An Austrian Immigrant Tells his Story about Overcoming the Difficulties of Living in the U.S.
Nicole Becker reports on Klaus Grimm who has had difficult but rewarding journey that ended up in Reno.
Klaus Grimm sits comfortably in a plush gray armchair at his home in Reno, with mountains behind him through a broad window.
The Sierra Nevada range differs from the Austrian Alps but provides a reminiscent feeling from his childhood.
The living room is filled with photos of his family, different autobiographies, and a pile of luggage being prepared for his next trip. The family dog Cookie lays beside his feet. When Grimm begins speaking, the nervous energy in the room is quickly replaced by intrigue. The man who is characterized by others as personable, driven, and always smiling, slowly shares the honest and even unfavorable experiences that have shaped him into the person he is today.
An Early Childhood of Struggle and Survival
Klaus was born in Linz, Austria. When asked to describe his childhood, he replied, “It happened in stages.” The first stage began in early childhood. He described it as “fighting for my own while stealing to survive” showing the difficult reality he faced as a young child.
At age five, the Austrian government took guardianship from his mother and he was moved into a nonprofit organization called the SOS Children’s Village. “There were 10 other homes with a mother and six to eight children each,” he remembers. This was an important stage in his life because the Children’s Village provided a sense of nurture in which he was able to grow with other children.
As Grimm matured, his learning abilities excelled past his peers, and he was sent to a Catholic boarding school tailored to gifted students. He clarifies that “a boarding school in Austria is not like here, it’s not for the rich or wealthy. It is for kids that can’t afford [to go] but are gifted.”
During his eight years as a student, he was taught the value of education, hard work, punctuality, and discipline. Grimm attributes his success both in life and business to these values.
Growing up in an ever-changing environment, Grimm learned the importance of effective communication.
“ I never grew up with the same two or three people,” he said, “but instead met large and diverse groups of people.” As a child he was able to “maneuver with professors, kids who ended up in jail, kids that were brighter than myself” which contributed to the personable character he is known to be.
Although unconventional, Klaus acknowledges the importance of his childhood as it gave him the ability to “articulate [myself] to the level that is needed so the other party can understand.” This lesson paved the way for his immigration to the United States.
Immigration to the United States with Ups and Downs
After acquiring a college degree in Hotel Management, Grimm moved to Sun Valley, Idaho, to begin working. Given the opportunity to move to a multitude of cities Klaus asked, “what is the smallest place?” Although a little laughable, this question had to be answered: “I [was] coming from small town Austria…where I grew up there [were] 2000 people living in this village.”
Choosing a smaller city was important to Grimm because “coming to the states scared the shit out of me” he laughed.
The most frightening aspect of leaving Austria was the inability to know what would happen after. Furthermore, Grimm felt as though he was not prepared for the social attitude of the United States. When asked about unexpected challenges he stated that coming “from a small town with a lot of quality friends to this big world where friends tend to be more superficial” presented difficulties for him. He was taught that what people say “is not always what they mean.”
Sun Valley’s mountains, skiing, and the small-town environment became a home for Klaus which ultimately led him to the future he now has in Reno. In 1992 Grimm met his wife to be Kristin, who was on Spring Break. At the time Kristin attended the University of the Pacific, but after graduation she moved to San Francisco. After his work visa expired in Idaho, Klaus moved to San Francisco to be with her while, working under the table as a babysitter.
Although brief, the year spent living in San Francisco was crucial to his understanding of America. Both Kirsten and Klaus struggled to find work. He described his time in the city as “trying whatever it takes to get by” but it was a lifestyle he had been accustomed to in the past.
Grimm disclosed a poignant story that took place when “I only had 60 dollars to my name” and he spent 40 dollars on advertisement in the paper to find a job. Living with a low income in a city where wealth and status impacted opportunity, Klaus offered insight into a significant lesson learned. He stressed the importance of “you want to be in charge of your own luck” which means fight for yourself and seize all opportunities that knock at the door. It was a sometimes frustrating approach, but perseverance was never difficult for Klaus.
Transition to Reno and Staying Through Marriage
After a year Klaus received notice from the immigration office stating that he had two weeks to leave the country. Panicked and exhausted he and Kristin packed up their life in San Francisco and moved to Reno to get married. After their arrival the Grimms fell in love with the humbleness of the city and small community. They valued the deep connections they made so much that Reno has been their home ever since.
Immigration has become a prominent topic within the United States yet Grimm feels he was accepted as an immigrant mostly because of his status as a white male.
“There are plenty of people that I know that are not white males who are not accepted” and people tend to see “who you are today not where you come from” which can affect their perception of you.
He advises anyone interested in immigrating to “work hard, use what you have, be proud of who you are and don’t hide where you come from” because ultimately, “America is built on immigrants back(s).”
Klaus and Kristin have prioritized teaching their sons Matt and Owen about European culture, as well as making sure both have dual citizenship in Austria and the U.S.
In retrospect, Klaus says he does not regret a moment of his journey because it taught him valuable lessons that “I learned from and grew from.”
Every failure, and success he encountered he used as a learning opportunity, he says, emphasizing the fact that he is still learning. During the interview, he briefly brought up a quote that unknowingly resonated with his story which is, “America is the best country for the healthy and the wealthy” meaning unless someone is given a life where opportunity is handed to them at all moments, they will have to work their hardest to achieve the goals they create.