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. 8, 2003

The people who built our farms and towns

It may be a mistake to yearn for the days of our pioneer ancestors who fill our area cemeteries now. We can still mourn for them, though, and stand at their graves in awe of the work ethic they had and the hardships they endured so as to make our lives easier.

Often they had no education themselves, but they made sure we got to school in warm clothing and well fed. They had it hard, so hard we can't envy them.

They fled poverty and forced military conscription. They were mostly born in Germany, but also in Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Belgium and France.

They are buried, many tragically young, in Wright Cemetery, St. Mary's Cemetery, Buffalo Cemetery, the German Cemetery, the Kreidler Cemetery, the Cassels Cemetery and the Dutch Lake Cemetery in Howard Lake.

Many died young, women in childbirth, and men from farm accidents. Many from tuberculosis, small pox and diptheria, diseases we don't have to worry about so much any more, at least in our own country.

Pneumonia was called "the old folks' friend" because so many were carried off during the winter by this, but people had a community to share their grief.

As Bobby Steingas put it in the Montrose history published for the Centennial in 1980, "I'm glad I grew up in Montrose. It's a place where people care about people."

Many babies are buried in these cemeteries. A typical entry in the history is this one: "Clyde Farrell married Gladys Wright. They had one daughter, Ruth Elaine, who died in infancy and is buried in the Wright Cemetery."

The Dennis Galvins had nine children but lost three to diptheria. In the Secora family history this appears: "In 1893 Wallace Secora married Mary Salonek. Their first child, Anna, died of pneumonia at age one and a half." And there are many more entries like that one.

My own parents lost a baby to pneumonia at one year of age, in 1919.

Veterans from several wars lie buried in the little cemetery on the hill, the Wright cemetery: George M. Wright from the Civil War, Dan Elletson from World War I, Clyde Ferrell and Myron Hayes from World War II. (Myron had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese for 42 months.)

Here are some other memories plucked from the Montrose book.

Esther Epple said, "Our house in Montrose was built by Grandpa Klatt. Many Montrose houses are now over a hundred years old and they were built by the settlers themselves.

"Our grandfather Epple was on the old homestead and was a great friend of the American Indians. When he came to St. Paul, the family met him on the train and brought him by oxcart. This was before the Civil War."

"Before the Civil War." When there were no roads but only trails through the thick woods, those thick woods which are all gone now.

Mrs. Epple said, "I miss the trains. Mildred and I were taught by Mr. Michaels (the depot agent) to swing a lantern in a certain way and stop the 5:45 a.m. passenger train so we could make our 8 a.m. classes at Hamline University Monday mornings.

(Trains don't stop in Montrose any more and haven't for years. The depot was closed in 1958.)

"By the way," Mrs. Epple says, "we haven't had our own paper, The Montrose Tribune, since Viola and Esther Crawford sold out to the Waverly Star."

Other entries

August Oestreich was born in Germany in 1854 and came to America when he was 23 after he had served in the German Marines for three years.

He worked for the Klatt and Haven Saw Mill near Montrose and then when the Great Northern Railroad built westward and formed the town of Montrose, he corded wood and sold it to Great Northern for the woodburning locomotives at $3 per cord. ($3 a cord? Recently, when we were in Leadville, Colorado, which has millions of trees, we paid $140 for a cord of wood for the fireplace.)

If you didn't work that hard, you didn't eat, or else you lived off the kindness of the neighbors, who were poor themselves.

At August's wedding in 1880, the bride was left standing at the church door because August had to run into the woods to retrieve his oxen who had run away shortly before the ceremony was to take place.

Marion McNeely recalls that her grandfather, J.B. Quinn worked as a hod carrier for a dollar a day in New York before he came west.

Although the family had venison and potatoes, they only had fifty cents to their name. There was no work.

Finally, Mrs. Quinn went to St. Paul and left the children with her mother so she could find housework at $9 a month. How did people get to St. Paul? They walked.

The Rabens family had it tough after Bill lost his leg in a railway accident but "the wonderful small town spirit and loving people helped everyone through those years."

These immigrants brought their faith with them from the old country. A good example of this was Edward Lenz. He was instrumental in securing the first resident pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, the Revrend Alvin Leerssen.

Pastor Leerssen accepted the call for a salary of $600 a year. Harriet Lenz was the organist, receiving $12 per year, or 25 cents per Sunday.

(I just heard about a mega suburban church near Austin, Texas, one of those "feel good" churches where Jesus makes you happy.

This "successful" church spends $15,000 a week for their "music ministry," hiring players from the Austin symphony. They do fill up that church!)

All of the early settlers were church goers and the churches they built are still standing, some now with women pastors, thank God.

Joan Pfepsen Jones remembers the pioneers. She grew up in Montrose between the two world wars and recalls many of the early settlers in the book.

She also says, "I think a depression occurred during that time, but I didn't notice. I was listening for the school bell in the morning and for the whistle of the Empire Builder at night."

Her father was creamery manager beginning in 1930 and made $50 a month, "which was a respectable sum in those days."

She remembers that eggs were 7 cents a dozen (not even "a dime a dozen!") and pails of buttermilk sold for a nickel. The house she grew up in cost $500 total.

She ends her story with this:"None of my family lives in Montrose now, but in some ways I shall always live in Montrose, or maybe I should say, 'Montrose will always live in me.'

"Two years ago I fulfilled a lifetime ambition when my husband and I took Amtrak's Empire Builder to the West Coast. The train I had so often watched as a child carried me, as Montrose flashed by. I glimpsed the street where I had lived and could imagine that I even saw Mr. Schumacher's little brick house."

Perhaps it is wrong to yearn for "the good old days," but it's not wrong at all to mourn for the people who built our towns and farms. It's not a bit wrong to yearn to see them all again some day, and this time in a better place and time when we will all rise together to eternal life from those memory filled cemeteries.


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