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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, relatives.

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 to start

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 here?

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 very warm.

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 family?

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 branch?

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 noticeable.

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 family does.

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.

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