Letter to the Editor

Miller, Michael M. "Letter to the Editor." 24 September 1996.

In June, 1996, North Dakotans and others with German-Russian roots from throughout the USA arrived in Odessa, Ukraine, to visit the land of their ancestors. When the Americans arrived in Odessa, they had suitcases filled with desperately needed school supplies as part of the project, "Caring Hearts and Sharing Gifts for Ukrainian School Children".

Donations of school supplies were collected by tour group members and from school children and families throughout North Dakota, United States and Canada. Tour members brought the school supplies to the children in the villages, where their ancestors lived before immigrating to the Northern Plains. Bringing the much needed school supplies from the children and teachers of North Dakota schools, along with our German-Russian community throughout America, was truly one of the highlights of the Journey to the Homeland Tours.

My thanks to the school children and teachers throughout North Dakota who donated notebooks, pencils, crayons, pens, and many other items for the school children in southern Ukraine.

Thank you Prairie Public Television and Prairie Public Radio for your efforts to inform your viewers and listeners. Many boxes arrived at the studios in Bismarck and Fargo for shipment to Odessa.

My gratitude is extended to individuals and organizations who donated school supplies and made financial contributions. The dollars are being used to purchase needy items and for shipping costs.

I would like to share with you comments from some of the tour group members:

Judith Doll, a native of New Salem, ND, who teaches at Washington Elementary School in Fargo where many boxes of school supplies were gathered, comments about her visit to Ukraine: "To walk the ground and see the landscape with old churches and schools, where my father and mother were born and where all four of my grandparents married and started their families is the highlight of my trip. We brought many bags of school supplies from the children of North Dakota to the children of these villages. This goodwill gesture lets the people know we still do care about the homeland of our ancestors.

Lewis R. Marquardt, a tour member and a native of Linton, ND, who teaches at Southwest Texas State University writes, "As tables and benches overflowing with wide-eyed children lined the hot, sultry school room, eleven descendants of the Kutschurgan villages entered with boxes and bags of school supplies. The children listened attentively to the translator carefully explaining who we were and why we had come to their village. They smiled and clutched the small gifts as we distributed the paper, pencils, markers and other small treasures, trying them out right away."

"`From America?,' One tiny boy asked in perfect English. They needed so much more than we brought or ever could bring: new pictures for the walls, blackboards and chalk, enough tables and benches for all of them to sit comfortably. This list would go on a long way before we came to availability of computers. But the children were eager to learn, and asked us many questions: about ourselves, our families, how children in America lived and studied, and why we had not brought any children along. They wanted to play and speak with American children too. They had picked sweet cherries and strawberries for us, and had baked us a cake. One mother asked me, `Would you take a picture of me and my child and send a photo to me?' Mothers know magic moments. It will be special for the family when they receive the color photo from America."

Bettsy Madison Williams of Missoula, MT, comments: "The landscape of gently rolling wheat and sunflower fields reminded us of North Dakota. While Bob Dambach of Prairie Public Television filmed the noon milking near Kathariental, Tom Martin, a native of Harvey, ND, took advantage of an offer to learn the fine art of hand-milking. We are grateful to have had this opportunity to stand in the family home of our ancestors. Journey to the Homeland was a fabulous experience. We were especially touched bringing the donated school supplies from American children to the youngsters in the former German villages of our forefathers."

Margaret Aman Freeman, retired teacher from Redondo Beach, CA, with relatives in Ashley and Lehr, ND, summarizes her visit to Ukraine: "People in the villages were generous and invited us into their homes, offering to prepare food for us, which they often did. Chickens, ducks, and geese roamed freely. The ducks and geese seemed particularly pleased that there had been a rain. Horse drawn carts were hauling feed for the animals. It would be wonderful if more of our friends and families with roots to these villages would have the opportunity to drive through and visit this country which is much like our Dakota prairies. It was especially touching for us to know that we left educational materials so that the children could use the pencils, paper and pens when school begins in the fall."

The 1996 winter edition of North Dakota Horizons, available in December, will feature a special article prepared by Ron Vossler, a native of Wishek, ND, who teaches writing at UND, about his journey to visit Ukraine in June.

When we return to Odessa with another tour in May, 1997, we will take with us additional school supplies. Valuable contacts were made in Odessa where boxes can be stored with a good system of delivery to needy schools and families. Schools, libraries, individuals, and families wishing to donate items or financial contributions should contact Michael M. Miller for a suggested list of needs. Inquiries and shipments can be sent to Ukrainian School Supply Project, Journey to the Homeland Tours, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599.

Persons interested in securing information about future tours should contact Journey to the Homeland Tours, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599 (Tel: 701-293-5564; E-mail: Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu). The upcoming tours are in May, 1997 and June, 1998. Family tours are available for interested persons.

With best wishes,

Michael M. Miller
Germans from Russia Bibliographer
North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo

Judith Doll, a native of New Salem, ND, living in Fargo, presents school supplies she collected as a teacher at Washington Elementary to a Ukrainian child.

Barbara Geiger Horn, a native of Mandan, living in Los Angeles, presents school supplies to a young child in the former German villages.

Esther Hausauer, a native of Jamestown, living in St. Louis Park, MN, gives pencils to children in the village where her grandparents were born.

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