Germans from Russia break ground
By Sue Sitter
Several of the more than 400 people attending the Seventh Annual Rhubarb Festival at Rugby’s Prairie Village Museum gathered near the site of the future Heart of America Germans from Russia building for a groundbreaking ceremony Sunday afternoon.
Prairie Village Museum Board President Roger Sitter introduced members of the Germans from Russia group, who spoke of the importance of preserving the history of people who helped to settle Pierce County and much of North Dakota.
“It was a sad day when the old Germans from Russia center had to come down due to lack of funding and lack of maintenance, and the years took their toll,” Sitter said. “So, this is kind of a happy day today to be putting up a new center, and to have all the people here to do that.”
“And then, we’ll have an endowment to make sure that what happened to the last one doesn’t happen to this one,” Sitter noted, adding the building will have personal meaning for him.
“For me, it’s not a building full of things. To me, it’s a building that’s going to tell the stories of a lot of people in this area, and the hard work they put into making this area what it is, and to inspire us with the spirit that allowed this country to develop.”
Monica Volk Houim, who serves as president of Heart of America Germans from Russia, told the crowd, “This groundbreaking is an important event for us, and for the Germans from Russia, and for the community itself. We are looking forward to having in this state a Germans from Russia heritage center, totally dedicated to the Germans from Russia, so we can continue telling the story of our ancestors in America, and also caring for the artifacts that we now have.”
Houim shared her story: “My grandparents, Pete and Leonida Koenig, were part of the original Germans from Russia group that began back in the 1970s, when the original building was here on the site. So, it does mean a lot to me personally to help carry on the legacy that they along with others helped to create.”
Ronald Brossart, son of Valentine and Alice Brossart, spoke of the building’s importance to his family as well. He said his grandmother, Elizabeth Voeller Brossart came to North Dakota from Ukraine at the turn of the twentieth century.
“This building actually was a dream of our father, Valentine, even before the original building was removed. He spent many happy hours at this museum, and he enjoyed and appreciated the many memories that it provided from his childhood’s days,” Brossart recalled.
“But he was especially fond of the original Germans from Russia building when it was here, Brossart added. “His mother, Elizabeth Voeller, spent the original sixteen or seventeen years of her life in Selz, Russia, before she emigrated to the United States and Rugby, North Dakota.”
Brossart shared more of his father’s story: “He mentioned several times, especially when he was in the last few years of his life, that someday, a new, more permanent monument should be built to honor the Germans from Russia ethnic group, and the enormous contributions that they had provided to the community around Rugby. He strongly felt that their story needed to be told to future generations, and to preserve the past.”
“Unfortunately, his life passed before he was able to do any more with his dream. That was eleven years ago,” Brossart noted.
Brossart recalled taking a trip with his father and Mike Miller of North Dakota State University to Ukraine to see his grandmother’s birthplace.
Brossart said after the building dedicated to displaying artifacts from German settlers from Russia was demolished about seven years ago, he and other descendants of the original families were determined to build a more permanent structure to help them share their stories.
Alice Brossart established a legacy fund “that would hopefully help in bringing Valentine’s dream to reality” before her death in 2017, Ronald Brossart said.
“Through the very long and dedicated work of volunteers, some of which are already up here, and some that are in the audience there would be too many to bring everyone up separately, but, finally, sufficient funds were raised through the generous donations besides our family, in fact, several very substantial donations, to finally bring it to this day here where we can start construction,” he continued.
“But, much more is needed before everything can be done.”
“This building, if properly maintained, could outlive everyone that is here today. It should be here to preserve our past, and tell the story of all of our ancestors.”
Brossart thanked Prairie Village Museum Executive Director Stephanie Steinke, Sitter and Houim for their help in the project. He also credited Brad Wangler and Derrick Welk for help with construction plans and cost estimates.
Information published by the Heart of America Germans from Russia states, “The cost of the building including a perpetual endowment is well over $250,000. We will still require a substantial fundraising effort to reach our goal.”
The information said the amount would cover costs for maintaining collections in proper conditions with cases and climate controls, and maintaining the building itself.
When finished, the building will be 30 feet by 40 feet.
Heart of America Germans from Russia welcomes donations through the North Dakota Community Foundation. Checks should have “HOA Germans from Russia” on the memo line, and the donations are tax deductible. Donations may be mailed to: HOA Germans from Russia, PO Box 221, Rugby, ND, 58368. Online donations may be made at 222.ndcf.net/donate.
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