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Hutterite Lives Comfortable Life

Spaeth, Pat. "Hutterite Lives Comfortable Life." Forum, 10 July 1986.


Valentine Waldner lives a life many would envy. He has never had any money but he lives in a three-bedroom apartment with his wife and children. He has no food bills but always has plenty to eat. In fact, he is never wanting for anything.

But it is a life he figures not many people could live.

Waldner is a Hutterite, a member of a group of people who live in collective agricultural communities. He lives in the Spring Prairie Colony northeast of Glyndon, MN., with about 75 other Hutterites who descended from German-speaking Anabaptists who fled South Russia in 1874 and first settled near Yankton, S.D. The colony is one of many that have branched out and now dot the Great Plains States and western Canadian provinces.

Waldner was a host for a group of about 120 people who are descendants of the Germans who fled Russia. The tour was a part of a Germans from Russia workshop being held at North Dakota State University. The workshop is being held as part of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society International Convention Friday through Sunday at the Fargo Holiday Inn.

The Hutterites, who remain strongly attached to customs and traditions of their heritage, have turned the colony into a thriving community that includes a shoe shop, a print shop, beef, dairy, and grain farming, and a motor repair shop. The backbone of the community, however, is farming and livestock. The colony's turkey farm has about 30,000 turkeys which are sold to companies throughout the United States.

"It's a good life," Waldner says. "But it's not a life people from the outside would probably want." No member of Spring Prairie has come from outside the colony, but Waldner said other colonies have taken in outsiders, and that all they need do to become a colony member is ask.

"It's pretty tough for someone who isn't born here to come in," he said, adding that Hutterites do not have access to television or radio, just a single newspaper that is passed on almost systematically among each member every day. Entertainment is minimal because, as Waldner said, there is little time for it, with farm chores keeping every member of the community busy from dawn to dusk.

"Young people don't go out," he said. "They don't go to movies or anything like that." In fact, no member is allowed to leave the colony unless it's for the benefit of the community, mostly trips into Glyndon for supplies, he said.

Colony traditions are maintained by a board of five elected trustees (only the men are allowed to vote), although Waldner said enforcement is rarely necessary.

Hutterite children begin working young and there is no retirement age, Waldner said.

"By the time they're 8 years old, they're probably already on the tractor," he said. "And they work until they can't work anymore."

The colony is part of the Hawley, MN., school system and Hutterite children are educated through daily classroom instruction just like a public school. Education ends, however, when a child turns 16 and he then begins working full-time.

Waldner said members of the Spring Prairie colony are happy and no one has ever left it, but if one did decide to, he would be free to do so.

"We will never give anyone permission to leave," he said. "And we will discourage them from leaving, but if they want to we are not going to stop them. And if someone isn't conforming to the life-style, we'll tell them to go live somewhere else. But they're always welcome back."

Reprinted with permission of The Forum.

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