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William Schunke born Aug 16, 1854, Bobbau (Calbe), Anhalt, Germany
immigrated May 24, 1867, America immigration
ordained September 6, 1876
naturalized 1914, Naturalized as an American Citizen
died June 4, 1931, Portland, Oregon
Wed May 8, 1877, Racine, Wisconsin
Julia Kauffman Beisiegel Schunke born Sept. 27, 1858, in Rochester, New York
died Feb. 27, 1925, Portland, Oregon

A timelime summary of events listed in William Schunke's Memoirs is given here.

William & Julia Schunke

Hand colored portrait

Julia's Early Years

Julia's dad was born in Germany and spoke German. Her mother was born in France and spoke French. Julia was born in New York and spoke several languages!

Mrs. Beiseigel

Julia Schunke's mother, Barbara Beiseigal

William's Early Years

His place of birth

William Schunke was born in Calbe, Germany on Aug. 16, 1854. His parents had an inn with about 10 acres on the border of Magdeburg, Prussia and Anhalt. His father took the inn in hopes of being able to settle down to a good income and life. However, that was not to be the case!

William was the sixth of seven children. Before William was born, the railway had replaced the use of the highway. Farmers no longer needed a place to stay as they transported their crops to market. Also, before William was born, both of the countries they bordered decided to regulate their border, and seized the land of the inn. There was not enough land left to support the cattle, horses, and animals. William remembers the sad day they had to butcher their last goat and chickens. It meant the much prized ration of eggs and milk were now eliminated.

The empty inn served as the playground, and was a great place to play “hide and seek.” If his father was not home, their peers from the village were always there to play. His father was afraid of the mischief that would come to the inn, with the village children playing in it, and was also afraid his children would adopt the manners and language (an awful Plautdietsch) of the local children. Another favorite pastime was enjoying the view of the things that could be seen from the attic of the inn. Because the inn afforded an opportunity to see where the area children were playing, it provided a strong pull on William to join them. However, no matter how well he tried to clean himself up afterwards, his parents were sure to spot the evidence. One such favorite pastime was the piling up in long rows the dry dust on the roadways and then pretending to be a locomotive. This would be done so often that each child could not recognize the other from the stirred up dust and the coating of dirt on themselves. Even though William knew he would be facing a spanking when he got home, and there was no way to wash away all the dirt, he repeat the whole thing next time.

Childless Couple helps little William

This changed when a childless couple moved into the area. They took over the bakery and were sad that William did not have better companions, and that his play had such bad results. They asked if William could work with them at their bakery. The lady knew just how to keep William busy for hours, to the point he would rather be at the bakery than in the streets. He tried to show his appreciation by helping in a lot of little ways by carrying things for them and helping clean up. He also got a dinner every night he was there, and the couple always took William home at the end of the day.

When William got older, he was able to help in other ways. On Sundays, the people of Dornburg had to go to church in Gransdorf. Because of the trip, they needed to have their dinners ready ahead of time. So they would bring their food in large pans to the bakery to have them cooked in the bake oven. There were lots of pans and the baker wanted to give good service. In order to know when the church service in Gransdorf was over,  William would stand at the stone border marker where one could see all the way Gransdorf. When it was about time for services to end and when he could see the heads of the people, he would signal the bakery. That provided enough time to bake the food and have it ready for the people when they arrived to take their dinners home with them.

William enters school

William was entered into school at the age of 4 years, 2 months in October 1858. He was enrolled with two other boys that were two years older. However, he never lagged behind them in his studies. Tuition had to be paid, since the school was in another district. This put the family in deeper financial difficulties.

William learns to hate alcohol

William found the morning group of patrons quite troublesome. The workers from the village would stop to have their brandy bottles filled on the way to work. He soon noticed the ones with the largest bottles were the worst dressed, having no money to replace their worn out clothes. William also knew their children, since they would be brought with them to sleep at the inn. This made such an impression on William that he never had anything to do with drinking brandy or serving alcoholic drinks his whole lifetime.

Child Labor to survive

Due to the burglary of his parents inn and office, and due to their inability to find gainful employment, the whole family pitched in to find ways to earn money. When William was only 6 and 7 years old he went to the sugar beat fields to pull beats. Children had to be at school at 6 a.m. in order to be released by 1 p.m. and to work. Children had to pick one row and adults two rows, in crews of 20-30 people. William had great difficulty keeping up and was terrified by the nagging of the bosses on those that fell behind the others. Fortunately he was between two kind women that would reach over and pull his beats when he was about to lag.

His parents had plans that William become a teacher or pastor. However, with the financial difficulties, this became impossible.

The Move to Hettstedt

In 1862, when William was just about 8 years old, he took his place up on top of the piled up furniture and things on one of the wagons to move to the new home. On the way the family stopped at the grammar school where William would spend 6 years. Then they rode on to Hettstedt, where they rented a house from his dad's brother. This house was very tiny, and crammed in between other buildings. There were three stories, the downstairs being a store with a bake oven. They converted the store to a living room, and the baking room into a kitchen. The two upper stories became bedrooms.

Here food was very scarce and his mother had to really stretch her talent of making meals out of practically nothing, and still have something good for five hungry mouths. William did all he could to supply the family with one “big” meal a week by trying to earn enough to bring home ¾ of a pound of meat. He wanted to do something for everyone in the family with his earnings and figured it was the best way.

A New School

Now William had to be examined for grade placement. He was 8 years old. The class grade system was the opposite of ours. Their beginning grade was class 8th. The last one was the 1st grade. The school inspector gave William a long sentence to write down, and before he had written half of the sentence, he forgot the last half. The inspector did not bother to check his math skills and instead assigned him to the 5th class. This would be the same as assigning him to the 4th grade here. He was still a year younger than we would expect to see in that class, and of course the youngest in his class, but this did not satisfy the injustice he felt at being placed so low!

William was very unhappy about this grade placement and when classes started, he quickly realized the work was beneath him, thus confirming his “poor” placement. He did not realize that his older brother was only placed two levels ahead of him, even though he was five years older! He also was the youngest in his class, but such things did not matter to him. He was put in too low a grade!

As a result he was not interested in his work and a helping teacher scolded him. In spite of the unhappiness, his work was as good as the best student, and at Easter time that school year he was promoted to the 4a class, with a possible transition to go to the 4b class. This was a very large class since boys coming from the country schools had to be transitioned to be ready to handle the extra subjects they would have in the 3rd class of French, mathematics, physics, natural history, and drawing.

If he had been placed properly, he would have been put in the 4b class at the start of the school year. So, since he did not have to work at his studies, he did not, until February and March, but after that he lost three months of school because he fell ill. So, the year was rather wasted.

During the time of illness, there was a chum just six days older than William in the class. His name was Karl Berger. He took it upon himself to make sure William learned everything he forgot in Geography. He carefully recorded each day what needed to be studied, and the names of the German cities. This helped William quite a bit and motivated him to get better.

Once better however, there was a mutiny going on in the 3rd class. Because it had the several extra subjects not taught in country schools, the boys from the country were several years older than the city boys and resented the placement, and being made to sit on the same bench as a boy several years younger and smaller. Furthermore when such an older boy would do something and get scolded, it riled up the older boys in the class. If it was something that required a spanking, the teacher would find a penknife driven into each angered pupil’s desktop. This was a sign of open rebellion, so the whole class was held accountable. It took several days to restore order again in the school. It made William and his classmates wonder if they wanted to enter 3rd class, or get demoted to the 6th class and start all over again! But by the end of the school year, the earlier incident had been forgotten, and things went smoothly in the 3rd class.

During this time of upheaval in school and William’s illness, he realized he may need to transfer from this non-classical school, to one for teachers or preachers, to fulfill his dad’s plans for him. He went for advice to his dad and since he had so much difficulty trying to learn foreign languages, it would best if he stayed in the school he was attending. This was an act of Divine Providence that kept him from being immersed in the poor theology of the area.

Graduation to the 3rd class

In spite of the three months of illness, William was promoted with good grades from all the teachers into the 3rd class. This was considered a high privilege among all the students, and the entering into a new world, because of the 16-18 boys each year that would be allowed to enter, half of them were strangers, some from a great distance. These strangers were older boys who were big and strong, having no fear of anyone or anything. The little boys from the city were usually 3 to 5 years younger. It was never safe to stare at one of these big boys if you were one of the small city boys!

William was only 9 years old when he entered this grade! The 4b class sent a number of these large boys to the 3rd class and these boys quickly befriended the other new boys in class. William found himself in the minority and felt like a stranger among boys that were mostly 14-16 years old, even though this was his own school.

When William entered the 3rd class, he had Gustav’s teachers. One was Herr Milner, who had liked Gustav. He would make jokes about the differences between Gustav and William in a good natured way. William found that his whole class was very enthusiastic about their studies, and it prompted him to work all the more harder at his own studies. It was not unusual that year for William to be told to stop studying late at night. His dad would say: “It is not necessary, the honor will not last long....”

William was soon given the honor of being an inspector in the class. This meant that he was to check the other student's work each day to see that it was complete and done properly. Then a report was issued to the teacher. For William, being the youngest in the class to have this high honor, it impelled him to work all the more diligently at his studies.

The day came when William’s work was inspected but it was not in the notebook. This had to be reported to Herr Milner. This teacher wanted to know what happened and William tried to explain it was done, but must be in a different notebook. Herr told William not to make the matter worse by lying, and told him because of this he was no longer to be an inspector. Later that day, a class was rescheduled from 1:00 to 2:00 so William took the opportunity to run home and find the homework. It was indeed in another notebook. He raced back to school and showed the teacher, but the punishment was not dismissed. This was the saddest day in William’s life in school!

Another day of deep humiliation came when the class was being given an exam by Herr Milner at the end of the first semester. Herr was very strict in the giving of his test. The boys were all seated on a bench that held 8 of them. In every subject there were 30 questions to answer. Herr sternly would ask the questions in rapid succession. They had to be answered immediately, and no one was allowed to keep his hands on the desk. The correct answer would be written on the blackboard, and each student was to check his own work. If it was correct, the student raised his hand. Students were reordered on the bench based on their answers. To the left were those with higher scores and to your right were those who had more answers wrong than yourself. Even the seat changes had to be done rapidly and efficiently. If you did not get your new seat in time, you had to stand to do the rest of your work. You could hear a pin drop after just three questions!

William had gotten most of the questions right, but realized he had mis-numbered his questions, by not having put a number in front of the one he got wrong. He was over half way done with the test before this happened. There was no time to correct his mistake each time a question was given. He could have marked one incorrect and gotten back on track, but he wanted to get proper credit for all the right answers. To fix it, he dragged his pen through all the mis-numbered answers but arrived at 28 instead of 29 as he should have.

Then Herr Milner asked how many questions were right. William in the moment of crisis blurted out “29!” Then the dreaded words were spoken: “Bring your work up here!” He did and the teacher demanded an explanation. Herr was strict but fair, and William could expect to be treated fairly, but the humility of being caught was awful. The teacher did not impose the punishment, probably due to the high number of correct answers. William was moved to the front of the class with Karl Bering, who had also made a mistake on his test, so they were tied at that point. Karl was always at the head of the class. William however was not able to look any of the students in the eye, and found the disgrace very difficult to bear. One student, Julius Westfall, tried to make William feel better. Herr Milner died during the following semester, bringing on a third sad day that school year.

To regain these disgraces, William determined to redouble his already intensive endeavor to keep up with his studies. However during the next Fall and Winter, he lost several months of schooling due to illness. He was able however to keep up in all subjects except French. That teacher advised William to not compare himself with his classmates in that subject, but instead to learn the language for himself and on his own terms, meaning to help William. But with that advice, and a new student who transferred into the class and sat next to William, William was more entertained by the tricks of the new student. Neither one of them learned anything for some time. Finally William asked to be seated in his old seat, and made great progress, keeping his seat through the end of school. He was thus able to transfer into the 2nd class in the beginning of 1865.

Life in the 2nd Class

The next two years of school were very quiet except for one incident, and it involved the French teacher. William began to help a nephew of the housekeeper. He was about the same age as William but two classes behind. The French teacher noticed that this boy’s work was improving, so he asked the boy about it. This teacher took William aside and demanded he stop helping the boy. The boy’s father went and talked to the teacher, and the teacher backed off of his verbal demands on William, but continued to be unfriendly. The teacher’s opinion is the boy should have gone to the teacher for help, and he thus could have presented a good sized bill to the parents for tutoring, which was done from 1:00 to 2:00 each day. This was how the teachers supplemented their church wages.

For William things did not go well for the rest of the year. The remarks from this teacher were always nasty. For example, he would turn to Julius Westfall, the head of the class when he had done his work correctly and say: “Schunke learned his work well today!” as if he never did his work well. William would just ignore the remarks.

One day this French teacher properly scolded a pupil, Robert Kurter, for getting several answers wrong. The boy whispered to his neighbor, and the teacher demanded to know what was said. The boy hesitated to answer and the teacher got angry. To avoid being punished, the boy answered: “Kurter said: ‘You do not need to make yourself so big at his expense. Your turn will come and you will fail the examination, wait and see.’” This was true. This teacher had been on temporary assignment for several years because he could not pass the test that would qualify him to be a French teacher. Kurter said “That’s what I tell my father!” Kurter’s father was the school inspector and head teacher of the first class!

Seminary Years

From 1873-1876, William was a student at the Rochester Theological Seminary's German Department of Rochester, New York. He graduated in 1876.

Much more to come....

On September 6, 1876, he was ordained in Racine, Wisconsin, where he was pastoring.

Married Years

Julia Beiseigal Schunke

Julia Beiseigal Schunke at age 19 in her wedding dress.
Lily Quarnburg reproduced the drawing from tin-type,
Juliette Shepherd tinted it on Dec. 10, 1946

Racine, Wisconsin, 1876-1881

This story has its own page: William Schunke's first pastorate in Racine, Wisconsin.

Elgin, Iowa, 1881-1894

This story has its own page: William Schunke and his family as missionaries in Elgin, Iowa.

Portland, Oregon, 1894-1898

This story has its own page: William Schunke and his family as missionaries in Portland, Oregon.

Winnipeg, Canada Mission, 1898-1909

This story has its own page: William Schunke and his family as missionaries in Winnipeg, Canada.

Seattle, Washington


On February 1, 1909, Julia Schunke applied for permission to enter the United States. She was the first interviewed for the day. Her son, William, being the second person interviewed. She was 51 years old, and reported that her husband was at 408 Bannatyne Ave, Manitoba, Canada. She was going to live with her daughter, Amelia Vetter. Her husband was paying her way and she had $200 in cash. She had lived in various places in the United States from 1858 to October, 1889. She had a clean record in Canada, and good health. She was 5 foot, 5 inches tall, with brown hair and brown eyes.

William was now 55 years old, and did not have very much in the way of personal finances, and so he had to take the church at Seattle. His expectation was that he could sell the old church and build a new building. He soon came to realize that circumstances would not allow this, and his hopes were extinguished. William worked with the small group for seven years, and they were somewhat comfortable. He was able to preach in the surrounding churches and areas, and was able to baptize 25 people.

On April 22, 1910, William was 55 and Julia 52. With them were William M. (23), Lillie (20), and Louis (17). They were staying with their daughter Amelia (30) and her husband Fred (35) Vetter and their two children, Edna (6), and Marquerete (5) in their Portland, Oregon area farm house. William and Julia had been married for 37 years, and it was the first marriage for both of them. They reported that they had born 8 children but seven were still living. William was employed as a clergyman. William M. was working as a printer for the newspaper. Lillie was working as an operator for the telephone company. Louis was working as a bookkeeper for a used clothing house.

In 1916, he was asked to leave the following year.

Retirement at Salem, Oregon

In 1919, at the age of 65, William was forced to retire to Bethany Baptist Church of Portland, Oregon, where he was received warmly, and where the women’s group took on his support, enabling him to retire.

In January, 1920, William was 65 and Julia was 62. Their home was on 5834 S.E. 30th Ave, Portland, Oregon. Lily (30) and Louis (27) were living with them. Neither William nor Julia was employed. They owned the house with a mortgage on it.

On February 27, 1925, Julia died.

William Schunke

Portrait of Julia and William Schunke

On April 2, 1930, William Schunke was a 75 year old widower and living with his son, William, and family in Portland, Oregon. He was listed as an immigrant, but not naturalized, and able to speak English.

Bethany Baptist Church, 1928

Bethany Baptist Church, 1928-1981


William Schunke's Memoirs

1910, 1920, 1930 Federal Census Records

Fredericksburg News, Vol. 58, No. 30, Dec. 25, 1947, pg. 4.

Bethany Baptist Church, Portland, Oregon, photos provided graciously by Col. Mike Howard, co-chair of the church history team, via email, 11/21/2008.

Augustus H. Strong. Rochester Theological Seminary General Catologue: 1850-1900. Rochester: Rochester Theological Seminary, 1900. Page 224.