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Bernard Warkentin

Portrait of Bernhard WarkentinIntroduced Turkey red hard winter wheat in Kansas, Mennonite immigration promoter.  Born: June 19, 1847, Altona, Crimea.  Married: Wilhelmina (Mina) Eisenmeyer, August 12, 1875, Summerfield, Illinois.  Died: April 1, 1908, Beirut, Syria (now Lebanon).

Born in Crimea, Bernard Warkentin came to the United States in 1871, traveling across Canada, the Dakotas, and Minnesota with several Mennonites investigating possible colonization sites before settling briefly in Summerfield, Ill.  He moved to the new town of Halstead in Harvey County in 1873 with other Mennonites and built the first grist mill in the county.

Late in 1873, the Mennonite Board of Guardians was formed to aid Mennonites emigrating from Russia to the United States, and Warkentin was named its agent.  He worked with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe to gain favorable rates and was instrumental in persuading large numbers of his countrymen to emigrate to central Kansas.

The settlers brought the hard winter wheat seed with them in 1874 and Warkentin, in cooperation with a representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, experimented with the various varieties.  In 1885 he arranged for a large shipment of hard winter wheat from Russia to Kansas for distribution among the farmers. In 1900 the Kansas State Millers Association and the Kansas State Dealers Association asked Warkentin to arrange for a large-scale importation of about 15,000 bushels of seed wheat. 

View of the Newton Milling & Elevator Company and AT&SF Railway cars and tracks, NewtonIn the May 1910 Saturday Evening Post, the secretary of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, F.D. Coburn, stated, "Thirty years ago Kansas was not much of a wheat-growing state.... At the present time and for ten years past Kansas has led in wheat growing, and much of the credit for making Kansas a great wheat state belongs to one man, the late Bernard Warkentin, of Newton, Harvey county, Kansas. It was through his efforts that the variety which has made the Sunflower commonwealth famous and rich, known as Red Turkey, or Russian hard winter wheat, was introduced..."

In addition to his milling interests, Warkentin had numerous commercial and civic interests.  He was an organizer of the Kansas State Bank of Newton, a director of  Halstead State Bank, the Millers' National Insurance Company in Chicago, the Terminal Warehouse Company in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Western States Portland Cement Company in Independence. He was actively involved in the founding of Bethel College, the Bethel Deaconess Hospital, and the Mennonite Mutual Fire Insurance Company, all in Newton.

He died in 1908 while traveling with his wife in the Middle East.  On a train between Damascus to Beirut, a pistol accidentally discharged in the adjoining compartment hitting Warkentin. He was taken to a Beirut hospital where he died of his injuries.

Entry: Warkentin, Bernard

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2010

Date Modified: January 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.