Interview with Roger Behnfeldt

Roger BehnfeldtDate of Interview: December 1, 2014

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RB: Roger Behnfeldt
MP: Marlene Patterson

MP:  Today is Monday December the first 2014, and I am interviewing Roger Behnfeldt of Wauseon, Ohio. He is a Henry County Freedom Township, Ohio native. Roger can you give me your father’s name.

RB:  My father’s name was Otto Behnfeldt.

MP:  Did he have a middle name?

RB:  Louis.

MP:  And where was your father born?

RB:  He was born here in Henry County.

MP:  Where were his parents born.

RB:   His father came from Germany.

MP:  Do you know what area.

RB:  He came from the Bremen area. A lot of people at that time came from the Bremen area.  

MP:  That is where my ancestors came from also. Did he have brothers and sisters?

RB:  Yes, he had four brothers and three sisters.

MP:  Can you name them?

RB:  Yes, John was the oldest one. Next was Henry and then Carl and Otto.

MP:  I remember Carl Behnfeldt.

RB:  Then there was my Dad. The girls were Dorotha, Amelia, Anna, and Emma.

MP:  They all pretty much lived their entire life in Freedom Township, am I correct?

RB:  Yes.

MP:  Who was your mother?

RB:  My mother was Lorena Dehnbostel Behnfeldt.

MP:  Will you name her sisters and brothers?

RB:  Her sisters were Regina, and then of course Anette Dehnbostel Behrens.

MP: So, my neighbor Kenny Behrens would be a first cousin of yours?

RB:  Yes.

MP:  He is a nice guy. He lives right next door to me here. You should go visit him.  He would probably be surprised to see you.

RB:  Yes, he probably would be.

MP:  Let’s see we finished the Behrens.

RB:  Then we have Ernest Dehnbostel.

MP:  Do you know that Ernie, when he was 80 years old he was still roofing barns. Look how long you are going to have to live.

RB:  When Ernie was 98 years old he was still digging a trench out at his house at Northcrest.

MP:  That is wonderful. Can you name your sisters and brothers in chronological order.

RB:  Margaret is the oldest. She was killed in an automobile accident in 1947. Then we have Delores Behnfeldt Houser.

MP:  I know her.

RB:  Then we have Lucille Behnfeldt Gobrogge, and then Alice Behnfeldt Knepley, then there is myself, Roger. Then we have Janet Behnfeldt Cohrs. Then we have Lester Behnfeldt. Then we have Judith Behnfeldt Miller. Then we have Karen Behnfeldt Sonnenberg, then there is Wayne Behnfeldt. My youngest sister is Mary Jane Behnfeldt Gilliland.

MP:  Actually I knew your entire family. My sister Karen Gerken Maassel is the same age as your sister Karen. The two Karens grew up together in the same class. I grew up with your sister Lucille and we played together. I was married in 1954 and moved out of Gerald, so anybody born or moving into the Gerald area after 1954 I was not familiar with them. Lucille and I are still friends and when we see each other we do a lot of talking. I just love her. Where did your family attend church?

RB:  They  were members of St. John Lutheran Church here on Road U. I attended that church even after I was married. Then in 1965 we moved to Wauseon, Ohio and I attend church there.

MP:  How many children do you have?

RB:  I have two boys, Craig and David.

MP:  Where did you start school?

RB:  I started school at St. John Lutheran Parochial School just west of Gerald, Ohio.

MP:  Who was your first grade teacher?

RB:  Miss Schick.

MP:  She was my first grade teacher also. She served as their first grade teacher for many, many years. Did you have a favorite teacher or favorite teachers?

RB:  I think Miss Louise Schick and Mr. John Gefeke. There have been a lot of comments on him, some good and some bad. He was a teacher for my father. In those days that strict learning was probably okay. As things changed it was kind of tough on us kids. The learning experience was not what we thought it should be.

MP:  Mr. Gefeke was a strict disciplinarian. This type of teaching works with some children and some other children it is not good. I have heard of some of the horror stories from some of my friends. On one of my interviews a gentleman told how Mr. Gefeke would take his thumbnail and push it into his forehead like he was trying to drill the information into his head. At the same time he would be pushing his head backwards. You stop and think how many children were in his classroom -  probably around 20 in his class. Then he had two grades in the same room so he could have had 40 plus children in one room. He needed to control all these kids which would have been a tough job. On top of controlling he needed to teach these kids. The teaching alone would have been a big job. I have great respect for him and I always got along with him. He was strict and I learned from his teaching. Children are in school to learn and not be coddled. I liked Mr. Timm also, the middle grades teacher.

RB:  I liked Mr. Timm also. He was a good teacher and I would say he affected my wanting to learn more after I got out of school. 

MP:  I doubt the congregations would have ever fired Mr. Gefeke. When your parents Otto and Lorena moved to Gerald, what year was that.

RB:  They moved to Gerald in 1947. My dad was a share cropper and the farm got sold out from under him. He would have liked the opportunity to buy the farm. We had moved a couple of times before that already. He had the chance to buy the grocery store in Gerald and he bought that.

MP:  Now this is the time period I got to know Lucille. Now did your father buy the grocery store from Harry and Laura Von Deylen?

RB:  No he bought the store from Bill and Olga Kruse.

MP:  That is right, they fit into the grocery store owners too. Now Bill Von Deylen tells about the softball team they had in Gerald. Do you remember the softball team? I have a picture of the softball team but none of them are identified.

RB:  I remember Gerald having a softball team, but they played ball just in Napoleon.

MP:  From what Bill Von Deylen told the softball field would have been behind Ferd Bindeman’s house. This would have been just outside of our back door. Bill told about the railroad workers coming down on the rails and how they would stop and eat their lunch. Bill said some of the workers even took time to stop and play ball with them on their break time. He also told how men would walk down the railroad tracks (perhaps we should forget this part) and be looking for the town of Naomi. They would stop in Gerald thinking they were in Naomi. Bill’s family always kept their side door locked to prevent these men from just walking in the door. My dad always said that Sheriff Bartels was responsible for chasing all this illegal activity out of the county. What year did your parents move to Gerald?

RB:  It was 1947. My dad worked at the grain elevator.

MP:  I remember that. When your parents owned the grocery store, did you have to help them?

RB:  Yes, I had to take the empty pop bottles out. I had to sort them and I had to take the trash out.

MP:  You probably had to do just sort of general duties that boys are required to do. It would have been a good learning experience for you.

RB:  I was pretty young at that time but I remember a lot of things I did around the store.

MP:  Do you have any special memories of Christmas you would like to share.

RB:  Growing up on a farm in those days there wasn’t much going on.

MP:  There wasn’t much going on for anybody at that time.

RB:  After we moved to Gerald my mother would hide the gifts at Christmas time.

MP:  I still don’t know where my folks hid the presents. I never did find them.

RB:  I know we had a big family and there were four to five bedrooms upstairs. We were fortunate in that area that we each had our own space.

MP:  Can you give me some memories of living in Gerald.

RB:  Yes I have many memories. I will start with, you know there were four of us boys. Now Larry Durham was a year older that I was. We had Richard Nagel and Ronald Drewes. Us four usually ran around together.

MP:  I remember that gang. I played with his sister Marian and her younger sister Betty.

RB:  Then we had Ronald Drewes. The four of us played together. We ran around together and probably should have had more adult supervision.

MP:  You mean somebody should have watched you guys better!

RB:  Probably. In those days parents left their kids play together and just be kids.

MP:  We always played outside almost all day long in the summer time. There wasn’t much danger around. There really were no strangers around.

RB:  You know, talking about strangers, I may have told you this before about Lucille getting robbed in the grocery store. One day we were outside the grocery store just messing around. This car pulls up and any stranger you recognize him and take notice of him. We didn’t think too much about it but the next day he came back again. I don’t think I was right there when it happened but he walked in the store and evidently he had been casing the store the day before. The cash register was sitting more to the back of the store. There was an open space in back of the store where they had things for sale like shoe polish and other things. My sister Lucille was behind the counter. He walked up behind her and pointed a knife at her and told her he wanted all her money. So Lucille just screamed and put her hands up in the air and she just ran out the door. So he put his hands in the register and pulled out the money and took off in his car. He must have been in a hurry because a couple of miles out in the country he lost control of his car and went into the ditch. That was very exciting for us. Another big thing was Bill Von Deylen’s wedding. You know that was a big event.

MP:  You know I went to Bill’s wedding. The thing I remember about these weddings is that when you had a wedding in your family you invited the people that lived close to you for miles around. The women in the neighborhood would gather together and fry up chickens the day before and put the chicken in these big washtubs. On one occasion the chicken spoiled and turned green. They of course would have to dump the chicken out and start frying some more. Of course every family it seemed like raised their own chickens and butchered them so that was not a problem.

MP:  There were wedding receptions held in that white brick building too. They cleaned out the buildings and gave the floors a good scrubbing. On another topic didn’t your family run the telephone company next door to your grocery store?

RB:  That was run by the Miller family and they moved out. I think Alvin’s wife
died. Alvin worked at the Gerald elevator. Freddie Damman moved in there next and he had three boys.

MP:  I don’t remember him.

RB:  Probably not. It was him and his wife and they had three boys. There was Tom, Jim, and Mike. After they left my dad decided we could run the switchboard, too.   Some of us moved into the upstairs at the house. So at that time the Behnfeldt family ran Gerald.

MP:  I think you did too.

RB:  Anyhow my mother did that. I give her a lot of credit.

MP:  People worked hard years ago, but I think they really ate better than we do today. You open up a can of vegetables today and it has so much salt in it plus the preservatives. Those chemicals aren’t good for a person. Did you answer and work the switchboard, too?

RB:  I don’t think I ever had to. One thing that happened was that Lydia Meyer Wesche was running the switchboard and she wanted to make a call to Italy. This would have been after WWII. She had to make all those connections. It was a simple thing to do. It was not like we do today with our just dialing numbers. Years ago your telephone number would be something like three long rings and one short ring.

RB:  Nowadays kids can’t understand that.

MP: You would have to know how many long rings and how many short rings you had. Then you were one a party line of maybe six to ten people and you could listen in on everybody else’s conversations. Are there any other memories you would like to share?  What have you written down for starters?

RB:  I would like to mention that every year there would be a John Deere day.

MP:  Oh yes. Now my dad kept those beer glasses. They were stored down in our basement in Gerald. They were in cardboard boxes with dividers between them to keep them from hitting together. I think maybe there were six or seven cases of these beer glasses. I don’t know why they were down in our basement, maybe for safety or maybe so they would always know where they were at. They would have gotten very dirty at the elevator.

RB:  What kind of glasses were they?

MP:  They were a clear glass tumbler in the shape of a beer barrel. I don’t think I have any around here or I could show you what they looked like. 

RB:  Did they get these at the John Deere Days?

MP:  You didn’t get these to keep but when you had your glass of beer this is what they served the beer in. The elevator would use these big wood kegs of beer. The barrel had a spigot on the end and the beer would pour out from the spigot. I don’t remember if they had food, but they surely must have. I remember everybody went to the John Deere Day. Whether you were a farmer or not you showed up. Harry put on a big feed.

RB:  This guy would come there every year and he always told the same old jokes.

MP:  Was it Joe Seibold?

RB:   I knew him and it wasn’t Joe. I worked at the elevator for maybe a couple of years.

MP:  So did I. In fact I was the secretary. I graduated from high school and I didn’t get a choice or even go to college. They probably thought I wasn’t college material. In those days most girls took off and got married. At that time Mary Ann Delventhal was going to quit working and my dad said I had to go to work Monday morning and do her work. So I did. I worked there for a year. They had a program going on where you could earn points for days you worked. I just made it one year under that program and I got a kitchen stool. That I remember. Then I got married and I thought I wouldn’t have to work, but just keep house. At this same time the Napoleon Grain and Stock Co. lost their secretary, so Richard Gerken who was running that elevator called me and asked if I could go and work for them. They didn’t have anybody to do their bookkeeping, so I worked for maybe six months.

RB:  Richard Nagel and I would spend a lot of time together.

MP:  What all did you guys get into.

RB:   We developed a close relationship, and I spent a lot of time over there at their farm and he spent a lot of time at our place in Gerald. In fact he was my best man at my wedding. We would always go to the back of their woods. We built a log cabin in the back and put a flat roof on top of it. That was a lot of hard work building that.

MP:  See that back woods you are talking about, that was my Grampa’s farm. I too spent a lot of time back in that woods. I always pretended there were Indians around. You see there was kind of a little shed back in there and I thought maybe that was where some Indians had once lived. My bubble was busted when my dad told me that was a shelter for pigs when it rained. I used walk every day from Gerald to the farm carrying an aluminum bucket with a handle and get it filled up with milk. The milk was straight out of the cow. The milk was not pasteurized.  We all drank this milk and we never got sick. That is just the way people lived years ago. We survived.

RB:  We did the same thing. We went to my Uncle Otto Dehnbostel’s farm and would get milk. We broke a milk bottle one time.

MP:  Was it glass?

RB:  Yes. You can still buy aluminum milk cans.

MP:  Did you have to pump gas when you owned the grocery store?

RB:  Yes I did.

MP:  Did you have to pump it to get the gas up into the tank?  Do you have any pictures of the front of your grocery store that shows these gas pumps?

RB:  I have one picture of myself out in front of the store, but I don’t think the grocery store was in that picture. I’ll have to ask my sister Delores. She might have some pictures.

MP:  We were given a nice clear picture of the front of Ferd Bindeman’s grocery store in Gerald. I don’t think I can put my finger on it right now. It is very clear. Remember our house sat next to the empty lot that was beside the grocery store. There used to be a building on that lot. It was a two story building. I think the main bottom floor a man repaired cars on that main floor. When he went out of business he rented the upper floor for apartments. They would throw out of the upper window their garbage. It was potato peelings and things like that. The garbage landed on our driveway. My dad didn’t like that part. He bought the land and the building and tore it down.

RB:  Didn’t Mr. Bindeman sell groceries out of the back end of his store?

MP:  He sold groceries earlier but when I was growing up there was just the bar up front. Here is this picture of these young ladies all dressed up in the middle of the road in Gerald. I have most of these women identified now.

RB:  This building was that part of the grocery store?

MP:  No, that building is where Ed Bindeman sold his Massey Harris tractors.

RB:  Ed the son.

MP:  He might have used that building but my grandparents house was right
next door.

RB:  I think Ed used just part of that building.

MP:  This was probably in the 30s. Do you have that picture of the ladies in
downtown Gerald?

RB:  You see Carl Dehnbostel just died and he might have been able to recognize
some of those women.

MP:  Do you remember Anna Fitzenreiter. She was Florence Fitzenreiter Mitchell’s mother. She was so good at remembering people’s names. People that had been dead for years she could identify them. I can’t tell you how many times I would take pictures over to her and she knew them all. You don’t find people like that anymore. On that picture those boys in the background, one of those boys in the background may have been my dad. I don’t know. One thing we do know is that the boys are all dressed up with their suits on and just some of the women have corsages. All of the women have short sleeved summer dresses on and they are wearing black shoes. All the confirmation pictures I have seen, the women wear white shoes and they all have a big corsage. I am guessing this might have been taken on Mothers Day in May. Someone suggested I go through St. John’s church book and get their birth dates and work from there.

RB:  Here is the picture of Ed’s shop. He worked on machinery in the front. I don’t think he had a lot of business at that time.

MP:  I think John Deere was big at that time, too.

RB:  Ed lived right next to you there in Gerald. They had one of the first televisions in Gerald. We used to go over there and watch television.

end of tape