TITLE: “I am Hutterite”
AUTHOR: Mary Ann Kirkby
This is the true story of Mary’s life as a Hutterite.
Mary Maedel was just a year old when her mother died from a gallstone attack at age 45, leaving behind her husband, Joseph, and 16 children. How would Joseph handle all this by himself? A year after he lost his wife he advertised for a mother for his brood. Rachel Gross, a widow with eight kids of her own agreed to marry Joseph, enlarging his family to 24 children. How old were her children? Was this a marriage of love or convenience for both of them? What happened to Joseph two years later that left 5-year-old Mary Maedel an orphan? At age 13 Mary was fortunate to move in with her sister Sana and her family. What became of her younger siblings? Did they remain with Rachel?
Mary’s brother was the assistant minister and discouraged Mary’s proposal of marriage to Ronald Dornn who had also been part of the family household. He had to move out to distance himself from Mary but eventually he and Mary did marry. Mary Ann was one of their nine children. They took in lots of Ronald’s family members who needed help. Mary Maendel was considered a trophy wife because of her beauty, virtue, duty, and loyalty. Why did the family member live there for several years? What was Ronald’s occupation to support a large household?
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Life in a Hutterite colony was difficult and everything was shared. Women took turns cooking for everyone. There were over 400 communities in North America at the time. Each family had an assigned wash day and had two machines and one ringer that were used daily except on Sunday. The basement served as a canning center in summer and the main kitchen was where women cooked three meals a day supervised by the head cook. All meals were made from scratch! How did the women get along in the colony with so many rules and restrictions to follow? After supper the leftover food was given to the Mohawk reserve in exchange for beaded jewelry. Why? Young adults were baptized at Easter, making them full members of the church and everyone took communion at the three-hour long service.
Let’s move on from Mary Maendel to Mary Ann’s life experiences now.
It was difficult for Mary Ann letting go of her past and transitioning to life outside the colony. She recalled some of the difficulties children faced, including not fitting in at school, not knowing how to swim, skate, ride a bike and never had eaten pizza or mac and cheese. Painful memories included feeling ashamed of her accent, school lunches and her clothes, but worst of all were the hurtful remarks by classmates.
The last day of school always was a day of games, competitions, and food for students and their families. Why did the last day of school to be a huge success for her and her siblings? What did they prove to the classmates who had been so cruel? Mary and her siblings challenged the thirty five school kids to a baseball game and how do you think that resulted? Who won? What was the score? Was anyone hurt? After a bad house fire where did the family move? What caused the fire? So many memories shared as the transition occurred.
Mary Ann’s lifeline was Catherine who kept her updated through letters about the colony life and who left. Mary’s first English friend was Charlene who was also 14 and she taught Mary Ann how to wear makeup, what clothes to wear and other English ways. Through Global Missions Organization the family made friends with several Black people and enjoyed taking in Black children for the summer for three weeks at a time. They differed in their cooking, speech, and lack of knowledge using appliances, but they had the same God. Mary was now working at a nursing home and an A&W through high school. In summer she worked in the strawberry fields and produce stands. One ambitious young lady, right?
Would she accept the invitation to join a pageant? It defied the Hutterites. What if she entered and won? Would her family support her? What advice did Mary Ann give to her friend Catherine who was considering leaving the Hutterite colony? In 1989 Mary Ann married Gordon Kirkby and had a son Levi seven years later. In Mary’s heart she would always remain a Hutterite, remembering a painful past for her family and finding the transition into the English world overwhelming. Do you think Catherine left the colony?
Becky Stakston is an avid reader from Westby.