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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: Overcoming anti-immigrant bigotry years ago

Handsome and charming German immigrant Ferd J. Funk, who arrived in Peabody as a teenager in the 1870s, quickly rose to become one of Marion County’s most respected early politicians.

But he had to overcome a “down with the Dutch” movement to win his first election in 1887, at age 29, as clerk of district court, a job described by the newspaper of the time as “the fattest take in the county.”

In those days, the county was split not so much between Democrats and Republicans or even Populists as it was divided between “English” and “Dutch” townships.

In his 1887 campaign, Funk had to survive challenges both before and after the election that he was a true American, not a German or a Russian.

A supporter at the time wrote that Funk, as a 14-year-old in Germany, had known more about and loved the ideals of America better than most Americans and had been the deciding voice in his family’s decision to emigrate.

Relocating to Marion after his election, Funk served as district court clerk until 1894, when he was elected state representative.

Rather than seek re-election in 1896, he opened a furniture store in Marion and became a licensed undertaker, prompting this commentary from Record editor E.W. Hoch:

“Talking about sending away from home for products you can buy here, a pernicious practice now nearly obsolete in this neck o’ woods, we are reminded that it used to be quite common for people here to buy their furniture in Kansas City or elsewhere outside of Marion. There were times when there was some little excuse for the practice because the dealers here kept such poor and meager stocks. But it is different now. Mr. Ferd J. Funk, our enterprising dealer, has an elegant stock of furniture, and the people are rapidly catching on to the fact that there is no use going away from home for furniture, either because of price or style. This is as it should be.”

In 1911, Funk sold his furniture and undertaking business, which to this day continues as Zeiner Funeral Home, to Burlingame furniture storeowner Walter Thompson and his son, W.H. Thompson of Eureka.

Funk then moved to Topeka to become corporate secretary of Aetna Building and Loan Association, one of the state’s largest lenders.

He died there 51 years later at age 102 and was buried at Prairie Lawn Cemetery in Peabody.

Last modified March 15, 2018

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