Title Reviewed:
A Community of Memory: My Days with George and Clara

Author Reviewed:
Jeff Gundy

Donald B. Marti


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 92, Issue 3, pp 282-283

Article Type:
Book Review

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A Community of Memory: My Days with George and Clara. By Jeff Gundy. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996. Pp. xvi, 158. Illustrations. Paperbound, $14.95.)

"What is here is not complete, not satisfactory, not to be trusted" (p. xvi), Jeff Gundy warns at the end of his preface. His statement simply recognizes that some information about his subject, his family's migration from Alsace to America and its experiences here, eluded him. Undaunted, Gundy opines that absent facts, such as the dates when people left Alsace and got to Illinois, are "mere history" (p. 11), and his book is not confined by history's factual limits. The volume makes considerable use of historical research but also belongs to imaginative literature. Gundy is a professor of English and a poet, not a mere historian. The facts that his research dug out of family papers and the General Conference Men-nonite Archives share his book with reminiscences that he wrote for ancestors who left some facts about their lives, but too few to tell their stories fully. Mere historians may sometimes be hard put to distinguish facts from the author's inventions, but careful reading offers both factual and literary rewards.

The book concerns Amish-Mennonites of Swiss descent whose search for farmland and fear that French military service would be forced upon their young men in Alsace took them to America. John Struber, whose invented recollection begins the first chapter, reports being sent to the United States in 1826, when he was eighteen. After working in Ohio, he walked to central Illinois, looking for farmland. He crossed Indiana, where he learned that his co-religionists were present but had settled well north of his route. Rather than hiking up to Elkhart and Lagrange counties, he continued west, which placed his story, and the stories that fill later chapters, outside of Indiana history but very much in its cultural neighborhood.

Approximately the last third of the book is devoted to George Gundy and Clara Strubhar Gundy, two of the author's great-grandparents. Born in the 1880s, they spent long lives in Illinois, where George Gundy farmed and, beginning in 1906, was a minister serving congregations in Congerville and then, for twenty-five years, in Meadows. Photographs, which adorn this book, show that the Gundys were extraordinarily attractive people; sermon notes, some of which also grace this book, show that Rev. Gundy was deeply concerned about the moral hazards that endangered his flock in the 1920s. His recollections, written by his great-grandson, describe a dedicated ministry and a modest, happy life.

All of the imagined ancestral recollections here, and the author's interspersed reports on his research, provide lively, readable descriptions of Amish-Mennonite settlement in the Midwest, the Americanization of that community, and some of its people's movement into the Mennonite mainstream. Readers who need more historical information about those subjects may do well to consult Willard Smith's Mennonites in Illinois (1983), which is one of the few bibliographical suggestions that Gundy offers, or spend a pleasant few minutes with Cornelius J. Dyck, An Introduction to Mennonite History (3rd ed., 1993).

DONALD B. MARTI teaches at Indiana University's South Bend campus and studies American, mostly midwestern, rural history.

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.