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.

 Oct. 21, 2002

A walk down memory lane, as told by a true Waverlyite

Ever since the St. Mary's August 2000 reunion, I have been hounding Dan Herbst for a copy of the speech he gave in the big tent at the ball park, down by the lake to about a thousand of us Waverlyites and Waverlyite wannabes.

After much pounding on him (I am much older than he is), he agreed to sit down and write for The Waverly Star. He had never written out his speech for the reunion and didn't have any notes from that day, but this is more or less what he said he said.

Dan had told us the four times a year we absolutely had to return to Waverly - St. Patrick's Day, Memorial Day, the opening of duck hunting season, and Christmas Eve for the caroling around the town before midnight Mass.

Below is his account of Memorial Day, which he called "a walk down memory lane:"

A walk down memory lane

By Dan Herbst

The walk down memory lane began after Mass at the hallowed ground of St. Mary's Cemetery.

This cemetery, with its headstones and the remains of all of Waverly's greatest, is on a hill overlooking the lake. That magnificent view is graced even more by the two asymmetrical towers of St. Mary's, which watch over Wright County, and the crosses that rule our sky.

Memorial Day, 2000, began with the falling in of "the troops," where the J. F. Anderson lumberyard used to be, the very same lumberyard that brought the O'Learys to us in the first place. To our right was the former Pususta Machine Shop.

I was honored to fall into the ranks next to General John O'Leary. As I puffed up in pride at being next to a general in the US Army, who was not only Irish, but from Waverly, it made me stand much taller. I was told by Sergeant James Ogle to stand at attention as he blew his trademark command whistle, which is borrowed every year from former drill instructor Don Smith.

While I was commenting to the others about how fortunate we all were to be in the ranks of an Irish general, John O'Leary leaned over and cautioned me to temper my remarks about the Irish.

He reminded me that General George Armstrong Custer was, himself, an Irish general, the very same disastrous person who was last in his class at West Point.

This other Irish general is most remembered for being outsmarted by the Indians when he led his trusting troops into certain death at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. (There is always someone around to pour cold water on me when I am bragging.)

From where we stood in troop formation, one only had to glance to the west to see the back door of the Waverly bowling alley where many of us veterans had been employed for the first time.

I remember being told to go into the bowling shoe room and fill out my first social security card application. I wanted to be cool, so instead of filling it out correctly I filled it out as Danny Herbst, which I did not change until I was 60 years old. I wondered all those years if I would be denied benefits because I did not fill out the application correctly.

Many of you in attendance at this reunion started your careers and paid for your expenses by setting pins. I started at 10 cents a line, but many of you started at lower rates, I am sure.

One learned how to move fast to stay out of the way of the famous strike ball of Harvey Kutz. Man, he was powerful. He could send a pin right through the ceiling, and often did.

One time, when he lofted the ball, he accidentally let go on the back swing and left a hole in the ceiling above his head which can still be seen to this very day. Setting pins for Harvey was my first experience of using a Hail Mary to save my limbs, which I did each time he threw the ball.

Back to the parade . . . Marching east from the lumber yard, one's memory is drawn to the location of the Berkner Mill, which was the first stop for farmers. They did so to grind their feed and to give them an excuse to come to town and maybe stop at the municipal liquor store to get the grain dust out of their throats.

How one remembers Phil Zeller, father of the great Zeller family, and "Barney" Gritz, who toiled at the mill their entire lives. No wonder George Berkner could travel, and become a world class Olympic rifle shot with two such honorable men running his business.

I digress, but is there a more honorable family in all of Waverly then the Zeller family? Is there anyone in this audience who has ever seen a Zeller commit a mortal sin? I doubt it.

I wanted to marry into the Zeller family, but Rose Zeller never would make eye contact with me during 12 years of school. I guess she had her eyes lowered, praying that she could do better . . . which she did.

Marching down main street, the first thing to catch my eye was the now abandoned structure of Johnson Brothers' Garage, still full of wonderful memories. To see the fall release of the new Chevrolets each year and, later, the addition of Oldsmobile to the line was one of the highlights of the year.

One can still smell the coffee and the homemade donuts of Goldie Ogle that were available once the new cars were released.

It made one just stand and wonder who could ever afford a new '68 Olds for $1,499.99. Who would ever have that kind on money in the first place? A person could buy a good used car from Frank Padden backed up against the white fence next to the Great Northern Railroad tracks for just $300.

Danny Graham would oblige you for a 3 percent loan for $150 if one could scrounge up the other $150.

Imagine, if I could buy that car I would have the honor of having the deputy constable of Waverly, Jim O'Connell, be my personal repairman.

Sitting in the back of the garage under the dim lights next to Ches Ogle's 1948 green Chevy Coupe, was the black 1955 Chevy with the police interceptor engine that each evening would be driven by the Waverly constable, Thomas O'Connell.

One of Waverly's gravest offenses occurred when there was a drag race between Danny Borrell and Bill Sawatzke right down Main Street. If Tom would have had DNA testing at that time, he could have taken hair samples from the Bowling Alley and tracked down the offenders.

But they escaped capture and lived to tell about it. A crime still unsolved on the books of Waverly law enforcement.

Walking past the Johnson Bros. Garage, across from the Waverly Village Hall, one could not help but remember all the great events at the art deco Waverly Hall, constructed by the WPA.

The front steps held the feet of the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey, as he announced his historical run for the United States Presidency. Waverly was in its glory - a vice president that called his home Waverly, Minn., and now a chance to increase its spot in history by being the home of a President of the USA.

Could it get any better than that?

Even a pew at St. Mary's Catholic Church was especially built and a name plate put in place for the great adopted son, in case he wanted to attend there.

Inside the Waverly Village Hall one can still hear the loud echoes from basketball games of St. Mary's High, coached by Ches Ogle, and later by Al Gutzke. No compensation for those boys - just the dignity and honor of the town and its people.

Big band horns still bounce in my head from the walls of the village hall, recalling the music of the proms attended through the years by those fortunate enough to find the courage to ask a "girl" to go to the big event.

It was Waverly's version of MTV, only classier and chaperoned by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet. The twisted crepe paper is still stuck to the walls at the upper elevations of that old Village Hall from the Sisters' prom decorations.

Those same Sisters would step outside of the classroom, and would produce and direct musicals and plays by the hundreds through the years. I can still remember Gilbert and Sullivan's "All At Sea." The main male singer was Joe Lachermeier, who had a wonderful baritone voice that rivaled New York theater.

Some of us lesser performers had to hand out programs, work on the lights and sound effects, and draw the drapes.

While practice was going on for hours, some of us, with nothing better to do, would pick the locks and get to the coolers in the basement.

If Ray Daigle did not secure the chains enough to hold the sliding doors on top, we could reach our hands in and pull out a few bottles of Hamm's Beer. Mmmm, that was fine. "From the Land of Sky Blue Waters."

Thank goodness there were no bar codes and Ray had no known inventory system. I still feel a need to confess these misdeeds and replace that inventory.

That hall also had many wedding dances, and even Golden Glove boxing events that would rival Madison Square Garden. No Gillette Blue Blades though, just a heavyweight like Georgie Tuckenhagen or the McDonald brothers from Hollywood, always winners.

To Be Continued . . .

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