In Touch with Prairie Living

January 2014

By Michael M. Miller
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo

For a long weekend in February, I will travel to Austin, TX., with Bob Dambach, director of television, Prairie Public Broadcasting, to meet with Dr. Lewis Marquardt, and Dr. Dona Reeves-Marquardt who are consultants for the South American Germans from Russia documentary project. We will continue work to identify subject lines and persons we interviewed in Argentina and Brazil to include. Interviews were done in English, German and Spanish languages. Much work will be involved in translating German and Spanish interviews to English. Traveling from Northwestern Oklahoma University at Alva, Dr. Eric Schmaltz will join us. Schmaltz is the researcher and scriptwriter for the one-hour documentary. The world premiere of the documentary will be July 15, 2015, at the Heritage Center in Bismarck, airing later on Prairie Public Television and other PBS stations.

Also, I am pleased to announce the donation of the Curt Renz Collection. Curt shared, “I saw the need for a reliable place to deposit my collection and the GRHC was the most logical place. I’ve known Michael Miller for perhaps 30 years and was familiar with his work and position at the NDSU Library.” Curt’s extensive research on the former German colonies is reflected in this collection, donated in 2012 and 2013.

The Curt Renz Collection is quite extensive, consisting of correspondence, newspaper translations, photographs, organizational materials, books, research, and newsletters. Most of the materials are contained in binders which contain considerable information on old German colonies, including births, letters, deaths, marriages, immigration, and obituaries. The colonies that were comprehensively researched include: Alt Danzig (Kirowograd) and Neu Danzig (Nikolayev), Gueldendorf (Odessa) and Hoffnungstal, Bessarabia.

The donation includes a leather-bound book of German language sermons and lessons brought from Germany to Russia, dating to 1733. Curt Renz wrote, “The book of sermons and lessons was brought to Russia in 1817 by Johann Georg Wenzel and used on the Karlstal estate located near Odessa by the laity on Sunday or other religious holidays when there was no pastor available. When the Karlstal estate was disbanded in 1841, the 25 families resettled in other villages, the majority were resettled at Hoffnungstal, Bessarabia. Michael Peter Wenzel brought the book with him when he and his family emigrated to the Dakota Territory in 1886. The book of sermons is bound in leather with two leather and brass clasps and brass inlays on the cover.”

Family relatives of Curt Renz include Johann Georg Wenzel born in 1780, Neulatern(Weinsburg), Wuerttemberg, who died in 1859, Hoffnungstal, Bessarabia.The Wenzel family immigrated to Russia from Germany in 1817. Michael Peter Wenzel was born in 1848 in Hoffnungstal, Bessarabia. He died in 1923 in Eureka, S.D. The Wenzel family immigrated to the USA from Russia in 1886.

Renz, a native of Ames, IA., was born and raised in Herreid, S.D.. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree from Westmar College, LeMars, IA., and a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Northern Colorado. Curt has spent many years researching the Germans from Russia and has become a recognized and esteemed researcher and scholar. A collection finding aid is available online through the NDSU Institutional Respoisory. To view the finding aid, click here.

We are deeply grateful for the vision of longtime colleague Curt Renz for his donation of his lifelong research materials.

Limited space is still available for the 20th Anniversary Journey to the Homeland Tour for May 15-25. Please contact me if you need additional information.

For additional information about the Friends of the GRHC, the 20th Anniversary Journey to the Homeland Tour to Odessa, Ukraine and Stuttgart, Germany (May 15-25, 2014), and donations to the GRHC (such as special collections, family histories and photographs), contact Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 6050, Dept 2080, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 (Tel: 701-231-8416); Email:; the GRHC website:

January column for North Dakota and South Dakota weekly newspapers.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller