The cemetery walks, hosted by the Kalona Historical Society and the Iowa Mennonite Historical Society, drew over 115 visitors to the Sharon Hill Cemetery on Oct. 10-11. Attendees were guided to six different plots where influential Kalona ancestors are buried. Reenactors, dressed in costume, presented the personal history of these early Iowa residents.
Michael Swartzendruber portrayed Benjamin Franklin (B.F.) Hochstetler, whose mother’s family was among the first of the Amish Mennonite to travel to Iowa via the expansion of the train system in the United States, arriving in 1859, four years after the railroad reached Iowa City. Hochstetler was born March 23, 1864 in Kalona before moving to Polk county, where his grandfather became the deacon of a new Amish Mennonite church.
Hochstetler returned to eastern Iowa to attend the state university in Iowa City and earn a degree in pharmacy.
“This was something that probably was pretty polarizing in the community, having a member of the Amish Mennonite community attend college,” Swartzendruber said. “I must have been perceived as very liberal and worldly. Perhaps I was.”
Calvin Yoder portrayed Daniel Wertz, one of his actual descendants. Wertz, born in 1848, was the first Amish Mennonite person to live to adulthood in Johnson County. Hanging from an iron shepherd’s hook was the coat Wertz wore during his wedding in 1871.
Trent and Tammy Yoder, portraying Joseph S. and Eliza Yoder, sang hymns from an antique hymnal as the visitors approached their plot. Joseph S. Yoder was elected first president of the Sharon Hill Cemetery Association in 1903, in charge of selling lots on the 2.05-acre land.
The Yoders were married in 1872 and moved to Kalona in 1891. They never had children, but their nephew, Sanford C. Yoder, was an important member of their family.
Mike and Julie Zahs portrayed John and Eliza Myers who were married in 1848. Eliza bore twelve surviving children and four who died in infancy, having her first baby when she was 16 and her last when she was 39.
John and Eliza eventually moved to Kalona, where he farmed 740 acres, including the land where the cemetery sits today.
“I’ve always worked to raise the best – the best cattle, the best hogs, the best everything,” Mike Zahs said. “My original stock of cattle was from the Rose of Sharon herd in Kentucky. My herd was the best short-horn herd of cattle in Iowa. It seemed right to name our farm Sharon Hill after our herd.”
In 1879 a railroad station was built on the Myers’ land. When asked to name the station, John first suggested Myersville, but eventually christened the station Kalona, named after one of his short-horn bulls.
Nyle Kauffman portrayed Daniel N. Troyer, whose father Noah was dubbed the “sleeping preacher,” who suffered bouts of catatonia that were followed by spells of sleep-talking when he preached despite not being an ordained minister. He was sometimes critical of Amish ministers, claiming they followed man’s way instead of God’s. Eventually some of his remarks were published in the Herald of Truth, a paper that went out to Amish and Mennonite people across the country.
This angered the officials of the Amish church and the Troyers were significantly excluded from the community. Eventually Noah Troyer and his brother-in-law founded the Union Church in 1883.
Finally, Gregg, Meg, and Charlotte Nagel portrayed Calvin, Ellen, and their granddaughter Cleola Grady. Ellen used crutches her entire life since she was afflicted with an unknown illness at age three.