Journey to the Homeland Tours
Sponsored by the North Dakota State University Library, Fargo North Dakota
Comments from Tour Members from 1996 to 2013:
“I am glad I took this trip with my husband and children. It was very much an eye-opening experience! Living in the USA, we take a lot for granted. The city of Odessa was beautiful, especially it’s old buildings that are very ornate. The churches in Odessa were stunning! We had a lovely view of the Odessa Saint Panteleymon's (Svyato-Pantelemonovskiy) Cathedral right outside of our hotel. The church bells tolled at the start of mass everyday and they would ring for well over 5 minutes. Our journey out to the country to see our ancestral villages was quite an experience. It took 3 hours by van to travel to my old ancestral German village of Kassel. The roads in the county are in very poor condition and full of ruts. I loved seeing the ruins of the old church in Kassel. I can tell that it was a beautiful structure in its day. I was saddened to witness the fact that the old villages do not have running water or modern plumbing. What really surprised me was that many of the people had cell phones and satellite dishes on their rooftops. The villages were pretty in their own way. Many of the fences and gates that surround the homes were impressive. The cemeteries surprised me too. The graves were decorated with lots and lots of flowers and many of the headstones were very fancy. This surprised me too knowing how poor the villages are. Our van drivers and tour guides out to the villages were awesome and very knowledgeable. We met some very proud and humble folks in the villages. I asked about medical care in the villages and I was told that the hospital is about one and a half hours away in the district center. If medical care is needed, they call for an ambulance and hope for the best. As a nurse, this was troubling for me. We are very lucky for all the things we enjoy in America. This trip was a great experience and maybe I will do it again in the future.”
--- Debra Mehrer, Scotland, South Dakota, a member of the 2013 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"My wife & I have been studying our family tree for about 4 years. Our sons showed some interest as well so we all decided to take a Journey to the Homeland tour with a Michael Miller group in May of 2013. After traveling to Germany and the Ukraine with our sons Andrew and Greg ( ages 28 & 25) we all had a new perspective of how our ancestors lived & what it took for them to come to America. The Ukraine reminded us a little of being back in the Dakotas. After visiting the villages of Worms, Johannestal and Kassel we could envision our forefathers living there working the land. My ancestors were with the first groups to leave South Russia and come to the Dakota territory in 1872. I told my sons that it had been 140 years since Gottfried Mehrer and his family had walked in this land and as far as I knew we were the first Mehrers to come back to South Russia. We thought about how it took only hours for us to come to Europe where it took weeks for our family to come to America back in the 1800s. What faith and courage they must have had. Visiting the Odessa area was also an eye opener with the differences in cultures. Back in Stuttgart Germany, we met with children and grandchildren of Germans that the Russians deported to Siberia, they had many sad stories. Michael Miller commented how fortunate for us that our ancestors decided to bring our families to America and avoided the misfortunes of these people. By taking this trip to the homeland with my wife and 2 sons we felt a little more connected to the past. You can read or hear about it but it seems a little more real once you see and feel it.”
“Andrew and Greg were glad they went on this trip now because we all felt these ancestral villages might soon be disappearing. They both said they learned a lot about the history of the German Russian people.” (Andrew and Greg, sons of Michael and Debra Mehrer, joined their parents to Ukraine and Germany in May, 2013.)
--- Michael Mehrer, Scotland, South Dakota, a member of the 2013 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"Really I don't know where to start on giving you memories of visiting the villages. It is a dream come true, like I said before which has been many years ago when my mother said, "It would be nice if one of my children could go and see where I was born." Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would be possible. And Michael you did make it possible, I feel so indebted to you for doing it. It’s like Elvira (I think that was her name the one that was in service) said it is almost like coming home. That's what I felt like when I was there in Neudorf and Kassel. More so since I have been home and thinking about the whole tour. I learned two things while over there, and like I think Sergy and Michael said, "We can sure thank our God that our parents and grandparents left and migrated to America." The second thing is now I understand why my parents, especially my Mother, were satisfied with so little. As long as she had a roof over her head and three meals a day she was happy. If I could afford it I would like to get all of them over here, knowing well that they wouldn't want to leave their home. I have talked to my brother who lives in Bismarck, telling him about all the potholes in the roads. He said what do the utility trucks do (he worked for MDU for many years). I said Melvin I didn't see a utility truck, but I did notice that their telephone and electrical poles were propped up from maybe three sides, some ready to fall over. He said I guess I never realized that there are countries or places like that.
Michael I don't want to make this too long, again I want to thank you for doing such a good job. Making a dream come true. A time I will cherish, and never forget. I enjoyed all the ones that were with us. I feel that my family friends really grew. A fantastic bunch each and everyone. Make sure if you are in the area to stop and stay with us.
Again I had the most wonderful time. God Bless each and everyone of you. I also include Sheila, you played a big part in this too."
---Gilbert E. Schauer, Longview, Washington, a member of the 2010 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"These memories - nobody will ever be able to take from us. We've been sharing stories with our friends and relatives. In our wildest dreams we never thought we'd walk on the soil that our ancestors came from, what a privilege. We were lucky enough to go to a village named Glueckstal and stay overnight. Our hosts were so gracious and wonderful. Hopefully we will be able to stay in contact in the future.
The food was so delicious, especially in Germany the pastries were awesome. We thoroughly enjoyed the outside markets in Stuttgart, Germany. We had the perfect weather to just take our time to wander from booth to booth and mingle with the people, look at and purchase their wares.
Hopefully we will be able to make this trip again - we know, there is a lot more to see and do. It was great to meet our fellow tour members, people we hope will stay in contact in the future."
---Jim and Alice (Zimmerman) Ackerman, Fargo, North Dakota, a member of the 2010 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"This trip was a most pleasant and enriching experience for us. It was made so by our fellow travelers, the comfortable, convenient hotels and the very relevant tours and information. Elvira was an energetic and pleasant guide, organizer and teacher. The abundant opportunities to eat ethnic Ukrainian and Bessarabian food were wonderful and delicious. We especially appreciate the generous and tasty meals provided by Louisa’s and Sergey’s families.
The tours of Selz, Manheim and Elsass were unique chances to visit sites where Roger’s ancestors lived, much like going back in time. The huge, half gone, ghostly churches are unforgettable tributes to a courageous and devout people. The similarity of the rural landscapes in Ukraine and Alsace to the Midwestern areas to which they immigrated is striking.
The highlights of the Stuttgart area were the evening with the Bessarabian musicians and the trips to Selz, Sessenheim and Souflenheim. The Bessarabian and Selz museums provided unique views of the history and lives of the Germans from Russia, without which the experience would have been incomplete.
Thank you, Michael for your excellent planning, guidance and interpretation of this unforgettable experience. Our suggestions for making it even better would be to shorten the bus tour of Stuttgart (emphasizing the historic and shopping areas), to provide directions to the Last Supper statues in Souflenheim, to visit the Friedenthal farm museum (depicted in the Bessarabian Museum), and to see the Strasbourg, France cathedral."
---Karen and Roger Reede, Paynesville, Minnesota, a member of the 2010 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"A desire of Mary’s to walk in the footsteps of her maternal side of the family, to see the landscape they saw overcame the anxiety, trepidation about making the trip, and we committed ourselves to go.
Research helped us locate the ancestral village of my great-grandmother, more research gave us background on the how and the why of their arrival there and how they came to leave.
To stand in front of the Lutheran Church in Bergdorf built in 1851, the church she married my great-grandfather in was a terrific experience. Talking with our tour guide and using old plot maps we were able to identify what we thought could have been their lot. The home on the lot was not theirs but to see the contour of the land and how their home would have lined up, where the sunrise and sunsets almost made you think of the words to the song Sunrise/Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof, it was very special.
We had the pleasure and good fortune to be house guests of a family in Glueckstal. They were gracious hosts who pampered us and even though we had a language issue we made a connection. They had a lovely home with all of the comforts we think are must haves.
The Germans are gone from the villages and the beautiful churches that are standing have been converted to community centers. The current residents are Russian or Ukrainians, we did see some churches that were changed to Russian Orthodox.
If you are considering a visit, if you have a connection to the former residents of these villages, the Germans from Russia, and you have the ability, make the journey to the homeland. We believe you will not regret your decision."
---Richard and Mary Mussell, Anoka, Minnesota, a member of the 2010 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"Yes, the trip home went well as did the entire tour. I thank you deeply for this rich and meaningful experience in the former homeland of my grandparents and great grandparents.
I more fully understand their contributions to make this beautiful and productive land of farms, vineyards, and trees from the formerly open steppes. Leaving this homeland for an uncertain future and hardship in a new land calls for profound admiration for their courage and faith.
The opportunity to see and experience these villages is a great blessing. Thank you for making this a possibility, Michael!"
--- Ruth Tietz DeNault, San Clemente, California, a member of the 2008 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"This trip was a dream come true visiting and walking on the soil of my grandparents was a remarkable experience. We stayed overnight in Glueckstal with a wonderful family who were so gracious with fresh fruit and vegetables from their garden as well as eggs from their chickens. Leaving the village of Hoffnungsburg, I met an old woman who told me all about the cemetery of my ancestors.”
--- Sylvia Feilock Frahm, Palm City, Florida, a member of the 2008 Journey to the Homeland Tour
“It was an experience of a lifetime to walk and visit where my ancestors came from. I better understand that many were hesitant to talk about their lives before coming to America. I can see many resemblances to the Dakotas such as beautiful valleys. But I felt a sadness that many of the churches were gone and so much destruction.
It was a joy to share this tour with family members and to make new friendships.”
--- Allean Mertz Boschee, Crookston, Minnesota, a member of the 2008 Journey to the Homeland Tour
“I better understand why our ancestors missed some parts of their life in Russia. The fertile soil, the large fields of wheat, the vineyards and fruit trees, where greatly missed when compared with the hilly rocky soil, no trees and endless wind in the Dakotas.
When I consider all the hardships our ancestors endured, first in Germany, then the long trip to Russia, the hard difficult years in Russia, the long ship ride to America, and finally the settling of the Dakota prairies, disease, childbirth complications, so forth - it is miracle that any one of us was born. I am grateful for each and everyone of my ancestral family.”
--- Penny Kramer Eberhardt, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a member of the 2008 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"From beginning to end this trip was organized perfectly. I had no idea how difficult it would be to get into the villages, but thanks to your wonderful guise, planning and experience, it went beautifully. I was also surprised by the warm reception we received from the village people. I know I will be exchanging emails and Christmas cards with my host family for years to come. Thank you so much for all you do for the Germans from Russia. It was such a blessing to be able to take a trip like this and even better that it was taken with family and so many new friends."
--- Lori Gauper Kischel, Lita, Florida, a member of the 2008 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"This was an unforgettable trip and brought my sister, Dorothy Roth Rapson, and me back to our roots. I especially enjoyed the trips to the village of our parents (and ancestors for that matter) and being where they live their lives. I have also come to appreciate the courage and tenacity these Germans from Russia carried with them and passed on to us. This journey to the Homeland has been an awesome experience."
--- Isabelle Roth Allen, Kamloops, British Columbia, a member of the 2008 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"This has been an eye opening experience. Seeing the villages of our ancestors, and the burial sites was a highlight for me. Our hosts at the Glueckstal village were so gracious and cooked a wonderful meal. We partied into the night and left as friends. Sergey was such a help translating for us from Russian to English, staying the same home in Glueckstal. I will never forget this well planned and interesting trip. It was so educational."
--- Joanne Mertz Gauper, Fargo, North Dakota, a member of the 2008 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"I have dreamed of doing this trip for many years. Thank you for doing this tour. I will always remember being in the villages where my forefathers lived."
--- Kathleen Kuntz Wellmann, Hanska, Minnesota, a member of the 2008 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"I just wanted to add my thank you as well, for a most memorable trip to the Homeland. Isabelle and I have been talking about going there for a long time, so we finally made it! I know now that we picked the right tour guide as well, with your knowledge of the villages, etc., we were in good hands. I've been familar with these villages on paper, for a long time, and to actually go there, and walk there, is a dream come true.
I also enjoyed the tour guides, Elvira in Russia (Ukraine), Amelia, and of course, Ruth & Stefan in Germany. Their dancing was delightful, and the 'kuchen', which turned out to be a whole meal. A wonderful ending to a wonderful trip.
Thanks again Michael, you made it a special trip, and I also could understand your German, well, most of it. I was the 'kid' in the family, so I didn't always listen well, when my parents, and grandparents were talking German."
--- Dorothy Roth Rapson, Bow Island, Alberta, a member of the 2008 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"I really enjoyed the trip. It was a rewarding
experience on many different levels -- spending time with other
people with the same background and on the same quest, learning
more about the history and current situation in the Black Sea
area, as well as seeing, meeting, and talking to people from the
area were worth the trip.
But then there were the villages. Those two days
were just outstanding. We found that the spirit of our Germans
from Russia lives on in the villages. Each of us was able to connect
with them in some small way. I also really enjoyed sharing in
the experience of other villages than ours. The German portion
of the trip was a wonderful experience on its own, and the side
trip to Entringen to visit our ancestral villages in Germany was
the highlight of that portion of the trip. A close second was
the Bundestraffen in Wiesbaden. We actually found a cousin there
who shared genealogical information we did not have. Learning
about the plight of the Germans returning from Russia was also
an eye opening experience.
All in all, it was the trip of a lifetime."
--- Janis Weisz Piotrowski, Tallahassee, Florida,
a member of the 2007 Journey to the Homeland Tour
"I just want to thank you for the amazing trip
to Ukraine and Germany. On one hand, I was very apprehensive about
visiting the land of my ancestors; on the other, I was excited
Our ancestors certainly worked very hard to break the land, build
homes and churches in spited of the many challenges with the social,
economic, political and climatic conditions they thrived.
When they decided to leave that beautiful land and homes, they
must have been heart broken. When they arrived at their chosen places
in the Americas, it must have been depressing but challenging and
a relief to be out from under all the rules and regulations of the
It certainly has given me a better understanding of my background
and wish my mother could have in my joy.
Indeed, we are blessed that our ancestors had the courage to leave
home and family to seek a new life in an unknown country..and thrive!
Again thank you for all the effort you put into this trip and preserving
the culture of the Germans from Russia."
I had a wonderful time on our tour. Thank you so much for all the
planning you did. It was a dream of a lifetime trip. My memories
will linger on.
Thank you for a wonderful trip to the Homeland, it was even
better than I thought it would be.
Thank you for answering all my thousands of questions about the
villages, sight seeing in the cities, E-mail etc.
Michael, you are wonderful! We are all so lucky to have you in
a position to save this important
information about our homeland and to share it with all of us.
Again, thank you for doing the Homeland trip every year and making
it possible for me to walk the streets of my ancestors. It still
all seems so surreal and I'm so glad I went. And weren't we lucky
to have such a good group of people? Everyone was so nice, but then
decedents of the Germans from Russia are very nice people to begin
The Tour to the Homeland was all and more than I expected. Every
day was a new adventure. I felt we were particularly blessed because
we found two sets of relatives, which was a surprise. Wherever we
went, we were treated like royalty. The people from the villages
were hospitable and very anxious to please. They were curious about
our backgrounds, and we in tour exchanged information with them
through an interpreter. We learned much about their lifestyle, and
were impressed with their generosity and friendliness. You are to
be commended on how well organized this tour was. Perhaps one day
I can go on another Journey to the Homeland.
Thank you so much for a trip never to be forgotten. All was fantastic.
Among the many highlights there is one that could be crowned the
queen of all. Event thought sad to see the grounds and thought of
my very dear dad who, without a doubt, was baptized there. I shall
never forget the emotion and joy. He was born March 1882 and I saw
that the corner stone was earlier.
Please know how much I enjoyed the trip as well as the good company
there. I had a wonderful time and really appreciate your help as
well as that of Elvira, Albina and Vadim. They were most helpful
and good natured to help me go running all over Crimea.
It was a great trip. A trip that will impact my life forever. I
made great friends, met wonderful people, ate great food, visited
the most interesting places, formed the most endearing memories,
and found my roots!
WOW! Do you do a tour! I can't imagine how I could have enjoy Ukraine/Moldova
more. We both appreciated getting to know you firsthand! I look
forward nostalgically on my time in "South Russia" and
must admit there is some longing to go back. If so, I'd like to
spend a lot more time in the villages at leisure just taking in
the routine of daily life there. I can imagine an article on Ukraine/Moldova
in National Geographic with a Germans from Russia twist!
Words cannot describe my feelings about the trip to the Homeland.
I have had a very hard time to get back to normal. I am trying to
get some books in German for the school in Karlsruhe and also some
books in the English language. Keep up your good work.
"I hope the year 2001 will bring you many blessings as you continue
to carry on the rewarding work of guiding the descendants of the Germans
from Russia on the journeys to visit the land of their ancestors.
I will be eternally thankful for having had the opportunity to visit
the land where my father was raised. My thanks and I know the thanks
of so many others goes to you for having made our dreams a reality
- dreams we never ever thought would come true. May God bless you
for carrying on this rewarding work."
--- Cora Wolff Tschaekofske, Dickinson, North Dakota, member of
the 1997 and 1998 Journey to the Homeland tour
I was thrilled to receive the pictures and album you sent recently.
Thank you so much. I was especially pleased to receive the picture
of the little girl presenting me with the loaf of bread at the Landau
Orphanage. The trip was fantastic. It was a wonderful group. I had
so much fun.