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Charles Meredith: Repurposing a building again


Dear Friends,

Good morning. Before we get to the Brown Bag Lunch [and lecture series] held at the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center in Pennsburg/ East Greenville. Here’s a culinary heads up.

The Farmer and the Chickpea restaurant attracted Mighty Betsy and me because the building used to house the Ede Motor Company just west of McCool’s Red Lion at Main and West Broad in Quakertown. And for you old timers …older than we, if that’s possible … before Francis Ede, it was Bill Shelly who sold Ford autos.

Francis Ede owned the Oldsmobile franchise although his love of steam trains occasionally focused his attention to the Reading Railroad in Quakertown. He’d lease a few passenger cars and a steam engine and sell excursions on the railroad between Quakertown and Lansdale. The enterprise often experienced anxious moments when the train broke down … especially if it was stuck in the Perkasie Tunnel.

Anyway, MB and I visited The Farmer and the Chickpea and were impressed. While there are no servers and everything is selected cafeteria style, there is plenty of staff to help you choose your items. The kitchen is in full display and the food labeled helpfully. The restaurant has been open only for one month but it was very busy. We liked it.

And now to business. We heard that our friend Karina Sturman Rilling was giving a talk about her family’s escape from the Soviets at the end of World War II and their emigration from Latvia to America. How Karina’s parents and siblings settled in Applebachsville in Haycock Township is a remarkable story.

MB and I were familiar with Karina’s harrowing tale because we’d purchased the book that 30 Latvian families had written about their experiences. It’s worth reading. “Dangerous Journeys to Freedom” was published last year by the Richland Library Company. Richland Library was founded in 1788 and is open Wednesdays and Saturdays.

(Incidentally, there’s an art exhibit that just opened at the library featuring the works of James Schucker, one of Bucks County’s famous artists. In the 1940s and 50s, he was an illustrator for magazines like Saturday Evening Post and Colliers.). Later he became a popular portrait and landscape painter.

But I stray. Karina Rilling’s talk included chapters about her families and neighbors who lived in Latvia, first under the oppression of Nazi Germany and later the Soviet Union. Listening in the audience was Rolf Augstroze, a Latvian-American who wrote the first chapter in the book. He later joined us for lunch that followed. At 6 feet-8 inches, Augstroze is imposing. And his deep bass voice reveals musicianship. Augstroze and his family sing and play instruments. Any chorus would be thrilled to have him as a chorister.

The leader of the Brown Bag Lunch is professor Allen Viehmeyer, the associate director of research at the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center. Viehmeyer told us that during the 13 years that the Brown Bag Lunch has been meeting, there have been more than 120 lectures offered. Several years ago, my friend Rodney Henry, a Quakertown attorney, discovered Viehmeyer when Rodney was searching for a German teacher.

It’s such a small world. Here’s what Rodney wrote in his preface to “Dangerous Journeys to Freedom.”

“The idea for the book came from my study of German at the Schwenkfelder Library in Pennsburg with Professor Allen Viehmeyer,” Rodney began. “Professor Viehmeyer had me read two books by ethnic Germans who fled with their families in the final days of World War II from Harperdorf, Lower Silesia, the front line of the battle between the Russians and the Germans, to Germany.”

When I learned that Viehmeyer also taught Latin, I signed up for a class. In MB’s and my chorus singing days, we often sang famous choral masses in Latin. I’ve often thought that I should revisit the language since my high school days, so many years ago. So, I’m about to become a Latin beginner. Stay tuned.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith

By the way, the Schwenkfelder Church is a small American Christian body rooted in the 16th-century Protestant Reformation teachings of Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig. Originally calling themselves Confessors of the Glory of Christ, the group became known as Schwenkfelders.

These Christians often suffered persecution like slavery, prisons and fines at the hands of the government and state churches in Europe. Most of them lived in southern Germany and Lower Silesia.