top of page

Tell It Like It Was - Donna Oliver and the Knoernschild family

Adapted from the original email letter by Paul Ovaitt sent on April 11, 2023

Donna Hendricks Oliver – Lawrence and Muriel Sollmann Hendricks – Christian Knoernschild - Leonard Harold – Herman Knoernschild – Papa by Brenda Sollmann Harmon – Osage Indians – Natural Medicines – My Sentimental Journey

Gentle readers, the Augusta Museum had a visitor on Thursday, 3/30/23, who traveled from Dittmer, MO to donate some family heirlooms and photos. Her name is Donna Oliver, and she donated items especially related to the Knoernschild family of Augusta.

Possibly, some of you know the donor as Donna Hendricks, the daughter of Lawrence and Muriel Sollmann Hendricks. Now, bear with me as I connect Donna all the way back to Christian Knoernschild, an early German immigrant who purchased the house and farm of Leonard Harold, Augusta’s founder. Today, we know it as Ellen Knoernschild’s Centennial Farm.

Donna’s mother, Muriel (Micki) was the daughter of Otto Sollmann and Gertrude Knoernschild Sollmann. Gertrude was the daughter of Herman and Clara Bundenthal Knoernschild. Herman was one of 10 children of Christian Knoernschild, who came to America from Tuefengrun (Bavaria) Germany. Got it?

Here is a photo I found in Micki Hendricks’ family history book, My Sentimental Journey. The caption was written by Micki. Christian is in a buggy pulled by his horse, a schimmel.

So, in other words, Christian was Donna’s great-great-grandfather. Herman was her great-grandfather…and here’s where I enter the picture. You see, I knew I wouldn’t be at the museum on March 30th, so, I called Donna in advance and asked for an interview, and like most sensible people, she said no thanks. But…she instead offered me the use of a pdf containing a loving recollection of Herman Knoernschild, written by Donna’s cousin, Brenda Harmon, in 1990. It is entitled, Papa.

Now here’s the memory of Herman entitled Papa:

Snow-white, baby-soft hair, so thick little fingers get lost in it. He sits so very quietly, smiling as children crawl all over him. Grubby little fingers disappear as they plunge into that shock of white eiderdown. Ruffle, rumple, tangle and now the hair is pointing in all directions as if electrically charged.

"Papa, Papa, gimme your comb!" He reached into his shirt pocket and hands over the little black comb to the eager children. A mad scramble begins over who will return all that hair to the peaceful quiet of before. Finally, a conqueror - wields the instrument of serenity and very soon every hair is nestled next to its kin. And then... ruffle, rumple, tangle. "My turn, it's my turn to comb Papa's hair." Papa just sits there for as long as it takes for all his great-grandchildren to have their turn.

Memories of childhood flood my mind.

Always Papa is there. He was always old to me, old but so very young. For a man of 90 plus years to tolerate, much less, enjoy, rowdy, bickering children amazes me now; but enjoy he did. Scolding, disciplining, and correcting were done by Grandma, Mom, and Dad, but never Papa. We would constantly disobey them, but never Papa. Was it because he was so very old, or because he radiated an aura of command and respect? I truly don't know. When he said stop, we stopped. When he said go, we went. We would do anything for him.

Just looking at him you knew he had had a hard life. He and his 9 brothers and sisters where the first generation born in this country. His parents came from Germany and instilled in him the strong family loyalty and work ethic they grew up with. He was no stranger to hard work. Even at the age of 95 plus he felt he had to "earn his salt." (This was his way of saying that he had to earn his keep.) I can still see him sitting under the shade tree in the backyard at the farm, snapping beans, shelling peas, or husking corn.

As part of a large farm family, it was sunup to sundown chores with little time set aside for schooling. Working in the grape arbor as a young man he accidently put out his eye while pruning the vines. His glass eye was a source of amazement years later to his great-grandchildren. We would sneak quietly into his room (forbidden territory) just to look at it while it rested in its cup. None were brave enough though to watch as Grandma (his daughter) put it in for him!

As a youngster he had his one pair of shoes for church. He got a new pair every year or so, as money was available. Many years there were no new shoes; the old ones had to do, even if it meant that his toes had to curl under to wear them. Because of this, as he aged, his feet showed signs of crippling. By the time I knew him, he had a lot of difficulty walking. He used what is called a walker, (kind of a two handled, four-footed cane.) He would firmly grab both handles and, taking a deep breath, would half push, half pull himself to a vertical position and proceed at a kingly, majestic pace to his destination. It seems unbelievable now, but we children, children who were accused of only knowing how to run, would walk sedately beside Papa.

The day finally came when Papa quit smiling. For the last 2 months of his life his walker stood alone in the corner, he could no longer leave his bed. His body was tired, worn out, craving peace and an end to pain.

His mind, though, was as sharp as ever. About 3 weeks before he died Mother went into his room to see if he wanted some coffee. She came out of the room with tears streaming down her cheeks, laughing. She had asked Papa if he would like a half a cup of coffee and he just looked at her and said, "Well Terri, if a full cup of coffee is too much for you to carry, I'll have to settle for a half cup!"

Papa is gone now. He died when I was 12. Grandma said the doctor told her that there was nothing wrong with him except that his body was tired, and he just went to eternal sleep. Papa breathed his last breath 3 weeks before his 99th birthday. He had given me love and respect as a child. He would listen to whatever "serious" subject I wanted to talk about, no matter how inane it was. He taught me to play checkers, solitaire, and dominoes, and to respect those whose bodies may be old but who are still so young at heart. He doesn't know that 25 years after his death, his influence on me as a child has led me to go after my goal of working with the elderly. They have so much to give, if "youngsters" will just accept.

Papa had a saying in German that meant, "What you cannot see, is not forbidden to feel." Papa, I may not see you anymore, but every time I play dominoes or see a tall man with snow white hair or hear a phrase in German, I feel you near me and then I ruffle, rumple, tangle that mass of white eiderdown. It's always my turn.

Gentle readers, wasn’t that interesting? Of course, it was…but I couldn’t leave well enough alone…I called Donna back to see if I could get a few words out of her. And we spoke for 20 minutes on March 24, 2023.

Paul: And when were you born, Donna?

Donna Hendricks Oliver: I was born in 1949. And I was born in Washington.

P: But you were living in Augusta at the time? And you grew up in Augusta?

DHO: Yes. I moved away from Augusta when I was 6. I actually attended 1st grade at the Lutheran one-room school (Christ Lutheran in Augusta).

P: I can’t tell you how many of my interviewees have brought up that school and told me how it was.

DHO: Yeah, it was a neat place. I…oh, probably 20 years ago there was something going at the church…the minute I walked in that room, it just all came flooding back: the smell of the floor…I remember there was a little coat room, and in the wintertime when it was rainy, you could smell all the wool. Very pleasant memories.

DHO: Where do you currently live?

DHO: I live in Dittmer (MO).

P: How did you get from here to Dittmer?

DHO: (She laughs.) Well, I moved to St. Charles when I was 6. And I basically grew up in St. Ch. My grandparents and my great-grandparents still lived in Augusta. My cousins lived in Augusta, so, I was out there every weekend.

P: Do you still maintain friendships or some relations in Augusta?

DHO: Not really, because people have all passed away…there’s no one to really go see. Ironically, I have some friends that just moved there.

P: You actually met Herman Knoernschild?

DHO: Oh, I knew him. My great-grandfather…he died I think in ’63. (Find a Grave says 1967.) I spent hours and hours and hours with him.

P: And was your cousin, Brenda, older than you?

DHO: No, Brenda’s younger…by about 4 or 5 years.

P: She obviously loved Herman.

DHO: All the grandkids, great-grandkids, loved him. He was an amazing guy. He used to keep us quiet just with a look.

Gentle readers, by way of email, Donna also said, “At the time of the story, Herman lived with our grandparents, Otto and Gertrude Sollman, on Herman’s farm (later called the Sollman farm). Brenda’s maiden name was Sollman. Brenda (the author of Papa) was living in Washington. My maiden name is Hendricks. When this story was written, I was already married and in St Charles. Herman had been dead a long time.”

The Sollmann farm was located just northwest of Augusta on Crow Creek Lane, which is off Nahm Road. It is now a vineyard owned by Hoffmann. I vaguely remember the farmhouse; I visited Bill Fordyce when he lived there many years ago.

In our March 24th phone conversation, Donna also said:

DHO: My great-grandfather (Herman) would walk us all through the woods and show us all the plants and have us dig stuff up. He would explain how you could eat this to cure a headache, and all that. He learned a lot of things from the Indians. There were a lot of Indians in the area…Osage Indians…and the kids…he played with these Indian kids. I guess I should call them Native Americans, but we always used to call them Indians, and they were fine with it then.

P: Can you roughly describe where they lived?

DHO: Well, I don’t really know exactly; I know that they would come in to have their wheat and their corn ground. And that’s where my great-grandfather…would go to the mill…and they (the children) would have all these games…and they (the Indians) taught him games and he taught them games…like silly games…like how far can you spit, or whose horse was fastest…how far can you throw a horseshoe… But he also learned a lot of nature things from them. He knew a lot about natural medicines.

P: Wow. This is a whole new turn to my story.

DHO: Herman was one of the ten children of Christian Knoernschild, who was the original guy that settled in Augusta. That was my great, great-grandfather, and he had 10 kids, so, a lot of Augusta is, or was, made up of his descendants. Centennial Farm…where that is, was Christian’s original homestead.

P: And before that Leonard Harold’s place.

DHO: Uh-huh. It’s just neat. I remember the blacksmith shop. When I was born, we lived above the grocery store that Arthur Haferkamp owned (the Uptown Store – now Lisa Carmon’s antique store). Then we moved down just on that same block, but a different corner…we moved to that little house (Dave Smarr’s place with the bald eagle scupture created by Brian Watson and Ben Boyher.) I don’t know the street names. When I lived there, it didn’t have indoor plumbing. It did have electric. (Here’s an old photo of the house.)

P: That’s a very familiar story around here.

DHO: And my cousins lived on that same main street (Walnut) going into town…in that old Victorian house that has the turret on it. The building that the little museum is in…that was my great-aunt’s house. Her name was Erna…I thought her last name was Sehrt. Erna’s maiden name was Sollmann. She was the sister of my grandpa (Otto Sollmann).

My friends, now that I have wandered so far into the weeds, I may as well mow a few more down. Some of you newcomers probably are wondering if Ellen Gallagher Knoernschild of Centennial Farms (and the town board, and the Chamber of Commerce, and the museum board) is connected to all this. Well…of course. She was married to Bob Knoernschild, whose father, Arnold, was the son of Edwin Knoernschild, who was a brother to Herman who was so adored by Donna and Brenda and countless others. So, Herman, Edwin, and the 8 sisters takes us all the way back to Christian Knoernschild. Aren’t you glad you asked?

And one other thing…do you remember the glass eye in Brenda’s recollection of Papa? Look what I found in Dr. Anita Mallinckrodt’s book, A History of AUGUSTA, MO. AND ITS AREA (III) 1880s/1890s - As reported in the St. Charles Demokrat (a German language newspaper). It’s on page 445, and it’s dated 15 July 1880. “The 13-year-old son of Mr. Christ. Knoernschild had the misfortune of injuring an eye with a knife while working in the vineyards with his father, The doctor, however, thinks the cornea is not damaged and the eye will recover.”

That’s all I’ve got. I hope you enjoy the attached photos which include a shadowbox containing a wedding photo of Herman and Clara, mounted on her wedding veil.

There also is a photo of Herman as a young man. These were among the contributions from Donna Oliver.

I even found some more “modern” photos of Lawrence and Muriel Hendricks, and another of Donna and her dad. These photos were contained in Micki (Muriel) Hendricks’ book, My Sentimental Journey, which I borrowed from Glenda Stelzer Drier.

Still curious,


85 views0 comments


bottom of page