By the Bend of the RiverEast Bend Mennonite Cemetery and Memorial Gardens
Also interred here are my husband Del, his parents and grandparents. Del’s maternal grandfather, Peter Zehr, moved to this productive, black dirt farming community near the small village of Fisher in Champaign County, IL, in 1889 to serve as the first minister and bishop of the newly formed East Bend Amish Church.
There are others, memorable people like Barefoot Jake Birky and Grandma Schrock who left an impression on me, among others; Andrew and Fannie Birkey, neighbors who kept my sister and I while our parents were away; Amos Hieser, gored by a bull; Betty Oyer, mother of a best friend, whose childbirth-related death was announced at the end of a Sunday service, as my friend and I sat together, listening; the four Good brothers who sang at funerals; and Lloyd Heiser, struck by lightning while working the field.
History of the church
From the large immigrant Amish community in Tazewell County, Illinois, several second-generation families moved to Champaign County, purchasing land along the east bend of the Sangamon River north of Fisher. At the time there were still several Indian families living along the river.
The following is taken from the Missionary Guide, written and given at East Bend Mennonite Church by Christine Oyer on October 27, 1971:
“In the year 1882, Charles Stormer moved to Champaign County from Tazewell County, Illinois . . . .He was the first Mennonite (Amish) settler in this area. He came here from the Dillon Creek area settlement. He was followed the next year by August Ingold and in 1887 by Jacob Heiser. Soon to follow were Andrew Birky and Peter Zehr.
“The first services were held in the Dixon school house… Later, services were held in the Houstonville Methodist Church… in 1895, a church was built at the location of the present church building.
“Ministers serving East Bend [in the earliest days] besides Peter Zehr were: Daniel Greiser, Joseph Baecher, George Gingerich, Samuel S. Zehr…”
Peter died in 1922, just two years after the Amish and Mennonite churches in Illinois merged into one conference. At that time the church name was changed to East Bend Mennonite Church. In the years following Peter’s death until the early 1950s, ministers were Bishop Joseph A. Heiser and Harold A. Zehr.
East Bend Mennonite continues today, a congregation affiliated as a Provisional Partner with the EVANA Network; and, partially as a result of a painful church split in the early 1950s there is a thriving independent church ministering in a neighboring community.
History of the cemetery
My great-great grandparents, Andrew S. Birky and his wife Veronica Sutter, were among the first families to move from Morton to Fisher in 1891. Andrew purchased over 200 acres of land and built a house for his family. He lived on that land near the church for only four years, until his death in 1895. The 1-acre plot Andrew donated for a cemetery is less than a mile from the church. Veronica’s father, Johannes Sutter, had compiled a book of prayers published in 1874 by John F. Funk of Elkhart, Indiana. Bishop Zehr used a copy of the book in the services of the East Bend church.
There will be a day in the future when my remains will join those of my relatives and friends by the east bend of the river, but my real self will be with them singing (in four-part harmony) praises to Jesus, who gave himself to bring us to the Father.
Surnames In The Cemetery