Neufeld, Kornelius Gerhard (1871-1946)
Kornelius Gerhard Neufeld: minister and teacher; born on 25 February 1871 in Alexanderkrone, Molotschna Mennonite settlement, South Russia, to Gerhard and Anna (Wall) Neufeld. Kornelius was baptized and joined the Mennonite Brethren church at the age of 18. On 17 October 1895, he married Maria Friesen. The couple had four children, one of whom died in infancy. Maria died in 1913 and was buried in Germany while the family was immigrating to the United States. Kornelius married Louise Schapansky in 1916, but the couple had no children together. Neufeld died in Bakersfield, California, after an illness of about nine months, on 2 May 1946.
Kornelius spent his childhood in Alexanderkrone, where he had been born. He began his education in Ohrloff, graduating from high school there in 1888. He taught for three years at an intermediate school in Zagradovka before continuing to more advanced studies at a theological seminary and the University of Basel in Switzerland. He then moved to Davlekanovo, Ufa Mennonite settlement, where he was appointed principal of the elementary school.
In addition to being an ordained minister of the Mennonite Brethren church, Kornelius also had special interests in teaching and music. He was described as very talented and progressive, and he was known for the white vest he liked to wear on special occasions. During his time in Ufa, he continued to function as a Mennonite Brethren minister, and he was likely the choir conductor for the local congregation. In that capacity, he led his choir’s performance at dedication ceremonies in Lugovsk.
From 1902 to 1905, Neufeld taught in Neu-Samara, likely in Lugovsk, and then went on to study at Spurgeon’s Pastor’s College in London, England. In the course of his travels, Kornelius studied at various places in Germany and Austria as well. Wherever he went, he also took in musical performances, listening to cathedral choirs in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Berlin, and Rome; one of the highlights of his travels was hearing Handel’s Messiah performed by a 4000-voice choir at the Crystal Palace in London in May of 1906.
On his return to Russia, Kornelius continued on as a minister, but he also played an important part in music workshops which were held in various Mennonite colonies. He was elected chairman of a new choral association of choirs and choir conductors of the Ufa, Neu-Samara, Alt-Samara, and Orenburg settlements.
In 1908, Kornelius was appointed principal of the newly-established co-educational Zentralschule in Davlekanovo, Ufa Mennonite settlement. He held weekly lectures open to students and the public in which he covered a wide range of subjects. For two years, he edited Aufwärts, a periodical that at first emphasized choral music, but then broadened its scope to include all aspects of youth work. He also edited sections of Liederperlen, a choral anthology of the Mennonite Brethren Choral Association.
Together with his family, Neufeld immigrated to the United States in 1914. His wife died on the way, but Kornelius and his three remaining children landed in New York before moving west to Fairmead, and then to Reedley, California. Later in life, Kornelius returned to his pastoral work, leading congregations in Rosedale and Shafter, California, as well as working as a bookkeeper. He died on 2 May 1946 in Bakersfield, California, after a nine-month illness.
Kornelius Gerhard Neufeld was a dedicated teacher and minister who had an ability to arouse enthusiasm in his students. By communicating his love of music to others and through his willingness to adapt to the circumstances he encountered, he had a profound effect on his family and many other people around him.
Berg, Wesley. From Russia with Music. Winnipeg, MB: Hyperion Press Limited, 1985: 28-33.
Brucks, J. H. Neu-Samara am Tock. Clearbrook, Canada, 1964: 86.
Ewert, William F. “Letter to the Editor.” Zionsbote (10 July 1946): 12.
Friesen, Peter M. The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia (1789-1910), trans. J. B. Toews and others. Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature [M.B.], 1978, rev. ed. 1980: 624, 672.
Hein, Gerhard, ed. Ufa: Die mennonitische Ansiedlung bei Ufa am Uralgebirge 1894-1938. 1975.
Huebert, Helmut T. Events and people: events in Russian Mennonite history and the people that made them happen. Winnipeg, MB: Springfield Publishers, 1999.
Huebert, Helmut T. Mennonite Historical Atlas, Winnipeg: Springfield Publishers, 1996: 135.
Letkemann, Peter. “Russian Mennonite Choral Conductors: Medley of Opportunities in the New World.” California Mennonite Historical Society Bulletin. (Fall 2006): http://calmenno.org/bulletin/fall06.pdf
“Obituary of Kornelius G. Neufeld.” Zionsbote (10 July 1946): 12.
Powles, J. C., Librarian, Spurgeon’s College, London, England. Letter to Helmut T. Huebert (15 May 1998).
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