July 4 holds special meaning for new U.S. citizens
July 4 has long been special for Dirk Hagmaier, but after the oath he took a mere 24 hours ago, Independence Day has taken on a deeper meaning. "Now I can say the Pledge of Allegiance," he said, his face beaming. Dirk, associate pastor at First L...
July 4 has long been special for Dirk Hagmaier, but after the oath he took a mere 24 hours ago, Independence Day has taken on a deeper meaning.
"Now I can say the Pledge of Allegiance," he said, his face beaming.
Dirk, associate pastor at First Lutheran in Mitchell, and his wife, Constanze, today are citizens of the United States with all of the attendant rights -- except for becoming the president or vice president of the United States, one of the few privileges off limits to naturalized citizens.
They took the oath on Friday, along with about 50 others at the federal courthouse in Sioux Falls.
For the Hagmaiers, it was a process that began at least seven years ago when they emigrated from Germany to the United States as Lutheran pastors.
Dirk, 39, was born in Rheinfelden, Germany, a city divided by the Rhein River with a sister community on the Switzerland side.
His connection to that region and his chosen field runs deep. His father, now deceased, owned a hospital there and was a surgeon as well as a theologian. Lutheran ministry and medicine go back 500 years in his family. His mother still owns a large shipping company in Germany and Dirk grew up on the top floor -- a penthouse -- of the hospital.
What seemed surely to be a pre-ordained life involving medicine or theology took a radical turn two years short of Dirk's high school graduation when he left to become a stock broker. At age 16, he was Germany's youngest.
"I dropped out of high school to be a stock broker because I wanted to make money," he said. But later on, while visiting a company that was closing, he suffered pangs of guilt.
"I was one -- part of a team -- who purchased that company. We bought and closed companies. I made a connection when I was there. I didn't see how to do socially conscious investments. I would know how to do it now."
After obtaining his high school diploma at a boarding school, he entered the University of Heidelberg to pursue a different calling. It was there he met Constanze Geselle, also a seminary student, who had previously lived in Brandon, S.D., as part of an exchange program.
"I asked her to marry me three days after we met," Dirk remembers. "I had to wait five years."
Later, the Hagmaiers learned that only 15 seminary students would receive a "call" from the Lutheran church in Germany. They began thinking seriously about other options when Dirk saw a newspaper ad about an immigration program to the U.S.
They applied, and Constanze's Brandon host family agreed to sponsor them. Dirk said 1.4 million persons applied and 90,000 were allowed to continue the process that eventually selected 40,000 to immigrate to the U.S.
They lived in Brandon six weeks, then got a call to Waubay, S.D., as interns. In four years in Waubay, they served five congregations -- two in Florence, two in Waubay and one in Aberdeen.
By the time the call came for Dirk from First Lutheran in Mitchell, they were thinking of making the United States their permanent home.
"After five years, the question came into my mind, and people like Dave Jorgenson asked us to stay," Dirk said. "The feeling grew, and it started to bother me that I couldn't vote and be a real involved citizen."
For Constanze, pastor of Salem Lutheran in Parkston, "it was never a question. She always wanted to stay."
They applied for naturalized citizenship a year ago, a process that Dirk said was "not difficult."
They studied 100 questions that focused on the history and development of the United States.
At the April 24 test in Sioux Falls, the immigration service employee "took down personal information, checked my language skills, and asked personal questions."
It took 30 minutes for Dirk and 15 for Constanze, who compared the anticipation of Friday's oath of citizenship to a birthday.
"I remember birthdays as a little child as a big day, and all of a sudden, they were gone, and I think that's how I feel about it," she said Tuesday. "You wish you could stop time and let it sink in. It's difficult to grasp the full dimension of this."
American holidays, including the Fourth of July, were special for the Hagmaiers because Dirk was baptized on that day and because their son, Paul, 7, was born on April 15, "tax day," as Dirk refers to it.
"We always celebrated in reference to the baptism and now it's even more special," Dirk said.
"It's our country."