Germans from Russia Room
North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo
Marie Rudel Portner and Her Family
Fessenden, Wells County, North Dakota
Simon Rudel made a bold decision in great courage of faith as did
his grandfather Wilhelm Rudel fifty years earlier.
The Rudel family traces roots to Wuerttemberg region of Germany,
speaking Swabish dialect. Jacob and Johanna Rudel, married in 1795,
nurtured a first son Wilhelm. Although born in Wuerttemberg, Wilhelm
and his wife Johanna in 1829 joined the second immigrant wave to
Arzis, Bessarabia in the Budschak region--attracted by expanded
colonist privileges from Czar Alexander II, the grandson of Czarina
Catherine II, the Great.
Wilhelm's only son Friedrich and his wife Wilhelmina prospered
with fourteen children. Their sixth child was Simon. Simon Rudel
lived in Alt-Arciz, one of two major marketing/auction trade villages
in Bessarabia, when the special colonist privileges of perpetuity
were canceled and devalued to general citizenship in 1871-1874.
Young Simon immigrated with the promise and hope for a future in
On February 17th, 1882, Simon married another Bessarabian immigrant,
Dorothea Weber in Scotland, South Dakota. In March 1893, they arrived
at the Sykeston land office where the Soo Railway track construction
had ended. Their wagon journey to Fessenden was much hindered by
heavy snow and spring melt, according to family oral memory. Simon
and Dorothea established homestead for agricultural farming in Oshkosh
Township, Wells County, North Dakota. That first year, with their
older six children, they lived in a sod house. Within a year, they
built a permanent wood-frame house. Six more children were born
at this farmstead, five miles east of Fessenden, North Dakota.
The Rudel family were active, devout German Baptists, where Simon
was involved in the incorporation of the rural German Baptist Church
of Germantown, in 1902.
Simon Rudel and five sons continued to acquire farmland to accumulate
over 5,000 acres, including Simon and Dorothea's four daughters
marrying local Bessarabian German families of Pepple (historically
Böppel), Beuchler, and Kessler at Cathay, North Dakota.
Beginning in 1920, Simon and Dorothea Rudel retired for twenty
years in Spokane, Washington, to continue close social contact with
other Bessarabian immigrants who settled that region. In 1932, Simon
and Dorothea celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary at the
First German Baptist Church in Fessenden.
During 1936-1937, Simon wrote family letters in Swabian German
text to his son Herbert Rudel, still farming the family homestead
near Fessenden. Some of these letters have survived intact, and
they are displayed with some English text, translated by grandson
Weston Rudel. After a century, the Rudel Family and their descendants
are a rare centennial family to remain well-represented in Fessenden
and rural Wells County.
In honor of the ethnic heritage and family traditions and values
represented by Simon Rudel and Dorothea Weber Rudel, their daughter
Marie Magdalena Rudel Portner established an endowment trust to
support continuing preservation and study of the Germans from Russia
culture and heritage.
Marie Magdalena Rudel (1897-1999) was the eighth of twelve children,
born at Fessenden, North Dakota. She also had distinction for being
the longest surviving graduate of rural Oshkosh School District
(1913), Fessenden High School (1917), and Valley City State Teacher's
College (state normal school of 1919). As a certified elementary
educator, Marie taught at West Norway Township, Wellsburg, and Heimdal,
before re-locating in 1920 with her retiring parents to Spokane,
After marrying Hal Portner of Spokane, Washington, where she continued
in public education, Marie continued her married life in Alhambra,
California, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Hal's vocational career, as city
and county electrical and plumbing codes inspector, evolved into
land investment/development of prime Las Vegas Boulevard properties
for twenty years. Hal and Marie were identified with improved community
leadership and community philanthropy, before Marie was widowed
for twenty-five years.
Marie reminisced in 1997 with memories of her Christian baptism
in the James River, herding sheep with her sister Hilda, and teaching
in rural school houses where chalkboards were simply plaster walls
Through these years as eighth of twelve Rudel children, Marie
exemplified moral strength, humorous wit, and focused determination,
which characterized many ethnic Germans from Russia settlers with
other early pioneers of the Northern Plains and Dakota Prairies.
Text prepared by Jay Gage, exhibits and textiles curator,
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries, Fargo.