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.

 Dec. 2, 2002

Memories of our veterans

Dear Readers,

Mark Ollig of the Waverly "Telephone Olligs" sent me this. I received permission from James P. McDonnell, Jr., publisher of The Wright County Journal Press, to use it in my Waverly Star. (His father, by the way, was the founder of The Waverly Star.)

Ed DuBois of The Wright County Journal Press wrote the story:

You can find a wealth of historic information at the local nursing homes, and residents such as Bernice Wetter are ready, willing, and able to provide their recollections.

A recent session with Bernice provided this listener with some very interesting stories about veterans, soldiers, and wartime.

Mrs. Wetter, 86, grew up on a farm just east of Buffalo. Her name was Bernice Gustafson back then. She went to school in Buffalo and later taught for 12 years.

She was only about two years old when the original Veteran's Day, which was called Armistice Day (the end of World War I) took place in 1918. She remembers when a neighbor, John Aldrich, was drafted.

Several people in the area gathered for a party to wish him the best. They sang songs, and they all went to the train depot to see him off. "Other young men from the area were leaving on the train, too," Bernice recalled.

She vividly recalls a much different event later at the depot. All the ladies wore black hats and veils. Men pushed a casket out of the baggage car door. Bernice was up on her father's shoulders, so she had a clear view of what was happening. She mentioned that John Aldrich's brother, Ralph, was born on Armistice Day.

When the war ended, the local telephone operator signaled everyone. Four long rings meant there was an emergency situation underway, and everyone should go to town. That day, the emergency was good news. Everyone went to town and celebrated.

One day, a veteran who had just returned from the war and was walking home from the depot was spotted on the road by Bernice's father. He immediately walked down and met the veteran, who was then invited up to the house.

Bernice recalled that the man's toes showed through the tips of his worn-out shoes. The man cried as he told about the war.

Bernice said her father had just bought a new pair of shoes. He took them out of the box and gave them to the veteran. The shoes were from Burkland's Store in Buffalo, and the box still contained the free extra socks and shoelaces that were customarily thrown in back in those days.

"Dad got out the horse and buggy and gave the veteran a ride home," Bernice said.

Most people were still getting around by horse and buggy or wagon at that time. Bernice said Buffalo had seven saloons.

One day she was holding the reins by the hitching post near one of the saloons as her mother went into a store for some quick shopping. Bernice saw four men carry another man out of the saloon. They threw the man into the back of his wagon and slapped the rump of one of the horses yelling "giddy up!"

Two men started laughing. Then a third man said the horses are going to go about six miles in the wrong direction. "He just bought those horses. They don't know the way to his house. They are going to the previous owner's house."

In about the mid-1920s, Bernice said Memorial Day was a very big deal. Everyone gathered by what is now the Discovery Center and marched all the way down to Lakeview Cemetery.

The parade included four veterans, three dressed in blue Union soldier Civil War uniforms, and the fourth wore a Confederate uniform and carried the Confederate flag.

At the cemetery, they stopped and saluted a Civil War statue (which was later stolen). Children placed flags on all the graves of veterans.

During World War II, Bernice lived in Waverly. She remembers that, on the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Empire Builder passenger trains were parked on sidetracks while trains carrying troops and tanks headed west.

"We never saw the Empire Builders stop in Waverly before. They always went straight through," Bernice said.

Thanks for conveying your memories, Bernice.

Don't forget to thank a veteran for helping to keep us free."

Although I had the privilege of knowing the Loren Ollig family when they ran the telephone company in Waverly, I had never met Mark Ollig, who was thoughtful enough to forward me this piece from The Wright County Journal Press. I asked him if I could use it, and here is his gracious reply:

"Hi Jim,

"I have no problem with that. It was an article that caught my interest and I found it so very interesting. I also enjoy reminiscing and looking back on those days that my parents and grand and even great-grandparents lived in.

"My grandmother was Antoinette (Marie) Ollig (Wallace and Yvonne King's daugher from Waverly). Wallace died in 1936, and my grandmother told me he was known as "the Land Man of Wright County." He owned much real estate in the county is my understanding.

"My grandfather was Mathew ('Judge') Ollig. His brothers were Abe and Loren (Hazel) Ollig.

"Judge and Marie moved to Winsted in 1931, and started the Winsted Telephone Co. My mother and I visited Loren's grave in Winthrop a couple of years ago.

"Loren died in 1972, I believe. Hazel will be celebrating her 100th birthday, and she still lives in Arizona.

"My father was John Ollig (who died in 1982). My family had/has a long history of being involved in the telephone industry.

"I grew up in it, and I guess it was in their blood. I am still in the industry also.

"My grandmother also had passed down to me the registry of names of people who stayed at the Waverly Hotel. The actual book is what she gave me.

"I believe the hotel was next to Pete's grocery store on the northwest corner of the block. The registry has handwritten signatures of many people that were passing through Waverly and had stayed at the hotel.

"Marie often told the stories to me about Judge Morneau and how Waverly was the place to be in those earlier days in the '20s and '30s.

"She also mentioned about the Catholic church in Waverly and about the French priest who brought a small rock back from France and placed it in the outer wall of the church. It can still be seen on the outside southeastcorner of the church."

[Aside here: The priest was Father Guillot and the rock he brought back was from Lourdes.]

"My other brothers and sisters also know stories, and the one thing I wish for younger folks today is that they ask and listen to their grandparents' stories about the times when they were young and the experiences they lived through, because when they are gone it is too late. As I get older, I wish I would have asked more about those early years in their lives.


"Mark Ollig"

Besides Mark's solid advice, I think there is another lesson here ­ visit nursing homes. It is not an act of charity ­ you are going to be the richer for it. Look at how lucky Ed Dubois was to interview Bernice Wetter.

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