter Wheat to the area.
The crew also plans to film letters written back and forth between Bernhard and his friend, David Goerz, after whom Goerz House at Bethel College is named. The letters now are stored at the Bethel library.
Bernhard wrote to Goerz when Goerz still resided in Russia, telling him what others needed to bring and what not to bring on their journey from South Russia because some things would be cheaper to buy in the States.
Warkentin also informed Goerz about things such as which railway the immigrants needed to take to get to this area. Goerz then circulated that information among Mennonites there who wanted to move to the United States.
Penner said the Mennonite were motivated to move because the czar was taking away their rights.
Penner wasn’t sure when the series would be broadcast.
“He’ll be doing 24 different areas in the United States, and I don’t know what period of time that covers,” Penner said.
She also said no one in Newton called the History Channel.
“They approached us,” she said, adding that talks started in August.