Volks Have Double Celebration; 69th Anniversary and 92nd Birthday

"Volks Have Double Celebration; 69th Anniversary and 92nd Birthday." Pierce County Tribune, 10 February 1974.

Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Volk celebrated their 69th sedding anniversary on St. valentine's Day. At the year of their marriage, on Feb. 14, 1905. "no one had even heard of valentines," according to Mr. Volk. On Feb. 16, Mr. Volk celebrated his 92nd birthday.

Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Volk had a double celebrationlastweek. Feb. 14 was their 69th weddinganniversary; and Feb. 16 was Mr. Volk’s 92nd birthday.

The Volk’s, called “gramma” and “grandpa” by more than 50 grandchildren and more than 87 great-grandchildren, were married at the Fulda Catholic church on Feb. 14, 1905. There were no photographers present, and no one was celebrating St. Valentine’s Day. “I don’t think anyone had even heard about valentines then,” Mr. Volk said.

Volk and his wife, the former Regina Schneider, were both born and reared in German communities in southern Russia. Although their families were acquainted in the old country, “I didn’t give her a thought,” Volk said, referring to his wife, “until they moved to the U.S.” They didn’t “get together” until both families had come to the Towner-Berwick area.

Volk left Russia on Nov. 19, 1889 with his parents and brother, Lawrence. They traveled by train from Odessa to Hamburg, Germany where they boarded a freighter for the U.S. “It was a real big boat—there were about 500 people on it. Everyone had a separate bed, bunk-style, one on top of the other,” Volk recalled. He remembered that the trip across the ocean took about 11 days. “That was enough! Some ships took only five or six days,” the nonagenarian said.

The ship arrived in New York and the immigrants headed, by train, for North Dakota. Joseph Volk’s mother had two brothers who had homesteaded north of Harvey some time in the 1870s. The train ride involved two days’ time and the family had to change trains in one or two big cities. “How did you change trains if no one in the family spoke English?” Mr. Volk was asked. “Well we just looked for an open door on a train headed in the right direction and got in,” he quipped. “No,” he said, “not really. We could always find someone who spoke enough German to give us directions.”

Volk’s experiences in Russia, however, were an asset to him and his family. He had had 11 years of schooling and could speak, read, and write German, Russian, and Latin. His familiarity with Latin made the learning of English much easier since the same alphabet is used.

The land left behind by the Volks and many others was “nice, level country,” according to Volk. “There were about 15 villages in our area, each with about 400 families,” he added. Each German village in the Odessa area had its own dialect, but Volk’s understanding of the dialects was no problem. “If you can read the language, then you can understand it, no matter how it is spoken,” he explained. The family left the country because “There wasn’t enough land for everyone anymore,” Volk continued. “There wasn’t even enough land when my grandfather’s family moved from Germany to Russia in the early 1800s,” he added.

When the Volks came to the new world, they brought some Russian money with them. This was exchanged for American dollars in New York. “I didn’t have any money,” Joseph admitted, “but my father did, and he was supporting us at the time. You had to have some money to leave Russia,” he commented, “and there were many poor people in the German-Russian area who couldn’t leave because they couldn’t pay for the trip across the ocean.” Transportation to the U.S. cost about $75.00 per person for each adult.

After the long trip, the family arrived by train at Harvey. Joseph and Lawrence walked the 18 miles from Harvey to their uncle’s farm. Their parents spent the night in Harvey. The uncle, with his horses and wagon, went to the city the next day to bring them to his farm.

Although the family had arrived in mid-December, Joseph claimed that the weather wasn’t too cold for the 18 mile walk. “There was no snow at that time—in fact, there was hardly any at all that winter.

When the Volks were married, there weren't too many photographers around. This photo of them, with his mother, was taken in the late 1920's. His father had died in 1924.

.I think the first snow came in the spring, around March.”In spite of the fact that the big cities were celebrating the turn of the century, Volk did not recall that any of the small towns or the farmers had any special celebrations. So, the family spent the winter with their relatives on the farm north of Harvey.

In 1900, Volk worked for a farmer and was paid $35.00 a month. He worked for about a month and a half at that farm near Fessenden. “When the job ended, I walked all the way to my uncle’s. It took pretty near all night to walk to Harvey. I remember eating breakfast—a box of sardines and some crackers—before going north to my uncle’s farm.” Volk went on remembering that another family had just come from Russia. “They had a team and a wagon and were going to the Berwick area. The ladies rode in the wagon and we men walked behind, all the way to Berwick.”

John Volk and his son, Lawrence, filed for homesteads about six miles south of Berwick. Each was given 160 acres. Since Joseph was only 20 years old at the time, he had to wait another year before he could file. Lawrence was three years older than Joseph.

The family built a house of sod, with a thatched-type roof. “It was a very big house with two rooms and the barn, all under one roof. That’s how the homes were built in those days—everything under the same roof,” Volk recalled.

That sod house lasted about six years. “In the wintertime, all you could see was the chimney,” Joseph Volk said. “The snow sealed the house up. We burned horse manure for heat—and that smelled good when it warmed up the house!”

“We bought a team of horses and some equipment with some of the money we had brought from Russia. We also bought on credit. People were different then—they were good; and credit was given to everyone. After the harvest in the fall, we paid our bills, Volk explained. “I remember that there was a lady in Berwick who had a general store. She gave credit to everyone—and they paid her in the fall.”

In 1902, Joseph Schneider and his sister, Regina, came to the Towner area to farm. Their father had died in Russia and their mother did not want to leave her home to come to the new world. Joseph Schneider homesteaded south of Towner. Three years later, Regina was married to Joseph Volk at the Fulda church. In 1917, Joseph Schneider moved to Canada to farm. He now lives in a retirement home in Saskatoon—and is 98 years old.

The Joseph Volks lived with his parents and subsequently Joseph farmed land which he and his father had homesteaded. Volk’s father died in 1924 at the age of 80. His mother lived with Joseph and Regina until her death, in 1944, at the age of 97.

In 1928, Volk traded his homestead quarters for land in Jefferson Twp., Pierce County. He farmed with horses until purchasing his first tractor, a 1927 John Deere, in about 1932. “I paid five horses for the tractor and it did more work than those five horses,” Volk said, thinking about that tractor.

“We didn’t just farm crops, then,” Volk continued, “but milked cows and had chickens and pigs—everything—more than many farmers today.” “But,” he added, “we got pretty excited just to get $2.00 a bushel for wheat one year. I don’t know what I’d do if someone gave me $5.00 a bushel.”

The Volks are the parents of eight children. “They were all born at home on the farm and my mother was the doctor for most of them,” Joseph Volk recalled.

Of the eight children, a daughter, Mrs. Mike Binfet, and three sons, Philip, Peter and Casmer, live in Rugby. Another son, John, lives in Esmond. Two daughters, Mrs. Harry Wold and Mrs. Theodore Wilton, live in Detroit, Mich.; and another daughter, Mrs. Philippine Schmidt, lives at Billings, Mont.

“Things sure are different, these days,” Volk went on to say. “People have changed too—and I think money has made the difference. People are too proud and greedy now.”

Volk’s secret to long life might be something to do with cigarettes. “I think I started smoking when I started crawling,” he quipped. “I smoked until I was 63. Then, one day, I didn’t feel good, so I went to the doctor. The doctor told me that I smoked too much; that my stomach was too sour. I went home, put my cigarettes, matches and ash tray on the table and said to them: ‘See if I ever take you again!’ I never did. I suppose I could smoke now, but I know now how those cigarettes stink. I couldn’t tell when I was smoking.”

The nonagenarian also suggested that one “be a nice person always—and you’ll live a long life.”

Volk was all ready to go to the moon with the astronauts, “but they never asked me to go along.”

Perhaps they should have asked. Volk’s wit and wisdom are unmatchable. He is bright and alert and knows more about present-day happenings than most who are thirty years younger. He makes it to Little Flower church for mass every morning, cares for his wife, who has been an invalid for about four years, and still drives his 1950 Chevrolet to run errands and shop for groceries.

Joseph Volk certainly can’t be thought of as being 92 years old, yet his memories and experiences seem to cover a span twice that long.

Reprinted with permission of the Pierce County Tribune.

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