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 21, 2001

"The Power of an Icy River" has never before been published, and I did not have to swipe it. A Howard Lake-Waverly Herald reader sent it to us unsolicited. Eat your heart out, "Reader's Digest." It's ours!

The Power of an Icy River, by Herb White

"It was a quiet, beautiful, and warm April afternoon in the year of 1943, and I was on my way to Clearwater, Minn., a Mississippi River town located 11 miles Southeast of St. Cloud.

"At that time in my life, I was farming with my widowed mother about three-and-a-half miles from Clearwater. This was the family farm, and was purchased in 1872 by my grandfather.

"A hog feeder was to be picked up that afternoon in the Clearwater Lumberyard. I attached a four-wheeled trailer to my '40 Ford Coupe, and George, a 12-year-old inquisitive neighbor boy accompanied me.

"Before reaching Clearwater, we had to cross an antiquated wooden bridge, which spanned the 'Mighty Mississippi River,' this bridge having been towed up the river from Anoka, where it had been replaced by a new structure in 1927.

"As we reached the bridge and started to cross, we noticed an old black Chevrolet parked ahead of us, near the center of the bridge.

"A man had stepped from the car and was anxiously peering over the side railing into the icy waters. Coming closer, we saw a woman behind the steering wheel staring frantically up the river.

"Stopping behind them to check things out, we noticed huge chunks of ice coming down the river towards the bridge. We got out of the car and asked the man, who turned out to be a well-known neighbor named Herbert Norden, what was happening.

"He said a gigantic piece of river ice had broken loose from an island up stream, and he and his wife, who were on their way to pick up their kids from school, had casually stopped by to watch the event.

"It didn't take long before we all were experiencing a terrible jolt, when a large chunk of ice slammed into the bridge.

"An explosive, thudding noise rang out, as large iron rods and wooden beams came swinging down like pendulums from a clock.

"The floor of the bridge reared up, and then it rolled up like a carpet, as the frozen ice pushed the bridge from its piers.

"We watched with awe and horror as one half of the bridge ahead of us vanished into the swollen icy waters below. It was a miracle that the side of the bridge we were watching from was still standing.

"Then, as my friend, the 12-year-old boy, was running for shore, I could hear the starter grinding on the old Chevrolet ahead of us.

"The woman behind the wheel seemed terrified, as she tried to get the car started. I pulled the pin to release the four-wheeled trailer, then hastily backed my car safely to dry land.

"The lady driver and her husband were close behind, and we all breathed easier when we reached the shoreline.

"Some men were in the area, sawing wood for a neighbor, and they all came running to the river to see what all the commotion was about.

"After listening to our story, we all debated, and then decided to retrieve the four-wheeled trailer from the remaining piece of bridge.

"As we pushed it to safety, the ice struck again, and we watched as the last piece of the bridge sank slowly into the icy waters of the 'Mighty Mississippi.'

"As we left the area, after much interesting discussion with several excited sightseers, we met some men arriving from the highway department.

"We watched as they put up signs indicating the bridge was out and the road was closed.

"That evening, I was hoping to hear mention of our exciting icy story on the 10 p.m. radio news broadcast.

"However, I was amazed, bewildered, and disappointed to hear the following reported by Cedric Adams, a famous newscaster from WCCO radio. I quote: 'The swollen, icy waters of the Mississippi River tore out a bridge between Clearwater and Clear Lake, Minn. this afternoon.

However, there were no casualties as the highway department anticipated the bridge was going out - so both ends were blocked and no traffic could enter.'

"What a letdown! For a moment, I was bitter about that bureaucratic lie; then I reconsidered and thanked the Good Lord that I had survived the eventful icy afternoon.

"P.S. We did get the hog feeder, but we traveled 40 miles instead of the intended three-and-a-half miles."

Mr. Herbert White, you may recall, is the gent with the marvelous memory, who had married into the LePage family, and knew dairymen around here when he worked for the state as a milk tester in 1941.

"Great dairymen" he called them, such as the Grahams, Melvin Diers, Tom Devaney, W. C. Douglas and W. H. Eddy and J. Carl Shear of Howard Lake.

Mr. White is now a general agent for Pioneer Mutual in Litchfield. He is 84 years old and going strong, still writing insurance and annuities, despite a bout with melanoma four years ago and chronic pulmonary fibrosis.

He has been blessed with 10 children, ranging in age from 56 to 20, three daughters and seven sons.

One of his daughters, who now lives in Dallas, came to visit him over the fourth of July.

Six of these children are from his first marriage, and four of them from his second marriage.

In the late '60s and early '70s, he worked with the Community Action Agency in Meeker and Wright Counties. He was the agriculture director and farm manager.

The Wright County office was in Waverly, so many the cup of coffee he enjoyed with Vice President Humphrey. "What a person he was!" Herb said.

Speaking of the war on poverty in Lyndon Johnson's administration, there are those who say it was a failure. I disagree strongly.

Like Herb, I worked for a Community Action Agency, mine in Arkansas and then, later, here in Corpus Christi, Texas. I also saw the results in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Chicago, where I had worked as a social worker.

The idea was to spend a billion dollars (small change to the Pentagon), spread out over 10 years, with "maximum feasible participation" on the part of the poor "in order to end poverty as we know it."

It would have been better if $10 billion had been pledged over 10 years but as it was, much good was accomplished with only a billion, Operation Head Start being one tiny example.

The welfare reform act has taken us in the opposite direction, away from the idealism of the 1960s. The stated aim of the welfare reform act was to "end welfare as we have known it," not to end poverty. The result has been tragic for many, many poor people.

Some day I will have a cup of coffee with Herb in Litchfield. How much do you want to bet we talk politics?

His e-mail address is: haphomey@webtv.net and his address and telephone are: 62952 250th St. Litchfield, MN 55355-5837. Phone: (320) 693-3666.

The eye of God

Children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Jewish school for lunch. At the end of the table was a large pile of apples.

The rabbi had made a note that said, "Take only one. God is watching."

Moving through the line, to the other end of the table, was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies.

A boy wrote a note, "Take all you want. God is watching the apples."

Fine arts section

As the more cultured citizens of Wright County know, Indiana/Purdue University in Bloomington, Ind. is home to world class music and arts.

The more vulgar among us know Indiana University as the basketball center of the universe, where Larry Byrd invented the three-pointer and where Bobby Knight reigned as chair-throwing champion, until Texas Tech University gave him sanctuary after Indiana gave him the boot.

He can still wear red, the fighting color of Texas Tech as well as Indiana, a color which is known to symbolize righteous rage, the kind he used in Indiana.

I have a friend here in Corpus Christi who acquired her degree at Indiana University in fine arts, and never once attended a basketball game, which hardly seems possible, but it's true.

She was there when the following really did happen a few years back:

At the dedication of a new building on campus, the very building where her fine arts classrooms were to be located, the cornerstone was unveiled one day with a large delegation of dignitaries standing about.

The building was to be called Purdue/Indiana University's Fine Arts and Radio and Television Center. When the drape was pulled back, there in chiseled capital letters was "Fart Center PU" (PU for Purdue/Indiana University).

The Bloomington Independent, the local newspaper, had a wonderful time with that one until the university fathers had the offending letters chiseled away.

This story reminded me that when I was a lad in Waverly, all of us children looked forward to the arrival of Whoopee John and his band from New Ulm because the billboards would display the advertisement:

"Whoopee John Wilfahrt and his band will play at the Waverly Ballroom."

Mr. Wilfahrt was no small potatoes. He was welcomed on the Lawrence Welk Show more than once, and he and his band ranged all the way to Texas, where he even played one time at the Wurstfest in New Braunfels, sharing the stage with Myron Floren and his accordion.

The ballroom in Waverly hosted some other really big names, including Bix Beiderbeck, who came one time without his saxophone.

Even Stan Kenton, with his progressive jazz, made it one time and packed them in. The Six Fat Dutchmen were frequent visitors, but played nothing but old time.

They were skinny little guys actually but they, too, eventually made their way onto the Lawrence Welk show, at least their clarinetist did.

There was a story, unverified, that their bus got lost on the way to the studio.

Maybe it was because I was Irish, but I could never tell one polka from another, whether it was "Behind the Brewery Polka" or "Flying Through the South Haven Rhubarb."

You also know that "die Fahrt" is a perfectly innocent German word meaning "journey," so when German people tell each other to "have a good Fahrt," they mean nothing vulgar. Honest.

And neither do I. Honest.

Groucho Marx: "Always remember that to get ahead, you have to be honest and never lie nor cheat. When you can fake that successfully, you've got it made."

And a one, and a two, and a three . . . and, "danke schoen" for reading this, all of you missing persons out there. And thank you especially, Herb White.

Back to Waverly Star menu
Howard Lake-Waverly Herald & Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal
Stories | Columns | Obituaries
Community Guides | Special Topics | Cool Stuff | Search | Home Page