In their own words
ALGONA – For decades, the Nativity scene created by German prisoner of war Eduard Kaib has brought hundreds of visitors to Algona during the Christmas season to see the one-of -a-kind display.
Overseen by a board of directors from the Algona United Methodist Church, the historic Nativity continues to bring joy to its caretakers, all of whom have their own personal stories on how it has touched their lives.
“It’s a labor of love,” said Marvin Chickering, chairman of the Nativity board. “I’ve been involved for at least 30 years and I still enjoy it.”
Chickering said it was out of one man’s mistake that the Nativity came to be in Algona.
“It’s a part of the story not everyone knows, but its history has been published so many times,” he said. “The neatest part in my mind is that there was really a one in 8 million shot that Kaib was in Algona. There were 8 million German prisoners in camps in the United States but God said there was something for him to do in Algona.”
The first Nativity was created from soil in 1944 and was displayed in the dining hall of Camp Algona. Lt. Col. Joseph Church was commander of the camp during that time.
“Joseph Church wasn’t a well liked man in the camp,” said Chickering. “A few prisoners escaped and for five days he didn’t know they were gone. They were found and brought back to the camp, but two days later they were gone again. At that time it was decided he was inept and he was dismissed. That brought Col. Arthur Lubdell in from Camp Clarinda. It was his idea to build the larger Nativity. Thanks to those prisoners that escaped, it dismissed a man who probably never would have had the idea.”
For some board members, such as Rick Klein, it has become a tradition to visit the Nativity each year.
“Every year we still bring our grandkids out,” said Klein.
Over the years, Chickering has heard a number of stories and comments from visitors, but a few stand out in his mind.
“One day a World War II veteran came in with his granddaughters a few years ago,” said Chickering. “He got busy sharing war stories so I told the granddaughters they could go look at the scene. ‘I said count the sheep, but don’t fall asleep.’ They came back out and I asked them how many sheep they could find. The older girl, she was probably about 10 years old, said 32. I asked her how she came up with that number and she said ‘There are 30 on the ground, one in the arms of the shepherd and the Lamb of God in the manger.’ Those are the kinds of stories that bring tears to your eyes.”
A visitor from Germany also created a favorite memory for Chickering.
“It’s been at least 10 years ago a woman called me to see if we could show the Nativity to her brother-in-law who was going to be visiting from Germany,” he said. “He came and he told me he wanted to thank the Americans for how well he was treated in an American camp and that he was sorry for how they treated American prisoners in Germany. He had been a prisoner of war at a camp in Virginia.
Board Member Marilyn Wallick said she has enjoyed meeting visitors and seeing their reactions to the scene.
“It’s neat to be involved here,” she said. “I love seeing the looks on visitors faces, they just can’t believe we have something like this here. Even people from town who haven’t seen it and come for the first time say it is really something.”
“For me, it still just blows my mind that something this beautiful could have come from a war,” said Chickering.