When it came time to dedicate his first book, Red Wing’s Marvin Eppard said his family was the obvious choice.
“They are the important people in my life,” said Eppard, 83, “and so I wanted to honor them in a way.”
The book, “A Heritage Not Forgotten,” recounts the lives of Eppard’s great-grandparents, who were among the earliest settlers in Mower County south of Rochester. Eppard said his goal was to pass down his ancestors’ beliefs and work ethic to future generations, including his four children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“They were just strong, enduring and stalwart people, and I admired that in them in addition to their personal faith,” Eppard said. “I wanted to record that.”
Told through a series of interweaving stories, the book follows three groups of settlers — mostly from Germany — who came to southern Minnesota by covered wagon in the 1850s and ’60s. The focus is on Eppard’s great-grandparents Adam and Matilda Utzinger and Philip and Lucinda Eppard.
Described as a “historical novel,” Eppard said the book is based heavily on family records with a few fictitious additions to enhance the narrative.
The bulk of the source material came from a box of stories left to Eppard after the death of his father in 1993, as well as documents retrieved from genealogy website Ancestry.com.
A number of the stories were compiled by Albert Utzinger, the eldest son of Adam and Matilda Utzinger. His collection included a passage urging later generations to keep documenting the family’s history.
“And I believe I’m continuing it,” Eppard said. “I believe I’m continuing something he felt strongly about.”
Signed copies of the book are available locally at the Red Wing Christian Bookstore. Manager Rose Hintz said she and her husband, owner George Hintz, have known Eppard for several years.
“George thought (the book) was informative,” Rose Hintz said, adding that her husband’s ancestors also were from Germany.
“I’ve gotten quite a number of people who have read the book say that it reminded them of their own heritage,” said Eppard, who believes the stories have value for readers beyond his relatives.
Eppard said the book is the result of a desire to regain a lost sense of faith, both in his family and society as a whole.
“There’s some loss that’s happening — not realizing what the early American people went through to establish this nation and what that involved,” Eppard said. “I think there’s something that needs to be restored.”
Raised on a farm in Racine Township, Minn., Eppard served as a pastor for 40 years, including a mission in Nome, Alaska. He also participated in short-term missions in Russia, Mozambique and Japan before retiring to Red Wing in 1995 with his wife.
Despite his great-grandparent’s evangelical beliefs, Eppard said religiousness skipped a generation in his family. “That’s why I wanted to pick that up and reengage it,” he said.
The journey of researching the book proved to be rewarding for Eppard, who said it brought him joy discovering his family’s religious past. As someone who struggled with faith early in his pastoral career, “to find that in my heritage, and to know I found it for myself, was an important thing,” he said.
For a book about heritage, it was only fitting that writing it also brought Eppard closer to his family, especially his daughter, Ruth Anderson, who helped with editing.
“Our emails were back and forth all the time, every day,” Eppard said. “It was just a good thing for the two of us.”