Reverend Clarence Rahn Deitsch Collection

These Deitsch recordings are from Reverend Clarence Rahn (1898-1977), graciously shared by his daughter Ruth Schaefer. Please note that there at least 20 more reel to reel tapes that need to be digitalized, and we plan to continue to add to this collection.

Reverend Clarence Rahn (1898-1977) was a German Reformed Minister (now United Church of Christ). He was a very popular speaker in both Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch (Pennsylvania German) and English. His talks usually included a lot of humor and also a “text” or message. He spoke frequently at Pennsylvania German versammlinge (fersommlinge) where the entire proceedings are in the Deitsch language. He was the most popular speaker among Pennsylvania Germans in the 20th century and his speaking style at versammlinge remains the model for present-day speakers. Regional press described him as the “Will Rogers” and “Mark Twain” of the Pennsylvania Germans.

Rahn was born in 1898 in Temple, Berks County just outside of the Reading. He attended a one room school for 8 years and then took the trolley to attend Kutztown State Normal School (now Kutztown University). He continued his education and graduated Schuylkill Seminary, which eventually became Albright College. During World War I, according to his daughter, Ruth Schaefer, he became convinced that Jesus Christ and Christianity were the only ways to keep people from warfare and decided to pursue a career in the ministry. He graduated from Lancaster (German Reformed) Seminary in 1923. Before his graduation he had already started as a supply minister at the Jacksonville Charge, a group of union churches (churches with both Lutheran and Reformed congregations) in rural areas of Berks and Lehigh Counties. He remained with this charge for 52 years. Although he was offered larger, more prestigious and better paying ministries, he never wanted to leave this charge.

He died February 8, 1977 in Reading.

Among his many and diverse interests, he was adept at electronic media and made many recordings of his talks.

The recordings in this file were divided into several general groups, all the talks are in Deitsch. (A related file includes Rahn’s talks in English).

This collection starts with Reverend Rahn recording into a tape recorder some humorous stories.

There is a group of recordings of church services and sermons in Deitsch. In the 18th and well into the 19th centuries church services in the Pennsylvania German region were held in High German, although the leading authority on the Deitsch language, Mark Louden, points out that the American raised preachers were speaking a version of High German that he terms, “Pennsylvania High German.” They may have used some Deitsch in their sermons. Over the course of the 19th century and into the early 20 century, churches began to switch to English for their services, although some churches held monthly or annual High German services, and it seems likely some Deitsch was used in sermons. In the middle of the 20th century, as part of a language revival, some preachers started holding occasional ceremonies in Deitsch (see Gilbert and Yoder below).

The largest part of this collection are recordings from the 1960s and 1970s of groundhog lodge (grundsau, grundsow) meetings and versammlinge (fersommlinge). These are meetings where the entire event is held in Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch. Groundhog Lodges celebrate the legendary ability of the groundhog to predict the coming of summer and until very recently were only for men. Versammlinge are similar events, but not devoted to celebrations about the groundhog and include both men and women. These events started in the early 1930s and became very popular in the Pennsylvania German area, eventually there were 18 groundhog lodges (including one in Philadelphia) and scores of versammlinge. Many of these disbanded in the 21st century as speakers of Pennsylvania German died out (see Donner and Gilbert below). But very recently (as of 2021) a lodge has been formed in Germany, there are some children’s lodges in English, and there is a “Ladies Groundhog Lodge” for women in East Greenville.

We are indebted to Clarence Rahn’s daughter Ruth Schaefer and her late husband, Richard for sharing these tapes and agreeing to make them accessible to the public in this format.

More information about the Pennsylvania Germans can be found at the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center.

https://www.kutztown.edu/about-ku/administrative-offices/pennsylvania-german-cultural-heritage-center.html

People who are interested in Clarence Rahn and his contributions may find the following sources useful.

Donner, William Wilkinson. 2016. Serious nonsense groundhog lodges, Versammlinge, and Pennsylvania German heritage. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Gilbert, Russell Wieder. 1951.“The Oratory of the Pennsylvania Germans at the Versammlinge.” Susquehanna University Studies 4, (3): 187–213.

———. 1956. “Pennsylvania German Versammling Speeches.” Pennsylvania Speech Annual 13: 3–20.

———. 1956. “Religious Services in Pennsylvania German.” Susquehanna University Studies 5 (4): 277–89.

Rahn, Clarence R., 1966. “Pennsylvania German Humor.” In Homer Tope Rosenberger ed., Intimate Glimpses of the Pennsylvania Germans. Pennsylvania German Society, pages 43-54.

Schaefer, Ruth C., 2014. Rev. Clarence R. Rahn: Country Preacher, Humorist and Philosopher. Pennsylvania German Society, Legacy Series, no. 4. Ephrata: Pennsylvania German Society.

Schaefer, Ruth C., Gregory J. Hanson, Clarence R. Rahn, and Rachel Yoder. 2018. Doh wil ich awer!: the radio adventures of Asseba and Sabina: from the scripts of Rev. Clarence R. Rahn. Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University. Morgantown: Mastof Press.

Yoder, Don. 1978. “The Dialect Service in the Pennsylvania German culture.” Pennsylvania Folklife 27 (4): 2–13.

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Articles

01 Deitsch Humor Stories Rahn 01, Clarence Rahn

Deitsch Church Rahn 03 Zions Reed Church 1973, Clarence Rahn

Deitsch Church Rahn 04 Maxatawney, Clarence Rahn

Deitsch Church Service Rahn 01, Clarence Rahn

Deitsch Church Service Rahn 02, Clarence Rahn

Deitsch Church Service Rahn 5, Clarence Rahn

Deitsch Speech, "When You Do Something Wrong, You Must be Punished.", Clarence Rahn

Deitsch Speech "You Can't Stop the World and Get Off", Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Berks 1960, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Berks County 1972, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Berks County 1974, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Berks County 1975, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Bethlehem 1971, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Bethlehem, 1972, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Bowmanstown 1971, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Lecha Dahl Germansville 1974, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Lehigh Valley, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling, Lehigh Valley 1970, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling, Lehigh Valley 1972, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling, Lehigh Valley, 1973, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Reading 1964, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Reading 1966, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Shartlesville 1972, Clarence Rahn

Fersommling Shartlesville 1973, Clarence Rahn

Fesommling Groundhog Lodge #1 Lehigh Rahn 1973, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Coopersburg 1971, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Dublin 1971, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Dublin 1972, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Dublin 1973, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling East Greenville 1972, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Lodge #1 1971, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Lodge #1 1975, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Lodge #6, 1971, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Pine Grove 1971, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Pine Grove 1972, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Pine Grove, 1973, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Pine Grove 1974, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Pine Grove 1975, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Quakertown, 1970, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Quakertown, 1971, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Quakertown 1972, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Quakertown, 1973, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Quakertown 1975, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Quakertown 1977, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Souderton, 1971, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Souderton, 1972, Clarence Rahn

Groundhog Fersommling Souderton 1973, Clarence Rahn