COLUMNISTS

Continuing the story of Hajo's legacy

John Oncken
The Oncken farm was farmed by Onckens until it was sold in the 1940’s.

Last week in this column I shared a bit of the history behind the white barn located on Oncken Road just west of Governor Nelson park in the town of Westport between Middleton and Waunakee. 

It proved to be a popular subject as callers said it answered questions they had wondered about, but they had more so I’ll continue the story which is also a bit of my family story.

The beginning

Hajo Harmes Oncken was born Nov. 7, 1824 in Asel, Germany. In 1859 Hajo decided to travel abroad. After a rough ocean voyage he arrived in America and found his way to Wisconsin and bought a 200 acre farm.

In 1863 he married Wilhelmina Johanna Junge, the daughter of Friedrich and Johanna Junge of Morrisonville. He was naturalized on April 2, 1860, declaring citizenship in Dane County. The Onckens farmed their entire life at the farm which now stands vacant on Oncken Road in Westport. The Onckens were known as good and studious farmers. 

Hajo died at age 73 and was buried at the St. John's Lutheran Church cemetery (now Lakeview Cemetery) still located next to the Dane County Social Services facility. This cemetery is also the final resting place of many Oncken offspring in the past and more to come in the future.

Generation 2

Hajo and Wilhelmina Oncken were the parents of seven children: John, Henry, Anna, Mary, Wilhelmina, Wilhelm and Emma. many of them lived well into my lifetime and I knew them as Aunts Anna, Mary, Minnie and Emma but I was too young to be concerned about history and such. I surely am sorry to have never met the oldest son John Wilken (my father’s father and my grandfather).

At one time, the most modern of feeding systems, now weeds and brush.

Dad's and my generations

I’m a member of the fourth generation of Onckens that arrived in Wisconsin in 1859 from Germany, It begins with John Wilken Oncken, the grandson of Hajo Harmes Oncken, the original settler in Westport. 

John Wilken was  born Jan. 25, 1864, and died June 29, 1916 in Westport, WI. He married Otillie Westphal in 1895 (who was born Sept. 29, 1873, and died Dec. 29, 1928 in Westport. Both are buried at Lakeview Cemetery 

Children of John Wilken and Otillie Westphal Oncken (My grandparents)

  • George, born March 16, 1895 at home at Westport, WI, and died Dec. 20, 1962. Two children: George and Robert.  
  • Lillian, born May 21, 1896 at home on Oncken Road in Westport, and died May 26, 1988. She married Harry J. Koltes of Waunakee on Dec. 29, 1927. They had three children: Mary, born April 1931; Joseph, born Jan. 1933; and James, born 1934.
  • John Hajo Carl, my father was born June 8. 1901 and died Dec. 9, 1984 in Madison. He married Melva Lillian May Levenick in December and had three children: John F. at Sun Prairie; Donald N. at Stoughton (died 2017) and Audrey, Northfield, MN.
Oncken family reunions were held for over 80 years - sometimes at the Koltes' cottage on Lake Mendota.

The family reunion

Ever since I was a child there was an Oncken family reunion held each summer  usually at a county or city park with one family serving as host and food arranger. That is until about ten years ago when it became difficult to find a host family. It seems the younger generation have many other family interests other than 140 years of Oncken family history and us older cousins were running out of gas. (None have been held for several years.)

Also times have changed as family members married and moved across the country; people lost track of each other and new family functions developed.

One of the last reunions held at the Tim Walterscheit home near Stoughton - a good crowd but not what it once was.

But it’s nice to remember growing up and going to a reunion, eating all kinds of different foods and all the ice cream you could eat. And, of course, meeting family members you didn’t know.  

That’s a bit of history all because of an old white barn that sits empty, looking forlorn. However, it prompted a lot of thinking on my part. So goes life!

John Oncken can be reached at 608-837-7406 or jfodairy2@gmail.com