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Germans from Russia plan exhibit hall construction

By Staff | Nov 4, 2016

A 1910 home scene of early German-Russian settlers in McIntosh County

The Germans from Russia club want to bring back the Germans from Russia exhibit at the Prairie Village Museum that was closed in 2012.

The Stumpp Exhibition Hall, named after Dr. Karl Stumpp, was built in the fall of 1975. It replicated a turn-of-the-century Germans from Russia house complete with a bedroom, kitchen and parlor. The hall included scrapbooks and exhibit cases that showcased various aspects of the Germans from Russia culture.

“It was kind of a gathering place, but it was more to preserve their history,” said Cathy Jelsing, Executive Director of the museum.

The Stumpp Exhibition Hall, donated by Walt and Elizabeth Miltenberger, was torn down during Jelsing’s second year as director, after the house began to omit an odd smell. With no foundation, the building began to rot, and Jelsing knew it could not be saved.

Some exhibition items were moved into a smaller exhibition held in Old Main, and the rest were put in storage.

“We’ve always said that if we had the funds and someone helped us establish it, we’d be open to bringing it back,” Jelsing said.

Ron Brossart approached Jelsing last winter and asked what the museum could do to have some kind of Germans from Russia presence again. He then took the question to Michael Miller, Director and Bibliographer of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection in Fargo, who had the idea of building a social hall instead of a house to go in the museum.

About a month ago, the idea was presented to the Germans from Russia club in Rugby. Many members thought that, if the project did happen, a house should be erected in the village, just as before. Others liked the idea of a social hall with movable exhibition cases, to be structured on the land next door to the museum. This way, the public could use the hall as an event space and could move exhibits as need be. The space would include year-round access and a working kitchen.

The problem with this idea is correct interpretation. “We don’t know what a Germans from Russia social hall looks like,” Jelsing said. “What we struggle with here, in all of our buildings, is interpretation.”

Monica Houim took over the project from Brossart, as she is head of the Germans from Russia club in Rugby.

“The question would be if people are willing to contribute to the cost of building something like this,” Houim said. “If that’s our heritage, we should want to [contribute].”

In order for the Germans from Russia exhibit to happen, the project would rely heavily on outside donations. According to Jelsing, the museum cannot afford funding because of other maintenance projects happening on museum grounds.

The Germans from Russia club plans to build a database of the names of people who would be interested in keeping the Germans from Russia heritage alive in Rugby.

“We would want to see what interest is out there,” Houim said. “We would need help both creatively and financially.”

Rugby is the peak of the “triangle” of Germans from Russia settlers, according to Jelsing. In the late 1800s, settlers left Russia because of broken promises and hard times, moving to the Pierce and McHenry county area after finding affordable agricultural land.

“The Germans from Russia motto has always been ‘Faith, Family and Farming,'” Houim said. “They relied heavily on their faith and settled with people of similar religious traditions and found farm land that was like the land back in Russia.”

Houim explained that the settlers excelled at farming, more so than others in the area. They grew their own food, canned food, and made their own clothing.

By 1910, Germans from Russia settlers owned 19 percent of the farmland in Pierce County.

“This is what we want to do, revive the history of our heritage,” Houim said. “It’s really important that we do this. It’s the younger generation that we need to get to see their heritage.”

Those interested in helping with or donating to this project can contact Houim at (701) 208-0461 or at iamgermanrussian@gmail.com.

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