Jan Willem Dunnewold was one of the first ministers in Clymer, NY. He was an emigrant from Winterswijk who had never dreamt that his dream of becoming a preacher would one day come true. He later accepted a summons from Gibbsville in Wisconsin, another community with many Dutch settlers.
Life in the Netherlands
Jan Willem Dunnewold was born in Winterswijk on 23 July 1821 as the son of Gerrit Jan Dunnewold and Dela Rueselink. When he was 18 years old, he was supposed to go in the military but his parents couldn’t spare him at their farm. To avoid the draft, he married his distant cousin Theodora Bemers, who was 4 years his senior. He really wanted to be a minister but that was not an option.
Jan Willem and Theodora had three children in the Netherlands:
- Janna Berendina Dunnewold, born Winterswijk 4 August 1840.
- Gerrit Jan Dunnewold, born Winterswijk 28 October 1841, died Winterswijk 13 November 1841.
- Gerrit Jan Dunnewold, born Winterswijk 14 June 1843, died Clymer, NY 14 April 1932.
On 24 September 1846, the family left the Kobuspikker farm in the hamlet of Woold near Winterswijk to go to America. They arrived in Boston on 4 December 1846 and went on to Albany from there. Still wanted to be a preacher, he had planned to work part-time to have time to study to be a minister. However, the wages were so low he could not afford to work less than 12 hours a day. Both Jan Willem and Theodora work at odd jobs in Albany during a couple of months. In April 1847, a rich Dutchmen enabled them to move on to Milwaukee, WI.
Becoming a minister
250 miles away from Milwaukee, the village of Clymer in New York was in need of a minister. There wasn’t enough money to hire an ordained minister. Some of them remembered how Jan Willem Dunnewold was always listening very attentively during the sermons back in Winterswijk. They wrote to Winterswijk to ask him to come over, only to find out he was already in the United States.
Two men from Clymer went to Milwaukee to discuss their proposal with Jan Willem Dunnewold. He was working in a quarry at the time. Jan Willem was caught off guard by their proposal and did not feel up to the job. He would like to study with Albertus van Raalte in Holland, MI first. Later he changed his mind and went straight to Clymer.
Minister in Clymer
In Clymer, Jan Willem took lessons from a Presbyterian teacher. It took him two years to become licensed. The Clymer church only had 43 members at that time.
Clymer was a poor village, and Jan Willem Dunnewold was poor with them. He was a modest man who did not ask a lot of wages and was prepared to do manual labor as well. He was a man of sound judgement who knew his people. He could speak to them in their own dialect, but could also preach in Dutch, German or English which was very useful because people from different backgrounds were living in Clymer. He was not a great preacher as far as preaching from the pulpit went, but he was an excellent pastor to his people.
Minister in Gibbsville
In 1868, he received a summons from Gibbsville, Sheboygan County, WI. This town also had a lot of people from Winterswijk. On 18 September 1868 he became the first minister of the newly organized Gibbsville Reformed Church. The Gibbsville community built a parish for him. Rev. Dunnewold held a morning and afternoon service in Gibbsville and conducted an evening service in Sheboygan Falls for some time. Jan Willem Dunnewold remained with the Gibbsville church until 1887 at which time he served a flock of about 100 families.
- History of Clymer
- Correspondence with Thelma Heil
- Ione Heinen: Gibbsville reformed church
- Ione Heinen: Dunnewold-Dunnewald rev. Jan Willem
- Willem Wilterdink: Winterswijkse pioniers in Amerika