Old Philip Ernst Sr. probably would be pleased. His family, led by grandson Rod Ernst, recently donated the Lawrence Turnverein's library to Kansas University's Max Kade Center for German-American Studies.
The late Philip Ernst Sr. was active in the Lawrence Turnverein, an organization for early German settlers, and he purchased the group's Turn Hall, 900 R.I., when it disbanded in the 1930s. Along with the property came the buildings' contents, which included the library books.
Recently, a KU graduate student in American studies, Katja Ramplemann of Bochum, Germany, discovered the books while interviewing Rod Ernst for her master's thesis on Lawrence's German settlers.
"I looked in the first cover," she recalled, "and it said `Lawrence Turnverein,' and that is what I was looking for."
Ramplemann said that in her research she had learned the Lawrence Turnverein, launched in the 1860s, had a library, and she asked Ernst if he knew of any books. He recalled the cache, stored in his mother's garage.
AFTER SHE examined them, Ramplemann informed Bill Keel, KU associate professor of Germanic languages and literature and a member of her thesis committee, and Helmut Huelsbergen, KU professor of Germanic languages and literature, of the books' existence.
Later, the professors formally approached the Ernst family about donating them to the center.
Rod Ernst said he was amazed the old books caused such a stir at KU; he'd known about them for more than 20 years.
"Dad (Philip Ernst Jr.) and I went over there in the late '60s and opened up the shed behind the Turn Hall . . . and we found the books."
They took them to the home of his aunt, Ernst recalled, who cleaned them and kept them until moving to a new home.
Then, he said, his father took them to his garage, "and that's where they've been sittin' ever since."
"They're just old books. Most were old encyclopedias that I couldn't see would be of any value to anyone."
SURVEYING the collection, though, Huelsbergen observed, "It seems just `old books' are very precious to some."
He said the donation was a major contribution to the center, whose core collection coincidentally is the Milwaukee Turnverein library, donated to the center in 1969 by the Milwaukee Historical Society.
The 120 books from the Lawrence Turnverein are thought to be about half the organization's original library, he said. Included are the encyclopedias as well as literary, historical and scientific works, political tracts, song books, gymnastic instruction books and even a few Turn convention records.
Several of the books are inscribed "Upon my return from Germany, presented to Lawrence Turnverein, John Walruff, July 10, 1880." Walruff operated the Walruff Brewery in early day Lawrence and probably no doubt supplied beer for the Turn Hall beer garden.
"PRACTICALLY all of the books are in German, which attests to the fact that they must have spoken to each other in German," Huelsbergen said.
Pulling out an 1855 edition of Goethe's works, he added, "As a literary historian, I am naturally intrigued with early editions of German classics." This particular book, he discovered, was printed in the German language but published in the United States just 23 years after Goethe's death.
"Imagine," he said, noting example after example in the collection of German language books published in the U.S., all attesting to the size of the German-American market for such materials.
On one of the books, Huelsbergen was elated to find a notary-like seal that read "The Lawrence Turnverein, Kansas." The seal featured a pair of crossed sabers for decoration.
"THIS IS really what we are after," he said, "to preserve evidence of German culture in the earlier times and to have a record of what German immigrants contributed to this society."
After World War I, German-Americans began to be less public about their cultural heritage because of post-war anti-German sentiment. Membership in the Turnverein dwindled, and fewer Germans spoke and read their native language, even to each other.
Today, because few people in this country read German, Huelsbergen said, the books are in even great danger of being lost.
The Ernst family's donation comes at an important time in the center's history as well, according to the professor, who also is center director.
CREATED in 1968 by Tony Burzle Rod Ernst's German I instructor at KU in the 1950s and the late Erich Albrecht with support from the university and the Max Kade Foundation in New York, the center only recently found a permanent home at Sudler House.
That property, which formerly housed KU's architectural services and the Audio-Reader Network, has been renovated with university funds again matched by the foundation.
Huelsbergen and others associated with the center are in the midst of unpacking and shelving the center's collection of books and other printed materials, including personal papers, newspapers and magazines. Most of it has been in storage for 10 years, and other donations similar to the Ernsts' continue to arrive.
"The goal is to make it (the collection) available to scholars," Huelsbergen said. "In terms of knowledge, you can never know enough."
The center now is preparing for the arrival of this spring's Max Kade visiting scholar, J.U. Fechner, who is from the University of Bochum, near Dusseldorf, Germany. Coincidentally, Ramplemann studied under Fechner in Germany. He will live in an apartment on the second floor of Sudler House.
IN ADDITION to building the library collection, Huelsbergen said, the center directs several other endeavors. He and Keel are editors of the "Yearbook of German-American Studies," published under the auspices of the center, and Ursula Huelsbergen, a research assistant at the center, also is available to give initial direction to people seeking genealogical information from Germany.
Conferences, seminars and workshops relating to German-American studies also are to be staged at the center.
Helmut Huelsbergen said the Lawrence Turnverein books, like the Milwaukee Turnverein's, will be kept together rather than integerated into the rest of the center's collection, in an effort to maintain their integrity as a collection.
The local Turners' choice of reading material is evidence that they were critical thinkers, he said.
THE ABSENCE of authors' names in some of the writings attests to the fact that in Germany, it was sometimes more difficult to write openly about political and religious issues than it was in the United States, he said.
Some of those authors, Huelsbergen said, were among the so-called '48ers, who came to this country following the failed German revolution because they were persecuted in their homeland.
He said the content of the collection "really documents their (the local Turners) enlightened spirit, their progressive and critical attitude."