Untimely deaths, national revolutions and international travel are all part of the story of Wilhemina Warkentin's life that Warkentin House board member Karen Penner will discuss during "Mina Warkentin's Legacy to Newton: Bethel Deaconess Hospital Auxiliary and Deaconess Sisters."
Penner will speak about one of Newton's most prominent women at 2 p.m. July 15 at Harvey County Historical Museum, 203 N. Main St. in Newton
"It's about her contribution to the medical world in Newton and also to the deaconess sisters at Bethel Deaconess Hospital," Penner said.
Wilhemina Warkentin and her husband, Bernhard, were one of the earliest families to settle in Newton.
"Newton started in 1871, with the railroad track, and Mr. Warkentin comes to Kansas in 1872," Penner said. "...They came to Newton when this was a cow town — and it was a wild cow town. It didn't have anything but Main Street and bars."
The Warkentins each came from milling families — hers from Illinois and his from Ukraine.
"(Bernhard's) father was one of the people instrumental in bringing the Turkey Red Wheat from Turkey to the Ukraine, making it the breadbasket of Europe," Penner explained.
The Warkentins originally settled in Halstead and built the mill there. After the arrival of their two children, Carl and Edna, the Warkentins moved to Newton, where they also built a mill.
The success of their endeavors was communicated to other Mennonites living in Ukraine who then left to immigrate to the United States.
The Warkentins built a large house in Newton and decorated it with items bought on their trips to other continents. The home still stands and has been converted into a museum with many original furnishings still intact.
"They became wealthy in their own right, even though they both came from wealthy families," Penner said.
The Warkentins helped found Bethel College and Bethel Deaconess Hospital, which would later merge with Axtell Hospital to form Newton Medical Center.
Bethel Deaconess Hospital was staffed with Mennonite deaconesses — women who had pledged their lives in service to God.
"They devoted their lives to medical care and to the hospital and other endeavors in the community," Penner said. "They never married."
After her husband's accidental death, Wilhemina Warkentin threw herself into charitable efforts.
"The first thing she did after he died was she built these deaconesses a beautiful home that's still standing," Penner said. "...She devoted the rest of her life to the deaconesses and to the hospital and to the auxiliary."
Wilhemina Warkentin was also instrumental in building Bethel Home for the Aged.
"She's the one who, six or seven years before it was built, went to the Bethel Deaconess Hospital board of directors that her husband he been part of...and said, 'our old people have to have a place to go to live where they can be with friends and, if they need help, they can get help,'" Penner said.
The facility did not have nurses, but proved a place for those who could no longer drive or manage a large house with their own living space and community dining.
"That was a whole new concept in the 1920s," Penner said. "When Kidron Bethel was built, the people who were left there moved there."
Immediately following Penner's talk, the Warkentin House will be open for a free self-guided tour for lecture attendees.
Examples of Wilhemina Warkentin's embroidery and artwork are on display in the Warkentin House, along with the couple's collection of books.
Admission for the presentation on Wilhemina Warkentin is $5 for non-members of the Harvey County Historical Museum; members are admitted for free.
For more information, call 316-283-2221.