It was a hot, humid Kansas day. Agatha stood in the back of the camp meeting tent wondering why she had agreed to attend this strange meeting. She decided that if she remained in the back she could easily leave if she didn’t agree with what the speakers said.
Standing there, she reminisced. She thought back to 1884, when Seventh-day Adventist pastors Ludwig R. Conradi and S. S. Shrock held evangelistic meetings in Hillsboro, Kansas. Her husband, Michael, had shown real interest in what these traveling preachers said. Michael loved Bible study and was an active member of the Hillsboro Mennonite church. Agatha had done everything she could think of to keep him from going to the Adventist meetings. She had even hidden his good clothes and the horse’s harness.
Her scheme might have worked had it not been for Michael’s friend Hein. Hein had stopped by the farm with his horse and buggy and had brought extra clothes for Michael to wear.
Michael attended every meeting. He compared what he heard with what he found in his Bible. He made his decision to be baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Michael’s parents, Agatha’s parents, and Agatha were all upset about Michael’s new religion, but nothing they said changed his mind. Agatha wept each time she watched her husband drive away to the Adventist meetinghouse on Saturday mornings. She and her young children continued to attend the Mennonite church each Sunday with her parents and Michael’s.
How did I get linked with a husband so vulnerable to strange ideas? Agatha wondered. She thought back to the day Michael’s parents, the Patzkowskis, had come to her parents’ farm to meet with her parents. The Patzkowskis had said that their son would like to marry Agatha. Agatha’s parents, the Gaedes, had agreed to the proposal. It wasn’t until later that Agatha’s parents told her of Michael’s interest. Agatha had seen Michael at church before, but they had never talked to each other. The possibility that she would one day marry this man pleased her.
On the Sunday after the wedding was announced in church, the Patzkowskis invited Agatha home for dinner. On the buggy ride from church she had ridden up front with Michael’s parents, and Michael had sat behind them with his brother. During the ride Michael put his hand affectionately on her shoulder. She felt her heart beat faster. That touch convinced her that she wanted to marry this man.
A few weeks later at the Mennonite church Agatha became Mrs. Patzkowski. Their wedding had followed the traditional Mennonite ceremony. Agatha sat on one side of the church with the women, while Michael sat on the men’s side. The pastor announced that there was going to be a wedding, called the couple to the front of the congregation, and read the marriage vows.
Michael’s new religion changed things in their married life. He was now determined to attend the Adventist camp meeting, and he urged Agatha to join him on the 160-mile journey to Emporia. At the time, the couple had two children, the youngest not yet a year old, so Agatha had much to consider. Several times she refused to go. She didn’t want to know anything more about the Adventist religion. Her husband’s entreaties, however, eventually bore results. Agatha finally agreed to go with Michael in order to keep harmony in the family. She also thought it would give her an opportunity to see the countryside.
As Agatha stood in the back of the tent listening, the songs and the prayers ended. Her attention was then directed to the woman who began talking up front. Her voice was clear, and Agatha could hear every word. It was a meeting for wives and mothers. The speaker was Ellen G. White, and she was talking to the women about children and health. She told the women that they should wear clothing that did not constrict the waist. Their clothes, she said, should allow them to take full, deep breaths. Dresses, she told them, should not touch the ground, because they would pick up dirt and mud.
Suddenly Ellen White looked toward the back of the tent, right at Agatha. To Agatha’s horror, she heard Ellen White ask her to come up to the platform. Agatha was so nervous and surprised that she ran out of the tent. Mrs. White asked a couple of the women to find Agatha and encourage her to return. The women came back with Agatha in tow and walked with her up to the platform. Mrs. White put her arm around Agatha and said, “Sister, I didn’t mean to scare you or embarrass you. You have a perfect dress; the kind of dress that hangs from the shoulders. It is one like we should all wear.”
Agatha was impressed with Mrs. White’s kindness and caring. As she continued to listen to her and the other speakers, Agatha eventually became convinced that Saturday was the Sabbath, the day for worship; and she, like her husband, was baptized.
Agatha’s decision to become an Adventist created a difficult time for the two families. The Gaedes wept as they watched their daughter, Agatha, and Michael, along with their children, pass by their farm each Sabbath on their way to the Adventist church. Michael’s parents would visit their son but would not go inside his home. Michael had left the Mennonite Church, so he was now an outsider.
As the years passed, two of Agatha’s brothers became Adventists. One of the brothers traveled to Europe to preach the Adventist message. Agatha and Michael’s son became an Adventist pastor, and their daughter and her husband served as missionaries in Brazil. Agatha and Michael’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren have worked in various jobs and professions, sharing the Adventist message in America and other countries around the world. n
Information for this article was taken from Jack Michael Patt, History and Genealogy of the Patzkowski Family (1975), and Anna Patzkowski Ehlers and Elsa Ehlers La Tourette, Agatha Gaede. These booklets are from the family historical collection of Carolyn La Tourette Ashworth.
Carolyn Ashworth and Arleen Downing are great-granddaughters of Agatha and Michael. Carolyn is a retired nurse, the daughter of medical missionaries, wife of a pastor, mother of five children, and grandmother of six. Arleen is a pediatrician consultant in developmental disabilities, a pastor’s wife, mother of three children, and a grandmother.