From Prussia to West Bend by way of California

-Messenger photo by Clayton Rye
Donna and Larry Bonnstetter stand in front of their home on the Heritage Farm north of West Bend.

WEST BEND — Michael Bonnstetter arrived in Kossuth County in 1865, according to his great-grandson Larry Bonnstetter, of West Bend, who lives on the Heritage Farm with his wife Donna. In itself, his arrival is not very unusual. It is the route he took getting there that is unusual.

Michael Bonnstetter and his brother Martin left their native Prussia in 1848 — and instead of arriving in New York City like many immigrants, they arrived in New Orleans. They then traveled to St. Louis, but instead of continuing north, they joined an ox train party to Downville, California, to mine for gold.

Michael Bonnstetter arrived at Guttenburg in 1858 to invest his mining money by buying a farm. He had married Catherine Dorweiler in 1858 and had four children when he moved to Kossuth County in 1865.

His father-in-law also moved to Kossuth County and bought farm land. It is not clear if it was Michael Bonnstetter or his father-in-law who bought the land, but there is an indication it was his father-in-law.

Michael and Catherine Bonnstetter eventually had 10 children and owned 720 acres north of West Bend. They lived in a sod house on their farm that was their home until he died in 1913. Catherine died in 1923 at age 89.

A Kossuth County history book describes Michael Bonnstetter as an “early pioneer.”

That same book said Catherine Bonnstetter “endured many privations and hardships” such as traveling 40 or 50 miles across country to get supplies or have flour ground.

The 10 children stayed in the area, living in the towns of Algona, Whittemore, Rodman, Corwith and West Bend, where Michael’s son Paul lived.

Paul Bonnstetter married Susannah Fuchson and they had four boys and six girls, using many of the names of Michael’s children for their children. Susannah lived to be 104 and played the card game of 500 on her 100th birthday.

Paul Bonnstetter’s youngest son, Ervin, became the owner of the original farm where the original buildings stood. His wife was Edna Jurgens, whom he knew from being in school at West Bend with her.

Ervin and Edna Bonnstetter were married in 1938 and were parents of three children: Larry, Janet and Carol.

Ervin Bonnstetter died in 1946 from a dynamite explosion when he was clearing trees. Larry Bonnstetter was 5 years old. His mother Edna moved to town and rented out the farm.

Edna then married Cliff Schuller of Mallard, a World War II veteran. Schuller was in the Navy, serving on the USS Alabama where one of his shipmates was baseball pitcher Bob Feller. Besides serving in the Navy, Schuller served as Bob Feller’s catcher on board the ship.

Larry Bonnstetter was active in sports, music, and speech in high school, graduating in 1959. He next attended Iowa State where he met his wife Donna, a native of Lime Springs. Donna grew up on a farm and wanted to return to a farm. They were married in 1964.

The house they live in is on the Heritage Farm. It was built in 1930 after the original house was torn down.

They are the parents of Rick, a contractor in Kansas City; Darren, a president of an electronics firm in California; and Mark, who is associate athletic director at Eastern Illinois University.

Larry and Donna Bonnstetter quit farming in 2010 and rented the farm out. This year it will be a certified organic farm after completing the requirements that take several years to be complete.

Donna Bonnstetter spent 25 years teaching school.

Larry Bonnstetter remembers the hard times of the 1980s and how important she was during those times.

“She carried the farm in tough times, mentally and financially,” said Larry Bonnstetter.

Larry Bonnstetter summed up his years of farm life in three words.

“It’s been good,” he said.

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