Tilden family holds centennial

By IRENE HERRMANN County Feature Editor

Peter and Anna Stoffel didn't possess much 100 years ago but what they had they shared, whether it was their sturdy log cabin, a small supply of barley, or land on which a church could be built.

On August 10, 1868, Peter and Anna Stoffel and their five children from Barnich, Belgium, stood in a small clearing five miles northwest of Chippewa Falls and viewed the log cabin which was to be their first home in the United States.

Big though their dreams may have been the young family from Belgium could not possibly have envisioned the celebration that would occur in their honor at that very place a century later.

Descendants Gather

Last Sunday nearly 500 descendants gathered at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Tilden to commemorate the arrival in America of their early forebears, and to pay homage to the simple yet rich heritage which they left for their children.

Families to the fifth generation crowded into St. Peters to participate in the 11 o'clock mass; then joined together for a festive meal. They came from many communities for the event. When one family from California was faces with an airline strike they changed lines in order to come. Some other descendants are in distant places such as Hawaii, Italy, California, Alaska, Washington D.C., Virginia, Indiana, and Minnesota. Four are members of Catholic Orders.

The afternoon was a time of reminiscing and renewal of acquaintances, and the collection of early family photos and momentos drew much attention.

Crossed Atlantic

Present were four persons whose parent crossed the Atlantic as children of Peter and Anna Stoffel. They were Bernard Stoffel of Route 2, Bloomer, whose father Peter, Jr., was eight years old when the family left Belgium; Ferdinand Bowe of Route 3, Chippewa Falls, son of Catherine Stoffel Bowe; Mary Stuttgen of Stanley, daughter of Susan Stoffel Dachel; Adolph Stoffel, Route 2, Bloomer, son of John Stoffel who was only two years old when he came to Tilden with his parents. Peter and Anna's oldest child was Maria, 10, who at the age of 16 entered the order of the School Sisters of Norte Dame and served as a teacher nun for 24 years until the time of her death in 1918.

The early story of the Stoffels in Chippewa County has a familiar ring, yet is distinctly their own. It tells of the difficult ocean voyage and the cross-county trip to Eagle Point Township, now the Town of Tilden.

Became Teacher

They were welcomed to the log home of Peter's brother, Francis, who had come several years earlier. Francis had studied toward the priesthood in Belgium but because of the expense had been unable to complete his training. Since he was much more interested in teaching than farming he later sold his land to Peter and moved about from community to community, instructing children in religious precepts.

Four more children were born to the Stoffels after they arrived in Wisconsin and only Anna's skill with herbs and home cures brought their nine children through the sieges of illness and epidemics of those early doctor-less days.

Only a few acres had been cleared for grain and vegetables and the country was wild and heavily wooded. It was said that wolves, traveling in packs, would howl around the house at night and even look in the small windows.

Worked In Logging

Peter worked several winters in the logging camps, returning each spring to work the land and plant the crops. Gradually he and his sons cleared a large farm on which he planted wheat, barley and hay.

Anna was praised for her beautiful garden produce, some of which she would sell in Frenchtown, the south side of Chippewa Falls. She had been educated in the French language so found it easy to converse with her customers. Sometimes the older children accompanied their mother and marveled over the wonders of the city.

Through those years the Tilden village grew and families from many parts of Europe came. Some of those found shelter with the Stoffels while their homes were being built.

Meantime Peter gave 10 acres of his farm as a site for a Catholic Church, school, rectory and cemetery and thus began St. Peter's Settlement, later known as St. Peters of Tilden. Here the Stoffel children received their education and religious instruction. Vesper services on Sunday afternoon were a must.

Erect Altar

Each year saw the observance of Corpus Christi, a special feast day, with a long procession around the church grounds. The Stoffel family erected and decorated a Corpus Christi alter for many years, and for most people it was an occasion for a holiday.

Anna taught her daughters sewing, spinning and cooking and as they grew older some obtained work as maids. One by one the children established homes of their own, with the exception of Maria, Sister M. Mathiasa.

Peter, Jr., married Theresa Harings and farmed in Woodmohr. They had seven children. Catherine who married Joseph Bowe and lived in Tilden and Chippewa Falls had 12 children. Susan and her husband, Sebastian Dachel, farmed in Edson and Pittsville and raised seven children.

John married Theresa Meinen. They farmed in Cooks Valley and had 10 children. Magdalene became Mrs. Peter Hunz and they farmed at Cornell and later lived in St. Paul. They had eight children. Michael, who married Elizabeth Hansen, farmed the home place in Tilden. They had seven children.

Anna and Peter Meinen were married and farmed in Cook's Valley. There were eight children. Theresa and her husband, Joseph Smetana, farmed in Woodmohr and had six children.

So Anna and Peter Stoffel's grandchildren, the third generation, numbered 65.

Is Dairy Farm

It was 1900 when Michael took over the family farm, and his parents continued to live there. In later years the farm passed to Michael's son, Albert, who made it into a modern dairy farm. Since 1959 Albert's son, Francis, and family have operated the home place. The children are of the Stoffel fifth generation to live on the farm. The house, parts of which are now 100 years old, has been attractively remodeled.

Within a few months a superhighway will stretch like a wide concrete ribbon across a section of the Stoffel farm and people traveling that highway will neither know nor care about the story of the Stoffel family. But in communities across the United States and in some other parts of the world there will be those who trace their lineage back to the industrious pioneers from Belgium and they will be grateful for their heritage. And now and then a Stoffel descendant will return to walk through the beautiful Tilden cemetery where Peter and Ann lie at rest on their old farm.

(Printed in the Chippewa Herald-Telegram Wednesday August 6, 1969 Edition)