THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR - Bulletin of The Sebewa Center
APRIL 1990, Volume 25, Number 5. Submitted with written permission of current
Editor Grayden D. Slowins:
SURNAMES: CONKRITE, SLOWINS, TRANS, PROBASCO
On Saturday March 3, Fern Conkrite had her 95th birthday celebrated by more than
90 guests at the social room of the Portland Housing Complex. Since Fern broke
her hip last fall she has had a difficult time getting mobile again. After an
unsatisfactory stay at Belding Christian Nursing Home, she returned to her
apartment for care. Things got worse and she cannot remember her trip to
Blodgett Hospital in Grand Rapids. There she was put in intensive care, the
surgery redone, this time properly and was soon back at Portland. She recovered
nicely, is mobile with wheelchair and can keep up with the others with her
almost unlimited store of remembrances of things past.
OUR EUROPEAN TRIP, Conclusion by Grayden Slowins:
At Interlachen we switched to the smaller train and began the climb circling
Wengernalp – our very own family mountain! Grandma Brake was a Wenger, und “Ich
bin Ein Wenger too!”
First to Grindelwald, where we had to switch to an even smaller cog train. Then
we began to catch a breathtaking view of Eiger Glacier & Jungfrau, and as we
approached the town of Kleine Scheidegg, we could get a good view of the twin
peaks of Wengernalp. They are not high enough to have snow in summer. We usually
saw no more than 4-12 beef or dairy cattle in a herd, possibly 20 at most. Even
in high pastures near the tree line, we saw few sheep. They were in higher
sparse pastures reached only on foot or horseback. Everyone’s cattle roamed
freely together in the mountain pastures and drank from hollowed-out-log
community water troughs set in springs. There was birdsfoot trefoil pasture at
the little town of Wengernalp, and other wildflowers. Tourists are encouraged to
hike on the same paths the cattle & sheep use, and the distances are posted in
hours & minutes, not miles nor kilometers.
Finally we approached the picture-postcard resort town of Wengen. It is a bit
larger than Wengernalp – perhaps 600 year-around residents. But there are always
tourists around, skiing in winter and hiking in summer, so population counts are
mis-leading. The air and streams are cool and clear, the scenery is magnificent,
and the people are surely the kindest, gentlest, and most friendly in the world.
This is what we came halfway around the world to experience! The people and
their small farms are thrifty and prosperous. They make their living by sales &
services to the tourists. But they continue to raise sheep & cattle & hay in the
old-fashioned way. The women were raking & forking hay by hand – but they were
not Babushkas. They were wearing alligator T-shirts and designer jeans to do it!
We did not talk to any Wengers – who would have been 8th or 9th cousins at best
– but we saw the family name (Wenger), not just the town name (Wengen), on a
storefront, on a tour bus, and on a tradesman’s pickup truck. We purchased 5
Genuine Wenger Family Manufactured Swiss Army Knives in Wengen, and 28 picture
postcards of the town, and ate ice cream cones. Then back to Interlaken in early
evening for supper and shooping for Anniversary souvenirs. Then relaxing on the
outdoor balcony of our room in the luxurious Royal St. George Hotel dating from
1491, and addressing our postcards. The hotel, which was not part of our package
tour, was reserved and paid thru our Lansing travel agent before we left home.
Friday morning our tour group picked us up in Interlaken and we headed for
Geneva. Saw United Nations Peace Building, Red Cross World Headquarters, Flower
Clock, and Monument to leaders of the Christian Reformation. Nice dinner in our
hotel, where Ann & I got to visit with a father & teenage son from the HongCong
contingent of our tour group. They were eager to hear about our life-style and
knew much about Seattle, Washington and Toronto, Ontario. They have relatives in
both cities and consider emigrating to escape takeover by Mainland China in
1995. He works for a Travel Agency and arranged the tour for his relatives. They
have a comfortable like in HongCong, including a week at a beach-house every
summer, but their living conditions are crowded by our standards.
Into France Saturday morning, heading for Paris. Stopped for juice in Poligny,
saw hometown of Louis Pasteur at Dole, and saw sign for the road to Nancy.
Stopped at Fontainebleau Castle, south of Paris, and to Sacre Couer (Sacred
Heart) Church in Paris. Also Mont Martre Cemetery above ground. I had also
spotted cemeteries along the Rhine in Germany and on the train to Grindelwald.
They bury head-to-toe there, with no alleys nor space between. I suspect if you
are over 6 ft. tall you might have to scrunch your knees up a bit! We had a nice
glazed duck dinner in a restaurant with lots of atmosphere, didn’t try the
Escargot! This was the weekend of Bastille Day and the peak of the Bicentennial
of the French Revolution. So crowds were everywhere and some sights, such as the
Louve, were closed to us because Bush, Thatcher, and the other Heads of State
were there for the celebration and GATT trade conference. But sometimes it
worked to our advantage. The freeway into & across the city had been cleared for
them, but they let our tour bus pass. Also Notre Dame Cathedral was closed to
tourists so big wigs could attend Sunday Service, but they opened it just as we
drove up. Also many Parisians left town, like we do during Ionia Free Fair Week.
After seeing the Cathedral, with it’s organ and stained glass Rose Window and
flying buttresses, we saw the Arc-de-triomphe, Mary Magdalene Temple, and Opera
House. Then to Versailles Castle, with it’s Great Hall of Mirrors where peace
treaties are signed, and it’s gardens where negotiators stroll and argue and
compromise. Our last view of Paris was from the Eiffel Tower at the 200 ft.
level on a clear sunny day.
North to the coast at Calais on Monday morning. The wheat fields of Picardy,
France, approach the size of those in the American Midwest, but still no
tractors over 65 HP and New Holland Combines with headers not over 4 meters (13
ft.) wide. Saw fields of hops, corn, oats, sugar beets, and potatoes, and a few
sheep and Charlais cattle. The trees and field hedge rows reminded us of
Michigan, but the buildings were still in village clusters. Passed small
cemeteries in the fields, where Ionia County men fought in the trenches in WWI
and some are buried there.
From Calais we took a Hovercraft, Princess Anne, to the white cliffs of Dover in
35 minutes. We began to see sheep in Dover, large white-faced sheep and
Shropshires and Suffolks. First there were lots of small flocks and then some
After going thru customs and eating lunch, we went on the Underground to
Westminster Palace, home of Parliament and Big Ben, and into Westminster Abbey
Anglican Church. Ann got to listen to Evensong Service on the organ, while I
rode to the Tower of London and saw where Ann Boleyn was imprisoned and executed
and later her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I was also imprisoned.
Then home on Pan Am Flight 055 non-stop from London to Detroit. Lunch on the
plane and Dan met us at Metro in late afternoon, Tuesday.
BACK PAGE by Robert W. Gierman:
In 1852 Benjamin Probasco Sr. bought the land just east of the Sebewa Center
Schoolhouse on a warrant he had purchased from his brother, who had been in the
Mexican War. On the corner he had built a cooper shop and used it in making
barrels and other items that could be sold locally. Then a little later Ben sold
the property to Gunn Bros. Prior to 1856 when the schoolhouse was built on the
northeast corner at Sunfield and Bippley roads, the cooper shop had been used
for at least one term for a schoolhouse and Ben had married the school teacher.
Sometime in the mid 1880s, the Trans came to Sebewa and, needing a house, bought
the cooper shop and moved it around the swampy area to the north a half mile to
where yet it stands as my garage. Here continues the story told by Sarah Tran,
Elem’s wife, told to me in the early 1950s on tape.
“When Elem’s people lived in Ohio there was a slave woman, whom they called a
cow and calf. There was a great reward out for her capture. Elem’s mother
couldn’t think for the reward. She thought more for helping her. The woman came
to the house for something to eat and for something to put around her baby. She
gave her a plaid shawl.
Elem’s mother swept the path to a pond of water where the woman got to an
overgrown stump for safety. A year or so later when Elem’s people got to Canada,
on the street they met the slave woman and remembered her on account of the
little plaid shawl that she had around her baby at that time.”