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A Story of Family

By Carmen Rath-Wald, Logan County Extension Agent

Rath-Wald, Carmen. "A Story of Family." Napolean Homestead, 22 August 2012, 2.


This last week I prepared several cards, one to a lady who had celebrated her 75th birthday, a high school classmate who had lost her mother, a cheerful card for a friend who had been injured in a farm accident and was recovering in the hospital, and finally a celebratory thank you card to a 90 year old lady who between celebrating her birthday with family and sky diving¸ yes, that’s right, sky diving¸ had found the time to create and donate a quilt to the Tri-County Tourism Alliance. 

As I wrote in each card, I thought about each individual and their amazing personal stories.  The man who had been injured faced learning to walk for the third time in his life.   Daunting as that thought was for me, he was matter-of-fact, and determined.  So positive in his outlook, there simply wasn’t room for self-pity or time wasted in thinking “why me.” 

As I reflected on the 75 year old, I considered what a good year 1937 was.  It was the year of her birth, and what a joyous and positive event that must have been on the heels of the great depression with its dirty skies and empty pockets.  A baby has that power to pull us into the light and give us joy even in the darkest of days.

The 90 year old had said that she went sky diving in spite of the fact that some of her children vehemently refused.  How’s that for an inspiration?  Imagine your mother taking the plunge from an open airplane door…would you be able to follow her?  What courage she shared!

And my friend who lost her mom.  She is such a talent.   A writer who has seven books to her credit, has authored news columns monthly magazine publications, what stories will she share of her precious mother?  Will she write about the effect her mom’s humorous homemade cards had on her family and friends?  Will she share the stories of her mom as a young unmarried woman working in St. Paul in the 40’s?  Will she share her fear that no one will worry about her as her mother had?  Will she write of her family’s powerful influence on a small rural North Dakota town?

Everyone has a story to tell, and with the development of tools such as digital cameras, recorders and editing software, anyone can record their family stories.  Although your grandparents or parents may not be willing to sit down and write their life stories, they will talk and visit, and by capturing their childhood stories, memories of special events and perspectives on significant moments in history, you honor them by keeping their memories and stories alive.

The Tri-County Tourism Alliance has taken on a project to collect such stories.  Memories of milking cows while sitting on a three-legged stool, or bottle feeding lambs before school, these are being recorded.  One lady talked about walking the rows of potato plants, picking the bugs off and putting them in a can.  Another talked about how when they got home after a day at school, they would make home-made ice cream, with chocolate sauce or maple topping.

These stories connect us to our ancestors in a way that feels real and close.  Their experiences shaped not only their lives, but who we are today.  A few years ago, The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection sponsored the Dakota Memories three-fold endeavor.  Dr. Jessica Clark’s Oral History Interviews was one part of that endeavor.  Jessica came to our area and interviewed many locals, capturing the interviews on video.  Those interviews can be viewed on the GRHC website: http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/

Others have conducted interviews and recorded the narrators, the most current being the Tri-County Tourism Alliance and their Das Gute Essen project.  The blog at: http://dasguteessen.com/ has the full story, but basically the final product will be a beautiful book with stories about food, preparation, gardening, butchering, whatever comes straight from the oldest living generation of Germans from Russia in three counties – Logan, McIntosh and Emmons.

Who is involved in this effort?  State agencies, like the North Dakota Department of Tourism, the State Historical Society, local Historical Societies and Museums, NDSU and locals who feel passionate about the preservation and promotion of the culture and heritage of the immigrants to Emmons, Logan and McIntosh Counties are all involved.  People who want their family stories collected and preserved.  People who have stories to tell.  People like you.

The next meeting of the Tri-County Tourism Alliance, German-Russian Country: Prairie Legacy, will be on Friday, September 21 at a historic farm site north of Lehr.  A tour will be followed by a meeting including a strategic planning session led by Kathleen Tweeten Director of the NDSU Extension Center for Community Vitality and an Extension Specialist in Community Economic Development in the Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics. 

Who is invited to attend this meeting?  Simply, you are.  If you have an interest in preserving our local history and culture, and a passion for promoting our local resources for heritage tourism, you are.  Please consider joining us and sharing in the effort to promote the resources of our area, particularly the people; The Stories of Family.

If you have any questions about this column or anything else I can help you with, please contact me at the NDSU Extension Service in Logan County at 754-2504 or email me at: carmen.rath.wald@ndsu.edu.  I would be glad to help!

Reprinted with permission of Napoleon Homestead.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
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Director: Michael M. Miller
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