Interview with Ralph Dressler (RD)
Conducted by Michael M. Miller (MM)
8 November 1993, Bismarck, North Dakota
Transcription by Joyce Reinhardt Larson
Editing by Mary Lynn Axtman
MM: This is Michael M. Miller, Germans From
Russia Bibliographer at North Dakota State University in Fargo.
It is November 8, 1993 and I am in the home of Ralph Dressler.
Ralph, I wonder if you could tell us when you were born?
RD: I was born on June 3, 1918 and I was
born down in Raleigh, North Dakota.
MM: And Raleigh is located where?
RD: That is located about..., I would say
about 75 miles south of Mandan and a little west.
MM: Mandan. Could you tell us what is the
name of your father, first of all?
RD: My father was John Dressler.
MM: John Dressler?
RD: That's correct.
MM: And when was he born?
RD: He was born in 1892.
MM: And where was he born?
RD: He was born in Krasna, Bessarabia.
MM: So, he was born in Krasna Bessarabia.
And the name of your mother?
RD: My mother was Matilda Kopp, K-o-p-p.
MM: And when was she born?
RD: She was born in 1896.
MM: And they both immigrated to North Dakota
in what year?
RD: Yes, in 1908.
MM: So, your father was what age when he
RD: He was 16 years old.
MM: And your mother?
RD: My mother was 12.
MM: Your mother was 12. Did they have any
brothers or sisters that also came with them?
RD: Yes, yes. In fact my father's side,
the Dressler side, they all came together. Only the one brother,
the oldest brother Tony, he was here. He was working over in the
Strasburg area and I think through him is where the family came
over. I think he was one of the sponsor with somebody else in
MM: Ah huh. So they all came together at
the same time?
RD: Yah, except one of the boys, the oldest
MM: And he stayed over there in Bessarabia?
RD: No. He was here before they came over.
He was in Strasburg. He came earlier, but I don't how he came
or why he came first. But he was..., then he sponsored the family
MM: And then the Dressler's came first to
RD: No, they came over in the Strasburg
area. They came into the Strasburg area and they had some relatives
over there, but I don't recall their names. That's where they
stayed because I remember my dad was working for Lawrence Welk's
dad as a hired man when they were over there.
MM: He was working for Ludwig Welk, Lawrence
RD: Oh, that's what his name was.
MM: And did they resettle somewhere else,
the Dressler family?
RD: Yes. They moved over into the Grant
County and his father, named Christian Dressler which was his
father's name, they homesteaded. They took up land and they homesteaded
there. South, about 10 miles southwest of Raleigh.
MM: Do you still remember your grandparents?
RD: Yes, I do.
MM: What were their names again?
RD: The Dressler grandfather's name was
Christian and the grandmother was Maria.
MM: So they came along?
RD: They came along with them.
MM: Um hum. And they settled in Grant County,
but did they homestead this land?
RD: Yes, they homesteaded the land.
MM: Um hum. What about on the Kopp side?
Did you remember the grandparents?
RD: Oh yes, but except my grandfather. He
was Jakob Kopp and grandma was Rose Muller Kopp.
MM: Now, did they come and settle in Grant
County right away?
RD: To my knowledge, yes, they did.
MM: And how many children were in your family?
RD: In my immediate family now? Well, there
was five brothers of us and two sisters.
MM: A total of seven children?
RD: That's correct.
MM: So your father and mother were of course,
married over here in Grant County.
RD: Yah, they were married in the St. Gertrude's
Church. That's about ten miles south of Raleigh on Highway 31.
MM: When you were growing up Ralph, did
you speak only German?
RD: Yes, never had any English. When we
started school, I remember the first day yet. We..., our folks
went to Selfridge to buy us little sheep skin coats. My brother
and I, we both started at the same time. And we were 2-1/2 miles
to Raleigh, which was the city then, and we lived out in the country
on Highway 31. And when we got in there, we stood in the corners
and we didn't know anything about English, nothing. We stood there,
we didn't even know how to take our coats off I think, until they
came over and then of course, they told us where to put our coats.
So then, of course, we started out. We couldn't speak English
MM: Well, was the teacher speaking in English?
MM: And so, how did...? You couldn't understand?
RD: Huh? Well, she also had some German
in her, so she could understand us but we couldn't understand
MM: This was in the first grade?
RD: This was in the first grade, yes. There
[was] no such thing as kindergarten.
MM: Were there other German-Russian children
in the classroom?
RD: Oh, yes. Quite a few of 'em, most of
'em I would say. I would say seventy-five percent.
MM: And some of them could understand English?
RD: Yah, there was some Norwegians and Swedes.
MM: So, how long did it take you then to
RD: I would say it took quite a while. I
think that we didn't start catching on for..., it took about 30
days or longer. And the bad part of that was.... See, my mother
and father, my mother was a pretty well educated woman and my
father wasn't. See, my father couldn't even write or read. All
he could write when he died and he was the age of 76, was his
name. And we had to teach him that, us boys. Us children, we taught
him that. But he could not read. He couldn't even read German.
MM: Couldn't read German either? Your mother,
you said she was educated. Where did she get this education?
RD: Her father was an instructor and professor
in German over in Krasna, Bessarabia.
RD: He was an instructor and then he also
was quite a singer. She could sing real well because he was a
band leader and stuff like that.
MM: What was his name again?
RD: Jakob Kopp, K-O-P-P.
MM: Ah huh. So she had her education over
RD: That's right, yah.
MM: Did you ever recall when you were young
or did your mother receive any German newspapers? Anything like
RD: Yes. She read the Der Staatsanzeiger
and that was printed here in Bismarck. And then later on I think,
when the Der Staatsanzeiger went out [quit], I think then they
ordered the Herold.
MM: Nord Dakota Herold?
RD: Nord Dakota Herold. That's what it was
out of Dickinson. I think it was published there.
MM: Um Hum. As far as you know, when your
mother and father came over to settle in North Dakota, all the
relatives came along?
RD: Well, of the family, yes.
MM: Of the immediate family? But there may
have been other brothers or sisters over there?
RD: That's right. That I don't know of.
MM: Ah huh. So when you would come home
from school, you would speak German and then when you'd come to
school, you'd have English classes?
RD: That's correct.
MM: What about on the playground?
RD: Well, we talked German until we got
to catch on English and that took quite sometime. I think the
first year wasn't too hot, you know.
MM: Um hum. Did your parents ever learn
RD: Yes. My father could speak English.
And my mother? Yah, she could speak English but not very much
because she died young. She was only 36 years old when she died
in 1933, on April 6th.
MM: Now, your father was a farmer?
RD: Yes, he was a farmer all his life. So
was his folks, you know. His father and mother, they were [farmers].
MM: They were farmers in Bessarabia?
RD: Yes. And he had.... There was eight
brothers with him and one sister only in that family. There was
nine of 'em.
MM: Your father had nine? There were nine
members in the family?
RD: That's correct, eight boys and one girl.
MM: And they all came to America?
RD: They all came to America.
MM: In Krasna, Bessarabia of course, this
was a Catholic colony. But did your folks ever speak much about
life in Krasna?
RD: Well, they did. But we were so young
and of course, it didn't bother us because it didn't mean much
to us when they were speaking. Today we speak more of it than
we ever did because what has happened. In looking back and you
like to know what they done and what their parents and uncles
and grandfather [were] and all these names. But on the Dressler
side there, we just couldn't get together because they didn't
know. My father didn't know, never talked about his uncle, you
know. In fact, just recently over here at the Germans for Russia,
somebody looked up and they found that my grandfather Christian
Dressler, he had a brother. This is the first time that I ever
saw a name of his brother which was an uncle to my dad. That's
the first time I ever [did]. We've had copies made and passed
it out with this name on there and they are all surprised they
had never heard of that.
MM: Hum, interesting.
MM: Your father of course, he came over
and settled and homesteaded and so forth. What do you remember
RD: My father didn't homestead. My grandfather,
MM: Oh, your grandfather homesteaded.
RD: He homesteaded, yah.
MM: When you were growing up down there
in Grant County, what was life like? Was it a pretty good life
or a tough life?
RD: It was a very tough life. I mean, that
was the World War 1 when I was born in '18. Then I've been told
that I sat just once on my grandfather Kopp's lap because he died
of dropsy that year, in 1918. He was only 58 years old when he
died. And of course grandma, she lived way up into the first part
of the 40's, I should say. She was a Muller, she wasn't a Miller.
M-u-l-l-e-r. I met some of her relatives over in Germany back
in.... See, we was over there in 1982, I think it was, and I met
a born Dressler lady but we couldn't put ourselfs together. But
then I met the Kopps, they had a Verein there they called it.
Was something like an organization like the "Knights of Columbus"
and of course, they had a little doings for us and we got acquainted
with some of the people. So, I had some of the Kopps I met and
Halburgs. We could put ourself together right away because he
said his grandfather was Simon Kopp and my grandpa was Jakob Kopp
and they were brothers. So his grandfather and my grandfather
MM: So, then you found some relatives there?
RD: So then we saw more. Then we even run
onto grandma Kopp, which was a Muller. See, we run onto some of
her relatives over there but down a generation, you know.
MM: What do you remember about...? Going
back to growing up on the farm. Do you remember like...? Did your
folks celebrate any special holidays?
RD: Well my folks, they rented a farm 2-1/2
miles south of Raleigh right on Highway 31. We wasn't even a quarter
mile off the highway. And of course, they rented the farm, there
was two quarters at that time. They got married in 1915 and I
was born in '18 and I have an older brother that was born in '17,
March the 18th. Of course, as we grew up as kids there, we had
to walk to school, 2-1/2 miles when the weather was good. Otherwise,
why he would haul us when it got cold with the buggy. Then when
we got bigger and older, why then we could drive ourself. He would
get a single buggy and put a horse on it, put some hay in the
back and that's the way we went to school in the winter time.
With the buggy and then, sometimes you had..., what do you call
it? Sleigh, a sled and two runners on it. Put a horse in it, one
single horse and went to school. So, we unhitched it and put it
in the barn and he had some hay for us on the sleigh or on the
buggy, give him the hay and after school, we drove home again.
Then we had to do all the chores when we were big enough. Had
to get the cows in and start milking and clean the barns, manure
the barns and stuff. So, that's the way we worked.
MM: So then, when you grew up the early
years. there were no vehicles?
RD: No. My father bought his first vehicle,
was a 1925 Chevrolet Touring. There was no glass in the cars there
at that time, it was all Touring. Yah, that he bought first in
1925. He bought a Chevrolet.
MM: And you would go to school how many
months of the year?
RD: We go nine months.
MM: You were going nine months?
RD: Oh, yes. We go nine months.
MM: And you went to school up through the
8th grade at the farm school?
RD: That's correct. No, we never went the
farm school, we went the city. Yah, we went to the city, town
of Raleigh. That's where we graduated from.
MM: Did they have like state examinations?
RD: Oh, yes. We had state examinations and
county superintendent. Do you remember them?
MM: Um hum. So after the 8th grade, wh hat's
correct, the Civilian Conservation Corp.
MM: What was their purpose?
RD: Well, so that we have something to do.
We got, if I recall, I think it wasn't very much. I think it was
$30, and $25 went home to the folks because they had a tough time
making a living. 'cause there was nothing and there was a depression
on in the 30's. And of course, we could keep $5 at the camp.
MM: So, you headed off from the farm to
the CCC's and where did you go to?
RD: I went.... Well, I was inducted over
here at the Fort Snelling, south of Bismarck. I stayed here about
a month and then they transferred me out to Medora. That's where
I spent the rest until I was discharged.
MM: What did you do out in Medora?
RD: We kind of built roads through the Badlands.
We took the wheelbarrows, that's what we worked with and shovels.
That's all we done trying to get by the hills. You know how there
are built roads along the hills? Well, that's all there was. They
just took a bunch of CCC's. And then, we planted trees. Well,
we didn't plant so much in Medora like they did in other camps.
Like in the south, Arkansas, Louisiana and those [states]. In
fact, right here over in Bismarck, where the Governor Mansion
is right there, all those trees were put in by the CCC boys.
MM: Oh, so that winding round through the
Badlands was built by the CCC?
RD: That's correct, the first ones yes.
There was no pavement then, it was all gravel. Yah, that took
a long time to get a mile done.
MM: So, you would stay there and be in a
RD: Right there, yah. We had the same regulations
as they had in the army. Same thing, same clothes, everything.
That's the way our barracks was. The same as the army, the same
rules and regulations.
MM: So, they were pretty strict then?
RD: Oh yah, we learned something! It was
good for us and that's what they should have today I think, for
unemployed people. They learned discipline and keep them off the
streets here and no dope and stuff. See?
MM: So after the CCC days, you went back
to the farm?
RD: Yes, I went back to the farm.
MM: You were how old then?
RD: I was 18.
MM: Oh, you were pretty young when you went
to the CCC's? What did you... ?
RD: I was also young when I got married.
I got married then because we had no mother and everything. I
thought well, the best thing is to get married. I got married
in 1937. So that's what we did. We got married and started out
on the farm. Those days, the custom was, the folks would give
if they had anything. Like my wife, she's a Leintz and her folks
in that area there by Brisbane where they lived and farmed, why
they were considered a little more upper class people, more wealthier
and they were. Where they were, she was given five cows, twelve
chickens and three hogs, all our bedding, all the household kitchenware,
silverware, table, everything. That's how we started out. Then
of course, we found our own farm. I used to work for 50 cents
a day when we first moved to a little town of Brisbane where my
wife was born. About three miles south of town, southeast. We
rented a house for $5 a month, a house. I worked for some people,
their name was Woodbury, Walter Woodbury. I had to walk about
two miles, maybe a little further in the morning, milk 7 cows
and then I got my breakfast. Then I had to go out.... Those days,
[there] were those what they called the Russian thistles. I had
to haul two loads of Russian thistles, got my lunch, hauled two
more [loads] and got the cows in, milked my seven cows, walked
home. Then we had a barn about a quarter of a mile out of Brisbane
and that's where we kept.... We rented that barn. That's where
we kept the cows that Katie got and a couple of hogs. So I had
to go out there and take care of them yet. I got 50 cents a day,
so you see that wasn't very much. Got $15 and $5 went off [for
rent]. But we took.... We didn't have a cream separator. We took
the cream.... You know, when you set the milk, [the cream] kind
of rises to the top of the milk. We took that off with a spoon,
always [took it] out until we got about half a gallon or a gallon.
We took it over to the store and that's the way we bought our
MM: So you bartered?
RD: So, that's the way we did. So, we sold
our cream that way. Then we had milk and we had our own eggs and....
MM: A big garden?
RD: Had a garden, yes.
MM: Um hum.
RD: So that's the way we [lived]. Then we
rented a big farm. It wasn't big. It was only a quarter, but there
was at least a nice barn on there and a house. So, we rented that
from the store keeper there that had a store in Brisbane, North
Dakota. So then, we tried to farm but we weren't farmers. I wasn't
MM: You weren't cut out to be a farmer?
RD: No. Then my brother, he had a grocery
store in Raleigh and he wasn't a grocery man either. So I sold
out and went and took over the grocery store 'cause my dad had
some shares in it. We stayed there and didn't make any money.
In fact, we went broke. So then, we decided we move to Bismarck
and I got a job the second day we moved up here and I haven't
been out of work since.
MM: And you've done quite well for yourself
RD: Yah, yah.
MM: Let's go back to the farm when you were
growing up, Ralph. What were some of the memories you have? Like
for example, of holidays upcoming now?
RD: Well, the holidays...? Well, the most
important one is always Christmas. And of course, we didn't get
the goodies that they do today. Like you have Christmas pert near
every day now. When we got an orange for Christmas, that was a
treat. We had apples once in a while. Dad would buy a box of apples
and brought them home, these 20 pounders and we would have an
apple to go in the school bucket. And when we went to school,
mostly it was syrup and peanut butter. He would buy a gallon of
peanut butter and a gallon of syrup and they mixed it together
and stirred it up and that was mostly put on bread. Then when
you opened the [lunch] by noon, it was all soaked through but
we had to eat it. So, that's what we done those days. And then
for Christmas? Why, your sponsors, your godfather and godmother,
why the custom was they come around church with a sack. In there
a little peanuts and an orange and probably an apple and candy.
That was quite a treat. And everybody run around, pass out these
sacks right around the church. Everybody, whoever was a sponsor
would get a sack.
MM: This was on Christmas Eve?
RD: That was at Christmas, yah. The Christmas
Day mostly. Not so much on Christmas Eve because always had a
MM: Now in the church there in Raleigh,
were the services in German?
RD: Yes. Well, the service was in Latin.
MM: Latin. But the singing?
RD: The singing was German, oh yes.
MM: Oh, yes. They sang all German at that
RD: All German, yah.
MM: When did that end about, the German
RD: I think it ended about in the middle
40's, going into the early 50's I think, in most of the time.
Well, the Latin didn't end. The Latin only ended when the Vatican
MM: What were the reasons for this ending
of German you think, like around Flasher?
RD: Well, I don't think.... I don't know.
It was all the change of the church, that's why it ended. Because
the Vatican II and then you followed the church orders. Because
lot a people didn't like it. There is a lot of old timers that
don't like it today, but there is nothing you can do. You had
to follow up. And when did the Vatican II, when did they change?
MM: Oh, I think this was in the 60's.
RD: Was it the 60's? So then, I was altar
boy for 12 years. The namesdays, yah. That was a great feast for
the one that had a names day, yah. Like my father was John. They
called it Johannes Tag, St. Johns Day. Oh, we had to get the granary
ready if there was corn in, get the granary ready. Then we would
go to town, get some lumber. The lumber yards would lend them
planks and some kegs of nails to make the bench around. Then they
would have a guy play with the accordion and a drummer and then
they celebrated. Yah, that quite a feast in those days. Even my
wife with this name Katherine. When we first came to town or when
we first were [here], the 25th of November, oh, that was big.
That was big deals. We had always the house full of [people] until
the last..., I would say the last 10 years it has kind of fallen
MM: Those names days have changed?
RD: Oh, yes.
MM: What about Easter? Was there much of
RD: Oh, yah. That was strict there through
Lent. You had to follow the rules there, the church rules. And
I'm telling you, that was strict orders that you got there when
you couldn't do anything out of place.
MM: So you grew up in a strict religious
RD: Oh yah, very strict. Especially my mother
was very religious because that's how she was brought up in her
MM: Were there a lot of prayers in the home
RD: Oh, yes. I tell you in those days, like
my mother and dad, well, they still didn't understand the English
set-up in schools. Then when we brought our homework home, the
first thing, we had to be out when it was nice, either go out
and help in the field or in the winter time, we had to get the
cows in, clean the barns if they weren't cleaned in the morning.
Then we'd do our chores and carry coal in, pails after pails full
of water for the evening. Everything had to be carried in. Then
after [we finished], then we had dinner and you would always have
to say your prayers. You never went to eat dinner without prayers
and after you were done too. Well, the first thing then, you had
to go on the Bible and you would always have to learn a verse
before you could go to bed. Well, we couldn't go to bed until
after mother came out and we had to read it to them until we knew
it. If we didn't know it, we had to stay there again another half
an hour. Then, she would make us read that until we knew what
was going on. And then came the catechism when we got older. If
we want to go to First Communion, we had to know that Catechism.
And of course, there lays our homework. So therefore, we couldn't
do much homework because it got later and later and they couldn't
understand why we got this work from school, homework.
MM: Interesting. You didn't always get your
homework done then?
RD: No! No.
MM: And the teacher didn't like that?
RD: No. 'course, they never had those conference
that they have today with the teachers either.
MM: What about the life on the farm? Did
you have much chance to have some play time?
RD: Well, there was no such thing as play
toys much. We would make up our own things to play, because we
were farming with horses and stuff. You know, two bottom plows.
One bulka plow we called [it], that's a one bottom plow. A disk,
about a 8 footer or 6 footer, and then a hayrack and grass mower
and all that was done with horses. We had no tractor and in fact,
we had no tractor until the last year that I was home. My dad
bought a 1530 McCormick Deering from his brother for $100 and
then he couldn't pay for that, it was so tough. That's the only
time, so I didn't have much chance to run a tractor on the farm,
but its all horses. They would have five, six horses on the two
bottom and sometimes three on the one bottom plow and hedder.
Then we had to go out, there was a lot of rock we had to pick.
And they had a stone boat that we hitched two horses up to and
then we had to put them on the stone boat, the rocks, and haul
them out on the prairie someplace, pile em up. We had to work
hard. It's tough.
MM: And there was no electricity on the
RD: No electricity, no way. No, there was
no electricity. It all had to be done by hand and these kerosene
lamps that have the chimney on. Oh, they got 'em today now. They
are coming back a little bit.
MM: The farm life and then you went through
the years of the depression of course and then you went off to
CCC. You came back and your folks stayed on the farm?
RD: Yes, my folks stayed on. Of course,
my mother was dead already by that time, so my dad stayed there
until 1935. That's another experience that we had. It's on 4th
of July, in 1939. My grandfather stayed with us. We went to a
barn dance, Lawrence Leib's barn dance. He had a big barn and
they always would have dances there. This was 4th of July and
so we went to the dance in the evening and I was married then
already. And there was a cloud came up and a storm and start lightning
and stuff. But we were all gone, except grandpa was home. We were
there awhile, why they said that lightning had struck John Dressler's
home up there. So, we all rushed home, a lot of people up there.
When we came home, he was sitting. It was a steel...? Legs on
it like a couch and he was sitting. We had a pretty nice house
in the living room. And the neighbor, which was Emmanual Ternes,
he thought he was in his sleeping room which was on the south
side of the house off the kitchen. And he saw when the lightning
struck. He said he looked right over and said lightning must have
struck someplace. He looked over, he saw the flame coming out
of our house. It was only a quarter of mile and then he run over.
He thought grandpa was in [the house]. He knew we were at dance,
the family. My dad was there too at the dance and couldn't get
in. He [grandpa] wasn't in his room. So then, when we came home,
the flame was all in there and he was sitting there with his prayer
book, praying evidently. We had a water tank [that] wasn't too
far. Would say, oh, I don't know, maybe 150 feet from the house.
We run over there, four of us boys and we got the long pipe that
the water.... You know how they hooked on the pump and then the
water run through? They got that pipe and four of us reached in
where the hook was on the end of the pipe and we pulled him out.
And the minute we pulled him out, he collapsed. Was nothing but
MM: Um hum.
RD: So, that happened on the 4th of July
MM: You'll never forget that 4th of July?
RD: No. Then my dad, why then he had no
house, but he had a brand new barn he had built two years before
that. But he lost the land to the Federal Land Bank and our neighbor
bought it, the whole section. We had nice land. He bought it,
I think for $3000, 'cause I talked to him lately here before he
died. He was 97 years, the neighbor. He was one of the Sein boys,
Raymond Sein. There was some Sein's over there by Strasburg and
Linton too. Well, they were brothers. When I got up in life and
was in business when I met him one day over at the wife's uncle
on a Sunday afternoon. He was a widower. I said, "Say, I like
to buy that land back that you bought for $3000. I would like
to invest some money." I said, "I'll give you $200 an acre." And
he says, "No, it's not for sale. I am not gonna sell it, I'm gonna
give it to the grandchildren." And that's what they got, too.
They got it today.
MM: Interesting. When you look back Ralph,
to those early years and think about.... You know, your folks
came over as immigrants and settled there in this part of North
Dakota and speaking no English and then raising a family, what
do you think of their life?
RD: Well, I think it was tough. I think
it was really tough. I just sometimes think to myself, how in
the world did they do it? How they do it? The way we live today,
our life style and the way they had to go through. We got a good
touch of it there in our early days, when we were young. And then,
the way we live today and how they lived and they were happy people
too. They were happy people. And then you can imagine when a man
loses his wife and has seven children all under the age of 15,
that was pretty darn tough. The girls were only nine and seven.
There was no cooking. We sometimes..., oh, we suffered. We had
nothing in the house to eat, nothing.
MM: So, who took over as the mother?
RD: Well, we had.... When it came to baking
bread, they all baked their own bread those days. We just put
the flour in and then our neighbor, you take like Mr. Elias Volk,
his wife, she baked bread for us and they had nine children. And
then another, my aunt, she washed for us. So, they were quite....
They helped each other those days. They worked together in the
fall, worked together [when] anybody needed help. Or when the
butcher time came in November, Saint's Day and All Soul's Day,
after that, they started butchering and they helped each other.
And they didn't butcher two pigs, they all had 'em set up to do
about nine, ten. And for one reason I don't know to this day,
why they didn't butcher beef? We had beef. We had cattle, but
they didn't butcher any beef. Then finally, the store keeper in
Raleigh, Mr. Reihl, he came out and start peddling meat in the
morning. On Saturday morning, when real cool before the sun came
up and they would buy 5-10 pounds then for Sundays. That's what
they bought, but that's the way it was.
MM: So, your father never remarried then?
RD: No, my father never remarried. I think
one reason.... We sometimes, us kids thought that..., we wished
he would have remarried. But when we think it now and talk about
it, why we could see why he didn't. Because he couldn't read or
write. Things were getting more..., had to know something. Then
of course, he started living with us as we got married off. Then
he lived with this guy, he lived with me nine years. Then my sister
Rose, her husband died young in '51, then he lived with her.
MM: Yah, that life there in Grant County
had some tough times, but you always have to think of the good
RD: Yah. Well, there wasn't too many good
times in those years. In the 30's, there was no such thing. Then
in 1941, we lived up here then. I had a job and things went pretty
good. They started going, going, and [got] way better than we
did on the farm. Well, I wasn't a farmer so....
MM: Do you still read and write German?
RD: Well, I can. It depends on how it's
written. I can't read it in writing. I can read it, but it takes
me about an hour to go over it and over it and then I pick out
the words. But in typing, I can read some of it.
MM: Did you learn the old German script
RD: Yah, the real old German. Yah, I get
some letters from Germany since we've been over there and I can
make out what they say. Then some people call on me too, like
they can't read it. Like she has an uncle, he called me, he got
a letter. I go over to try to. I can make it out what they are
meaning or what they are writing.
MM: So, you have correspondence then from
family in Germany?
RD: Oh, yah. Yes, every Christmas.
MM: Has anyone come over here to visit?
RD: Yah. Well in fact, that's what made
us go over there. My wife's mother's cousin, Volk is their name
and he was here. Zachias Volk, they came over and then they kind
of talked, we to come over and visit them. So, we did go over
there. We flew over there and....
MM: And you raised how many children, Ralph?
RD: My own?
MM: Your own family.
RD: Four, three girls and one boy.
MM: And they are living here in Bismarck-Mandan?
RD: No. My boy died. He died, he was 41
years old. He was quite an athlete's man here in St. Mary's. And
in all sports. he was very good.
MM: What was his name?
MM: John Dressler?
RD: Yah, John Dressler was his name. He
died, it's gonna be seven years in July now that he died. He died
of cancer in the pancreas.
RD: And he had a business. He had a parts
warehouse out in Rancho Godova, but he grew up with me in the
MM: And what's the name of your other children?
RD: We have Tillie, Betty and Bonnie.
MM: And how many of your family members,
brothers and sisters are still living?
RD: All of us.
MM: All still living? And there is how many
RD: Seven of us, two girls and five boys.
We were blessed and we are lucky. We have really been. And everyone
had a good job. Everybody has a nice home and most of the children
MM: Who is the oldest in the family?
RD: Lambert, my brother in Flasher.
MM: And how old is he?
RD: He is 77.
MM: He's 77. And then whose next?
RD: I am. I'm 75.
MM: And then what are the other members
of the family?
RD: The other one is Peggy, she is out west.
She lives in Richmondton, California. She lost her husband two
years ago. She was married to a Leintz, but we never got to know
him until he got married 'cause my wife's name is Leintz and he
comes from Hague, North Dakota. He was the son of Lawrence Leintz.
You know anybody down there? And then comes Rosie, she was married
to Ternes, D. Ternes. He died in 1951 as a young man and then
she got remarried to a Bob Frueh. So then comes Louie. He married
a Kronick from Elgin. They live and they retired over in Rancho
Godova. And then comes Al, he lives in Rogonda Beach in L.A. He's
retired. And then E.J., which is Engelhardt. He had the Buy Rite
store here for 26 years in Bismarck. And we are all retired. All
except my sister, she still paints. Rosie, she is 71. She goes
out and paints.
MM: That tells you something. That the Dressler
family, even though they grew up in such hard times and losing
a mother so young, that they certainly had a wonderful work ethic.
RD: Oh, yes. And we've been kind of lucky,
I would say. I think the good Lord has blessed us really.
RD: And we have a lot of friends. Lot of...,
kinda mixed family went together. No divorce in our family either.
RD: No divorce yet. Better not forget that.
MM: Do you still make any of the old German
RD: Oh yes, oh yes. We make knepfla and
they call them noodla. Then we make cheese buttons and that's
käseknepfla. And then we make fry bread küchla, you know. Oh yah,
we make dumplings, make all of [that] German [food]. Even our
children and grandchildren just love that German food.
MM: What about...? Do you make any sausages
or anything yet?
RD: No, not ourself. We buy it, but we buy
it from the country. Home made sausage, it's good sausage.
MM: But you remember of course when you
were younger, they used to make sausage.
RD: Oh, yes. We had to turn those by hand,
those grinders. And I remember Elias Volk, he came from Strasburg
over in there. He was married to a Brown.
MM: What was his name?
RD: Elias Volk. Have you ever heard of John
Volk over there? They was brothers and Shortie. Then Shortie came
over, that was Anselm. We called him Shortie and came over to
buy cream in our town. And my oldest brother was married to one
of his daughters. And so Elias, his wife died the same year as
mine did. That's Father Volk, Father Ed Volk, he was in Beulah
now, his mother. And she used to bake bread for us and here she
pops up and dies the same year in the fall that my mother died
in the spring of.
MM: In 1936?
RD: Yah. There was three young ladies that
died that year out of our parish there in St. Gertrude's. Oh yes,
we make that German stuff, borscht and all that kinda stuff.
MM: Did you do a lot of card playing in
RD: Oh, yes. Yah, we still do. We just played
yesterday from two o'clock until last night, pinochle.
MM: Uh huh. And who did you play with?
RD: I played with George Seifert and his
wife and Freddie Kleids and his wife.
MM: All German-Russian people?
MM: What we need to do. We'll do our interviews
and then we place them in the archives and then we pull off key
statements that you made and possibly use for other things, including
on the radio.
RD: Oh, is that right?
MM: Oh, yes. You'd be surprised what we're
working on. But of course, as you were in business, it's interesting
for me Ralph, because you did some traveling then evidently when
you got in your own business?
RD: Well, when we moved up, we decided to
get rid of the grocery store because we went broke. We didn't
know anything about groceries. We had no experience whatsoever
and those tough times. There was stamps, blue and orange stamps
that you had to have when you sold meat and stuff like that. Well,
we just couldn't hack it. So, we decided we gonna have an auction
sale and sell out. And then lot of people would charge and there
is still people today that owe us from that and that was back
in 1939. And so we decided, I go up and find myself a job in Bismarck.
We got up here, we found a little apartment. We had two children
at that time, Tillie and Betty. And it was on Broadway over there
and we rented an apartment for $15. So I went up the next day
and looked for a job. I got one with Piggly Wiggly in Mandan.
MM: Piggly Wiggly?
RD: At that time yah, and I worked in the
meat department. Well, then we moved back to Mandan because it
was too.... We didn't think we should drive back and forth. We
couldn't afford it either. So we moved there and rented an apartment.
Then I had applications in at different places. I had one in when
the National Tea Store opened up and here they called me and they
gave me more money and they gave me the produce, to be manager
over the produce. Well, what did I know in produce? Not very much.
They said they'll teach me and which they did. When I took that
job, we moved back to Bismarck again. So then the grocery warehouse
people called on us. I could buy groceries in the morning and
come around. I always wanted to be a salesman, all my life I had
that in my mind. So I tried to get in with the warehouse to become
a salesman. Well, one day he says, "Say, you wouldn't want to
drive a truck would you?" I said, "Yah." He said, "We'll give
you 45 cents an hour." So by golly, I went to work for Nash Finch
and then I got 45 cents and I drove a big semi truck and that
was hard work. Oh my golly, we had those big 16 gallon beer barrels
and those 55 gallon vinegar and all that stuff. I had to, when
I came to a town and backed up, well, like Strasburg there, that
John Ternes had a grocery store and the beer for John, the other
Ternes. There was two John's there. I had to get some tires to
throw those 55 gallon barrels down on and those 16 kegs. That
was hard work. And I was out, left at 8 o'clock in the morning,
came in sometimes at 2 at night. And in the morning at 8, out
again. The night crew would load me up and I go out. Oh, I tell
you that was hard work! And now, they got all...., everything
hydraulic. Push a button and just....
MM: So when you'd go out to those towns,
where did you travel to?
RD: I traveled down as far as Zeeland, Ashley
and on this side of the river, I traveled down to Carson, Mott,
MM: So, this was in the 1940's?
RD: That was in the 1940's, yah.
MM: You must remember all those towns then
in the '40's. All those German-Russian towns?
RD: Yah. Then I had a neighbor where we
lived on 13th Street, 320. My father-in-law says, "I don't understand
why you kids want to rent? Why don't you buy a house?" And I said,
"Well, we haven't got no money." Well, the doors of.... Those
days, you could walk over, you could see nice homes that were
open. You could walk on Sundays. The wife, we walked around and
looked at houses. Doors weren't locked, were unlocked. We could
walk in and look at 'em, but they were always up in the three,
four, five thousand dollars. Nice big homes. They are selling
today for $80,000. Then we run into one that was $2,100. Then
I told my father-in-law and he said, "I'll give you the money."
And he did. Give me the money and he says, "I tell you, I'll charge
you five percent interest." Well, I got a job with Nash Finch
then. I was making a little money, not much to talk about. At
45 cents an hour, you don't make much, but that was still great
money. So by golly, I could pay that house in two years. I gave
him the money back and he said, "Well, you've been a good boy."
You know how them old Germans was. "You've been a good boy, I
won't charge you no interest." So, that's what he did. Then one
night, we were invited for the United Commercial Travelers. Did
you see all the plaques around here...?
MM: Ah huh. I'm interested in knowing Ralph,
is when you would go out and visit those towns where those German-Russian
people were...? Was there only German spoken?
RD: No, no.
MM: By then, they were already in the 40's?
RD: Yah, there were some of 'em that spoke
English. And then, what I was gonna tell you. Then we were invited
to a banquet up at the Capitol, in the Sky Room one evening and
this was the United Commercial Travelers, UCT in short. So there
was a guy sitting beside me and we got acquainted. In fact, he
was my neighbor right up the street a little bit on 13th Street.
His name was Christ Ziegler. He was born and raised in Zeeland,
RD: Ziegler. Yah, that's who it was. Then
he asked me what I was doing and I told him I was working for
Nash Finch. And he said, "How would you like to become a salesman?"
I says, "Well, I've been always looking for a salesman job." He
said, "We are going to open a store in Bismarck and Mr. Sussland
was his name, my boss from Minot and he's coming down Sunday and
I'm suppose to find him a salesman to have Bismarck and the southwest-southeast
corner. Well, if you are interested in it, why I'll give you a
ring Sunday when he comes." I said, "Well, what do they pay and
how do they work it?" "Well, they furnish you a car," he said.
"They pay all the expenses and you get so much a month, about
$325 they start you, plus commission." Well, that sounded darn
good. So sure enough, why he called me on a Sunday and I went
down and they hired me and that's where I stayed until I retired.
Well, then I became a owner of a..., built my own store in 1957
and I still have stock in Western Auto Parts which he owned. But
he set me up. He set me up in the United Auto Parts, Mr. Sussland
did. And then he died on his birthday, he was 72 years old. That's
about 24 years ago and then of course, we bought all the stores.
Me and ten other guys, so we still own.... Not the business, I
sold out my stock in 1981. So that's where I became.... Those
years were pretty good. We had a pretty good business. Lucky and
worked hard at it day and night you might say when we started.
MM: But I think again, that all goes back
to maybe on the farm, that hard work on the farm.
RD: We was used to it and we knew we had
to work to make a living.
MM: And you want to be educated at the same
RD: That's right, we did.
MM: That's very important, too.
RD: That's very important. Then after I
sold out, why then I became a member of the United Commercial
Travelers just through this man, Christ Ziegler. And well, then
I run for the supreme office. At first, I went through the local
offices, run for the supreme officer and I made it. I made her,
then I traveled for them now 12 years.
RD: Yah, United States and Canada. I go
out and speak on banquets, yah.
MM: How long have you been doing that now,
RD: Twelve years.
MM: Really. So how far do you travel then?
RD: Well, see my term expired as a support
governor office. I was on the supreme board and I worked with
all these guys. There's doctors and there's bankers and this is
a principal of a school and this is Dr. [? name]. All these guys
are different..., they are from different states because we travel
United States and Canada. So I would go out and speak on banquets
and stuff like that. So this year, well my first trip was into
Columbus, Ohio and I came home. Then I was in charge of the convention
here in Bismarck. Then I left for Birmingham, Alabama and then
I came home. Then I went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Then I came
home and I went to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Then I came home and then
I went to Gooding, Idaho.
MM: Oh my, wonderful.
RD: But there is nothing I am giving up.
They said, "Well, if you don't want to go out, your term has expired.
But if you like to go out, a lot of people would like to have
you come to speak at their banquets." And I said, "Okay, if the
wife can go along and they pay all the expenses." So, there I
RD: Yah, its great.
MM: Well, you have an important message
to tell about hard work. I am sure the work ethic.
RD: Well, yes. And also about the order.
They write everything down and then it's very easy. They got your
MM: Let's close our conversation Ralph,
and just reflect a little bit about any other memories that you
have about those early years.
RD: Well, memories I have of it...? Was
hard and I can't for the life of my thinking, I just can't understand
how the folk's and those people made it in those years. How they
could live the way they lived. They worked hard, even washing
by hand, the mothers. How they done it and how they could do it
and look at today what we have. And then sometimes, when the kids
grew up, you had to back and forth that wash machine and it wasn't
easy, I tell you. You wonder many times, you think of your parents.
Well, I think of mine every day. Then my dad couldn't write or
read. That was still tough on us. I got so it was easy for me
when I started school, once I got the hang of it. I mean, I caught
on very easy.
MM: Do you have a chance to speak German
RD: Today? Yah sure, I can speak....
MM: Some conversation in German going on
here in Mandan and Bismarck? When you get together, do you speak
RD: Oh, yah. Once in a while, we speak German.
MM: Can your children understand German?
RD: Just the oldest one. The oldest one
and then Betty..., well, she understands but can't talk it. But
Tillie can talk a little bit, not too much. But they..., yah.
MM: One thing I am going to ask you also,
Ralph. We will visit about this later, but do you have photographs
of your grandparents or your parents?
RD: Well, no I don't. No, I don't have anything
at all. That is if you are talking about.... No, I don't have
nothing that I know of. I had, let's see. I thought I had one
here, the last one, when they were born. But I got lot's of it
from the Kopp's. See, if you read something like this....
MM: Yes, I see that. We'll have to eventually
get copies of some of those things.
RD: And that's what I was just wondering.
What I done with that...? I got just the other day that they found
out over here in Russia, Germans from Russia. In fact, I am suppose
to send a copy to Dickinson to my aunt. I have a aunt over there
that's in the nursing home. She's 92 years old. Mrs. Dressler,
that's the only one that's left.
MM: Um. How is her memory?
RD: Very, very good. She's got a pace maker
MM: What is her name?
RD: Her name is Lena Dressler, but she was
the wife of my father's brother Phillip. His wife. The Dressler's
are all dead, my father's side. They all had diabetes mostly.
MM: The family had diabetes?
RD: Yah. This one is blind for 18 years.
This one lost both of her legs and then of course, she had diabetes.
She died in her sleep. The day before, she was at this aunt's
funeral and I was sitting right beside her, had lunch with her.
The next morning, I got a call at 7:30 that she died through the
night. This guy died of a heart attack in his sleep and this guy
died in sleep and this guy died in sleep and my grandmother died
in sleep. So I'm a good candidate, I might just sleep and you
guys won't know it.
MM: Right. That's why we have to get this
on tape before hand, right?
RD: You haven't got it on [the recorder],
have you ?
MM: Oh, yes. I have it on.
RD: Oh, have you?
MM: Oh, yes. Anything else you'd like to
say, Ralph? And then we'll visit after we have had our interview.
RD: Well, that's about all I can say. I
mean as far as I know. I mean, I have lot's of family trees here,
the folks and stuff like that. When they were married and all
MM: We'll have to take a look at that and
visit with you further about our German-Russian Heritage. It's
November 8, 1993 and I am in the Dressler home in Bismarck and
we are going to close our conversation. Thanks so much Ralph,
for the visit today.
RD: It was a pleasure talking to you.
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies
North Dakota State University Libraries
P.O. Box 5599
Fargo, ND 58105-5599