Henry Klundt, a Renaissance Man
|As chief engineer of the Krem Roller Mill,
Henry Klundt wore a uniform suitable to his station.
Froeschle, Fred. "Henry Klundt, a Renaissance Man." Hazen Star, 30 April 1987.
|Henry Klundt, left, served four years as
Mercer County surveyor. The rodman at the right is unidentified.
The frontier needs men like Henry Klundt, and somehow, when they
were needed, they disappeared.
Like many of Mercer County's early residents, he was born in Russia
and had learned to speak both Russian and German, the language of
his ancestors. And like so many of the Germans who lived in Russia,
he was disenchanted by a government that had forgotten the promises
made almost a century before to entice Germans to South Russia where
they were needed to develop rich farm lands and to serve as a buffer
between native Russians and the feared and hated Turks.
In 1901, at age 19, young Henry came to the United States to live
briefly in Garrison, before moving on to Krem. In that pioneer Mercer
County town he found work in the construction of the Krem Roller
Mill, and when it was completed he became its operating engineer
running the steam plant that powered the equipment. Where he gained
the experience to run a steam plant isn't known, but it was typical
of him that he took on the job with confidence and aplomb. He didn't
wear coveralls. He wore a natty uniform, complete with a uniform
One night in 1906 the mill caught fire and burned, and Henry established
a repair shop and garage, fixing Krem's cars and farm machinery
for the next few years. Among other things he designed and built
Krem's first electric light plant, supplying electricity to several
homes in the little town.
Krem was also the town where Henry found his wife, you Emma Doberstein,
whose widowed mother ran a restaurant, and it was in Krem that the
first of the six Klundt children were born.
Henry was active in the Lutheran church and a member of the choir,
but most people who knew him considered him an agnostic, for he
accepted nothing at face value. He chose to inquire into every facet
of religion, philosophy, or any other subject that caught his attention.
His son Waldemar recalls that his father's intellectual interests
covered a broad range: politics, religion, science and technology,
history, music, and art.
"His hobbies and recreational diversions were equally diverse:
gardening, hunting, reading, traveling, auction sales, automobiles,
rock collecting, gem cutting, woodworking, Indian arrowhead collecting,
card playing, sausage making, bawdy jokes, Amos 'n' Andy. All these
things he pursued with great gusto and he loved to talk about them.
How he loved to talk! The radio and newspapers ignited in him speeches
and sermons; there were times when I felt he really missed him calling:
he really should have been a preacher or a politician. But he could
have been neither."
Waldemar, now a librarian in San Diego, Calif., recalls that his
father left the church sometime before 1920: "His religious
interests thereafter were those of freethinker. He subscribed to
the "Little Blue Books" published by E. Haldeman-Julius
and written by such diverse philosophers as Ambrose Bierce, Robert
Ingersoll, Will Durant, and Clarence Darrow.
"Nonetheless," Waldemar writes, "it was his knowledge
of the Bible that he used the most in his confrontations with the
faithful. He frequently found and quoted passages that contradicted
the beliefs of those who adhered to a more fundamental interpretation
of the Bible. My aunt, Emilia Cleveland, a very devout believer,
and my father often jostled over Bible interpretation but they never
lost their respect for each other.
"Where my father parted ways with many churchgoers was over
morality. He could never understand how of the faithful could attend
church on Sunday and propagate a lie on Monday. Which is the same
reason why my father could never have been politician," a comment
that indicates Waldemar may have inherited some of his father's
His daughter Violet's earliest recollection of her father centers
around a Christmas Eve when the children came home from church to
find Santa Claus putting gifts under the tree and learning only
later that Santa Claus had been her father.
"When we lived in Hazen," she writes, "we went hunting
and fishing. He always took the family on these trips. We also went
berry picking often, and we would make picnics out of those trips."
Around 1919, Henry Klundt took a special course at North Dakota
Agricultural College in Fargo. It qualified him for the job of county
surveyor, a position he won at the next election and held for four
The family moved to Stanton, and in his new job Henry got to know
the Indians who lived in the northwestern party of the county. He
not only became a friend of many Indians, but he also became a collector
and something of an expert of Indian artifacts.
Henry's feeling of friendship and sympathy for the Indians is perhaps
expressed in one of his anecdotes:
"A white man was lost in the deep forest. He tried for days
with no success to get out. Weak and exhausted to the point of crawling,
he finally found an opening. And there, hanging from a tree was
an Indian. 'Thank God,' the man exclaimed, 'I'm back in civilization.'"
In the early '20's, Henry brought his family to Hazen and established
the Independent Oil Company. With the help of others he built the
service station at the corner of Main and Second Street, West, using
a variety of rocks he had collected to make the station one of Hazen's
more unique structures. Although the building has been added to
and remodeled, much of his work is still visible.
Daughter Violet Hayes recalls the area was "going through
the Great Depression. We lived in a three-bedroom house - three
brothers and three sisters, and we had to adjust to simple life.
My father was a great protector of his family. He stayed up on cold
winter nights to keep the fires going. In the summer he watched
for bad storms. He knew which clouds were harmless and also which
were dangerous. He had neither greed nor lust to get rich. He would
lend a helping hand to anyone who needed it."
Around his service station he indulged his love for flowers -beds
of zinnias, petunias, and moss roses. He also maintained a running
gas war with Clarence Belo, who also had a service station on Main
Street, on the east end of Hazen's compact, if not tiny, business
His son, Roland, recalls that Henry was highly service oriented
and "insisted that his customers received the best. His attention
invariably included cleaning windshields and mirrors, sweeping all
the floorboards, checking fluids and tires."
In the late '30's, when Hazen utilized the Works Progress Administration
(WPA) program of a new sewer and water system, Henry Klundt was
chosen by the town to direct the work, projecting him into still
another area in which he developed expertise.
Roland Klundt recalls one venture that was not an unqualified success.
In 1928, Henry, attracted by cheap land prices, purchased 320 acres
near Brockway, Mont., and farmed them for three years with selective
crops requiring little attention and depending largely on nature's
whims. Those were not nature's most generous days, and Henry after
three years recognized the venture as a failure.
In 1946, when Henry was 64, he sold his service station and the
family moved to New Salem where the oldest son and daughter were
living. A few years later, Henry and his wife moved to California
where they lived in retirement until their deaths.
The Renaissance during the 14th to 16th centuries was considered
by some to be the last period in world history when it was still
possible for one man to know all there was to know.
Henry Klundt might have fit the Renaissance.
Reprinted with permission of the Hazen Star.