In Touch with Prairie Living
By Michael M. Miller
The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at the NDSU Libraries
in Fargo reaches out to prairie families and former Dakotans. In
various ways, it affirms the heritage of the Germans from Russia
as an important part of the northern plains culture. The October
column is written by June M. Kraft of the NDSU Extension Service
for Burleigh County, Bismarck, ND.
Come with me on a journey which began with a 4-H club meeting
in Bismarck and ended on the steps of an orphanage in Odessa, Ukraine.
The Dynamite Kids 4-H Club is called to order with 12 members
repeating the 4-H Pledge: "I pledge my head to clearer thinking;
my heart to greater loyalty; my hands to larger service, and my
health to better living for my club, my community, my country and
my world." The 4-H Pledge has added meaning for a Burleigh County
4-H Club. "Hands to larger service" is exactly what the club believed
when they prepared care packages for the Lighthouse Orphanage in
Eagerly members filled care packages with combs, nail clippers,
socks, tooth brushes, hair ties and gum. Letters thoughtfully written
by club members were carefully tucked inside each package. These
letters included a Russian translation. Undaunted, these 7 to 15-year-olds
reached out in service to needy friends in Ukraine. The members
also decided to lend a helping hand by sending a monetary gift.
4-H thoughts were focused on helping those in need who live on
the other side of the globe. 4-H hands were going out to children
who do not have the simple items we take for granted. 4-H hands
were completing a project that focused on caring for other people:
people they have never met and probably never will. Dynamite Kids
4-H Club helped children their own age in Ukraine, not because they
must, but because they want to share, as they have pledged hands
to larger service.
Later thousands of miles away, a bus carefully pulled alongside
the curb. Anxious visitors peered out the bus windows to gain their
first glimpse of the Lighthouse Orphanage in Odessa. The street
was deserted, except for one solitary figure with arms draped around
the black wrought iron rails that identify entrances below street
level. Was he waiting for the Americans, or did this sandy-haired
boy, age 8, live in the limestone building behind him? Silently
he watched as we strangers disappeared through a gate to an inner
courtyard. From here we saw the stone houses with corrugated tin
roofs that lined the street. Two elderly gentlemen seated on a bench
under a huge tree watched three children at play. The children curiously
eyed the foreign visitors.
Stepping further into the courtyard, one drew closer to two rows
of tables, placed side by side, 35 feet long and 6 feet wide. Forty
boys, ages 6 to 18, seated on benches are just finishing a meal
of stir-fried rice and bread. Excited whispers are heard from the
tables as a tall, sturdy man dressed in black came forward to welcome
the group. With a voice full of compassion and caring, Deacon Alexander
spoke in Russian. Overjoyed with our generosity, he conveyed their
appreciation for the gifts brought from North Dakota. Boxes and
suitcases, grocery bags and backpacks overflowed with blankets,
medical supplies, school and personal hygiene supplies. All gifts
were opened and displayed in the courtyard. Handmade quilts from
ladies in my hometown of Tuttle, ND brought smiles to these young
faces who embraced the brightly colored quilts.
Guest tours of the Lighthouse facilities were next on the agenda.
To my amazement, current remodeling looked like major renovations.
Workmen were busy removing walls and enlarging rooms. There was
only one room of serene solace: the chapel. Although sparsely furnished,
one table next to an altar held a cross, four candles and a red
leather-covered Bible. A picture of the head of Christ hung on the
Then the realization that the nurse's office held few medical
supplies. Medical equipment and medications easily stored on one
shelf. The care packages and letters from the Dynamite Kids 4-H
Club were given following the tour. Several boys clustered closer
to Director Ivanov as the 4-H project of sharing gifts was explained.
Ivanov's eyes danced with excitement as she read a Russian-text
letter. Because orphanage boys are required to have academic studies
every day, these letters are used to help them learn English. Perhaps
they will write to their new friends in Bismarck. Hugs were exchanged
before time before leaving the orphanage. As I took one last glance
over my shoulder, I thought "hands to larger service, for my world."
In May, 1999 when the next tour group returns to Odessa, they
will take additional quilts made by the women at English Lutheran
Church at Tuttle for the children at the Lighthouse Orphanage.
For further information about the collection's resources, the
Journey to the Homeland Tour for May 18-31, 1999, the Prairie Public
TV documentary for 1999, and German-Russian heritage, contact Michael
M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599 (Tel:
701-231-8416; E-mail: Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu);
GRHC website: http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc).