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Our Town Amana: Communal Life

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AMANA - Communal life seemed to work well in the Amanas until a major event in U-S history changed everything. In 1855, a group of pilgrims seeking religious freedom settled the Amana Colonies. The Amanas would become one of America's longest lived religious communal societies.

Life in the Amana Colonies was much different than other small towns in Iowa. Every resident worked for the colony and in return received a home, medical care, and food from one of the villages 50-communal kitchens. Marietta Moershel remembers communal life in Amana.

"It was like one big family. Everyone shared in each other's joys and sorrows," said Moershel.

But in 1932 the Great Depression changed everything. No longer could the communal lifestyle support itself. Leaders began planning for a "great change." All assets would be divided into shares among the community, and the Amana Society would be formed.

"There was one day when you got food in the kitchen on a Saturday and one day you cooked at home. And we finally had a kitchen with a four burner kerosene stove. It seemed like such a luxury to be that equipped," said Moershel.

"My great grandfather always said the great change was the best thing that ever happened as far as he was concerned. How well thought out it was, how well planned it was, how well it set the stage for the community to grow and develop in the later years," said Peter Hoehnle, an Amana Society Member.

Today the Amana Society still exists, and many locals still hold original Amana shares. Ivan Reinmann was the first born under the great change. Now 70-years later, he says the Amanas are still changing.

"I see in the future, there will be fewer and fewer ancestral ties to tie people to the community," said Reinmann.

While many young people choose to leave the Amana's, Peter Hoehnle decided he wanted to stay. As a young person he's actively involved with the Amana Society and the church.

"For me it really wasn't much of decision to stay or to go. My family is here, my family has always been here, I have a deep interest in the history and the church. I always wanted to stay here and have tried to find ways to make that work," said Hoehnle.

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