Strasburg, North Dakota- Family Issues

Germans from Russia Heritage Society
Cassette Tape Collection (Date Unknown)
Number One in a Series

Transcription by Joy Hass Stefan
Editing by Janel Wald and Linda Haag

The closeness of the family isn’t like it was years ago, but I think we maintain it here as well as anyone else. And they all feel too… Catholics as well as we do, that some of this has been lost, but they do feel that the home is the center of everything. You lose the family life, the home life, and then you’ve really lost something. So I would say here that the family life is as good as you’ll find it anywhere, I’m sure of that.

Strasburg, North Dakota. Population: 643. Our hometown. One in a series of programs exploring the values and, character of life in small towns. Produced by Minnesota Public Radio Station KCCM, with funds provided by the North Dakota Committee for the Humanities and Public Issues. On today’s sound portrait, you’ll hear attitudes about family, privacy, helpfulness. And Mayor Leo Mattern tells about the growth of the town. You’ll also hear a portion of a council meeting, and look to the future of Strasburg. The interviewer is John Ydstie.

Now everybody is a good parent. You can’t find one parent that isn’t a good parent around here, and I think this is what they hold in high esteem, their family.

How would you describe a good parent?

You have to love your child, that’s for sure. And you try to give them the best education you know how. I don’t think you should be too harsh on your children, but you can’t just let them run loose whenever they want. That’s an advantage of a small town. Now my kids, I don’t have to worry about them when we are working. But they can go to the swimming pool, they can ride out to the rodeo grounds; they’ve got horses for them. I don’t have to worry about them getting mugged or raped. A kid gets into trouble for driving too fast, maybe, or something like that, but that’s the limit to it. That’s the advantage of a small town. See, if you’re in a big city, your kid leaves and you don’t know where he’s at.

Come on. Go!

I get to throw it. I get to throw it.

Wait, wait wait. They have to run around Nanna’s house once, count up to 60…

Ready or not, here I come. [sounds of children running and playing]

From the time I came until now, a woman’s lifestyle has changed, because there weren’t too many women working other than teaching when I got here. But the nursing home opened and that employed a lot of women there, and some go in to Linton to go to work, so there are very few women who aren’t working in the town right now.

Did you ever feel any ostracism, or did people look askance when you worked?

A couple have remarked about it. They don’t think I should be working. I should be home, but I had worked all my life and I grew up in a different lifestyle too, so I just kept at my same pattern as I had before.

How about the women’s movement… has that affected women in Strasburg?

Maybe, to a certain extent, because we do have a lady on our city council now, so I imagine you’d classify that as the women’s movement. I’m sure ten years ago no woman would have wanted to get out and run for a city office.

What did the people think when you decided to run for town council?

Well, I suppose they didn’t think much, but the older people, middle age and otherwise, they… and some of the younger ones too. But they thought it was a real good idea. They put all their backing with us. But these old, old people thought the woman should stay at home. But most of them, like my petitions, they all signed it. I had no trouble signing them. They had a little huff, huff, huff, but they signed it anyway.

Do you think that a woman is free to be what she wants to be in a small town? Or are there certain limits about it?

Well, I could say again if you let other people bother you, yes. Then your limits are set. I think you should just go out, and if you think its right, do it. If not, if you don’t feel like going out working, because people won’t say anything, but if you let it… they will, for awhile. Why does she have to work? Why doesn’t she stay home with two kids? But after awhile, they kind of… you know, you almost have to work, the two of you. Around here, neatness is, like say your house isn’t neat and you have an extra job or something, right away, yeah, her house is sloppy and there she goes out working. Why doesn’t she stay home? That’s one thing they look for, the neatness of the house, the way you keep it up, and like the yard itself. I think one thing is first a good housewife, and then secondary, this around here. First you’re a good housewife and anything else comes second to that.

Does that bother you at all?

No. Because I keep up my work I figure. If he doesn’t like it, he’s supposed to tell me, but I do my job. I get most of my work done.

What’s important to kids around here?

The only thing I think is important is what people think about you. That’s always what you’re worried about… what are they going to say?

I don’t think you really worry about it, but you think about it now and then. You’re careful where you are at the right time.

What’s important to you?

Around here? Getting to school and getting out. Getting away.

I think a lot more would come back, but the opportunities for employment are so limited. I think they found out this confusion in the cities, and just being a number, and I think the dullness. It looks glamorous to them at first when they get to these new areas, but going to work it seems to be a daily routine, just like in a smaller area, and after the glamour has worn off, they’re ready to settle down in some area where there’s more stability and so on.

Do you think any of your children will come back here and make a living here?

No, I don’t think so, because with the doctor, he really tried so hard, and he would not come back. He’s now in the service, but he would never come back to North Dakota.

Why not?

Because he just thinks the people are so much different. The people interfere so much with their life that he just wouldn’t like it.

Not enough privacy?

Yes, not enough privacy, where in bigger cities they don’t pay that much attention to people, where in smaller states, they know everything about everybody else. That’s why he would never come back.

How do you feel about that?

I feel the same way about that part. I really do.

Does it bother you?

It really does, because everybody is interfering with everything you do. They interfere with whatever you’re doing. That’s one thing that’s good about cities because they don’t know each other that well, like they do in a little town like Strasburg. Everybody else knows everybody else, and they make a big issue about everything.

How about the concern and helpfulness? Don’t you get that too, in a small town?

No, not very much. Not really, because everybody has to carry themselves, and you don’t get much help from anybody else.

I think we have these little petty things. This is one of those things I think you have to kind of overlook living in a small town. People seem to know what everybody else’s business is. I think you would find it in larger cities too, but people don’t know you there, but as soon as a person is probably successful to some extent, and people get a little envious and we have this petty stuff. I suppose if they had more to do they wouldn’t be looking for some of these things. But this is one thing, I suppose, that you probably could get by with doing a lot less in some other areas than you do in a community such as this because you would get lost in the crowd, where in a smaller community, everybody seems to know what everybody else is doing. I feel sometimes they would be better off to mind their own business. This is part of any small community.

How about the notion that people are concerned about each other, and help each other?

Well, at one time I think it was much more so, but today it’s getting to be a dog eat dog world, even in small communities, as we have in the large communities. I think there would still be more concern for the simple reason that there are more families. You go to New York City, you probably don’t have any relatives there, but if you live in a smaller community, at least within the radius you probably have relatives and so on. So in that respect they still help each other out. There are times when they show great charitable ways by, for instance if some guy gets sick in the spring of the year, they’ll help put out his crop and so on. But overall, I think we’re pretty well getting to be like they are in the larger cities. We’re pretty well on our own, and you fight for survival. I think this is one thing that we in education sometimes fail to realize, to stem in to these kids. We want to paint it as a Cinderella world and it isn’t. And this business of everything being fun when you get out in the world and you can do what you want to, it doesn’t work.

Have you ever thought about living anywhere else, than a small town?

I would never want to go to a big town. I like the little towns much better. I can leave my doors open here, and I can come and go as I feel. I trust people here, but the minute I get in Bismarck, I lock my doors.

There are some notions about small towns that people have, I think. One of them would be that you don’t have privacy. Someone always knows your affairs and knows what you’re up to.

That may be true, and yet that’s really, in a sense, not altogether bad, either, in a sense. Sometimes it can be good too, that we’re intimate and know each other’s business. It might even help us a little bit to, um, talking about religion again, to shape up and examine our own Christian life, well how are we living? If other people see that in us, well maybe they’re right. So there might be a disadvantage and it can be an advantage, I would say.

Well, yes, I don’t think we need to be that private that we shouldn’t want other people to know what we’re doing, if we’re doing those kind of things that we want to be off somewhere so people can’t tell what we’re doing. Then I think we’re doing things we shouldn’t be doing, because we shouldn’t care if anybody knows whether we’re going here or going there. One advantage of people knowing what you are doing, is when you go to the hospital, everybody is there to come and see you. That’s one great advantage, where if you’re in a city and you get sick, you probably aren’t going to have too many visitors. When anybody hears that anybody is sick, you’re loaded with cards, you’re visited, and perhaps when you come home, they’ll help take care of your family, and there’s just a great advantage to that.

Well, I think people in a small town probably do have a lifestyle that they pretty much live by. But it seems that, as I would see it in Strasburg here, they’re pretty much all in agreement with, let’s say, the same lifestyle.

Would they accept someone who came in who maybe wanted to live a different way?

Well, that’s kind of hard to say. I really wouldn’t know what to say on that. I would rather think anyone coming in with a new lifestyle, I think would fit in because I don’t think there would be that many complications, really, as I would see it.

No, I think this party wouldn’t want to be so different. He’d naturally just form to their way and fall right into it.

You don’t do anything the neighbors don’t know about. The neighbor’s children don’t do anything your children don’t know about. Sometimes it’s not so good, but sometimes it is good, because I feel they stay within their boundaries and live up to marriage laws and church laws and the laws of the state and so on. Knowing that the neighbors know about it, they would probably go on and do a lot of things that, well, the neighbors know about it. We can’t do this. It’s a no-no.

How about helpfulness and concern? Are people more helpful in a small town like Strasburg than other places?

They are helpful to each other in a time of need around here. Like I’ve had a lady friend who passed away of cancer and all the different ladies in her homemakers club and in her church group came in and helped the family with the washing and the house cleaning and fixing food and taking it over for the family. Even now, I know her husband is still alone with two children and he gets a lot of help. Then again, too, I have another lady friend who’s in the hospital. She had surgery now and they were saying that as soon as she’s able to come home, we’ll have to get together and help her straighten up her house again and dust it and help her along with the things until she’s well enough. She’s alone. She lost her husband and her children are all gone. She’s a younger woman, but still is alone in the home and she’s had surgery that’s quite serious, so already they made arrangements for this.

At times of accidents and so on, I know in our homemakers club, one of the ladies, they lost a little girl in a farm accident. All our homemaker ladies pitched in and prepared food and helped her along with getting things ready for the funeral, getting clothes ready for the family to go to the funeral, because they have quite a large family. And it was a strain on the mother to lose this little girl, so suddenly and unexpectedly, and the homemakers club just pitched in and brought food and hot dishes, and at the funeral, lunch also. They had a lunch at the time of the funeral so when a relation came in there was food prepared so it wasn’t all on the mother and the father. I think they do an awful lot to help along.

Where was this?

Where Ray’s building.

Warren, Edgar Warren. He was just a cabinet builder.

I just don’t remember his kids, but I remember this Edgar Warren.

Wasn’t he married to a Diekert?

I think so.

I asked somebody, I forget who it was, and I said, “How the hell is Edgar Warren? I wonder if he ever gets to Strasburg.” I mean, was he from here?

He was a school teacher. And they said he was married to a gal from out across there, and he thought it was a Diekert.

Then they moved the house to Westfield, somebody told me.

I couldn’t say.

That was just… the house, I don’t remember what happened to it.

I think it’s right on this lot.

It had a nice shop. I wonder where that nice big shop went. .

I think it was on that lot.

You got to watch what you say. That all goes in the Record next week. You’re going to read all that stuff in the Record.

How would you assess Strasburg as a picture right now? Would you say it is a growing town, or static, dying?

No, I think it’s very much growing. Since I’ve been here, eight years now, we’ve added some 20 new houses in town. In fact, just five went up this year in ’74. And in the last Federal Census, we are the only town that increased in population, below 10,000. I’m quite sure we’re not dying out. It is on the upswing, or at least holding its own.

Why is it different, why is it bucking the trend?

Well, it’s a German community, and the Germans want to show off, I think. They like to show the next guy that they can do things. Thereby, there’s always someone who tries to bring some business into town, just to show off to the other guy that he can do it.

What would you say are the needs of a town like this, and Strasburg in particular?

Industry. Definitely industry, to keep the younger people here. If you keep your younger generation here, your towns will survive. The older people, sooner or later, will have to die, and if they are not replaced, then pretty soon the town will be dead. Industry is definitely a big factor in the smaller towns.

Do you think Strasburg is going to be getting industry in the near future, any kind of industry?

Yes. I have one in the making right now. And by next spring, I should be in full production. It’s the concrete fence posts that I will be manufacturing here in this town. Now, I have no idea how big it will get or how many people it will employ. This is something I’ll have to wait and see. As the demand will go on, I hope to have it up. I don’t want to mention any figure, but I hope to employ some people some day.

Have you ever wanted to live anywhere else?

Well, not necessarily, because I had the opportunity to move. In my dreams, when I came back to this little town, bought this business place, I thought this town could grow and could be twice the size of our neighbor town, Linton, which is the county seat and courthouse. I’m always telling them that don’t mean anything, because it’s been proven fact. But then, the minute you get the ball rolling, something turns up and the applecart turns. Like we had a mayor… I was mayor eight years ago, then they put (297) in this town, which was quite an improvement. We filled up all the old basements. We were open in the 1930s yet. People packed up and moved out, you know in the dry years. We backfilled that, put it back in grass, condemned all the old buildings. You’d be surprised if you’d seen that eight years ago, how ugly our town looked. And today you seldom find an old building. Well, there are a few more that have to be taken off. Then when we had (306) in, even my dad worked again. He was so mad for spending the taxpayers’ money, which was the best move we made. Then they pushed me out, me and the whole bar. Well, when they realized the last four years nothing was done, which we should have had a well two years ago already, and would have gotten Federal aid to help, in line of emergency, they didn’t build any, so they said, well I better run again. I said, well they didn’t want me in the first place, why should I run now? Well, I did, and won by far. Well, we got our well done. We made forward progress. We got to be a bicentennial city. We worked hard with some of my board members’ help, which if you noticed, the board goes pretty well along with what I say. And we got our all new stop signs now, up to date signs. Our pole has come. Then we got the Jaycees come. They’re going to put up the avenue signs, which we went 50-50 matching dollar with them. So there are four projects clicking. Now we’re working on our flagpole and our historical building, which is our next move now.

By the way, our flagpole is here. Where are we going to put that flagpole?

Out here.

Ervin thinks it doesn’t work out there.

No, no, right out here in the middle of the street. Right out there.

Right there. Do you think so?

That’s the place to put it. Right in the middle of the street.

Well, that manhole is there.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea, in the middle of the street here. That may be the best place of all. If he puts that block on there, prairie stone blocks, build it up about two feet high. That’s all it takes.

That would draw attention of everybody who drives by.

Put flowers in the middle. At least people would know it. It would be so much nicer than any other place. A block on each side. See, its right in the middle where it doesn’t interfere with your lights or anything.

Well, it would be eye catching.

It would only be about five feet square, I mean in diameter.

We wouldn’t have to make it square. We could make it round.

I say five feet in diameter.

You can make it round. It will look nicer than if it’s square.

Or make it diamond shaped so that if they hit it they’d glance off.
There, you couldn’t help but notice it, especially if you build it up with those prairie rocks, about two feet high around it.

I think we should put that in a motion and get this job started.

Okay, I’ll make that a motion.

Put it in the intersection. Why should we get the feeling of the people? It’s our duty. That’s why we were nominated for the job.

Motion made by Willie, seconded by Allyn Wald. All in favor?


Ayes carry. It’s projects that make your town grow.

I feel we’re trying to make our town grow, and Strasburg has increased its population from the 1960s to the 1970 census. We’ve built a new nursing home here; we have a big cheese plant. This bank in itself has grown tremendously since 1968, since I’ve been here. I don’t know, I think we’ve got a clean town, and this is what we work for. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but our main street, what we have, I think is clean. This has probably helped us a lot. People take a little bit of pride in their buildings and so forth. This is something we all have to have an effort in. Otherwise, your town probably backs up and you don’t even know it. We’ve got a few towns around here that have backed up. And the trend for people leaving Strasburg, I don’t think it’s been as great because there are people who want to come back here. North Dakota, as a whole, has lost a lot of young people, which I think if there were more of an opportunity… right now we’re in a tight money pinch, I know kids from around here who have left would like to come back and just farm. The opportunity just isn’t there anymore.

There’s got to be a better life somewhere else. You find something different; try something different. If you don’t like anything else, you never know where you’re going to end up. If I find a job that I like and country that I like, I’ll stay there. If you’re happy, you’re happy, and around here, I think maybe the older people like it. It’s a nice little town to just retire in and listen to the gossip.

Where are you going to go?

I’m going to college. Grand Forks.

[ 410 – 418 – Strasburg high school cheerleaders]

Strasburg, North Dakota. Our hometown. One in a series of sound self-portraits illustrating the attitudes and character of life in small towns. Produced by Minnesota Public Radio Station KCCM, with funds provided by the North Dakota Committee for the Humanities and Public Issues. Producers of the series are John Ydstie,Dennis Hamilton and Bill Siemering. You may purchase a cassette copy of this program by contacting KCCM, Concordia College, and Moorhead, Minnesota 56560

That’s the way it goes in Strasburg.

[432 – 453 accordion music]

[end of recording on Side A; no recording on Side B]


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