Trying To Fill My Grandmother’s Shoes

North Dakota was a new state, only 14 years old, and Theodore Roosevelt had been president for about two years when on Aug. 12, 1903, the horses and buggies gathered at the Zimmerman home near Willow City, N.D., for the wedding of Ida Zimmerman and Henry Niewoehner.

For the record, Ida and Henry are this Ruby Girls’ grandparents.

Ida had sewn her two-piece dress with pink and white flower appliques. It was a double-breasted style with a high collar. The veil was held by a wreath of flowers.

For the record, this 109-year-old wedding dress is faded but intact and still beautiful.

Not many details about the wedding are known except that a Rev. F. W. Potratz conducted the ceremony in German and his sermon was about building a house, either on rock or faith. The attendants were Ida’s sister, Rose, her cousin Matilda Dumdai, William F. Zimmerman and Roland Niewoehner.

After the wedding and dinner, they square danced in a log granary large enough for two squares. We don’t know if they had a band, but we do know three men sang a song in German which translated means, “when the sun comes up in the morning.” It must have been enjoyable because Uncle Gus, in addition to a nice gift, gave the newly weds three silver dollars.

The next day Ida and Henry started out for the Niewoehner homestead. On the way they stopped at an inland store on the Mouse River to buy two very important items. a washboard and tub.

Photographers were not in abundance in 1903, but one year later my grandparents did have their wedding picture taken. By this time their daughter, my Aunt Ida, had been born. Before the picture could be taken, the wedding gown needed a waistline extension and the veil had been shortened to provide mosquito netting for the crib.

The above story is near and dear to us, the 200-some descendants of Ida and Henry who will gather at their homestead near Upham, N.D., over the July 4th weekend. This will be our first-ever Niewoehner family reunion. We are from absolutely everywhere and all walks of life” farmers, lawyers, teachers, engineers, ministers, professors, a Navy Seal, franchise owners, a TV and movie actor, pilots.

Every once in a while, since the core of a dozen cousins started planning this, Ken sends out little updates. In May he talked about a yard light on the farm’s shop and its significance:

“Although it’s been replaced,” he wrote, “the yard light has a lot of meaning for us older cousins. When we were small children and made evening visits to see Grandma and Grandpa and as we drove down the half-mile long driveway, all of a sudden that yard light would come on. They were watching for us and looking forward to seeing us and that old yard light was their way of welcoming us.” 

Then Ken added this: “When you drive down that driveway on July 3, look for that yard light. It will be on. We will be watching for you. We are looking forward to seeing you. Welcome home!” 

And just this morning this message from Ken arrived. “We are three weeks away from the first-ever Niewoehner Family Reunion and we thought we’d share a photo of Grandma’s house in full bloom. The sun is shining and the farm is ready to host you all.” 


We are pretty much so excited about this that we can hardly wait. Grandma’s wedding dress from 1903 will be on display somewhere in this large six-bedroom mansion. This Ruby Girl will be in the living room dressed up in one of Grandma’s old, old dresses still hanging in her upstairs closet and wearing a pair of her shoes. I’ll try to retell her life stories just as she so beautifully told them to us, a long, long time ago.

Until Soon

3 Responses

  1. Paula Watson

    Ruby Girl,
    I want to say “Thank You” for sharing such a precious story of your family and childhood. I am not from North Dakota, but most of my life, I have been drawn to the State. I have always wanted to visit and maybe someday, move to the state. I want a community like your stories describe. One where it is a small town and everyone knows everyone and it seems though the stories that you have written you all help each other and love one another.
    I have marked the paper website and will be following the stories/news.. Just curious. I am now retired and am thinking about relocating. What is the cost of living , real estate and property . North Dekota sounds perfect for a vacation/home away from home.
    Keep up the wonderful writing.

  2. Kent Schmidt

    If you’d like to see a picture of Anna, Roland’s sister and Henry’s daughter look on my son’s facebook page under Schmidt/Johnson ansector’s pictures. He compiling a genealogy. His name is Josiah Schmidt. I’m sure he’d be happy to get any pictures of the Niewoehners. The picture is of Anna and my great grandfather William Conrad Schmidt on their wedding day. So anyway, I guess we’re related:) We settled in NW Iowa.

    Please feel free to email if you have any questions.

    Chaplain Major Kent Schmidt, USAF

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