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Wilhelm Hepting

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Wilhelm Hepting was born in a German-speaking community in Manitoba, Canada during 1903. In 1918 he became ill and nearly died. In 1922 he moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota to attend seminary at Concordia, Saint Paul. He spent the remainder of his life as a Pastor in different rural Missouri Lutheran parishes.

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0:03:57

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please contact Immigration History Research Center staff for permissions not covered by this Creative Commons license.

Transcription

In the fall of 1918 a wave of Spanish Infleunza swept over Canada, attacking young Wilhelm, a boy on a German Lutheran farm in Manitoba, Canada, causing him to become ill with double pneumonia. For twenty days the town doctor came to their home. On the final day as the doctor was leaving he gave the young Wilhelm no more than twenty minutes to live.

In an effort of final desperation his father poured a teaspoon of kerosene oil down his throat to clear his lungs and normal his breathing. Somehow the remedy worked, and though sickly and weighing below 85 pounds Wilhelm recovered.

While ill, Wilhelm made a secret pact in order for a full recovery. Coming from a strongly religious German Lutheran community, Wilhelm plead with God that if he was graced with a full recovery he would devote his life to God, as he said, “preferably through ministry.”

This pact remained essentially secret, until 1922 when Pastor Swechmann from Edmonton, Alberta visited the local parish one Sunday and preached the need for ministers. That day Wilhelm Hepting and his cousin Henry Fry made an agreement to both become pastors.

After some deliberation with their families and the local pastor, it was agreed that the boys, at that point 19 and 20 years old, would travel south of the border to Saint Paul, Minnesota to attend Concordia College. It took several hours of exchange with the US immigration office to convince the official there that they truly were going to the US to become ministers and not something more sinister. After one train and one cab, the two cousins were in Saint Paul.

A diary from his schooling years in 1928 reveals a message, as Wilhelm later in his life would reiterate, that his migration was driven by a sense of vocation and religious belief. Many of the entries speak about his training or ventures to different religious functions.

Sports and physical activity also dominated his writings. As he wrote in his remembrance of Athletics at Concordia, “do not ruin your body through neglect of exercise; much less neglect your studies and overemphasize your athletics.”

Wilhelm Hepting was my great-grandfather through my father’s mother. His immigration marks part of my own family’s, thus my own, immigration history.

This immigration story has greatly shaped my families’ lives, as my grandmother too went into Lutheran ministry through teaching and my father has spent much how his life focused on sport and religion.

But further, it illustrates to me how migrations and migration history have shaped and informed the lives of all Americans. The migration decision and experiences of Wilhelm not only affected his life, but subsequently effected the location, culture, and ideals that my family embraced. This is not only Wilhelm Hepting’s immigration story, but also mine.