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Director of Pennsylvania German center in Berks earns honor from national folklore society

There was a turning point in Patrick Donmoyer’s career studying Pennsylvania German culture when his work became more than a quest for knowledge and understanding.

That’s when he began to see the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center where he would eventually become director as not just a repository of historic artifacts and genealogy but a place for future generations.

“Once you realize your work has broader dimensions, you start looking for ways to strengthen communications,” he said recently. “I feel so grateful for the community that has sustained this center. There is a need for more work.”

As the center at Kutztown University approaches completion of a $2.4 million expansion, Donmoyer has become a leader in the study of folklife.

His contributions were acknowledged recently by the American Folklore Society with its Archie Green Award.

Donmoyer, a 2009 Kutztown University graduate, served as acting director of the center from 2011 to 2017, before becoming director in 2017.

His roots

Originally from Lebanon County, the 36-year-old Donmoyer is a product of southeastern and central Pennsylvania, having lived in Gettysburg while his father attended the Lutheran Seminary.

He spent his teen years in southern York County. He moved to Kutztown where he studied art and ended up staying for 11 years. He now lives in Harleysville, Montgomery County, where his wife’s family is from.

“My interest in Pennsylvania German heritage started when I was younger, but definitely blossomed when I was an art student at KU,” Donmoyer said.

His degrees were in studio art and fine craft, with a concentration in printmaking and textiles and a minor in Pennsylvania German studies.

“Learning the language was my first connection to studying the culture (2006), and after that it was through restoring historic textile looms (2006-07),” he said. “I also began a strong interest in studying folk medicine, or powwowing around this time (2006-07).

“My project with barn stars came later in 2008, but this was really the project that helped me to see the broader dimension of how research could benefit both me personally and the broader cultural community.”

Among the highlights of his time at the center include the establishment of the heritage center’s annual publication series, which has released nine volumes since 2012, as well as guest curating numerous collaborative cultural exhibitions in the region including Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center in Pennsburg, Montgomery County, and Glen Cairn Museum in Bryn Athyn, also in Montgomery County.

The center also publishes Hiwwe wie Driwwe, the world’s only Pennsylvania German newspaper, and an annual publication showcasing premiere research in Pennsylvania German studies.

The award

Donmoyer was one of three recipients of the American Folklore Society’s Archie Green Award this year.

The award is a way for the field to recognize and honor local cultural leaders and workers outside the society’s membership who have made significant contributions to the expressive life of their own communities.

“The award recognizes individuals who are especially devoted at the community or grassroots level to raise awareness of heritage issues,” said Simon J. Bronner, dean of the College of General Studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who presented Donmoyer with the award.

“Patrick exemplifies this role,” Bronner said. “He certainly is respected as a researcher and writer nationally, and at the same time he has been essential to the continuity and revitalization of Pennsylvania German traditions.”

Donmoyer said he was grateful to Kutztown University and the Pennsylvania German culture, where has been able to find a sense of purpose and pursue meaningful work for the benefit of the community.

The center

The expansion of the center will empower more people to discover and share the riches of Pennsylvania German culture, Donmoyer said. The audience for the material is broader than just those living nearby.

Founded in 1991, the center is an open-air folklife museum on the Sharadin farmstead on the northwestern edge of campus. Onsite are a 19th century farmhouse, the Freyberger one-room schoolhouse and a classic Pennsylvania German barn.

The Heritage Center continues the legacy of Drs. Don Yoder, Alfred Shoemaker and J. William Frey who established Kutztown as the starting point of the American folklife studies movement. Yoder is considered the father of American folklife studies.

The DeLight E. Breidegam Building, a $2.4 million complex, will be the new home of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University early next year. (COURTESY OF PENNSYLVANIA GERMAN CULTURAL HERITAGE CENTER)


The center expects to move into a new headquarters complex next year.

The DeLight E. Breidegam Building, a $2.4 million 10,000-square-foot complex, is immediately west of the campus at 15155 Kutztown Road. The building is undergoing extensive renovation to accommodate the heritage center.

The center’s new headquarters will include a 3,100-square-foot library to house its extensive collection of books, manuscripts, photographs and documents depicting four centuries of Pennsylvania German culture.

A state-of-the-art research library will be open to students, faculty, visiting researchers and the public.

One of the most exciting spaces in the new facility is an area where researchers will be able to record oral histories, Donmoyer said.

There are also spaces for exhibits, research and storage.

Right now the old buildings are burdened with storage. Its library is confined to a 400-square-foot space that makes it difficult for more than one person to move around, particularly during the pandemic.

“Many folks in the past thought about the this place as a living history museum,” Donmoyer said, referring to the center’s restored farmhouse and one-room school house where events like Heemet Fescht are held annually.

The Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center hosted Heemet Fescht at the Sharadin Farmstead near Kutztown in September. The event featured Pennsylvania German folklife demonstrations, wagon rides, children’s barrel rides, live farm animals, kid’s activities and crafts. (KAREN SHUEY — READING EAGLE)

Folklife value

Donmoyer said the center is looking to help the community make use of its traditions, not just preserving stories but passing them on to future generations.

“Each generation paves the way differently,” he said.

An example is the growing interest in folk healing known as powwow, he said.

Bronner said folklife is a resource comparable to natural resources whose value is often not realized until they are under threat.

“People derive strength, indeed well-being, for social identity in a mass culture, a sense of belonging, place, and community, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of self,” Bronner said. “What Patrick has created is not just a passive museum exhibit of a long gone culture but a dynamic location to engage with regional legacy and skills.”

The center offers hands-on experience to show the continuity of the past into the present, Bronner said.

“Often in a modern culture there is a sense that place does not matter, and certainly not the agrarian-industrial heritage represented by central Pennsylvania,” Bronner said. “Its active and living folklife approach teaches practical skills, gives an appreciation for home-grown traditions, and especially in the case of the Pennsylvania Germans, a reinforcement of the often dazzling arts that the Germans contributed to this nation and the world.”

Patrick Donmoyer, director of Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center, painted a hex sign during Heemet Fescht in September. (KAREN SHUEY — READING EAGLE)

While his ambition and impact have broadened, Donmoyer’s interest remains the same as it was when he began his studies as a Kutztown University student.

“We will only respect that which we understand,” Donmoyer said.

Source: Berkshire mont

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