MENNONITES of Beauregard Parish
Mennonite Quilts are Prized Possessions
The Mennonites are direct descendants of the Anabaptists of sixteenth century Europe. As a part of a widespread counterculture movement of religious reform, the Anabaptist movement produced three groups that survive to this day; the Mennonites of Dutch and Prussian origin, the Hutterian Brethren of Austria, and the Swiss Brethren.
Mennonite emigration began in 1709, a year that was unusually cold and severe throughout Europe. To escape religious persecution in the late 1800's, the Smith ancestors immigrated from Russian to the United States and established a home in western Kansas.
Mennonites, in order to escape Kansas dust storms and extremely cold winters, migrated to Louisiana in 1937. Beauregard Parish became one of two sites of Mennonite settlements in the state of Louisiana. The other is in the northern part of the state near Lake Providence. Among the early settlers were the Schmidt's, Jantz's, Smith's, and Ratzloff's, who were later joined by the Koehn's, Decker's and Johnson's.
One of the first Mennonite settlers, Albert Smith, (1903-1986) had recalled that the Kansas dust storms of the 30's were of severity to the extent that visibility was zero. One storm in particular, lasted 72 hours, uprooting 500 acres of his wheat and blowing away dirt as deep as it had been plowed. This storm convinced Smith there must be a better country in which to live.
Literature published by the Longbell Lumber Company had circulated in the Kansas area that described Louisiana as a land of opportunity. The pictures depicting the pine trees and lush satsuma bushes were enough to lure Smith to the area. Personal inspection of the land assured Smith that for $3.00 an acre and no property tax, 80 acres of DeRidder soil had a future for him.
Long gone are the many acres of satsumas of the 30's. but newer frost
resistant varieties survive in yards around Beauregard Parish
Friends and relatives ridiculed him for considering leaving his home in Montezuma, Kansas, as the "jungles of Louisiana contained mosquitoes large enough to be used as milking stools." However, the friends too, became intrigued by the abundance of crops that could be raised in this area and Mennonite families, numbering 22, moved to Beauregard Parish to live the quiet life in what is now known as the Mennonite settlement south of DeRidder. The promotion of agriculture and dairy farming in Beauregard Parish can be greatly attributed to this Mennonite settlement.
Arriving in Louisiana to start the new life had its problems, but R.A. Scalfi, Sr. (1897-1968) provided a house, chicken house, and two milk cows to assist Albert Smith until his land could be cleared and his home constructed.
Smith brought a new John Deer Model B tractor from Kansas along with other farm equipment. As tractors were not being utilized in the area, many people said that a tractor just would not be practical for truck farming. But having faith in the land, he proceeded to clear, cultivate, fertilize and plant the soil. His diligence netted $50.00 an acre raising string beans and one crop produced two tons per acre. He found that many other crops proved to be successful in the area, such as soybean hay, strawberries and cucumbers. While crops thrived in their truck farming endeavors, a large cucumber crop provided the first discouragement. Farmers were promised $1.50 to $2.75 per bushel for cucumbers, but a car load sale brought only one cent a bushel.
It was then, the farmers decided that only through a united cooperative effort could they survive such prices. Thus, the Highland Growers organization was established at the railway loading dock that was located on North Washington Avenue. Albert Smith was elected president of the organization in 1938. With the aid of $800. in bank financing, and the mailing of 200 penny post cards, a car load of seed potatoes was sold from the rail car. This and similar transactions involving beans and strawberries enabled the farmers to prosper and launched Highland Growers on the road to success.
However, World War II presented labor problems and many truck farmers converted to dairy farming. Highland Growers then became an independent family owned store on South Washington Avenue in 1942.
The Mennonite people are visible to some degree. The outsider who drives through a Mennonite settlement can not help but recognize them by their farms, furnishings, simplicity in dress, automobiles, fields and gardens.
The Mennonite woman's work, like the work of an American woman, is never done. But she is always with her children, and to break the monotony, there are weddings, singings, funerals, quiltings and Sunday Services. For her satisfaction in daily life, she turns to brightly colored flowers in the garden or in the winter, to knitting, rug-making, and working on quilts. She sews clothes for herself and her children; plants, preserves and prepares the food her family consumes. The Mennonite wife usually raises a large variety of edibles. She makes sure that there are plenty of cucumbers, corn, red beets, and leaf lettuce in her garden. The appearance of the lawn and the area surrounding the house is largely the responsibility of the wife, and she feels obligated to keep the inside as well as the outside clean and neat in appearance.
The Mennonites have no school of higher learning, but have a parochial school to avoid the external influence that comes with the centralized school system. Teenagers are expected to work.
The Mennonites had settled in DeRidder not only for the better life but to continue their way of worship, free from the vanities of the world.
The families organized their Church of God Mennonite congregation in 1939 and had their worship services in the Broadlands' Community House with F.D. Fricke as their first pastor. In 1949 the Highland Mennonite Church was constructed 8 miles south of DeRidder on Hwy. 171. New worship facilities were constructed in 1972 where obedience to laws of the land is stressed. Marrying outside the church and divorce are forbidden.
Due to continued growth, it became necessary to construct another worship facility, The Magnolia Mennonite Church. It was completed east of DeRidder in 2002, five miles east of Hwy 171 on Hwy 26.
Mennonites in Beauregard Parish thrive as farmers and some are noted for their carpenter work, upholstery repair, and furniture making. The women are noted for their baking and quilts, fetching in the hundreds of dollars.
As the world becomes more complex, insecure, and stressful, seekers from all walks of life and different denominations continue to be attracted to the Mennonite way of life.
Provided by: Velmer Lenora Smith