NEW BREMEN’S 175th
given by James Dicke, II at the N.B.H.A.’s Annual Dinner – March 17, 2008]
friends… It is an honor to be
here. I’m feeling twice honored this
year. As many of you know, I was
asked to be the keynote speaker at the 175th anniversary
celebration for New Bremen and Wapakoneta held at the county courthouse. It was an especially enjoyable
afternoon. I tried to speak on that
occasion about the economic future of New Bremen and towns like New Bremen
across America. In this century,
towns like New Bremen will be great places to raise families and companies,
and great places for lives and careers.
All of us have friends who live in larger cities. The tax rates are difficult, the commute times
to work are punishing, the cost of living is excessive, and it is not a life
where you can even let a kid ride a bicycle around town.
If you think about new
inventions in just the last 25 years - inventions like the fax machine, cell
phones, overnight mail, and computer assistance for information, shopping,
and communications, the changes are staggering and they work in favor of
small-town life, taking away what used to be the advantages of larger cities.
The economic health of
an area most surely does have its consequences. The prices of property, the care of the physical infrastructure
of the community, a welcoming tax climate…
All of these things find their place in the ability of a town to be
successful; and success can build upon success, just as failures can also
compound. No community can ever stay
the same. Each day, every community
is in the process of getting better or getting worse. It happens in tiny and subtle ways we do
not notice at the moment; but over a decade, one sees the consequences.
I won’t point out
particular communities, since good manners should have a place on a night
like this, but I think we all know which of the communities in our immediate
area have less and which have more going for them as compared to the same towns
25 or 50 years ago. Just think of our
local Auglaize/Mercer/Shelby County experience as a story being replicated
all across this country.
No future is
assured. New Bremen as a town, and
all of us individually, are a work in progress each year. Improvement always has more to do with
whether or not we have identified the right questions or as I sometimes joke,
“Are we just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?”
Most of my working day
is about the future, questioning where Crown is going, challenges to be
faced, and working to be ready for where the next step is going to take
us. My job has been about trying to
imagine the future as an essential step in charting a course with the
company’s other leaders.
Tonight, however, is a
little different. I have been asked
to step out of character and reminisce about my memories of growing up in New
Bremen, and reflect a bit on New Bremen’s past. Of course, I will follow the request.
With apologies to
those of you who already know the story, let me start with my
great-grandfather, Henry Dicke. Henry
was the youngest of 16 kids born to Cord Dicke, when Cord was 68 years
old. The Dickes were New Bremen area
farmers by trade and over the years, Henry and his wife lived on a couple of
different area farms. Their final
farm, however, just south of town, is where the Amsterdam Shopping Center is
today. Like all good local
Protestants, Henry’s Lutheran prayer book was in German, printed in
Chicago. I remember Leo Topp telling
me what it was like as a young boy to help Henry plow that farm with a horse
and plow, resting for 10 minutes to give the horse a break after each pass
around the field with the plow. Leo’s
point in telling me the story was to illustrate how modern machinery had made
farm work today so much less social, and more relentless, without
breaks. But I stray from my point…
Henry thought farming
was no good way to make a living.
Trying to buy a farm with very little family financial help and
raising six kids of his own with my great-grandmother Emma Maurer Dicke, left
him without the time, energy or resources for much else. He made each of his six kids promise that
they would find something else to do, and they all did. They may have earned their livings in
other ways, but the family involvement with farms and farming has remained
unbroken. Dora Dicke Maurer (Henry
and Emma’s oldest child) was an amateur genealogist, so I can tell you that
one branch of the family or another has been involved in farming each year
for roughly 500 years. If we had the
facts, I’m sure it would probably go back even further. It always makes me smile when somebody
tells me that farming is in the genes.
Thanks to Aunt Dora, I understand.
My parents met and
married in Dayton, Ohio, where my grandfather, Carl Dicke (his nickname was
“C.H.”) was an executive with the Master Electric Company. World War II was in progress and as the
war ended and I was born in 1945, my grandfather Carl and Carl’s brother,
Allen Dicke, decided to start a company in New Bremen. They owned a farm in partnership, where
they raised the “Crown” breed of mink and agreed to use that name temporarily
until they thought of a better one.
Allen had once visited the home of an ancestor in a town called Kronenberg
(literally translated, that means “Crown town”) in Germany, but the family
lore does not suggest that was a part of the naming decision. The older brother of Allen and Carl, Oscar
Dicke, thought the whole thing was just a “risky venture” and declined to be
involved. Oscar was probably right,
but you know how brothers can be.
Carl took a little offense at the comment. Both brothers, however, were just as happy not to have their
bossy older brother involved, but had felt a responsibility to make the
offer. Oscar was a character. He once told his wife not to buy a 25 cent
plant because if she bought the 15 cent alternative, it would grow soon
Some of my very
earliest memories of New Bremen are of the grand elm trees covering the
streets with a canopy of leaves. They
were planted on the edge of the street itself, where the storm sewers are
today, and I remember how the streets would become impassable with tree
branches whenever there was a rain storm.
In the fall, there were leaves everywhere, large piles being burned….
And I still associate the smell of burning leaves with my childhood in New
Bremen. I still recall the concern
each year about the polio season.
In 1951, Allen decided
to sell his part of Crown to Carl and Jim.
Then, in December of 1952, just before Christmas, Carl died of a heart
attack at the age of 50. He had
experienced his first heart attack in his 30s. Whatever the medical situation was probably would have been
repairable with today’s technology and he lived with it for a long time.
Carl had been full of opinions. He thought I should have a horse, because
knowing how to handle a horse was very important. He thought I should be paid well for good work, so he gave me a
silver dollar for being the ring-bearer in my aunts’ weddings. He thought I should appreciate God’s
beauty and to distract me at another family funeral, he showed me how to
squeeze a snapdragon blossom to make its jaws open and close.
Grandpa Dicke died
less than 90 days after my younger brother was born. There is only one picture of the two of
them together. I had just turned 7
and remember St. Paul Church being filled to overflowing for his funeral, as
it often happens when a young man or woman dies while all of the friends are
still alive. Carl was the youngest of
the six siblings and the first to die.
As a 7-year-old myself, I did not really appreciate that he was still
a young man. Certainly, I did not
appreciate the pressures on my 30-year-old father.
Dad was always
working. He would come home from the
office for a meal and then go back to work.
He would come home late and be out early. Mother loved music and art, and was a gifted pianist. She would have the radio on during the
day, and we might sing along with some tune; but when dad came home, the
radio would be turned off to give him a little quiet. They were, and are still, extraordinarily
devoted to one another. To give
Mother a break, I would go to the office with Dad or Grandpa, so I don’t
remember a time when I was not sitting in on Crown business meetings. Jack Earl, the school art teacher and now
a famous ceramic artist, helped with the new look for the TV antenna rotator
control box, shaping the design in grey wet clay, and explaining the math of
Some weekends we would
go to Dayton. I-75 had not yet been
built. My mother wanted Dad to have a
break from work; but at the kitchen table on Canterbury Drive, work continued. Grandpa Webster and Dad and I would talk,
while Dad would spread papers out on the kitchen table, looking for insights
from his wise father-in-law. My
mother’s father, Warren Webster, was a businessman of remarkable wisdom and
insight, who had left school and gone to work at age 14.
Later, I realized just
how much pressure my dad was carrying.
At 30 years of age, he had a young struggling company trying to get
established with no capital, a young family, was the sole source of support
for a widowed mother, and had a brother-in-law who needed some help to
continue medical school. Dad spent a
lot of time culling the newspaper classified ads, looking for things Crown
needed to see if they could be found as bargains. One of my second cousins said to me one day when I was about 8,
“My grandfather says your father will go broke.” It seemed to me like a silly thing, but later as I told my
father what had been said, he just looked at me, got very, very red and said,
“You don’t need to worry about that.”
And that was the end of the subject.
Actually, life was good and I was not worried, but I clearly sensed it
was best not to continue the conversation.
There was a lot about
my childhood experience that was like an extended family. I could tell you about warm memories of
baseball and Red Finke driving around town in that Model T Ford with a
portable PA system, announcing, “Come to the ballpark”, with all of the game
particulars. Of course, in those
days, there was only one ballpark.
There are great memories of the old Central School and my classmates. In our first grade Dick and Jane reading
book, I thought Jane looked like my classmate, Suzanne Luedeke. Our home was at 107 North Franklin Street,
now the Kuhn family home. Our phone
number was “133” and sometimes the operator would even tell a caller, “I know
they are not home right now, but they should return this evening.” New Bremen was even more of a fish bowl
than it is today. Great-grandma Dicke
lived nearby, and there were cousins and uncles all over town - on Herman
Street, Washington Street, Franklin Street, Walnut Street, Main Street, Eastmoor
Court, and probably some I’m not recalling.
We had so many great and dedicated teachers, starting with Dorothy
Harlamert in the first grade and going from there. Town bullies existed of course but they were few and far
between. We raced bicycles in the
town park and played cowboys and Indians.
In the 1950s, that was the thing to do. For 5 cents, you could get a paper bag of licorice buttons at
the drug store.
In the town park was a
Rodman cannon facing south, as all small town cannons in Yankee land faced
south after the Civil War. A new book
is about to be available about New Bremen in the Civil War. I have a few copies here tonight, just off
the press. It may surprise you to
know that New Bremen did not vote for Abraham Lincoln, but when the war came,
our young men enlisted and my great-grandfather’s older brother, William
Dicke, died in the Battle at Vicksburg.
Two other soldiers from this area even came to be awarded the
Congressional Medal of Honor.
One thing I want to
share with you tonight, however, is something that I’ve never spoken about
before. It probably should be a
little embarrassing, but I think it speaks volumes for the kindness and
understanding of the people of this town.
As a kid, I was
entrepreneurial - I guess I still am.
I remember seeing an ad in a comic book for salesmen who wanted to
sell boxes of greeting cards and stationary.
I talked my reluctant parents into advancing me the money for some
inventory and I started going door to door, pedaling my goods. A couple of the residents asked if I was
selling to benefit the scouts or anyone and, of course, I truthfully said I
was not. A few looked at me strangely
and asked my name. Many did not buy,
but some did, and I did sell my inventory.
Everyone was kind though, and it was that learning experience of going
door to door and dealing with a town full of kind adults that was a great
learning exercise. It was great,
however, because the adults of this town were very understanding and
supportive of young people, even when there was no reason to do so.
It is a little amazing
to think of what this town was like 175 years ago. Companies of German settlers would gather in Cincinnati, could
buy a town site already incorporated and surveyed and platted, ready to go,
as it were. Our founders saved the
money, however, did their own paperwork, and to this day, we have a few
little survey glitches that don’t quite line up.
Spring would break,
the settlers would rush to come, girdle trees, plant some crops, build a
cabin, and generally try to get “set” enough to survive the first
winter. The effort was back-breaking,
the work relentless, and the old German expression about work hours applied -
“We work from can to can’t.”
If you want to read an
interesting book, let me suggest a new one just out called “White Cargo” by
Don Jordan and Michael Walsh. It is
about Britain sending indentured servants to America as the earliest form of
slavery in this country to pick cotton and do other work. It was cotton, of course, and the
invention of the cotton gin, that made the demand for German flax diminish
and played a part in the wave of German immigration. One of my Maurer ancestors even left a
record of his own reasons for coming to America. On the ship crossing to America, he wrote these words:
“The thought came to
me early in the month of October 1832 that I should like to go America with
my children. From the moment I
resolved to go, I became happy and carefree.
It seemed as though I were transformed. At work and in marching, I was never tired. I could make a 2-hour march in 1½
hours. Thank God for the wonderful
gift of health and for the light and happy heart.
The conditions that
influenced me to go to America are as follows:
bad housekeeping of the state, where the expenses are so great and the princely
household, the officers and state officials are paid too high; also the
customs and the toll. Land is cut
into small parts so one gets to a new land with each day’s journey and each
land is encircled by a toll line, commerce is hindered, the last cent is
taken away from the common people.
Also, the money must be changed, and the people are again losers.
complimenting and politeness and saluting, there is no end. One hardly knows how to frame his
sentences so as not to offend.
Everyone wants to be addressed as “Thou”.
the field and in the home, one is robbed.
One cannot be careful enough.
is so universal that one has to hand out 10 to 15 pounds of bread daily;
among these are many beggars. One
knows them, but one dares not refuse them because of what they may do. They live in the next village and are very
cannot be too careful in the lending of money and grain. One is cheated often. There is no such thing as keeping one’s
word or other things. They give you angel
words (compliments), but if you ask them to return what they borrowed, they
become your enemies and call you heartless.
The return of things is hard because they are so needy. Many times one loses. All confidence is gone and one dreads to
help anyone, but still one has no peace from the borrower.
Sabbath is desecrated. The good and
upright person has a battle to stay on the straight and narrow path.
spite of the extraordinary taxes, the state debt gets higher and higher every
year. What will things come to when
it must be paid? (According to the
speakers of the Hambacher Festival, the state debt amounted to 124 million
florin on the 27th of May 1832.)
duty is worrying me because of my five sons.
is seldom found. Greed and
selfishness have taken the place of true friendship.
10) When it is necessary to go to the
law, there is so much expense that many a one loses his right.
11) When one buys land for 100
franken, the state takes 14 franken and 14 crowns.
12) In the several states of Europe,
one is robbed of all freedom. A chain
is thrown around the people, and they are led like animals. For instance, one may not take a dog in
the field without a fine of 5 franken. One may not catch a rabbit, for the
fine is 3 franken. Because of these
things and many others, I am leaving Europe.
For these reasons, wealthy, prominent and worthy men and also
officials and spiritual leaders who are dissatisfied, resolve to migrate to
the United States of America where there is freedom.”
So, I think Philip
Maurer sounds a little like Ayn Rand, wouldn’t you say?
Let me pause here, if
I may, for a little translation of Mr. Maurer’s words…
A loaf of bread was called a ten-pound loaf. It was really a dense and heavy
bread. But a loaf really weighed about
8 pounds, still quite a loaf of bread and all-purpose food.
A franken was a unit of currency
derived from the French franc, following the years of French occupation. There were also units of currency called
reich, thalters, guldens, krenzers, florins, and dinars. In other words, there was no unified banking system or currency
system as we would think of it today.
Moving from one currency to another was costly.
As close as I can calculate, the
prospect of an 80-acre farm in Ohio at $1.25 per acre would have cost less
than 1 acre of German farmland, a tremendous incentive for people to come to
America for the opportunity of prosperity and freedom…
As for the bad people in the next
town, I wonder what Phillip Maurer thought of the notorious Girty brothers in
St. Marys, when he finally did arrive here.
Some things don’t change.
So, anyway, when they
did arrive, what were their aspirations for this community? A look at German communities like
Kronenberg and Lauterechen might give us a clue. Often, farmers in Germany actually lived in the community and
would go out to their fields in the daytime, a throwback to the medieval
needs of security. America would be
more modern. Some of New Bremen’s
local economic success stories in the first hundred years focused on the use
of local resources – pork packing, brick making, blanket making, furniture
making, retail selling and food processing.
A lot of local characters and “nicknames” were an outgrowth of the
fact that this was a community where there was a closed economic loop, where
people essentially were mostly dealing with one another. Local credit and local confidence was a
substitute for the fact that capital was not always very available. Even in retirement, my great-grandfather,
Fred Kamman, harbored sore feelings against people who put on airs, but had
not paid their accounts with him as a local merchant. He made sure the Kamman account book is in
the family library. The descendents
of the deadbeats are not here tonight, as far as I know, but if any of you
want to consult the book, it can be arranged.
Regardless of the
initial aspirations for the community in 1832 and its capital constraints, it
seems there was a big effort to sculpt the topography to place Lock One in the center of
the town. Many of you probably know
that the watershed point actually starts in Jackson Township, in the woods
just south of Amsterdam Road. From
that point, the Kuest Ditch passes through my backyard and eventually passes through
the Bremenfest Park. In 1992, when we
excavated the basement for Crown’s Washington Street office building next to
the old fire station constructed in 1895, we not only found approximately 10
feet of fill dirt, but we actually found a drainage pipe at the depth of 12
feet made from a hollowed log covered with a board. In other words, I think they were making a real effort in the
1830s to use the ground coming from the construction of the canal to sculpt the topography of a town center to suit their
purposes and create the place for Lock One.
Cheap oil, for much of
the last century, fueled the American economy. Many of us in this room are old enough to remember a time when
most of the township roads were stone and dirt. Cheap oil made it possible to pave them. At the end of World War II, a surplus of
heavy earth-moving equipment was sold on the market and all over the United
States, it became economical to buy a “useless” woods and inexpensively
remove the timber, turn it into a proper farm field for crops or grazing, and
to do so in a way that made an economic profit. Man and machinery have continued to transform this area for 175
I left New Bremen for
high school at Culver in Indiana and college at Trinity University in San
Antonio. There was a whole chapter of
my formative years when I was able to spend only a little time here in New
Bremen. Perhaps this accounts for my
attachment, when so many of my New Bremen classmates came to live elsewhere. What do they say? Absence makes the heart grow fonder? As a young married couple, we lived at 27
South Herman Street, and New Bremen was still a friendly place. I will never forget one of the STAMCO
strikers knocking on the door one cold evening to see if I wanted to join
them for a poker game in the strike trailer. See, it was still a friendly town…
Thank you for the
invitation to speak this evening. It
has been fun to relive some old memories.
Mostly what I want to leave you with this evening, however, is this
observation. I believe this town will
continue to do well because of the special people who live here. The people who live in New Bremen are
special because they like to work well, they like to play fair, and they like
to leave things better than they found them.
These qualities which have served our town so well in the past will
continue to be important to success in the future. Communities that work at creating a planning process and then
proceeding openly and cooperatively to fulfill the dream will always
outperform communities where the norm is confrontation and unpleasantness.
Thank you and good evening.