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The Friendship Album of Annie Funk
Written by Jennifer Frieze, Correspondent

            This week of April 2019, mirrors the week of April 1912. It is the birthday

Annie Funk

week of a brave young woman and the tragic anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic. In a simple twist of fate, or perhaps divine plan, both events become deeply interwoven in time.

            An extraordinary young woman named Annie Funk lived just on the outskirts of Upper Perk. Born April 12, 1874 in Bally, Pennsylvania, she was the daughter of James Bechtel Funk and Susanna Clemmer of Boyertown. Annie's father owned a Grist Mill and was Deacon for 25 years at Hereford Mennonite Church in Bally. The house she grew up in still stands on Toll Gate Road.

            Annie was deeply involved in her community and church. She attended West Chester Normal School and then the Mennonite Training School in Northfield, Massachusetts. After graduation, she assisted

Pages of the friendship album created in 1909 that belonged to Annie Funk are full of

correspondence from relatives, friends, and residents of Anniies' community in Bally.

those in need in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Patterson, New Jersey.  

            Her calling was to serve with an open heart as a missionary. Annie became the first Mennonite female missionary to work in a foreign land. She was faithful, fearless, and dedicated.

            Annie received her missionary assignment and in 1906, was headed to Janjgir, India. She lived there for five years. In 1908, she opened a one-room school for girls. Annie learned to speak Hindi and earned the respect and love of the people in the village she served.

Pastor Bob Gerhart of the Butter Valley Community Church in Bally was able to obtain'

the friendship calendar album at auction a few years ago.

            The school was later renamed the Annie C. Funk Memorial School. A brass plaque was placed in the school honoring her. In 1915, the plaque was returned to her mother church and is now erected on the wall of Butter Valley Community Church in Bally. To this day, Annie Funk is still honored in the region of India in which she served.

            Last Sunday evening, Pastor Bob Gehart gave a heartfelt and incredible presentation, at Butter Valley Community Church, about the friendship album that belonged to the beloved Annie Funk. He became aware of the album in 2012 at a program about the Titanic Centennial and the life of Annie Funk at Washington Elementary School.  A visitor shared the book with him.

            Pastor Gehart was mesmerized by the book at first sight and thought about offering to buy it. He did not and often wondered what became of the book. Several years later, he received word that the album was to be sold at an auction in Macungie. A man on a mission, he arrived at the auction and went home with Annie Funk's personal album.  He began studying the scrapbook and said, "Looking at the pages, it was incredible. I started to recognize names from the community."

            The album is a historical record of correspondence from the residents of Hereford Township to Annie. In 1908 Annie's community in Bally, created a friendship calendar that was presented to Annie in 1909. Florence Shelley, the daughter of Pastor Shelley, distributed pages to neighbors and friends to fill out. Over 300 people contributed to the gift. The friendship calendar became a collection of poems, quips, and hymns. Every note was a unique, personal and intimate note to Annie. 

            There are many references to danger and to trust in God - interesting due to the fact that none knew she would board the fateful Titanic.  One of the first entries is from Annie's mother.  It is a quote from the Apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 6,Verse 8: "Whatsoever good thing any person doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free".  Mary Bechtel made note of the anniversary of the Opera House fire in Boyertown. There were also many cheeky jokes and notes of love.

            The token of affection was shipped to India. Annie assembled the friendship calendar into an album. There is an actual photo of her in India with it sitting on her writing desk. The album is a visual representation of the deep and intricate connections that we share.

            In 1912, Annie received a telegram from home stating that her mother was not well and to return home. The telegraph read: "Come home at once. Mother very ill. Have purchased on two ships."

            Annie left Janjgir by train to Bombay and boarded the Persian-the same ship she arrived to India on. The train and boat landed her in Liverpool, England. Her ticket was to board the Haverford, but because of the coal strike, the ship was docked. Thos. Cook & Sons offered her a pass on the Titanic for "a few more gold pieces" as she wrote in her letter to her parents.  

            Annie gave the letter to a roommate on the Persian to send to her family in order for them to know she would be arriving on the Titanic and not the Haverford. Annie celebrated her birthday on the Titanic. She turned 38 years old.

            The RMS Titanic set sail on April 10, 1912 from Southampton, England heading to New York City. Four days into the journey, the luxury vessel collided with an unseen iceberg in the North Atlantic. The force of the impact ruptured the hull, filling the interior of the ship with icy seawater before it sunk to its watery abyss. True to Annie's selfless character, it was witnessed by missionary survivor, Rev. P.A. Penner, that she gave up her seat on a lifeboat to a woman and young child. I'm sure Annie understood the consequence of her decision. Her body was never identified or recovered. 

            The maritime disaster made headline news. The Town and Country Newspaper published an article April 20, 1912. An excerpt from the paper reads, "A moment more and the Titanic had gone to her doom, with the fated hundreds grouped on the after deck. To the survivors they were visible to the last, and their cries and moans pitiable". 

            There were also victims from North Wales as noted in the Town and Country April 27, 1912. Austin Van Billiard, a diamond hunter, was on board the Titanic with his two young sons. All three went down with the ship. Austin was heading to New York to sell his uncut diamonds he had just found in the Congo. He left his wife and baby boy and girl in London.

            History and human interaction are deeply intertwined. This Friday is Annie Funks birthday. Think of her and wish her well. Admire her noble and kind nature. In the early morning of April 15, take a moment of quiet reflection to remember those that went down with Titanic.





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