An architect's sketch of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society's new cultural center, named the "August & Kathyn Schauer Haas Building." The building is set for completion by mid-December.

Building a History

Aman, Terry J. "Building a History." Minot Daily News, 25 July 2000, B & B5.

Bismarck - After a while, it's time to tell your own story.

Frustrated by skewed portrayals in the media and history books, descendants of Germans from Russia started organizing in 1971 to establish a center to collect their own stories, their own genealogies and family histories. Their own heritage.

Three decades later, The Germans From Russia Heritage Society has well outgrown the office condominium it's been using and has decided to build a new heritage center.

Board member Edna Boardman, of Minot, talked about the decision and their search for a new home, which last weekend culminated with a ground breaking ceremony.

"For three or four years, we looked at buildings that were already established, but there were (problems) like asbestos," she said. "And one old Christian Science church that we looked at was just very attractive, but we realized after a while that it had so many windows on both sides it would probably be damaging to the paper.

"And then there was an office building with an awful lot of cubicles that we could have made work, but the walls and the partitions were absolutely unmovable, and we would have had to tailor what we were doing to fit that rather than the other way."

Ultimately, she said, the society purchased land to build their own - historically appropriate - building, which according to Ted Becker of Williston will be called the August & Kathryn Schauer Haas Building. Becker serves as chairman of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society building committee.

The building is just off Divide on Turnpike Avenue in Bismarck. With more than 700 people in attendance during the Germans from Russia convention July 13-16 - the largest attendance in a 30-year history - there was a lot of enthusiasm for the building.

Once the finances were worked out, that is.

Becker said the project, including land acquisition, will cost an estimated $718,000 to build, with an anticipated completion date of mid-December.

They've been helped. The project has a major donor, he said - Roger and Roberta Haas of Portland, Ore. The building will be named for Roger's parents. Their critical support, along with other private donations, has made this project possible.

The design itself reflects much of the Germans from Russian heritage. The gables face the roadway, as they did in the villages built by the settlers, while the entryway is recessed. In the villages, the entryway faced each other, and that is the design pursued in this structure.

In the courtyard stands a cross and a plow. This was also deliberate, she said. As Becker pointed out, "The plow and the cross - that's what we're about."

The interior is spacious, and the main part will be a library with family histories, genealogies, personal reminiscences, scholarly research and so forth. For the most part, she said, the interior will much more closely resemble a library than a museum.

"They (the Germans from Russia) didn't bring a whole lot over with them, and we're elected not to have a museum, because that would mean the design of the building and the staffing would have to be really different," she said. "We're more interested in books and documents and right now, our place is crowded with computers. There's a lot of genealogy, and if the Germans from Russia have family histories, we encourage them to send a copy or two down there."

The expanded space will be a welcome change. "What we've had is two ... office condo units in a building that had a number of other offices." she said, and space has gotten short.

As for organizing the materials, she said, they're going to be disorganized for a while. "Work like this, nobody actually heads it up," she said. "Everybody does their own thing and gathers their own information and contributes it to the pot, and then someone tries to make sense of it. But how else would it work?"

The center is essentially there for the future, she said, for people who want to explore their family history generations down the road, part of the reason they want Germans from Russia families to submit copies of their histories. For people who want to seek out this information down the road, she said, "If their family hasn't parked a copy of their genealogy there, they won't be able to find it."

She added that they have received specific requests to keep some information off the Internet and they have been careful to honor those requests. Others have worked to help an extraordinary resource online at (

"This was our little goal," said Boardman. "To honor the past, to celebrate the present, to prepare and dream of the future."

Reprinted with permission of Minot Daily News.

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