Kutztown School District hosted two PA German Heritage Days, one at Greenwich Elementary on May 4 and another at Kutztown Elementary on May 11. The all-day events included PA German historical presentations, art, activities, demonstrations and games.
“Most of these children, this is truly their heritage so to get to learn about it and also to get information about where to go to learn more or take their families, it’s really cool,” said Kutztown fourth grade teacher Lisa Swope.
“I had a lot of fun. We did a lot of artsy stuff,” said Peytan Diffenbaugh, Kutztown Elementary fourth grader, who is part German. “I think it’s really cool to learn what people do and how things work.”
“I know on my Dad’s side we’re German and I also work at the Folk Festival,” said Kutztown fourth grader Anna Stump. “I like the tractors because we got to honk the horns. And we also got to grind the corn and that was really fun. I also liked making Frakturs, I’m going to give it to my Mom for Mother’s Day.”
“Fun, all of the activities. My favorite was Schreneschnitte (scissor cuts). All of the stuff is fun,” said Kutztown fourth grader Tyler Gallagher. “It’s nice learning about our county.”
Event organizer Donna Hill-Chaney, Kutztown elementary art teacher, explained that the district had applied for a grant but was not a recipient so the district decided to hold the event anyway. All of the presenters, with the exception of author Rachel Yoder, volunteered their time and expertise.
“I decided that we needed to have PA German Heritage Day when the kids did not know what it meant to be PA Dutch,” said Hill-Chaney, who noted that the day included learning about the history of Berks County. “I think the kids have a little bit more pride when they think about what took place here and how this county was built.”
Hill-Chaney said it was an extra special day focused on local history with people face-to-face, rather than looking at a computer screen.
“They’re all learning something today and I think they’re having a good time doing it,” she said. “I think it’s important for them to know what the area is about because it is a farming community still which is pretty rare these days. I just want to give them back a little pride.”
The Old Time Plowboys displayed antique farming equipment and more modern tractors of the 1960s outside along the playground area. This included a corn grinder operated by hand crank, an antique manual plow from Hamburg Plow Works, horse-drawn plows and a 1917 steam engine plow, which was the predecessor of tractors.
“We’re showing them how their ancestors grew up, how they worked and the different equipment they had from the early 1900s up to 1960... Keep the history alive,” said Old Time Plowboys President Ben Sonon, of Hamburg. “They are really excited, especially with the hands on like the corn shelling and grinding. Even just hearing about how these tractors work and I think a lot of them are realizing too that it is a lot easier today than it was back then being a child because they were expected to help back then.”
Roger and Nancy Bowman presented From Sheep to Shawl on the various steps of turning wool into clothing. Donna Mountain demonstrated spinning wool into yarn on her spinning wheel. Fred Fritch taught PA Dutch words, all students received a Dutch dictionary that Hill-Chaney compiled from words provided by Fritch, Debra Kenney and Dr. Mary Laub. Helenirene Kuehne taught Schreneschnitte, or scissor cuts. The Berks County Heritage Center provided presentations on historical information about Pennsylvania canals, construction and history of Red Covered Bridges and The Gruber Wagon Works. The Fifth Graders toured the Kutztown Historical Society building also.
From Auerhahn Schuplattler Verein, a German dancing club based in Oley, Joshua Meck and dancing partner Nicole Fazio taught schuhplattler.
“It’s a traditional German folk dance but there are so many ties from people who are PA Dutch to people from Germany,” said Meck. “I hope they enjoy this, just have fun.”
Other activities taught by Kutztown staff and faculty included making Frakturs, Hornbooks, Quilt Blocks, Distelfinks and Hex Signs. Students learned about games from earlier times and made a moveable toy called Geese in the Garden and whirligigs, or dancing buttons. The day concluded with a Book Assembly by Rachel Yoder of Boyertown, author and illustrator of “Penny Olive” and illustrator of “Dave Applebutter,” books written in a flipped or inverted way with text in both PA Dutch and English.
Hill-Chaney thanked everyone who gave their time to make the PA German Heritage Days possible.
“I want to thank Kutztown for being the kind of community who cares whether or not the kids know where they’re from. I think it’s hard for kids to go forward if they don’t know what their past is,” said Hill-Chaney.