Keller Details 1927-41 Rosenthal Parish Life in my First World

Burke, Allan. "Keller Details 1927-41 Rosenthal Parish Life in my First World." Emmons County Record, 12 September 1995, 11 & 12.

Dr. Edward Keller, a Dickinson dentist and Emmons County native, has written a book about his experiences growing up in the Rosenthal community between Strasburg and Linton.

The 76-page book, "My first World," chronicles the first 14 years of Dr. Keller's life and life in the community, from 1927-1941, and focuses on the 28 families who lived in the seven-square mile area west and south of Sacred Heart Church, the Rosenthal Parish. The book is dedicated to the descendants of those families.

Although he has not lived in Emmons County since 1941, Keller said, "I have never lost my love for the area and the people. I learned so much that I have always used and still use today in my life."

He explained, "I love the 'My First World' area and often visit it. I love to walk on the land and drive through it. I can feel the spirits of my forefathers whose bones rest there. I especially love my farm home land. I remember every hill and valley, the large unmovable rocks, the gopher and badger hole areas, the cactus patches, pot holes, chokecherry and Juneberry groves and the rock piles I played on at my farm."

Keller said he wrote "My First World" after a family history he prepared for his relatives was well received. "I decided to do a little bit about each of the 28 families I grew up with," he said.


Keller is the son of the late Frank and Helen (Schneider) Keller, and he grew up on the farm now occupied by his brother and sister-in-law, Debert and Alice (Welk) Keller. He had three sisters--Wilma, Mary and Eleanor--and three brothers--Frank, Debert and Willie.

His grandfather, Debertius Schneider, and his uncle, Louis Schneider, were blacksmiths at Hague and forged many of the now famous iron crosses found in German-Russian cemeteries in the area. The Schneiders are noted in the N.D. Council on Arts book, "Iron Spirits," which is about the handmade markers.

Keller attended Wells School No. 18 near the Wendelin Klein farm for eight years and spent one year at Linton High School. He was encouraged by Father Charles Meyer, who served the Rosenthal Parish, to attend a Catholic school at the seminary in Canton, Ohio.

Keller remembers that his father could not read or write. "While he served in the U.S. Army in World War I, his buddies read him letters from my mother and wrote letters for him to her. A more humbling experience I could not imagine," he said. "I listened to my mother read the Emmons County Record and a German newspaper, The Dickinson Herald, to my father many times. At a restaurant, a menu meant little to him. I remember him telling the waitress that he wanted meat and potatoes. I read road signs for him along the highway. This left an indelible impression on me. School became important to me at a very early age. All of the people of 'My First World' held education in the highest esteem but had little means to accomplish the task." He said he was fortunate to have the priest take an interest in his education.

He recalled, "I moved nine hundred miles (to Ohio) and as many cultures away from 'My First World'."

After high school, he served in the U.S. Army from 1946-49 as a dental technician. He studied pre-dental at St. Thomas College in St. Paul from 1949-51 and studied dentistry at Marquette Dental School in Milwaukee, Wis., where he met his future wife, Shirley.

"One of my teachers at the seminary encouraged me to study dentistry, and that encouragement combined with my work in the Army charted my career," Dr. Keller explained.

Like his parents, the Kellers have seven children. Edward, a graduate of St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minn., lives with wife Cathy and son Loren in St. Paul. Ann Marie, a graduate of Moorhead State University, lives in Mandan with her husband, Tim Simmons and their two children, Nadeen and Weston. John, a graduate of St. Thomas College and the University of Minnesota, resides with his wife Laurie and children Megan, Ben and Brian in Anoka, Minn. Mary, a graduate of Moorhead State University, lives with her husband Joe Torgerson and their children Susan, Beth and Christina in Philomath, Ore. Tom, a graduate of St. Thomas College, resides with his wife Renee and son Austin in Plymouth, Minn. Joe, a graduate of St. Thomas College, lives with his wife Dawn and children Gabriella and Georgia in Plymouth, Minn. Paul, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, lives in San Jose, Calif.

Dr. Keller has been involved in the practice of dentistry for 40 years and practices by himself in Dickinson. Shirley is a Registered Nurse in Home Health Care.

The families

Of the 28 farms in "My First World" only one changed hands during Keller's years there. The farm nearest the Kellers' was once owned by his grandfather, Mike Keller. The families who lived on the farm during the 1930s were Peter and Magdalena Keller (Dr. Keller's uncle) and their five children, Mike and Mary Ann Vetter and their eight children and Frank and Mary Ann Jahner and their seven children.

Just south of the Keller farm was the Peter and Agnes Kraft place. "I saw this farm develop and then disappear. One day a house appeared, then a barn along with some horses and cows and there was a farm," Keller remembered. "At my age then, I just thought that farms always were. I had never given a thought to how they were formed or discontinued."

The Krafts and their two children moved after about five years, and the house and barn were moved away.

Joe Klein and his dog are pictured at the Wells School in 1939 or 1940.

Teachers at the Wells school boarded at nearby farms. Keller's first teacher, Miss Wells, stayed at the Wendelin and Bridget Klein farm with the Kleins, and their five children. Two other teachers, Rosina and Mary Eva Vetter, boarded with their brother's family, Frank and Jenny Vetter, who had eight children.

Keller said Wendelin stands out among the farmers in "My First World" because he was "bookish."

"He was known to read a book while driving a team of horses during field work," Keller said.

Another farmyard Keller passed through on his way to school was that of Frank and Rosina Hagel, who had four children.

"The Hagels kept an eye out for me on stormy school days," Keller said. "One stormy morning the road, on the steep hill after the bridge crossing, just past their house, was plugged with four feet of snow. 'Dave,' my horse, was in to his shoulders with snow and the two-wheeled trailer was high-centered. Tony and John Hagel shoveled snow and begged, coaxed and cheered Dave until finally we got to the top and on to school."

He said Frank went barefoot in the summer and would stand on a piece of sheep fur on the iron header platform during harvest.

John married Keller's sister, Wilma, and they raised nine children on the Hagel farm.

Just north of the school was the John Horner farm where John and Barbara Horner raised 11 children. Keller said the granary on the farm (the farm is now owned by John's grandson, John) was the site of church fairs and was like a neighborhood hall. Bill Langer, the fiery North Dakota governor and U.S. Representative, spoke there a number of times.

West of the "Red Bridge" northwest of the Rosenthal church was the George and Philipena Bosch farm. He was one of five Bosch brothers who settled along Beaver Creek. He was one five Bosch brothers who settled along Beaver Creek. Keller said the Bosch brothers spoke with a different German dialect and were nicknamed "Crimmers" because they were from the Crimean area of Russia. Others in the area were from Odessa, Russia, and were called "Odessers," he said.

West on Beaver Creek was the Anton and Catherina Kelsch farm. They had 10 children. Next came the John and Catherine Schiele farm, where they raised five children.

Next was the Anton and Christine Bosch farm, home to eight children. West of Anton's was the Fred and Magdelina Bosch place where they raised seven children.

Andrew and Elizabeth Bosch and their nine children lived the farthest west of all the Rosenthal parishioners. The fifth Bosch brother was Ignatz. He and his wife, Margaret, and their 10 children lived on Highway 13 just below a large hill. People referred to him as "Ignatz on the Hill," Keller remembered.

Joe and Katie Hager and their six children lived on the Petrie farm west of Andrew Bosch, and the farm stretched to Seeman Park in Linton.

Southeast of the Keller farm was the John and Frances Lauinger place where they raised 10 children.

The next farm south was the John and Magdalina Schwab farm, which was home to 10 children. "John was the most accomplished accordion player around, and he had many students who would stay at his home while he instructed them," Keller said. "Lawrence Welk was an accordion buddy of John Schwab's, and they enjoyed many a 'jam session' together."

Keller said Schwab could play his accordion so loud that his music at the Blue Room could be heard "the minute you cross the tracks into Strasburg."

Northeast of the John Schwabs was the Igidi and Agatha Schwab farm, home to 12 children.

Buddy and Barbara Feist and their seven daughters lived near the Schwab corner. Nearby was the Peter and Julie Kraft farm, home to 13 children.

West of the Keller farm was the Adam and Magdalina Wolf farm where they raised 11 children. Joe and Albert Wolf were gopher catching buddies of Keller's.

"Adam sent many of his children to the Catholic school in Strasburg because of his unusual interest in a good education," Keller remembered. "Adam once said that when he was younger he thought you could never get to heaven unless you were a Democrat and a Catholic. But as he got older he found that this was not true. You didn't have to be Catholic. He also said that in all of the Bible readings he never read that Jesus rode into town on an elephant." Albert is now a prominent Bismarck attorney and active in politics.

West of the Wolf place was the Steve and Eva Lipp farm, where they had six children. The road to Highway 83 went past the Lipp farm, and the road was a two-track trail in Keller's time.

Next was the Peter and Catherine Lipp farm, home to eight children.

South near the Strasburg road was the Wendelin and Barbara Wikenheiser farm, home to seven children.

Next was the Jack and Elizabeth Bauman farm, home to six children. Jack was the son of Sebastian Bauman, one of the five original German-Russian "scouts" who visited the area before people began to come from Russia to Emmons County.

The final farm south belonged to Carl and Catherine Keller, and they raised 16 children in their large, two-story house.

Much more

"My First World" contains much information about life in the 1920s and 30s, the Great Depression, rural schools, Germans from Russia history and Emmons County history.

Keller said he enjoyed writing the book. "In knowing the history of my ancestors, I can understand myself better in the present and am more able to ponder the future," he said.

He said he has a "bug to write" and would like to do a book about his years in dentistry. He enrolled in a journalism course at Dickinson State University and would like to get into writing short biographies for people.

"I get a high when I write, and write like I am writing to somebody," Keller said. "When I wrote my family's history, I did it like I was writing to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

"My First World" is available for $17.50, which includes postage and handling.

Helen and Frank Keller are pictured with three of their children. Left to right are Edward, Willie and Mary.
Standing in the wagon of the Kelller "school bus" is Edward Keller. With him are Joe Klein, left, and Edward's brother, Willie.
The Keller farm is pictured in 1940.
A large red barn was built on the Keller farm before Dr. Keller left in 1941.
Dr. Edward Keller, left, visits with his brother and sister-in-law, Debert and Alice Keller, in the kitchen of their home on the Keller family farm. The original house is gone, and Debert and Alice built a new home in the 1960s.
Dr. Keller on the sidewalk that leads to the foundation of Sacred Heart Church. The cemetery is visible behind and to the right of the ruins.
This picture shows the splendor of Sacred Heart Church.
Life in the Rosenthal community was centered in the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. It was torn down in 1965.
Dr. Edward and Shirley Keller.
Dr. Keller and his brother, Debert, look at the map of the Rosenthal community that is included in "My First World." The book also includes a map of German communities in Russia and a map of Germany.
These markers are some of the oldest in Sacred Heart Cemetery. Dr. Keller's maternal grandfather and uncle, Debertius and Louis Schneider, were blacksmiths at Hague and made many of the iron crosses in area German-Russian cemeteries.
The children of Dr. Edward and Shirlehy Keller include, seated, left to right, Mary and Ann Marie; standing, Ed, Paul, John, Tom and Joe.

Reprinted by permission of the Emmons County Record

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