Reverend Arthur Schwenk
2010 Hoosier German-American of the Year
Art Schwenk was presented the German Ambassador's "German-American Friendship Award" by the German Consulate at the regular Columbus City Council meeting in August. He was recognized for his efforts to build bridges of understanding between both countries, for his many years of service to the community, and his instrumental role in the development of the Columbus sister city relationship with Löhne, Germany.
Bartholomew County, Indiana, had been heavily settled by immigrants from Lower Saxony. Over the years Schwenk organized and lead many trips to Germany, adult "roots" tours in 1987, 1990, 1993, 2000, 2008, to the areas where the immigrant ancestors came from. (On the tour of 2000, 11 of 29 participants made a direct family connection.) He conducted student exchange tours in 1972, 1991, 1999 and 2001. In 1991 he established an official student exchange program between Columbus North High School and the Städtische Gymnasium Löhne. Besides the reciprocal student group exchanges he also established individual student exchanges.
Out of the student exchange program grew a Sister City affiliation between Columbus and Löhne, which was signed in 1993. Since then he organized host families for Sister City exchange groups to and from Columbus, cultural exchanges between Columbus and Löhne (symphony and art exhibit.) He also established an ongoing connection between St. Paul Lutheran Church in Columbus and St. Simeon Kirche in Löhne (43 of St. Paul's 77 founders were from Löhne.)
Over the past 25 years Schwenk has been a valuable member of the Indiana German Heritage Society. In the early days he was intimately involved with the work of Eberhard and Ruth Reichmann, which they undertook together with two German colleagues. Prof. Antonius Holtmann and Wolfgang Grams from the research center "Deutsche Auswanderer in den USA" (DAUSA) at Oldenburg University Germany, were especially interested in researching the White Creek area of Bartholomew County.
Schwenk helped piece together the German settlement history of the area. He participated in document identification sessions, where descendants of the early settlers could bring their documents for identification of personal and public records. Since he was able to read Alte Deutsche Handschrift Schwenk provided translations of individual and family letters, local German church records, immigration records, Bartholomew County German Mutual Insurance Company records, birth and death certificates, grave inscriptions, etc.
One of his contributions among others at that time was a micro-geography project illustrating the arrival of German immigrants-"White Creek Area 1820-1875" in-1987. Two sets of original maps and plats illustrated the original land purchases in the White Creek Area between 1820 and 1875, and showed the changes in ownership in each 5-year interval between that time frame. Also in 1987, he aided in coordinating the microfilming of German church records in southern Indiana with the Indiana State Historical Society.
Over the years Schwenk gave many presentations to various community and academic organizations on German immigration, immigrant settlement patterns, local German church history, and local German social history, including to the Indiana German Heritage Society, Indiana Foreign Language Teachers Assoc., the Palatines to America National Conference, the Indiana Humanities Council, Society for German American Studies, the Indiana Genealogical Society, the Illinois and Missouri Conferences for Teachers and the Indiana Association of Teachers of German.
He was an outstanding and innovative German teacher who brought his research and German travel into the language classroom. He got his students interested in heritage research and taught them to read Alte Deutsche Handschrift and Fraktur so that they were able to seek out primary sources. He had his 2nd and 3rd year students do research projects on family and local German history. He brought some of his best students to present at meetings of the Indiana German Heritage Society and the Society of German-American Studies to demonstrate that such research projects have a place in the German language classroom.
Art Schwenk's contributions have been very important to the work of the Indiana German Heritage Society and the Max Kade German-American Center, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. They supported the efforts to create a better understanding of the contributions of Germans to our State of Indiana and have aided German-American relations.