Monday, December 3, 2012

Ontje Ontjes (1877-1942)

Portrait from the Iowa State Red Book.

   This curiously named man is Ontje Ontjes, a resident of Grundy County, Iowa who served three terms in the Iowa State House of Representatives. Blessed with an outstanding name that's easy to remember and hard to forget once you see it, Ontjes also was a well-known banker, farmer and businessman in Grundy County in addition to his legislative service.
  Ontje Andrew Ontjes was born in German Township, Iowa on May 31, 1877,  the son of Andreas (Andrew) and Hilka Meyer Ontjes. The Ontjes family removed to Butler County when Ontje was a child and he later attended rural schools in the town of Aplington. His adolescence was spent mainly in farm work and at age 23 he became the manager of the Nye-Schneider Elevator Company, a grain and coal business located in the town of Parkersburg. He continued in this employ for two years and later acquired another grain elevator in nearby Allison, Iowa, continuing in dealing grain until selling his business in the mid-1900s. Ontjes later began dabbling in real estate, holding and selling land throughout Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
   Ontje Ontjes married in 1906 to Ms. Sophie Frerichs (born 1884) and the couple is recorded as having one son, Edward (birthdate unknown). In the same year as his marriage, Ontjes assisted in forming the Farmers Savings Bank of Holland, Iowa, beginning a lifelong interest in local banking circles. He served as the cashier and director of this bank for a number of years, and later became the builder of the Aplington Telephone Exchange.
   In 1916 Ontje Ontjes made his first move into politics, running successfully for Mayor of Holland, Iowa. He served in this office for two terms, the last of which concluded in 1920. He continued active business and civic involvement during his mayoralty, serving as the Holland School district treasurer from 1918-1920 and was the organizer, founder, and Secretary-Treasurer of the Grundy County National Farm Loan Association beginning in 1917.
   Ontjes first won his first term in Iowa State House of Representatives in the 1920 election and was reelected to the legislature in 1923. During his terms he served as the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules, and also had the distinction of serving as Speaker Pro Tempore of the House during the 40th General Assembly in 1923. Addressing the legislature shortly after attaining the speakership, Ontjes highlighted his being a banker, landowner, and taxpayer, while also relating that:
"Taxes have gone up by leaps and bounds during the past several years and to my way of thinking we should formulate laws that will do justice to our needs, equalize taxes and lower the levies instead of increasing them. I value the good will of all the members and to you that are new members, I will be more than pleased to be of the utmost service. It makes no difference as to whether you are a farmer, lawyer or whatever your profession is. We should all work with one object in mind, namely, what is best and neccessary for the common interest of all the people."

                                     Ontje Ontjes as he appeared in the 1923 Iowa State Manual.

  Ontjes retired from the legislature at the end of the 1925 term. He was returned to the House two years after his retirement and served another two-year term concluding in 1929. In his later years, he continued to be a prominent public figure in Grundy County, taking a special interest in the upkeep and maintenance of county roadways. His Grundy Register obituary gives note that he served as president of the Primary No. 14. Association in the years before his death. The Register also records him as being a parishioner at the First Baptist Church at Grundy Center and as a member of the local order of the Knights of Pythias.
   Ontjes' last years are listed as being marked by ill health, and the Register notes that he had been suffering from cancer "that covered a period of two years". He was confined to his home in the months before his death but "still kept in touch with his business from his sickbed up to within a few weeks before the end came." He died on December 31, 1942, at age 65 and was shortly thereafter interred at the Grundy Center Cemetery. Ontjes was memorialized in local newspapers as a popular legislator and businessman "with wide acquaintance throughout Grundy and the adjoining counties."

This obituary for O.A. Ontjes appeared in the Waterloo Sunday Courier a few days after his death.


  1. My maiden name is Ontjes. And my Great Grandfather was named Ontje Ontjes. I wonder if my Great Grand father was this man's grandson. I'll have to look into it!

  2. My great grandfather was also Ontje Ontjes. He came over on the ship from Bremen Germany! Originally from Pektum.