Weiler Family Homestead in Athens the site of 140-year reunion
BY TINA L. SCOTT
When Clemens and Agatha Weiler and their eight children [ages 3 months old to 18 years] immigrated to the United States from Adernach, Germany, in 1883, in search of more freedom and less oppression than what they had experienced in Prussia, they could hardly have imagined that nearly 140 years later, hundreds of their descendants would gather on what had become their homestead farm property in rural Athens.
On Aug. 5, 2023, a reunion of the couple’s descendants was held, with approximately 400 men, women, and children in attendance. “It was difficult to get an accurate count given all the children running around enjoying the homestead,” organizers said. “What a turnout!”
Weilers and their families came from 82 different cities, 9 different states, and 3 from Beijing, China.
Jaime Weiler traveled the furthest to the reunion, being one of those three who came from Beijing to visit family and attend the reunion, while the closest guest, Sylvia Weiler, found her way just across Windfall Hill Rd. to the family farm. “No time for road trip snacks!” organizers joked.
The oldest two guests in attendance were Imelda Weiler Dvorak and Bernard Weiler, ages 92 and 89, respectively.
The youngest guests included a three-week-old foster baby who came with Matt and Jenna Ellenbecker, a four-week-old baby boy who came with Kelsey and Elliot Marshall, and a five-week-old baby who came with the Esselman family.
Multiple generations were represented at the reunion, including quite a number of Clemens and Agatha’s great-great-great-great grandchildren.
This is only the third Weiler reunion to be held. The first was held in 1883 to mark the 100th anniversary of Clemens and Agatha coming to America and settling in Athens. The second was held in 2008, and just weeks ago, the third was held. Organizers said they decided to celebrate with a 140-year reunion because a good number of descendants are advancing in years, and they wanted to be sure they were there to join the party. “These oldest members [of the family] have knowledge of their grandparents, the original eight children of Clemens and Agatha, who were all born in Germany,” they said.
All three events were held on the “Weiler Homestead” property.
The Weiler Homestead
John and Ruth Weiler are the current owners of this original homestead, which has been in the family since 1883. “John is a great-grandson to Clemens and Agatha, who originally purchased 80 acres of wooded land,” Ruth Weiler said. “Years later their youngest son, Peter, who lived on the property since he was three years old, purchased an adjoining 50 acres.” Peter, who never married, and came to be known as “everyone’s Uncle Pete,” lived on the homestead for his lifetime and welcomed all visitors to the farm, Ruth said.
Somehow, that makes it even more meaningful to hold the reunions on the property.
“John’s parents, Lawrence and Dorothy [Weiler], purchased the property in the late 1960’s,” Ruth said. “John’s brothers, Dennis and Ken, lived there when Lawrence and Dorothy passed.”
When the brothers moved, they asked John and Ruth to continue the legacy.
Originally, the property was wooded, save for a small cabin the family of 10 would initially inhabit upon their arrival. The land was then partially logged and acreage cleared for farming, “which was extremely difficult work in the late 1800’s,” Ruth said.
“Currently a neighbor, who is a great-great-grandson of Clemens and Agatha, rents the 63 acres of tillable land for cropping,” she said. “There are 20 acres that have been cleared but never plowed.” The remaining acreage still remains wooded.
Descendants of Clemens and Agatha were able to purchase “swag” to commemorate this year’s event. Beth Weiler, daughter of John and Ruth Weiler (great-great-granddaughter of Clemens and Agatha) designed a t-shirt with a large oak tree in the middle that family members could purchase/order online. “The tree represents the huge oak tree in the yard [of the homestead] that was planted by ‘everyone’s Uncle Pete’ which is now a massive presence in the yard, featuring an old-fashioned swing that many of the children in attendance took turns swinging on, while family members commemorated the moment with photos. “It also represents the Weiler family tree,” Ruth said. Everyone attending also received a cup with the new “Weiler Homestead logo” on it.
140-year reunion a logistical challenge
Organizing the event was a huge undertaking. A group of Weilers local to the Athens area took on the task. Beth Weiler and her cousin, Cassie Weiler, were having coffee around the table in the homestead farmhouse and talking with Ruth, “when the conversation turned to the reunion.”
Beth and Cassie have experience in project management “and immediately knew that the most difficult part would be to notify as many members of the Weiler family as possible,” Ruth said. “The generation that knew all the best family contacts had mostly passed away, and by this time, there were Weilers living all around the world. Technology and social media might be the most useful tool for spreading the word.”
“Beth and Cassie immediately designed a website,” she said. “The link to the website was shared on social media.”
Ruth said she worked to find local contacts for family branches. And everyone asked their contacts to spread the word among their family members.
Then came planning the actual event, and a lot more family members got involved, brainstorming and helping with all the legwork involved, from the initial idea all the way to wrapping things up after the reunion day.
“The idea to use food venders solved the biggest logistical problem of how to feed an unknown amount of attendees,” Ruth said.
Food trucks on the property made for an effective way to feed the crowd, with guests purchasing their own food and snacks at the reunion. Attendees brought baked goods to fill the dessert table, and beer, water, and soda were provided.
“We cleared four very dry kegs [of beer] throughout the day,” organizers said. They are looking to top that record in 10 years at the 150th reunion, they added.
A cribbage tournament was held for those who wanted to play, and multiple cornhole games on the lawn were available. Some of the kids were tossing around a football, “and a spontaneous kickball game and soccer event did happen later in the day,” they said.
Attendees had an opportunity to view the old equipment used in the Weiler family’s wood shingle-making operation in years past, get a ride on the old farm tractor, and see the small family vineyard, heavy with ripening grapes, that some of the Weilers began growing in more recent years to make their own local brand of wine.
Guests could also wander the outdoor property at will and explore the big old barn where family memorabilia was on display. “One of the most precious items on display is the document that Clemens had which allowed his family to leave Germany,” Ruth said. “It is written in German and has been mounted in a frame. You can see how he had folded it to fit inside his shirt pocket for safekeeping and easy access.”
“Another precious item was Agatha’s wedding dress, currently under the care of her great-granddaughter, Doreen Weiler Schultz,” she said.
“Also on display were two 15×20” portraits of Clemens and Agatha, in antique frames,” Ruth said. In addition, there were several small prayer books and Bibles, some of which were written in German, one of which had Agatha’s name written on the inside cover. The document, prayer books, and portraits will stay on the property.”
“Life is fluid and the future ownership of the Homestead cannot be predicted at this time,” Ruth said, “but the property will definitely stay in the family.”
Cash donations in advance of and at the reunion were collected “to cover party costs.”
Due to the generosity of all those who came out, “We were able to cover party costs and donate $1,000 to St. Anthony’s Catholic School [in Athens],” organizers said. “Thank you!”
[Clemens, Agatha, and their offspring–as well as many of their descendants–became faithful, lifelong members of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.]
“We were so excited to have such a great turn out and to see that so many people are excited to keep the history of our family alive for generations to come!” they said.
“The next reunion will take place in 2033. We will spend the next 10 years reaching out to family branches who weren’t represented at this reunion. This logistical template will be used but expanded to support many more Weilers.”