Retired Woman Turns German Text into English at NDSU Library
Lind, Bob. "The Translator." Forum, 27 June 2004, sec. 10B.
Lena Paris holds a chart of old German
Script, which she translates into English and enters into the
computer at the North Dakota State University Library
Lena Paris' "office" is a small
room filled with file cabinets and computers in the Germans From
Russia section of the North Dakota State University libraries.
"I call it the storage room," Lena says. "I probably
shouldn't, but I do." Here is where Lena spends a good chunk
of what should be her retirement years, entering items into the
Anything related to the Germans-From-Russia heritage and culture
books, newspaper clippings, pamphlets goes in.
"I used to do other things, but now Michael has me doing this,"
That's Michael Miller, the head guy/bibliographer
for the Germans From Russia Heritage Collection.
Several people work with him. One of them is Lena.
On this particular day, she's entering a 17-page German script
book into the computer in English.
"I translate it as I go," she says. "It's a challenge."
Lena has German blood. Her mother came from Germany to Emery, S.D.,
east of Mitchell, when she was 3.
Lena was born and raised on a farm at McClusky, N.D., where she
attended a rural one-room grade school.
She's reluctant to give her age, but she will say that she graduated
from McClusky High School in 1938.
She went to Minot (N.D.) State University, when it was a teachers'
college, for two years. "That doesn't seem like much now, but
it was a long time back then," she says.
Then she taught, first in a rural school at Mohall, N.D., then
at Loraine, north of Mohall.
She came to Fargo in 1950 and, she says, "I'm still here."
Lena worked for the Foss architectural firm in Fargo for about
20 years, then retired. Then she un-retired, joining the Germans
From Russia staff in 1992 on a part-time basis, first as part of
the AARP Senior Employment Program, then under private funding for
the heritage collection.
One of her big jobs was transcribing oral history interviews from
"Her work is most valuable," Michael says, "since
she has a background in the German language and knows the dialect
when listening to these tapes. The tapes are in the English language
but the interviewee uses some German words."
Michael says Lena probably is among the oldest people ever to be
employed at NDSU and maybe by all state institutions. But she has
mastered skills which come in handy in her work.
Shorthand, for instance. She learned it years ago and finds it's
a great tool in her current duties.
And the computer? You'd think this would be the domain of much
younger people. But that's not necessarily so. To Lena, it's a piece
of kuchen. "I like it," she says.
Lena works four hours a day four days a week. Her fellow employees
give her rides in the winter, but she drives herself from her Fargo
home in the summer.
She fell and broke her hip some time ago, but you'd never know
it now. She just doesn't seem to have slowed down.
Why do you do it, Lena? Why do you come over to the library several
days every week when you could be spending your retirement years
relaxing in the comfort of your home where you aren't squeezed in
among some filing cabinets?
"Oh, I like to get out, to be with people," she says.
"I always have. Besides, I've made good friends here."
Or maybe she developed a family.
"She's fun to visit with, to have around," Kristi
Brink, an archives assistant, says. "She's like a
grandma to us."
But don't bother Lena right now. She's got this difficult German
script book to translate and punch into the computer.
Her fingers work their way over the keyboard and the German book
works its way across the computer screen. And, thanks to this hard-working
dedicated "grandma," it's in English.
Reprinted with permission of The Forum.