News Release May 1, 1997
Fessenden Woman Plans Major Bequest to NDSU Libraries
and Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
Marie M. Rudel Portner, born on April 23, 1897, 100 years ago,
on a farm in North Dakota and now a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada,
has expressed an intention to leave a substantial portion of her
estate to the North Dakota State University Libraries and the Germans
from Russia Heritage Collection, announced John W. Beecher, Director
of the NDSU Libraries.
"We are tremendously grateful to learn of Mrs. Portner's generous
intentions," stated Beecher. "She has been a major benefactor to
the Libraries for a number of years now, not only because of her
interest in our Germans from Russia Collection but also because
of the strong ties she has to her own German-Russian roots in the
Fessenden, Harvey, and Wells County areas of North Dakota."
Mrs. Portner's wish for the intended gift would be to establish
a permanent endowment in memory of her parents, Simon and Dorothea
Weber Rudel, who immigrated from South Russia and homesteaded on
the prairies of North Dakota in the late 1800s. Annual proceeds
from the endowment would go to support the Libraries' preservation
of the Germans from Russia heritage as a unique cultural force in
shaping the history of the northern plains of North America.
"Marie and her late husband Hal Portner have generously contributed
to many philanthropic interests during their lifetimes. Their giving
nature has made them very special clients of our firm," said W.
Owen Nitz, senior partner with the law firm of Nitz, Walton & Heaton,
Ltd., Las Vegas, and Mrs. Portner's attorney for over 30 years.
While the endowment would be established in honor of her parents,
the Libraries would also recognize Mrs. Portner for her generosity
by setting aside a specific space within the Main Library for the
purpose of furthering the bibliographic, preservation, and communication
activities of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, and naming
it "The Marie Rudel Portner Germans from Russia Heritage Center."
According to the Libraries' Development Director Charlotte Cox,
"An endowed fund established with such a generous bequest would
provide, conservatively speaking, $50,000 or more in interest income
every year." Such funds would help to support many projects related
to the Germans from Russia, such as the publishing of manuscripts
and oral histories, traveling exhibitions, video documentaries,
expanded facilities for the Libraries' growing historical/ethnic/cultural
collections, and the electronic networking of NDSU's special collections
with scholarly research centers all over the world.
Mrs. Portner's substantial gifts over the years have already helped
to finance the research, publishing, and travel involved in studying
and documenting this extraordinary culture, according to Michael
M. Miller, the Libraries' Germans from Russia Bibliographer. The
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at NDSU is recognized as
one of the outstanding collections on the subject in North America
and the world, and it provides valuable resources for scholars,
students, and family historians. Because of Miller's genealogical
research, he has been able to inform Marie about the ancestral villages
where the Rudels and the Webers once lived in Bessarabia, now part
of southern Ukraine.
One of Marie's most prized possessions is a history of the Rudel
family, carefully collected, documented, and compiled by her nephew
Norman Rudel, who still lives in Fessenden with his wife Norma and
works part-time on the family farm. According to the Rudel history,
Marie's father Simon came to America when he was 21 years old with
$1 in his pocket. He and his wife Dorothea set out to establish
a farm and family, first in a sod house and later in a wood-framed
farmstead on the windswept Dakota prairie.
Marie, the ninth of Simon and Dorothea's twelve children, was
born on April 23, 1897. Now the oldest living graduate of Fessenden
High School, she also attended Valley City State Teachers College.
She then taught school at West Norway Township, Wellsburg, and Heimdal,
earning $65.00 per month. On recent trips to the Las Vegas area,
Miller and Cox have found Marie eager to discuss her Dakota past.
With a sharp memory and a keen wit, she reminisces about being baptized
in the James River, herding sheep with her sister Hilda, and teaching
in the country schools where the "blackboards" were simply plaster
After marrying Hal Portner of Spokane, Washington, Marie traveled
far afield from the Dakota plains of her youth, living in Washington,
California, and finally Nevada. Hal, an electrical engineer who
became interested in land development in the Las Vegas area, died
in 1972. While Marie says, "I never expected to live in a place
like Las Vegas," she remained there after his death, continuing
to live independently in her own house and taking the mile walk
"downtown" at least once a week. She is no longer able to return
to the Fessenden area to see the many Rudel and Weber family members
who still live and farm there, but she remembers her many German-from-Russia
relatives and her heritage with great affection.
Marie plans to celebrate her 100th birthday quietly with her nephew
Weston Rudel, who lives near her in Las Vegas and helps her to do
her grocery shopping. Representatives from the NDSU Libraries joined
her for an early birthday party in March when they visited her area
prior to the North Dakota Picnic in Arizona. They also presented
her with a plaque from the NDSU Development Foundation awarded for
her past generosity to the university.
"Mrs. Portner is a shining example of the strength, wit, and determination
that characterize not only the Germans from Russia but also a great
many of the early pioneers who settled the northern prairies of
our region," said Beecher. "We are honored to have her continuing
friendship for the North Dakota State University Libraries."
For more information, contact Michael M. Miller, Germans from
Russia Bibliographer, 701-231-8416, Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu.
Click on a photo to view a larger image!
||Marie M. Rudel Portner, age 34.
||The Simon and Dorothea (Weber) Rudel Family Fessenden, North
Dakota, June, 1932, taken the day after celebrating the 50th
Wedding Anniversary of Simon and Dorothea (Weber) Rudel, married
on February 10, 1882 in Scotland, South Dakota. Simon Rudel
was born on September 20, 1857 and Dorothea Weber was born on
March 20, 1866. Back row (left to right): Herbert, William Gustav,
Simon (father), Edward, Christian and Frederick. Front row (left
to right): Laura, Mary Marie (Marie Rudel Portner), Hilda, Dorothea
(mother), Emma, Bertha and Therese.
||Simon and Dorothea (Weber) Rudel farmstead near Fessenden,
Wells County, North Dakota, circa late 1920s/early 1930s.
||Marie M. Rudel Portner (left), age 99, Las Vegas and Charlotte
Cox, Development Director, North Dakota State University Libraries,
Fargo. Charlotte Cox presents Marie Portner the NDSU President's
Bronze Medallion Society Plaque for her annual gift of $10,000.
Photo taken in February, 1997, Las Vegas, Nevada. Marie Portner
celebrated her 100th birthday on April 23, 1997.
||Marie M. Rudel Portner and Michael M. Miller, Germans from
Russia Bibliographer, North Dakota State University Libraries,
Fargo. Photo taken in February, 1997, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Rudel Family Reunion, Fessenden, North Dakota, Centennial,
1895-1995, compiled by Norman Rudel, 1995. (German Russian C571.R8878
1993, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU Libraries, Fargo)
Weber compiled by Frieda Harmon, 1992-1993, 2 items (Small
Collection 693, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU Libraries,