The ABCs of Lowell History: I is for Immigrant

The ABCs of Lowell History is back for another round. This popular series explores a wide variety of topics in Lowell area history in weekly online articles and is written by volunteers and staff from the Lowell Area Historical Museum.

I is for Immigrant

Rodolfo (Rudi) Mittag and his wife Virginia lived a full life living and traveling around the globe. They spent part of the 1950’s here in Lowell and are still remembered today.

Rudi Mittag was born in Saxony, Germany, in 1919. He served his country in the military as a machinist’s mate on the ship “Graf Spee” when war broke out. The Graf Spee was part of one of the first naval battles of World War II. In December of 1939, just outside of Uruguay, the Graf Spee and the British ship the Exeter exchanged fire. The Exeter was sunk and the Graf Spee was badly damaged. Rather than just abandon it, Hitler’s orders were to destroy the ship. While most of the crew was taken back to Germany, Mittag was part of the skeletal crew that destroyed the ship with explosives. The crew that was left behind spent time interned in a prison camp in Argentina. When he was allowed to return to Germany he chose not to go because Saxony, his homeland, was now under Russian control. Later Rudi found work in Posadas, Buenos Aires as a diesel maintenance man on road building projects.

Meanwhile, also in Posadas there lived a young American girl, Virginia Hoover. She was from Michigan but had moved to Argentina to help start a mission for the United Lutheran Church. In 1949 Rudi and Virginia married. Their two daughters, Erika and Ruth, were born in Argentina, and then Virginia’s parents encouraged them to move to Michigan. The Mittag’s youngest child, their son Gerhardt, was born in Michigan.

While the young family lived with Virginia’s family, Rudi was able to learn the language and go to school. The family moved to Lowell where Rudi worked at the municipal power plant. Rudi was talented and skilled in diesel engineering. In less than six months on the job he moved up to the role of chief diesel engineer. He had charge of a seven-man crew. While living in Lowell, his neighbors, co-workers and employers stated their opinion was that he was a first-class citizen. In 1956 the English Class students at Lowell High School prepared a special page as part of “Education Day” during “Michigan Week.” One of the five people listed as “People we are proud of,” is Rudi Mittag. The students wrote a short sketch about his war service and life in Argentina. Rudi’s response when asked about living in the United States was, “This is a very nice country, I like it and want to stay. I will try to get my citizenship if I can.”

Virginia was busy raising her three young children, but not too busy to get involved in the community. She was a leader with the Bluebird program, the younger version of the Campfire Girls. The family attended the Methodist Church, and Virginia was active in the women’s group. She added her own experiences to the education of the other women. In 1957 the group hosted a Christmas workshop that offered displays and education on topics such as decorations, homemade gifts, and worship and creches for the home. Virginia’s presentation was “Christmas in other lands.”

The Mittag’s time in Lowell came to an end in 1958 when Rudi resigned to accept the position of Superintendent of the power plant in Hart Michigan. He had served Lowell for three years.

Later in life Rudi accepted a position with the U.S. State Department’s “Voice of America” program to run the power plants associated with their radio stations. Rudi and Virginia lived and worked in Liberia and Kavala, Greece. In Greece, Virginia taught at the one room school. They retired in 1989, and when they left, the community named the school after her. Rudi and Virginia returned to Hart where they continued serving their community. Virginia was a proud Daughters of the American Revolution member and known for her work in helping others discover their family history.

After Rudi died in 1991, Virginia did not slow down. She packed in many more adventures until she died at the age of 99. One adventure during her widowhood found her traveling to Israel to work on an archeological dig, uncovering the mosaic flooring of a Byzantine era church.

The Mittag’s action packed lives took them all over the world. The people of Lowell loved the Mittag family, and it was here that Rudi Mittag found his true home. The Mittag family was still remembered in 2024 by their paper boy, Bob Thaler. The family had made a favorable impression on him. While living in Lowell Rudi decided to make the United States of America his permanent home and attained his citizenship in 1957.

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