#854 – Dick Bernard: A Project to Document our Nation of Immigrants

One week from today, Wednesday, March 12, a fundraiser to celebrate the power of immigrant stories will be held at Target Field, Minneapolis. You are encouraged to attend, and make others aware of this important event as well. All details, including bios of the speakers, are here.
Your RSVP is requested.
Ours is a nation of immigrants: this is such an obvious fact that it often escapes notice. My own American roots are France (via Quebec) and Germany.
I was reminded of the extent of the immigrant population a few months ago. In the summer of 2013, I had reason to access the 1940 census of the tiny town of Sykeston ND, the place from which I graduated from high school in 1958. In that tiny town (pop. 274, in 2010, 117) in 1940, of the 161 adults 16 listed other states as birthplaces, and 11 were born in countries other than the U.S.
As late as 1940, one of six adults in the town were not native, even, to the state of North Dakota. I wrote a bit about this here, including the worksheet from the actual census here: Sykeston ND 1940 CensusRev, see page 3.
Tiny Sykeston was just one town, then.
Every reader could tell their own story: family members, ancestors, neighbors, friends….
We are a nation of immigrants.
Which leads again to Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 6-9 p.m. at Target Field in Minneapolis MN.
On that day, three immigrants to the U.S. will introduce GreenCardVoices.
All projects have their stories, and GreenCardVoices is no different. This new project already has a history.
Some years ago Laura Danielson, chair of the Immigration Department at Fredrikson and Byron, Minneapolis, decided that the stories of immigrants she knew were so interesting that they deserved retelling, and a coffee table book, Green Card Stories, was published in January, 2012.
The book did well, but over the subsequent months, Laura and others engaged with the book and its stories came to a conclusion: print books, however attractive, have their limits, particularly in these days of exploding technological capabilities to share information far beyond one home or one office coffee table, and Green Card Voices was born just a few months ago.
The project is described here, including a video (this is a video project, after all!).
The dream of the project is to video-document first generation immigrants with more than five years in the U.S. from all of the world’s countries (196 in all). These stories can then be shared broadly in various ways. It’s a very ambitious undertaking, but doable with adequate funding support from persons like ourselves.
By happenstance, I was in attendance at one of GreenCardVoices first public presentations at Hosmer Library in south Minneapolis November 2, 2013. Theirs was a fascinating program, and I am certain the program at Target Field next Wednesday will be fascinating as well. (Roy Woodstrom, librarian at Hosmer Library, is a child of an immigrant – his mother is German). The person who invited me to the presentation is a child of Swedish immigrants. And on we go.
Shepherding the project is Dr. Tea Rozman-Clark, native of Slovenia. Her bio is here.

Tea Rozman-Clark, Feb. 25, 2014

Tea Rozman-Clark, Feb. 25, 2014

RSVP for the Target Field event Wednesday, March 12, 2014.
You’re in for a treat.

#745 – Dick Bernard: A quick visit to Valley City, Sykeston and rural LaMoure, North Dakota

I just spent four days and nearly 900 miles revisiting places of my roots in North Dakota. It seemed like a long trip, and it was, but then, last night, I watched the first part of the Ken Burns program on the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-05.
Piece of cake.
This trip happened when I learned that tiny Sykeston High School, where I graduated in 1958, and where my Dad taught for ten years, and my mother for four, was having its Centennial, I decided I wanted to be there. I wrote a blog post about Sykeston on my birthday, May 4, and this morphed into six others, and now this one, eighth in the series.

Tom Richter, grad ca 1960, gets his photo by the iconic 1913 at Sykes High School July 6, 2013

Tom Richter, grad ca 1960, gets his photo by the iconic 1913 at Sykes High School July 6, 2013

Associated, was another history centered blog post about Valley City State Teachers College, which I attended, and graduated from, in 1961. This led to another blog post on January 2, 2013, which has itself had many followup posts.
Old Main - McFarland Hall at Valley City (ND) State University July 5, 2013

Old Main – McFarland Hall at Valley City (ND) State University July 5, 2013

So, there’s little reason to write more. Mostly, this post consists of photographs with captions I took at Valley City on July 5, and at Sykeston on July 6, 2013.
2013 Sykeston here *. (See note at end of this post.)
Valley City here.
There is an additional Facebook album from another larger Sykeston reunion in the summer of 2008, here.
And readers familiar with either place can add to with additional photos or comments at their leisure.
Sykeston is 400 miles one way from home in suburban St. Paul; in between, some 310 miles from home, is Valley City. So it was not “out of the way” to stop at one enroute to the other. Between Sykeston and Valley City is Jamestown – always “Jimtown” to my Grandpa.
When I began college in 1958, the first ten-mile section of Interstate 94 was being constructed in North Dakota, between Valley City and Jamestown. It was probably one of the first true pieces of Interstate in the United States. I remember it was said to cost “a million dollars a mile”. So it makes sense, with this piece of history, to note that endless ribbon of concrete called I-94 in North Dakota:
I-94 between Valley City and Jamestown ND July 6, 2013

I-94 between Valley City and Jamestown ND July 6, 2013

This trip I drove 550 miles on I-94, lickedy-split. Kids today cannot imagine what it was like in the years before the Freeways, even on U.S. highways, all of which went through the middle of every town, large and small. It was not the good old days: no air-conditioning in the car, no cruise control, no seat belts….
At Jamestown, in 1959, along I-94 was built what has become something of an iconic tourist attraction, “The World’s Largest Buffalo”. That buffalo was constructed during the time I was in college, and I decided I needed to stop there after leaving Sykeston on July 6. The buffalo is, the plaque says, 46 feet long, 26 feet high, 14 feet wide and it weighs 60 tons. More about the buffalo here.
It’s not going anywhere. It has aged well.
The World's largest buffalo at Jamestown ND July 6, 2013

The World’s largest buffalo at Jamestown ND July 6, 2013

We had been at that very spot in 1960, and here’s photo “evidence” (I wasn’t in this particular photo, and probably wasn’t photographer either, but all of my siblings and my Mom are in this photo):
Bernards Worlds Largest Buffalo Jamestown ND ca 1960001
Yes, it is just your basic tourist attraction, but impressive nonetheless.
Completing the trip, on July 7, my Uncle and I were driving out to the family “Century Farm” 10 miles from LaMoure and I asked him to stop at the corner of Highway 13 and their county road. There, as they have been for years, was a nest of wild prairies roses that somehow or other have escaped being plowed under for all these years.
The wild prairie rose is North Dakota’s state flower.
A photo of this flower is an appropriate way to end this post.
Wild Prairie Roses between LaMoure and Berlin ND July 7, 2013

Wild Prairie Roses between LaMoure and Berlin ND July 7, 2013

* – This is a letter to those who attended Sykeston High School – an idea for future consideration: Sykes High Future001

#743 – Dick Bernard: Remembering Donald Koller, and a kid memory of The Lone Ranger….

UPDATE July 12, 2013: In memory of Don Koller, and granddaughter Samantha, and Donald’s parents Alma and Michael Koller. (See note from Rosella Koller below the photo; received July 11, 2013.)
(click on photos to enlarge)

Don Koller and Sam

Don Koller and Sam

I asked Rosella for more information about the photos. Rosella: That was our Granddaughter, Samantha. When she was 10 she had a double lung transplant. She got married in our home, in July of 2012. Passed in October in our home. We knew she was getting sick again, but surprised she died so suddenly. Don died Dec. 12, 2012. We have two other grandchildren, Danille, she came with us when we met [you] at the Mall of America. And we have one grandson Brenton. Rosella
Graves of Alma and Michael Koller, St. Elizabeth's Cemetery Sykeston ND July 6, 2013

Graves of Alma and Michael Koller, St. Elizabeth’s Cemetery Sykeston ND July 6, 2013

I began this series about Sykeston ND, intending to write only a single post. This is the 7th, and I won’t guarantee it’s the last….
Note: There are six other posts about Sykeston:
Feb 11, 2013: “Sykes High, oh Sykes High School”
May 4 (the main article): Thoughts on Sykeston High School at its Centennial
May 9 A 1957 Social Studies Test
June 12 Remembering Sykeston in late 1940s
June 28 Snapshots in History of Sykeston
June 29 Sports in 1950s small towns in North Dakota
Two of the certainties of life for all of us are that our life will end, and we don’t know when, or how. That we don’t know the answer to the “when or how” question is, in my opinion, a blessing.
So, it was a surprise to learn, in a June 28 e-mail, of the death of Sykeston kid friend Don Koller. Donald was one of about a dozen people I was trying to be in touch with about Sykeston memories in anticipation of this weekends Centennial of the Sykeston School.
His wife, Rosella, wrote: “I thought you would like to know Donald passed Dec 12 of last year 2012”.
We are all familiar with these kinds of messages. I had lost track of Donald for many years until a few years ago when somehow or other one of his daughters located me with a question. Some years later – I have a photo somewhere – Donald, Rosella and some of their family met me at Mall of America and we had a delightful visit. Obviously, I had a working e-mail address.
I looked up Donald’s name on the internet to see if there was an obit. There was one, it is here. They had lived for years in Armada, which is a village about 50 miles north of Detroit, and 50 miles east of Flint. I recall Donald mentioning that he had been in the military for quite a number of years, and then in the automobile industry for a career. (His brother, Robert, says it was the Army, and Chrysler Corporation respectively – Robert was a 27 year Army veteran.)
For some reason, I remember Donald’s affection for gardening.
I asked Rosella about cause of death: “He had quadruple bypass in 2008, they put pace maker at that time, and he was diabetic, in beginning of last year they put him on Coumadin, and got worse, in and out of hospital every month of last year. He was falling a lot, in Dec he fell and must of hurt his head, had a brain bleed, he had surgery of the head. He never recovered died December 12th, thank you for asking.”
Robert Koller, July 1: “I was a student of Sykeston High 1944 thru 1948. Your Dad was the Principle at that time. My brother Donald told me that he had been in contact with you. That was quite a while ago for sure. I have always enjoyed the history of Sykeston. Mr Huss was the janitor/caretaker while I was there and he and my father both came from the same place in Austria…(July 2) “Once when I was home I took Donald with me back to Ft. Gordon, Georgia where I was stationed. I was in the Army for 27 years and retired from it at Ft Lewis, Washington in 1976…After awhile Donald joined the U,S, Army and I took him to South Carolina where he had to report. After that he was in the Detroit area where he met Rosella. After they were married they went to Germany.”
Such is how personal history happens and starts to come together.
The 1940 census of Sykeston, which I have only recently accessed, shows Martin Huss, 57, to be from Austria; and Michael Koller, 56, from Hungary…. Donald apparently was almost exactly my age, as he doesn’t appear in the census, which was taken in early April, 1940. Neither was I.
His siblings, Jane (15), Robert (9) and Mary (2) are all listed. The census lists his Dad as employed by the WPA – the Depression was still on. His mother, born in Wisconsin, was 40. Jane had been born in Montana.
Donald and I likely met in First Grade at St. Elizabeth’s School in 1946. As I recall, Grades 1 and 2 were together; and Grades 3, 4 an 5; and 6, 7 and 8. I had completed 5th grade when we moved. I recall being in their small house only once, and meeting his Mom and his sister. I never met Robert or his Dad or his older sisters, to my knowledge.
As kids can be, we boys tended to be found at the same places, doing the same things. I recall nothing dramatic – when I had to make my First Confession I recall really struggling to figure out some sin to confess! I just knew I had to confess something. Best I could come up with, that first time, was saying “darn”….
But, kids being kids, I would suppose that at one time or another we qualified individually or collectively for one of my favorite old-time words, “rapscallion” (rascal).
I have been developing a list of kid memories, perhaps for another column sometime, but there is one specific personal memory of Donald Koller (he would have been “Donald”, as I was “Richard”, then).
The 1940s were radio days – there was no such thing as television out in North Dakota. And there were books, and comic books, if you could afford one, occasionally.
A favorite, back in those days, was the Lone Ranger, and his faithful sidekick, Tonto.
Here’s a piece of recreated radio from back in the day….
For some reason, Donald was always the Lone Ranger, and at least on some occasions I was enlisted as his Tonto. We’d “gallop” – we knew how horses ran – a few blocks, hitting ourselves on the rear-end (we were, after all, also the horse on which we were riding), me dutifully a bit behind him. At some point it’d be “whoaaaa, big fella” and we’d take on some imaginary adversary behind some bush or tree, and then be off again.
Why I remember that, and why with Donald, specifically, I have no idea.
But I do.
Six years away from Sykeston, and we came back for my senior year in 1957-58.
Don was in my class, and he is listed as “President”, but there is no picture of him. I don’t recall re-engaging with him as in the Lone Ranger days. At about mid-year he dropped out and to my recollection joined the Army, and the rest is history.
But I’ve never forgotten him.
I think we all wonder, once in awhile, if our having been around has made any difference to anyone…. It does, Donald did.
Thanks for the memories, Donald.
Rosella Koller can be reached at rosekollerATyahooDOTcom; Robert Koller at robertDOTkollerATcomcastDOTnet

Dick Bernard: Remembering Sykeston ND in the late 1940s

Other Posts in this series, as follows:
Feb 11, 2013: “Sykes High, oh Sykes High School”
May 4 (the main article): Thoughts on Sykeston High School at its Centennial
May 9 A 1957 Social Studies Test
June 28 Snapshots in History of Sykeston
June 29 Sports in 1950s small towns in North Dakota
July 3: Remembering Don Koller and the Lone Ranger
Today we saw 8th grade Grandson, Ryan, off as three busloads of kids left for a week in Washington, D.C. A couple of months ago, two other grandsons, grade 7, were on a similar trip.
I thought, as I watched the kids board the bus this morning, about my own graduation from 8th grade (1954, Ross ND). I would have had absolutely zero framework of reference of even the possibility of ever going to Washington D.C. then, though I do recall seeing President Eisenhower on motorcade in Minot ND about that time. He was probably there concerning the soon-to-be Minot Air Force Base.
But today seems to be a good time to recall Sykeston, as the tiny central ND town prepares to celebrate its High School Building Centennial in early July. Here is what I have written thus far about that school.
We lived in Sykeston twice. In this piece, I choose the years 1946-51 as a personal focus, grades 1-5 for me.
Below is Sykeston from the perspective of the United States Geological Service in 1951; and a photo of our family in June, 1948, shortly after youngest sibling John was born. I’m the kid on the right, 8 years old. A couple of days before John was born, was my First Communion at St. Elizabeth’s down the street.
Here is Google Maps satellite perspective of Sykeston in the present era.
(click on photos to enlarge)

Sykeston from a USGS topographic map, 1951.  ( for this and other maps.)

Sykeston from a USGS topographic map, 1951. ( for this and other maps.)

Parents Henry and Esther; kids (from left) Frank,Florence, John, Mary Ann and Richard, early June, 1948, Sykeston ND

Parents Henry and Esther; kids (from left) Frank,Florence, John, Mary Ann and Richard, early June, 1948, Sykeston ND

Sykeston in the 1940s hardly varied from about 225 residents. Its highest population never exceeded about 275 (1920), and since 1950 the population has decreased.
Beginning in perhaps the summer of 1947, we lived in what the family always called “the North House”. On the map, it is the northernmost dot in Sykeston. Its recent past was as a granary somewhere out in the countryside. Even from a 7 year olds perspective, it was a major rehab effort.
The "North House" comes to Sykeston from the country in 1947

The “North House” comes to Sykeston from the country in 1947

A tired Henry Bernard,visible at left, takes a break while rehabbing the North House in 1947.  Photo is of the east exposure of the house.

A tired Henry Bernard,visible at left, takes a break while rehabbing the North House in 1947. Photo is of the east exposure of the house.

I made a few nickels hauling buckets of grain from the North House to O. J. Lundby’s elevator. I’m guessing it was more a reward for effort, than of value to the elevator, but nonetheless those Buffalo/Indianhead nickels burned a hole in my youthful pocket.
Of course, there was an outhouse, initially. When city water made it from the water tower to our place, a tiny bathroom was built in, and I vividly remember the time a dead minnow made a trip from Lake Hiawatha to our bathtub. At that time, I believe, the town drinking water came from a town pump by Merck Grocery, “downtown”, a few blocks away.
For some reason, I have vivid memories of two airplane events when we lived at the North House.
Townsman Jesse Evans owned a plane, and had something of a makeshift runway in the field north of our house. One time he overshot the runway and ran into Lake Hiawatha. Best I know he survived, and the plane as well. It sticks in my mind.
Much more vivid, because I actually saw it approach and pass over the town, was the day when a huge aircraft with six propeller engines came over Sykeston, at a very low elevation, from the north.
There was no notice of this event. The plane came and it disappeared.
Piecing together this mystery, I’ve concluded that I (and perhaps others) likely witnessed a B-36 bomber on some kind of training mission from South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force base, sometime after 1947. Here’s an article and some video about the B-36 and here’s an article about Ellsworth AFB and the B36.
For kids, the world is the bounds of their neighborhood, and for we kids in Sykeston, the streets of the town were our neighborhood – our range. Occasionally there were forays out to the Dam north of town; as well as to the town dump, repository of treasures a bit to the east of the town. But mostly our adventures (and misadventures) were on those city streets, and at Lake Hiawatha, a unique part of Sykeston, an amenity shared by few ND communities.
Eight kids and dog on Lake Hiawatha in winter.

Eight kids and dog on Lake Hiawatha in winter.

So, what do I remember? This is an abbreviated list. Every reader in Sykeston, particularly my contemporaries back then, can identify many more memories. Everyone, anywhere, would have their own similar memories about their own cohort, their own town.
The local “gang” – I don’t recall there was any competing gang – were basically the same age, and ran the same routes. Some names that come to mind: Tubby Sondag, Jerry Kutz, Bobbie(?) Kunz, Don Koller, Johnny and Jim (“bull” and “little bull”) Merck; Johnny Hammes; the Woiwode boys; Dougie Wild; Wagners; John and Jim Eaton. Arlo Neumiller and Bob Miller may have been around the bunch, too, but this bunch was basically the Catholics, from St. Elizabeths School, and religious denomination made a difference in those days.
My apologies to any kids I inadvertently missed in this list.
About the time we moved to the North House (1947), the next door neighbors were the depot agent, the Neustel’s, and their kids Pepper and McGee. They moved away from Sykeston not long after we moved into our house one vacant lot away.
The locus of the action for the Sykeston “gang” seemed to run between Kutz’s pasture on the east end (the dump, further east, on really adventuresome days) to Lake Hiawatha on the west. Of course, the “lake” was Pipestem Creek, which to my knowledge was initially dammed by the town founder Richard Sykes, part of whose property was north of what we kids knew as the swimming hole (I almost drowned at that swimming hole, and as a result have never learned how to swim – that is a whole other story. That hasn’t stopped me from occasional dumb things around water, like twice canoeing in the Quetico Wilderness, but the incident at the swimming beach across the walking bridge from town was terrifying and life-changing for a perhaps 9 year old.)
Compared with today, Sykeston’s Main Street and the side streets surrounding were pretty busy in the 1940s. Here are some memories, hopefully reasonably accurate:
Merck’s Grocery was a town institution and the place where I made my first small purchases of goods in the 1940s: I seem to remember Popsicles and Sunkist orange pop, for instance. The town pump, was near the store, between the store and Merck’s house, and I hauled drinking water more than once from that pump to the North House. I don’t recall city drinking water in Sykeston at that time. I might be wrong on that.
The “fire department” I recall was still the old firehouse hand cart with coiled hose pulled by men by hand, or at least I recall seeing a practice run by some men from the firehall by the water tower. Maybe there was a town fire truck. I don’t recall it.
Mr. Spitzer, I think, took a large wheeled push cart down to the depot to pick up the mail bags when the west bound train came through in the morning.
People gathered at the post office, kibbitzing, waiting for the mail to be distributed. It was the daily predictable weekday event in Sykeston.
There was the Wagner Hardware, the Blacksmith Shop, Daniels Barber Shop (the first barber shop hair cut I remember), a still working cream station – maybe two of them, a Red Owl, the Locker Plant, the saloon of course, with roller skating upstairs every now and then, a gas station with lots of inner tubes – one of which accompanied me on my near date with death at Lake Hiawatha, the baseball diamond, the Lutheran church which seemed to be off limits to we Catholics.
I contributed to the Sykeston economy and Wagners by buying – then losing – marbles to the more expert kids. Once I recall being invited to the attic of the Sondag house at the south end of our block. Up there were buckets and buckets of marbles, sorted by types. It was like I’d seen marble heaven.
Mr. Kramer sold insurance downtown I believe, and a dentist, Doc Dummer, and Wild’s Restaurant, and the two gas stations on the highway, one at each entrance point to Sykeston.
And Lundby’s elevator – O. J. was the rich man in town (or so I thought).
Deserving many stories all by itself, perhaps the main social center of the town, was the St. Elizabeths Hall – to me it was the Town Hall: basketball, school plays, the movies, Bingo, dances. A single sentence doesn’t suffice. Together, those who gathered in its space could write a very interesting book….
I probably could go on with more and more memories, maybe embellished by imperfect memory after over 60 years away from them.
But some memories do stick, as we all know, good and bad, and I hope you enjoyed reading this.
(click to enlarge)
Several early plat maps of Sykeston area seen in old post office July 2008

Several early plat maps of Sykeston area seen in old post office July 2008

The Sykeston North House, June, 2000, the east exposure.  Some years later it burned to the ground.

The Sykeston North House, June, 2000, the east exposure. Some years later it burned to the ground.

#687 – Dick Bernard: "Sykes High, oh Sykes High School of Dreams Come True…."

Note to reader:
Note: There are six other posts about Sykeston:
There are several other post I have done about Sykeston:
May 4 (the main article): Thoughts on Sykeston High School at its Centennial
May 9 A 1957 Social Studies Test
June 12 Remembering Sykeston in late 1940s
June 28 Snapshots in History of Sykeston
June 29 Sports in 1950s small towns in North Dakota
July 3: Remembering Don Koller and the Lone Ranger
This is also one of a series of posts spawned by recollections of attendance at Valley City (ND) State Teachers College 1958-61. This and the other items are (or will be) permanently accessible at January 2, 2013.
I was a tiny town kid. Sykeston High School, class of ’58, included eight of us. A ninth had dropped out mid-year to join the Air Force. (The subject heading for this blog was the School Song, written in 1942 by two students. Sykeston School Song002) The previous year I had attended Antelope Consolidated, a country Grades 1-12 school near Mooreton, and the Senior Class numbered two: a valedictorian and salutatorian. The smallness didn’t seem to hold us back: long-time U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan was fond of recalling that he graduated 5th in his class of 9 at Regent, in far southwest North Dakota.
Most of us at VCSTC were from tiny towns. In contemporary terms, even Valley City (2010 population 6585) would be considered nothing more than a town; John Hammer, a colleague freshman in 1958 from the surrounding Barnes County (2010 population: 11,066) said that in his high school times, aside from Valley City itself, there were 16 school districts with high schools in Barnes County – perhaps one high school for every 300 total people.
Sykeston was probably pretty typical of those hamlets many of we students called “home”. In 2008, after my 50th high school reunion (held coincident with Sykestons 125th anniversary), I managed to cobble together the data about that high schools graduating classes from the first, in 1917. You can learn a lot about ND from that graph including the fact that my high school closed in 2005, leaving behind only the stately building from 1913.
(click to enlarge)
Sykeston HS Graduates001

Sykeston HS build 1913, photo in 1958.

Sykeston HS build 1913, photo in June 1958, Dick Bernard.

Valley City State Teachers College, then, was big-time for me, a country kid. It was founded in 1890, and was part of a State College system supervised by a Board. Here is the 1960 Board: ND State College Bd 1960001
Old Main VCSTC 1959

Old Main VCSTC 1959

STC’s sports teams, then, were excellent, and the 1959 annual, in the Basketball section, notes the competition. The ND State Colleges played that year were: Wahpeton, Ellendale, Bottineau, Mayville, Minot, Bismarck & Dickinson. Some of these were Junior Colleges. Private Jamestown College was next-door arch-rival. VCSTC also played University of Manitoba, and S.D. schools Huron and Aberdeen.
Here is the current roster of North Dakota State Colleges. Ellendale long ago “bit the dust”. Devils Lake and Williston may or may not have existed in 1958. I’m not sure.
For whatever reason, I seem to have developed early an interest in what “school” in North Dakota meant, even back in college and early post-college years.
In June, 1961, for some reason I did a little research piece about the history of North Dakota Public Schools and published it in the Viking News which I then edited. I can remember writing the piece, but not why I chose to do it, though I don’t think it was an assignment. You can read it here: VCSTC ND Educ Jul 5 1961001. On rereading it, I think I was basically quite accurate. I probably used the college library sources for research.
In February, 1965, during one of those vaunted three-day blizzards in western North Dakota, I whiled away my time in our tiny apartment doing some more research on Changes in the Small Schools of North Dakota. I used the simplest of resources: the North Dakota School Directories and census data. Blizzard over, for no particular reason, I submitted the unpolished piece to the North Dakota Education Association which, much to my surprise, printed it in the April, 1965 issue: Changes in ND Small Schs001.
Later that month, an editorial about the article appeared in the Grand Forks (ND) Herald – a minor brush with fame.
It would be interesting to see someone update that 1965 blizzard-bound “research”.

#656 – Dick Bernard: A School Band Concert, Memories

Happy Thanksgiving!
Tuesday evening we took the short drive across the Mississippi River to neighboring South St. Paul.
The occasion was the Middle and High School Fall Bands Concert, in which one of our grandkids, 7th grader Ted, was a participant, and even a soloist!
Truth be told, I almost forgot about the event. We were tired and there was a ‘tug’ to stay home when I remembered. But we went.
It was a very good decision.
I love music, but when I was a kid I loved sports more, and we rarely had the opportunity to actually participate in organized instrumental music. We were people who lived in very tiny towns, and band was a rarity. Only once in a great while came a teacher who actually knew music and might have been in a band somewhere, sometime.
Sister Rose in Sykeston had tried valiantly to help me learn the rudiments of piano about 1950 when I was in 5th grade. She was kind; the metronome wasn’t. Piano and I weren’t ‘fit’. I’ll always know where middle C is, however! And what a sharp, a flat, a quarter note, etc., are. She gave the basics.
In 1954, in another country school, Miss Stone, a conservatory trained pianist, tried to coax some piano out of me as a 9th grader. She was kind too. She was a tiny woman, and I marveled at the reach of her fingers. She must’ve been born with extenders!
She did her very best with me. I didn’t. My parents gave up.
In between, out in tiny Ross ND sometime during the year 1953-54 in the midst of the first oil boom – I was in 8th grade, then – there was a teacher who was willing and able to help a few of us learn the rudiments. I got to use a clarinet that year.
Apparently some of the older kids came together well enough so that the town had a small band in a 1954 parade in Williston ND – I have a photo (click to enlarge).

Ross ND Marching Band on Parade in Williston ND, 1954.

But that was it.
I love music still – a long-time short season subscriber till the lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra this fall – but I’m an observer, not a participant.
Tuesday of this week, we sat in a packed auditorium of the South St. Paul High School watching Andrew Peterson, Director of Bands, expertly lead his approximately 200 grade 7 through 12 charges in a program of 18 short pieces, one of which included a drum solo by our 7th grade grandson, Ted!
What a concert for we parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts, friends…!
Towards the end the stage was full to capacity with young musicians, and Mr. Peterson quipped that they were at the point of needing a larger stage.
It was then I started thinking about the film, The Music Man, and the finale, 76 Trombones. Here’s a clip from that movie, and here’s access to many other renditions of 76 Trombones.
The film version of The Music Man came out in 1962, 50 years ago, and I remember seeing it then, probably in Valley City ND, while on leave from the Army in which I was then serving.
Harold Hill, the band leader in The Music Man, had nothing on Andrew Peterson, Director of Bands on Tuesday night. Nor did the to-be band members in fictional River City have anything on those 200 7-12th grade students in South St. Paul.
When Mr. Peterson conducted the finale, John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever”, I felt like a proud townsperson of River City, and had those kids wanted, they could have led those of us in the audience out into the street like so many pied pipers.
It was a great evening.
Congratulations, all!

#533 – Dick Bernard: A Picture from the past, remembering Louis H. Bruhn

See Update from Carl Peter at end of this post.
Going through some old photographs recently I came across this one of Louis Bruhn, taken by my father in May, 1974, at a Valley City State Teachers College alumni gathering in Anoka, Minnesota. (click to enlarge).
Louis H. Bruhn at Valley City State Teachers College Alumni function in Anoka MN May, 1974.
I lived in rural Anoka at the time, and I remember my parents visit but not this specific event, though I’m sure I was there.
Both of my parents were graduates of what we called, then, VCSTC, Valley City State Teachers College. I graduated from there myself. Just this morning I mailed my annual small donation to the now-VCSU Foundation. A pleasant sounding student called me a few nights ago just to renew my acquaintance with my alma mater.
Colleges know how to keep in touch with their alumni!
Mr. Bruhn – that’s what we all would have called him – was Dean of Men and Director of Special Services at the tiny 700 or so student college in 1958-61 when I was a student there.

Two very important mentors: Lou Bruhn, and Mary Hagen Canine, pictured in the 1959 Viking Annual of Valley City State Teachers College

He seemed terribly old at the time, but through the miracle of the internet (which he could not have imagined then), he was apparently only 55 when I first darkened the college doors in the Summer of 1958. Here’s what someone wrote about him in 1976.
He was 71 when Dad took the above photo. GASP. That’s how old I am, now!
The bio says that Mr. Bruhn came to VCSTC in 1938 to teach Business courses.
My parents, Henry L. Bernard of Grafton and Esther Busch of rural Berlin, had both matriculated at the college, probably in the summer of 1929, and like legions of country school teachers of the time they would teach school during the school year, then come back to college in the summer. They are both long deceased, but left behind many stories. They met in the halls of VCSTC, married in 1937, then taught together at Amidon ND during 1937-39. Most likely they were back at Valley City in the Summer of 1938 when Mr. Bruhn arrived.
During 1939-40 Dad became a full-time, full-year student at the college – the only full year he ever spent in college – and he received his degree a few weeks after I was born. They lived, that year, in the McGillivray Apartments just off campus, right behind what became Cinks College Grocery (and what is now the Valley City State University Student Center – which was actively being planned in 1961). For over 30 more years they remained in public education, Mom taking a few years off to raise us younguns to school age.
Dad most likely got to know Mr. Bruhn fairly well. They were, after all, about the same age. Eighteen years later, in 1958, it was my turn to do something with my life after graduating from Sykeston High School.
Truth be told, for this lazy kid in the summer of 1958, college summer school looked far better to me than wrestling a wheelbarrow full of dirt at the under construction St. Elizabeth’s Church in Sykeston. So, off I went. My mother went as well, to Summer School.
College caught on, and I went straight through, graduating 50 years ago last December. Those were memorable years.
Small colleges like VCSTC certainly don’t have the reputation of big or prestigious institutions, but I’m here to say, loudly and proudly, that with folks around like Louis H. Bruhn, we country kids from tiny high schools not only got a solid college education, but we left well prepared for life, accompanied by a strong work ethic.
The biography does not list a date of death for Mr. Bruhn, though I’d doubt he’s still with us. Doubtless someone will let me know details posthaste (you can comment on this post – see tab below).
Thanks Mr. Bruhn, Mom, Dad, and everyone who saw me and legions of fellow students through the growing experience from post high-school to college graduation.
Thanks once again.
from Shirley Bruhn Lindsay (Lou and Mabel Bruhns daughter, received Mar. 9, 2012): It is with an overflowing heart that I reply to you re the messages about my dad, Lou Bruhn. It is such a lovely tribute to him – a man who loved people (especially the students) and the town of Valley City more than he could ever really express. He served on the City Commission for several years and ultimately served as Mayor. A fond memory for our family is of the “Lou Bruhn Day” the city declared when he retired as Mayor.
My dad died late October 1988. He and my mother, Mabel, moved to the Sheyenne Care Center (SCC) several years earlier after she suffered a severe stroke. They had a wonderful quality of life in SCC and continued their enjoyment of people in the town they both loved.
Thank you for these tributes and memories. I have shared them with my brother Dave’s family.
My parents moved to VC in 1938 to “try it out for a few years”…they never left. Isn’t that a tribute to the town and state of North Dakota?
From Valley City State University Alumni Association via Facebook: Dick – thank you for sharing this post. We enjoyed reading it. Looking at our records it looks like Lou passed away in the late 80’s.
Bob Zimmerman, Fayetteville AR: It’s good to hear from you again, Dick! It’s okay if you and others want to send e-mail to me at: Lois Nunn Zimmerman and I willl be married 50 years on June 3, 2012. We [recently] were vacationing at South Padre Island, TX. I met Myron (Ike) Luttschwager there for lunch. I will be retiring from my position as Associate Vice Chancellor for IT at the University of Arkansas on June 30, 2012. We hope to spend some time in SD, ND, and MN this summer. Best wisher to all! Lois and Bob
I had a recent letter from Bob and Marge Nutz Sogn. Bob and Marge Sogn sent pictures with David Thielman and his new wife. The Sogns live in Tuscon, AZ. Dave lives in Palm Springs, CA, in the winter. I have not seen Dave and Bob for many years and I hope to find them and some other long lost pals again. Bob
Lois and I had a conversation with Bob and Deann Horne about a month ago. They have moved to Fargo from Minot. Their home in Minot was severely damaged by the floods in Minot. We will visit my brother, Allan Zimmerman and his wife, Carol Schmidtz Zimmerman in Fargo. Buddy Schmidtz is a brother to Carol.
Duane Zwinger, Carrington, class of ’64: It was sure enjoyable reading your recollections about VCSTC and “Mr. Bruhn”. I truly agree with your statement that “tiny” Valley City State Teachers College
gave us all a great start in making our small mark on this great big world. The email also brought back some memories of myself and some of my hooligan buddies having a “close encounter” with Mr. Bruhn. We really didn’t mean to get into trouble, but it did seem to find us.

Duane Zwinger and Dick Bernard, February 2012, at Woodbury MN

Darryl Pederson, Lincoln NE: Got your email. I remember the dean well. He was also a sought after square dance caller. One cold winter evening he called a square dance in my home town of Kathryn. When the dance was over there was a full blown blizzard outside Some of the dancers and Lou Bruhn came to my parents store (we lived in the back) and the square dance continued in the store. As I recalled all spent most if not all of the night with us.
Larry Gauper, Fargo ND: Dick…YES…I remember Lou Bruhn…one of those classic Valley City college names
Wes Anderson, Valley City ND: We have about three audio interviews with Lou in our collection from Don Welch
Colleen Zick: I don’t know if you knew, but he also repaired bicycles. He made mine like new! I remember him and his wife well. Thelma Acker lived right next door to him, and she always cut and permed my hair! Her daughter married Eldwin VanBruggen, Gladys’s brother. The VanBruggens were my next door neighbors.
Larry Gauper: I remember that…and I think he was a ham radio guy too..not sure about that…but do remember now that you mention it the bike repair thing….neat fellow and apparently a great teacher.
Bob Horne, Fargo: Thanks for the Photo of Lou Bruhn, your excellent comments, and ideas added by others.
We remember Mr. Bruhn with fondness; he was a great guy and a friend to students. Also, I knew his son David quite well, as I believe we played Legion baseball together the summer of 1953, between my freshman and sophomore HS years. That summer I stayed with my aunt, Charlotte Graichen, before returning to Edmore HS. You probably know that Charlotte taught at VC State for about 30 years; they named the women’s gym after her. Charlotte and Bill Osmon were long-time leaders of women’s and men’s athletics at VC State Teachers College.
Dick Bernard: The phrase “comfortable as an old shoe” now comes to mind with respect to Mr. Bruhn – but make no mistake, he was MR. Bruhn. As for Charlotte Graichen and Willis Osmon, I came to VCSTC with the idea that basketball would be fun. Things change. I’m guessing that one of the last credits on my transcript was for some required PE class I had neglected to take, and Ms. Graichen was the instructor at the women’s gym. In the spring of 1961, they were just completing the impressive athletic building just west of the campus, I think still named for Mr. Osmon, and I think I’ll dig out my old set of Viking News and scan the photo of me with the under-construction building.
Roger Taylor: I remember Lou Bruhn well. The Bruhn family lived across the street from my childhood home. He did repair bicycles, but not mine, my dad did that. They had a post at the end of their driveway on which they’d installed a backboard and hoop. It was one of the several hoops in our neighborhood which we used, probably the best as the hoop was regulation height and the playing area was flat (most driveways had slants which meant the basket had varying heights relative to the player’s position on the “court”). The Bruhns had two children I remember, a girl named “Shirley” and a boy whose name I don’t remember. They were at least four years older than we. The article also references Cink’s grocery store. That’s another place in which I spent a fair amount of time. But it wasn’t our primary local grocery. That one was on College Street about four doors down from the Bruhn home.
UPDATE March 9, 2012
Dick Bernard: This link Viking News Jul 61 Union001, from the July 5, 1961 Viking News (the college newspaper) shows the site of the to-be college Student Union, including part of Cink’s grocery, and the still under construction Physical Education building which was, in 1961, ‘state of the art’. In the photo, I’m the guy standing by the support beam. For some reason related to the times, I dressed up for the photo.
Ron Morsch: Boy, that’s a name out of the past. I knew the name right away, could faintly picture who it was but even after reading Dick’s post couldn’t recall anything specific. I think Beth is right about Kiwanis or maybe Elks or Toastmasters. My dad was active in them and maybe that’s why I know the name. The bicycle repair stuff also prompted a faint memory of my Dad and me being in his garage having something done to my bike, but I’m not sure.
Barb Lang: Mr. Bruhn’s daughter Shirley is living in Lake Forest, IL and my sister Mary sees her every now and then for coffee. Mary also thinks that possibly Mr. Bruhn was Mayor at some point . . .that’s her vague recollection! Mary notes that Shirley has a Facebook page (my sister is a big looker at Facebook).
Rhea Mills: Has been interesting listening to all the other comments on Mr. Bruhn. Having lived on the “north” side of the tracks, there are a lot of things I had never heard of that occurred on the “south” side of the tracks. I know a lot of names but I really can’t remember things about those names – if, indeed, I even knew those things in the first place – HMMMMM, that is one run on sentence that really doesn’t make much sense except to myself!
Dick Bernard: Of course, in Valley City, at that time, when you’d say “north side of the tracks”, the question would have to be “which tracks?” North of the Hiline, or north of the tracks downtown (or uptown? : – ) NP or Soo Line, or whatever the two railroads were. (My parents did the walk across the Hiline in the 1930s, I think. I never dared.)
I was born at Mercy Hospital in May, 1940, and probably lived in the very tiny McGillivray apartment (Dad once showed it to me – it was vacant at the time, basement, the side away from the college) for perhaps a month or two, then we moved to Rutland area.
I didn’t own or have access to a car during the college years. My ‘territory’ was virtually 100% walking. Farthest north was to St. Cate’s for church on Sunday. Otherwise downtown to Pillar or Omwick where I worked; or Mythaler Hall to the halls of STC…. An aunt and uncle lived in the St. Mary’s of Dazey community but it was real rare to see them out there. The first ND section of I-94 was built between Jamestown and Valley City during the time I was there – “a million dollars a mile” they said. My family lived in Sykeston, northwest of Jamestown, and while I seldom went back there once I started, I can remember driving that freeway including a portion that did not yet have completed shoulders.
The STC of my memory was something like an ant hill, full of activity and a community unto itself, small as it was. Having graduated with 9 colleague seniors, and gone to several other ND public schools which were even smaller, the college was immense. My roommate for three years at Mythaler, a kid from Wimbledon, is a retired teacher in a city high school in St. Paul, and he once told me that for we tiny town kids, VCSTC was much like high school experience for kids in much bigger towns (including Valley City). We came from places that might have three high school teachers, at most, and we got the basics: “Reading, ‘Ritin, ‘Rithmetic” and the occasional ‘hickory stick’ (a”likkin”). Having said that, those tiny towns, and that small college, turned out some tremendous folks who did something with their lives (including me, I hope.)
Yesterday I sent the posting to a guy I student taught at the Lab School at the college. He and I were work colleagues for years with the Minnesota Education Association. For the past six years he’s been Executive Director of the 130,000 member state teacher association in Ohio, and he’d been an Executive Director here in Minnesota, and in Wyoming as well. His Dad recently died and he would have been back to Valley City. It amazes me when I reconnect with people, as I am doing here.
Thanks for the memories.
From Carl Peter, February 25, 2013:
If I remember right, Lou Bruhn taught the college driver’s education class. I took this course, which was a textbook class plus machines. The second part was teaching a student how to drive with a dual control car. I took this course in order to get a certificate to teach driver’s education in high school. This certificate served me very well. I taught the textbook part of driver’s education in my first school. In the second school, I taught five years of behind-the-wheel driver’s education in addition to the classroom part. During that time, I logged in 10,000 miles of dual control teaching without having an accident.
One day I was walking down the hall and Mr.Bruhn stopped me and told me that there was an opening for teaching in McClusky, North Dakota. This was the during the spring of the year I graduated. He told me to call and ask if I could get an interview. At that time, this was just not ever done. In fact it was the first long-distance call I ever made from a pay phone. I called and the Superintendent said that he would like to have me send in an application and my credentials. He also indicated that I could come for an interview. The interview was on a Saturday. I met with him and the president of the school board. The next Monday when I was student teaching typewriting, my supervisor came in and told me that the Superintendent was there and he wanted to talk to me. He indicated that he would like to offer me a contract. The contract for nine months was for $4500.
Added Note from Carl: I graduated from the STC summer of 1960 after having attended there three years and three summers. My first teaching job was at McClusky, North Dakota. I taught there for three years. During this time I bought a 1962 Thunderbird. This was the first Thunderbird that was ever sold in Sheridan County. The kids asked me how I could afford to get a car like that. I told them that it was possible because I didn’t smoke or drink, or attend parties so I was able to save my money to buy this car.
My next teaching position was at Page High School in Page, North Dakota. This was a brand-new school and I taught there for seven years. During that time I had several student teachers from Valley City that I worked with. Their supervisor was going to go on leave of absence, so he asked me to apply to teach in his place. I did and was offered the nine-month contract. I had hoped to be able to be part of a expanding business department, but in the spring there was no opening. The VCSTC registrar came to my office one day and asked me to apply to be his assistant. I worked as an assistant for 13 years before becoming the registrar. I was at that position for 28 years, retiring in 1999.
We are now retired and living in an apartment. My wife retired from Farm Service Agency (FSA) the same year. She worked with making government program payments for farmers. We are enjoying retirement very much.

#524 – Dick Bernard: Birthdays and Memories.

Today is one of those Birth Days in my family circle.
It is unusual in that there are three today: Oldest son, Tom; spouse, Cathy; daughter-in-law Robin all begin a new year in their respective histories. Tom was born less than three weeks after the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan ‘shew’, February 9, 1964. So here, thanks to YouTube, is their appearance on that show. (I wrote a comment.)
Happy birthday to all. (You can see a brief cameo appearance of Tom in a Denver television spot about his wife, Jennifers, popular eatery, Simply Sloppy Joe’s here. More here.)
To this list of Feb 26ers, I could add my grandfather Bernard, who, were he alive today would be 140 (he lived to a ripe old age of 85 before passing on in 1957. I was 17 when he died, and I have lots of memories of him.) Born in rural Quebec in 1872, he grew up in a different world than we live in. His to-be mother-in-law, Clotilde Blondeau, later Collette, had come to what is now suburban Minneapolis (Dayton MN) as a young girl in the early 1850s, long before there were roads and railroads, and before Minnesota became a state. Blondeau’s were here nearly a decade before the Civil War and the beginning of Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency.
Time passes on, and the best we can do is the best we can do.
Birthdays are one of the two things we have in common. The other, death, comes unannounced. There is a certain ‘menu’ selected: sudden, lingering, on and on. I’m old enough to remember lots of these, some very recent; most of those recent deaths younger than I am; a tragic one learned about just this week.) Every one reminds us of good times and bad; relationships fine or complicated…death is really for the living, in the end. That’s what obituaries and funerals and memorial services are all about.
Recently I had a pleasant and unexpected reunion with a classmate from high school days, Duane Zwinger of Carrington, ND. He popped in at my coffee place unannounced and we had a couple of great visits. His daughter and family live, it turned out, two short blocks from my birthday-girl daughter-in-law Robin, son-in-law David and grandson Ben. (Their proximity is a reminder that today the whole world is our ‘neighborhood’.)

Duane and Dick, February, 2012

He and I had reconnected in 2008, on the occasion of the anniversary of my 50th year out of high school in Sykeston ND. He’s a year younger, and we re-met at the towns all-school reunion. We’d last seen each other in college days. I hauled out the little high school yearbook, and we read, and laughed about, the prophecy for my class Sykeston Sr Hist 1958001(there were nine graduating seniors; a tenth left school and joined the Air Force mid-year. Two have died.)
At that town reunion, several of we family members slept in one of the top floor classrooms of the no longer used Sykeston High School. It was a school several of us had attended, and my Dad was Superintendent and Mom taught elementary there. It was a nostalgia time.
The last morning, I wandered the halls of the old place, and decided to take photos of the senior class photos still hanging on the wall of the school. This was before I knew there was such a thing as Facebook, and probably before Facebook had perfected the technology of on-line photo albums.
But that was then. A couple of days ago I entered all of those class pictures – they began in 1944; the school began in 1913 – on Facebook.
Here they are, over 60 years worth, of people born from about 1926 to 1957. (If you’re unfamiliar with Facebook albums, you can click on any photo, it will be enlarged and you can do a ‘slide show’ on screen. Note arrow at right side of photo, and click on it.)
Happy Birthday all!
And here’s the Sykeston School Song! Sykeston School Song002
Best wishes.

#437 – Dick Bernard: Sykeston vs Goodrich, 1957; Us vs Us, 2011: How are you on the field, or not?

Soon after 9-11-11 I received a “real” (with postage stamp) letter from a great and long-time friend: “Enough 9/11 already. [My son] contends that if we put the same energy into remembering victims of battering and child abuse, it would be well served. I am not unsympathetic, but where is the energy for other injustices? Am I being a cynic I wonder.
Fair enough. In fact, I agree. My 9-11-11 post is titled “The first day of the rest of our life as a people“. My comment on 9-11-01 itself is titled “Have we learned anything these last ten years?
The letter caused me to reflect on a long ago event and how it applies (I feel) to today’s world.
In 1957 we moved back to Sykeston ND. It was my senior year in high school, and we’d been elsewhere for the previous six years.
For the only time in my life I was in a school having enough boys for a football team, though only six-man.

Sykeston Football 1957

As the photo shows (I can remember almost all of the team members, I’m in front row, third from left) we did not look terribly impressive. The yearbook says we only played two games, winning the first against Goodrich, 26-0, and the second against Cathay, 40-2. The other two games were “postponements”. At any rate, when we played we apparently did all right. I had one touchdown, the yearbook says.
Ah, Kenny Chesney’s “The Boys of Fall”. Undefeated.
I remember vividly something during the Goodrich game (we were the visitors). At some point in the game I found myself running towards a big horse of a kid running towards me down the field. All I remember is that he was BIG, and I hit him head-on, and it hurt bad.
Nothing broken, or even bruised, but I knew he and I had met. At minimum I stopped him cold.
That was the Goodrich game: 26-0, Sykeston. It was no Kenny Chesney moment, but it was a moment.
But how about “Us vs Us, 2011”?
I know there are readers of this blog who don’t like football, and that’s okay.
But the U.S. body politic is very seriously fighting against itself these days, and just like that big horse of a guy and me in 1957, either you’re on the field, or you’re on the sidelines, in the stands, maybe not even showing up to support the team, but only being a “Monday morning quarterback”. Absence from action is dangerous for us all.
We’re a Nation of One’s and we’re at risk. It’s the rare person I talk to who doesn’t have his or her sole first and primary priority for this country, and bases his or her judgments on this single priority. All too often, deliberately, problems are cast as President Obama’s fault.
It’s not President Obama’s game to win or lose, it’s ours as a society.
And the function we can serve in the winner-take-all fight that faces us is to be on the field, getting bruised up.
If we’re on the sidelines, or not at the game at all, the opposition has free rein, and we’ll all suffer, including the people who think they’re winning.
Here I am, 54 years from 1957.
In that long-ago game, I met the bruiser head on and we won 26-0. Sure, that’s meaningless…or is it?
Where will Kenny Chesney’s “Boys of Summer” be 54 years from now?

Directly related posts: Sep. 9(Reflecting on Sep. 11, 2001, and the ten following years); Sep. 11 (39 comments to date about the Sep. 9 post); Sep. 14 (Vietnam Vet Barry Riesch); Sep. 15 (But/And); and Sep. 16 (Political models).