Strasburg native, head of Germans from Russia Heritage Collection to retire from NDSU after 55 years
By Jody Kerzman
Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 4:28 PM CST
BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The State Historical Society says most immigrants who settled in North Dakota are Germans from Russia. That’s a lot of families working to keep their ethnic culture alive, through cooking, playing music or speaking the language.
One Strasburg native has gone further and dedicated his 55-year career with NDSU to preserving the heritage.
Now, he’s ready to retire, but he’s not ready to stop working yet.
In 1967, Michael Miller made headlines in his hometown paper, the Emmons County Record, when he got a job at North Dakota State University.
“I was just a general librarian,” he recalled.
In 1978, Miller took on a bigger role at the university. He was appointed to develop the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection.
“In North Dakota, 30-40% of people are German Russian,” said Miller.
Including Michael Miller. The youngest of six kids, he grew up in Strasburg, the son of German immigrants.
“My mother’s side came to Strasburg in 1889, my father’s side came in 1894,” he explained.
Miller has spent his career preserving his ancestors’ heritage. That’s included 23 trips to Germany and Ukraine on the “Journey to the Homeland Tour.”
“We’ve taken over 700 people from all the United States and Canada to go back to the homeland to visit these villages near Odessa. That’s been a heartwarming experience even for me to walk the streets where your ancestors once lived,” he said.
Since 1996, he’s written a monthly newspaper column that appears in newspapers throughout the Dakotas.
He’s also produced 10 award-winning documentaries about Germans from Russia for Prairie Public. His favorites are the ones that include German cooking.
“I grew up in Strasburg and all of these German Russian flower dishes with noodles, so it was very special, and then, you know, when you are in these kitchens, with women, who love these foods, and then of course, when you’re filming, and taking photographs and interviewing, then you get to taste all these foods!” he laughed.
Miller is working on an eleventh documentary; this one will focus on the Lawrence Welk homestead.
“In North America, Lawrence Welk is the most famous German from Russia. It’s important not only to focus on Lawrence Welk, but to focus on homesteading and the heritage of the Germans from Russia in farming. So that really is important, and that’s why we’re doing this new television documentary,” he said.
It’s set to premiere in the fall of 2024. Miller’s official retirement day is December 1, 2022. But for Miller, retirement is just a formality; he plans to keep working as long as he’s healthy. He blames his German Russian roots for that.
“The Germans from Russia, they have a quote that says, ‘Work makes life enjoyable,’” he said.
Safe to say, Michael Miller has lived a very enjoyable life.
With 55 years of service, Miller joins Henry L. Bolley and C.B. Waldron as the longest-serving employees in NDSU history.
Instead of a retirement party, flowers or cards, Miller has requested donations be made to the Germans from Russia fund. You can contribute here.
If you’d like to check out Miller’s documentaries, you can watch all 10 here.
Copyright 2022 KFYR. Posted on the GRHC website with permission of KFYR.