Left Picture: Annie M. Cowell
Right Picture: Otto and Vida (Sparrowhawk) Butcher

Wakefield Museum MUSINGS: “Wakefield’s Africa Connection”

By Jim Beck, Curator

No one would suspect that the quiet village of Wakefield would have connections to continents as far away as Africa. But that is exactly the case. Wakefield has had strong connections with Africa. Several missionaries have gone out from Wakefield to serve the people of Africa in Congo and in South Africa.

Annie M. Cowell of rural Wakefield applied to serve with the Africa Inland Mission in 1928. Her home church, the Uniondale Baptist Church, signed her commissioning papers and served as a base of support for her during her entire 46-year career in Africa. Annie, pictured above, returned every few years to touch base with supporters and to rest a bit. She worked for 33 years at Bogoro and for 13 years at Rethy.

Annie Cowell taught in Clay County rural schools for two years when she felt the call to serve in Africa. She worked at schools for both boys and girls in the Congo and did a great deal of village visitation. During the turbulent 1960s, Annie escaped the danger and was able to resume her work once some calm had returned to the nation. “I can never praise God enough for the privilege He gave me to serve in Africa.” She retired to a mission home in Florida in 1974 and lived there to the age of 99.

Ethel Homfeldt, also from Wakefield, also served in the Belgian Congo (later named Zaire and now named the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Her years of service, 1948-1988, overlapped Annie Cowell’s term of service although they worked in different parts of the country. Ethel served under the auspices of the Methodist Church. After her death, her sister Gladys donated her large collection of African artifacts to the Wakefield Museum. The display case featuring these items contains baskets, handcrafts, dolls, jewelry, and beadwork.

Otto and Vida (Sparrowhawk) Butcher served in South Africa 1927-1934. Otto worked as the principal of the Amazimtoti Institute that enrolled over 1,000 Zulu students. Vida led the Girl Scouts organization of Natal for many years. The Butchers, pictured above, were also from Wakefield. The museum also has many Zulu artifacts that date from the years when the Butchers lived in Africa. These items are in mint condition and are gaining value as they approach the age of 100 years.

We invite the public to come view these items. Admission is free at the museum (604 6th Street in Wakefield); hours are 1-4 Wednesday through Sunday. On May 19 our Third Annual Art Show opens featuring a large variety of art items produced by people associated with Wakefield. The show ends June 23.