|Interview with Colleen Zeiler (CZ)
Conducted by Bob Dambach (BD)
July, 2000, Allan, Saskatchewan
Transcription by Aaron Johnson
Editing and proofreading by Peter Eberle and Reverend Marvin Hartmann
Prairie Public Collection
BD: Can you tell us your name?
CZ: My name is Colleen Zeiler.
BD: Where are you from?
CZ: I grew up in this area. Alan, Saskatchewan,
Canada and I live down in Granbury Texas right now. I’m
here visiting my parents and we frequently come out to this cemetery
and the other cemeteries in this area, to visit grandparents,
BD: And what cemetery are we in?
CZ: This is the Selz cemetery. We’re about
thirteen miles south of Allan. And this is my great grandmother’s
grave site. She died when my grandfather was twelve years old.
And she died of TB and that kind of left my grandfather and about
five other children on their own. Until he remarried a lady from
South Dakota actually, well from North Dakota also. Sort of a
contract marriage and moved up to this area again.
BD: Where did she come from?
CZ: She came from the Selz area in Russia and my
grandfather also and of course their farm is just approximately
about two miles from here and other relatives also in the area.
They also have two children, buried at the other end of the cemetery.
Two young boys that died in childbirth or as very young boys.
BD: When they came over here, were they married?
CZ: Yes. They were already married and just trying
BD: Well you can tell me that in the sentence then
that they were already married?
CZ: Yes, that they were already married [laughing]
are we stopped now?
BD: We just keep rolling.
CZ: Actually, I’m trying to recall that now that I’m
looking and thinking back on history but I, I believe they were
married yes. In fact, I know they were because they had to take
a train and they had to stay with some neighbors and the neighbors
were a little nervous and hesitant about them and I think they
made them sleep on the floor. And so when they finally warmed
up to these people, saw they were no threat and they were more
comfortable with them and then at that point my grandfather went
ahead, great grandfather, and built this home. So they were married
at the time.
BD: How far away was the farm from the cemetery
CZ: About two miles straight west. Maybe not even
two miles probably about a mile or mile and a half.
BD: Now you recently came from an event that featured
the other side of the family didn’t you?
CZ: That’s right we were at the Vetter reunion
and it was held 17 miles east of Linton, North Dakota. And we
had approximately 1400 cousins there and this all started with
a couple whose names was Valentine and Francesca, Francesca Vetter,
and they were from the Strassburg area of Odessa, Russia. They
came to North Dakota originally started in the Hague area and
then moved to this area near Linton. They came with seven children,
and two of these children were daughters that eventually married
young men from that area. And then of course these two daughters
moved to Canada. One of the daughters whose name was Margaret
Vetter married John Wenniger, and that’s my tie to this
family. And the other daughters name was Juliana and she married
Ludwig Schmaltz, and they moved to Beiseker near Calgary. And
so of course the Canadians were represented and we all went down
and were part of this reunion and had a great time.
BD: Let me ask you more about the reunion but do
you happen to know after the daughters moved up to Canada, you
know that time, the tremendous distance, did they ever get to
see their family again?
CZ: Rarely. I think I did read somewhere that they
might have taken one or two trips back in that whole time and
when you think about that pretty amazing and almost devastating
to think that you might never see your family again and distances
were great at that time with no modern transportation.
BD: Why don’t you tell me a little about what
happened at the reunion, just give me an overview.
CZ: Well as you drive into this family site the
reunion was held at the old family farm where Valentine and Francesca
lived. And we were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the wood
frame house that they lived in. As you drive over the hill you
can see this wonderful view of camper’s tents and motor
homes that are situated out in the pasture and this is where most
of the cousins stayed. And as you approached in you registered
and you would see this as well they had ah, and they had managed
to locate a huge circus tent and this is where they held all their
activities and mass and dances at night. It was just pretty amazing
we had of course Catholic mass every morning, polka parties and
dances, beer gardens. During the daytime they had programs going
on in the tent that consisted of mock-weddings, fashion displays,
showing how the fashions were 100 years ago. Wedding costumes
over the years and accordion music, lots of accordion music. And
those types of things, so there was a lot of entertainment going
on as well a lot of people were just going out meeting cousins
visiting each other’s motor homes and campers. And really
forming a bond.
BD: Is it really easy to meet people I mean you
go up and say I’m your third cousin?
CZ: It is its very easy and everybody is really
forthcoming in that respect. You would think nothing of going
up to somebody and telling them who you are and examining their
face to see if there is some common feature that you might look
a like. We actually have a sort of a little family joke that we
all say that there is the Vetter nose and some of us have more
of it than others and some really have it pretty bad. But that’s
another little thing you look at and there’s no hesitancy
people are very warm and of course the North Dakota people are
BD: Where did people come from, how far away?
CZ: Well it ended up I think from about 25 states
and six Canadian provinces. Some as far as Anchorage, of course
myself and other cousins came from Texas. Some near San Diego,
Atlanta and of course the majority are still near the family area,
you know Bismarck, Linton, Napoleon and those areas of North Dakota.
BD: What was your favorite part?
CZ: My favorite part, gosh that’s a tough
because I love to dance and I’d have to say the polkas were
always my favorite part. But I think the mass and the service
at the cemetery this year were more touching than I’ve ever
noticed it at the last reunion. Maybe it was the music or the
sermons or the ceremonies in general but I would have to think
that was pretty touching, sometimes you felt like you were all
choked up it was an emotional time.
BD: And you have been to these reunions before?
CZ: Yes we only had one and it was in 1988 and that
of course is this Vetter reunion that’s were talking about
and we call this area Vetterville now, Vetterville USA. But the
Vetter families and the Gross families and the other cousins on
July fourth have a big celebration every year at the same location.`
BD: And who did the history of your family?
CZ: I would say Brother Placid Gross probably is
the, I call him the guru of our family. He is knowledgeable and
I remarked to him that he must know everybody there and everybody
would know him. He is really the, founder of it all.
BD: Is it mind-boggling when you walk and realize how many people
know each other?
CZ: It is, it is and actually it’s a little
bit mind boggling because the Canadians don’t know the Americans
as well and they haven’t been up her to know us as well.
But when you see so many people gathered under a tent and you
realize that your all related it’s unbelievable.
BD: Do most of the people know the history of the
CZ: I would say most of them do, of course the young
children and the young teenagers maybe are not as well informed.
But they have the slide shows that Brother Placid has organized
and with the accompanying ethnic music and if you don’t
know it by the time you’ve gotten there its your own fault
when you leave if you don’t know it.
BD: Do the people in the US, do they know how far
the Vetter family has reached, do they know about the Canadian
CZ: They do, uh although coming to Canada seems
to be an obstacle I think for most of the North Dakota cousins.
When we tell them really how far it is, you know a 10-hour drive
or a 12-hour drive at the most; they realize it’s not such
a big deal. But when you think of another country it seems like
going off the edge of the world.
BD: Do you think that they would find the terrain,
the cemeteries familiar?
CZ: Oh yes I think they would, the iron crosses;
ah you know just the symbolic meanings that the cemeteries carry
is just the same.
BD: And the landscape?
CZ: The landscape sure, the same basic kind of crops,
hilly areas, respect for the land just even the lack of litter
and trash that people throw out. People have more respect for
the land in the northern states and in Canada.
BD: Let me ask you one question that you might not
be able to answer. What city is that over there? Is that where
we came from?
CZ: Yes, that Allen. Allen, Saskatchewan. And of course the Allen
pot ash mine is right behind it. And if you look of this way in
the distance you’ll see Kolanzi pot ash mine.
And uh, probably you can’t see from here too much else in
regards to cities or towns.
BD: Well I’m surprised that’s pretty
CZ: Yeah right, were a little bit up here and it’s
gonna be about 13 miles
BD: Ok I think we can do the, were ready to roll.
CZ: Well my name is Colleen Zeiler and I am the
great grand daughter of Margaret Vetter. Who was the daughter
of Valentine and Francesca Vetter who actually is the couple on
this afghan. And they of course came to North Dakota from Strassburg
Russia in about 1888. And this year we had our second annual Vetter
reunion in which we celebrated honoring their existence and the
legacy they have given us. Plus we’ve honored the 100-year
anniversary of this house up on the corner here, this wooden frame
house. As well at this reunion we also found out that there were
two sod plots and they sod was actually blessed by a priest at
our Mass and everybody was given a sample piece of dirt, this
sacred ground we call it. Uh this afghan was made and it was helped
in responses to help defer costs of the reunion. And you can see
there is many items of importance on here. To start with, we’ve
got the Canadian flag and the American flag and that is because
when this couple came over with their seven children. Two of their
daughters married men and then moved to Canada and that brought
in the Canadian wing into the family. So the reunion honors the
Canadians and the Americans and every morning at the reunion they
would raise the flags for both countries and have the national
anthem played for both countries. Ah we have the Grotto which
the Vetter cousins have built and it’s on the hillside near
Vetter Ville, which is where we had the reunions. Down below on
the left we have the Saint Joseph’s Church which was burnt
I believe in 1954 burnt down but the cemetery remains. We consider
it a family cemetery but really there are a few other members
that are not family that are buried there. And of course on the
very right bottom corner it shows the farmers using the oxen to
work in the fields and it represents our family as a farming community
and people of the land. And then the state of North Dakota where
all this really happened and took place. This reunion was really
magnificent we had about 1400 cousins that showed up and this
really is a memorable piece of equipment that will be cherished
by all the cousins. The rosary you see surrounds Valentine and
Francesca and their faith is of utmost importance to these people
and of course it is seen here with that rosary. And I personal
don’t think I’ve seen a family that ah considers their
faith and their thankfulness to God in as many activities as this
BD: Were they married in Ukraine?
CZ: Yes. In Strassburg and came over as an entire family. Actually,
I think one or two of the sons may have come over ahead of time
and but basically as a family. And even one of the children was
a niece that was adopted because her parents had passed away so
they sort of had a little extended family that they raised.