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70th anniversary of John Alt's arrival in Bonners Ferry

February 20, 2023

(l-r) John Alt, Jim Neumayer and Al Alt.
It was 70 years ago Wednesday, February 15, that John Alt and his brother, the late Al Alt, got off the train at the depot in Bonners Ferry, neither speaking a word of English, meeting two people they didn't know except from pictures and letters; their aunt Rosie Neumayer and her step-grandson, Arnold Fessler.

It had been a long journey. The two boys had grown up in Germany during World War II in a family of 10 kids. Even years after war's end, times were hard for the Alt family, and John and Al leapt at the chance to go to America.

After weeks of paperwork; assuring, among other things, they had a sponsor, a place to live, a job or school lined up and that they wouldn't be going on welfare, several trips to Munich, physical exams, shots and vaccinations, they set out from Bremerhaven aboard the ocean liner MS Gripsholm, built in 1924 for the Swedish American Line, the first ship built for transatlantic express service powered by diesel rather steam.

After nearly two weeks at sea, including passing through a major storm, they reached Ellis Island, but had to spend several days at sea because the tugboats to take ships to dock were on strike. Finally, they were ashore and on a train heading west.

But several days out of Chicago, they began to wonder if the trip would ever end. And finally they were here.

Recently widowed, Rosie took the boys in. Two more brothers would later join them in the U.S., Erwin and Herb.

Al enrolled at Bonners Ferry High School, where boxed and played football. After graduation, he played football for four years at Eastern Washington University, earning his teaching degree and going on to a 40-year career as a teacher and coach, over 30 of them in Sandpoint, before retiring.

John and Linda Alt
Al passed away in 2006.

John, who'd apprenticed as a meat cutter in Germany, went right to work at KV Grocery, then worked at Boundary County Road & Bridge for 28 years.

Now retired, both John and his wife Linda work as hard as ever, raising cattle and hay on their Paradise Valley Farm and working in their meat shop during the hunting season.

John has never regretted leaving Germany, loving the United States with its faults! In 1971, John, Al and their families returned to Germany, after they left for home, John and Al's mother was disconsolate, fearing she'd never see her boys again. She didn't get word everyone was home and safe until she received their letter.

She'd heard of the storm over the Atlantic during their initial passage to America, and had to wait weeks for the letter telling her they were safely in Bonners Ferry, fitting in well with family.

Her angst only grew when Erwin left for America, so much so that when Herb decided to follow his three brothers, he told her he was just coming over to visit, knowing how she'd react if she thought he was moving.

All four travelled back for visits, taking their families, and communications improved. In time, she no longer wept or worried quite so much.

Questions or Comments? Send us an email!

Mike Weland, Publisher

6931 Main St.
P.O. Box 1625
Bonners Ferry, ID 83805
(208) 295-1016

A 9B Media LLC publication
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