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‘Generous’ donation to Germans from Russia group funds new building exhibits

By Staff | May 21, 2020

Submitted photo Tami Ness (left), Rugby Bremer Bank ag representative, presents a check to Steve Fritel of Heart of America Germans from Russia

Members of the Heart of America Germans from Russia are expressing thanks for “a generous gift” from Bremer Bank received early this year as they make plans to continue their work on their new building’s interior.

The financial contribution came from Rugby’s Bremer branch and Bremer’s headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., according to HOA Germans from Russia President Monica Houim.

Houim told the Tribune group member Steve Fritel contacted Bremer CEO Jeanne Crain, who had grown up in Rugby, to tell her about the new Germans from Russia building at the Prairie Village Museum.

The building is the result of work and contributions that began with a trust fund established by Valentine and Alice Brossart, who wanted to tell the story of the people who fled Russia to settle in Pierce County.

The former building housing artifacts from the early settlers on the museum grounds had deteriorated and was demolished about eight years ago. Construction finished in late summer. Electricity and interior work has been completed gradually.

Fritel said he contacted Crain, the daughter of charter members John and Harriet Heilman, after describing the building project to Kyle Nelson, senior vice president of Rugby’s Bremer branch.

“Her family had the history of actually being Germans from Russia and her family were members of Heart of America Germans from Russia,” Fritel explained. “So I reached out to her. She still has a connection and a lot of feelings for the community where she grew up and felt that Bremer needs to be a part of this.”

“We were hoping to have a grand opening and have Jeanne and some of her family attend the event. It kind of got put on hold,” Fritel said. “But we realize we need to acknowledge everyone who makes a donation.”

“This is a very significant donation,” Fritel said. “We need to put something together to acknowledge their contribution.”

Fritel and Houim said the group hoped to schedule an event in the fall, possibly to coincide with Oktoberfest.

“We don’t have anything on paper yet because of (coronavirus measures) going on,” Houim said.

Houim described the Bremer donation as “at the diamond level” for contributions to Heart of America Germans from Russia. The group places donations between $25,000 and $50,000 in that category.

“That total donation is going to go toward helping to get the exhibits designed and attached or set up, both the exhibits and the displays,” Houim said. “Anything with the interior of the building, that’s what we’re going to focus on with that donation.”

“I was very grateful for that generous gift, because it not only helps our community and our project, and not only was it our local branch that donated, but Bremer Bank as a whole,” Houim added. “It shows how important smaller communities are to them as well.”

“We’re looking forward to (opening with completed exhibits),” Houim said. “We’re really excited. Since we received this generous donation, we’re excited to get things going for the inside. We’re excited to see what it’s going to look like. We’re just excited for the community and for people to see our ancestry and what their stories are. People need to know their stories. I think this is really going to be a gift to the community as well.”

In a written statement to the Tribune, Crain said, “Bremer Bank is glad to support this important initiative. We are a bank built on the legacy of our founder, Otto Bremer, a German immigrant whose commitment to the communities that supported him throughout North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin defined his companies. We look forward to seeing this gift in action.”

Houim said the HOA Germans from Russia will meet Monday morning in the new building at the museum. Houim said the meeting would take place at 8:30 a.m. Members will have an opportunity to review storyboards and timelines for the Germans from Russia exhibit at the meeting.

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