Fr. Eckroth gets a glimpse of what life may have been like for his father's family.

Crosby, Kiara. "Fr. Eckroth gets a glimpse of what life may have been like for his father's family." Burke County Tribune, 29 June 2011, 1.

Charles Eckroth and Fr. Leonard Eckroth at outskirts of Karlsruhe, Ukraine from where their dad's family came to North Dakota in 1891.

A curious brother and a lineage to follow led Rev. Leonard Eckroth of Bowbells to embark on a trip of a lifetime. 

Touring with approximately 31 people from all across the United States under the leadership of Michael M. Miller, director and bibliographer of the Germans From Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries, Father Eckroth learned much about his family roots. This 17th Journey of the Homeland Tour brought him throughout the Ukraine and Germany. 

As Father Eckroth served the community of Strasburg for many years, he grew to be a part of the Germans From Russia chapter in Bismarck, and befriended many who had a heritage similar to his own. When his brother, Charles of St.Cloud, MN asked him if he was interested in going on the trip, it was sudden decision to go, and off they went.

Arriving in Frankfurt, Germany and Odessa, Ukraine, the group toured the ruins of churches in Mannheim, Strasburg, Selz and Kandel. 

Over lunch at a friendly Mrs. Resling’s home, Father says he experienced a glimpse of what life may have been like for his father’s family, long ago. 

“When she was a child, this woman’s home was confiscated during WWII.  Many years later she was later able to reclaim the home, and lives there still today,” said Eckroth. 
Over a grain borsch soup the guests observed the thick walls of the home, similar to the early settlers’ sod homes found in the Dakotas. 

Complete with a simple well, root cellar and large garden beds, the view of the Ukrainian villages was in some way a bit startling. 

While modern technology does exist in much of the country, some farming techniques and practices were indeed still quite primitive. 

Sharing a group pasture, the milk cows were greeted by the women, who arrived on bicycle with a bucket and proceeded to find their cow for the daily milking. (Interestingly, that practice continued in many of the North Dakota settlements of Germans from Russia). 

In other places it was observed that some farms still cut hay with a sickle and rake it together to then be piled on a wagon driven by a single horse to storage. 

“Seeing all of that made me thankful my dad’s folks chose to leave; in the US we had a much better standard of living,” grinned Eckroth

Attending a Lutheran church, Father was surprised to find the preacher was a former minister from Jamestown, ND. 

Participating in Catholic Mass at St. Peter’s Church, a Polish priest who served the church, invited Father Eckroth to offer Mass in English. Though tired from already leading three Masses earlier that day, he was more than happy to assist his new friend who served five area churches. 

Fr. Eckroth noted, “There are not so many Roman Catholic churches over there, but a few Russian Orthodox Catholic.” 

As foreign priests are often serving the congregations, it is obvious those choosing to enter the priesthood is few. 

While much of the trip included things of the past, Fr. Eckroth was inspired by the full-circle event of his family returning to the area where his ancestor’s trod. 

His grand nephew, Ryan Jeffries who was living in Portland, OR, was making the transition to Stuttgart at the time of his visit. The next three years Jeffries’ job with Dainler Benz has him employed right near the very places the ancestors fled. His wife and two daughters are also joining him and now everyone is learning to speak German to prepare for their new adventure. 

Another aspect of the tour included finding and viewing landmarks of people’s individual families.  While the cemetery in Karlsruhe where Father Eckroth’s ancestors had been laid to rest was in neglect (tombstones missing which were used for buildings, overgrown bushes and crosses removed) others in the group were more fortunate.  A Canadian woman on the tour actually saw the home of her family from long ago. 

Enjoying entertainment along the way, highlights included dinner entertainment at Landau Orphanage, two museums, and dinner with the German Singers at Stuttgart.  These singers just happened to be familiar to Fr. Eckroth.  The group had been to Napoleon, Strasburg, Richardton and Bismarck before. 

The last few days of trip were spent touring some of the villages from which the group’s ancestors originally came before their move to the Ukraine, in about in the 1800’s.  These German people were once invited by Tsarina Catherine and later by her son, to live a better life in Russia, with the privilege of land, no taxes and no army draft.  Enchanted by the promise many people went. Gradually, as these favors were withdrawn many of the Germans from Russia chose to come to America and Argentina. 

Father said, “It was an interesting tour, there is so much to see and learn,” adding, “Going back really reminded me, to appreciate the simple things in life.”

Reprinted with permission of the Burke County Tribune.

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