IV Little Gerhard Grows Up

Gerhard Suderman, born at Pordenau, in southern Russia, on November 23, 1874, was wedged into the Suderman family between Isaak and Aganetha.  There were five older brothers and baby Maria when little Gerhard left his home in Russia to sail across the endless Atlantic ocean to a country called America.  The name of the ship, “Switzerland”, meant nothing to the little cotton-topped lad with green-flecked brown eyes.  From his father he inherited a definite dimple in his chin.He remembered very little of the long and strange journey as he grew up.  Perhaps the difficult experience needed forgetting in the little boy who wanted only security and love.  Baby Nicholas was added to the family on the ship–crowding little Gerhard evern farther away from his Mother’s care.In America, he experienced a separation from his family.  It was painful for him.  Families were lare and if parents had more children than they could feed, they were parcelled out to relatives or friends who took them in to do chores or companionship.  Gerhard was sent to the Josts who wanted him.  How long did he stay?  Evidently, not very long.  He preferred the love of his parents and siblings in spite of meager meals and crowded conditions at home.Gerhard Suderman - 21 years oldWhen Gerhard was eight years old, a dipthera epidemic brok out in the community.  Vaccinations were unheard of and many deaths occureed.  The illness came to the Sudermans.  Isaak and Aganetha, closest to Gerhard, both died in the spring of 1882.  Gerhard was gravely ill, but he lived through the ordeal to recover.The Suderman children attended the Cresswell School to learn how to read and write in a new language.  The school house was also used for a singing school at night with Jacob Suderman as instructor.  Since Gerhard loved to sing, this was an evening of joy to him.Not all the Cresswell boys were Mennonites and as they grew older, they had their sports.  The Graves lived west of the Sudermans and “boys will be boys”.  All the neighborhood boys gathered for games of checkers.  In Platt Deutch, it was called “Daumbrett”, literally translated, means “damn board”.Gerhard remembered the long, late nights the boys spent at their games, puffing away at cigarettes.  The Mennonite fathers often searched for their wayward sons and soon knew where to find them. But the boys were not ready to change.When Gerhard was tenty-one, he became very ill.  He hovered between life and death with intense abdominal pain.   He felt a sudden “pop” in his body and pain subsided but a great weakness followed.  He was strong and once again health was restored to him.  Doctors were not called until death was near and appendectomies were not a common practice.During Gerhard’s long convalescence, he had time to think.  His thoughts turned to Christ.  He gave up his beloved checkers and cigarettes to become a Christian.  His dreams now held higher goals.  Although music was his first love, he would be a farmer like all his brothers — except John, who owned a grocery-drygoods store.Gerhard’s heart was set on Anna, Jacob Loewen’s oldest daughter.  He knew Deacon Loewen brooked no nonsense where boy-girl relationships were concerned.  Dating Anna was out of the question.  He hitched his horse to his buggy and headed for the Loewen farm.  He would ask Jacob Loewen for Anna’s hand in marriage.Jacob and Justina Loewen knew their daughter was ready for marriage.  Young Gerhard, tall and handsome, was a likely candidate. His father was a brother deacon and the church music leader.  His rig was proper and as a farmer, he would plow a straight furrow.  He was a Christian and would make a good husband for Anna.Permission was granted.  Arrangements were made for the announcement at church and the wedding date was set.  Little Gerhard had become a full-grown man as a respected citizen of the United States.  He was getting married.