BISMARCK, ND (KFYR) — The State Historical Society says most of the immigrants who settled in North Dakota are Germans from Russia. That’s a lot of families trying to keep their ethnic culture alive, whether by cooking, playing music or speaking the language.
A native of Strasbourg has gone further and has dedicated his 55-year career at NDSU to heritage preservation.
Now he’s ready to retire, but he’s not ready to stop working yet.
In 1967, Michael Miller made headlines in his hometown Emmons County Record when he got a job at North Dakota State University.
“I was just a general librarian,” he recalls.
In 1978, Miller took on a larger role at the university. He was appointed to develop the heritage collection of Germans in Russia.
“In North Dakota, 30 to 40 percent of the people are German Russians,” Miller said.
Including Michael Miller. The youngest of six children, he grew up in Strasbourg, the son of German immigrants.
“My mother’s side came to Strasbourg in 1889, my father’s side came in 1894,” he explained.
Miller has spent his career preserving the legacy of his ancestors. This includes 23 trips to Germany and Ukraine as part of the “Journey to the Homeland Tour”.
“We took over 700 people from all over the United States and Canada back to their homelands to visit these villages near Odessa. It was a heartwarming experience, even for me, to walk the streets where your ancestors once lived,” he said.
Since 1996, he has written a monthly column that appears in newspapers across the Dakotas.
He has also produced 10 award-winning documentaries about Germans in Russia for Prairie Public. His favorites are those that include German cuisine.
“I grew up in Strasbourg and all these German Russian flower dishes with noodles, so it was very special, and then, you know, when you’re in these kitchens, with women, who love these foods, and then of course when you’re filming and taking pictures and interviewing, then you taste all that food!” he’s laughing.
Miller is working on an eleventh documentary; this one will focus on the homestead of Lawrence Welk.
“In North America, Lawrence Welk is the best known Russian German. It’s important not just to focus on Lawrence Welk, but to focus on the farm and the legacy of the Russian Germans in agriculture. So that’s really important, and that’s why we’re doing this new TV documentary,” he said.
The premiere is scheduled for fall 2024. Miller’s official retirement day is December 1, 2022. But for Miller, retirement is just a formality; he plans to continue working as long as he is healthy. He blames his German Russian roots for this.
“Germans in Russia, they have a quote that says, ‘Work makes life good,'” he said.
Safe to say, Michael Miller lived a very good life.
With 55 years of service, Miller joins Henry L. Bolley and CB Waldron as the longest serving employees in NDSU history.
In lieu of a retirement party, flowers or cards, Miller asked for donations to be made to the Germans in Russia fund. You can contribute here.
If you want to check out Miller’s documentaries, you can watch all 10 of them here.
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