By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT COUNTY, MN Even if you’re not related to the family of John and Elizabeth Painschab, there’s a good chance you know someone who is.
The couple immigrated to America from Austria 100 years ago, and their legacy lives on today in their 279 descendents.
“It’s really a family that plays together,” said Karen Fadden of Waverly, whose mother, Anna, is one of John and Elizabeth’s 12 children.
The family has a reunion every two years, and this year, more than 250 people attended.
“Each one of the 12 original children was considered a family group,” said Sandy O’Brien of Glenwood. Her mother, Rose, is the 11th child in the family.
The family had special t-shirts shirts made, with every “family group” wearing a different color. The shirts made it easier to see how everyone is related, O’Brien said.
“There are almost too many cousins and spouses to keep track of,” she laughed.
The reunion wasn’t the end of the celebration, however.
“We decided to have a float in the Waverly Daze parade,” Fadden said.
When Jan Fitzpatrick, who organizes the Waverly Daze parade, saw the float, she couldn’t help but take notice.
“It all had such significance,” she said.
About a year-and-a-half ago, Fadden had the idea of putting pictures of the 12 original Painschab children on the face of a large clock, and they decided to incorporate that artistic theme into the float.
They used a wagon belonging to Al Doering of Waverly as the base of the float. Doering’s mother, Toni, was the seventh Painschab child.
O’Brien, an award-winning professional artist, created scenic pictures for the sides of the float. One of the pictures featured the Austrian church where John had been a member.
Five descendents of John’s uncle came from Austria came to Waverly for the parade.
“The couple from Austria had been married in that church, so they were really surprised to see it on the float,” O’Brien said.
The crepe paper streamers also have special significance.
Over a period of three days, 87-year-old Anna cut one 3-foot streamer for each of the 279 descendants, in their color code, so that each family member could be represented.
The 12 children
The 12 Painschab children impacted area communities in several ways.
Leonard, the oldest, was a farmer who lived just north of Waverly.
Next in line was Arnold, also of Waverly. His son, Robbie, currently lives in Howard Lake.
The first girl born was Louise, who is now 94 years old. She married Warner Hohag, a former Howard Lake school board member.
The fourth child, John, was a paratrooper who died from injuries suffered on D-Day during WWII. His story is featured at the Wright County Heritage Center in Buffalo.
The next daughter was Liz Painschab, who married and lived in Hutchinson.
Herman, who was born in 1919, raised his family in Waverly. Many of his children still live in the area.
Toni, the seventh child, married Clarence Doering. Al Doering, a Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school board member, is one of their children.
Joe, who was born in 1922, also has children still living in the area. One of his granddaughters owns the fitness center in Howard Lake.
Anna, the ninth child, married Stanley Hohag, and the couple farmed north of Waverly.
Charlotte, who was born in 1925, moved to California in the 1950s. She is still an active part of the family, however, and enjoys compiling memory books of all the reunions.
Rose (Skonberg) lives in Glenwood. Her daughter, Sandy, is the artist who drew the designs for the Waverly Daze parade float.
The youngest child, George, raised his family in California.
“There is a photo of all 12 of the children that was taken in Winsted in 1940, and that was the last time all of them were together,” said Kathy Workman, whose mother is Anna.
Eight of the 12 children have since passed away, but their memory remains.
Photos, information, and a timeline featuring the Painschab family history are on display at the Wright County Historical Society in Buffalo.
“It’s quite an honor to have the story told like that,” Fadden said.
“We have postcards dating back to the early 1900s,” added Workman, a first-grade teacher at Delano Public School. “They are mostly written in old German script.”
The family has been working on translating them, and knows that John Painschab came to America in 1910, with two of his cousins. According to the Ellis Island immigration manifesto, John met up with a friend in Minneapolis.
About a year later, John persuaded his future wife, Elizabeth, to come to the US, as well.
Charlotte, the family’s “historian,” enjoys learning about those early years.
She recently became ill and wasn’t able to attend the reunion, but family members are making sure she doesn’t get left out.
“We’ve been e-mailing her photos of the reunion and the historical exhibit in Wright County so she could feel like she was there,” O’Brien said.
This kind of family connectivity isn’t unusual among the Painschab descendents.
“Everybody keeps in touch with everybody else,” O’Brien said.
“It’s a very warm and inviting family,” Fadden added.
Workman said that she looks forward to each family reunion.
“It’s a very fun family, and there are some very creative people in it,” she said. “Everybody has their own talents.”
The reunions often have themes, which makes them even more exciting. One was “the hands that rock the cradles,” honoring the Painschab women. For the 50th anniversary of D-Day, the family honored all the people in the military.
Other recent themes have included “through the generations” and “Painschab Olympics.”
Workman said the reunions have been going on for several decades.
“I can’t remember not getting together,” she said.
John and Elizabeth’s journey to America was the start of many happy memories. Several of the Painschab descendents are active in their communities and enjoy helping others.
“They are genuine and involved with others because that is their nature,” Fadden said.
To learn more about the Painschab family history, visit the display at the Wright County Historical Society, 2001 Hwy 25 North in Buffalo.