Zell, South Dakota

Zell, South Dakota

Zell is a tiny town in South Dakota, straddling the county line between Faulk and Hand counties. This former convent and the neighboring church are featured in our book hardcover coffee table book, Churches of the High Plains.

Zell, South Dakota

This is the former St. Mary’s convent. The first Bishop of the Dakota Territory, Martin Marty, invited some Benedictine Sisters to South Dakota in 1864, and in 1874, they settled in Zell. This is one of the the structures they eventually built to serve their mission. We believe this building was erected in 1912, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Update: Joe Lutter contacted us to let us know he owns this building and would be willing to sell it.  If you’re interested, you can contact Joe at: lutterappraisal@qwestoffice.net

Zell, South Dakota

The St. Mary’s complex, which includes a large church, is on the south side of the highway which places it in Hand County, while the rest of the town is north of the highway, in Faulk County.

Zell, South Dakota

Zell, South Dakota

This convent was originally designated a monastery. It was somewhat common for the term to be used interchangeably for both men’s and women’s facilities in the 1800s.

Zell, South Dakota

Thanks to Jeff Blaseg for tipping us off to this place.

Zell, South Dakota

Zell, South Dakota

The sign in front of the church says “No Services on Weekends.”

Zell, South Dakota

Zell, South Dakota

The cemetery next to the convent is beautiful and very well-kept.

Zell, South Dakota

The WPA compiled a partial list of the graves in the cemetery in the 1930s which you can see here, and there are some more here.

Zell, South Dakota

Zell, South Dakota

According to this unsourced article, the present population of Zell is around 50, but based on what we saw, we think that number might include some people who live outside of town.

Zell, South Dakota

The rest of the town is north of the highway, which places it in Faulk County.

Zell, South Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

110 thoughts on “Zell, South Dakota

  1. Was in eastern South Dakota in June and recall Zell from when I lived in the Redfield area from 1949-1963. See Ashton, Athol, Mellette and Northville in Spink County are going the same way. So sad, but such is “progress”!

  2. I was born in Redfield, in 1962. We named our fourth child Ashton! After Ashton, South Dakota. She is 15 and very special to us. She was born after Ashton, SD because of family and very special times being spent there.

  3. Was just there in July and took many of the same pictures. Have a few from inside the convent as well. My parents were married at St. Mary’s and it was a treat to return. Very clean and well kept which added to the spooky factor!

  4. Thank-you for the photos. My name is Jeanie (Sherman) Clement I grew up in Rockham and went to first grade in the Zell Catholic School and then it closed. My sister Mary-Jo and her boyfriend lived in the convent. They lived on the top floor and it was their house. Wonderful memories of all the windows open on a summer evening as a rain storm passed through. Sitting in beanbag chairs listening to Fleetwood Mac. Wonderful memories.

    1. I was driving by there yesterday and stopped to take a few pictures. I am always drawn to the big old buildings from 100 years ago. Today I did a google search for Zell and recognized your name. I had no idea you went to school there!

  5. I owned the convent/school from 1975-1995 and still own the land across from the church (which used to be the boys’ softball ground. I also have the original papers including abstract of title dated march 15, 1884 when the land was homesteaded by Sr Josephine Villiger and papers continuing from there: a 1928 letter from norbecks in redfield with quote to dig a new well for $850; the survey from 1946 when Sr Serena Zens was prioress; the 1949 detailed receipt room by room for wiring the building for $402; the abstract from when the school closed (because it couldn’t meet fire safety requirements) transferring title from the Sisters in Yankton to Charlie Littel in 1968; I bought the school and all the land from Charlie in 1975; sold the school and 2.5 acres to janice Kenzy, daughter of Corny Fink in 1995. During the time I owned it, I had it registered as a national historic site. I boarded at the school from 1948-1952 because we lived 5 miles away in Rockham. There was indoor plumbing by that time but it was used only by the Sisters except for EXTREME inclement weather when we were allowed to use the indoor facilities versus finding our way through a blizzard to the girls’ or boys’ outhouses. There was a long bench on which were our water basins and pitcher of water. In the winter, the water would freeze. There was a curtain in the corner behind which was the covered enamelware pot. By 1952 there were enough kids from Rockham that we could carpool..Connie Sherman Catron

      1. My Mother Mary (Creagh)May was a cousin to the Roach family. She was from Orient, SD and lived on the farm on the way to Miller. Some of the names were:
        Blanch Roach Dean, Irene Roach Corkins, Hazel Roach Lovesteen, Cecelia Roach Fitzgerald, Jerald Roach. My Mother was related through the Hennessey family.
        My sisters in South Dakota do all the family history, so if you are related and want more information I can put you in touch with them.

    1. Charles Littel married one of Wenzel Hepplers Daughters. I’ve heard the communion rail went to ? unknown to me Littels in ND. I am looking for the high altar that Wenzel built. Any thoughts? a 1983 newspaper article states the altar went to a church in MN. The Sioux Falls Diocese has no idea, and the Diocese of St Paul in MN declined to help in my search. Hepplers owned the land and donated for the building of the Church and Convent/school. Would love to see the original abstracts if it contains mention of Hepplers. will also add your commentary to my genealogy info. Thanks so much!! appreciate any info. Janet

      1. to Isabelle Prescott, any chance you have contact with Mary Ann to see if she has any idea where the altar may have gone to? Thank you Janet

      2. Janet, I have a 19 page Heppler family tree that I could email to you. It’s a PDF file and I don’t know how to attach it but here’s the first page:.
        Descendants of John Wenzel Heppler
        Generation No. I
        1. JOHN WENZEL’ HEPPLER was born August 28, 1870 in Germany, and died December 23, 1942 in Zell,
        SD. He married THERESA MARY GRUENWALD November 14, 1893 in Zell, S.D., daughter of
        BARTHOLOMAUS GRUENWALD and TERESA LITTEL. She was born January 13, 1877 in Wilton, Wisconsin,
        and died January 12, 1959 in Zell, SD.
        Children of JOHN HEPPLER and THERESA GRUENWALD are:
        i. MARY TERESA2 HEPPLER, b. July 05, 1895; d. July 10, 1895.
        2. ii. JOSEPH JOHN HEPPLER, b. February 26, 1897, Zell Spink County, SD; d. January 07, 1967, Redfield,
        3. iii. ANNA ROSE HEPPLER, b. April 08, 1899; d. August 11, 1980.
        4. iv. EDWARD BARTHOLEMEW HEPPLER, b. February 23, 1901; d. September 01, 1986, Lead, SD.
        5. v. JOHN WENZEL HEPPLER, b. September 17, 1903, Zell, South Dakota, YSA; d. February 11, 1987,
        Warner, Alberta, Canada.
        6. vi. IDA T HEPPLER, b. December 18, 1904.
        vii. FRANK HEPPLER, b. November 25, 1906; d. June 1966; m. (1) ALICE ?; d. 1954; m. (2) VIOLA ?,
        Notes for ALICE ?:
        Frank’s wife Alice died in a fire at Devil’s Tower, Wyoming in 1954
        7. viii. MATHIAS GEORGE HEPPLER, b. March 20, 1909, Zell, SD; d. March 11, 1980.
        8. ix. TERESA KATHRYN HEPPLER, b. November 25, 1911, Zell, Faulk County, SD; d. December 25, 1990,
        Huron, South Dakota.
        9. x. BENJAMIN AUGUST HEPPLER, b. September 11, 1914, Zell Spink County, SD; d. January 13, 1978,
        Dixon, Illinois.
        xi. MATHILDA HILDAGARD HEPPLER, b. September 06, 1916; d. June 06, 1987, Eugene, Oregon; m. (1)
        10. xii. LEO LAWRENCE HEPPLER, b. June 12, 1919, Zell, SD; d. March 17, 1969, Grants, NM.
        Generation No. 2
        2. JOSEPH JOHN2 HEPPLER (JOHN WENZEL’) was born February 26, 1897 in Zell Spink County, SD, and
        died January 07, 1967 in Redfield, SD. He married FRANCES STAUFER March 30, 1921. She was born
        June 13, 1899 in Hand County, SD, and died February 16, 1989 in Menlo Park, CA.
        Children of JOSEPH HEPPLER and FRANCES STAUFER are:
        i. JOSEPH3 HEPPLER, b. April 02, 1922; d. April 02, 1922.
        ii. PAUL F. HEPPLER, b. September 18, 1923; d. February 06, 1986, Seattle, WA; m. (1) PHYLLIS; b.
        May 13, 1928; m. (2) LEE; m. (3) SALLY; m. (4) HELEN; m. (5) FLORENCE; d. January 2000; m. (6)
        JUDY SLOAN; m. (7) EUNICE RIVERA, April 05, 1944; d. May 1950.
        iii. JAMES HEPPLER, b. November 19, 1924; d. November 19, 1924.
        11. iv. ARLENE M. HEPPLER, b. March 22, 1926; d. September 18, 2000.
        12. v. PHYLLIS HEPPLER, b. June 24, 1928, Redfield, SD.
        vi. WALTER HEPPLER, b. May 13, 1931; d. March 07, 1977, Sumner, WA.
        13. vii. LUCILLE M. HEPPLER, b. February 11, 1937.
        3. ANNA ROSE2 HEPPLER (JOHN WENZEL’) was born April 08, 1899, and died August 11, 1980. She
        married JOHN RILEY HAZLETT.
        Child of ANNA HEPPLER and JOHN HAZLETT is:
        14. i. CALVIN E3 HAZLETT, b. November 27, 1936, Tacoma, WA.

        1. \Hi and thank you for the page posted. Always fascinating to see more family. \My email is in a couple of the posts, if you contact me by email, \I will send my home address. \I have genealogy back to 1632 if you are interested. There is a cousin in Germany that has done remarkable research so all is verified. \Janet

          1. i’ll look for it again. and yes i’d be interested in seeing what you have in the ancestry.

        2. Hello! John Wenzel Heppler was my great grandfather, my grandfather was John Wenzel Heppler who moved to Warner, Alberta. I am interested in our ancestry and have been trying to figure it out using ancestry.ca. Any information you can share would be much appreciated. My email is jldoram@shaw.ca

          1. Hi Janelle, I’ve seen your name on a few online posts. I am a Heppler genealogist. Have enmassed more than 1 k pages on Hepplers and extended family. Will have all at the reunion next spring. Last year I ‘published’ a book, but printed copies only for those that ordered. I may be taking orders again at the reunion. If you cannot make it there, let me know if you are interested. Janet

          2. Thank you for the reply! Unfortuantely, We will not be able to make it to the reunion. I am a teacher and school does not end until June 30th in Alberta, otherwise we would have like to have gone. I would be very interested in one of your books! Please let me know how I can pay for one!

      3. Janet, the abstract says the Sisters got the land for the convent from the US on March 15, 1884. There’s no mention of Heppler in the abstract. Sr Josephine died in 1889 without a will. By that time the convent and church were already built and along with the land had a value of $400. Her heirs were her family in Lucerne, Switzerland, the eldest brother being Aloysius Villager. Mary Mathilda Cattani was appointed administrator of the estate. Then appraisers in 1895 said that Sister Josephine’s estate was unimproved prairie land valued at $800, and that the church and school were not part of her estate. In 1894, the heirs transferred ownership to Sacred Heart Convent in Yankton, SD
        The pages on the abstract are too wide for me to scan. At some time, I may be able to take them to a copying service for scanning at which time I’ll let you know and send you a copy if you lik..

  6. Hi Sherman Gals, glad to see your comments here. I too remember visits to the convent and the surrounding grounds when we came to visit from california every few years. Many fond memories of that time with you guys as well. The town looks beautiful.

    1. Hi Steve, are you related to Theresa Gruenwald that married John Wenzl Heppler? I am part of several Hepplers that are current genealogist working on the Heppler +++ families. If so, how are you related? always nice to id more ‘cousins’. Janet Fisher

      1. Hi Janet, my grandparents were Theresa Gruenwald and John Wenzel Heppler. I belong to their daughter Teresa Heppler who married Harland Myers. We had a Heppler reunion there back in 2010. How are you related to the Heppler’s? I would like to visit with you. I go to the cemetery almost every Memorial weekend.

      2. Janet, Steve is my cousin, son of Ignatius Gruenwald who is son of Joseph and Mathida Leitner Gruenwald son of Bartholomaus and Teresa Littel Gruenwald, father and mother of Theresa Mary Gruenwald who married John Heppler. My mom, Agatha Gruenwald Sherman, Ignatius’ older sister, called her “Aunt Tressie”.

        I also have a copy of an email from Armand Comeau to Cy Kolegraff showing more Heppler relations through Mathias Heppler

  7. The seven children of the Ed and Genevieve Fallon all attended boarding school here until the closure of the building. Dennis, Truman Gregory, Mary Beth (Sister Ramona Fallon), Brian, Michael, Patrick and Marcella. We lived about 8 miles south of Rockham and was too far to travel daily, Remember walking this sidewalk many times to daily mass at the church.

  8. My genealogy searches have taken me to Zell many times. My Childrens family from Zell are the Albrechts and Hepplers. Wenzel Heppler was partially responsible for building the Convent and Church. He also built the high altar in the Church. Heppler family owned the land and donated it to the Church for the purpose of building both. anyone have any idea where the altar might be? a 1983 newspaper article states it went to a church in MN. However, archives in SD have no idea and the state of MN Diocese decined to even help in the search. I have photos of the altar. The Church is now closed but may be used for weddings. The doors are never locked. I have copies of the One Community Under God booklet and also the 1983 souvenir booklet if anyone is interested. Janet

    1. My grandfather was Charles Littel and he married Theresa Heppler. If I remeber correctly, my cousin Mary Ann Littel Jungwirth used the alter rail in her house. Not sure where but it might have been in ND. She livs in Florida now.

      1. thank you Isabelle, some one told me about the communion rail, so don’t know how reliable it was. If you contact any one in the family, would you be so kind to inquire about the altar? Do you have photos of Joseph and Theresa you would share? I have photos of Wenzel, Leo and Mathias as well as history back to Frederici Heppler ca 1632. And a few family photos.
        Always willing to trade. Janet f in rochester mn

        1. Janet: I got a video from my brother which was taken a few years ago. In the video some of my family take a car ride and part of it is at the graveyard in Zell. They took videos of the monumet over Wenzell Heppler’s grave.
          I found Maryann Jungwirth on Facebook but she has not responded to my email.

      2. Isbelle, I have a copy of Charles Littel’s naturalization record from 10/1/1988 if you’d like for me to email it to you. I also have a 12 page document with photos and great stories from a grand daughter of Agnes Zens on history of Hepplers, Weiss, Zens, Gruenwald, Puettman excerpts:

        “my grandmother’s (Agnes Zens) mother’s maiden name was Heppler. The Hepplers were a strongly religious family and first came to this country from a small village of Christianberg, Bohemia, Austria in the late 1800’s. Bohemia Austria is now the Czech Republic, and Christianberg is now called Kristanov. There were four brothers and three sisters. Their parents, Thomas Heppler and Marianne (Essel) Heppler did not immigrate. Perhaps they were no longer living.
        The siblings, along with about 50 other families from the area—particularly Maria Zell, Austria— settled in Dakota Territory around what is now Zell, South Dakota. The brothers were: Wenzel, Andrew, Matthias, and Leo. The sisters were Mary Theresia, Katherine, Elenore, and Maria.”

        re founding of Zell:
        “Leo, Mathias, and Wenzel were among those instrumental in establishing the town of Zell. Phyllis Heppler’s grandfather, John Heppler, often talked about Wenzel getting on the train when it stopped for water and going through the cars and asking, “Are you Catholic?” “Are you German?” If so, he would offer them a “grub stake” to get off the train and settle there. Imagine someone doing that today.”

        “THE TOWN OF ZELL.

        As the west bound train over the Chicago & North-
        western railway leaves Redfield in Spink county, South
        Dakota, the first station to be called is Zell, in Faulk
        county. It is a town of about three hundred inhabitants.
        The first settlers were from Germany and Austria, in re-
        ligious faith. Catholics. While forming an enterprising,
        industrious community a Catholic church and school have
        been and now are prominent features in the makeup of the
        town. Among the early settlers were Leo Heppler, Wen-
        zel Heppler, A. Schade, M. Heppler, Eustace Weis, Jos.
        Abris, Frank Spannbauer, Leonard Jungferdorf and P. J.
        Berger. As early as the beginning of 1883, Rev. Bishop
        Marty began to look after the spiritual interests of this
        people. Rev. J. L-ameseh was the first resident priest,
        died July 5, 1895 and was laid to rest in the local cemetery.
        On the 15th of April, 1883, more than a year before the
        arrival of the resident priest, the people had decided to
        have a sisters’ convent which was for the time being, to
        serve as a church and school.

        The St. Mary’s Boarding School for young ladies and
        children, under the management of Benedictine sisters,
        has been a power in the intellectual and moral uplifting of
        the young. The need of a larger and more modern church
        had been felt for some years, but not until the coming of
        the present parish priest. Rev. F. S. Meyer, in 1904, did
        the enterprise take tangible form.

        The summer of 1904 was a time of deep interest to the
        good people of Zell, as the beautiful new church took on
        form, the interest continued until the completion and dedi-
        cation of the church, which is not only an honor to the
        town, the people who so readily furnished the means and
        successfully carried it forward, but the entire county. In
        size 40×100, with a tower 75 feet high, in artistic design
        and finish, it is the equal if not the superior of any church
        edifice in the county. An illustration of the Zell church
        and St. Mary’s school may be found in this history.”

        The following is a partial list of business enterprises;

        General Merchandise, Chris. L/Utz, proprietor.
        Post Office, Frank Bruggeman, postmaster.
        Atlas Elevator Co., Henry Arend, manager.
        Western Elevator Co., George Miller, manager.
        Refreshment Parlor, Raymond Jungworth, proprietor.
        Blacksmith Shop, Chas. Bosch, proprietor.
        Carpenter Shop, John Hoesing, proprietor.
        Lumber Co., Henry Arend, manager.
        Hotel, Philip Kolegraff, proprietor. “

        1. Is there a way to get the rest of that history? What a great story! John Wenzel Heppler was my great grandfather, my grandpa was the John Wenzel Heppler who came to Canada.

  9. I believe my great grandparents’ name is on one of the stained glass windows of the church. Nierman

    1. I didn’t see a reply so don’t know if this went through. I have the photos of the windows bearing the name Nierman. Couldn’t figure out how to add on to this site. If you would like, contact me by email and I’ll send. jfisherdittrich@yahoo.com

    2. Sheila My Grandfather was John Heber and was married to Gertrude Niermann daughter of Joseph and Gertrude Niermann. John and Joseph Niermann have stain glass window side by side in the church in Zell.. They are beautifull. Who were your Grandparents. My father Frank Heber purchased Chris Lutz and Josephine Niermann farm in 1947. I attended grades 1 through 8 at Saint Marys and would like to make contact with you. I would love to have pictures of the Niermann family. Ihave done some research on the Niermann family from Europe to Minnesota to Zell.

      1. Hi Robert, The further I delve into the Heppler history, the more I find on the Heber family distant relative history attachment. Do you have any history you might share? I’ve started with Casper and Gertrude Nolte Nierman, Their daughter Agnes Heber, Agnes married William Weiss whose grandmother was a Heppler. Would you share the family history, just needs to be brief to add to our Heppler history book. Thanks Janet

    3. Hi Sheila, I’ve been in contact with Bob Heber and received an obituary from 1935 regarding the deaths of ??your grandparents Mr and Mrs Heber. His name John, her name only Mrs. From Zell. He sent the obit because Albrechts market in Redfield had an ad on the same page. He would like to contact you. I think he’s tried unsuccessfully. Please respond and I can try to facilitate. Actually his home address is Rober 111 Emerson Ave N. Montrose MN 55363. he is thinking your grandmothers were sisters. too bad the paper didn’t mention her first name.

  10. My absolutely wonderful Grandma (Carrie Joyce) lived in the Orange/Yellow House. I practically grew up there and loved every bit of it!

  11. I was a protestant farm kid and lived northeast of Zell. I remember dropping some of the Zens kids off at the school on our way to school in Rockham. I also have fond memories of shopping at the Miesen’s store. I remember one time in particular; after shopping my mother got in the car and exclaimed, “$10 and all i got was 2 bags of groceries!”

  12. My Grandfather found a postcard dated March 29, 1910 from Zell, SD. It was sent by a John Weiss to a Dr. W. G. Boyd. If anyone knows the families of either of these two men, he thought this was something that someone would want. Please let me know.

    1. Hi Jennifer, there was John Weiss, son of Eusyach and Eleanora Heppler Weiss DOB 1873 in Germany. The family came to the U.S. in 1882 and lived in Zell. I know his parents grave in St Mary’s. John died 1941 in Faulk co. I think also buried in Zell. ? Perhaps the same. My family descends from the Heppler family. Janet Fisher

      1. Hi Janet! Thanks for the info. Do you know if any of his family is still around that might want this postcard? Thanks again! Jennifer G.

        1. Thank you for the reply. I am part of several Heppler genealogists. Some of us meeting portland OR in Oct. I have not seen any contemporary Weiss cousins at this time, but recently 6 cousins from the Heppler family joined. Been very exciting. Always looking for more. Is your grandfather from Zell? You could send to me and be certain it would be kept safe by one of us until we find someone. Each something we come across is copied and sent to everyone else. I’m not always computer savvy but maybe you can find a way, I can send my home address privately. Thank you again for a treasure. Janet

    2. Hi again, please send the postcard to Janet Fisher 3007 51st Street NW Rochester, MN 55901. I’ll take it with me when I meet with the Heppler group in Oct. Thanks Jennifer. Please let me know how you are related? or your grandfathers name. Janet

      1. Ok. Thank you! We are not sure where the postcard came from. It was something that my grandfathers mother had in a scrapbook. I don’t think it is any relation. I will talk to him about it and see what he wants to do. Thanks again!! Jennifer

        1. Thanks Jennifer. Have you ever heard from Theresa H that started the blogspot? I”ve tried to contact to see if she is related to Hepplers. no response. This is a great site especially with folks like you that respond to queries and share info. Where did your grandfather live? always more questions than answers for genealogists !! Janet

          1. Therese H. is my niece. She lives in Maryland. I can contact her and tell her to check here. Yes, she is related to the Hepplers.

          2. Thank you so much Isabelle. My address is a few posts above. would you mind making or sending me a family group sheet that includes you and Therese? I have not been able to follow your lines and who is who. Where do you live Isabelle? I see my email is also in a post if that works. either way. You can be assured the information will not be posted anywhere, but I do share with the rest of the Heppler family. Think about this too. if you wish I can add you to the list of Heppler cousins email so you can keep abreast of information being shared. Truly fun. My family descends from Wenzl and Josephine to their son Joe Albrecht of Redfield. So exciting to communicate with you. Thank you !!! Janet

          1. Sorry if I sent this before, sometime I don’t see replies or messages I’ve sent. Who are Magdalena’s father and mother? just need to find a connection if there is one. Thanks Janet

      1. My family were early settlers of Zell. My great great grandparents were Joseph and Katarina Jungwirth whose grave is above. My grandma was born there. My grandfather Raymond owned the saloon.

        1. you must be one of my relatives, Raymond who ran the saloon was my great grandfather. My father was Charles Jungwirth son of Ed and grandson of Raymond.

  13. I am researching the life of Father Robert Haire, a Catholic priest who came to Dakota Territory in 1880. At that time his “parish” extended east-west from the Minnesota line to the Missouri River and north-south from north of Ellendale, ND to south of Huron. In 1883 he helped establish the convent in Zell. He stopped there regularly to offer mass and arranged support from the community. I am looking for source material, information, and any ideas or suggestions. Thank you.

    1. Hi Kathleen, I have some info on Fr. Haire. one source is the Sacred Heart Church in Aberdeen, SD history book, and another source Zell SD church book. I’m out of town but will contact you when I return if you need more info. Janet

      1. Janet, thanks for replying! I am originally from Aberdeen and have the history of Sacred Heart (A Church Grows on a Tree Claim). Actually I have a lot of published information and am scratching around for more personal information — letters or family histories etc. He started so many churches in his vast parish! His own letters and papers were not preserved (I’m tempted to put a frowny face here but that’s the way it goes with history). I would love to see a church book from Zell. Thanks again for reaching out.

        1. hi, I too am from Aberdeen, went to Sacred Heart. I can scan and send to your email or regular mail. I’ll be home 6 Oct. I may have an old letter also. I know Rev Fr Martin Marty is mentioned. Will have to check. My family descends from Zell Hepplers and Albrechts. Janet

        2. Hi Again, on second look, I think the only source is the book from Sacred Heart. Couldn’t find his name in the Zell book. Where can I send the book on Zell? Janet

          1. Hello Janet, I see now that I missed your message of the 26th! Do you still live in Aberdeen? My brother is the new priest at St. Mary’s, Father Griffin.
            There are a couple of options. I’ll be in Aberdeen soon, maybe this next week, and could pick it up and make a copy (that is if you’re still in Aberdeen). You could scan and email, but I don’t know how big the book is, it might be a lot of work. Or you could mail it and I can reimburse you and return it when I’m done.
            My email is kcleberg@comcast.net and my address is 525 53 1/2 Ave NE, Fridley MN 55421-1234.
            Thanks again for your help!

          2. Hi Kathleen, I live in Rochester. I may have scanned the book for some one else, I’ll check and if so will email. Janet

    2. Hi again Kathleen, while doing family hx stuff I came upon a book tha has several references to Fr Haire. You probably have used it already. Brown County History published in 1980. Thought of your research. Janet

  14. Fascinating info here! I Googled Zell because I stopped on my way from Hoven, SD to New Market, MN on a family history trip to find GGGrandparents homes & cemeteries! The Church in Zell caught my eye & then saw the HUGE bldg & wondered if it was a school, convent or orphanage! Just beautiful!!!

  15. My brother and I boarded at Zell in 1954. David was in the 6th grade and I was in the 5th grade. Seems like we were always in trouble haha. My best friend was Maryanne Huss from Faulkton. My father worked for Spink County Dairy in Redfield. The good priest felt I was a good boy and God would forgive my misdoings if I could rid the cemetery of garter snakes. I did a good job. Last time I was there was 4 years ago and I didn’t see a single snake anywhere. What was sadness then are wonderful memories now!

  16. \Hi \Mary, \I didn’t see your post when \I came to this site. \My famiy descends from Wenzel, and Anna, their daughter \Mary \Josephine married Frank \J Albrecht. Their son was \Joseph \John Albrecht.\, he married Elizabeth Wright and their daughter \\Joan \Mary was my mother in law. \I started genealogy for my children, but by now, feel like one of the family. As above, \I am part of a \Heppler group of cousins that have joined an email list. We share all and keep in touch. \I suggested this fall that we should plan a reunion in Zell next summer. not long after that, \I heard from others that there was a reunion in 2012 and one planned for next year in \KY. \Our group has about 15 cousins descending from \Maria, \Leo, Wenzel, \Mathias, Eleanora and \Katherina. Would like to welcome other family to join our group. We can learn much from each other. We have genealogy back to about 1632 and more coming all the time. my email is \jfisherdittrich@yahoo.com. Welcome to all \Hepplers. This is being a fun, addictive group. Some researchers, some suppliers. \Love photos.!!!!! please contact me. \Janet

  17. Two years ago, I visited the church in Maria Zell, Austria, which is a big pilgrimage site. I saw a big statue of the Virgin Mary there and thought it looked very familiar. Then I realized that the church in Zell SD had one which was smaller, but otherwise I think might have been an exact copy. That would not be surprising since many Zell inhabitants came from Maria Zell and named their town after it. It is a beautiful town and well worth the trip. Many other relatives of mine came to Zell from Bergenland, which is in the eastern part of Austria. I believe the Finks may have come from there as well. I am related to the Jandels and Puettman’s and my parents, grandparents and great grandparents are buried in the Zell cemetery. I’m not sure how many generations went to the school there, but I know my father and sister went to the school and I boarded there from 1950 to 1958. I graduated in a class with Dick and Paul Esser, Kathy Littel, Donna Zens, and, I think, a Mullenburg, Mike and Myra Gruenwald, but I am not sure — it has been a long time!

  18. Leo, what was the name of the Church? I’ve heard that Wenzel Heppler crafted a smaller statue, wonder what happened to that??? another missing item along with the high altar Wenzel built.

  19. Janet, Mariazell Pilgrimage Basilica is the name of the church. I have a historical booklet about the Basilica that I bought when I was there. If you want a picture of the Basilica and more information send an eMail to me at stoltzleo@aol.com and I will send more to you. It contains information on the origin of the name Mariazell too. One bit of information on the convent at Zell. Originally it was classified as a monastery but when Yankton was established as the motherhouse, Zell no longer qualified to be a monastery and simply became a convent (or St Mary’s School, as we called it when I was there). The information with the pictures says that convent and monastery are interchangeable terms. The Benedictine nuns at the monastery where I go to Church on Sunday say that this is not true, the two terms mean two different things. Nice to see all the interest in the old school!

    1. Hi Leo. i remember you. What year did you graduate from Sister School? I graduated in 1956 with John Gruenwald, Jack Joynt, Yvonne Muellenberg. That’s interesting what you posted about monastery and convent.

  20. Poem my husband Don wrote about St. Mary’s School and Convent on occasion of the Sister School Reunion 8/18/2001


    It towered, sentinel-like, over the farmlands,
    Placed there by faith and decree;
    Set there by the Mother Church
    To bring solace to her children from the Old World
    As they struggled to survive in the New.
    Staffed with Sisters of the Church,
    Banded together to share their devotion
    And to pass to generations new
    The teachings of their Belief
    And the knowledge deemed necessary by modern Caesars.

    For a century it stood on the Plains.
    Bracing itself against the blast of Artic Winter,
    Against the disclaimers of the non-believers,
    Against the changes demanded by
    The progress of modern civilization,
    Against the roar of Northern Winds,
    And against the skepticism of the secular world,
    It held unflinchingly firm.
    But against the overwhelming reality of change
    It was helpless, and its mission ended.

    So final prayers rose as sacred vessels departed.
    One by one the rooms emptied.
    The doors swung closed for the final time.
    A stillness descended over all.
    And it stood in abandoned majesty.

    For forty years, shrouded in silver,
    It looked down upon the fertile fields,
    Upon the rustic churchyard, the farms, the houses…
    Standing as if listening, as if waiting
    For its children to return.

    Until a thought gave birth to a whisper
    That maybe, perhaps, just perhaps,
    That for a day – if only for a day –
    Its doors could open, its children might return.

    Again would sound footsteps in the stairwell,
    The echo of laughter on the playground,
    And, should one listen closely, very closely,
    There might be heard the whisper of hushed devotion
    In the stillness of Sacred Cloister
    And the melody of voices in the Chapel.

    So the dusty rosters were opened,
    And the call went forth to such named therein
    As could be found among the living.
    And at the appointed time and place they came,
    The youngest, already decades old,
    Towing children of their children
    Through the hallways of their formation.
    And came too the oldest, the few who remain,
    With childhood again in aged eyes,
    Come once again to Sister School.

    They walked again the hallowed ground,
    Wrote again upon faded chalkboard,
    Squeezed expanded forms into childhood seats
    Which had not expanded correspondingly.
    Greeted Sisters well remembered
    And classmates well forgotten, recognizable only
    By the large print nametags.
    Paid polite compliments, whose veracity by Sister rules, would have drawn for the complimenter
    A generous dose of Penance.

    It was a postcard perfect day of joy and laughter,
    Of reunion, recollections and revelations,
    Freezing briefly in place the river of time.
    But around all wreathed and drifted a sadness –
    The unspoken knowledge that it was only a snapshot,
    One that could never be repeated;
    That all too soon, the river would again race onward
    Carrying with it all assembled there
    Leaving the school to stand again,
    Alone and waiting.


  21. Hi Connie, nice to hear from you! I graduated in 1958, so I was two years behind you. I am retired and living in Manassas Virginia now. Since my parents died I do not get back to Zell very often, so it is nice to hear from others about the school and memories of life there that are similar to mine. I was there very briefly last summer to scatter a few of my sister’s ashes (Vera Ann) and visit the family graves. Remember Sister Placeda?

    1. leo, who could forget sister placida? do you remember the white wooden pointer? the “if you don’t cross your thumbs while you’re praying, the devil is sitting on your hands.!” or “if you pray with your fingers pointed down, you’re praying to the devil!” i’ll tell you what tho. I learned to read and spell and write (ok, so the writing was never a credit to Palmer cursive!) and don’t think I couldn’t gotten a better start anyplace else! I had Sr Stephanie for downtown school, Sr Madonna for music, Sister Clara for piano lessons (she was SO pretty and always smelled so good), Sr. Bernardine for upper grades.

        1. i graduated in 1956. eugene zens was my classmate. i boarded for 4 years and like you went home on the weekends. oatmeal every day except friday! CORNFLAKES!!!! yay!!!! i couldn’t choke down a spoon of oatmeal now to save my life!

      1. Just had to comment on crossing the fingers during prayer…still do today. I was taught by the Presentation sisters in Aberdeen. Same wise words about praying to the devil!! Apparently they had me convinced.

        1. Who could forget the pointer! I remember kneeling at the chalkboard with hands on the chalk tray, along with everyone else from my dorm, and Sister Placida walking along rapping us on our knuckles. I agree, we did learn to read and write and we learned the humanities, but I always felt we were poorly served in math and science. Did you know Sister Angelica? The polar opposite of Sister Placida and my favorite teacher of all time.

          1. sister angelica lived up to her name, didn’t she? what grade did she teach? i can’t remember tho I remember her. For that period of time, I think we did fine with math and science. Not by today’s standards. But with a great foundation in reading and spelling, it was easy to progress in the other subjects in high school at mt marty and creighton as well as the joy in reading yet today

  22. Connie, for some reason whenever I think of that white pointer my knuckles hurt. Cannot imagine why! I remember one night when Sister Placida got us all out of bed and took us down stairs to the classroom. She had us all kneel on the floor with our hands on the chalk tray of the blackboard. Then She went around rapping at all on the knuckles with per pointer trying to get someone to confess or rat out whoever had been talking in the dorm after lights out. I don’t think she ever found out though….

    1. omg, leo, i hadn’t heard that horror story! marty moeller has some as well. i have to think that as pious as Sr Placida seemed that she sincerely thought she was doing the right thing, but she’d sure not make it in the education system today! did you tell your folks about that? my worst encounter was having my new red cinch belt and dagwood comic book taken away after christmas vacation as being devil’s work. i don’t know if i told my folks or if i did, what their reaction was.i was sure upset though. i was really proud of that red cinch belt in first grade. not sure how sexy i looked with it 🙁 actually it must’ve been from the devil cuz it ended up knocking out my sister sandy’s front tooth when she was playing horse with younger sister jeanie the rider and my cinch belt the bridle! connie

  23. Does anyone know about the coffee table book that Troy Larson mentioned? I couldn’t find his post. Just wondering what pictures and info there might be. Thanks

  24. Hi, Folks,

    Craig Allan Jungwirth, eldest living son of Maryann T. Jungwirth and Kenneth D. Jungwirth, writing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. My Mother and Father did, in fact, use the Communion Rail as the railing for their master bedroom A-frame addtion to our home built in Grand Forks, ND on Cherry Lane. Next time I’m up to Mom’s place in Orlando, I’ll take a picture of the full-page newspaper article that outlines the process – even shows us kids in front of a cake with a cardboard model of the house as a topper – yep, my folks are, well, shall we say Jungwirth’s. Our eldest brother, Lance David Jungwirth, rests in peace in the St. Mary’s Cemetery. Feel free to swing by his grave and say hi anytime. He’s the best brother a guy could have ever had.

    You are always welcome to visit us here in warm, sunny Florida – some fun events coming up include BeachBearWeekend.com in May in Fort Lauderdale (where it’s currently 70 degrees) and FiremansBall.org in June in Orlando (where’s it currently 69 degrees). Feel free to drop a line at Craig_Jungwirth@alum.mit.edu if I may provide you with any additional information.


    Craig Jungwirth
    Fort Lauderdale, Florida USA
    (954) 687-9023

    1. Hi Craig, just found this site and you’re the first Jungwirth I’ve seen mentioned here. My mother was Lucille, and my grandparents were Frank and Alma Jungwirth. I grew up in Zell and went to first and 2nd grade at St Mary’s. It was closed that year and in 1963 I attended school un Redfield. (my Dad was the gas truck driver and later the manager of the elevator). My mother gave me a book in 1996 written by Marie Jungwirth on the Jungwirth genealogy.Looks like Joseph and Kathrina were the first Jungwirths in Zell around 1886. You must have moved before my time because I don’t recall your name.

      1. Nice thread I noticed alot of people talking about moving from austria tonthe area and from what I know my great ancestor’s where from there and I think sailed to the states in 1893 from what I’ve been told (sisters research) my great grandfather was a Frank Yungwirth and my grandfather was a Joe Yungwirth.and intook a vacation around south of green bay Wisconsin a few years back and noticed there where alot of jungwirths and yungwirth in that area! My great grandfather grandfather and dad farmed all there life 3-4 miles east of zell.instill remember the harvest Moon celebrations they’d have in the dance hall when i was young.

  25. Hi All,
    I am late to the conversation but have enjoyed reading all that you have shared about the Zell church and it’s history. I too am researching my family history and would love it if I could finally find out some information I have been searching for. My great grandfather, William DeBoise lived most of his life in South Dakota, mostly in Elk Point. He came to SD. sometime around 1889 on an Orphan Train from New York. Once he arrived he stayed at a Catholic Children’s Home/Orphanage somewhere. There is a story that later on, after he was an adult the Church/Children’s Home burned down along with all the records. Needless to say, we have no idea where he stayed and have looked at the Zell church many times and wondered if that could have been it. After a short time, he went to live with the Alfred and Amelia Gillette family until he was an adult. My Grandmother, his daughter, spent most of her life searching for the Church/ Children’s Home that took him in as an orphan. We have not been able to retrieve enough information on when the Church at Zell was built, whether any of the structures ever experienced a fire or if it was ever used as an orphanage of any kind. I have some photos of an old white Church we believe to be the Children’s Home but cant see much of it. If anyone has photos of the original Zell Church they could share with me to use as comparison it would mean so much. I would also appreciate any info. on when the church was built and it’s uses in the early years. If anyone has this information my e-mail is ericanddawn1@windstream.net. I would love to say that I found this for my Grandmother. Thank you so much!
    Dawn from Nebraska

    1. Hi Dawn, the large building at the beginning. Of this page is the school/convent. The present day church was built in 1904. The previous church was a smaller building built in 1889. The convent school was finished around 1883 according to the book, One Community Under God. This booklet gives the history of Zell, the church and convent. The closest train was in Redfield SD, about 10-12 miles away, this was in the early 1880’s. In all the available history, I have not seen where orphans lived at the school. Originally boarded girls, but I’ve read that at times boys stayed there, maybe during bad weather. Some one else on the site that had family in the school during those early years may know more. Good luck in you search. Janet

      1. Thank you so much for the information. It is so nice of you to take time out to share the history that you have! I will continue searching but have been helped considerably by your page here!

    2. I have some information on this. I grew up in Zell and went to the school for two years before it was closed in 1962. I have a book on the Jungwirth family, who were some of the early settlers in the area. The original church was built in 1889 and the church that stands today was built in 1904. There is nothing in this book stating that either of the churches burned. I think I read somewhere that the reason for building the new church was that they needed more room. I don’t recall seeing anywhere that it was ever an orphanage either. The school started as a school for girls and young children.

      1. Rob,
        Thank you very much for that information! Every thing I find out helps me to eliminate places my grandfather may have been. I am going to keep looking through SD history to see if there might have been an orphanage somewhere else that took him in. Thanks again!

      2. Hi Rob, I would like a copy of the Jungwirth book. Looking for info on a Jungwirth that married an Ecker.
        All from Zell. My computer is currently down. Could you send by mail? How big is the book? I will be happy to cover copy and mail. Thanks so much. Janet fisher. Address in February 9 post.

        1. Janet,
          I did work with the Historical Society a bit when we first started the search 4 years ago. The story in my family is that the Children’s Home/Orphanage {or at least the place the records were stored} had a fire at one point and the records were all lost. The Historical Society has had a difficult time helping us partly because of the lack of records kept, in general, before SD became a state in 1889. Because he arrived right about that time it has been a struggle tracking things down. I just got a lead on a Episcopal Boys Boarding school that took in Orphans from NY for just one year. It was in Vermillion and called St. Paul’s. I am on the lookout for a photo of it now. Since it was only in operation for such a short time that could be a challenge. I am hoping this is the answer! Thank you again!-Dawn

      3. Hi Rob, would you send a copy of the Jungwirth book to me? I’m researching Hepplers and Yungwirth shows up in the history. There is another person in the Heppler group very interested in the Yungwirth history as they relate to her. By email to jfisherdittrich@yahoo.com or mail Janet fisher. 3007. 51st street.
        Rochester MN. I will cover costs to mail. THANK YOU SO MUCH. Janet

  26. Hello to Heppler cousins, I’m asking all the Heppler cousins that may visit this site to send me their family group sheets, photos, and brief history of your family. I’m compiling a book to take/send to the Heppler reunion in July. Any submissions should contain all you wish to share, photos that faces are easily seen and identified! with first and last names and maybe which of the first generation Heppler they descend from. ie Leo, Wenzel, etc.
    Please submit before the end of April so I have time to compile, complete and have printed. Plan for some type of loose leaf book so pages can be added as you wish. Copies will be available for purchase ? cost yet. This story will begin with Federici in1632 through what ever info I receive. Please send your photo if you are a contemporary cousin. Pass the request. And start gathering. send to Jfisherdittrich@yahoo.com or Janet Fisher 3007 51st Street NW Rochester MN 55901, Make sure what ever sent online is printable as I’ve received some word doc that is protected. Thank you all

  27. Hello everyone, I am a great great grandson of Bartholomaus Gruenwald. I have traced him back to Holzhof Germany where he was born. I was visited Holzhof and located a great grandson of Peter Grünwald a brother of Bartholomaus that stayed in Germany. If anyone has any Gruenwald family info to share that would be wonderful. Thanks

    1. Hi again Jamie, Still looking for photos, stories etc for the Heppler History book. just reread your post. Do you have a good photo of the convent/school in your ‘coffee table book”? Thanks so much Janet F

      1. janet i’ve got a bunch of pix of the convent. if you go to my facebook page, click on the albums, then click on ‘views of south dakota by chris bruning’, there are lots of pix of the school and church. connie

  28. My mom (Margaret Stemper- Aanenson) and her siblings, Leota , Vitalis and Cletus all went to the convent school. She was married in the Catholic Church in Zell . The picture of the little yellow house is my Grandparents former home, Pete and Anna Stemper. Life was much simpler in the country.

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