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International Festival to celebrate ‘Letters of a German Immigrant Farmer’

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WORTHINGTON — This year, Worthington’s International Festival will have a special addition to the schedule starting Thursday evening. 

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“Letters of a German Immigrant Farmer” is a book with a unique history and perspective contained within the bind.

“I found this book in my mother-in-law’s garage,” said Jim Krapf, retired pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church and coordinator of the event. “I had thrown it away and decided I was going to go back and get it. Then, it was published by the University of Iowa.”

The book was subsequently translated by Richard Trost, a retired Lutheran pastor who ironically lived three miles from Krapf’s mother-in-law.

“In the late 1800s, there were a good number of people who lived in the northern district of Mecklenburg, Germany, who immigrated to east-central Iowa,” Krapf explained. “Those people wrote letters back to their former schoolteacher. The son of that schoolteacher, Johannes Ghilhoff, took those over 250 letters and composited them into a book format, as if they were written by one central character, who’s given the name of Jurnjakob Swehn.”

Jurnjakob’s story is that of leaving his home in Germany for the United States. Stories include saying goodbye to his friends and family, his difficulties throughout his journey and how he began to work, build his income and buy his farm.

Readings from the book and discussions will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday and continue until 8 p.m. at the Center for Active Living, Worthington. There will also be readings and discussion from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday and noon to 7 p.m. Saturday at the German tent on the lawn of the Nobles County Government Center. Throughout these workshops, excerpts from the book will be read and discussed on a more personal level.

On Sunday, more church-centered readings will take place at 8 and 10 a.m. services at First Lutheran Church, complete with music provided by the Worthington Polka Players.

“As we share those excerpts, what we hope will happen is that those who are descendants of those immigrants who came from Europe can see what it is that was that experience and how that might have shaped their lives — and then, having more recent immigrants, to see how that compares to their experiences, see the same struggles, the same pains and also see what is different,” Krapf said.

A group of about 11 people of mixed ethnic backgrounds and ages will be reading from the book during the workshops and leading small discussion groups.

“What we really hope comes out of this is that we will have a chance to visit across ethnic groups, to understand each other better,” Krapf said. “I think that if the new immigrants were understood better — if we understood their struggles — that might help us make this country a better home for everybody. So in some ways, how well we do this in Worthington can hopefully be an example for the rest of the nation. That’s a big goal, but I think there is that possibility.”

For more information on the International Festival and the “Letters of a German Immigrant Farmer,” contact the Worthington Chamber of Commerce at 372-2919.

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