by ADAM GRUENEWALD
The City of Cologne has been gaining some local and international attention recently to no surprise of Marcia Tellers.
As Cologne’s unofficial historian, Tellers has been watching as the town’s history unfolds during the recent visit of journalist Frank Piotrowski of Cologne, Germany, to taking part in an episode of Off 90.
Off 90, which airs Sundays on public television’s Austin-based KSMQ and Tuesdays on PTV, recently interviewed Tellers, focusing on her experiences and the historical 1939 short film, by former residents Dr. Ray and Esther Dowidat, “Cologne: From the Diary of Ray and Esther.”
“Cologne: From the Diary of Ray and Esther,” which has been added to the National Film Registry, documents early scenes of the town.
For Tellers, the film is a reinforcement of her love for the town and its history.
“I’m three years older than that video,” she said. “It’s fascinating to see what the street looked like and the farms.”
While not a native, Marcia, 77, is originally from Minneapolis and lived in the area after marrying her husband, Kenneth, 83, in 1960.
Kenneth and his two brothers, Casper and Gordon, had a dairy farm of about 600-acres just west of Cologne until they moved into town in 1998. Marcia, who worked for Mid County Co-op and the Carver County building permit department, and Kenneth have seven children and 15 grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
“We’ve been active in the community and the church,” she said. “I’ve kept up with the Cologne and St. Bernard’s Church history… I like history.”
A lover of history, Marcia did quite a lot of work for Cologne’s Centennial book in 1981. She also has an extensive collection of butter boxes on her porch and a postcard collection numbering about 40, including one dating back to a railroad derailment in 1914.
Sharing her knowledge, Marcia explained the town came about because of the railroad which drew residents and businesses from Benton for the town’s incorporation in 1881.
“We were a little farm town,” she said. “Farming is still the big thing because the farmers keep the town going with buying their products and fertilizers.”
The 1939 film offers a glimpse into the farming culture still present today, documenting that “everybody in Cologne likes beer” showing images of bars and stores.
The history is still alive today as many of the buildings are still in town.
“There are so many original buildings that are still here,” said Tellers. “Those houses, those buildings, have been here for a long time.”
One of the goals of the 1981 Centennial book, which was put together in about six months, was to determine the owners of each building on Main Street, a goal they nearly accomplished apart from a few buildings.
“That was a fascinating project,” she said, adding the group also researched organizations and many families still in the area.
Researching those gave Tellers a glimpse into her husband’s family and his grandfather, Hubert, who came over in the mid-19th century from Germany with seven siblings.
“In those days nobody ever went very far away,” she said. “You didn’t talk about anybody too much as a stranger coming into Cologne, sure as heck you mention somebody’s name they were married to somebody.”
Keeping the tradition ongoing, Marcia has a daughter and a son who still live in the area.
Her work on the book also helped give Marcia her role as the town’s historian. What she doesn’t know leads her to the Carver County Historical Society, a place she visits often.
“They call and ask me when was this, when was that?” she said. “More times you read the book, the more information you get.”
Over the years she has kept up with the history, collecting older memorabilia and items, and she calls Cologne her home with her family close by.
“I don’t think you’d ever get my husband to leave the area,” she said, laughing.
While Tellers would never leave the area, she takes some comfort knowing technology gives her the chance to contact family that have moved away, something early immigrants didn’t have.
“One thing that always surprised me is people that came over here, they knew at that time they were never going to see their parents again probably,” she said. “Where today if you move here you call them up. There is communication. There was none of that. There was a letter you can write.”
What hasn’t changed are the family relationships.
“Mom and dad over in Germany, they loved their kids like we love our kids today,” she said. “That’s a thing I’ve thought about so much. They let their young kids go and they came over here and had a rough life. Most of them came over here without any money and their trunk full of goodies.”
In addition, medical care from that time was quite a lot different because many families lost a baby or mother in childbirth. The early immigrants were resourceful, though. Marcia read that some would mark trees to return home.
“It was a hard life when you read about coming through,” she said. “Our world has come a long way from the 1800s to now.”
Cologne has even changed a lot in her time in town, growing in size, losing some businesses while adding some new residences and Cologne Academy.
“It’s grown considerably,” she said. “It still has some of the small town feel.”
As the caretaker of the town’s history, Tellers, along with Roger Storms and City Administrator John Hendel, were eager to share knowledge for the Off 90 episode and the still-developing town.
“It was really a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s good publicity all of a sudden. People go Cologne… what’s that? People get to Chaska and don’t go more west. They have no idea unless they start looking for a place to live. Carver has mushroomed. If we get a four-lane highway all the way here, we’ll see lots of growth.”
While the Off 90 air date has not yet been set, the show will be shown this winter. Tellers said she would be eager to open up her home for a viewing party.
“A viewing party will be fun for those of us that were involved as well as other people in the community,” she said. “It all goes back to that 1939 film.”
For more information on Off 90, visit http://www.ksmq.org/index.php/programs2/70-playhouse-off-90.
To view the 1939 film, visit http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xejnu2_cologne-from-the-diary-of-ray-and-e_shortfilms.
Contact Adam Gruenewald at [email protected]