On the ground floor with history


Randolph Schmidt, hoping to preserve the heritage of Menno?nite families, helped start the Mennonite Heritage Museum and Goessel Country Threshing Days. This year he has been named ?Captain Goessel? in honor of his contributions.

Randolph Schmidt might not be honored with the title of ?Captain Goessel? for Goessel?s Country Threshing Days this weekend, Aug. 1-3, if he hadn?t had a concern to preserve history more than 30 years ago.

Schmidt, now 86, was chairman of Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church back then. At the time, he was observing the estate sales of old-time Mennonite families, and not feeling good about it.

He was bothered that out-of-state collectors and antique dealers were buying up the heritage pieces of the Menno?nite community. Everything from farm implements to long-hemmed dresses were being dispersed across the nation with little hope of local descendants ever seeing them again.

Schmidt decided his church community needed its own museum. The church secretary and others agreed, and it led to the birth of the Mennonite Heritage Museum in Goessel?and with it the start of the annual Threshing Days celebration weekend.

Schmidt has been a museum board member for more than 30 years?and a hands-on worker at that. Along with many in Goessel, he helped frame the memorial stained-glass window with a light behind it that honors the town?s namesake, Captain Kurt Von Goessel.

The captain became internationally known about the same time the fledgling Mennonite community in Marion County was deciding to name itself. Von Goessel acted heroically to save passengers after his ship collided with another ship in the English Channel.

Schmidt is thrilled to have major museum pieces such as an 1831 McCormick reaper, found in a barn southwest of Hutchinson. He said the Hutch find represents the Goessel area, too, because of the Mennonite heritage throughout the region.

Then there?s a Model ?A? Ford red fire engine with two water tanks on it. Schmidt said to operate it, volunteers added baking soda to the water tanks. Once at the fire, a volunteer would break a glass of sulfuric acid into the water to react with the soda, thus creating pressure.

So how did they develop the expansive museum complex?

Schmidt replied in low?almost a conspiritorial?voice: ?We borrowed the money.?

From there, he said, longtime Mennonite families in the area were asked to build museum cases to house heritage items that were important to their respective families.

Rows of display cases testify to the response of the public. The cases house everything from wooden shoes from Russia, to a burial shroud commonly carried around ?in case you needed it.? 

One display features the typical railroad home, complete with the large immigrant trunks, where as many as 40 Mennonite families would stay, waiting for their Kansas homes to be built.

Schmidt said one of the more valued items carried in the trunks were pillow cases containing turkey red hard winter wheat seed brought with them from Russia. The Mennonite immigrants arrived just in time to plant their first winter wheat crop in October, he said.

?We opened up in 1971,? Schmidt said of the museum. ?I guess it was a year after that we had the first Threshing Days. We asked the engine club to help.?

Individuals and local organizations?like the local engine club, which provides most of the equipment for Country Thresh?ing Days?continue to contribute.

Randolph?s wife, Malinda, suffered a stroke eight years ago. He took care of her for six years, ?but then my daughters decided we should move to Bethesda Home. They said I wasn?t much of a housekeeper.

?They treat us real nice, but it?s not really home. I spend a lot of time at the museum. I had 40 years of 4 a.m. dairying, so I like to get out.?

Randolph and Malinda have three daughters and a son.

Schmidt leads tours at the museum, and especially enjoys the enthusiasm of the kids. He?s able to relate to them as well to the equipment he used when he was a kid himself.

At Country Threshing Days, horses turn an old threshing stone, but most of the work is done with steam-powered tractors and vintage gasoline engines.

The museum houses a progression of reaping and threshing machines. A set of murals depicts everything from the Mennonites meeting American Indians upon arriving on the train, to women weeping in the fields for the good times of the old country.

The museum houses the giant Liberty Bell made with wheat straw and grain kernels for the crack. It was created by Mennonite hands, and displayed in the Smithsonian Institute for the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial.

Among other buildings outside, there?s a portable cookhouse from the 1930s found near Blackwell, Okla. Schmidt said it is typical of those used by custom crews travelling the wheat harvest as it progressed from south to north.

?Two ladies would run the cook shack,? he said.

Other structures on the museum grounds include the Schroeder Barn built in 1902 with living quarters in one end for the family, and the Friesen House with a ?courting room? complete with a victrola.

Schmidt said the homes with family names are being restored and refurbished by the families themselves. The Krause House, actually an early pre-fabricated house, was built in Halstead in 1875. It probably escaped remodeling or destruction because it was found serving as a granary.

The old wooden building that housed Goessel State Bank is on the grounds, along with a one-room school, South Bloomfield of 1875 to 1954.

The Mennonite Preparatory School is close to the condition it was from 1906 to 1925, although with the addition of indoor restrooms and the Captain Goessel stained glass.

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