Journey to the Homeland News

October, 1996 No. 6

Click here for photos

Autumn Greetings from the campus of North Dakota State University.

The October edition of the Journey to the Homeland News includes comments from newspaper articles and electronic mail messages that have been written by the June tour group members of their visit to Ukraine and to Germany. The newsletter includes photographs of days in Stuttgart, in Odessa, and in the former German villages.

Ukrainian School Supply Project

Bringing the needed school supplies from the children and teachers of North Dakota and Fargo-Moorhead schools, from North Dakotans, and our German-Russian community throughout America was truly one of the highlights of the Journey to the Homeland Tours. When we return to Odessa for the 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, and persons 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, P.O. Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599.

My thanks to the school children and teachers who donated notebooks, pencils, crayons, pens, and many other items to send to the school children in southern Ukraine. I want to especially thank these schools: Bel Air Elementary, Grand Forks; Eureka Elementary, SD; Flasher; Fryburg; George Washington Elementary, Moorhead; Hazelton-Moffit-Braddock Elementary; Holy Spirit Elementary, Fargo; Immanuel Christian Elementary, Mandan; Jim Hill, Minot; Lewis and Clark Elementary, Mandan; Lewis and Clark Elementary, Williston; McKinnley Elementary, Fargo; NDSU Libraries, Fargo; Robert Asp Elementary, Moorhead; Rolla Elementary; St. Joseph's Elementary, Williston; St. Mary's Elementary, Bismarck; St. Mary's Elementary, Richardton; St. Rose of Lima Elementary, Roseville, MN; Strasburg; Susan Lindgren Elementary, St. Louis Park, MN; Trenton; Union School, Pollock, SD; UND-Williston; Wahpeton Senior High; Washington Elementary, Fargo; Wilkinson Elementary, Williston; and Willow City Public Schools, ND.

Thank you Prairie Public Television and Prairie Public Radio for your efforts to inform viewers and listeners. Many boxes arrived at the studios in Bismarck and Fargo for shipment to Odessa, Ukraine in June, 1996 and for May, 1997.

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

Newspapers publish articles about the Journey to Homeland Tours

Penny Raile of Los Angeles wrote an informative article for The Saint Francis Herald, Kansas, "Ancestral Villages of Local German-Russian Families Visited". Raile writes, "Word spread fast that Americans were in town. Curious locals came out of their homes for a look, offered information and willingly posed for pictures. The village transformed time back one hundred years. Dairy animals grazed in the front yards. Mother chickens, ducks and geese directed their young to safe ground. Horse drawn hay wagons were driven through the town. Women milked the cows and goats in the fields." (Penny grew up on a farm near St. Francis, KS. She joined her parents to Odessa. A graphic artist, Penny is completing a children's book of her historic journey to her ancestral villages.)

Marge Jergentz-Stout of Livermore, California, comments in a Tri-Valley Herald newspaper article, "Standing in the places where they [my ancestors] had stood so long ago is just an indescribable experience. It brings a person full-circle. It is like coming home." I never thought such a journey would be possible. Only the painstaking research of German-Russian genealogists made it possible." (Marge teaches people how to write their family histories and owns her own travel business.)

Ron Vossler of East Grand Forks, Minnesota, prepared for the Grand Forks Herald the article, "At Peterstal - A Container Village in the Ukraine". He writes, "Heinrich Glesbrecht hopes that he is part of a solution to a half-century old problem: what to do with the displaced ethnic Germans living within the borders of the old Soviet Empire. Giesbrecht is one of 1,000 ethnic Germans resettled from homes in Kazakhstan, who now live in container villages in the Ukraine. The population of ethnic Germans in the old Soviet Union continues to grow. It is estimated that two million now live in Siberia and Kazakhstan. Germany has the capability to absorb at least one million more over the next ten years."

"For all they have suffered, these ethnic Germans are a testament to the human spirit. Resilient, like Giesbrecht, they want to start a new life, to assume at least a part of their old identify." (Ron Vossler is a native of Wishek, ND. He teaches writing at the University of North Dakota.)

Comments from the June tour group members

While in Odessa, tour group members prepared the following electronic mail messages that were sent worldwide from the computer center at the Odessa Polytechnical State University.

On the final flight into Odessa, I thought of the exhausting trip our group was making to visit the homeland of our ancestors. How could I begin to compare it with what our ancestors did to emigrate from Germany to Russia and to America. The fortitude they had is astonishing! Hopefully I will be able to capture some of the spirit they had.
-Penny Raile, West Hollywood, California
(Penny serves as Administrative Assistant for the Weingart Center Association in downtown Los Angeles.)

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. Actually touring the villages of Landau and Kathariental, where my grandfathers lived until age 16 and leaving the land they loved made my personal history more alive. 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.
-Judith Doll, Fargo, ND
(Judy is formerly from New Salem, ND, and teaches at Washington Elementary School in Fargo.)

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 who carefully explained 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 cherries for us, and strawberries, and they had baked us a cake. One mother asked me, "Would you take a picture of me and my child and send it to me?" Mothers know magic moments. It will be special for the family when they receive the color photo from America.
Lewis and Dona-Reeves Marquardt, Buda, Texas
(Lew is a native of Linton, ND, and Dona is a native of Colorado. They recently retired as professors at Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos.)

We were struck how much Bessarabia's geography [today in Ukraine] looks like North Dakota. The wheat fields and sunflowers made us feel very much at home. We were also surprised to see such a great variety of farm animals. We saw sheep, horses, cows, goats, geese, ducks, and donkeys. We embraced in a short time, Ukraine has become like a second homeland. As one Bessarabian said, "If Germany was our Fatherland, then Russia is our Motherland."
-Ronald Metz, LaHabra, California
(Ron is a native of Garrison, ND. An avid Bessarabian German historian, since 1990 he has worked at the Cerritos College Bookstore in the Los Angeles area.)

I was thrilled to walk the streets of Grossliebental where my grandparents walked and to see the church where they worshipped. The school which grandfather attended, is still being used as a school; but his house was destroyed during World War II while another house has been built on the same location.
-Theodore Weisenburger, Phoenix, Arizona
(Before his retirement, Ted was a County Judge in North Dakota and served as Tribal Judge on both the Devils Lake Sioux and Turtle Mountain Chippewa Indian reservations.)

There have been so many wonderful experiences on this trip. I had a very emotionally moving experience in Speyer when I was able to attend a religious service in the same church where four generations of my Geiger family had worshipped. It was here that they were baptized, confirmed, married and died. As I looked from the hillside to my ancestral villages of Landau and Speyer, it was heart warming to look down upon two of the towns from which so many of my loved ones originated.
-Barbara Geiger Horn, Alta Loma, California
(Barbara recently retired as a microbiologist and clinical laboratory scientist. The Horns are moving to a ranch in Texas where they will raise dairy calves.)

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. My mother, Agatha Doll Madison, and her sister, Rose Doll Wood, showed a map of where their ancestors' house was located in Landau. The house was found and the gracious widow invited us inside. Rose and Aggie along with their daughters, Joyce and Bettsy, are grateful to have had this opportunity to stand in the home of our ancestors. Journey to the Homeland was a fabulous experience. We all highly recommend this rewarding tour.
-Bettsy Madison Williams, Missoula, Montana
(Bettsy is project director of bilingual education in Missoula. She accompanied her mother and aunt 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.
-Margaret Aman Freeman, Redondo Beach, California
(Margaret taught 23 years in the Santa Monica Elementary Schools. A long-time German-Russian researcher and genealogist, she is coordinator of the Glückstal Colonies Research Association.)

Journey to the Homeland Tours in 1997 and 1998

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

North Dakota Horizons magazine features story on June tours

The 1996 winter edition of North Dakota Horizons available in December will feature a special article with photographs about the visit to Germany and Ukraine in June. The article was written by Ronald Vossler with photographs by Michael M. Miller.

Tour group members reunite in Arizona this winter

Many of the June group mmembers will attend the NDSU Libraries sponsored gatherings in the Phoenix area this winter. They will be the featured speakers describing their memorable experiences visiting their ancestral German villages near Odessa, Ukraine and attending the large German-Russian gathering called the Bundestreffen in Stuttgart, Germany. NDSU officials will discuss activities on campus relating to the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection and Outreach programs.

Join us for these events in Arizona:

  • Thursday, February 27, 1997, Lakeview Hall #1, Recreation Centers of Sun City, 10676 Thunderbird Blvd, Sun City, 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 1, 1997, Mesa Regal Resort, 4700 East Main, Mesa, 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 2, 1997, North Dakota Picnic, Pioneer Park, Mesa, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Photographs and newspaper articles featured on World Wide Web

The October 1996 edition of Journey to the Homeland News is now posted on the World Wide Web. The newsletter, featuring color photographs, can be found on the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection Homepage at:

Photos of the 1996 Germans from Russia gatherings in Sun City and Mesa, AZ, newspaper articles, and other items are continuously added to the homepage.

Newsletter prepared by Michael M. Miller Photographs by
Design by Nick Ravn, Center for Writers, NDSU, Judith Doll, Fargo; Edwin M. Iszler, Streeter, N.D.;
North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo. LaRose Ketterling, Mercer, N.D.; and Michael M. Miller, Fargo.

Tour photographs, June, 1996

For further information, contact:
Michael M. Miller
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies
PO Box 5599
North Dakota State University Libraries
Fargo ND 58105-5599
Fax: 701-231-7138
Tel.: 701-231-8416

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