By Jim O'Leary
An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the Herald Journal and on this web site.
Feb. 26, 2007
Hats off to Minnesotans everywhere
By Jim O’Leary
Our excellent adventure began at Fort Davis, Tex., before Jeanne and I set off for Mexico, on a bus with the finest group of Americanos ever assembled by Elderhostel, Inc.
Every time I see a Minnesota hat, it’s “Minnesota, Hats off to Thee” time for me. This bus was loaded with Minnesota refugees from the cold, some wearing Twins caps.
First, there were John and Eleanor O’Donnell. This is a big world but it turns out that John had graduated from Cretin High School and knew Jeanne’s brothers, the Moosbruggers. (Yes, he also knows the Mauers.).
For those of you not from Minnesota, Cretin is a Christian Brothers school where, I understand, the Brothers beat up on you if you chew gum in class. It is also a perennial athletic powerhouse.
Which brings me to my story: John was hired as a pitcher for the Maple Lake baseball team. I was very familiar with the Maple Lake baseball team, because Waverly used to feast on them every summer.
Both Waverly and Maple Lake were in the Minnesota Association, which allowed teams to hire two players. (A hired player is called a “professional” as opposed to what all of the rest of us are.) These hired players were not only paid in cash, but also were provided with summer jobs, often at the local municipal liquor store. They also seemed to be provided with the prettiest girls in each town. Or it just happened.
In John O’Donnell’s case, the prettiest girl in town was Eleanor Stumpf, and John, being the man he is, didn’t love her and leave her, but married her. And there they were my bus companions. I hung out with them a lot the rest of the trip; to the point that Eleanor must have thought I was stalking her.
Eleanor deserves a whole chapter. She is not only one of the wonderful Stumpfs of Wright County, of whom I knew many, but is related to the Pribyls and the Wurms. Her mother, who is rapidly approaching 100, and still lives alone and independently in Buffalo, also is a neighbor of a very good friend of mine, named Elinor Sawatzke Franke, who, in turn, is a good friend to Eleanor Stumpf O’Donnell.
This “coincidencia” generated a long, enjoyable telephone chat upon my return with Elinor Sawatzke, who was a year behind me in school, and never knew how much I liked her. She had just vacationed recently with Carolyn Vaughn Custer of Waverly, down here in Harlingen, Tex., near Corpus Christi.
I used to hear from Carolyn when I was doing The Waverly Star. There were Gerry, Dan and Rosemarie also in this family. Elinor also lives near Gloria Drotz, of Montrose, and is a good friend.
When we Waverly boys were in Montrose raising tracks for the Great Northern Railway and we saw Gloria picking strawberries in her family garden, we whooped and hollered at this beautiful blonde.
John and Eleanor’s friends on this trip to the Copper Canyon in Mexico, were Tom and Barbara Bye of Minneapolis. Tom is a graduate of De La Salle High School in Minneapolis, and their friendship was unusual in light of the fact that these two Catholic high schools were bitter enemies, not just intra-city rivals.
It has always puzzled me that the fiercest opponents of any Catholic school are other Catholic schools. When St. Thomas plays St. John’s, Collegeville, for example, police are always called out.
I remember one game in the sacred O’Shaughessy Gymnasium, when St. John’s students came from Collegeville with boxes of rats they had captured and saved for the occasion. They released this army of rats, more in number than in “The Pied Piper of Hamlin,” right onto the floor in the middle of the First Quarter.
When Tom told me he had worked at Honeywell, I asked him if he knew Waverly’s Jack McHale. Now Honeywell probably has more than 20,000 employees, so it was a dumb question. Well, not only did he know Jack McHale, but he lives only two blocks away.
Jack and Pat, who have six children and several grandchildren, built their own home after Jack retired. Jack had worked in production, and Tom worked in quality control. This happy coincidence, of course, generated another phone call to Jack upon my return.
Another Minnesotan on the trip was Gary Dallmann of Dassel. Gary had completed 30 years in the U.S. Navy. He knew my beloved sister-in-law, Paul’s wife, Betty Bergquist from Dassel. Betty’s nephew, Dennis Bergquist, is one of his best friends. Both of us had worked for Haapala Seed Corn, de-tasseling, and also for the Green Giant Canning Company in Cokato.
Then there was Doctor Phil Olson and his lovely wife, a nurse who hailed from Fergus Falls. He had practiced medicine in Willmar for 14 years. Of course he knew Wayland Kuka of Waverly. He also knew my brother, Dr. John O’Leary, when they were both promoting rural health care in Minnesota.
I was excited to learn that the La Cameras live in Longmont, Colo., where live my brother Henry, age 91, and his wife, Margaret, also 91. Neither is showing the least sign of Alzheimer’s, and continue to amaze me with their wisdom and devotion. Margaret bought herself a new Toyota on her 91st birthday, and I hope this news doesn’t frighten you.
I will save stories of further connections from the group for another time. I rambled like this for months when I was doing my Waverly Star column and got away with it. I am very surprised to learn those columns are still on the Internet, and that I have not yet been discarded from cyberspace. I am forever grateful to Dale Kovar and Lynda Jensen for not allowing this to happen.
Not since “The Canterbury Tales” has there been a more enjoyable group of pilgrims, although our group was not into risqué stories like the Catholic group from Merrie, England. Our stories were Minnesota nice, and we didn’t even tell any Olie and Lena jokes.
Jim O’Leary is a former resident of Waverly, and previously wrote the Waverly Star.
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