Roetheli History

In 1854, a famine raged in Switzerland.  The village of Hägendorf, the root village of all Roethelis located in the German speaking portion of Switzerland about 50 miles northwest of Zurich, sponsored the emigration of families to the United States.  The family name Roetheli means “little red one” or “son of the red one”.

Village residents helped harvest the forest and the proceeds from the logging paid passage for families willing to move to the United States.  Twenty-five Roethelis were listed on the manifest of the Roger Steward from Havre, France.  They landed in New Orleans on May 25, 1854.  The Roethelis then took a steamboat up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.  Unfortunately, word of mouth suggests that the boat burned and sank on the Missouri River.  The Roethelis escaped with just one small box, plus the clothes they were wearing.  When the Roethelis arrived at their destination in Hermann, Missouri, they encountered a horrific cholera epidemic.  By June 30, five weeks after landing, The Roethelis can only account for three of the 25 who were still alive–all were under age ten.  One of the survivors, seven-year old Anton and his nine-year old brother, Franz, were separated.  Some years later, brothers’ offspring were reunited.  However, Anton had not known how to spell his name, so he spelled it Rettle.

In the early 1990s, Joe Roetheli began pursuing genealogy efforts and ultimately made contact with the Roethelis in Switzerland–the first known communications between the Swiss and American Roethelis in 138 years.  Then in 1995, Joe Roetheli learned of a Swiss endurance runner, Serge Roetheli, attempting to run the Americas-–from the southern tip of Argentina to Fairbanks, Alaska.  Through great creativity and persistence, Joe finally was able to connect with Serge, while the latter was running in Central America. The two have become like brothers ever since.  Serge completed The American Challenge–14,984 miles in 35 months or an average of a marathon every other day for more than 1,000 days–a mere warm-up event for their major event to come!  Nicole, Serge’s wife, accompanied him on a motorcycle as they worked to raise awareness of the plight of children in developing countries.  After a well-deserved break back in Switzerland, Serge and Nicole embarked on their epic run around the world which they called “Run for Kids”.  Starting with a send off by friends in Switzerland, they endured to complete this 25,422 mile event and 63 months later on May 7, 2005, when they crossed the finish line in Saillon, Switzerland.  Again, they averaged a marathon every other day – this time for 1,910 days.  Serge drank nearly 6 tons of Coca-Cola, wearing out 63 pairs of shoes, and 120 pairs of socks!   Nicole used over 100 tubes of lipstick.  A group of 13 Roethelis/Rettles from America waited to greet their relative at the finish line of this epic event one day before Serge’s 50th birthday! visit

A documentary film is currently being produced on Serge’s endurance runs and a wife’s love and devotion to persist, while spending 9 years on the road living out of a pup tent to accomplish their dreams.  This is a story of hope for anyone.  Serge and Nicole have fascinating stories of children they met in jails, orphanages they visited, poverty and snakes they encountered, coupe attempts and malaria that they survived, continuing on with broken bones, running the Sahara Desert and the Darien Gap, surviving running in Alaska in December and in hurricanes, and many more amazing stories providing learning experiences.