Interview with Armand Bauer (AB)
Conducted by Bob Dambach
Transcribed by Josh Watson
Editing and proofreading by Peter Eberle and Reverend Marvin Hartmann
Prairie Public Collection
AB: Ya, so Saint John’s was the first Roman Catholic Church in what became North Dakota.
INT: Oh, ya really.
AB: One of the German Russians. That area down there was settled in about ’84, 1884 is when the first. German Russians that came to North Dakota was probably 1883, near Cathay North Dakota, there were some Baptists there. That’s the first documentation I could find. And then they came into what is now McIntosh County near Coldwater.
AB: Down near Coldwater, and then over near the Zeeland area and my paternal grandfather was one of the early ones in ’84.
INT: So they came from Eureka?
AB: No, they came from Freeman that was before Eureka was established. Eureka was established in ’87.
INT: So, why would they have come to live in; it wasn’t North Dakota then was it?
AB: It was the Dakota Territory, ya.
INT: Why would they have come to that geographic location?
AB: Land, land was available. And some of them came and settled in that area, so they were, we were in the of the Lutheran church, and some of the other Catholics settled right in the same area and they started at Saint Johns.
INT: That’s a little unusual for the Catholics and Protestants to settle together isn’t it?
AB: Well some were on the west side and some were on the east side, in general, but I don’t think their was, they get along well, there was no problems.
INT: Did your relatives, your grandparents ever talk about why they came to America?
AB: No, unfortunately not to me. They were pretty closemouthed, so they didn’t, I imagine they talked to each other about it, among themselves, but when their, kids were pushed out side or out doors, when they had company, so we never heard any discussion about that. I didn’t personally.
INT: Why do you think that it was that way?
AB: I don’t know why they didn’t want the kids to know. That always puzzled me a little bit, that they would not want to talk about this to their children, as if they were, maybe, I don’t know trying to hide something or maybe they didn’t want to discuss their living conditions that they came from I don’t know.
INT: So did you ever hear from any of your relatives about the old country?
AB: No, very little.
INT: Do you think that that fact alone is one of the reasons why you obviously are spending a lot of your time looking into your roots?
AB: Well we got interested in genealogy first, and some in our work we all ran across the name of Richard Sallat Russian German settlements in the United States, and my family got a hold of that PHD thesis, which was printed in the Illinois Historical Society Journal. We finally got a hold of that when we started to translate, and then the interest in the history and the living conditions of Russia became more important to us.
INT: How old were you when you started to do this?
AB: About 1960, so I was born in ’24, so you can take it from there that’s thirty-five years ago.
INT: When you were a teenager, when you were younger, did you have much interest in your background.
AB: No, we were all German Russians in Zeeland so, there was one Polish family that lived there, other than that they were all German Russian.
INT: When was the first time you realized as a kid that there were people other than German Russians living anywhere?
AB: I really can’t tell, I really can’t say, but there were in the county we lived in Mcintosh county, which is very highly populated by German Russians. Their were other nationalities of course, their were other ethnic groups living in there, and I don’t think ethnicity really became anything of our thought processes until, probably after the service, when I came back from the service, the military.
INT: When you were younger did you speak German in the home?
AB: Yes, continued to speech German to my mother till she passed away, and its interesting that I would speech English and she spoke German. This is how we carried out most of our conversations. I almost lost German, from not using it, which when you don’t use it you lose it, so I could understand it all the time, but speaking it’s always ya know, where’s the words, where’s the word’s, and so we would sometimes speak a mixture of German and English, which I do remember. A lot of my conversation with her was English and she spoke German.
INT: And you were discouraged from speaking German in school?
AB: I didn’t feel that part, I was in the middle of the family so to speak, and so I learned to speak English at home. I didn’t hear much German in school; we went to public school in town, so we didn’t hear much German spoken in school itself.
INT: When you were a young boy in Zeeland what would you have spoken in town?
AB: Old German among the older people, oh ya that was standard.
INT: What sort of impressions did you get once you were grown up, maybe when you were younger or when you were in high school about your ethnic heritage? Did you get people talking about being German, talking about being Russian, talking about being neither?
AB: No it was never, we never really discussed it because like I say everybody in Zeeland was that same ethnic background, and so it was just a matter of course that we used that language, and acted the way we did.
INT: How about World War II, did you feel any backlash?
AB: No, we didn’t at all, we didn’t, but I know in various parts of the country their was backlash, no we never felt it. And I never felt it in the service either. I mean there is such a mixture that, as long as you can speak English, why that was ok.
INT: We were talking earlier, and you had mentioned that I was mentioning German Russians, and you said is that what you call me, and I said what do you call yourselves? So why don’t you tell me about what you call yourselves and why.
AB: My ethnic background is German Russian, because I think that’s the correct terminology. And when the societies were formed there was a lot of discussion. Some wanted Russian German and others from Russia and anything in between. And a lot of people felt it was a stigma to be from Russia, and so you heard conversation; I don’t want a thing to do with Russia. My grandfather so and so left there because of problems, and my grandparents came to this country between 1874 and 1886 so for, and that was before Russian was mandatory in schools, and so they knew very little Russian, except probably a little profanity, but those that came afterwards, say after 1890 and early 1900, by that time Russian had become mandatory in the schools, and this is also when some of the oppression, shall we say started. They were forced to learn Russian. There was changes in local government and so on, and so a lot of them left Russia because of problems that they encountered, problems say of language. Maybe economics and so on. And so I always felt that we were German Russian even when we were asked on questionnaires, what is you ethnic background, we were German Russian, because our grandparents were Russian citizens, and anybody who doesn’t believe that, needs just to look into the nationalization papers, and who do you swear allegiance to, or who did you swear allegiance to before. And we swore allegiance to the Czar of Russia, they were Russian citizens. And yet ethnically or culturally they were Germans…, and so to me they were German Russians. German having to take the adjective position in that particular…
INT: We were talking a little bit earlier the other thing started to, and I stopped you from saying it, was it was unfortunate, that you think it’s unfortunate that many German Russians try to get rid of the Russian part of there heritage, why is that?
AB: Because there were things that Russian influence was evident. One of them was in their foods, and we see that when, we hear people talking around, especially around here, they say, we want to have some German food. They want German Russian food, the Germans did not cook that way, this is from Russia. There was some things that they learned from the Russians, there was some of the long words that of course from Russia. It wasn’t all one sided, maybe the (frocterdor?? - unintelligible), the Russians learned more from the Germans, but their were some things that I think that certainly influenced the, influenced the Germans living there, and it, if nothing else influenced them, it was that they could look and see how much better life could get than simple Russian peasants.
INT: We jumped ahead, so I’m gonna go back to the beginning now, I’m gonna ask you to state your name, and what position you have now with the German Russian Heritage Society.
AB: Ok, my name is Armand Bauer; I was in the original Board of Directors. One of the founders, one of the signers of the articles of the Articles of Incorporation. Was on the board for 16 years, and presently my wife and I head up the “Heritage Review”, we have since about March of 1975.
INT: Why don’t you tell me about the “Heritage Review” and what the goal of the “Heritage Review” is?
AB: The “Heritage Review” is the quarterly publication for the Germans from Russia Heritage Society. Its first publication was in 1971. The first editor of that was Art Leno, and Mr. Leno passed away in March of 1975, and this is when the board appointed me as editor. What is its primary purpose is to publish and disseminate information about the ethnic group, and a lot of the things that we really try to focus on is to get some of the literature of the German Russians, which was almost exclusively in German, into English. There were some societies in, of the German Russians now living in Germany, that put out what they call this Heimatbuch, and this information there is about their life in Russia, the description of the colonies, important, what they considered important people, and we have made an effort to translate a lot of those articles, and provide them to our readers through the Heritage Review, and then of course we would like to have any article that focuses on the German Russians, their life here, their early life here, their customs whatever the whole gamut. And this is what the Heritage Review does, I hope, and we have had people submit articles that focused only on the Germans and I reluctantly had to say well, this is really a nice article, but it doesn’t focus on the right ethnic group. And so we have to decline, so what we try to do is accept, publish only those articles that focus on this ethnic group, regardless of how important some of the article information might be.
INT: In your tenure as editor, what one or two articles do you remember getting the most response from readers, over the topics?
AB: Well one that I really got a response to, was an article, and I might say this was a negative response, their was an article that had been written in 1915, about the Germans living in Volhenia, and this article was written by a Russian, and course he didn’t put the German speaking people in very good light. As contrasted to a individual that was a German, that would have written about them, and this was translated from the Russian by an individual, and I said this is very appropriate for this, and I got several letters, and one of them accusing me of befouling my own nest. So I got a lot of response to that.
INT: How about in a positive one.
AB: These were articles that had been published in the “Dakota Frei Presse” and they were written by Bucherknaus, Friedrich Bucherknaus – and Friedrich Bucherknaus had been among the group that had come to this country in 1872, 1873 one of the very early people, and they settled in the Odessa district of South Dakota north-west of Yankton and in 1915, or was it a little earlier, he wrote a series of articles about this adventure, and the translator of this was Laverne Rippley, the Professor of German at St. Olaf. I think these were articles that were very much accepted, I liked them too. Laverne is a very good translator of course. I think those were probably good responses to those. I did some translation on the German farmers in the Crimea, and with my ancestors coming from there; I was much interested in that. I liked those articles very much. As far as getting overwhelming responses, about an article, we never do. This is not the way these people act. They’ll tell you if they don’t like it, but there’s not too much coming the other way when they do like it.
INT: Where in the Crimea was your family from?
AB: Heilbronn, Zurichthal, and my paternal grandfather were at Hertzenberg which is near Theodozia.
INT: I was just in the Crimea back in May.
AB: Is there a place still like Hertzenberg near Theodozia?
INT: Surprisingly enough the villages, the mother villages at least, which once we went to Crimea ya know Sintherople not only are they very well preserved, but you can find the churches in very good condition, and the cemeteries you can still find German tombstones in cemeteries with the names and everything, it was very unusual in the Odessa district to find them, but we found four different cemeteries, German Russian cemeteries, that were still, the stones were still standing, even a couple that had fallen down, had fallen down from age, not from anything else, and we were able to scrape off and find the names, very interesting, especially after being in Odessa a couple of times, and that whole region, the Kutschurgan, or Bersan region where the cemeteries are just decimated, but in Crimea there’s just more to find.
AB: That might be a little incentive for us to go there. I have relatives from Sudak…
INT: We didn’t get quite that far, but over
towards that way.
AB: And as far as the Bauer family was concerned they got mixed up with the Gerabaldies… One of them married a Gerabaldie this would have been one generation back from mine. Like we saw, we found the records in the St. Petersburg, documents, and we often wondered how there was a Gerabaldie that was involved in the unification of Italy, and that would be interesting to pursue, if you could read Italian I suppose. You know, the way back.
INT: I’m gonna ask you a little bit about the Society [Germans from Russia Heritage Society] now. You said you were in the form, when did the society form, what was the purpose founding the society?
AB: This society was founded in 1971 was the official date, January 9th 1971was the signing of the Articles of Incorporation.
INT: Why don’t you tell me the name at that time?
AB: The name at that time was The North Dakota Historical Society of Germans from Russia. And the reason it was named that is because; this Society had its roots in the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. And at the time that we formed this society, it was intended to be a chapter of The American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. The Society, The American Historical Society was not prepared or had not set up the machinery to accept chapters. And so there was some discontent developed, and so it was decided that this group from North Dakota could do it on their own so to speak. And so another problem that developed was The American Historical Society had what they called work paper, their publication, and when we formed North Dakota Historical Society, we also had work paper, and some members of that Society thought that this was inappropriate, that we were doing duplicate things. And there was various things of that nature. This society went on its own, and it stayed North Dakota Historical Society of Germans from Russia until 1979, and then it changed over to the Germans from Russia Heritage Society. The man that proposed, or was highly instrumental in that name, was Paul Rueb and Paul always pushed the name German Russians. He called this ethnic group German Russians because he said, he finally convinced me too, that this was the appropriate name for this ethnic group, and so he chose Germans from Russia, but its an unusual form with lower case letters, so that it would be dropped and you would have GRHS, German Russian Heritage Society. The primary objectives, of course, were to preserve culture, or aspects of its culture, and its interesting that one of the most important aspects, the language, we never did preserve. This has now gone by the boards.
INT: Was that one of the original thoughts?
AB: No it wasn’t although all of us that were involved in its formation could still handle German very well, but that generation has passed, and of course some of the customs preserve the desirable elements or what was considered the desirable elements of this ethnic group. One other reason was to make others aware of this ethnic group; outside of communities in which they lived. An interesting thing is that Robinson, Alvin Robinson in his book, in his history of North Dakota recognized the German Russians in 1955 – I think is when that particular edition came out – that’s the first time that this ethnic group was mentioned, and here they had been in North Dakota since 1884. So we felt that this was important, that other people learn about the German Russians. I think that another one that was not spelled out, that was important, was to instill some pride in members, individuals of this ethnic group. We ran into various cases where people deny, no I’m not German Russian, and I ran into several individuals in that nature, in that group. And then others would say at the conventions, oh we’re so glad that somebody did something.
INT: Did you feel that as a German Russian and being at the conventions that there was this sense of relief that people could say they were of this ethnic group?
AB: I got that sense from some. Because of those remarks that they made, and I run into individuals later on, after societies were formed, when it became better known, or this ethnic group became better known, that said my background was also German Russian, and I would have never guessed it. So I think what it did was to, these people finally recognized what this ethnic group had done. Pioneered on four continents, had conquered this country under, and developed, helped develop parts of this country under very adverse conditions. And so they sense some feeling of pride in this accomplishment, and at least I feel that this was one of the major contributing, major things that this society, forming of this society did to numbers of this ethnic group, they became; ya know our grandparents really did something.
INT: Now this society is more than just a North Dakota society?
AB: Oh ya, this is an international, we have chapters in Canada, and South Dakota, Ohio, Washington, California. Ya, its national, international.
INT: Is it mostly Black Sea Germans that have moved away from North Dakota?
AB: Well, ya we have probably more members in other places than North Dakota, than in North Dakota. Now they’re the members that consistently send in their dues, they want to remain members of this society, sometimes local people will only be members for a few years, then they drop out. It’s the case of things being too close, and whereas others that have moved away, I don’t know this is a way of keeping in touch or whatever it is that, but their more likely to maintain their membership.
AB: I wrote an article on reflections on the German Russians Heritage Society, in Heritage Review I think its in probably about ’85, and I went back and looked at that last night, because…
INT: How do you feel ten years later?
AB: How do I feel?
INT: I mean you said you looked at it, I was wondering if things changed in that decade?
AB: Not much, except more, other, different people involved of course.
INT: I interrupted, go ahead and tell me about your reflection.
AB: Ok, well then I, when looking at those last night, where did the original idea come from about the German Russians? The form of societies, and the closest I can determine is that it came from Hattie Plumwoodys who was on the staff at the University of Nebraska. She was Chairman of Sociology and Political Science Department, and there were quite a few, or many German Russians working for the Burlington Northern, and she became interested in these, and did her Masters Degree, must have been prior to 1920, on the German Russian community in Lincoln. And, lets see this probably in the early twenties a man by the name of William Uhrbach who was German Russian who wanted to get a little more education, and enrolled at the University of Nebraska, and somehow or another they got in touch with each other Uhrbach and Hattie Plumwoodys and he opened the doors for her so to speak to that community, and so she wrote her Doctorate Thesis on German Russians, and she’s the one that had the original idea about forming a society of German Russians. This was, must have been in the 1920’s 1930’s. William Uhrbach eventually wrote a, his life history, and called it Our Parents were German Russians. And he wrote this in 1967, and its been read to meetings of others that are interested, especially in Nebraska and Colorado, and so the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia was founded on the eighth of September 1968 at Windsor Gardens, and he tells me the story, he said Uhrbach one of the ushers or one of the maintenance people will have this Windsor Gardens asked him, or let me back up, Uhrbach wanted to put up a sign the meeting of the German Russians and this individual said “Who the hell are the German Russians?” Well he says, that’s what we set out to do, have other people recognize us. And so this was formed, and one of the first presidents or the first president of that Society was David Miller, a layer, and at an American Bar Association he met Judge Ray Friedrich, and Judge Ray Friedrich also from Rugby, also was German Russian, of course, and so they had mutual interest, and Miller convinced Friedrich that he should start a group here in North Dakota. And so it was in the summer of 1970 various individuals met in the fall, about October of 1970 then he Friedrich called a meeting on individuals that were members of the American Historical Society living in North Dakota, and we happen to be there, and we had this meeting following a meeting of the North Dakota Historical Society, after that meeting was over then we Caucused so to speak, and started a discussion about forming a so called chapter like I mentioned earlier of the American Historical Society, calling it the North Dakota Historical Society of Germans from Russia. So then on January ninth 1971 we signed the Articles of Incorporation. One of the signers was a Vern Neff from Williston, Vern is also an attorney. He did most of the writing in the Articles of Incorporation, and when he sent these to Ben Meyer a copy of my suggestion to Ben Meyer not to mention anything to the press until we could meet in Bismarck and get an official photo, and then at the same time, he says well I would suggested he might also be interested in this Society, and the membership fee is such and such a month. And then Meyer burst out so he could get his fees at the same time. So while, this is how I end that story, and the conventions started that, let’s see, that fall. And the first one was at the Grand Pacific Hotel. I think about ninety-eight people were there. So these founders of the, what you call, ya the founders of the Society.
INT: Now you mentioned the conventions, do you have a yearly convention?
AB: Their yearly conventions ever since that.
INT: And where do you hold them?
AB: Well, most of them in the Dakota’s, we’ve had one in Canada, we had one at Calgary one year, but in North Dakota we’ve rotated them, we have been at Dickenson, Rugby, Fargo, Grand Forks, Jamestown, and here, and then in South Dakota at Aberdeen, and Yankton, and in Rapid City.
INT: About how many people come to the conventions?
AB: We have ranged from about 350 to 750. That’s about it.
INT: When they come to the convention, what are they looking for, what are the types of things they can expect out of a convention?
AB: They come up for fun I guess, and we try to make them fun. One of them that’s a real drawing card, you see this library out here, with all have of the family histories and the genealogical material, all that is taken to the convention, and placed in one room. That’s the most popular place at the convention. Many people come to do genealogical work. And they’re looking for information, then we always have various work shops, we started that format early on, we had work shops. Then we went on concurrent things and repeat them. So that you have an opportunity to see all that…
INT: Give me a couple examples of the topics of
the work shops.
AB: Well this year we’re gonna have one, for example, on learning how to write and speak or write the German, the old German style. One that has been in existence or we use every year, is one on genealogy, and this is done by Gwen Pritzkau from Salt Lake City, or from Riverton Utah. She has, or she always has large numbers of attendees. Some are about trips that people have made to Russia, some of them, the women that have been noted in the Society, I mean in the ethnic group, some of their contributions. Early on it was the history of their immigration, things of that nature.
INT: You have mentioned genealogy, you have mentioned culture, you have mentioned folklore, is there one of those topics that has formed the thrust of this society, the strength of this society?
AB: I think genealogy has, more people are interested in genealogy than even the other aspects, they might know where their grandpa was born or their grandparents, but efforts are being made to get more of the material in archives microfilmed and made available here. So I would say genealogy probably.
INT: Where do you see the future of this society, do you see the young people coming in as members?
AB: Ya were starting to see a little bit more of that, not in large numbers, but more than we have had in years past, lets put it that way. Though are, originally I said, I gave the society ten years. And that’s what I have told my wife, and we’re now twenty-seven years. And this Society, has not, seems to be increasing membership a little bit each year. And we’re seeing some of the generations that would be at the same age of my children, ya know their forties, we’re starting to see some of that, and of course it pleases us a great deal, because we know that this is the only way that this thing is going to continue. Support is, I think still very good membership probably stands as high today as it has, we’re a little over two thousand. So if we could maintain that level of membership, I think we’d be ok.
INT: You referred to the publications, and the books and everything, is that a major source of income for the society, the selling of the books, and the distribution?
AB: That’s the only source of income that we have. We, the membership is twenty-five dollars, and according to the Treasurer why, that’s almost the cost of putting out Heritage Review. And that’s only for the print again and so on, my wife and I, this is a labor of love for us. So it covers the cost of the publication, and they only get out, so the books are the other source of income, and we’ve had such as our Arnold Marzolf for circle books that he’s published the society benefits from.
INT: So you publish books as a society?
AB: We have a few we would like to do more, but it’s a long time investment, so there is one publication for example by Ted Wenzloff, Fateful Danube Journey. It was the story about the immigrations that went down the Danube River. I think the circa was about 1870, about his particular group. And the society helped publish this book, and after he got all his money that he had invested, the rest of it went to the Society. No major works. We did get the publication rights of Joseph Height’s trilogy, and I think one of those has been reprinted by the society, I think that’s right. That was out of the circuit, circle right know, and other than that, the amount of money that’s available to invest in something like that is very limited.
INT: Now we’re going to get away from the Society back to a couple of your observations about life, and being a German Russian. You were mentioning before, and I think you referred to, it’s seems like German Russians tend to like, hide there light under a barrel for lack of another expression, maybe you could just talk about that for a little bit.
AB: Well, one of the things that was really drilled into us was that, you never boasted about yourself. It was alright to work hard and so on, but you never boasted about it. If somebody else praised you for it, that was fine, but that was not forth coming very frequently either. And there were several saying that they had, “Selbstlob schtinkt!” That’s self love or expression of it stinks, and I think this was one of the things that always stood out for me, one of the things that professor Marzolf wrote in one of his books, that I had laughed at was German Russians take great pride in their humility. I thought that was a gem. What else, one of the characteristics of course is saving, you didn’t waste anything, and this the clean plates, and their very much prevailed, and then we, a lot of us grew up during the thirties too, in North Dakota, and the great plains, and so you didn’t waste anything that was food you ya know, you ate what was put on your plate, their was no excuses for not doing that. Another one of course, for most of them your purpose was church, you always went to church, and …
INT: Why is church important?
AB: This is one of the reasons they went to Russia, was to practice religion as they felt. Some of the people left after the Thirty Years War, and or the aftermath of the Thirty Years War, and some of these religious wars in Europe were shall we say vicious. And so religion was important, and they felt the presence of the divine power. He led them, and he was very much present in their daily lives, as he is in ours, and so church was important. Everybody worked, the work ethic, the harder you worked, the better it was of course, and this is the only way you could gain anything was to work. Later on education is one thing that didn’t seem to be a problem. That changed of course. Some people have commented on not many German Russians attended college. But I always point this out, I say that you have to recognize that the generation that, well I’m first generation, and that they came through the depression, and the dirty thirties, and they would have been ready for college. And then we went into World War Two, so these people really didn’t have much opportunity. But since that time it has become very important for the German Russians as a means of advancement.
INT: Is part of that, the education; is part of
it because of the agricultural society they were in?
AB: I would guess so that, ya, that could be deterrent, ya know, land was important if you had land you could make a good living. I would say that was a contributing factor also.
INT: If you were to try to put your finger on one or two of the contributions, the German Russians have made to American society as a whole, what would that be?
AB: I could rely on Richard Sallat’s [book]. He pointed out the introductions of the Karvcal sheep to American agriculture. Hard Red Winter Wheat was a major contributor to, especially the central great plains. In fact that, it was so important that, even the postal department issued a stamp Hard Red Winter Wheat in Kansas, this was brought, thought to be brought to this country, this one particular, hardy, hardy winter wheat, by the Mennonite’s, and so for many years, every variety of Hard Red Spring Wheat that was released in the central plains, up to as late as 1970 that we had this particular variety in its background to introduce that hardiness that was needed. So those would be our major contributions. In North Dakota, I don’t know just settling the land, would be, to me, would be the major contribution. Their weren’t any individuals in particular that I could say that were made outstanding contributions from the stand point that the society as a whole felt it. As they did on the Hard Red Winter Wheat, so it would have to be the two, certainly the Hard Red Winter Wheat is by far the most important. As a total effort.
INT: You said there is a stamp?
AB: That was issued about in 19, I think in 1974 look there. The University or Kansas State University put out what would be equivalent to North Dakota farm research. They had several articles about Hard Red Winter Wheat I published some of them; I got permission to republish some of those in Heritage Review.
INT: I forgot to mention this about the review, to get an article, how would they go about giving you an article, I mean do you accept articles from people just …
AB: Oh sure were very happy to have them. In fact we encourage this. Send them to the office or send them to me, and I’ll, if it’s anything about the German Russians.
INT: So if its fiction or non-fiction.
AB: Ya, we prefer it to be real, but we recognize that you know like a story if it is somewhat fictional. Or the First Hoeing that was published in Colorado, it’s fictional yet it depicts reality, and this is fine, as long as it ya know has meaning. So ya one of the biggest contributors was back in Fargo, he was going to lead the group with Mike Miller to Russia this summer.
AB: I happened to run into Stu at Jamestown last year, and for some reason he mentioned 164 infantry division. And I said well how is that you have interest in the 164th? Then he told this story about this cab driver in Chicago, cab driver said a lot of these Russian boys were really good fighters, or words to that effect. Well I says, I know some people in the 164th infantry, and that’s what got him started, so I told him, why don’t you write it and I’ll publish it? And that’s what happened. So sure we’re happy to have those, any time.
INT: We know you grew up in Zeeland, we know you were born in 1924 you said, after you were born, and grew up in Zeeland, what did you do next? What’s your background?
AB: What’s my background? Well, I graduated from Zeeland high school, and then I went into the military, in the Navy for about nineteen months.
AB: I don’t know, and then I, of course I went to school on the G.I. bill. Spent two years at Bottneau School of Forestry, transferred to NDSU, graduated there in ’50.
INT: What is your degree?
AB: Soil Science, then I spent about four years with the Soil Conservation Service. One day the Chairman of the Department of Soils, whizzed at me and asked me if I wanted to, do an assistantship, in soil testing, so I spent two years doing a Masters Degree…
INT: Where was that at?
AB: At NDSU, and then I went on the staff, the experiment station staff, ran a soil testing lab, and conducted a bunch of field experiments on fertilizers, which eventually put a lot of farmers out of business.
INT: What do you mean put them out of business?
AB: And then Sputnik came along, 1958, and the US government decided they needed more science and math teachers, and so they provided National Defense Education Scholarships. The first year they had those, why they gave them for three years, but you had to start out with a BS degree, and the second year they decided, well of you already had a Masters Degree, we’ll provide the scholarship for two years, and so I got one of those at Colorado State University. So I finished my doctorate there, actually finished in the fall of ’63, graduated in ’64…
INT: And what was the doctorate in?
AB: Soil Science, Agronomy and, well I came back to NDSU, and was on the staff there until, ’76, and so the Agricultural Research Service, had an opening here in Mandan, that I applied for that I thought I should have, and so I spent the last 21 years of my career here.
INT: I was wondering how you get from Fargo to Bismarck.
AB: So about twenty years of agricultural research, and all my, all those years where I received a State check or Federal Government check. And I retired in 1991.
INT: Then you have been putting more time into the publications since retirement?
AB: No, not really, I’m still doing about the same way, and I’m not as pressed any more…
INT: About how much time do you put into it every month?
AB: I do a lot of translating, I suppose I translate maybe about, thirty hours a month, I’ve been to busy doing other things.
INT: But this is a good type of time for a hobby, isn’t it?
AB: It is, and I enjoy doing the translating, I do other translating for other people, I can read the old German script, I taught myself again. It’s laborious, but I can get through letters and stuff like that. So I do some of that. Translate most of the stuff that I translate went to “Heritage Review.”
INT: You said your wife’s involved with that too?
AB: Ya, she can read it too. We’re doing uh…
INT: What’s her background?
AB: Same thing. She also grew up in McIntosh County. Her parents, her grand parents were, came from Russia, and her dad was born in this country, but in 1903, he was the first one of that family to be born in the US, and we can, she can speak the German.
INT: Did you guys meet before you went off to the service?
AB: Well I knew her in high school, but it was, you want to here that story, she was in the nurses training, so after I was discharged, I came into her dad’s store one day, and there was a grown up girl, so I says where the hell did you come from? So that was the start of that. We’ve been married forty-nine years.
INT: Does she, do you think she has a similar German Russian background like you? When did she, was it a mutual interest, did you both ah…
AB: Actually no, her interest was sparked earlier.
One of her aunts was a member of the LDS church. This aunt had
hired a genealogists in Germany to do that family, their family
name is Levi, and what this genealogist said is that, the conversion
from Judaism to Christianity was in 1620 or in that range. By
then one of her other aunts said that she was going to do genealogy
also, and they don’t agree. But anyway, it was her interest
in genealogy that started it, and so we got to visit quite a few
AB: And so I wrote to her, I wrote in English, and I translated it into German asking questions and all. So in a week I got a letter from her, in English, she said I thought I should do the English, it might be easier for you.
INT: When your families were growing up were your families’ large families?
AB: Oh ya, my mother had sixteen children, fifteen pregnancies.
INT: How many survived?
AB: Eight and I’m right in the middle, I was born on my dad’s birthday. So eight of us grew to adult, two are pastors.
INT: Ya know, when you see the cemeteries, I’ve been through them and I’m sure you have too, you see some of the graves, the young children that for whatever reason, disease or whatever didn’t make it, how tough do you think it was being a parent at the turn of the century?
AB: Oh brother, how they survived I don’t know. Must have been extremely difficult, because it doesn’t take long to become attached to a child. And, I understand that the last child that my parents had, my dad had a bout of depression, this would have been in the earlier thirties, one interesting, one thing that has always intrigued me in my personal family, the eight of us that survived were all born in the fall, October, November, December, those that those that died in infancy were all born in the spring. Without exception, and that’s I don’t know what the reason, there must have be some kind of reason.
INT: Did the parents ever talk about the kids that had died or was it just…
AB: Course I knew, I attended the funeral; no they never talked about it, not among us.
INT: What were the funerals like?
AB: They had a funeral at the house, and then they’d go to church, sad like anything else. Times were tough, my father passed away in 1940, 51 years old.
INT: I had heard a statement, Tim Kloberdanz was talking about this a couple of weeks ago, interesting, and he said that he felt that as a German Russian, one of the things that he was taught as a youngster, is never to love anything too much, because it’ll probably be taken away from you, and those are his words.
AB: I don’t believe that, I think that’s impossible. We didn’t have much, to me you know even getting a penny on Saturday evening, was noteworthy, a nickel, that’s all we had.
INT: What would you do with that penny?
AB: Buy candy, that’s what we’d do. You know we tell our kids the times that we went through, I know for a long time they figured we were fabricating, but they don’t anymore. I remember distinctly last night we went out for dinner, and so we leave a tip for three dollars, I worked one whole summer for two. As an eight, ten year old. And then I turned around and bought a jacket, you didn’t spend it on yourself, because you needed, you needed something.
INT: Then you were working at eight years old, ten years old?
AB: Oh yes, milk cows, work in the fields, shock grain, rake hay, things of that nature, and always milked twice a day of course, we all had chores to do. Bring coal to the house, everybody had chores.
INT: Must have been a relief to go to school.
AB: Well it was alright, you gotta recoup for a few hours. You milked the cows before you went to school, usually school got out at four o’clock, so we had to get home, and get those chores done.
INT: You think your wife had a similar experience growing up?
AB: No, she didn’t milk cows, and in addition to that, her folks moved off the farm when she was still a pre-teen and moved to Ventura, and bought a store. So her parents were general merchandisers.
INT: Did, growing up as a kid was it a status symbol if you owned stores as opposed to being a farmer or was there much differentiation.
AB: Well, we always got kinda ribbed by the kids living in town about being farmers. And, that we had to deal with that of course, we always felt that kids were being taught not to do anything. They didn’t have to milk; they didn’t have to do any of these chores, but those things I remember.
INT: They had a soft life in town didn’t they?
AB: They sure did, compared with what we did.
INT: Well I want to thank you for talking with us
today, it has been very interesting.