Archive for Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Shawnee family is known for more than a street

September 20, 2006

The path to finding the true history of the Pflumm family has been a long and winding one, starting more than 30 years ago.

Though not a blood relative of the family, Doris Pflumm became the official family historian in the 1970s, when her father-in-law, Louis Pflumm, asked her to research the family's background.

"The first thing he gave me, and it's been just a godsend, was the family prayer book," Doris Pflumm said.

The book had been handed down from Norbert Pflumm to his daughter, Creszentia, who gave it to her son, who gave it to Louis Pflumm. In the back of the book, Norbert's wife, Katharina, wrote down the birth dates of her whole family, and the dates proved the key in researching the family history.

The 150-year-old book, a gift from the priest when Norbert and Katharina married, also showed the family's hometown: Grosselfingen, Germany.

The research was needed. Some family members thought they came from Holland; others said that the family patriarch, Johann Evangelistic, had not come to America when he had. And then there was the aunt that no one had ever mentioned.

Doris Pflumm uncovered much in her research, and what she found proved just how deep the family's Shawnee roots go.

The first Pflumms in America were Johann Evangelistic and Rosina Pflumm, who came to the new country with their son Norbert and his wife Katharina.

The Pflumms set out from Bremen, Germany, then called Prussia, on a ship named "Jenny" on March 6, 1866, arriving in New York City on May 25. They had come from Grosselfingen, a town in the Hohenzollern region of Prussia.

"It was where all the czars were from, and they always talked about sitting in church, seeing the Hohenzollern castle," Doris Pflumm said.

The family used to think that Johann had stayed behind.

"That's what I was told, so that's what I put in (the family history)," Doris Pflumm said. "Then I went and looked up the ship records, and there he was."

Norbert and Katharina already had four children, though their second child, Lorenz, had died in Prussia. On the trip over, baby Elisabeth died and was buried at sea, leaving daughters Creszentia and Magdalena.

The Pflumms first settled in Collinsville, Ill., and had three more children: Christina, Conrad and Walburga. Conrad would become the father of today's Pflumms and would be known as Coonie or "Pop."

In 1869, Johann died and was buried near a church in Black Jack, Ill. Hearing that there was better land available in Kansas, the family headed west, arriving in the early 1870s.

"They found the area more suitable for fruit farming," Doris Pflumm said. "They made their living off the land, selling fruit and gardening."

The family had some sorrow after arriving; their daughter, Christina, died and was buried in the St. Joseph Catholic Church cemetery.

Norbert and Katharina added five more children to their brood: Joanna Christina, Johannis Albert, Andreas Edward, Norbert and Elizabeth. Sadly, the youngest two died shortly after birth, so Katharina buried five of her 12 children.

After arriving in Shawnee, the Pflumms were joined by Norbert's two sisters. Mary Anna married Conrad Kreeck and settled just east of the Shawnee Indian Cemetery. The couple had six children.

Then there was Paulina, the sister the family forgot about; Doris Pflumm only learned of Paulina's existence when Paulina's descendent wrote to her, asking about the Shawnee Pflumms.

Paulina was married to Balthus Schlottar, who owned a farm on County Line Road that would become the Rieke family farm. Then she separated from Schlottar and married Charles Milley, and they ran off to Colorado.

Establishing Shawnee roots

In 1881, Norbert Pflumm bought 20 acres of land for $400 from Jacob VanLeeuwen.

The Pflumm farm would remain in the family for the next years 50 years, giving the name to the road that ran along its east boundary. It was located at the southwest corner of Pflumm and Johnson Drive.

The Pflumms got along with the VanLeeuwens; Johanna Christina and Walburga married into that family. The other girls married into Shawnee families, as well. As for the three boys, Conrad was the only one to carry on the family name, as Johannis and Andreas never got married, though Andreas was known for teaming up with Peter Geiss to open the Pflumm and Geiss grocery store in the early 1900s on the Shawnee town square.

Conrad married Martina VanSchoelandt, and the couple soon became known as "Pop Pflumm and Mom Pflumm." In 1905, when Norbert Pflumm died, Mom and Pop moved onto the family farm.

They had earned their nicknames by then, as they already had most of their eight children. It would have been 10, but the first child, Joseph, died at birth, and the youngest child, Rosleia, died at 3 months. Rosina, Andrew, Frank, Clarence, Paul, Louis, Mary, Conrad (Connie), and Irene followed.

Many family stories are told about Mom and Pop Pflumm.

"Pop was a character," Doris Pflumm said. "... They were wonderful people, and Mom was a saint."

Doris Pflumm said one time Pop was in bed, sick, so he sent the boys into town to sell something. But they came back with empty hands, and when Pop found out the man hadn't paid them, he got up out of bed and marched into town to get the money.

Mom Pflumm was known for keeping her home tidy and her cooking. She also came through for her husband one year, when he was worried they wouldn't be able to pay their taxes.

"She was a little, thrifty Belgian, and she had this old sock she stored her money in, and it was enough to pay the taxes," Doris Pflumm said. "They said she could take four eggs and make enough to feed an army."

When they sold the farm in the late 1930s, Mom and Pop opened a service station on Johnson Drive near Halsey. Doris Pflumm said it was self-service before other gas stations were self-service -- though the business philosophy wasn't exactly intentional.

"It was the only self-service station around because Pop wouldn't do anything -- he just came out and made sure you put in the right amount of gas," she said.

Digging deep roots

Like so many other long-time families, the Pflumms became ingrained in the patchwork of Shawnee families, with marriages creating relatives all over the city. Pflumm descendents married into the Nunnick, VanHercke, Kreeck, Bousman and Rieke families, just to name a few.

Doris Pflumm marvels at how her husband's German family married into Swedish, Swiss, Dutch and Belgian families.

"It's so funny; it's like the United Nations," she said. "It's unbelievable, and they all conversed."

Conrad's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have continued to make the Pflumm name known in Johnson County.

Andrew became a lawyer, getting involved in Olathe politics and ensuring that a road would bear the family name. Clarence is certainly known best for his involvement in the Shawnee State Bank, and Frank owned the Shawnee Nursery.

Louis and Paul were known for their plumbing business in Shawnee, which is still operated by their descendants, and Connie started a seed business in Kansas City.

Some Pflumms today are known for their civil service. Shawnee City Council member Dan Pflumm and cousin, Shawnee Planning Commissioner Nick Pflumm, are descendents of Clarence Pflumm.

Doris Pflumm's late husband was Louis's son, Joseph. In addition to his twin sisters, Joseph's family is also known in the Catholic community because his brother, the Rev. Bob Pflumm, was the long-time pastor at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Prairie Village.

Doris Pflumm believes that to see the family's Shawnee roots, one only needs to look at the St. Joseph cemetery in Shawnee. Including the family matriarch, Rosina Pflumm, there are six generations of the family in the cemetery.

"These were hardworking people who loved their family and loved their religion," Doris Pflumm said. "They were not people who were materialistic, they were honest, devout Catholics, devoted to their family."

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