Oskar Dietterle has a long and deep reputation for his witty jokes and humour and crafty creations.
He has become well-known in the High Prairie area as a crazy and funny old man always ready to make anybody laugh or smile.
Or perhaps you’ve seen him at a craft fair or trade show wearing his trademark green hat selling honey or creative crafty inventions he made of wood.
Life in the Old Country
Oskar Dietterle was born Feb. 2, 1932 in Klostitz, Romania, the second eldest of seven children in the family.
“Second in command” Oskar chuckles.
He was born to Adolf and Emilia Dietterle.
His other siblings include sisters Ida (born in 1930) and Elfrieda (1934), brother Hugo (1936), sisters Alvina (1940) and Erica (1942) and brother Adolf (1944).
The family lived in a farming village of 500-1,000 people where the houses lined the streets surrounded by acres of farmland.
“We had everything, cows, horses, pigs, chickens, ducks and sheep,” says Oskar, who had his fair share of chores on the farm when he started at four years of age.
“I had to feed the chickens and pigs and haul water.
“Everyone had a cow or two for milk and food to feed the family.”
Plenty of people were always nearby to make sure the work was done.
“If you needed help on the farm, you just called your neighbours and they would give you a hand,” Oskar says.
The village was a faith-based ethnic community.
“We were Germans living in Romania and we were all Lutherans,” Oskar says.
“The next village 10 miles down the road might be Catholic.”
Every Sunday, the Lutheran Church building was packed for the weekly service that featured a message and singing hymns.
The village included several business services like a tailor, shoemaker and a blacksmith.
School was structured from Grade 1-8 taught in the Romanian language in the morning and German in the afternoon.
Classes started at 8 a.m. in the winter and 7 a.m. in summer.
“Each grade had one teacher,” Oskar says.
What subjects was he best at doing?
“Making trouble,” Oskar says with a laugh.
Traditional activities started the school day.
“Before school started, all the students gathered in a large room in the school and we said the Lord’s Prayer and sang the Romanian national anthem,” Oskar says.
He completed Grade 3 before the family headed back to their home country Germany in 1940.
They returned with about 180,000 Germans living in Romania who were ordered to return after an agreement signed by German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin.
Oskar and the Dietterle family set out on a ship on Oct. 6, 1940 and spent a few nights in Belgrade, Yugoslavia before they boarded a train for Germany.
They settled in Muhlhausen where they lived in an apartment building with 50 people.
The Dietterles shared a room with a Jewish family.
“We were four adults and 10 children in one apartment unit the size of a living room,” says Oskar, who was eight years old at the time.
They were restricted to their living quarters.
“We were in quarantine for about one year, although the children could go to school,” Oskar recalls.
“We had a fair-sized container of food brought to us twice a day and it was already cooked.”
Poland in 1941
The Dietterle family arrived in Poland from Germany in September 1941 by train.
During the Second World War, he became part of Hitler Youth, mandatory for boys ages 10-14 years.
“It was physical exercise training, education and learning about the history of the area,” Oskar says.
He compares it to the Boy Scouts movement that promotes survival and life skills.
Oskar was one of about 50 boys active in the local group that gathered for three to four hours Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
“It was just like the army,” Oskar says.
“We did lots of marching, training with rifles and pistols, karate, judo, jogging and running at full speed up to one kilometer at a time.”
They wore uniforms that included a yellow shirt and brown corduroy pants.
Hitler Youth ended when the Second World War concluded in 1945.
During that time, Oskar’s father was in the German army away from family.
That left the children to help mother on the farm.
“I had lots of chores, and I did the chores before school,” Oskar says.
“I usually got up about six o’clock to feed the chickens, pigs and cattle.”
Back to Germany in 1945
The Dietterles returned to Germany in 1945.
“We were Germans and we didn’t’ want to end up in Siberia,” Oskar says.
They departed on Jan. 20, 1945.
“That’s when we headed for the train,” Oskar says.
A Polish man working for the Dietterles as a farm hand drove the young family by horse and buggy about five to six hours to the train station.
“We got off the wagon and unloaded everything quite a distance from the station,” Oskar explains.
“There were so many people trying to escape, you couldn’t get very close to the station.”
“We managed to get mother and the five youngest children aboard the packed train.”
Oskar and Ida returned for the luggage and they thought they had plenty of time before the train would leave.
But things changed.
“When we were on our way back, an air attack occurred with gunfire,” Oskar recalls.
“We covered ourselves with blankets to protect us from explosions from bombs and lots of splinters were flying around.”
That was also when the train departed before they could get back.
“We didn’t know anybody at the train station,” Oskar says.
“We had to wait for another packed train, standing room only, five hours later.”
Oskar Separated and Reunited
It took about one week from the time Oskar and his sister Ida left Poland by train to arrive in Germany.
Many times, the train stopped and they got out and ate snow.
Then they were sent to a camp near Berlin.
They contacted a girl who knew where their mother and other siblings were and went to the welfare office for train tickets to rejoin them.
Authorities assigned them to work on a designated farm; the owner acting as the guardian.
In early 1945, Oskar enrolled in school in Grade 7, but Ida didn’t continue school.
The farmer was involved in helping people to escape across the border from East Germany to West Germany and involved Oskar, too.
When it came to Russian soldiers wishing to defect, they were extremely careful.
Once a month, they were allowed to take vegetables to the mother about 10 kilometres away to help feed the other children.
Oskar’s father was in the German army in Stalingrad and was reported in fall 1944 as either dead or missing in action.
He returned to Germany and was captured by the French and sent to prisoner of war camp where he stayed until 1947.
He then criss-crossed Germany to search for his family.
The day he arrived, other Germans told him to leave quickly before the Russians knew he was there or they would be exiled to Siberia.
The Dietterle family immediately packed and that night, left their household goods at the railway station and walked all night across the border into West Germany.
The parents and Oskar returned to the railway station twice to pick up their goods, leaving six children behind, not knowing if they would ever see them again.
Oskar was enrolled as an apprentice tailor by his father.
He lived at home and took the course six days a week and made his own suit in spring 1948.
Oskar found that apprentice coal miners made more money, so he went to the Ruhr Valley to the coal mines and worked there for two years.
Then he moved to the west coast and worked on a farm for one year.
Coming to Canada in 1951
Oskar applied to immigrate to Canada and was accepted in spring 1951.
He arrived by ship in Quebec City on May 7, 1951.
Oskar was on a two-year contract to work either on a farm, a lumber camp or a coal mine.
“I first worked on a farm in Neudorf, Saskatchewan and then in northern Ontario in a bush camp,” says Oskar.
German farmers in Saskatchewan applied to get farm help and he found work there.
The helpers weren’t taught the English language as the owners wanted their families to continue in the German language.
When Oskar asked why another fellow was paid $50 a month, plus room and board, the reply was that he spoke English.
Oskar was paid $45 a month.
He discovered that he wasn’t obliged to stay on the farm, but could live and work outside any community.
Oskar then went to the Ontario bush camp.
After the rest of the family immigrated and settled in Taber, Alberta, Oskar followed to Alberta in 1953.
Oskar worked laying and sanding hardwood floors.
He moved to Calgary in 1955 when he opened his own business.
Home in High Prairie since 1960
Oskar has made his home in High Prairie since 1960.
He passionately wanted to farm, but couldn’t afford the high prices in southern Alberta.
Three years earlier, he got his first taste of High Prairie.
“I was driving from McLennan and into High Prairie and I had a flat tire and slept overnight at the airport,” Oskar says.
High Prairie Airport remains at the same location along Highway 749 south of town.
He went to northern Alberta to search for homestead land.
After he investigated Lac la Biche and Grande Prairie, Oskar finally found High Prairie appealed to him.
Oskar can’t recall his first impression of the area or what attracted him to search out the area when he bought homestead land in the Banana Belt area south of High Prairie in 1960 and started to pick rocks.
He built his homestead, cleared some land and grew grain in the first few years.
Initially, he bought a half section and added another half section later.
“I can’t remember how much I paid for it,” Oskar says.
“I later sold all of the land except for the house and acreage.”
Life and transportation were rough back then.
“There was no road there, just a bush trail,” Oskar says.
He does recall some of the first neighbours, Bob and Mitch Williscroft, who lived across the West Prairie River and Len and Irene Kruger.
Oskar seeded crops and built his farm in the summer and laid hardwood flooring in the winter in Calgary for many years.
That was the same year that he and his wife Adele started a honey farm.
Some of their product has been sold locally as Delicious Dietterle Honey at farmers’ markets and other community events in the region.
“Most of our honey is shipped to Spruce Grove for Bee Maid Honey,” Oskar says.
He first found his honey Adele and they were married June 22, 1970.
“We met on a very very cold night at a dance when it was 40 below outside,” Adele says.
“That’s the first time we met,” Oskar says.
Farming brought many challenges.
In 1974, they were the only people who were hailed out in the High Prairie area.
Two years later, everyone in the area was hailed out with eight inches of rain in five hours.
“A year later the ground was still saturated and we couldn’t seed,” Oskar says.
“A swarm of bees arrived on our doorstep and we kept them.”
“We kept adding hives and raising our own queen bees until we had 200 hives.
The family sold the business a few years ago.
Some of their product has been sold locally as Delicious Dietterle Honey at farmers’ markets.
“Most of our honey was shipped to Spruce Grove to Bee Maid Honey,” Oskar says.
The family sold the business a few years ago.
Dietterles Loved to Dance
Dancing has been a big part of fun for Oskar and Adele.
“We taught dancing for 25 years in the Peace region,” Oskar says.
They started to teach dancing in 1983.
“Carson and Anne Porisky signed us up to teach,” Oskar says.
“We had to learn how to teach.”
Initially, they taught at the High Prairie Native Friendship Centre before it branched out to the old Triangle Hall.
“We had groups of 10-39 people of all ages,” Oskar says.
That also took them to points in the Peace Country such as Joussard, Faust, Big Meadow, East Prairie, Peavine, Banana Belt, Valleyview, Girouxville, Tangent, Peace River and Grimshaw.
Humour in hand, Oskar found a unique way to connect with the francophone people in the Girouxville area.
He asked someone how to say cut the grass in the French language.
“In French, they call it mow de lawn,” Oskar says.
“That broke the ice.”
Together, they taught various styles of dancing, such as the waltz, fox trot, old-time waltz, polka and jive.
“When people are relaxed, it’s easier to teach dancing,” Oskar says.
“If not, they don’t learn very quickly.”
Throughout the years, everyone had so much fun.
“Not one person said they didn’t enjoy it, they enjoyed it thoroughly,” Oskar says.
Oskar and Adele have slowed down their dancing in their recent golden years.
“I enjoy dancing because it’s good exercise,” Oskar says.
“I especially like to dance the Strauss waltz.”
His wife also has her personal favourite type of dance.
“I like the old-time waltz, the dance flows with the music,” Adele says.
Around the High Prairie area, they annually support and attend the Zabava dance recital of the Zirka Dancers of the Ukrainian Cultural Society of High Prairie.
Dietterles also enjoy cultural events of local people from the Philippines.
Oskar Witty and Crafty
Oskar is well known for being witty and crafty and he often combines that with his woodwork.
But he humourously says he was not always like that.
“When I met Adele, I was a very quiet person,” Oskar chuckles.
Yet, he seems to be born a clown.
“I’ve had a sense of humour all my life,” Oskar says.
“Laughing is healthy.”
“It keeps me laughing and I want to make other people laugh.”
He’s always quick to share a cartoon, riddle or joke with anybody, from young children to seniors.
“People bring cartoons to me,” Oskar says.