| Germans from Russia Symposium
North Dakota State University
Fargo, North Dakota
Jim L. Ozbun, President
North Dakota State University, Fargo
Thank you, Professor Michael Miller.
I think it's appropriate that I refer to him as professor
this evening since he served as a faculty member at North Dakota
State University for a number of years, and particularly after all
of those "professor" jokes that he told us here this evening.
Thanks for the introduction. I appreciate it very much.
It's really a pleasure to have an
opportunity to come and visit with you this evening. Sorry that
I haven't been able to be with you for your entire program, but
I have been attending Board of Higher Education meetings. I am also
pleased that Professor Marzolf indicated to all of you that my wife
is Norwegian. Since I've been married, I've had the opportunity
very frequently to spend time in Starbuck, Minnesota. And in Starbuck,
Minnesota, when we have a meeting like this, everyone there is Norwegian;
and I've always felt rather out of place. So I think it's quite
appropriate for the turnaround here this evening, for her to be
the only Norwegian in the room. She'll recognize now how I feel
when I go to Starbuck.
It's interesting to be here this evening,
which is Friday the 13th. Now, many of you may not be very superstitious;
but in our society, Friday the l3th is the time that you avoid having
opportunities like this to speak. I'm not exactly sure where Friday
the 13th superstition came from. Presumably it didn't come from
the Germans from Russia. Nevertheless, it's something that's very
real in the United States. I'm sure that all of you have at some
time or another in your life been reminded of Friday the 13th; and
that you should be careful, as it's hard to say what might happen.
Really, though, I did not expect that
the superstition of Friday the 13th came from the Germans from Russia.
Having had an opportunity to interact with Germans from Russia frequently
as a child and as I grew up in Flasher, North Dakota, I knew that
that wasn't the case. Friday the 13th or not, the symposium that
you held on our campus was very timely. We are delighted to have
the Germans from Russia scholars here visiting Fargo and North Dakota
These are exciting times in our nation.
It's particularly exciting; I'm sure, as we think about what's going
on in Germany, Eastern Europe, and in the Soviet Union. The changes
that have occurred there over the last six or eight months have
been interesting and significant. It probably is even more of an
interest to you folks who 1) have heritage and roots back in that
part of the world and 2) know what things are like and 3) recognize
that these changes that are taking place at the present time have
very significant meanings to the people who are still there. So
it has been an exciting time, even the resignation of President
Yeltsin yesterday from the Communist party sends a signal to that
part of the world and to all of us: that communism is on the decline,
and that democracy is perceived as a better way.
The late Robert Hutchins spoke at
NDSU back in the early 1960s at which time he quoted an ancient
Chinese curse. The curse went something like this: "May you
live in interesting times. II Indeed, I think we are living in interesting
I feel strongly about holding this
kind of conference, particularly in view of the times that we are
in, and also because you're holding it in association with the land-grant
university in this state. Our land-grant university has particular
meaning and ties at the present time. Of course, it's our centennial;
but it also coincides with the period of time when your ancestors
moved to this region and became settlers and citizens of this area
and state. So, indeed, these are significant times. As a consequence
of these relationships, I was really quite pleased when Mike Miller
and Tim Kloberdanz asked me to come and visit with you this evening.
There are a number of reasons. First,
I've already indicated that it is our centennial, and the state's
centennial. Many of your ancestors came into this region at the
time we were becoming a state. Secondly, since I've been back at
North Dakota State University, I've been concerned about providing
a multicultural experience on our campus, for our students certainly,
but for everyone else associated with our campus at North Dakota
Your coming here provides an opportunity to expand on that multicultural
experience for many of our students and for you folks as well.
It's interesting, as I think about
the importance of providing a multicultural experience for the students
in North Dakota. We often think of our student body as being rather
homogeneous. The fact of the matter is that North Dakota has more
citizens who are registered as belonging to an ethnic group than
any other state in the nation. Something like 93 percent of the
registered citizens of the state of North Dakota indicate that they
belong to one or another ethnic group. That statistic comes from
Dr. Kloberdanz, and he's not here to defend himself. But I heard
him say that at a presentation not long ago. And I believe the statement
to be accurate.
I also have a number of personal reasons
why I'm happy to have this conference here at Fargo and in association
with North Dakota State University. As Arnold indicated, I grew
up on a farm near Flasher, North Dakota, also close to Carson, North
Dakota, in Grant County. I attended a one-room schoolhouse for my
first eight grades in Lark, North Dakota, and then Flasher High
School. Many of my classmates, both in grade school and high school,
and college for that matter, were Germans from Russia. I've had
a longtime association with these individuals, even though my own
ancestry is primarily English and Irish. I've had a lot of contact
through the years with Germans from Russia.
According to Dr. Kloberdanz,
the Germans from Russia who settled in the Northern Great Plains
tended to settle and establish homesteads in close proximity to
individuals of their own German-Russian ethnic areas. They thought
it very important to come together in groups with similar religious
beliefs, cultural traditions, and even the same regional dialects.
As I discussed this with Dr. Kloberdanz and talked about where I
grew up, he indicated to me that the area where I grew up in Grant
County was really not fitting that pattern because, indeed, there
were some seven different distinct groups that came into that immediate
area: Carson, Flasher, Shields, and so on. Not being a German or
a German from Russia, I'm not sure that I can enunciate all of these
areas appropriately, but at least I'll go through the seven that
were in that immediate vicinity where I grew up. At the time that
I was growing up, obviously, I didn't know one from the other, but
certainly the people who were there knew one from the other. We
the Bessarabian Germans with last names such as Hersch, Kahl, Miller,
Riehl, and Zeller. We the Liebental Black Sea Germans (Diehls, Fuchses,
Krafts, and Scheerers), Beresan Black Sea Germans, Glückstal
Black Sea Germans, and Black Sea German Catholics from the Kutschurgan
Valley. We the Crimean Black Sea Germans who settled near Elgin,
North Dakota, close to where I was growing up, and Volga German
Lutherans with names like Bay, Heinitz, who came into that area
from Mountain Lake, Minnesota, known for its Mennonite heritage
and old world charm. So you can see that in that vicinity certainly
we had a lot of Germans from Russia and from a lot of different
regions of the Soviet Union.
These individuals, as they came into
that region, formed an unusually diverse ethnic community. Again,
as I think back on my own experience growing up in the Flasher area,
I didn't recognize that I was in that diverse of a community. I
personally couldn't make the distinction. But, nevertheless, it
was an unusually diverse ethnic community. In fact, it could have
served as a forerunner for the Germans from Russia Heritage Society,
as we know it today.
Again, recognizing that we did have
those seven groups in the community and looking back on it today,
it's understandable why some of these groups had some difficulties
in adjusting to their new community. And it was a hardship on them.
It was a hardship not only because they were relatively small groups
of a diverse ethnic background, but also because they were coming
into a community oftentimes that had other very diverse groups:
English, Irish, Norwegian, and Native Americans. Some ended up coming
into the Solen-Shields area and being associated with the Sioux
Indians, and many settled on that Indian reservation. So it was
a difficult time. It was difficult because those groups had different
values, different languages, different foods, and different clothing.
Yet, as I think back, it's easy to recognize that these newcomers
showed rugged determination, a deep faith that was very obvious
throughout our community, strong family ties, and maybe most importantly,
they were extremely hard working.
It is recognized around the nation
that citizens of North Dakota are hard working. Obviously, the Germans
from Russia contribute in a major way to that image that we have
as North Dakotans and Midwesterners.
It's been said that the Germans from
Russia made the steppes of South Russia bloom. I think that we could
also say that this group of individuals made the prairies of North
Dakota and South Dakota bloom and; indeed, they did. Many of them
were homesteaders and hardworking farmers.
I also want to reflect on my own personal
interaction with the Germans from Russia as I was growing up in
Flasher and Lark, North Dakota. As I indicated earlier, I attended
a one-room school in Lark, North Dakota for my first eight grades.
And I remember very clearly (1 was about in the third or fourth
grade) when we had two Germans from Russia families move into the
community. Prior to that, all of the kids in that school (twenty-one
or so) were English, Irish and Norwegian. I remember when those
two Germans from Russia families moved in, both were very large
families. All of a sudden our enrollment in that one-room school
increased very significantly by about seven or eight. The made an
impression on me, certainly. But also made an impression on me that
our new classmates had a hard time adjusting into that school environment.
Not necessarily because of their own making; but because the rest
of us, who had been there all along, didn't make it very easy for
them to move into that community and become part of our school.
I'm not proud at all of that situation. In fact, I'm rather embarrassed
by it. But I think it does, indeed, reflect how difficult it was
for newcomers to become part of that community and part of the school
system and feel good about being citizens of North Dakota and of
Then I moved on to high school. Maybe
fortunately for me, our farm was eight miles away and, being a freshman,
I couldn't yet drive, so I was required to stay with someone else
in the Flasher community during the week to attend school. The family
that I stayed with was a Germans from Russia family, the Schaefers;
and I got to know that family very well. We were very good friends.
I had a good time interacting with the children in that family,
and they were about my same age. It was a new experience for me
to have an opportunity to eat some of their foods, some of which
I hadn't eaten before. But I enjoyed them. It was an important cultural
experience for me to be able to live with that family for a year,
while I was in high school.
Also, throughout my high school days, there were many opportunities
to attend German- Russian weddings. There was always dancing associated
with those weddings. Mike has already indicated that Sonja and I
enjoy dancing. But I really learned to dance by attending some of
those weddings in that community. The music was always good, and
there was lots of enthusiasm and energy going into it. Actually,
I also had a chance on several occasions to dance at Lawrence Welk
dances after he had moved to Los Angeles; but my father and mother
danced to Lawrence Welk, when he was in the North Dakota area. So,
I learned how to dance from the Germans from Russia.
Then I came to North Dakota State
University. It's interesting that the first individual whom I really
had an opportunity to get to know well was Armand Bauer. At the
time I didn't recognize that Armand Bauer was a German from Russia,
but obviously he is. He has become actively involved in your Heritage
Society; he has written a lot about the Germans from Russia; and
he was a very close friend of mine throughout college. Coming from
Flasher and not having any money, my first objective when I got
to school wasn't necessarily to get an education but to get a job,
because, without a job, I wouldn't have an opportunity to get an
education. Armand Bauer is the one who gave me a job. He was involved
with the soil-testing program at North Dakota State University.
He needed some dishwashers and help in running that laboratory.
Since I was looking for a job and he had one, we got to know each
other quite well. I ended up working for Armand and with Armand
for the six years that I was at North Dakota State University for
both my bachelor's degree and master's degree. By the time I had
put in that many years I could test soil just about as well as Armand.
It was fun. I enjoyed working with him and interacting with him.
Throughout my whole career as a student, I had lots of opportunities
to be involved and associated with Germans from Russia.
I think it is somewhat of an irony,
as we think back on the history of North Dakota and the development
of North Dakota State University and the establishment of the Germans
from Russia homesteaders in the state of North Dakota that we have
coexisted in this state for a century now. But it wasn't until 1976,
some 85 years after the founding of North Dakota State University,
that we saw fit to establish a course on the Germans from Russia.
It took us a long time to recognize the importance of this group
to our society. It's significant that this was the first course
in the United States that dealt with that particular ethnic group,
as listed in the Harvard Encyclopedia of Ethnic Groups. So it took
us a long time to recognize the role of the Germans from Russia.
I feel very good about the fact that over the years, at least since
then, we have established a fine collection of literature in the
library dealing with Germans from Russia. Mike Miller, who works
in the library at North Dakota State University, is key to making
that happen. Mike, thanks for that effort. I think we all here owe
him thanks for making that possible. I hope that some of you had
a chance to get over to the library and see that collection while
you were on the campus.
The symposium that we have had this
week and this gathering here this evening and the fact that this
has been done in connection with North Dakota State University helps
to build continuing and hopefully lasting relationships between
our educational institution and your Society.
In the book, Plains Folk, North Dakota's
Ethnic History, Dr. Kloberdanz authored a chapter. He wrote about
some of the characteristics of the Germans from Russia. He indicated
that these individuals had a characteristic mistrust of strangers
and outsiders. Now, again, as I think back on the individuals who
came into our community, I recognize that that was there, but I'm
not sure that it was any more of a mistrust on the part of those
coming into the community than it was on the part of those who already
lived there. But, nevertheless, it's probably characteristic of
the German-Russians; and it's understandable why that would be the
case. If you look at the history of the Germans from Russia: How
they were treated in Germany before they left Germany; and how they
were treated in Russia before they decided to leave Russia. It's
understandable why they developed a mistrust of outsiders and strangers.
But I don't think that is necessarily
all that unique. I think that as other ethnic groups have moved
into this nation, be it the Vietnamese who are coming now, be it
the Polish people who have been here for some time, be it the Norwegians
or the Irish, each of those groups took a long time to adjust and
to become part of the society. Maybe we're being more receptive
today to the Southeast Asians and others coming in than has historically
been the case; but certainly I think we can't be very proud of the
fact that we've made it difficult for newcomers to come in and be
part of our society, particularly when every one of us came from
someplace else at some time. We should recognize the fact that that's
the case and be willing to be more considerate of other individuals
and their culture as they come into our community.
We've had, this past week, some very
distinguished scholars from the United States, Canada, and Europe:
all coming together to share and to become part of the symposium
associated with this convention. All of these individuals share
common ethnic roots. I think that the fact that that's happened:
the fact that these individuals have been successful and are moving
ahead as members of society, speaks well for the system. I've been
somewhat critical of the system, as I've made my comments here this
evening. We should be criticized but, at the same time, I think
the system has allowed all of us to be successful, to come up from
our roots, pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, and to do the things
that we thought were important in our society and in our community,
and at the same time celebrate our ethnic background.
Obviously, our forefathers who sent
out the message that North Dakota was a great place to live exaggerated
a bit. There was no gold behind every weed in North Dakota and there
weren't any paths that led to fortune and fame, as these individuals
may have been led to expect, but, nevertheless, I believe that we
have provided a very hospitable and human environment for people
to develop and grow and mature. If we contrast that with your relatives
and friends who are still back in the Soviet Union, you would see
how lucky and fortunate that we have been able to grow up, be a
part of the United States, to help develop this great nation. The
United States is a very young country .All of us had a very significant
role in bringing this country to the point where it is today. We
do need to feel good about that.
Personally, I'm a strong believer
in the value of education. My colleague here was putting down professors
come this evening. But we must recognize that education is fundamental
to the success of our society, to the success of a democracy, and
to the continuation of freedom, and all of us need to recognize
that, without education, without an educated voter, we're going
to have a hard time surviving as a democracy. That education is
fundamental to the survival of a democracy has been known from the
very beginning. Thomas Jefferson indicated early on in our history
as a nation that without an educated voter we would not be able
to maintain the freedom that we enjoy in the United States today.
It remains to be seen whether the Soviet Union and the Eastern European
countries are going to be able to develop as a democracy, if they
are going to be able to develop the freedom that we enjoy in the
United States. It remains to be seen whether or not they will be
dedicated to education and to learning and to becoming an educated
voter so that they, too, can enjoy the freedoms that we have in
the United States, because without that dedication to education
on the part of individuals and without a determination on the part
of society to provide public education for all people, their freedoms
will not last.
We enjoy those freedoms in the United
States, and I hope and believe that solid educational programs will
insure our freedoms and maintain our democracy in the future.
I certainly hope that as we move into
our second century as a state and as a university, and as you move
through your years as a Society, that we maintain a close relationship
between North Dakota State University and the Germans from Russia.
That relationship is important. It is important that we retain it
for the good of all. The good of our nation. The good of our state.
And for the good of each of us as individuals.
With that, I would like to close and
wish you the very best as you continue with your convention here
in Fargo. I hope that you enjoy it and I really and sincerely hope
that you'll come back often to our community for visits.
Thank you very much.