Lehman, Verena Sprunger (1828-1913)
Courage and determination, resourcefulness and ingenuity, conviction and dedication—these were the qualities which distinguished Verena Sprunger Lehman.
Verena was born 2 November 1828 into the devout Mennonite home of Abraham Sprunger in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland, an area where Mennonites had taken refuge. Their life was difficult because of unjust discrimination against Mennonites. When Verena was 15 her mother died, and, being the oldest daughter, Verena kept the household together.
At age 18 she was married to Peter S. Lehman, a young schoolteacher. He was chosen by lot for the ministry in July 1848. Four years later Father Abraham Sprunger, with his entire family, including Verena and Peter and their two little girls, migrated to America, coming to Adams County, Indiana. A congregation was formed with Peter S. Lehman as minister.
Peter Lehman has written, "Indiana was so wild—one has to see to believe it . . . . There were two tiny log cabins, very poor. One would have pitied chickens if they did not have a warmer house in the winter. I said we could not live long in such a hut, that I would soon make a better one—but we were in this house for several years." Two serious illnesses kept Peter from building a new cabin during the first two years. Later he suffered from a broken leg. With courage and determination Verena took over when her husband was laid up, doing a man's work as well as a mother's, and also being nurse to her husband. He wrote, "What a life in that miserable little hut. And what a winter for my dear wife caring for me night and day with the children. And on top of that she gave birth to little Rachel on November 10, 1853." Verena herself made a small crib from leftover handhewn shingles the day before the baby was born.
The growing family needed food. When the resourceful Verena found a deer caught in a thicket she killed it for meat. That provided many meals for the family. She walked 10 miles to a cane mill for a gallon of molasses. She was an excellent gardener, and, along with her vegetables, she also raised many herbs and teas to "doctor" her family when there was illness.
Conviction—Verena had that too. At a later time when almost every family had a wine barrel, she pounded a nail in the keg of wine in their own home. Not until the wine had seeped out did she tell her husband that the keg leaked. That took a lot of spunk!
Because of problems in the church the Lehman family moved to Missouri in 1868 to begin a new Mennonite church there. Once again they were pioneers, facing many of the same hardships which had marked their early experience in Indiana. By this time there were seven children. The two oldest had married and little Emma was only three months old. All of them, plus other relatives and friends, made the move. Verena gave birth to one more daughter in Missouri and became a grandmother many times.
For a while the church seemed to thrive. The Lehman family drew many English families to their home. The Lehman children were taught to sing harmony and many came to hear them sing. Verena was gifted in music and did some arranging. When their one son, Japhet, returned to Berne, Indiana, one of the girls learned to sing tenor. Much later, in 1913 at Verena's funeral, 40 of her grandchildren sang a hymn she had arranged.
The colony at Elkton, Missouri, did not thrive despite much hard work. There were crop failures due to severe drought and insect infestation. One after another the families moved away, many back to the Berne area. At last in 1893, Peter and Verena had no choice but to return to Berne. They purchased a home in town and retired there. Peter died suddenly in February 1899, following a severe stroke. Verena had never fully adjusted to retirement in town, and, after Peter's death, she moved to the country with one of her daughter's families—the Peter Gilliom family. Here she busied herself raising houseplants, reading the Bible or Spurgeon's sermons, and knitting socks for the Indian mission in Oklahoma. She knitted as many as 30 or 40 pairs a year, always bright red. She was sure the Indians liked that color best.
She suffered a broken hip, which was not set properly, and a special chair was made for her at home. But she attended every communion service in the church despite the pain caused by the church pews. Her commitment and dedication to Christ were evident.
After her death in 1913 one red sock was found in her knitting basket, its mate never having been completed. The sock was placed on display in the historical room at First Mennonite Church in Berne, a reminder of the indomitable spirit of Verena Sprunger Lehman.
Based on a chapter by Naomi Lehman in Ruth Unrau, ed. Encircled. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1986: 9-14.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 317-318. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Lehman, Naomi E. "Lehman, Verena Sprunger (1828-1913)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 19 June 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/L4398.html.
APA style: Lehman, Naomi E. (1987). Lehman, Verena Sprunger (1828-1913). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/L4398.html.