Lydia Kann remembers life in Germany and Guttenberg

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Lydia Kann recently celebrated her 90th birthday. A scrap of paper found in the pocket of a second hand woman's suit, from a clothing drive in Germany was just the beginning of her life-long journey as an Iowa farm wife. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Lydia Maria Martha Elise Marianne Hammer was born on Aug. 14, 1929, in Berlin, Germany to parents Walter and Marianne Hammer.  

Life in Germany

With a heavy German accent she began, “I was the oldest. My sister, Dagmar Prilla was nine years younger than me. My sister and I attended public school in Lichterfelde. My father was a banker and my mother was a housewife. I was a teenager during World War II.”

Money and free time were scarce. Lydia noted, “I was the oldest so I had to help out at home and watch my younger sister. At one time we had a dog. He was a German shepherd. His name was Rolf. When the war came we had to give him up. We couldn’t feed a dog when you hardly had food for yourself.”

“I had a bicycle. I rode everywhere I needed to go. I graduated from school when I was 16,” she said.  “I began working at a greenhouse. I worked there from age 16 - 24. I was considered an apprentice. I went to school one day a week to learn about gardening. We studied botanical names and learned how to grow plants. I enjoyed gardening throughout my life. It prepared me to live on a farm,” she shared. 

How I met my husband

“I belonged to the Catholic Church. The youth group had a clothing drive. I was saving up money to buy a coat. The leader said I should come and look. There were all kinds of clothes lying out. I didn’t find a coat but I found a ladies suit that I really liked. I tried it on and it fit perfectly. I decided to take it. I reached in the pocket and found a piece of paper that said Mrs. Anna Kann Guttenberg, Iowa. I wrote to her. I figured she must be rich, because she had no street address and could give away a suit.” She continued, “When I got an answer it was quite different. She had seven children and three hundred chickens. I continued to write. One day her oldest son wrote back. His name was Virgil — it sounded like a girls name. I thought I had a pen pal. We wrote back and forth for a long time. He wanted me to come to America. They wouldn’t give me a visa. They said I would marry him, which I didn’t want to do. They would give me an immigration visa but then I would have to stay.”

“It was 1953 when I met him. He flew to Germany for my birthday. My dad and my aunt took me to the airport to meet him. I right away liked him and said he’s okay. We got married and it lasted about 50 years,” she said with a smile. “We were married in Germany in my church. It was a small wedding. The woman that gave me the suit where I found the slip of paper was invited.” 

Husband and wife

“I was 24 years old when I came to America. We first lived with his parents, Anna and Gregor Kann. We had one room. I never wanted to drive a car, but when I saw the mile-long lane leading into the homestead. I decided I better learn if I ever wanted to get off the farm. I was a city girl you see. Virgil’s father, Gregor, taught me to drive,” she shared. 

Virgil and Lydia moved off his parent’s farm temporarily. The couple had six children: Peter, Roy, Barbara, Paul, Becky and Andy. 

She recalled, “We had a huge garden – peas, beans, carrots  – all the vegetables. My children were introduced to all of it. Of course I had lots of flowers. I learned to drive a tractor for baling hay. We had a dairy operation but had chickens, hogs and crops.” 

St. Mary’s hot lunch program

“The priest approached me and asked if I would come and cook for the school kids. I said I would help out and get things started – maybe stay three weeks. I ended up being the head cook for eight years!” she exclaimed. 

Lydia enjoyed many hobbies throughout her life. “I began knitting, crocheting, embroidering and working on needlepoint when I was 10 years old. In later years I learned to sew and made clothes for the children. I made some look-alike outfits for the girls. I even made a suit for one of the boys. I belonged to a ladies card club in Guttenberg and was a member of the St. Mary’s Church choir. I liked to swim, and swam across the Mississippi once by Guttenberg,” she remembered 

Life in California

“My husband decided he wanted to live someplace where it was warm for the winter. I didn’t want to keep two houses so we moved to California. We first stayed with friends. We took our time finding a home that was just right. We found a nice house in Solana Beach, north of San Diego. I continued to garden and got a part-time job at a deli. I was a member of the St. James Church choir. We lived there for 30 years. My husband would come back to Iowa twice a year to help with planting and harvest. I came back with him in the spring. My husband passed away suddenly when I was 73. I remained out in California. My son Andy was living out there with his family. I told my family when I am no longer able to drive I will move back to Iowa,” she explained. 

Lydia’s sister-in-law, Jeanette Berns, encouraged her to come and live in Garnavillo at Tower Living. “She told me how nice the place was and only had very favorable things to say about it. I was very surprised to find my niece, Mary Eulberg, was the owner,” she said with a smile. 

Lydia has lived an adventuresome life. She recollected, “I made my citizenship. I had to study and answer about thirty questions. A few I didn’t know. I visited my family in Germany several times and saw where the Kann family’s first farm was and the store they owned. I was in Germany while the wall was up and again after the wall came down. I drove all over Chicago, Dubuque, California, wherever I needed to go. If you put your mind to it, you can do it.”

Lydia has been blessed with 13 grandchildren and 20 great-great-grandchildren. She has learned in life to have respect for others. She is grateful all her children are successful. If you ask her how she is doing she will respond, “As good as can be expected and don’t expect too much!”

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