100 years young and going strong
Arion Singing Society celebrates its deep German roots
It's not like the old days at the Arion Singing Society.
The soccer club is no more. The dance school has dissipated.
Yet the club is living on in New Milford and enthusiastically celebrating its 100th anniversary.
"The young people are so busy. Today many marry outside of the German culture," said society president Karla Roder, a Kent resident and society member since the 1980s.
"They have been Americanized from childhood," she said.
Still, when it is Oktoberfest in September, "everybody comes" to the New Milford club house, she said. Last Labor Day's weekend crowd was estimated at 3,500.
Revelers of German descent and those being German for the day come to enjoy bratwurst, German beer and German song.
German language students from New Milford High School help the society to prepare for the event and the society reciprocates with an annual scholarship to an outstanding student from the school.
"Some study because their grandparents came from Germany," Mrs. Roder said. "Others plan to study engineering in college. German is the language of that field."
For the society's 147 members, the Arion Singing Society is a home away from home -- a place to foster their parents' and grandparents' national heritage and keep it alive.
This month, for the 100th anniversary, a concert, dinner and dance will take place Sunday at the Amber Room Colonnade in Danbury.
There was a time when society membership grew past 400. The local society became one of 15 clubs in the Connecticut Saengerbund, the German American Singing Societies of New England -- a place it still holds.
"I remember coming to the dances as a teenager on Crosby Street in Danbury," she said. "My parents always belonged. It's a tradition in my family."
The society was formed in 1911 when a group of German immigrants started a male chorus at the Concordia Society in Danbury.
Most of the men had belonged to similar groups in the "Vaterland."
The society had many homes from 1911 to 1985 in Danbury. That year, it moved to its present location on 411 Danbury Road in New Milford.
Its website has meticulous documentation of the society's history, in a web design by Ms. Komlo.
"Ernestine Dillon and Helga Kerler read old Suetterlin (German) script in ledgers going back to the formation of the society," Mrs. Roder said. "Ernestine had a masters in German literature and could read the old script easily."
Mrs. Kerler joined in 1979 -- two years after women were allowed to become members.
She immigrated from Germany in 1955 and belonged to German societies there and in Long Island before moving to the Sandy Hook district of Newtown.
"Women were always allowed to take part and work," Mrs. Kerler said. "The men couldn't have done all they did without the women."
Lilo Pap-Nemes, of Danbury, knows that for a fact. She immigrated from Germany in March 1957 and, by September of that year, was attending society functions.
"I came because I was homesick," Mrs. Pap-Nemes said. "I was 21 and you need to do something when you're young. I had always belonged to clubs in Germany."
Arion choruses have won numerous trophies since the initial one was earned in 1914.
The ladies' chorus came in 1942 and a children's chorus was formed in the 1960s. Today there is one chorus with 38 singers.
Society vice president Gunther Bohnsack and his wife, Herta, have sung in the chorus since the 1970s.
"We've lived in Sherman since 1973," said Mr. Bohnsack, who immigrated from German in 1951. "I was told to show up at the society to sing one Wednesday and have been coming ever since."
"It's a nice connection to the German culture," he added. "The chorus practices together, but when we go to competitions, the women sing and the men sing separately."
Starting in 1992, the first Christkindl Markt was held with "Christmas gifts made by German hands," Mrs. Kerler noted.
"When we have functions at the club house, we serve traditional German dishes," Mrs. Roder said.
"For the Christkindl Markt, we used to bake stolen and traditional cookies," she recalled. "Ten or 15 people would be cooking for two days. The coffee pot was always on."
The older bakers are no longer able to participate, so baking homemade stolen, like other traditions, has gone by the wayside, Mrs. Roder siad,
"The young people are so busy. Today many marry outside of the German culture. They have been Americanized from childhood."
Arion Singing Society members president