The Translator

Retired Woman Turns German Text into English at NDSU Library

Lind, Bob. "The Translator." Forum, 27 June 2004, sec. 10B.

Lena Paris holds a chart of old German Script, which she translates into English and enters into the computer at the North Dakota State University Library

Lena Paris' "office" is a small room filled with file cabinets and computers in the Germans From Russia section of the North Dakota State University libraries.

"I call it the storage room," Lena says. "I probably shouldn't, but I do." Here is where Lena spends a good chunk of what should be her retirement years, entering items into the computer.

Anything related to the Germans-From-Russia heritage and culture books, newspaper clippings, pamphlets goes in.

"I used to do other things, but now Michael has me doing this," Lena says.

That's Michael Miller, the head guy/bibliographer for the Germans From Russia Heritage Collection.

Several people work with him. One of them is Lena.

On this particular day, she's entering a 17-page German script book into the computer in English.

"I translate it as I go," she says. "It's a challenge."

One-room school

Lena has German blood. Her mother came from Germany to Emery, S.D., east of Mitchell, when she was 3.

Lena was born and raised on a farm at McClusky, N.D., where she attended a rural one-room grade school.

She's reluctant to give her age, but she will say that she graduated from McClusky High School in 1938.

She went to Minot (N.D.) State University, when it was a teachers' college, for two years. "That doesn't seem like much now, but it was a long time back then," she says.

Then she taught, first in a rural school at Mohall, N.D., then at Loraine, north of Mohall.

She came to Fargo in 1950 and, she says, "I'm still here."

Lena worked for the Foss architectural firm in Fargo for about 20 years, then retired. Then she un-retired, joining the Germans From Russia staff in 1992 on a part-time basis, first as part of the AARP Senior Employment Program, then under private funding for the heritage collection.

Oral histories

One of her big jobs was transcribing oral history interviews from cassette tapes.

"Her work is most valuable," Michael says, "since she has a background in the German language and knows the dialect when listening to these tapes. The tapes are in the English language but the interviewee uses some German words."

Michael says Lena probably is among the oldest people ever to be employed at NDSU and maybe by all state institutions. But she has mastered skills which come in handy in her work.

Shorthand, for instance. She learned it years ago and finds it's a great tool in her current duties.

And the computer? You'd think this would be the domain of much younger people. But that's not necessarily so. To Lena, it's a piece of kuchen. "I like it," she says.

Lena works four hours a day four days a week. Her fellow employees give her rides in the winter, but she drives herself from her Fargo home in the summer.

She fell and broke her hip some time ago, but you'd never know it now. She just doesn't seem to have slowed down.

Why do you do it, Lena? Why do you come over to the library several days every week when you could be spending your retirement years relaxing in the comfort of your home where you aren't squeezed in among some filing cabinets?

"Oh, I like to get out, to be with people," she says. "I always have. Besides, I've made good friends here."

Or maybe she developed a family.

"She's fun to visit with, to have around," Kristi Brink, an archives assistant, says. "She's like a grandma to us."

But don't bother Lena right now. She's got this difficult German script book to translate and punch into the computer.

Her fingers work their way over the keyboard and the German book works its way across the computer screen. And, thanks to this hard-working dedicated "grandma," it's in English.

Reprinted with permission of The Forum.

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