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.

July 14, 2003

Small towns are full of great characters

Recently I received a most wonderful gift in the mail from Mrs. Margie Wright Onstott of Montrose. It was the Centennial book for Montrose's 100th anniversary celebrated in 1981. I have never seen anything like it.

Somehow Margie, and who knows who else, were able to assemble 46 pages of well written Montrose history, complete with pictures. A total stranger to Montrose would find it all fascinating.

I read it straight through at one sitting and then I have looked at it off and on ever since. I was amazed at how little I knew about Montrose.

In addition to the history, there are genealogies, family trees and photographs of 145 different families, all in alphabetical order. It begins with the Adickes family and goes all the way through to the Zaskes and the Zellers.

Margie would take no credit for putting this together and soliciting all the entries, but it had to take a tremendous amount of work and loving dedication by somebody to get this assembled.

You can read about Margie though if you look her up in the Onstott and Wright sections of the book, along with hundreds of other names and pictures throughout the generous volume.

I especially liked Philip Zeller's entry since the Zellers were close friends of the O'Learys, especially Robert "Zip" Zeller, who was my brother Paul's best friend.

This summer, on Sunday, June 28, 2003, "Zip" was inducted into the Wright Star Baseball League Hall of Fame at the baseball park in Howard Lake.

The Howard Lake Orphans won that day. By the way, the Orphans were called the Orphans because unlike the Waverly baseball team, which was rich in sponsors, the Howard Lake town team couldn't find a sponsor so they called themselves the Orphans. That's why they always had such shabby uniforms and equipment compared to the rest of the league.

Dan Herbst one time said of the Zellers that he had never seen a Zeller commit a mortal sin, something which I am sure he couldn't say about the O'Learys.

Anyway, here is Phil Zeller's entry for the book as he wrote it in 1981:

"I, Philip Zeller, was born on October 25, 1899 to Jacob and Mary Zeller at St. Joseph, Iowa. Our address was Bode, Iowa. My parents were born in Wheaton, Illinois. My grandfather, John Zeller, and my grandmother came from Germany. My grandfather drove a team of oxen for a lumberyard in Chicago.

"I married Josephine Steinkogler on October 25, 1921, at Waubay, South Dakota. We moved to Waverly on October 15, 1927.

"In 1929, I got a job working on the Dray Line in Waverly for Earl Mumford. We had a lot of freight to haul every morning as all of the groceries and freight came in on the railroad.

"We also hauled coal in the winter time all day long with two teams of horses as everybody was burning coal. In the summer time we hauled ice in Waverly and Montrose. There were no refrigerators at that time.

"I remember we had some forty customers in Montrose and Gib Yeager's Meat Market was our best customer. Ice was selling at that time at one-half cent a pound. We also charged by the month. We even hauled ice to Montrose with horses for awhile.

"We put up ice in the winter time from Waverly Lake. The ice house sat on the shore of the lake. We built a shoot from the lake to the ice house and pulled the cakes of ice into the ice house with a horse. We packed the ice with saw dust and flax straw. Whenever the ice settled, we had to add some more saw dust.

"In the fall of 1931, Earl Mumford died. I kept on working for Mrs. Joy Mumford. We always worked ten hours a day as the Mumford children were too small to work.

"We got a job hauling butter and cream from Waverly and Montrose Creameries to Land 'O Lakes. We would bring back feed for the Montrose Creamery and groceries for Yeager's Store. We also hauled a lot of livestock to south St. Paul from Montrose and Waverly.

"On January 13, 1936, I started working for Berkner Milling Company. At that time we ground mostly flour and had a big exchange of trading wheat for flour from all around the area. After a few years, the business was mostly grinding feed.

"In January of 1963, I retired and have been enjoying retirement ever since. I do a lot of fishing and work on craft materials. I have also written 'The Memoirs of my Life.'"

(Editor's note: Phil didn't mention it but he and Josie had eight wonderful children. Danny Herbst was probably right about the Zellers. Our parents and grandparents all had big families, didn't they?)

So Montrose is that wonderful little town just three miles east of Waverly. It was always smaller than Waverly, but full of great characters and all-American families just like Waverly had.

Both towns, surrounded by farmers, celebrated their immigrant roots. Montrose people came from just about every European nation you can think of, but mostly from Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

Devoted followers of "The Waverly Star" know, of course, that at one time "The Waverly Star" was called "The Waverly Star and Montrose Tribune." It wasn't so long ago when everybody knew everybody. There was always a close bond between the two towns. After all, we were only three miles apart.

Waverly people shopped and worshipped in Montrose and Montrose farmers often shopped in Waverly.

Especially when Waverly merchants chipped in, hired a movie projectionist, and showed horse operas on a big screen down Main Street for the exciting Saturday nights during the summer when all the businesses stayed open, including three grocery stores all going strong.

In Waverly, it was the McNellis Grocery, Franske's (now Pete's, celebrating his 25th anniversary this summer), and A.S. Mellon's Waverly Community Store.

People perched on banana crates and car hoods to watch the show. The town was packed. This wasn't shoppin, this was socializing, maintaining friendships, and courting.

Since I haven't lived in a small town for about 40 years, it is hard for me to remember any of the bad things about living in small towns. The one bad thing everybody always mentions is gossip but I never thought of gossip as a bad thing. I always liked the idea that people in small towns cared enough about each other so that they minded each other's business.

A good example of that is if your 13-year-old daughter is having a cigarette in the drug store downtown, somebody will tell you about it within fifteen minutes.

But mean gossip can be a killer. Here is what Ann Landers said about it one time:

My name is Gossip. I have no respect for justice. I maim without killing. I break hearts and ruin lives.

I am cunning and malicious and gain strength with age.

The more I am quoted, the more I am believed.

I flourish at every level of society.

My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face.

To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become.

I am nobody's friend.

Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same.

I topple governments and wreck marriages.

I make innocent people cry in their pillows.

My name is Gossip.

The Irish have a wonderful word for a careless gossip. They call him "a blatherskite." That's far worse than being a "blabbermouth."

Both my parents warned us against gossip. My mother hated it. I was very proud that in her lifetime she sought out targets of gossip and befriended them with her own "in your face" kind of protest to all the self-righteous gossipers.

One Waverly woman, driven out of town by vicious rumors, said the only two women in Waverly she ever wanted to see again were Mrs. O'Leary and Mrs. Ogle. Mrs. Ogle was a famous saint in the town, and not just because she went to Mass every day. My mother was in good company.

My father used to warn us not to tell things. He had a saying, useful when talking about a blatherskite, "The dog that will bring a bone will take a bone away." In other words, if someone tells you negative things about another person, he will say negative things about you as soon as he leaves.

In the Montrose section of "The Waverly Star" there was no "Ye Towne Gossip." It was called "News from Montrose and Vicinity." McDonnell's "Ye Towne Gossip" in "The Waverly Star" wasn't gossip anyhow. It was news.

Here are some of the items from the July 19th, 1933 "Montrose Tribune."

"Mrs. J.W. Wright entertained Mrs. R. A. Streeter of the Soldiers Home, Minneapolis, Mrs. A. J. Hayes and Mrs. Nellie Snodgrass at dinner at her home Saturday evening."

"Mrs. Earl Mumford and family of Waverly were Montrose callers Saturday night."

"Mr. Leon Drotz is treating his garage to a new coat of paint."

"The coffee club was entertained in the home of Mrs. Joe Devaney Thursday afternoon. Those present as guests were Mrs. R. A. Streeter, Mrs. F. E. Belden of Minneapolis, Mrs. Pat Galvin and Mrs. William McQuoid.

"Members present were Mrs. D. Bodin, Mrs. Wm. Wandersee, Mrs. Thoreson, Mrs. F.W. Eckermann, Mrs. J. O. Jenkins, Mrs. J. Gamble, Mrs. J. W. Wright and Mrs. G. A. Wright. A most delicious lunch was served."

(Editor's Note: Mrs. Devaney was a much loved and respected member of the community, very well-read and well-spoken. She claimed to be an atheist, something which Father Morgan never quite accepted, even though she had her ashes strewn on her rose bushes when she died as some kind of bid for immortality, I suppose. My mother liked her a lot.)

I would love to call my column "The Waverly Star and Montrose Tribune," but I am hardly worthy.

I just can't thank Mrs. Onstott enough for her great gift to me. From now on, my readers will be seeing items from this tome just about every week.

"Montrose, Minnesota: 1881 to 1981" is available still at the Montrose City Offices. Write to Wendy Manson, Deputy Clerk, at Montrose City Offices, 311 Buffalo Ave. S., Montrose, MN 55363. The book costs $8.00 plus shipping and handling. Make out a check for $10.44 to the City of Montrose. A better bargain you will never find.

For previous issues of the Waverly Star, see the web site at www.herald-journal.com/waverlystar.

Back to Waverly Star menu

Herald Journal
Stories | Columns | Obituaries | Classifieds
Guides | Sitemap | Search | Home Page