LearnBoost welcomes Kilbuck Elementary
John was born in Franklin County, Kansas on May 15, 1861, into a family of the Christian Munsee band of the Delaware, where many Munsee had relocated after their old territory in the northeast United States was taken. As a youth, he left home and went to the Moravian center of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to obtain an education, first at the Nazareth Boys’ School and later at the Moravian College and Seminary. He became the first Delaware ordained a Moravian minister in 1884.
Edith Romig was born on April 16, 1865 in Franklin County, Kansas. She was the daughter of Joseph Romig, a Moravian minister among the Munsee in Ottawa, Kansas and the granddaughter of Levi Ricksecker, Joseph's predecessor as minister there. Both Levi and Joseph preserved important historical information about the Munsee of that period.
In 1885 John and Edith married. In that same year, Sheldon Jackson invited the Moravian Church to send missionaries to Alaska. The Kilbucks went as part of the first group of missionaries. They spent their adult lives in southwestern Alaska as missionaries and teachers among the Yupik people. In 1896, they were joined by Edith's younger brother Joseph H. Romig and his wife, Ella.
The Kilbucks were perhaps the most influential missionaries during the period around 1900. John and Edith quickly learned the Yupik language. John instituted the strategy of centering missionary work around existing villages, rather than establishing mission stations as had been done by Moravian missionaries in Greenland and Labrador. He also established the use of Yupik as the language of the Moravian Church in Alaska, a policy which continues to the present in Yupik-speaking areas.
Another missionary, Reverend John Hinz, had begun to translate scripture and other material into Yupik written with Roman (English) letters. A local "helper" and later missionary, the genius convert Uyaquk, also translated some of these texts into Yupik using a script he had invented to write Yugtun. Hinz, John and Edith supported both of these efforts. The Hinz script became the standard for writing Yupik until about 1970, when it was replaced by a script developed by a group of native Yupik speakers and scholars at the University of Alaska.
The diaries and letters of John and Edith Kilbuck provide much information otherwise unavailable about Yupik life in the late 1800s. Their story is told in the book, The Real People and the Children of Thunder by Ann Fienup-Riordan. The Kilbuck Mountain range and the Kilbuck Elementary School in Bethel, AK, bear their name.
John Henry Kilbuck died in 1922 in Akiak, Alaska. Edith died in 1933. Today, the Kilbuck Family Scholarship for Native Americans is awarded annually to a native American college student from Alaska or Oregon.
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