Germans From Russia to Meet in Pierre, S.D.

Society Aims to Close Generation gap With Kuchen and Polkas

Tobin, Paulette. "Germans From Russia to Meet in Pierre, S.D." Grand Forks Herald, 17 July 2001.

The Germans from Russia will bake kuchen and dance polkas when they gather for their annual convention Thursday through Sunday in Pierre, S.D. But behind the fun, the group is committed to bringing a new generation into the circle of Germans interested in preserving their family histories and ethnic heritage, society members say.

Part of the convention at the Ramkota RiverCentre will be workshops about getting new members. The Germans from Russia Heritage Society, headquartered in Bismarck, has about 2,400 members in chapters throughout North Dakota and South Dakota, and in Minnesota, Washington, California and Canada.

Next generation
“It is the next generation we are trying to interest in genealogy and in this whole effort of maintaining our heritage,” said Karen Weber of Pierre, president of Die Deutsche clieder, the Pierre chapter of GRHS, and assistant convention chair.

The groups’s members are descendents of Germans who moved to the steppes of Russia about 200 years ago at the invitation of Czarina Catherine the Great and, later, her grandson. They were promised free land and other privileges. But by the late 1800s, Russia’s rulers had forgotten those promises, and many of the Germans from Russia immigrated to the Americas.

More residents of North Dakota and South Dakota can trace their heritage to the Germans from Russia than perhaps any other ethnic group, said Rachel Schmidt, office manager of GRHS headquarters in Bismarck.

One of the things the society does for its annual convention is to transport nearly its entire library and book store to the convention site, so people can research their family roots and heritage, Schmidt said.

This year’s convention also will have classes in how to make kuchen, a traditional German coffee cake and the official state dessert of South Dakota. Weber said more than 200 rhubarb, prune, peach and apple kuchens were baked for the convention’s highly anticipated kuchen breaks.

In addition, speakers will share history, information on how to do research and information about German villages in Russia. There will be story-telling and music and a workshop for conventiongoers to show and tell about their family antiques and heirlooms.

Walter Rehling of Hebron, N.D., is president of the society, and Del Paulson of Pierre is convention chair. About 500 people are expected to attend. GRHS director Ted Becker of Williston said conventiongoers will have a wide variety of interests and reasons for attending.

Varied reasons
“Some come for the socialization only, for visiting, and to see old friends,” Becker said. “Others come as neophytes to genealogy in general and to knowledge of their German-Russia ancestry in particular.” For others, it’s a chance to use the society’s library.

Becker said it was vital to reach out to a new generation of Germans from Russia descendants to keep the society going.

“The bulk of the members of the society right now are second- and third-generation removed from the immigrants (to the Americas),” he said. “(The older generations) to a great degree carry some very vivid memories of these immigrants. But our children don’t. They can’t related very well.

In North Dakota, GRHS chapters are Beulah area, Bismarck-Mandan, Dickinson, Emmon/Kidder counties area, Fargo area, Grand Forks, Hebron area, Jamestown, McIntosh/Logan counties area, New Leipzig area and Rugby. South Dakota chapters are Aberdeen, Jave/Eureka area, Menno area, Rapid City area and Sioux Falls area. Other chapters are the Puget Sound (Wash.) area; Sacramento, Calif., area; Minneapolis area; and Alberta, Canada.

For more about the convention, visit the Web site at

Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.

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