Wittenberg Characters

I have the privilege today to write the real story of a couple of individuals that are main characters in my two books, Wittenberg ’03: Coming of a Church and Wittenberg ’04: Coming of a Railroad. These two are Laura Gemeinhardt and Teacher Richard Kalbfleisch. The story of this couple is one that inspired me to write these books. I found records that said Richard Kalbfleisch was the teacher in Wittenberg in 1902 and 1903, but two years after he left, he came back to marry Laura. I knew there had to be a story there. My books are historical fiction, but today, I will use real documents in an effort to tell the real story of this pair.

I tell this story today because our German Family Tree says that Laura Clara Gemeinhardt was born on January 17, 1886, making today her 136th birthday. Laura was the daughter of Friedrich (Fritz) and Selma (Nennert) Gemeinhardt. Fritz and Selma have 14 children listed in our GFT, but two of them died early. Of the dozen children living to adulthood, Laura was child #2. Although Laura’s baptism record is found in the books of Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg, it is likely that she was baptized in the church/school building located in Wittenberg. Below is an image of her baptism record.

Laura Gemeinhardt baptism record – Trinity, Altenburg, MO

Yesterday, I told the story of Edmund Hoehn, who had a birthday that was debatable. There is a little controversy concerning the birthday of Laura also. She was born during the time when Perry County was keeping birth records, and we find one for Laura. This document says Laura was born on January 16th, not January 17.

Laura Gemeinhardt birth record – Perry County, MO

Laura cannot be viewed in a federal census until 1900. We find a very large household in that entry, and Laura was 14 years old. Her father was a cooper, likely working for Joseph Weinhold’s flour mill in Wittenberg.

1900 census – Wittenberg, MO

A photo of the Gemeinhardt family was taken on the front porch of their home that includes all 12 children. Since the youngest child was born in 1903, I think this photo was taken around 1904. Laura is one of the two older girls standing in the back. If the girls were arranged from oldest to youngest from right to left in the back, Laura would be the one right behind her mother.

Fritz and Selma Gemeinhardt family

Now, we will take a look at the life of Richard Conrad George Kalbfleisch, who was born on January 18, 1878. That means Laura and Richard had birthdays just a day apart from each other. I am going to backtrack a bit to talk about Richard’s grandfather. Conrad Kalbfleisch was part of the New York Group that arrived in Perry County at the same time as the Stephanites. Zion on the Mississippi calls Conrad a tailor. He and his wife were in Perry County for a very short time. A child was baptized here in 1839, but already in 1840, we find the Kalbfleisch family living in St. Louis according to the census taken that year.

1840 census – St. Louis, MO

Sometime in the 1850’s, the Kalbfleisch family moved to Collinsville, Illinois, not far from St. Louis across the river. One of their sons, Johann Kalbfleisch, married Wilhelmina Eckert in 1875, and those two would become parents to Richard in 1878. We find Richard in the 1880 census at the age of 2 and living in Collinsville. His father was a farmer.

1880 census – Collinsville, IL

The next census we can view taken in 1900 shows Richard still living in his parents’ household and called a teacher.

1900 census – Collinsville, IL

In 1902, Richard Kalbfleisch became the teacher at the Lutheran school in Wittenberg. Perhaps one of the old-timers in Perry County, knowing that he was a grandson of an original immigrant, suggested his name. He was the teacher in Wittenberg when St. Paul’s Lutheran Church was established in 1903. This also must have been the place where he got to know Laura Gemeinhardt. In my Wittenberg ’03 book, I chose to have the first worship service at St. Paul’s become the beginning of the romance between these two.

Later in 1903, Richard took a teaching position at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Cole Camp, Missouri. It was also called Lake Creek. In 1905, Richard returned to Wittenberg to marry Laura. We find their church marriage record in the books of St. Paul’s. They were married on July 16th.

Kalbfleisch/Gemeinhardt marriage record – St. Paul’s, Wittenberg, MO

My Wittenberg ’04 book does not describe this wedding, but it does include a chapter describing Richard’s proposal to Laura.

We can also look at the marriage license for this pair.

Kalbfleisch/Gemeinhardt marriage license

Richard took Laura back to Cole Camp where he would spend the rest of his teaching career. We find this family in several census records living in the Williams Township of Benton County. There were two sons in the household in 1910. As near as I can tell, this couple had 4 children altogether. Also included in this entry is Emma Gemeinhardt, one of Laura’s younger sisters.

1910 census – Williams Township, MO

In 1918, Richard had his World War I draft registration completed.

Richard Kalbfleisch – WWI draft registration

Next, we find the Kalbfleisch household in the 1920 census. All 4 children are listed.

1920 census – Williams Township, MO

The 1930 census shows just 2 children still living with Richard and Laura.

1930 census – Williams Township, MO

In September of 1936, lightning struck Holy Cross Lutheran Church, burning it tot the ground. A new church was built that was dedicated on October 31, 1937, the 420th anniversary of the Reformation. Below is a photo of that church building where worship services continue to this day.

Holy Cross Lutheran Church – Cole Camp, MO

In 1938, one of Richard and Laura’s sons, Victor, died in Kansas City. His death certificate says that he was also a school teacher. Victor’s birthday, July 16, 1911, indicates he was born on his parents’ 6th anniversary. Victor was buried in the Floral Hills Cemetery in Kansas City. This will help us understand why Richard and Laura are buried where they are.

Victor Kalbfleisch death certificate

The last census we can view is the one taken in 1940. Richard and Laura had an empty nest.

1940 census – Williams Township, MO

Richard had to complete a World War II draft card in 1942.

Richard Kalbfleisch – WWII draft card

Richard retired from teaching in 1950. A section from the history of Holy Cross Lutheran Church describes some things happening toward the end of his career.

Holy Cross Lutheran School history

Richard Kalbfleisch died in 1962 at the age of 84. His death certificate says he died in Cole Camp.

Richard Kalbfleisch death certificate

Laura Kalbfleisch died in 1975 at the age of 89. Richard and Laura were buried in the Floral Hill Cemetery in Kansas City, the same cemetery in which their son, Victor, had been buried.

Richard and Laura Kalbfleisch gravestone – Floral Hills, Kansas City, MO

I have not been able to find a photograph of Richard Kalbfleisch. However, I did find one of his brother, John George Kalbfleisch, who was sporting a rather impressive mustache.

John George Kalbfleisch

I also found a photo that contains one of Laura’s sisters, Emma, who was living in Laura’s household in 1910. She is the one on the right in this photograph. The other girl is not identified. I think there is a chance that it may have been one of her sisters. I think they bear a certain resemblance to one another. Could it possibly be Laura? What do you think?

Emma Gemeinhardt on right

Recently, I had the honor of signing one of my Wittenberg books for my friend, Charley Gemeinhardt’s, granddaughter, Laura Gemeinhardt. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this young lady would find a Lutheran school teacher to marry someday?


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