August 5, 2006 ~
Overholser Family Association 100th Anniversary
Tales of Last Year's 100th Family Reunion
Last year, before the end of the hottest days of summer, the Overholser Family Association met for their 100th family reunion, and by sheer blessed good luck, I was able to attend, and even appeared in the big group shot you see above. The official tally for the event was 87 men, women and children, and I got to be one of them! Look for the red dots. Keeping in mind that we were all standing on the same level floor, you will find me left of center with a few ladies of similar height, while my Internet friend, Dessalee Overholt Johnson, is among the taller folks further left. Her brother, Richard (Dick) Overholt, stands still taller just behind her left shoulder.
I was there because of my e-mail correspondence with Dessalee Overholt Johnson. A Michigan native, Dessalee first wrote to me in May of 2005, and we exchanged lots of e-mails and wrote at great length about genealogy and our own families. Eventually, when she was making plans with her brother to attend the OFA 100th Anniversary Reunion, she offered me a ride. They were planning to drive through Western Pennsylvania anyway, so it would be no problem to pick me up in Pittsburgh, and then journey onward. It took me a while to decide to accept this offer, but ultimately, I realized this was too good to pass up, especially because (following the reunion), they planned to drive northeast to visit Deep Run in order to photograph headstones in the cemetery. How could I pass up a chance to meet dozens of cousins and go to Deep Run? [Look for new Deep Run web page coming soon.]
We starting out from Pittsburgh early Friday morning (August 4), and by early evening, we arrived at a little motel in New Holland. New Holland is one of several small towns in the Terre Hill area of Lancaster County, which is the traditional site of OFA reunions. We had enough time to freshen up before joining other reunion folks at a buffet dinner at Yoder's Restaurant, located between New Holland and Blue Ball, PA. It was so great to meet and talk with these distant cousins, some of whom had traveled great distances just to get there. The food at Yoder's was pretty good, too -- lots of recognizable favorites, plus some Pennsylvania Dutch specialties that I just had to try.
Lancaster County is richly blessed with Amish and Mennonite history. Regarding the Overholser Family Association, it is the area where Samuel Oberholtzer (c 1700-1748) settled after debarking from the ship Molly in Philadelphia on September 30, 1727. Samuel and his wife Elizabeth [surname?] fathered five children (Jacob, Martin, Elizabeth, Ann, and Magdalena), and became the progenitors of a long line of descendants, some of whom came together on July 26, 1906, for their first family reunion. The OFA has a record of that event, which includes the statement, "No one could choose a more appropriate spot for a family reunion than the little island in the Conestoga Creek near Terre Hill."
My visit to the area replays in my mind as miles and miles of dark green corn fields, blue skies, fluffy fair-weather clouds, and bright sunlight. Memory of the bone-penetrating heat of late summer days fades away too quickly, but the colors remain. No wonder only two of the annual reunions have been held somewhere other than Lancaster County.
As noted in Barbara Ford's The Oberholtzer Book, no less than three "established" Oberholtzer lines are identified with Lancaster County -- 1710 immigrant Martin Oberholtzer (c. 1667 Europe-died prior to 1733), the aforementioned 1727 immigrant Samuel Oberholtzer (c. 1700 Europe-1748), and 1732 immigrant Jacob Oberholtzer (c. 1704 Europe-1755). My direct ancestor's "established" line, 1710 immigrant Marcus Oberholtzer (c. 1664 Europe-1726), is identified with Chester County. Two other "established" lines are identified with Montgomery County -- 1717/1719 immigrant Jacob Oberholtzer (c. 1686? Europe-1755), and 1730 immigrant Hans Jacob Oberholtzer (Europe-1771). Whether or not a line is designated "established" depends upon the documentation found.
From July 26, 1906 to the Present
As recounted in their August 2006 newsletter, the Overholser Family Association traces its history back to July 26, 1906, when the descendants of SL279 Daniel Overholser gathered together for a local family reunion. Today's OFA proudly counts among their membership the descendants of several Oberholtzer immigrant lines.
See The Oberholtzer Book, pp. 69-97, for the descendants of SL Samuel Oberholtzer of Manor Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. When he was about 27 years old, Samuel sailed aboard the ship Molly, and arrived in Philadelphia on September 30, 1727. He was one of 45 Mennonites (10 families in all) whose passage to America was paid for by the Foreign Needs Commission of the Mennonite Church in Holland. By May of 1746, he was able to purchase 207 acres of land in Manor Township. Data regarding his descendant SL279 Daniel Overholser (1811-1875), a farmer, miller and storekeeper, is noted on p. 95.
Those in attendance at the first family reunion numbered 45 individuals, the oldest present being Isaac Stirk of Lancaster, PA, and the youngest being Donald M. Overholser of Millersville, PA. Vocalist John Overholser of Philadelphia sang for the assembly portions of the oratorio "Elija" and other songs. Charles E. Overholser of Brooklyn, NY, presented an overview of the history of the Oberholtzer family previous to 1732, and detailed the history of the Daniel Overholser family. Martin L. Overholser of Millersville, PA, became the president and Charles E. Overholser of Brooklyn, NY, became the secretary of the organization. The following year, when all the descendants of progenitor Samuel Oberholtzer attended, they numbered 133. In the past 100 years, only World War II (1942-1945) prevented the yearly reunions, and in 1976, they became known as the Overholser Family Association.
What makes the OFA important to all of us Oberholtzer descendants, and what makes our participation in the organization today equally important, is the "labor of genealogical love" (i.e., The Oberholtzer Book) which they have made available to us. Over the years, the group's collection of family tree data naturally multiplied. Under the care of J. Spencer Overholser, existing data, plus his 30 years' work as their genealogist, culminated in The Oberholtzer Book: A Foundation Book of Oberholtzer Immigrants and Unestablished Lines, which was compiled and edited by Barbara B. Ford, their current genealogist. Published by the OFA in 1995, The Oberholtzer Book chronicles the first five generations of the five "established" Oberholtzer lines, and 18 other "unestablished" lines identified in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Also documented are five Canadian lines, three Virginia lines, eight female lines, and "odds and ends." [See details below for purchasing your own copy.]
Barbara dedicated the book to her colleague, J. Spencer Overholser, president and genealogist of the OFA from 1956 to 1986, who now bears the title President Emeritus. Without Spencer's thirty years of keeping files, dedication and guidance, wrote Barbara, the book would never have been published. Although age has slowed him down, his passion for the work was evident in the family charts he had made for the Samuel Oberholtzer line, which were prominently displayed for the 100th Reunion.
Unexpectedly, Dessalee, Dick and I were seated at the table where Spencer sat. He was frail and had difficulty walking, but towards the end of the OFA meeting, he energetically participated in the installation of the new president, Jack Sholl. At one point, from our table, Spencer spoke to the assembly with a trembling voice about his wife, Ruth, who was recovering from a stroke, but who had still managed to compose three new verses for the Reunion Song.
Yes, there was a Reunion Song (sung to the tune Rally Round the Flag) that everyone sang with Ross Gordon Gerhart's piano accompaniment. The song came after outgoing President Jim Overholser called the meeting to order. It was noted that the youngest person in attendance was Emma Oberholtzer of Lititz, PA, and the oldest was Peg Overholt of Kilmarnock, VA. Traveling the furthest were Will and Kathy Overholtzer of El Dorado Hills, CA, however, it was the mode of travel -- by motorcycle -- that drew interest to David Field of Richmond, VA.
Rev. John Weiler recalled that his father and his father's parents attended the first Overholser family reunion in 1906, and the following year, John's grandfather, J. L. W. Weiler, was elected treasurer of the Association, a post held until the year 1919. Rev. Merrill Ressler of Hamburg, PA, was on hand as the guest speaker, and he presented When the Cow Was in the Garden, which was poetic and thoughtful. Spencer Overholser installed Jack Sholl as the president for the next two years, then Jack thanked Jim Overholser for the term he just finished. After that, people had the chance to mill around a bit longer, chatting, looking at pictures, and buying The Oberholtzer Book. Folks began cleaning up the premises and packing up and contemplating journeys back home.
The August 2007 OFA Bulletin included these thoughts from Jack Sholl. "As we approach August 4th and our 2007 reunion, we are mindful of last year's 100th Annual OFA Reunion. Those in attendance were witness to the largest OFA reunion in recent years, just shy of 90 attendees. Moreover, they witnessed a spirit of camaraderie which characterized that gathering. People seemed reluctant to leave. I believe that all of us hope for a repeat performance this year, in terms of both attendance and spirit."
Photos From the 100th Reunion
Following the luncheon, the membership convened their organizational meeting, during which President Emeritus J. Spencer Overholser installed Jack Sholl as the new President of the Overholser Family Association. A resident of California, Jack Sholl previously served as 1st Vice President. Seated at the table, we see Rev. John R. Weiler (OFA Chaplain), Barbara Ford (OFA Genealogist & Necrologist), and Paul Weiler (OFA new 1st Vice President, formerly 2nd Vice President). Standing is James G. Overholser, from Virginia, at the end of his two-year term as President, becoming Past President. Other officers not appearing in this photo were Kim Weiler (Recording Secretary), Carolyn O. Kendall (Treasurer), and Dennis L. Oberholtzer (new 2nd Vice President & Past President).
Barbara reported that as of July 25, 2007, the OFA had sold 631 copies. The Oberholtzer Book is considered to be "highly successful" in a growing field of family genealogy books published for a relatively (pun appropriate) small audience. Standing in the background is contributor Willard E. (Will) Overholtzer.
Here we see Barbara Ford autographing a copy of The Oberholtzer Book, as Will Overholtzer (who came all the way from California) smiles a greeting. His contributions to the book can be found in the history-packed Introduction, including photographs he took in Oberholz, Switzerland. In the Preface, Barbara wrote, "We are indebted to Will Overholtzer for all the work he has done to get this book published. He spent many hours keeping track of orders, loans and contributions and finding the right publisher. We couldn't have done it without his suggestions and involvement in the preparation of the book."
The latest copy of the OFA Bulletin lists Jim and Kathy Overholser as from Roanoke, VA, and Juanita Overhults Brown as from Cookeville, TN. Pennsylvania was well represented, with 55 attendees, and Virginia was home to nine. Four people came from Georgia, three from California, three from New Jersey, two each from the states of Kentucky, Michigan and West Virginia, and one each from the District of Columbia, Ohio, and Tennessee.
Of the ten family lines that were represented, 51 people were from the [SL] Samuel Oberholtzer line; seven were from the [JB] Jacob Oberholtzer line; six were from the [JL] Jacob Oberholtzer line; six from the [AV] Abraham Overholts line; five from the [JF] Jacob Oberholtzer line; four from the [MT] Mark Overholt line; three from the [MC] Marcus Oberholtzer line (i.e., Barbara Ford, her son, and me); two from the [HJ] Hans Jacob Oberholtzer line; and one each were from the [AS] Abraham Overholtzer line and the [MV] Marcus Oberholtzer line.
This is a great photo of Dessalee and her brother Richard (Dick), from Michigan, who brought along their copy of The Oberholtzer Book, a few cameras, and lots of enthusiasm. Without their generous offer of a ride, I would have missed this chance-of-a-lifetime trip. Kay Atkinson (center) was actually familiar with my work on the Internet!
During the gathering, both before and after the dinner, Barbara Ford was busy making sales of The Oberholtzer Book. Jim Ford, her oldest son, accompanied her to the reunion, and was seen by her side, just as busy. Barbara later confided that her son Steve has always been interested in the family history and will inherit her files on them. My own son shows only mild interest in genealogy, but I bet that changes in the future, around the time he becomes a father and progenitor of another long (I hope) branch of the the Extended Overholt Family. For information about ordering a copy of The Oberholtzer Book, see below.
From the pages of the February 2007 OFA Bulletin, Barbara Ford thanked John Weiler "for all his hard work in preparing for the 100th," which was "a delightful group of first timers and our regular attendees."
The Upcoming 101st Family Reunion of the Overholser Family Association
A year has gone by since the 100th Reunion, and the 101st Reunion (August 4, 2007) is fast approaching. Since the membership liked last year's location so much, the 101st will be held at the same place -- St. John's Center United Church of Christ, 432 Reading Road, East Earl, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Again, there will be a gathering for a buffet dinner at 6:00 p.m., on August 3 (the night before the reunion) at Yoder's Restaurant. Be sure to notify Barbara Ford in advance, so Yoder's staff will know how many to expect.
Everyone will be gathering at the church on August 4, at 10:30 a.m., and will have plenty of time to "meet and greet" and share family stories and genealogical data. While last year's event was catered, this year the traditional "covered-dish" format will provide the luncheon. Everyone is encouraged to bring a favorite hot or cold dish for the buffet table, plus beverages and tableware. Ice will be made available on site.
Maps For Finding Your Way There
Since I hope a lot of folks show up this year, I am providing maps below that will help everyone find the spot. I do not remember which side of the road the facility is on, so you will have to look sharp at that point.
Directions: From Terre Hill, go East on W. Main Street, which becomes Union Grove Road. Turn left on Route 625-Reading Road. The church facility is about 3 minutes from Terre Hill.
Purchasing The Oberholtzer Book
** Updated January 14, 2008 **
$29.50 + $3.50 Shipping & Handling
Pay to the Order of Overholser Family
Your membership in the Overholser Family Association comes with semi-annual copies of the OFA Bulletin, wherein you will find updates on The Oberholtzer Book (i.e., additions and corrections on family lines). While the Bulletin is free, the OFA is happy to accept donations to pay for the cost of printing and mailing.
Before packing up and leaving New Holland for our drive to Deep Run, I picked up the 2005-2006 Denver & Ephrata Yellow Book with listings for Lancaster and New Holland -- just checking the telephone book to see how many more distant cousins might be living in the area. To my surprise, I found 147 listings, which included five named Oberholser, 138 named Oberholtzer, two named Overholser, and two named Overholt. In the New Holland, PA, Frontier Pages, I found two Oberholser names, 104 Oberholtzer names (two were businesses), two Overholser names, and one Overholt name. Of course, there was no telling how many cousins might be using unlisted cell phone numbers. I even found two Critchfield names in the neighborhood! Wow! If I had had the time and money to do so, it would have been wonderful to go around and meet these people!
At the very least, there are plenty of cousins in the Terre Hill area that should be members of the Overholser Family Association. I hope some of them show up at this year's family reunion.
PAGE . . . Return to Karen's Branches