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Patz Family – Part IV

By by Carol Sones Shetler as told by Erika Patz Hort - | Mar 10, 2021

PHOTO PROVIDED The Julius and Emma Patz family with five of their seven children at the train station in Germany as they prepare to travel to the coast and board ship for America. Many were the well wishers who’d come to see them off.

MONTGOMERY – “It was a tearful reunion the next day at Milton where sister Nellie met us at the train. It was three years since we’d seen her. She and Hank, (her then fiance), drove us to the huge red brick farmhouse on the Tebb’s farm at Montgomery. It consisted of three huge bedrooms, two living rooms and kitchen with a coal stove to cook and heat the house in winter. This house did have running water and in-door plumbing,” Ericka said.

The remainder of their belongings arrived a few months later discovering the crates were broken into with much stolen. The mother was discourage and wished to go back to Germany. The family had few household items and no money to buy anything. The Lutheran Church minister heard of the dilemma and announced it in church and the congregation donated a lot of items.

Erika said that, “My brother Ben could not immigrate at the same time as us as he was not living in Weste but in Munster and had to complete paper work in that county. He joined us a month later Sept. 25, 1955.” In Germany, Ben had a map and looked for Montgomery finding the one in Alabama, so thought that was where he’s going. When landing in New York, he was given a tag to wear around his neck identifying him and his destination as Harrisburg and from there to Montgomery. When at Harrisburg, he again looked on the map thinking he was hours from his Alabama stop and decided to take a nap. The conductor woke him, saying he was in Milton not wanting to get off thinking it was the wrong place. Finally he did and looked around realizing he was in the right place when seeing his sister Nellie and fiance.

“We were here three or four days when Egon, Ozzie and I had to go to school. I remember it as though it were yesterday. I put on my dirndle dress made of printed material with an apron of a different color of the same pattern. I also had pigtails. At the principal’s office someone took me to my classroom where I walked in, looked around, saw an empty desk, sat down putting my head on the desk and cried the whole day.” Erika said.

Mrs. Taylor turned out to be a most wonderful teacher taking Erika back to the first grade readers and spent lots of extra time with her. At the end of six weeks, the new student could talk pretty good English and by year’s end, the teacher told her she spoke better English than anyone else in the class.

PHOTO PROVIDED Mrs. Florence Taylor was Erika’s first teacher when arriving for elementary school at Montgomery. Taylor was lauded for her patience and helpfullness in introducing Erika to the English language. Mrs. Taylor was the widow of Dr. Charles Taylor, who perished by drowning on the ‘Last Raft’ in 1938, a ceremonial passenger due to holding the office of mayor of Montgomery at that time.

Erika said, “When I arrived I had three dresses. The farmer’s daughter ‘Pete’ Tebbs and a girl named Julie Ann Kahle, gave me lots of cloths. It didn’t take long before I wore my hair in a pony-tail. I made a few friends and did well in school which I loved. However, I felt like I didn’t belong and had to do better than everyone else.”

When studies turned to WWII and the Nazies, Erika felt ashamed she’d come from Germany. Also difficult during her school years was that her mother and father clung to their German ideas. There were no allowances so in seventh grade, Erica began cleaning house a Montgomery couple who sold antiques. She was paid two dollars to clean entirely, the fairly big house.

After school in the fall, the mother, Egon, Ozzie and Erika picked potatoes for ten cents a bushel, a hot dirty job. During June, they picked strawberries for eight or ten cents a quart. This helped the parents save enough to make a down payment on a house in Montgomery. After two years at the farm, the family moved to town with the dad working at Montgomery Mills.

Erika said that, “During high school, I was fairly popular elected to the Homecoming and May courts, and was also Diamond Jubliee queen. I graduated third in my class, played basketball and officiated intramural basketball.”

During her junior year is when Erika’s banking career began, working at the Farmers and Citizens National Bank in downtown Montgomery. “I loved it and after graduation worked full time,” Erika said.

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary Erika Patz Hort chronicled the story of her Patz family living in Poland then Germany before coming to America. In Germany Erika nearly drowned in a well and was taught to beware of dangerous explosives remaining from wartime. As work and food was scarce, the children earned extra money picking and selling berries. Erika donated her story to the Montgomery Area Historical Society and gave permission for print in The Luminary. We are pleased to share it as a series with our readership.

(Next week conclusion: A return visit to Germany, and a water-front memorial honoring Germans who had emigrated elsewhere).