Interview with Father Thomas Welk (TW)
Conducted by Bob Dambach (BD) with Fr. Thomas Welk
7 September 2001, Linton, North Dakota
Transcription by Beth Freeman
Editing and proofreading by Peter Eberle and Reverend Marvin Hartmann
Prairie Public Collection
BD: Why don’t you tell us your name?
TW: My name is Father Tom Welk. I’m in Wichita,
Kansas, but I grew up here, in Emmons County. I was born in a
rural community by St. Aloysius, commonly known as the [creek.
BD: And what do you do in Wichita?
TW: My official work as a priest is a chaplain for
sisters that operate a university in Wichita, but most of my time
is spent doing hospice work. I’m the director of Professional
Education and Pastoral Care for a large hospice program.
BD: How did you get interested in your ethnic and
TW: I’ve always been curious. Tracing things
historically has been an interest of mine. I often wondered growing
up, what’s the background of our people; our ancestry? Very
few people knew anything about it in my own particular circle.
I had an aunt who knew quite a bit, but as a youngster I just
didn’t take enough time to get involved with listening to
her stories. So as I got more into the history and background
I did a lot of research. Knowing High German and the dialect was
really a great advantage. I did some traveling and some research
in France, Alsace-Lorraine. I didn’t do much in Russia.
Records are now available, so I’ve been doing quite a bit
of that, and finally did a lot of translating for the North Dakota
State Historical Society out of Bismarck. When I was still in
university work and had time for that.
BD: What was the name of the manuscript that you
TW: Well, the biggest one I did was by Brendel.
It’s been so many years since I did that, I can’t
give you the formal title, but I think it was The Colonies in
the Kutschurgan Area. Again, you can check the title on that more
specifically. But that was a work a lot of people relied on. Matter
of fact, when I was reading Dr. Height’s book, I noticed
he had used a lot of material in there. I had read his first,
and then translated the Brendel book, which is kind of the background,
the basis for a lot of the customs of the German-Russian people.
BD: And when did Brendel write the book?
TW: Again, I’m embarrassed to tell you that
he probably wrote it maybe in the late 19th century.
BD: Could you give us a brief overview of Kutschurgan?
Where they left, where they came to, and then where they settled
in the United States?
TW: Those people came at the beginning of the 19th
century to the Ukraine. The Ukraine had been opened up and the
Russians conquered the Turks, and it was a very fertile area.
There had been a big movement into Russia even prior to that,
in the mid-18th century, into the Volga area, when the Russian
government needed to colonize that. The Kutschurgan area was colonized
by people mainly form the lower Rhine area, the Alsace-Lorraine
area, Baden, the Palantinate, and on through there. And a lot
of those people went to Russia because that was the time of the
French Revolution, and then on to the Napoleon years. Napoleon
went through that area and a lot of those people were disenfranchised,
the land taken away from them, and conscripted into the army.
So when the invitation came to Russia with a lot of benefits promised
them, including not serving in the army, many of those people
picked up and went into the Ukraine. So my great-great-grandfather
left from a small village in France, called [Vincent-Baugh A36],
now Alsace, and settled in the village of Selz, in the Kutschurgan
area, which is just northwest of Odessa, the big Black Sea port
town. They took the names of the villages that they were from
and just named the villages they started in Russia the same way.
So you have Selz, [Kauthrough], Mannheim, Strassburg, on down
the line, just the same villages they had in France and in Germany.
BD: And what religion predominated in the area?
TW: These were all the Catholic colonies. Then you
also had the Evangelical, the Lutheran colonies, and the Mennonites.
So those were your three primary groups. But the Kutschurgan colonies
were basically Catholic.
BD: About what time did they come over to North
TW: Well, when things started getting a little rougher,
they began to see what was happening in terms of their rights
being taken away. So starting from the late 19th century on through,
you had the people coming over here and exploring what was available.
And because everything south, from Kansas - actually from Texas
on north was gradually taken over, what was left was North and
South Dakota, and then on up into Canada. So you had Strasburg,
was one of the first areas, they had scouts, if you will, come
over. They went back and said, “There’s land available,
whoever’s willing to, come on over.” So in my family,
Lawrence Welk’s father, Ludwig came over first, in I believe
1891. And then my grandfather came later, and they lived together,
west of Strasburg, because they both were blacksmiths. They were
in competition for business. So my grandpa moved east of Strasburg
about ten miles and set up shop. But my dad, and my oldest uncles,
they did the farming. And from what I hear, don’t remember
grandpa at all, he didn’t know much about farming, he’s
BD: Now what time would grandpa have come over?
TW: My grandfather came over in 1898. Came over
on the ship, called [sebeelhem, La Grossa A56] was the ship he
came over on.
BD: And then the migration out of Kutschurgan, where
would his coming fit? Would it be an early migration, or a late
TW: Actually, it was kind of towards the end, because
then the government started closing off. They wouldn’t let
people out beginning in the 20th century. They actually wanted
those people to stay. And many of them that came out had to get
out by hook and crook, if you will. They had to escape.
BD: Do you have any relatives that you know that
came over here and lived in other areas besides Strasburg?
TW: Any Welk that lives in North Dakota has to be
related because there was only one Welk that went from Alsace
to the Ukraine. That was Boris. We now have records; we can trace
that on through. So one way or another, if you have the name Welk,
you are related. Now, how distant you are, you go down now to
about fourth and fifth cousins.
BD: Earlier today, as we were driving here, we were
remarking about the fact that, as we were driving down this one
road, this side was Kutschurgan, this side was Crimean. Maybe
you could just expound on that?
TW: The villages all have their own unique culture;
even the dialect form of the High German they speak has particular
nuances to it. And if you obviously grew up in that area, you
would know who was from one area and who was from another area.
So the people that are north of that particular road, were primarily
the people that had settled in the Crimea area of the Black Sea
area. We call them the [Crimoff A71]. And they had a different
dialect. And the people that were south of that road were primarily
people that came from the Odessa area. Not just the Kutschurgan
area, those villages, but more broadly expanded area of Odessa.
And even the churches we were talking about, the distance is not
that great, you know eight to ten miles from St. Aloysius to Sacred
Heart. Why you needed to have two churches - well, the only reason
was, they still wanted to keep that close ethnic kind of connection
that these people saw themselves as identifying with one group,
and people south of that road identified themselves as belonging
to that group.
BD: So all the people that came from villages in
South Russia, from the Ukraine, would tend to settle over here
in similar places.
TW: That’s right, same kind of enclaves, that’s
exactly correct. Including the villages that may have been Catholic,
but then you go into the Evangelical, the Lutheran, and the Mennonite,
you have those pockets, also, that settled in their particular
area. The other thing to keep in mind is, is that the concept
of living in the village was much more important. They were allowed
to do that in the Ukraine, they would spiral out the land, and
also they had carried that over from Europe, spiraling on out.
Well, the Homestead Act forced them to live on a particular parcel
of land. So now they became more isolated, in many ways, it was
probably a good deal of a lonely existence for these people, who
were so used to living more closely together in a village.
BD: Now we were talking earlier that you had worked
at [Botton]. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about what lifestyle
would have been like in a Kutschurgan village, let’s say
Selz, around 1830 or so.
TW: They really took the opportunity to celebrate.
And I think this to kind of connect the church, how important
the church was, and why Sacred Heart and St. Aloysius, because
the church then became a place, not just for worship, but for
socializing. It was not something I dreaded, as a youngster, going
to church. You didn’t have to be dragged to church because
that was the place you got to visit. You got there an hour early.
You visited. And then, I suppose, you had to endure the church
service. I hope this is not coming across the wrong way, but as
youngster, you don’t look at the formal. But then when the
church service was over, you visited another hour, two hours.
So church became the point of socializing. Well in the villages,
you know, a lot of that socializing was built around the religious
festivals. So you had particular customs surrounding Christmas
celebrations. You had customs surrounding Easter that weren’t
just connected with the church service, you know, were much more
broadly expanded. And going on down the line, weddings would be
celebrated, not just one day, but three days. You went on and
on with those celebrations. Names Days, Namestag was important.
The church festival, the [katigvaidesch A99]. Again, people would
get together, and you would take turns going. June the 21st you
had the festival for St. Aloysius, and then you had St. Anthony’s,
of course in Linton. The town was not as much as you would have
in rural areas, like Strasburg, Saints Peter and Paul, and on
down the line. And then the Name Days were also times you would
gather together for a meal, and card-playing, and socializing
and so on. So when I was translating the Brendel book, it was
so affirming for me. These were the things I was accustomed to
growing up, and now I could trace the historical origins for a
lot of those kinds of things. It was just fascinating to me to
be able to see that.
BD: Were there any things that surprised you when
you were translating the book, did you find anything you hadn’t
TW: Not really. There wasn’t really anything
new in there. It was just kind of an “Oh yes,” kind
of an “Ah-ha” experience as I was doing that.
BD: There was one thing that surprised me when I
read your translation, and that was sort of the role of the -
the sort of mayor figure in each town, that you had to ask permission.
TW: Oh yes, very structured, organized kind of situation.
And they you would also have some of the frictions that would
develop out of that too, you have to acknowledge that. I think
Brendel was awfully kind in not having some of the feuds going
on. And I can remember that, even growing up, you know, you’d
have factions. You know, they’d rally to one another when
there was needs. But boy, sometimes, they’d be after each
other too, and when it came to supporting the common endeavors,
you always had to watch that you didn’t have an undue amount
of donations you’d have to make, that everybody’s
penny had to be accounted for.
BD: In the villages of South Russia, what would
be some of the occupations?
TW: You name it - if there was need, people would
have it. And it was passed on from generation to generation. For
example, Boris Welk was a tailor. And I don’t know how that
then got changed to - later on down the line that the blacksmithing,
whether the tailoring was not needed anymore, but it’s kind
of like you go to a store or a shopping center, you have particular
shops, and it was the person who was identified with that. You
didn’t go to the shop so much as you went to the individual.
And even names, Schumacher, you know, where did that come from?
He made shoes! So you go on down the line, you know, Schneider.
That was your tailor. You know, you were named for what you did
more then what you were.
BD: You know, in one of the villages, I think it
was Selz that we also saw the place where a Welk made the tiles.
TW: That was Anton Welk. Boris had four sons by
his first wife, and so he was a brother to my great-great-grandfather,
Anton. And actually I’ve been in touch with some of his
relatives that are still in the Ukraine, and still live in some
of the ancestral villages themselves.
BD: As you were doing the translation, what sort
of feeling did you get for people visiting between villages or
going to Odessa?
TW: Odessa would be the big town, comparable here
to going to Bismarck. From Emmons County, Bismarck would be the
big city. So Odessa would be the big city that they would go to.
I imagine those were rare trips. But the commerce between the
villages obviously went on pretty regularly. Strassburg was known
for its big bazaar, the village of Strassburg in South Russia.
I think they had nicknames for each other, too. You know, for
some reason the Strassburgs were called the [gelfdeisler A134];
the yellow-footed ones. I don’t know some of that, I think
it was part of what Brendel was talking about too, or I may have
translated some other works where they were talking about that.
BD: They also had huge churches.
TW: Churches were the focal point; things kind of
took off from that church area. And it’s amazing in Selz;
the church they built, and then the Communists really took over
and made a grainery and a barn out of it, it’s really sad.
BD: Have you seen pictures?
TW: Yes I have, kind of brings a tear to your eye;
when you see what has happened.
BD: It was just a phenomenal structure, even now-a-days,
but you can just see what it was. So, we’re over here, and
we’re here in Emmons County, you were growing up as a boy.
Why don’t you talk about growing up in a German-Russian
TW: First of all, it was the German-Russian family
that had its own customs; the food and the cooking and the language.
Going to a one-room school, I didn’t know English, and teacher
was pretty rough. Any time you spoke German, you had garden hose
slapped across your hand. So I was a pretty quiet little boy the
first year. Really, truth be known, I didn’t really learn
much English. When I went off to High School Seminary in Ohio,
I was really at a deficit. That’s basically where I learned
my English, going off to the prep seminary. But the customs, right
on down the line. And you just desperately looked for visitors.
You know, you’d be out on the prairie, you’d see the
dust from a car. You know, no matter how many gophers I still
had to hunt, or how many fish I wanted to catch, you ran on home,
hoping those visitors would come to the house. Because not only
would they come at meal time, when they’d sit down and had
a meal with you, but they also enriched your life. You not only
gave to them, they gave to you. And then you also look forward
to those festivals I told you about. Because it would bring in
that outside world. It would enrich your own life, being able
to associate with these visitors.
BD: Not to totally change the subject, but tell
me your gopher story.
TW: Oh, the gophers. We didn’t have much money,
and Dad would always give us a penny for each gopher tail we brought
in, and supposedly you had to dispense the gopher in order to
get the tail. Well, I was very entrepreneurial and I would catch
them with the snare, pull the tail off and let them go, and I
would hope they’d grow another tail, so I could catch them
again and tear the tail off and get another penny for that.
BD: And how big was the family?
TW: There were ten children born in the family.
I’m near the bottom; I’m number eight. One died in
infancy, a kind of tragic story that I think my older brother
will know too. So the nine of us are still alive, scattered throughout
the country, but still in touch with one another.
BD: So you’ve stayed pretty close?
TW: Pretty close. Even though we don’t see
each other very much, we’re still a pretty close family.
BD: Was it close growing up as a child?
TW: Too close. I think that’s why we looked
forward to visitors - you could change your fighting partners.
You just got tired of fighting with your own brothers and sisters.
In large families, you have the big kids and the little kids.
Well, I was among the little kids, and it was really - Mom and
Dad I suppose figured, “We’ll raise the first ones,”
and then the older ones had to raise the younger ones. So really,
my two oldest sisters kind of raised us kids that were on the
BD: So your dad was first-generation, he was a Welk.
What was your mom?
TW: Mom was a Mastel . All my grandparents came
from Russia, on my dad’s side; three of them were born in
Russia, in the Ukraine. And then my dad was the first one born
BD: How large of a family did he have?
TW: In terms of my dad, there was one, Uncle Joe,
Uncle John, Uncle Gable, Dad, Aunt Helen, Aunt Julia. So there
were what, six or seven.
BD: And all of them came over before World War 1?
TW: Well, from the - the first three were born in
the Ukraine, and the last ones were born over here. So four were
born over here and three were born over there.
BD: Did they all live near each other when they
TW: Well, actually my grandfather lived with Ludwig,
his brother. There were two boys came over. They lived together
east of Strasburg for a while. Excuse me, west of Strasburg. And
then my dad and they - my grandfather then homesteaded east of
Strasburg, and then my Uncle Gable took over that farm, and then
my Uncle John and my dad took over farms close to that and homesteaded
there. And then...
BD: Tell me about the Welk farm.
TW: Well, we were kind of notorious. Lots of kids,
15, 13, 10, you know. We’d get together Sundays, and what
one didn’t think of, the other did. We didn’t have
a good reputation. We were kind of considered pretty ornery, pretty
mean. We all looked out for each other. If you were the outsider,
you barred the door.
BD: Did you just say some thing?
TW: Yeah, [baika aik. Baida aik. A186]. You know
that would identify us. We’re all the Welks, we’re
living all along the creek there. And you know we’d be fishing
and playing ball. I look back, and I know it sounds almost like
bragging and self-serving, but boy I tell you, there was some
pretty good athletic ability among those boys. I think if there
were an opportunity like we have today for coaching and organized
sports, I think you could have seen some pretty good performances.
But, neither here nor there.
BD: Tell me a little bit about your mom’s
side of the family.
TW: I don’t know as much about my mom’s
side. I researched most of my dad’s side, but mom’s
maiden name is Mastel and her mother was a Schmidt, so I could
be related to all the Schmidts who lived in another village in
Alsace. Lucerne is the village they came from, so I’ve researched
some of that, and then settled the same villages in Russia, in
Selz. And when they came over here, my mom’s side of the
family had 13, I think, and seven of those are still alive. Numbers
always kind of confuse me a little bit. But my grandpa died young.
In fact, my youngest aunt hardly knew him. Alvin, my oldest brother,
is actually older then my mother’s youngest sister. So Mom’s
near the top of the family, and then you move on down. And they’re
scattered, there’s very few living in this area; a lot of
them in the Twin Cities areas.
BD: How would your mom and dad have met?
TW: I don’t know that story. I’m sure
the older brothers and sisters might know that, if you ask them.
BD: Why don’t you tell me about things you
remember about your dad, things you remember about your mom?
TW: My dad was a really fun-loving individual. You
know, he could tease end-on-end. Very proud of all his kids, but
also very firm. It was interesting, roles were almost reversed.
Dad was the worrier. We’d be out at night, and he could
not sleep till the last kid was in the house. Mom said it didn’t
bother her. She went to bed, went to sleep and that was it. And
Mom would be more laid-back in some ways. I think they probably
had the roles they needed to play, you know, some parents will
do this, and some will do that.
BD: And was your mom a good cook?
TW: You know, Mom would often say she cooked because
she had too. And I remember her saying she almost liked washing
dishes more. But she was, I really enjoyed the cooking Mom did.
BD: What types of meals would she make?
TW: Particular types of meals that you’re
talking about in your other documentaries, you name it, she probably
BD: What was your favorite?
TW: Well, I’d be hard pressed to say that.
All noodles, always loved noodles. Doing something on video that
cooked them on it. Citron, cooking melons, I always liked that
and we’ll put it on tape. Always she said if you want some,
you peel ‘em and I’ll do them. So I always had to
get it ready. And - oh gosh. [Chenda, blimberry sala A221], all
of those kind of things. And you never gave it a thought growing
up, it was just like, here’s the food, here’s the
meals. It’s only when I went away when I kind of missed
it and began to appreciate more and more the particular foods
you got accustomed to growing up.
BD: You said you went to a one-room schoolhouse.
Why don’t you tell me a little about going to that type
TW: One-room school. Yeah, you walk across the field.
No electricity, no running water, nothing in there. You were lucky
if you had a teacher with kind of formal education, most of mine
didn’t. And I suppose they’re seeing more and more,
there’s an advantage to that. Because here I sat, as a first
grader, first year in school. Teacher would start there and move
on up the line, so you’d hear everything. So by the time
you reached the eighth grade, you may have heard the material
BD: That’s how long you would go? Through
TW: Yeah. And the custom was, in North Dakota, for
you to be able to move from the seventh to the eighth grade, you
had to pass two standardized tests. In order to get out of the
eighth grade, you had to pass four standardized tests. So you
either passed those tests, or you stayed in school. You kept repeating
eighth grade, and you couldn’t quit until you were sixteen.
Consequence was, I believe that you may have had in those one-room
schools; you may have had a student that was older then the teacher.
You know, theoretically that could happen. You know, if they could
turn around after they got out of eighth grade and just step right
into the classroom and teach.
BD: I think you were telling us of times you got
almost stranded in the schoolhouse.
TW: Well, if an unexpected storm would come up.
The teacher would not let us leave. And so, Dad may come with
the sled, or come with the horse. Lead us home, you know, just
hold onto the horse’s tail and hang on to each other so
you walked across the field and ran out of fence. You followed
the fence, usually, let the horse take its head, because it wanted
to get to the barn, and it had a much better sense of where to
go then we would. And then we would pray the storm to continue
for three days so we wouldn’t have to go back to school.
But really, I don’t say that totally honestly, because we
didn’t mind going to school. It wasn’t that hard,
we got to play all day sometimes. Especially if you had a teacher
that really didn’t care. The other thing was, it could be
so cold, and I remember a couple of years, where if you wanted
to make a little extra - extra meant maybe ten dollars for the
whole school year, where the teacher would bribe you - I did that
a couple times. You get there early; start the pot-belly stove
so you get some heat in there before the other kids came. And
it was kind of fun, you know, as you start the morning you got
close to the stove, because that’s where the warmth was,
and as the stove got warmer, you expanded more out into the schoolroom,
just the one-room school.
BD: Now going to a city for you would have been
TW: After I have to pass my four tests. I went to
Canton, Ohio. To the Minor Seminary, [Verunderdome A256] seminary.
And that was a culture shock, I’ll tell you.
BD: When did you first feel like you had a calling?
TW: The priest in my community, St. Aloysius, was
very, very good. Really appreciated, respected, and looked up
to by everyone. Played ball, he had a motorcycle, you know. So
I decided if I didn’t want to haul rocks off the fields
anymore, then that was my out. I say that with tongue in cheek.
But I say, "Hey, this is maybe what I want to do." And
I was always interested in learning - I would just devour - I
think, in that one room school library, I read every book at least
three, four times. And then Father Boniface would have books he’d
loan us, then we’d read those. So I’ve always had
a love for learning. That was one of the things I wanted to do
then, to get off and get educated.
BD: You were saying your family was supportive?
TW: Yeah, it was encouraged that learning and education
was not looked down as being unimportant, irrelevant. Uncle John,
for example, I heard from my cousins, you know, he’d offer
to pay the kids to read. So that was quite a motivator when you
didn’t have a whole lot in terms of some cash when you got
to go to town once a year.
BD: What was the town you would go to?
TW: Hague was the big city. You got to go at least
once a year to go to town, on the Fourth of July. You got all
of a quarter for spending money. And you probably came home with
change. You know, that went a long ways.
BD: Where would you spend your money?
TW: You know where I’d spend my money - the
candy store! You betcha. And a quarter could buy a lot of candy.
Could give you a pretty good sick stomach if you bought it all
and ate it all at one time.
BD: Where would the candy store have been?
TW: Candy store was in the Fischer’s Grocery
Store. I doubt that’s still around.
BD: Is that the one right across from -
TW: Yeah, pretty close. Still open? I need to go
down there. Yeah, that was the Fischer’s. Matter of fact,
Martin Fischer had that, and his wife, Phillipina was my godmother.
I know Hague well, and boy, I would be scared. This big city and
I would know where the candy store was, and I know where Grandma’s
house was, Grandma Mastel, so I could always take that route,
you know. That was kind of home base, was Grandma’s house.
BD: That’s funny in the city you were scared
about getting lost, but out here in the country….
TW: Oh, the country, you put me in the middle of
anywhere, I’ll find my way, you bet. Don’t need any
direction. It’s just almost built in, a kind of a homing
BD: Now for the Welks, obviously you said the education,
but the religion must have been important.
TW: Sure, all the way through. That was almost the
glue. No matter what oppressive circumstances they had to encounter,
whether it would be in Alsace, where it was Napoleon, whether
it was in Russia, with the adverse conditions they had to confront
just living in North Dakota. Church was important. That was the
BD: Do you think it is still important for the children?
TW: Oh, I wish I could say yes. I think there are
just too many other things right now; TV. I’m sorry to have
to say that TV is just mindless. And I think that gets to be so
absorbing for some people, and all the video games. But it doesn’t
do anything to satisfy the hunger, I’m not just here saying
that as a professional clergy, I think I see a lot of that hunger,
in especially in our young people. I see a lot of it. They turn
to satisfy, to a lot of ways that are not satisfying, including
the drug scene. Kind of numbing some of that pain and some of
that hurt there.
BD: When you were growing up, what types of crops
and animals did you have?
TW: You were pretty well self-sufficient on the
farm. So we would be having lots of crops, diversified farming,
you’d have the chickens, geese, livestock, hogs, cattle,
horses, but not so much anymore. But there wasn’t too much
you needed from town. Certain times we even brought the wheat
in to be milled, for flour. But things like salt, sugar, those
obviously you had to buy in town, those kinds of staples.
BD: What was the revenue producer for your family?
TW: The cream would be what was taken along to town.
Mom and Dad would go once a week, Saturday they’d go to
Hague to go grocery shopping, they’d take the cream along.
Get the cash from the cream, and then they’d buy those things
that they couldn’t supply for themselves on the farm. But
then, to buy the machinery and so on, your grain, wheat primarily
and flax was raised there a lot. Oats and corn were mostly kept
for the livestock for feeding; it was not taken into town for
BD: Now you also mentioned you had a family garden.
What sorts of things were in that?
TW: Cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, carrots, melons.
Pretty standard kinds of things. A lot of it would be preserved,
put up, canned, so that you would have it then for winter use.
BD: You said you had a couple rows of sunflowers?
TW: You would put in sunflowers with the corn and
that would be dried on the roof, and then you’d beat it
out. Then you had sunflowers to chew on the whole year. We were
famous for sunflowers.
BD: Was that a cash crop?
TW: Now, that was just a fun crop. It’s not
like they’re doing now, raising it for the oil and so on.
It’s just for chewing.
BD: What did you like to do as a child for fun?
TW: Probably teasing my brothers and sisters. They’ll
tell you that too. But fishing, hunting, playing ball, pretty
standard kinds of things. Swimming. We’d be in the swimming
hole, pretty good sized creek we grew up beside, some pretty deep
holes. I love the outdoors, still do.
BD: Now I heard a lot about baseball - was baseball
important to you?
TW: Oh yeah. It came right on down through Dad.
We’d go out there and clean up the pasture and get the cow
patties for the bases and so on. Didn’t have any ball gloves,
fence posts for bats, balls were used, you know, re-stitched and
re-bound, you know. There was no way you threw away a ball. You
just sewed it up when the cover come off. And then Sundays, that
was the big deal in this area. All the small towns would have
a team, we’d get together and everybody gathers wherever,
and moved our way on through. Go to the state amateur tournaments.
BD: And that started with your dad?
TW: It was not really formal and organized with
dad, but he loved baseball. Oh, gosh, I remember that. Milwaukee
Braves, oh my, there was no way he would miss those games, the
World Series. But again, being younger; the older brothers will
tell you Dad used to get out there and play with them. But again,
being near the bottom, he kind of moved on with - I don’t
ever remember Dad playing ball with the younger kids, with us.
But obviously, that was kind of engrained, and passed on. So when
my older brothers were doing it, I was out there always in the
way. Paul will tell you he was the better baseball player, but
truth be known, I was better then he was.
BD: If you were to tell me what you think some of
the strengths of the German-Russian heritage, what would they
TW: I think resiliency. They’ve had to go
through so much adversity that I think there’s very little
some of these people would not be willing to take on. I think
the strong convictions that come out of a long, big tradition,
would be probably another one that had served these people well.
Sometimes they won’t even realize it, that those convictions
will carry them through a lot.