Clocks a symbol of Mennonite heritage

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Kroeger Clocks.
By Arthur Kroeger. Mennonite Heritage Village, Steinbach, Man., 2012, 174 pages.

March 13, 2013 | Artbeat | Number 6

My cousin Arthur’s book about clocks of the Russian Mennonites, and about Kroeger clocks in particular, is the result of a life-long labour. He is the last in a Krueger/Kroeger lineage over two centuries long who created and sold these artifacts, and then cleaned and repaired them in subsequent decades. Many of the clocks served as icons that integrated family, community and colony life over generations.

Arthur’s father Peter and my mother Margaretha were siblings. Some 25 years ago, when she was about 90 years old, my mother wrote her recollections that provide details of her life when she, Peter and other siblings lived next to the Kroeger clock factory in Rosenthal, South Russia, a century ago.

The book begins with an historical sketch of the lineage of the “Reimerswalde-Rosenthal” lineage of Krueger/Kroeger clock-makers. The second part describes the invention and evolution of clock-making that led to the particular kind of clock made by this family. The third and final part has stories of individual Kroeger clocks, often including disastrous events during which clocks and lives were saved. The stories serve to weave together many aspects of the first two parts of the book with the personalities and lives of many clock owners.

Arthur acknowledges colleagues for providing exceptional help with this book, including Victor Peters and Roland Sawatzky, and the printers, Friesens of Altona, which beautifully reproduced many full-colour photographs of clocks. The foreward, by Al Reimer, provides an important introduction to this complex book.

Arthur acknowledges about 200 people who helped him amass information about many Kroeger clocks over the past half-century. Many shared a commitment to care for the clocks as they carried them to Eastern Europe and then to South and North America.

While the clocks were an important business feature in the Russian Mennonite commonwealth, the motivation of the successive generations of Kroegers in their clock-making was not primarily capitalistic. They attached importance to the clocks’ contributions to the Gemeinschaft, or communitarian dynamics.

The author has included short accounts of other clock-makers in the Mennonite colonies of Russia. One of these, David Lepp, was my ancestor on my father’s side. After about 1850, Lepp switched to making farm machinery, which led eventually to the factories of my great-great uncle, A. J. Koop. I infer from my father’s memoir that, like the Kroegers, he was more communitarian than capitalistic in his motivations.

As Arthur recounts, the first Krueger who came to the Russian Mennonite colonies was Johann, who arrived in Chortitza/Rosenthal in 1804. Rosenthal was in a secluded valley near Chortitza, to which “Deputy” Johan Bartsch had retreated following the turbulent early years after the first settlement in Chortitza in 1789. When Johann Kruger brought his clock-making tools to Rosenthal, his son Abraham married Margaretha, Bartsch’s daughter. Margaretha’s younger brother, Jacob, became the Oberschulze, or senior official, for the Old Colony. Presumably having his brother-in-law serving in that role didn’t hurt Abraham Kroeger’s clock enterprise.

With its writings, sketches, family photos and especially the many photographs of the beautiful clocks, this book joins a growing library of books about Russian Mennonites in which the secular and sacred can’t be fully teased apart.

Henry A. Regier lives in Elmira, Ont.

Comments

Before my father died in 2004 he gave me a clock which sits proudly in my living room in Winnipeg.
Would anyone have any information on this clock or where I could find more information about this clock.
It looks like a Kroeger clock with the roses on the face and the hand (has the hour hand only) of intricate design.
The clock was manufactured (I'm not sure if my father meant built) by a P. Lepp, Kolony Chortitz No. 121 in 1843. My great-great-grandfather, Jacob Klassen (1808-1862) purchased it from the manufacturer in 1843.
When my great-great-grandfather died in 1862 his widow, Justina Kroeker (Peters) (1816-1878) moved to Canada with her young family in 1875 settling on the East Reserve. In 1879, my great-grandfather, Johann K. Klassen (1857-1934) was granted ownership of the clock by his siblings as a wedding gift.

Any information you can give me would be appreciated.

Barbara Wiebe

Hello, Barbara. We at Canadian Mennonite are not able to give you information about your clock nor pass on your message. We suggest you contact the author of the book directly.

--Ginny Hostetler, Web Editor

We own a Kroeger Clock. It was my Grandfather's clock, Rev. Peter B. Kroeker, of Steinbach, MB. His two sons, Ben [Ben D. Kroeker, my father] and Henry spent an entire summer threshing and a fall and winter logging to make the money to buy it for their father as a gift for the Christmas of 1937. When Grandpa Kroeker died, the clock was auctioned off, and my Uncle Henry D. Kroeker purchased it. When Uncle Henry D. Kroeker passed over into Gloryland, his daughter, Mylah, asked if we wanted it. We said 'yes' and it came to live in our house in Calgary, AB. It tick-tocks away each day, keeping very accurate time. We have had it repaired once by an antique clock person in Calgary, who told us it was almost 200 years old, and very valuable. He said it was built around 1870. I remember the clock, because as a little child, we always went to Grandpa Kroeker's house at Christmas time. We had a program, and me and my other 51 first cousins had to say or sing a "vensch' before we got our 'tootches' as a gift from the grandparents. Inside the 'toothaches' were a lot of peanuts, a few candies and an orange, along with a little gift -- a handkerchief, or a pair of sox, or some other little useful necessity! Our grandpa Kroeker sat in his favourite chair, with the clock tic-tocking away behind him. He probably placed his chair in front of the clock for the purposes of protecting the chain and brass weight at the bottom of it from 'grabby' kidzy-widzy' curious hands! Anyways, when I said my 'vensches' I would look at the face of the clock instead of my Grandpa's face. That's why I remember the clock so well.

I have a Kroeger clock which came from a Martin Penner family near Swift Current, Saskatchewan. My father got it through some sort of a deal, which I never knew, but I have it and it works fine. It's a one hand clock. My father passed away in 1996 and gave the clock to me. That's 20 years ago and the clock is no doubt from the 1800s. Henry

We are wondering if our last name Kroeker is connected to the Kroeger name, back in Russia. We have heard it, but it has not been verified. I have seen several of these clocks at various homes in Winnipeg and it has peaked my curiosity.

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