Digging deeper: Andy Kroneberger takes personal journey through his family's unique history
BREWSTER -- As a boy growing up in Brewster in the 1930s, Andy Kroneberger admits that he was often frustrated -- and even embarrassed -- by his immigrant parents' speech, customs and frugality.
But researching a book on his family's history gave Andy insight and sympathy for what John (Andreas) and Margaretha Stoessel Bohn Kroneberger went through to make a new life for their family in the United States.
The project took about 15 years to complete, resulting in a paperback edition of "A Man Called Andreas." The book is described as
"the heartbreaking story of an immigrant German from Russia, who chose to come to America and the personal struggles he endured to get his family out of Russia."
"People who used to come and visit us all the time, they would hear about our story and say, 'My gosh, this needs to be put in a book,'" Andy remembered. "The seed was planted. My mother always said, 'Andreas will do it someday.' I was Andreas.
"But the 'Man Called Andreas,' that was my father," he clarified about the book's title. "He was baptized as Johannes, but he was meant to be Andreas because he already had a brother named Johannes, but that was the official name he had to live with. In Russia, he was called Andreas, but in America, he took the legal name of John."
Germans from Russia
The story of the Kroneberger family's Russian roots actually begins with Catherine the Great, the German princess who married into Russian royalty and became the ruler of Russia in 1762.
"She lured these Germans over there, gave them free land, free taxes for 30 years, guaranteed no military service. There had been nothing but war in Germany, and the fighting had always been between the Catholics and the Lutherans. So she settled the German Catholics in one town and the German Lutherans in another, and they never intermingled," explained Andy, whose family lived in the Catholic community of Dehler.
The Germans maintained their language and their faith in the land along the Volga River. But eventually, there came a shortage of land and tough times, and the German-Russians looked for greener pastures across the ocean.
"My dad had two brothers and a sister who went to Argentina, and my father was going to go, too, but he and his wife (Anna) had six children (counting two daughters who died in infancy), and he wanted to wait until they became older," Andy said. "In 1912, dad had the opportunity to come to America, and he would earn enough money and send it to them to come over."
Andy's father -- now known as John -- entered the U.S. at Galveston, Texas, and worked first for a sugar beet company in Colorado and then for the railroad in Kansas City, Kan. Because of miscommunications, he had to earn and send funds for his family's emigration twice, but they were unable to leave once World War I got under way. Anna and her children were stranded in Russia, and the Bolshevik revolution caused further hardships to their situation. Anna contracted typhus fever and died in 1911.
"Three of the four boys starved to death," explained Andy about his father's first family. "They all died, and he was here, with no communications with them. My dad's sister who remained behind, her son was sympathetic to the Bolsheviks when they took over, so he had some connections. My dad asked him to find his family, and he found one son, Emanuel, in the Ukraine. He got him back to Dehler and eventually got him to America."
Forging a new life
Meanwhile, John moved north in 1915 to Iowa, which he felt was a better fit for his farming heritage. He settled in Remsen, where he became friends with a banker who helped him to send money to his family and pursue the dream of owning his own farm.
"When the news of the death of his wife, Anna, the confirmation that Andreas and Theodore had died, and Emanuel and John had disappeared without a trace reached my father, he became so distraught and demoralized that he was ready to give up," writes Andy in the book. "Despite his strong faith, he was sure that God had completely deserted him."
But John somehow persevered and continued to send funds to Russia in the hopes that more family members would join him. Emanuel made the trip in 1925, and John's mother, Justina, in 1926.
"As a widower, my dad decided when he was in his early 40s that he should be able to marry again, but he wanted to marry someone from his own heritage," Andy said. "My dad's sister and my mother, who was a widow, were close friends, so they put them together, and eventually my mother agreed to come to America. She had two boys -- she had lost eight out of her 10 kids and her husband."
Margaret Stoessel Bohn and her sons, Thomas and Edward, boarded a ship bound for Mexico, where John planned to meet them. But the ship was delayed in Havana, Cuba, and he intercepted it there. However, immigration officials would not let Margaret and her sons into the U.S. They were given two choices: all three could go back to Russia; or Margaret and John could marry in Havana, and she could return to Iowa with John, leaving her sons behind until she had become an American citizen.
It was a heartbreaking decision.
"One has to wonder how my mother was able to bear it all," reflected Andy in the book. "She most likely rationalized their dilemma and must have said as I often heard her say, 'God will only give you a cross you can carry.'
"The priest married my father and mother on 27 February 1928 during a Mass and simple ceremony in a Catholic chapel in Havana, Cuba. With the assistance of the priest they were able to find a Catholic-operated orphanage for displaced young people and enrolled the two boys in the home. The board and room fees were to be sent monthly by my father, and the orphanage would care for them until their mother became an American citizen."
The rest of the story
There is, of course, much more to the story of the Kroneberger family and their immigration journey, and Andy has detailed it all in the book. John's desire to own a farm eventually brought the family to Brewster in 1936, where they endured many more hardships, although Andy has fond memories of his growing-up years in southwest Minnesota.
"With my mother and dad, as kids we were embarrassed," he remembered. "When we moved to Minnesota, they made fun of us, called us 'Rooshians.' But it subsided, and we made lots of wonderful friends there. I still call Brewster home. Even though I lived in California for 20 years, Brewster is still home."
Andy, a 1946 graduate of Brewster High School, married Joyce Kluever of Round Lake, and they have five children: Dennis, David, Donan, Debra and Diane; 11 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. He became an agent and chartered life underwriter for New York Life, working for 30 years in California. In 1975, Andy and Joyce purchased a seasonal recreational resort, Indian Beach Resort, on Green Lake near Spicer. Andy continued to sell life insurance for a dozen more years while they operated the resort for 28 years. The Kronebergers sold the resort in 2001, but kept their home its north side, where they continue to live, spending the winter months in Arizona.
After more than a decade researching and writing his family history -- including fact-gathering trips to Europe and South America -- Andy was able to publish his book through Lakeside Press in Willmar. He hopes people will enjoy reading about his family's unique history, but for him the book was a very personal journey and a labor of love.
"From shame and embarrassment as a youngster, I've come full circle and now have a great amount of respect for both my Volga German father and mother," Andy wrote in one of the book's early chapters.
"Once I could put myself in that position, the views change," he further elaborated during an interview. "They did what they thought was best. They did things they did not want to do. My dad was concerned about his second family. There was never a shortage of food -- it wasn't great, but we had plenty. But he lived with that all his life, that he'd left his wife and kids behind and they starved to death. I want my family to understand this, and if somebody else gets something good out of it, that's wonderful."
"A Man Called Andreas" is available for purchase online at Amazon.com or through Lakeside Press, 905 Highway 71 N.E., Willmar 56201; phone 1-800-371-5849; www.lakesidecreates.com. A local book-signing event will be 3 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Blueline Café in Worthington.