Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

April 21, 2001

Ralph Hunt: "The best thing about living in a small town is that when you don't know what you are doing, someone else does."

Well, that's me. I don't know what I am doing - and Waverly folks have been coming to my rescue. The trouble is they are too shy to let me publish their names.

So thank you, Colonel and Mrs. Jubilation T. Cornpone.

And thank you, too, Rufus Florida Johnson and also to you, Thomas Aquinas McGillicuddy.

And Saul Hoops and John Ya Houti, former columnists for "The Waverly Star", whose shoes I am not worthy to fill: I hope only to imitate your courage in digging into the tunnels of history. (No, not those tunnels where the booze was stashed around Waverly during Prohibition. That story awaits another day.)

To all of you I say, "Keep checking up on me to keep me honest." We can never have too many fact-checkers.

Corrections are the only way this column will succeed. Just don't overdo it.


These are some of the people I would like to see again but so far nobody can tell me how to find them:

Alvin Broll, Ian Iverson, Barbara Jerome, Jackie Lyrenmann, Wilton Anderson.

They were all good friends of mine.

Anyone knowing of their whereabouts please let me know. This is a columnist's prerogative: to ask for help.

No, they don't owe me any money.


For over 15 years of my life, I depended on the barbers of Waverly not only for my sartorial needs but for my initiation into Minnesota manhood and, in the case of Elhart Diers, into a working knowledge of the German language.

He and Leo Decker and Frank Litfin are names I revere to this day.

A trip into any of their barbershops was a visit into a world of wisdom, wit and brotherhood, especially on a Saturday night. It was a world of men, if not a man's world. I can't imagine a woman inside one of those barber shops any more than I can imagine a man at Pat's Country Curls, the present Waverly enterprise devoted to glamour (as well as being a main news source for the Village of Waverly).

The topics of conversation in the barbershops were, of course, the weather, hunting, fishing, farming and politics. I don't remember any joke-telling but there was plenty of gentle humor, men ribbing men. This was back in the days before golf exploded into rural Minnesota and quickly surpassed bowling as the favorite sport for farmers so there was no talk of golf - as there is now in the impersonal big city barber shops I so reluctantly attend.

I can remember one of the barbers (I won't say which one) stopping in mid-snip to lift his leg and "cut one" for the the general entertainment of all of us sitting on the kitchen chairs along the wall around the room. We weren't all there for haircuts. Some of us were there just for the fun of it.

Frank Litfin was very bright and friendly. He moved his business to St. Cloud and worked there for many years after he left Waverly. Three of his sons were unusually gifted athletes: George, Jack and Tommy. They could have played in the majors, George as catcher par excellence and Tommy as a 90 mile-per-hour fast ball pitcher in the days before they had radar guns. Tom now lives in Milaca. He attended the St. Mary's reunion August 26th but I didn't get a chance to ask him if he still had his fast ball.

Jackie was killed just after World War II in an auto accident in the bend on Highway 12 which was curved there to accommodate the Great Northern railway's overpass, just outside Montrose going east. Roger Toussaint, the new banker's son, was in the car with him. We lost a great personality there in Jackie and it was ironic that Jack Litfin had survived infantry combat in Germany only to come home and be killed.

Elhart Diers taught me more German in the barber shop than Sister Marguerite Marie did in the classroom. He taught me songs and questionable jokes "auf Deutsch." One song pesters me still and sometimes I wish it would go away: "Fuchs, du hast die Gans gestohlen. Geben Sie wieder her - oder sonst werden die Jaeger kommen mit ihren Schuss Gewehr." ("Fox! You have stolen the goose. Give it back! Or else the hunters will come and get you with their shotguns.")

One of his jokes was about a Lutheran pastor who often pounded on the pulpit during his sermons until one Sunday when some errant youths placed tacks under the pulpit cloth.

The pastor thundered, "Wer hat die Erde und der Himmel gemacht!"

He pounded on the pulpit, only to pull up a bloody fist. His next line, as if to answer his question, was "Das hat die verdammten Jungen getan!" ("Who made the heavens and the earth? The damned kids did.")

Elhart had some beautiful daughters. Marilyn was a year younger than me and Eleanor was a year older. Sometimes I went to the barber shop just to catch sight of one or the other. I saw Eleanor at the St. Mary's reunion last summer. She is still playing the organ for Sunday Mass, but now it's in Arizona.

Like all the Deckers, Leo the barber was a very competent businessman who did lots more in his life than run his own barbershop. He was the fastest barber of all and barbered in a shop between Deckers' Liquors and Ray's Inn. If you wanted a fast haircut with no nonsense, he was your man.


We used to have the time of our life at Decker's Point, a wooded peninsula on the shore of Upper Waverly Lake. Through the generosity of Joe Decker, we used it often for parties, obtaining from him the key to the padlock on the gate leading to the property. I doubt he ever turned anyone down.

In high school, it was not unusual for us to have a fish fry there. The boys would catch the fish, the girls would clean them and cook them over an open fire, frying them in butter. The girls of the time had a custom I have never seen anywhere else. They would sit around and sing. That's right. They would sit on the ground by the campfire and sing. They knew all the popular songs of the time and they would sing a capella and in wonderful harmony. Songs like "Now is the hour - when we must say goodbye." We guys would pretend not to listen but you couldn't help it.

The effect of a full moon over the lake after a fish dinner with the girls serenading us was indescribable. Those singers are now grandmothers many times over and I only hope their grandchildren are even a little bit like they were.

Later, when Bob Simons and I ran the summer recreation program we played Capture the Flag at night-time at Decker's Point with our kids, often in conjunction with a wiener roast.

I hope nobody ever abused the Deckers' generosity and hospitality. I know we didn't. We were grateful even at the time when we were still thoughtless teenagers.

Some of the Deckers still live around there. Bob and Angie moved back to Waverly, after retiring. A few houses away, on what is now called 60th St. S.W., lives Bob's brother, Herb Decker. Herb's daughter, Tamara, married Everett Boehlke, whose family for generations farmed in Highland Township. They live just down the road now with their little boy, whose name I hope, is Joe. You can see Decker's Point from their house.

Joe Decker, Herb and Bob's father, for years owned and operated the liquor store across from the town pump and fire siren. There were pool tables in the back room where my father and I would sometimes shoot pool after he closed the lumber yard at 6 p.m.

The fire siren across the street went off at 6 p.m., the same time as the Angelus bell. Tom O'Connell rang the Angelus three times a day: at 6 in the morning, at noon and at 6 p.m. Those bells could be heard from three miles away and the siren even farther.

The Decker dog, probably the smartest dog I ever knew, was named Jainus, a brown dog with a coat of curly fur. He somehow knew just minutes before the siren went off that it was time to get up from where he was lying on the floor of the barroom, stretch, yawn and go outside and get ready for his daily howl. Talk about harmony!

Jainus' life came to an end when some idiot threw him a bottle cap. Jainus was used to treats and had learned to trust the entire human race, especially his master's patrons, so when someone tossed him a bottle cap, Jainus just caught it and swallowed it - and that was the end of him. Bobby never got over it.

There's an eagle's aerie on Decker's Point now. Do not disturb.


Tim Painschab, of Corpus Christi, Texas, son of Tim and Donna Painschab, and grandson of Jeanne Reardon Painschab and the late Herman Painschab, has just been awarded Eagle. Tim's uncle and aunt, Tom and Cheryl Painschab, live in Corpus Christi also and their children Alexis and Kris are above average as well. (I want it here on historical record that all Waverly children and their descendants were above average long before anyone even heard of Lake Wobegon.)

Tim and Donna before they were married, came to the Eagle Award ceremony for our son Sean and now we get to attend their son's. They gave Sean a generous gift of camping paraphernalia which he still has.

Tim really worked hard for his award. He helped clean up a state park after some major storms had knocked down huge trees and wrecked the trails.

Our son for his project taught swimming at the State School for the Retarded here so the students could enter the Special Olympics. (I want to put in a plug here for Special Olympics. I had never attended the Special Olympics, I am ashamed to say, until three years ago. Like everyone else I know, it was an unforgettable, joyous experience for me. Once you attend a Special Olympics event, you will never miss it again. In some ways, the world is a much better place than it used to be - and Special Olympics is living proof. For my sister-in-law's memorial when she died, Betty Bergquist O'Leary, of Dassel, my brother Paul requested donations for the Special Olympics.)


Bob Simons doesn't want me to publish this but I am going to anyway because I think Waverly readers would like to know.

Those of you who remember Bob Simons know that he was hired by Harold Ogle, on the Waverly School Board at the time, and Melvyn McKlim, mayor at the time, for the Waverly Summer Recreation Program. They told me that the person they hired had to have a degree in Phy Ed. Bob had graduated from St. John's, Collegeville, with a degree in Physical Education so I was able to help recruit him. Bob became very popular in Waverly in the late '50s when he came every summer to run the recreation program. He was later assisted by Greg Schaffer and Ed Theiler, both of whom became priests. (Ed Theiler is dead now but Greg Schaffer is still working as a priest in Guatemala.)

In the summer of 1997 Bob and his wife Anne, and Jeanne and I were lavishly entertained on the shores of Waverly Lake at Don and Gerry Smith's home. Bob was just overwhelmed and speechless that people still remembered him.

Just before Easter, a friend of mine was up at St. John's and saw a large, new classroom building near the center of campus under construction. On the wall of the entranceway, he saw a plaque which explained why it was being called Simons Hall, after Bob Simons, Class of 1952, former planning and budget director for Colorado's Department of Labor and investor and manager of real estate, with a quote to the effect that "God has abundantly blessed us and we want to return something to the school that took me in." Bob said he didn't want recognition. He said that he and Anne were not blessed with children but wanted to share their abundance with needy students in the form of scholarships (and buildings!).

Bob won't like my publishing this but he never admired me much anyway because I could never hit a curve ball. He also remembers that I nearly drowned half my Red Cross Beginner swimming class. I learned last summer at the reunion that some of them never went back to swimming again after taking my class. There are some things I would rather forget. I am very lucky that I get to see him whenever I go to Denver.

As Dean Martin used to say: "Keep those cards and letters coming." Ha, ha. Jim O'Leary

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