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 28, 2001

Glen and Peggy Keener recently moved from Japan to Minneapolis. During the course of their lives, they ran across the O'Leary brothers of Waverly.

They heard so much about Waverly from them over the years that they decided to see for themselves. The following is their report.

From Glen: "Jim, we journeyed to Waverly yesterday and talked to some folks who knew you. We now know the hurried circumstances under which you were evicted . . . er, left town . . . just kidding."

From Peggy: "Jim, Glen never kids.

"We did our best, and even took some pictures, which we can send over the Internet, including one of your parents' graves, and Myles' grave with an American flag on it.

"We really thought we should check out this small Minnesota town that produced the likes of the O'Leary boys.

"In general, you got it right. It is wonderful.

"Wistful Waverly, the small town everyone would wish to hail from, and go back to, as often as possible.

"Its got it all ­ a lake, a wide main street, homes with sitting porches and a grand church in which to be confirmed and/or baptized, to worship, to counsel . . . and to contemplate one's funeral.

"I admire your loyalty to that community, and understand it completely.

"Where, oh where, to begin. First of all, we had to take a detour (Highway 12 to 110 to County Road 30) because of what looked like either a war zone or highway construction.

"Then, when we got into Waverly, we discovered the entire road through town was plowed under.

"At first, we thought we couldn't get into Waverly at all, but it should be super-grand upon completion.

"I was curious about the Tipperary Farm just outside of town. It is a huge complex, immaculately clean, but we could not get any evidence of what was going on there.

"Not a single piece of equipment outdoors, no folks, nothing. We were wondering if the silos might be used as rental space for silage.

"We drove around the lake, and then discovered the cemetery on the other side of town. There were a goodly number of folks there decorating graves.

"I watched a poignant scene of a three generational trio of women putting flowers on what I guessed was the grandfather's grave.

"We walked around until we found the tombstone of the O'Learys, with Ed and Mary's headstones, and Myles' marker.

"We asked several folks how to get to the old lumber yard, and upon our arrival there, found the neighbor and his wife out on their front porch putting up a weather thermometer.

"The fellow, George Hudson, was wearing a SPAM T-shirt, which endeared him to me right off the bat, seeing as I happen to be from Spamtown, USA.

"He went on to explain how he had purchased the house in 1997. Last October, on his wedding anniversary, he was awakened by the smell of smoke. He looked out to see the lumber yard burning.

"Immediately, he called 911 and told them the Harkman property was on fire. The 911 operator told him they didn't know where that was. George repeated it several times, and still 911 couldn't understand it. Finally he told them it was the old lumber yard and they got it.

"I took some pictures of what's going on now at where the old lumber yard used to be. Maybe you can figure it out.

"Next, we stopped at Rocky's Bar and Grill. This was a Sunday, so our choice in dining facilities was a tad limited, since it was the only spot in town where there was any action at all, other than the cemetery, that is.

"I understand there's another good restaurant on Highway 12 in town, but there wasn't any Highway 12 the day we were there.

"We walked into Rocky's from the bright sunlight to a dark cave, where one old fellow was sitting at the counter. I think you probably graduated with him, but I wasn't going to ask.

"From there, we sauntered through the establishment to the back pool table section and seated ourselves into a booth.

"Immediately, a young waitress came over to take our order from the eight possible selections . . . of burger and fries.

"I was beginning to feel depressed.

"Glen, meanwhile, sat glued to a baseball game, which was playing loudly from a large TV set hung from a corner in our recreational part of the . . . yes . . . joint.

"I was thinking what a downer it would be to work in a place like that.

"But then glimmers of how wrong I was began to appear. Young people popped in to eat and shoot a game of pool. Soon, the counter filled up with families, and before long, the place was almost hopping.

"I don't know, though, if the state health code was rigidly being followed, as the main manager kept sitting on top of the ice cream freezer, feet and all, while smoking and leaning as far as she could up onto the counter to shamelessly flirt with one of the young dude customers.

"I wondered what she saw in him.

"Then, in leaving Rocky's, I had an insight into his appeal. I saw him climb into what has to be one of the hottest cars on the road today ­ a brand new, sunshine-yellow Corvette convertible.

"Two high school girls Rollerblading by on the street stopped dead in their wheel tracks to suck in great gasps of admiring air over the splendor of this vehicle, and also to let the driver know of their feelings by yelling at him as he burned rubber, "Awesome car!"

"Finally, after growing faint from food deprivation (Were we being stiffed as city folk?) exaggerated by the aromatic clouds of frying grease all around us, our order arrived. Turned out to be a really good, really big, and really fresh hamburger.

"So, there in a nutshell, was our afternoon spent in Waverly. All in all, we concluded that Waverly was a darned good, if not even better than that, place to grow up."

"Love, Peggy

"P.S. Were all the houses in town built from you dad's lumber?"

No, Peggy. He didn't get there until 1936. Those Sears and Roebuck houses had beat him by miles.

Blame Uncle Ben

One time, Uncle Ben was visiting Waverly and I remember that after he had stood gazing out the front window of our house on Highway 12 for a while, he turned and said to my father, "Ed, that is one damned busy highway."

My Uncle Ben O'Leary was my father's older brother. My brother John's middle name was Benjamin, after Uncle Ben. Uncle Ben, in turn, named one of his sons Ed after my father.

He was the first serviceman from South Dakota killed in World War II. His sister Adeline O'Leary had come to live with us the year before, so she could attend a Catholic school.

When we buried Uncle Ben in Timber Lake, S.D., his two sons, (my cousins) Dick and Pat O'Leary, World War II combat veterans, who, unlike their brother, had survived the war, clung to each other, and cried like babies at the graveside.

My brother John, my father, and I attended the funeral.

Ben had enjoyed several careers. For a time, he ran a store in Aberdeen, S.D. It was located right on his very own Highway 12, also known as "The Yellowstone Trail," so Uncle Ben called it "The Trail Grocery."

He had fierce red hair and a good strong build, so for a while, he boxed professionally under the name of "Dakota Red."

He raised cattle, farmed the land around Timber Lake, did some moonshining, and, believe it or not, built Highway 12.

Uncle Ben had started off with just a team of horses and a scraper. My own father had filled in sewer ditches in Howard, S.D. with a team and scraper before he went farming, but Uncle Ben stuck to it until he had 200 teams and became the biggest operator in the state.

He, his men, and his horses did the entire Highway 12 from Aberdeen to Mobridge.

If you drive that stretch today, you may notice that the curves aren't banked all that well, and sometimes there is no turn at all. Just a sharp, square 45-degree angle change in direction, rather startling, and not at all like the smooth long curve you can see just west of Delano.

Uncle Ben had a unique management style in the days before the wage and hour laws. When he hired men from saloons and box cars, he gave them a blank signed check.

When they decided they had had enough, they would fill in the amount they thought they had earned and take their leave. He told us he had never been cheated, and he never had to hire a time-keeper.

I noticed in our Howard Lake-Waverly paper that there was a complaint number to call regarding Highway 12 construction. Uncle Ben was wiser than that. He never had a telephone.

After we moved to Minnesota, there was no way to reach him except through the county sheriff, who was one of our cousins, "Shag" Austin.

I never linked up Uncle Ben to our Highway 12 problems until I read in the history section of the Howard Lake-Waverly Herald that a crew from South Dakota had arrived to work on the highway back when, before the days of the Caterpillar tractors with their Cat skinners (the heroic successors to the mule-skinners of our pioneer days).

Could it be? I wouldn't be at all surprised.

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