August 16, 2004

Project Pioneer honors founding families

By Don Pritchard

STE. GENEVIEVE -- Each year Project Pioneers honors three of Ste. Genevieve's founding families during Jour de Fete.

This year the French Labruyere, German Herman/Hermann and African-American Brooks were the honored families and representatives from each of them spoke during opening ceremonies Saturday morning:

William Charles Brooks represented the Brooks family and talked about his education in Ste. Genevieve.

"For eight years I walked along this street here (Main Street) twice a day going to Lincoln Elementary School," he recalled. "I've worked for three presidents: President Nixon in his Office of Management and Budget along with a young lieutenant colonel named Colin Powell who is now Secretary of State and a good friend of him. I worked for the other George Bush as Assistant Secretary of Labor and I worked for Bill Clinton as a member of the Social Security Advisory Board and I was vice president of General Motors. I think my ability to do those jobs was because of the education I received in Ste. Genevieve and because of the value system that I have and because of the integrity you get in this city and the hard work ethics. I want to thank the organization for honoring our family this year, thank you very much."

(The Lincoln School building still stands on Washington Street and is now used by the First School Day Care. The house that Brooks and his brothers were born in also still stands. It is located on St. Mary's Road and has been recently restored.)

Art Hermann represented the Herman and Hermann family, which came to Ste. Genevieve County in the mid-1800s, when Kaiser Wilhelm was the ruler of Germany:

"Kaiser Wilhelm...had contempt for religion in general and for the Catholic church in particular. As a result we had a vast migration, from the province of Baden in particular to the New World," he said. "Our great grandfather Joseph Hermann and two brothers, came over somewhere around 1850. Their purpose in one part was to avoid the German army. Little did they know that the Civil War was about to break out in America. We have records that indicate Joseph Hermann belonged to an infantry regiment with headquarters in New Offenburg. We do not have any indication that this unit participated in the fighting, but little did he realize, that he would run away from one army and be involved in another. As we look back over some of the problems they faced, there was guerilla warfare going on. Confederate General Price, operating out of Arkansas, was supporting guerillas in the western part of Ste. Genevieve County and St. Francois and the neighboring counties. When the civil war came to an end this problem also came to an end."

Hermann said his great grandfather had to renounce his allegiance to the Prince of Baden before he could receive American citizenship. He also noted that the names of Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan appear on the family's homestead documents.

Hermann says the family farm, as its stands today, was purchased piecemeal beginning in 1857. He said the homestead is still there.

"Fifteen of us were all raised there and the old Hermann school still stands. I originally started school in 1935 and when I did, I couldn't speak English and the teacher couldn't speak German. In 1995 our youngest daughter graduated from Valle High. In those 60 years, the Hermann family has had a member in school each one of those 60 years," he said. "There are approximately 30 members of the Hermann family living in Ste. Genevieve County today. How many there are that do not have the Hermann name we do not know."

Klaus Basler, the mayor of Zell, Germany, led a group of many German citizens who were in the community for Jour de Fete.

Through an interpreter, he said he was very pleased to be in the community.

"I want to say welcome this morning to the mayor, to Fran, the president of the committee, and to all the guests here," he said, adding that the first contacts between German citizens and their American relatives came about in 1991. A visit of 60 German citizens followed later that year. "I think the group had never, ever dreamed that we would have the opportunity to meet so many nice people and make so many deep and lovely friendships that we have built up in the last 15 years."

The community in Germany is called Zell-Weierbach. The town is Offenburg and the church is Weingarten.

"All of you who came over here, left that behind and you brought your names with you," he said.

Elizabeth "Betty" (Labruyere) O'Brien represented the Labruyere family. She was raised in Ste. Genevieve, graduated from Valle High School and now lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

"Our ancestor, Pierre Norman, was born in France and he went over to Quebec (Canada) and he settled there with approximately 300 to 500 other men who were asked by the king of France to settle. They wanted to start a new colony," she said. "When he got there, they had the women come over and they were married. One of his descendants came down to Detroit, Michigan. From Detroit, the only one who came down to (this area) was Louis Norman dit Labruyere and his house stands here at the corner that they are currently repairing."

Project Pioneer organizer Barb Basler announced the three founding families who will be honored next year will be the French Janis family, the German Roth family and the African American Bazile family.