Emden marks two special anniversaries in 2021:
Emden’s 150th and the Community House’s 100th

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[July 22, 2021]     On Friday, July 16, Emden began a weekend of anniversary celebrations and homecoming. The town was established 150 years ago and the Emden Community House marks 100 years.

A book written for Emden’s 125th Anniversary in 1996 said John Gill had the village of Emden surveyed June 15, 1871. On June 24, 1871, Emden was dedicated. The village was in Orville Township and “adjacent to the Peoria, Lincoln and Decatur Railroad. The site was surveyed by Thomas Gardner and contained 30 blocks.” Over the years there were several additions to the village.

Many of the early settlers were German immigrants and the village’s name came from the village of Emden in northern Germany. As the Qausquicentennial book said, “it was natural for them to wish to settle in a community bearing the same name as a city in the country they had just left.”

The first store operated as both general store and post office. In addition to the store and churches, the village soon had “meat markets, clothing stores, livery stables, taverns, auto agencies, restaurants, a bank, hardware store, feed stores, elevators, harness shops, hatcheries, machinery repair shops, lumberyard and theater.” Today, just a handful of businesses remain.

As Emden marks 150 years, many families living in the area are descendants of those early settlers.

Opening ceremonies to mark the occasion and kick off the weekend celebration were held on the town’s main street.

The Emden American Legion Color Guard led the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the National Anthem.

Mayor John Snyder said many people contributed to the anniversary celebration including the American Legion and Sons of the American Legion. These groups have hosted the homecomings for 74 years.

The sesquicentennial committee was led by Lori Lessen and Ladonna Gass, who planned the celebration with the help of several other community members.

Joe Snyder, who does the town maintenance, worked behind the scenes to set up barricades and get the town square ready for the celebration.

Snyder then introduced Mia Westen, Little Miss Princess for the Sesquicentennial. She was crowned Sunday, July 11, and the other contestants Amelia Arnold, Lila Cross and Brinley Balance. The Little Miss reigns for 25 years.

Westen was crowned by 1971 Centennial Queen Donna Wagner Struebing and 1996 Quasquicentennial Little Miss Emden Jenna Bergman Conrady.

Lord Mayor Tim Kruthoff of Emden, Germany sent a declaration in honor of the celebration after Emden, Illinois resident Dena Bergman contacted them about the celebration.

The declaration said, “About 150 years ago, brave East Frisians, our ancestors, left their home on Germany’s west coast to find a better way of life. More than 6,900 kilometers away, in the U.S. state of Illinois, they found a place to stay, which became their new home and which they named after their old one, Emden.” Though the “stories of our cities are different, they connect us in a special way.”

In his Declaration, Lord Mayor Kruthoff then congratulated the town on the special occasion “on behalf of the Council and Administration.” He said, “It is a special anniversary for you as well for us and I am very pleased we can get in touch on this special occasion. We would like to extend and deepen our connection and welcome you here in Emden one day. I am sure you would feel very comfortable here.”

The declaration closed by wishing Emden “a wonderful day and great celebrations. In our hearts, we will be there.”

Snyder recalled a long time ago, several locals from Emden, Illinois went to visit Emden, Germany. He said those who made the trip had a great time and talked about how wonderful it was there.

Opening Ceremonies ended with Larry ‘Mo’ Westen sharing a history of the Emden Community House and how it came about.

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Westen said around 1915, citizens of Emden began discussing the need for a building for a school that could also be used for meetings and entertainment. They had several meetings with people from the university to talk about what kinds of building would be best for community development and went to view several buildings.

A building in Brimfield caught their eye and John Zimmer of Pekin was hired to draw up plans. F.H. Feaster was talked to about costs and serving as Superintendent of Construction.

In 1919, 22 people came forward to back the money needed for the building. The estimate was $45,000 to $50,000. By having the backing, Westen said the project could begin before money was collected. Other ways money was raised was through selling $25 shares with no more than ten per person. Donations were also given and many organizations had events to raise the money. The final costs ended up being $55,000.

Groundbreaking took place in 1920 and they started digging the basement. After a lot of hard work, the community house was dedicated on April 29, 1921.

For close to a week, there was entertainment, meals and much more going on at the new community house.

In 1970, the community voted to have the Emden Park District formed to maintain the building. Over the years the Emden Park District has tuck pointed the brick, put on a new roof and added air conditioning and furnace. In addition, windows have been replaced, a handicap lift and new restrooms added and many general maintenance items done.

The Emden Community House has hosted many events over the past 100 years including banquets, picture shows, the Emden Orchestra, Community Christmases.

The Community House held an open house all weekend to mark the anniversary. Vintage clothing and newspaper clippings were on display upstairs.

A quilt show was also held with 127 quilts on display.

The backdrop on the stage was previously displayed at the Emden Grade School for the 125th anniversary 25 years ago. It was donated by Loretta Hellman.

People could learn more history of the village by visiting the Emden Historical Society. The Historical Society contained vintage clothing, news clippings, photos and other items related to the village’s history. Earl Gass presented a slideshow of veterans with local connections during the evening.

Other events Friday night included the Hartsburg Emden FFA chicken dinner and food served by the Sons of the American Legion. The SAL had homecoming games for anyone to play. For the kids, there were bouncy houses and face painting. An ice cream stand sold cool treats. As always, the bingo game offering cash prizes drew a big crowd.

Entertainment was provided by the Central Illinois Banjo Club from 6 to 7 and Jack Dupp and the Empty Bottles.

Betty Gail Wagner, who served on this year’s planning committee, helped plan the last two anniversary celebrations. For the 100th Anniversary Committee in 1971, Wagner served as secretary. On the 125th Anniversary Committee in 1996, she served as treasurer. Wagner said both were great experiences. Many people Wagner worked with are now gone, but she enjoyed planning with them.

When planning the centennial celebration, Wagner said it was wonderful to work with Ruth Ann Fink, who had many dreams and ideas she carried out. Fink was able to get Governor Oglesby and his wife to be a part of the centennial celebration.

After the centennial, Wagner recalls riding around Emden in a golf cart and enjoying the fact they had a successful celebration. Books printed for both the 100th and 125th celebration provide a history of Emden and many of the families with long time roots. Wagner enjoys looking through them and reminiscing.

Julia Cross is another long time Emden resident who remembers coming to homecomings since she was a little girl. She enjoys seeing everyone at these events.

Linda Hayes remembers years ago when they had rides for the kids. She said the homecoming always brings a good crowd to see people they have not seen for years. It provides good, cheap fun and is a safe place for kids to run around and play.

Mike Rohlfs said seeing people is great especially after not having a homecoming last year. He enjoys catching up with people at homecomings.

The rain that lasted most of the day had cleared away by Friday evening making it a nice cool evening to be out and about celebrating Emden’s 150th. On Saturday, the celebration continued with more special activities to mark the anniversary including a parade, car show and antique tractor show.

[Angela Reiners]


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