|Mike Schlecht, far left, sits with his wife, Martha, far right, and their four children. From left are Norman, Eugene (back), Darrel, and Della Mae.|
Damien, John. "Pioneer Life Tough, Rewarding: Mike Schlecht Immigrated From Russia When he was 5." Jamestown Sun, n.d. sec. 3D.
Like seeds tossed across rich prairie farmland, Mike Schlecht, Jamestown, has hundreds of stories and memories scattered throughout 87 years of his life in North Dakota.
Mike immigrated from Russia to the United States with his parents when he was 5. He spoke only German, as did his parents, Johann and Marie.
The Schlechts settled in rural Fredonia. Johann took up farming next to land already cultivated by his brothers, who had immigrated earlier. Mike took up English lessons, and soon learned enough to do well at school.
The family's life on the American prairie was typical of many European immigrants at the turn of the century: tough, but personally rewarding, Mike said.
"We didn't have anything when we came over," he said. "My dad's brothers and my grandfather were already farming here, and they helped us get going."
"At first my dad threw seeds out by hand. He slung a sack around his neck and scattered the seeds around, just like you would feed chickens. And it would grow. Later, we got a drill and seeded with a team of four horses."
The homestead had no electricity, no telephone. School books were read by kerosene lanterns. Family members slept in a sod house with enough room for the parents and children, two horses, two cows and an assortment of chickens. Livestock was separated from the family by a partition.
"The animals didn't bother us because the old sod houses had thick walls made from chunks of earth," he said. "It was plastered on the outside with a mixture of clay and manure. It was a comfortable home. You didn't know anything else. You didn't mind it."
"My job was to get the water, coal and fire wood. I'd pick up cow chips for heating and the cooking fire. During the winters we dried the manure into large cakes for the fire, but there was no bad smell when they burned."
Mike eventually finished school, worked longer hours with his family on the farmstead, and then married. He and his wife, Martha, still had such strong ties to the rolling grasslands of the area that they settled on a farmstead only two miles from Mike's dad. The couple farmed until 1950.
"By then my boys were gone," Make said. "I quit farming and put it up for sale. I worked at a service station in Medina, and then we moved to Jamestown."
"I started working at the State Hospital," he said. "I helped the nurses by giving out some medications, putting the patients in bed and then getting them up in the morning. For the first two years that was a 12-hour-a-day job. I worked there for 18 years, and then retired at age 65."
Nearly three years ago Martha moved into a Jamestown skilled nursing home. Mike followed a year later.
He's now lived nearly nine decades in North Dakota, facing severe weather, hard economic times and the rigors of a long life in demanding occupations.
"With my age, I get out once in a while," Mike said. "I have difficulty walking now, so it would be hard for me to get a job again. I walk with a walker and get around in a wheelchair. You get used to it."
"We've had some tough winters here in North Dakota," he added with a grin. "Lots of snow. Blizzards for three days. All I can say is, take one step at a time and take what comes."
"And when I finally leave North Dakota, I'll go to heaven," he said. "I wouldn't live anyplace else."
Reprinted with permission of The Jamestown Sun.