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Dan and Katie Klein Reflect on 85 Years of History

Burke, Allan. "Dan and Katie Klein Reflect on 85 Years of History." Emmons County Record, 23 June 2005, 1, 3-4.


St. John’s Catholic Church, which was razed in recent years, had historic significance because it was the Mother Church to the Catholic churches in south central North Dakota. The parish was combined with St. Andrew’s in Zeeland, and there will be lots of memories shared at the St. Andrew’s Centennial this weekend.

When St. Andrew’s Catholic Church of Zeeland celebrates its centennial this week, the parish’s oldest couple, Dan and Katie Klein, will be among those honored.

While Katie grew up in St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hague, Dan was born and raised in the St. John’s Catholic Church five miles north of Zeeland. St. John’s closed, and its members transferred to St. Andrew’s.

"I was baptized and had my First Holy Communion at St. John’s," Dan said, "and I attended 'German School' at the church during the summer months."

He said Martin Braun, a music teacher at the Zeeland School, taught religion and prayers in German.

"He was very strict," Dan noted.

Dan remembers when Braun brought his 50-member band from Zeeland to play at St. John’s.

"Zeeland had a community band for many years, and some of my uncles were members," he said.

"The church seemed so big to me as a boy, and it was a very beautiful church," Dan recalled. "There were stained glass windows by the altar, and the dome above the altar was copper."

Katie said the church seemed so small to her when she began attending St. John’s after her marriage to Dan.

"St. Mary’s is a much bigger church, but I came to love St. John’s," she said.

Anton and Elizabeth Klein posed with their daughters, Sister Antonette and Sister Janeane, O.S.B. Antonette later left the religious life.
The Anton and Elizabeth Klein family included, left to right, Tony, Sister Janeane, Sister Antonette, Anton (father), Elizabeth (mother), Dan, Elizabeth and John.

The first priest Dan remembers is the late Father E.J. Steinbach. "All of us kids liked Father N. Fox because he gave us candy after Mass," Dan said.

For many years, St. John’s had a resident priest who lived in the rectory just north of the church. The last of the resident priests was Father Gross.

When the rectory was no longer used, it was moved to Zeeland, and David and Lenora Salwei now own it.

Like other Catholic churches in the region, Mass was celebrated in Latin, and the homily was given in German.

Gardening is one of Katie’s hobbies, along with quilting;. Above, she shows some of her tomatoes.
Dan stands with one of his pet deer. Dan’s hobby is fishing.

Dan and Katie remember when Father Schill, himself a carpenter, remodeled St. John’s into a modern church. A finished basement with a furnace was added, which made the main floor much warmer.

"In the winter before we had a basement, Father Anton Anzic, a big man, would stomp his feet when he entered the church to get the snow off his showed. It was so cold in the church that the snow stayed there," Dan said.

During the remodeling project, Father Schill built a new altar, which is now in use in Fargo. Dan said the major disappointments in the remodeling were the removal of the original ornate altar and the painting over of the copper ceiling.

The vocations of St. John’s include Sister Janeane, O.S.B., Dan’s sister; Sister Mary Edgar Feist, O.S.B., an aunt of Dan’s; Sister Emmanuel Feist, O.S.B., a cousin; Sister Jamella Meier, a second cousin, and Father Zyprian Meier.

When it came time to close St. John’s and combine the parish with St. Andrews, it was difficult for many in the church.

"There is always a strong attachment to a church and parish, but St. John’s was unique because it was the Mother Church to the other churches in the area," Dan explained.

Dan’s history

Dan lives on the farm where he was born in a sod house 85 years ago. His parents were the late Anton and Elizabeth (Feist) Klein, who immigrated to the United States from Germany.

"My dad was unusual for that time because he attended a business college in York, Neb., and taught in a country school. Later, he worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dan has six brothers and sisters. They include, after Dan, who is the oldest, Tony (Cecelia) Klein of Bismarck, John (Agnes) Klein of Aberdeen, William (deceased), Antonette (Gene) Staudinger of Bismarck, Sister Janeane of Richardton Abbey and Elizabeth of Tacoma, Wash.

"We walked to our country school, which was about three-quarters of a mile from our farm," Dan said.

He graduated from Zeeland High School in 1939.

"That’s where I got my smarts," Dan joked. "I must have been smart because I passed the exam to get my teaching certificate."

When he was 12, Dan had appendicitis, and it was a major undertaking in those days to get him to St. Alexius Hospital in Bismarck. He traveled by wagon and train. Still in his collection is the small, itemized receipt from his surgery on March 1, 1932. The list includes $15, board, room and care; $14, operating room and anesthesia; $2.50, lab fee; 66 cents, medicine and supplies; 25 cents, laundry, and 10 cents, toothbrush, for a total of $32.51. Terms were cash.

Dan and Katie had five children (Brenda is deceased). Left to right are Dan, Jerry, Bob, Al and Katie and Dan.

Like his dad before him, Dan became a teacher. He taught in the country school (Strasburg School District No. 3) where he attended the first eight grades.

"Our youngest son, Bob, started out in the same country school but finished his elementary and high school education in Zeeland," Dan said.

According to Dan, attending a country school did not limit the futures of his students.

"My country school students ranked high in high school, and they went on to very successful careers," Dan said.

He noted that Bob is a third generation teacher and taught at Bismarck High School for 30 years before retiring and then going back to teaching part-time.

Dan was teaching in the country school when he met Katie Gabriel at a dance.

"Katie was a good dancer. I just watched," Dan said. "I asked somebody who was that pretty girl out there dancing. I found out she lived way over there in Emmons County, but she was worth the trip."

They were married in 1941 at St. Mary’s, the church where Katie was baptized and received First Communion. They started out on his parents’ farm north of Zeeland, where they have lived for many years.

Katie’s family

Katie’s parents were the late Adam and Katherine (Schmidt) Gabriel, who farmed near Hague. Her brother, Frank, has the family farm. Both of Katie’s parents were Germans from Russia, and they immigrated to the United States as children.

There were seven children in the Gabriel family. In order of birth, they are Ann Mitzel, deceased; Mary Weigel, deceased; Joe Gabriel, deceased; Katie; Frank of Hague; Ambrose, deceased, and Helen (Wilfred) Eberle of Fargo.

Katie attended a country school about a mile and a half from the farm, and then she stayed home until she and Dan were married.

The Kleins have five children. Dan and Pat Wolf have two sons and live in Bismarck. Pat is a teacher, and Dan is a retired teacher. Bob and Cheryl (Cheryl Jundt, a native of Zeeland) Klein live in Minneapolis, Minn., where Bob works for Zerox. They have three sons and lost a son in a tragic car accident. Jerry and Bev (Bev Schatz of Zeeland) Klein live in Fessenden and have four children. They own a grocery store, and Jerry is a State Senator. Al (Cathy) Klein is a pharmacist in Elwood, Ind., where he has worked since 1976. They have two children. Their youngest child, Brenda, was 33 when she died in 1996. She had cerebral palsy and attended school at Grafton.

"The staff at Grafton did a wonderful job of caring for Brenda," Dan said. "She looks down on her old mom and dad and says 'stay there another year'."

Married life

Dan Klein and Katie Gabriel were married at St. Mary’s in Hague in 1941.

After starting out on the Klein farm, Dan and Katie moved to Aberdeen where he worked for three years for K.O. Lee in the shipping department. The company manufactured small electric grinders. Dan was drafted into the U.S. Navy in 1944. Their son, Dan, was two years old, and Bob was a baby. Katie and the boys moved to Zeeland where they lived for most of the time Dan was in the service. "Dan bought me a 'war buggy' with wooden wheels," Katie laughed.

"That’s what they called baby buggies that moms had while the dads were in the service. I pushed the boys in that buggy through snow to get to church."

Katie said they donated the buggy for an auction held by St. Andrew’s, and they were shocked when it sold for $100. After Dan left for his Navy Duty, Bob became very ill with what turned out to be a bowel obstruction.

"Dr. J.B. Grace, an elderly doctor, figured out the problem, and the surgeon in Aberdeen later said we were lucky to have such a good doctor in Zeeland," Dan said.

Dan was on the way to Florida when he received the news that his son was gravely ill, and he was given special leave to be with his family. "When I got to the hospital in Aberdeen and I saw Katie, I knew everything was alright," Dan recalled. "She was smiling." At eight months old, Bob lost 12 inches of his intestines, but he quickly recovered.

Dan was drafted by the U.S. Navy in 1944, and Katie and their two sons were able to join him when he was stationed in Louisiana.

Dan returned to boot camp, and his company was shipped out for overseas duty. He and another sailor were held back because the Navy needed typists, so he was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Station in Chicago. "I used a manual typewriter with an 18-inch carriage," Dan said. "Erasures and cross-overs were not allowed. I had the advantage of being slow (30 words per minutes; fast is 100 words per minute) but accurate."

Dan and his fellow typist were unique on the base because of their jobs in the headquarters, and new recruits thought they were officers and saluted them.

"We were called Little Admirals," Dan laughed. "I guess we must have acted like admirals."

From Chicago, Dan was transferred to Florida for amphibious training. He was the chief of a land craft with eight sailors under him; however, an ear infection disqualified him for sea duty.

He then served in the personnel department of the anti-aircraft battery at Shell Beach, La., where Katie and the boys joined him from April to November of 1945.

"There was strict segregation of the races in the South at that time, but Daniel and Bob played with black kids. Bob is dark skinned, and I think people thought he was part black. All of the kids had fun together, and none of them knew the difference," Dan said.

Dan still remembers the spring of 1946 when the loud speakers at the Louisiana base blared that "the Japs" had surrendered. The Kleins returned to Zeeland to farm Dan’s home place, and Dan went back to teaching.

"Katie was a great farmer," Dan recalled.

Katie added, "I would plow until I hit a rock and then back up. I went back more than I went forward. If I had backed up any more, I would have been in the neighbor’s field."

The Kleins milked cows and raised chickens, pigs and cattle.

"In those days you didn’t have to have a crop," Dan explained, "because you could live on what you raised."

The Post Office

In 1966, Zeeland Postmaster Adolph Dockter died, and his widow, Julia (Wolf) Dockter, suggested to Dan that he apply for the job. (Julia now resides in Bismarck.)

"I had never even thought about working in the Post Office," Dan said, "but I applied and got the job."

Dan was trained by the Gackle Postmaster, and his clerk was Adella Boschee. Dan served from 1966-84, and Adella replaced him when he retired.

"Adella was a very good clerk and easy to work with," Dan said. Dan recalls his patrons at the Post Office as great people. He said he loved his job but was able to take early retirement because of his military service.

The Kleins enjoy living on their farm, and the land is rented out. "We wouldn’t want to live anywhere else," Dan and Katie said. For Dan and Katie Klein, this weekend’s church centennial will be a special time in their lives and a chance to be with many friends and relatives.

Martin Braun conducted the Zeeland Band for many years, and Dan Klein remembers when Braun brought his band to St. John’s.
State Sen. Jerry Klein of Fessenden and his son, Jonathon, are on the 1949 MT John Deere that Jerry restored.
Dan taught country school for nine years, and he said his students all went on to do well. Above are students from one of his years at the school. The girls are, left to right, Annie Klein, Pauline Aberle, Caroline Weigel, Theresa Aberle and Isabel Klein; the boys are Orvin Aberle, Jerome Weigel and Francis Weigel.

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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