ORAL HISTORY OF WALTER DELVENTHAL
Interviewed by Marlene Patterson, November 16, 2007
We are beginning an oral history of Walter Delventhal (WD). Walter was the owner of the Delventhal Blacksmith Shop located in Gerald, Ohio in the 1950’s. Walter followed in his father’s occupation following the death of his father Herman. Walter learned the blacksmith trade from his father starting at an early age by helping him in the blacksmith shop. Walter has since retired. Walter and his wife Lucia (LD), Russell Patterson (RP) and I (MP) are sitting at Walter and Lucia’s dining room table visiting. They have built a new home in the country on their farm on County Road T.
MP: Walter, can you tell me where you were born?
WD: I and my sister Mary Ann were both born at home in Gerald.
MP: I ran into my birth certificate the other day and I see where Dr. J.J. Harrison delivered me. I think the rest of my sisters and brothers were born at home in Gerald also.
LD: Most children were delivered by Doc Delventhal or even by Ida Gerken.
MP: Wasn’t she like a midwife.
LD: Ida was here with us when we had our tonsils out.
MP: What we are doing is interviewing people like Walter who were early business men. I am interested in early businesses in the Gerald area and I know you qualify.
WD: Walter laughs!
MP: Well, weren’t you? This interview will be put on the Henry County Historical Society’s web sit. You will be able to click on Walter Delventhal and there will be your life story right before your eyes.
LD: So be careful what you say Walter.
MP: Did you remember my mother Walter, or were you too little. She died in 1941.
WD: Yes I remember her. You were just a little girl. She was a nice lady, Gerald was in shock.
MP: She died in April of 1941, and I was 5 1/2 years old.
WD: You know your dad built that house there where you lived in Gerald. Do you remember that old house?
MP: Yes I do, and that old house went across the street next to your house.
WD: Right. When they moved that old house from Naomi and put it there in Gerald where you lived. I remember seeing them move that old house because I was just a little boy four or five years old. That was something exciting to see. You don’t see a house being moved like that every day. That is where your mother Ruth and John lived.
MP: I remember Daddy telling about them moving the house right through the fields. About what year would that have been?
WD: Around 1928 -1930.
MP: See my brother Kenny was born in 1928. Do you remember what was there before they brought in that old house?
WD: It was an empty lot. It belonged to your Grandpa Gerken’s farm.
MP: I should have brought that picture. Bill Von Deylen came up with a picture that shows the Bindemans’ house there on the edge of town and then it is all empty farmland. There is not a thing there. So that picture was taken even before that house was moved there next to Bindemans’. It’s a real old photo.
WD: Do you know where Bindemans’ house was?
WD: Right next door was that long building. That belonged to Badenhops’.
MP: Which Badenhops?
WD: It was Don Badenhop’s grandfather.
MP: How long did that saloon operate then?
WD: They were there a long time. They were there in 1920 when that tornado went through there. That was a two story building.
MP: Do you know what I remember. Was there a Witte that ran the saloon?
WD: No, he lived there. See him and Albert Meyer he worked for your grampa. He farmed the land.
MP: Do you mean Albert Miller?
WD: No, Albert Meyer. He was a bachelor, and he never got married. He lived upstairs there. See that was a long building. I used to, see Henry Witte, my mom she would make soup and stuff and I would have to take it over there to him. There was a bedroom and the kitchen was in the front. I think your dad bought that later on.
MP: He did, and I can tell you why. The people that rented and lived upstairs would just throw their garbage out the window and it would land on our driveway. Daddy got so mad.
WD: There were some Welsteds that lived up there and he had spent some time in prison already and he ran a garage downstairs in that building.
MP: Do you mean a car repair business? Did he have gas pumps?
WD: No, he didn’t have gas pumps. Welsted was his last name. I used to go over there, I was just about seven or eight or maybe ten years old and he told me he could make a chain out of a piece of wood. He could just carve it out and it would wind up being a chain. He told me that he would make those when he was in prison. He had an old wood stove in there and he burned coal. They sold coal at the elevator and they all suspicioned him of stealing coal from your grandfather at the elevator. They were watching him because he was a prime suspect. I know because Dad caught him in our wood shed one time and he was stealing coal there.
MP: How else are you supposed to get coal? He probably thought he could get away with it, and no one would miss a little bit of coal.
WD: After that John Norden he had a garage before your dad bought the building and I would go over there and John would let me work on Model A Fords. He would loosen the bolts and the two of us would work on those cars. I really enjoyed that.
MP: You know you were just like Bill Von Deylen as a little boy running around Gerald and Bill told me some of the wildest things that he did. It’s like Wow!
WD: Yes, I helped.
MP: Did you run around with Bill?
WD: He is about the same age as Kenny.
MP: He was a little younger then.
WD: Right, about two or three years younger. Kenny and my sister Mary Ann and Bill Von Deylen were the same age. All three were born in 1928.
MP: Wasn’t Mary Ann your sister, Rosella’s age?
WD: No Rosella was younger. Jeannette comes in there before. Mary Ann and Kenny were the same age.
MP: Okay. Now let’s get back to your father.
WD: You mean Herman.
MP: Yes, was he a brother to Bill Delventhal? Who were the Delventhals that lived east on Road U? They had a son named Willie.
WD: He was my dad’s brother.
MP: So your dad Herman and Bill Delventhal were brothers.
WD: My dad learned the blacksmith trade in Germany. He did his apprenticeship in Germany. In fact I have his diploma here. He served two years in the German army. Then he lived in Holland for a couple of years working with threshing machines. He made them. Then he decided to come over here to America. He had two uncles and an aunt living here and they more or less sponsored him to come over here.
MP: Who were the uncles?
WD: Henry Bischoff’s dad.
MP: Do you remember his name?
WD: Yes, it was Henry Bischoff.
MP: What were the names of your other uncle and aunt?
WD: Herman Bischoff and Minna Gerken.
MP: And they sponsored your father to come here to America. Where in Germany was your father born?
WD: He was born in Bothel, in N.W. Germany.
MP: Do you know Lucille Sunderman. She would be able to tell you exactly where Bothel is.
WD: Yes I know her. In fact Minna was Mrs. Gerken, like Arnold Gerken and Alfred Gerken, their mother. She was a Bischoff. She was my dad’s aunt. She more or less took him in. Then when he got here your grandpa John Gerken, he had the blacksmith shop, then my dad started working for him and that is where he stayed. Then after your granddad sold the blacksmith shop. Bill Von Deylen, that’s Bill’s grandpa he took over the blacksmith shop and Dad kept working there. Then Harry’s dad Bill started the implement business.
MP: You mean Harry’s father Bill Von Deylen? He sold seed corn and clover seed and things like that right?
LD: Yes, they cleaned the clover seed there too.
WD: That is when my dad took over the blacksmith shop.
MP: Do you remember about what year that was?
WD: About 1923-25.
MP: I only remember your dad Herman ever being there. I am trying to piece together all these other people who at one time owned the blacksmith shop. My dad had a wood box that contained toe caulks. These were used to keep horses from slipping on the ice. They were pounded into the bottoms of the horse shoes. On the outside of the wood box is painted the name of George Von Deylen. It contained a shipment of toe caulks. It doesn’t have a return address painted on, only the destination which was the Von Deylen Blacksmith Shop in Gerald. That was one of the items my dad thought I should have and save and he made certain I knew what toe caulks were. He also gave me a mule shoe, which is real tiny. He found that in a shipment of coal that came by rail to the Gerald Elevator. Years ago the coal mines used small mules to load coal out of the mines and into the rail cars and I suppose a mule lost his shoe and it just got shoveled into the rail car and ended up with the coal delivery in Gerald. I treasure that shoe. Would that George Von Deylen painted on the outside of the box be the same George Von Deylen that had the implement shop in downtown Napoleon.
WD: Yes, they were first cousins. George Von Deylen and Harry Von Deylen.
MP: George started the implement business in downtown Napoleon.
WD: Yes, he had the hardware store in downtown Napoleon and his implement business was in the back of the hardware store.
MP: Did you see Bill Von Deylen’s St. John’s tape of the George Von Deylen parade of his tractors with iron lugs.
WD: There is a picture of tractors parked along side of the grandstand.
MP: I think we will have to show this video to you.
RP: This video was taken in 1942 at St. John’s field day. It shows Mr. Gefeke, Mr. Bunsold, Miss Louise Schick and many more church members.
MP: You will be able to identify many of the people in this video. You would have been in the 8th grade and I was in the 1st grade. There is a nice picture of Pastor Zschoche of St. Paul’s and Miss Schick. There is a picture of Herman Badenhop with his pipe in his mouth. That is the way I remember him.
RP: There is a picture of you Lucia. I remember your Dad and Mother, and your sisters.
MP: There is a lot of Freedom Twp. farmers in that video that you would know who they were. Some of them I can recognize but most of them I don’t know. There is a picture of Luella Dehnbostel holding a small child. That would have to be her baby maybe Carol. We need some help to identify these people. One of the ladies is a Mrs. Behnfeldt. She lived just north of the School.
WD: That would have been Mrs. August Behnfeldt. Your Grandpa Gerken made that desk that I have right here in my living room.
MP: I don’t doubt you. He made a lot of furniture for people around here.
WD: He only charged me $35.00.
MP: At least you didn’t have to buy it at an auction.
WD: He made it in his chicken coop which was behind his house.
RP: He made hall trees. They were nice heavy ones.
WD: Do you remember when the bee shed burned?
MP: Yes, I remember that. I found a pocket knife the day after. The knife had the name Barlow on it. I suppose a fireman or somebody else dropped it. I gave it to my dad.
WD: It was on a Monday night just before supper. I was in the blacksmith shop.
RP: I should bring that. You see my mother was a Bernicke.
WD: Then your grandfather was a blacksmith.
RP: I have his apprenticeship papers from Germany. In about 1912 right along in there they had a blacksmith meeting at that hall in Gerald. They took a picture of all the blacksmiths and their families. You might be able to recognize some of the blacksmiths. Your dad might be on it. My grandfather was there, plus a group of other blacksmiths.
WD: Was Matt Becker there?
RP: I didn’t recognize him. I think the picture was taken before he arrived in America.
MP: Go on with the fire.
WD: It was about quitting time for me, and I had been to a wedding on Sunday night and I was glad it was quitting time because I wasn’t feeling too good. And Ed Bindeman came running in to the blacksmith shop and said John’s bee shed is on fire. Your grampa was in the house and do you remember he had his car parked in there. He had a 1939 Studebaker. Do you remember there was another shed behind there and it was all smoke in there.
MP: I think he had rabbits in there.
WD: No, not in that shed. We shoved his car out of the shed. I don’t remember who helped. Anyway when we got the car out we saw it was still in gear. No wonder it was so hard to push. I knew he had a 50 gallon barrel that he kept gas in. He couldn’t have had much gas in it because I carried it out of the shed by myself. They had to haul water. There was a pump in behind the blacksmith shop that belonged to the elevator. That fire burned off the wires to the pump and we had no electricity. So they had to pump water from that well by hand. See at that time Gerald was part of the Wauseon Fire territory. Wauseon ran out of water from that well.
Vic Nagel at that time was living on the farm. He had a Plymouth and he went and got milk cans on a trailer and went out to the farm and filled them up with water from the water tank. We were pumping water from cisterns. I know they saved Bindemans. They finally got the fire out. That old building had tin siding on it. They couldn’t get to it to get it out.
WD: It’s a wonder more things didn’t burn years ago. You stop and think about it where would you get water years ago to put out a fire. You were lucky to have good drinking water.
MP: Did you tell me what year your father Herman Delventhal came to America?
MP: And you told me where he was born. How did he come here to America?
WD: By ship.
MP: Do you remember where he landed?
WD: He went through Ellis Island.
MP: Have you ever checked to see if he is on the list of any passenger ships?
WD: Somebody else has.
MP: You could check with Lucille Sunderman. She would know. Now let’s start with your mother Emma. She was the sweetest little soul. Do you remember what year your mother Emma was born?
WD: She was born in 1893. Her maiden name was Ranzau.
MP: From the bunch at Ridgeville Corners?
WD: Yes. She came over here in 1923. Dick Ranzau was her nephew. Mother was in Germany during World War One. She was engaged to be married to a fellow and he got killed in the war. She then decided to come to America. She had an aunt and uncle that sponsored her.
MP: What was their name?
WD: Aschemeier, Henry Aschemeir and Mrs. Henry Aschemeier. She came over here in 1923 and they came by ship and somehow they landed in Montreal, Canada. They took a Canadian ship. They came in the ship in May, and the ship got caught between two icebergs. They were stuck two days and three nights in the ship. She said on the third morning the sun came out real nice, and the iceberg moved enough so they could get out.
MP: That would give you goose bumps.
WD: Well they all had their life jackets on and when they landed in Montreal they got on a train and they had never had bananas. They ate too many and they both got sicker than a dog. They liked them and they ate too many.
MP: They are very good. What year was Mary Ann born?
WD: She was born in 1928.
MP: And you were born in 1925. What year was Mary Ann killed in that automobile accident?
WD: 1978. She died in July.
MP: You never ever forget those kinds of tragedies. What year did she and Dick Gerken get married?
MP: Now he - what Gerken was he? Was he some of Don Gerken’s relation? The Don that worked for Harry Von Deylen?
WD: No, his dad’s name was Henry.
MP: There are quite a few Henry Gerkens around here.
RP: You should have brought the Gerken reunion picture along.
WD: Lucia is a Gerken. She is a daughter of Albert and Lydia Gerken.
MP: The picture is an 8 by 16 inch print and it is dated 1922. It reads in script “First Annual Gerken Reunion.” The print has a barn in the background and there is probably about six or seven rows of people. The funniest thing is here are all these people. They are all dressed up in their suits in the middle of summer. The photographer has all these people lined up and here in the front are two chickens scratching away in the dirt probably for something to eat. Wouldn’t they have been scared away by all this commotion.
RP: They were definitely range fed chickens.
MP: My dad is sitting right in the front row. He would have been twelve years old and he is sitting on a long rug with other young boys. He has his legs crossed.
LD: We have a picture of the Meyer family like that. We just ran across a picture of my dad in school.
MP: If you know people you can easily pick them out. You see my grandfather is on the top row, and my dad is sitting down below with the little boys. My grandmother has to be there somewhere on this picture. I have taken a magnifying glass and have her spotted. I have a picture of my grandmother with her hair up in a bun. I can’t get my sisters to agree with me that that woman is our grandmother.
WD: When I started first grade at St. John’s Clarence was going to high school and I think Walter was in the eighth grade at St. Johns. Clarence had a Chevy coupe and I would ride with them. Clarence would take both Walters, that is myself and your uncle to St. John’s school and then he would go on to high school. Then after school he would take us back home again. I would walk over to his house before he left for school. At your grandmas house would be Edna. She had her oldest child Weldon there and she would be giving him a bath. Edna was living with your grandma at that time. I would be watching her and then I would head off to school. That was a long time ago. How old was your dad?
MP: We celebrated his 90th birthday in the fellowship hall at St. John’s. I think it was a surprise party. No the surprise birthday party was earlier. We just had an open house for him when he turned 90.
WD: I remember I was at the party and I got to see Weldon. I hadn’t seen him since he was a little baby. Weldon used to come to your Grampa and Grandma’s house.
MP: He passed away several years ago.
WD: Oh, yes, he did. I remember.
MP: I know I walked into the funeral home and Weldon’s sister Carolyn said I look just like my grandma. I never thought I looked like her. I think it was my dad’s 70th birthday when she had the surprise party. I know we weren’t supposed to tell. My mother was always lining up things to do and places to go and people to see. We had a big meal at my Dad’s party and we weren’t supposed to tell or let on that we knew. She wanted everyone to be there on time so we could surprise him. I think it took Daddy totally by surprise and he loved it. My sister Karen is the spitting image of Ada. She is the one in our family that can organize families and get things going. She tells everybody do this and do that and everybody just gets going and does it. She is great. There has to be one person in everyone’s family that has to be the organizer and she is it.
WD: She and your brother Howard never hitched.
MP: You know I don’t think I ever did either. Not until later in life anyway. When my father married my step mother Ada we were all introduced to her by us sitting on a davenport and my Dad said, “This is your new Mother. You are to call her Mom.” Right then and there the rebellion stirred up in me and I suppose it did with Howard too. Nowadays you would see a counselor and everything would turn out all right. Now would you marry a man with five little kids and one of your own? I don’t think I would ever be able to keep a family like that together like she did. Ada was very young when she married my Dad. She did a real good job. They always got along and so did we.
LD: Little by little you accept it and realize what she did for you.
MP: Howard turned out okay.
WD: Gosh yes. Howard and Harlan Miller made a good pair.
MP: Ornery I bet.
WD: They made history every day I think. They roamed all over Gerald and didn’t miss a thing.
RP: When we were first married I didn’t like to go out to Gerald to visit because Ada would always put us to work picking strawberries or vegetables.
MP: Russell grew up without a garden. We always had vegetable gardens and all kinds of fruits. We always helped with the planting, hoeing, and picking of the crops. My mother always gave us some of the vegetables and strawberries to eat. It was really too much for her to do it alone. We had our potato patch in the area where my dad tore down that old long building. We had to take our little buckets out and pick up stones so the potatoes could grow. In later years my dad gave me the newel post out of that old building and he put a base on it and I use it for a plant stand.
WD: What ever happened to your Grandfather’s cuckoo clock?
MP: Jeannette has it. She got it at my Grandfather’s auction.
WD: I would be walking home for lunch and I could hear the cuckoo clock. My mother went back to Germany in 1953 and she brought back a cuckoo clock. One for Mary Ann and one for me. I still have mine. It has the long chains on it where you pull down on them to wind the clock.
MP: Germany is still making cuckoo clocks.
WD: I am wondering your Uncle Gustav Doepke, he came from Germany. I was just wondering if he more or less brought that clock along with him when he left Germany to come to America.
MP: He might very well have. I have never heard where it came from. My sister Jeannette has since told me that in fact my Uncle Gus did bring it along from Germany when he came to America. Do you know Ernie Delventhal from Waterville, Ohio. He would have been your father’s brother. When we bought our house on Washington St. it had these big old overgrown bushes out in front. Your Uncle Ernie came knocking on our door and he wanted to see what kind of bushes they were. The lady we bought our house from, she went to Waterville to see Ernie to have him come to Napoleon and checked out our bushes. Ernie had planted them for her years ago and she wanted the same kind planted at her new home. Ernie had a landscaping business in Waterville. In the course of the conversation he told us his name was Ernest Delventhal. I asked him if he was any relation to the Herman Delventhal that had lived in Gerald. He said, oh, yes, he was a brother. He told me he had dated my Aunt Luella years ago, and said he almost married her. He knew our whole family and we had a lengthy conversation just from this man knocking on our door. Anyway he was quite a talker and so is Russell.
WD: My dad went back to Germany in 1922 and that is when he brought Ernest with him here.
MP: Did you tell me what year you took over your Dad’s blacksmith shop?
WD: Well see I got out of the Navy in 1946, and then I was discharged in May. I got home on a Sunday and I went to work Monday morning.
MP: Nobody gave you any vacation time did they?
WD: Then in July my Dad had a stroke. He lived three years after that. That is when I took over the work. I was just 21 years old. I grew up pretty fast.
MP: Of course you grew up fast in the Navy.
WD: One good thing, you see, I went to service school at Navy Pier, Chicago for aviation metalsmith and I learned welding. When I got out of school I got put in the welding shop. I was stationed in Norfolk and that is where I stayed. I was really fortunate. That is what I wanted to do. I got my education out of the service.
RP: I was in the Marine Corp. and was based at Cherry Point, North Carolina. I was in aviation and we had those Curtiss Comando transport planes. I worked around them. I was in two years and then I was discharged.
WD: It was interesting working around that welding shop. We had to fabricate parts from blueprints. It was a challenge.
MP: Not everybody can do that. You probably knew how to weld before you got into the service didn’t you?
WD: No, I didn’t know the welding part. I was only 18 years old when I went into service.
MP: When did you retire from the blacksmith business?
MP: Well it’s no longer in existence. Was it a process over several years? Oops there goes the cuckoo clock chiming away!
WD: Well, see in 1953 I got married to Lucia. You know Lucia had lost her husband and she had two children. They had just bought this farm here.
MP: You mean Lucia and her husband Bob Cordes.
WD: Yes, We went to school together for twelve years. The blacksmith shop needed a new building and Lucia’s dad influenced me to start farming. Then I farmed right here on this land.
MP: Actually with the horses on the farm dwindling it was probably the best thing you could have done.
WD: There aren’t that many blacksmith shops around anymore. Look how many blacksmith shops Napoleon used to have. I helped Dad shoe horses too.
MP: Bill told about the time the two of you had to deliver a horse to Henry Langenhop’s farm after it had been shoed.
WD: No it was Adolph Langenhop’s horse. He always had a buggy and a buggy horse. He came to Gerald and he wanted Dad to shoe that horse. Dad was so busy you know, and his next door neighbor was at the elevator getting some feed ground. So he told Dad that he would go home with Herman Fitzenreiter and Dad could send Walter home to his house with the horse and buggy. That was in the afternoon and Dad couldn’t get it done right away. In the meantime I had asked Bill if he wanted to ride along to deliver the horse. So Bill said, yes, I would like to go along. So it was suppertime and Dad said we’ll eat supper first and then I will help you two get going. So we did, and the horse was hungry you know so he took off. Let’s see that would have been two and a half miles east we traveled from Gerald. So we took off and there was no stopping. You know where 108 is, well Bill and I kept hollering whoa whoa. We had went about a mile and that is where my Uncle lived and he heard that commotion on the road, my Uncle Bill Delventhal. He happened to be outside, he walked up to the road and the horse stopped, he was winded and the horse took off again and just kept running. We got up to Langenhops’ and the horse turned right into the lane right up to the barn and right to his stall and that is where he stopped.
MP: Do you suppose it was just because he was hungry?
WD: I suppose. Adolph took the two of us home and he said I thought about it afterwards, but I had a smooth bit in his mouth which is why you guys couldn’t rein him in.
MP: It’s a wonder you two guys didn’t get killed.
WD: You know where that jog is in that road, well we straightened that out.
MP: Bill was just laughing about it. What all did you do in the blacksmith shop?
WD: We did about everything. We shoed horses, fixed wagons, made wagon wheels, sharpened plow points, and afterwards we started welding.
MP: Do you know that at the elevator years ago they used to get their coal in railroad cars. I still have this but I can’t put my finger on it. I have a mule horseshoe. It is a little tiny shoe for a mule that would have went in the coal mines and probably lost his shoe and it ended up in the railroad car.
WD: My dad had a horse that had died and he sawed that foot off. I still have that with the shoe on.
MP: You are still farming here right. I think that is what you said. It probably keeps you real busy these days.
WD: I am supposed to be retired.
MP: I bet you help with the farming. You can’t just sit still.
WD: I try to do very little.
MP: You went to St. John’s school all eight years right.
MP: Then did you go to Ridgeville?
MP: Who was your teacher at St. John’s?
WD: I had Miss Schick, Mr. Bunsold, and Mr. Gefeke.
MP: You had the same teachers I had. You know at home I had two catechisms.
WD: Did you know how to talk German?
MP: No, mine were in English. When I went to school you had a choice whether you wanted to learn German or not. For some reason my father didn’t want me to learn German. His philosophy was you are in America and you learn English. We are Americans and not Germans. So I was never taught German. It may have had something to do with Germany fighting in the Wars. Now I wish I could speak German, just to study my roots. I had two catechisms. You know how your family would buy school books and you would pass them on down to your brothers and sisters. I ended up with two catechisms as I was the last one of the family. Both of these were in English and both of them were copyrighted in 1912. I started school in 1942. I guess catechisms never become obsolete. They are just dog-eared. Do you know what I heard the other day? I have my class ring. It is 14K gold and I paid sixteen dollars for it. School kids now are paying $900.00 for a class ring. The kids are buying them. How can parents afford to pay for a class ring I will never know.
WD: My ring cost me about $10.00.
MP: Mine was $16.00 I know because I had to pick tomatoes out in the field to earn money to pay for the ring. Now I never wear it. I didn’t mind picking tomatoes but I hated those big black and yellow spiders that hung around the tomato plants. We had those big round hampers and we had to carry them full to the end of the rows. The farmer would come along with his tractor and wagon and pick them up. I got sixteen cents per hamper. So I picked lots of tomatoes that year.
WD: Your Uncle Walter and I used to hoe weeds in corn on your grampa’s farm. We used to get 50 cents a day for farm work.
MP: And you thought you were getting rich. Do you have anything else you want to share. Any wild stories? Did you go to any of the big weddings that they used to have around here? Do you remember years ago people got married and everybody for miles around came and celebrated.
WD: Everybody brought along a lot of food too.
MP: You would eat twice too during the evening, and you always had coffeecake.
RP: I crashed some of those weddings too, even though I wasn’t invited. The bride thought I was with the groom’s side and the groom thought I was with the bride’s side. They always had kegs and kegs of free beer. I only did that when I was in high school. Us guys would all go together.
WD: Remember when we used to go belling. We as a group would go to where the wedding reception was being held and make a lot of noise. We used shot guns, big bells, etc. The bridegroom would give us a fairly good sum of money. After wishing them well we as a group would go to some tavern to enjoy ourselves.
LD: When you didn’t get invited to the wedding is when you went belling. You would haul the bride and groom around in a calf rack and drive them all around.
WD: How is your brother Kenny doing? We used to have a lot of fun growing up. We would play together. We would go sledding. Your brother Kenny couldn’t talk German, and of course I couldn’t talk English, but we got along just fine. We would go to your house and your mother would make us a sandwich. She would put margarine or butter on it and then she would put sugar on it. I liked that. We would call it sugar butha. You know when they lived next to us while you were building the new house your mom and my mom got to be good friends.
MP: I suppose. I know very little about her. The only recollection I have of my real mother Ruth is when I went in the back door and Howard pinched my finger in the screen door. I have a new nail on my finger so I know it happened. I know Howard had to stand in the corner for punishment. I know we had a little water pump by the sink
WD: I know you didn’t have a well. When Mohrings bought that house. They lived there after you moved in to your new house. They used our well for drinking water and for washing clothes. They had a cistern with a pump. And then Ed Bindeman built that house next to your new house.
MP: I remember Ed and Lorna Bindeman. They never had any children. I remember she used to tell my mother that she was lucky to have all these girls to help her with the work. Little did she know that children were work.
LD: We all have lots of memories.
RP: Do you remember the Field Days we used to have at St. John’s. I went to St. Paul’s and we always got beat by you guys from St. John’s.
WD: I remember when we started those in 1938. At that time we had the biggest enrollment in the schools. At St. Paul’s, when did that school start?
RP: It would have been around 1933. The class before me was the first to go all eight years. Then of course I went all eight years and then on to high school. I remember on the Field Days Wesche’s Furniture Store would bring the truck to school. It was the same truck they used to deliver furniture to homes. Wesche’s would bring the truck to school and all the St. Paul kids would climb on the back of the truck and we would hang on and go out to St. John’s for field day. My friend at St. John’s was always Willie Delventhal. We just seemed to get along. At St. Paul’s we didn’t have a play ground or ball field so we could never practice. St. John’s always beat us in everything.
MP: You got along all right.
WD: We had a lot more kids too going to school than you did.
RP: I was telling Alma Dachenhaus about the film from St. Johns, she was a Von Seggern. I told her there were girls in dresses playing softball. She went to St. Luke’s school in Clinton Twp. and she said that was probably her playing softball. The girls there had to fill in for the boys because they didn’t have enough boys for a team. Of course their school has been discontinued.
MP: We will have to bring along when we come the film from St. John’s field day. It shows Miss Schick, Mr. Bunsold, Mr. Gefeke, Pastor Zschoche. I always liked Mr. Gefeke. He was strict.
WD: I always got along with Mr. Gefeke. I never had any problems with him.
LD: He seemed to kind of pick on children that had a hard time grasping their lessons.
WD: It might have been frustration on his part. He couldn’t get focused on teaching them what they were supposed to learn or rather didn’t want to learn. The two ideas didn’t mesh.
MP: I know I had a classmate that actually ran away from school. Mr. Gefeke went after him and found him hiding underneath a bridge near where Ellings lived on that half mile road near school. He brought him back to school and I am certain he got a beating. Nowadays when you have children that have a hard time grasping subjects they are put in a separate class and given special attention to help them. I think some of them still could use a beating now and then.
WD: Years ago we had a confirmation reunion and you know how they always ask each individual what they were doing and Ed Bahler had said I know when I had Mr. Gefeke I was so excited and I was constipated for days. I will never forget that. But he said now Miss Schick I really liked her. I almost liked her better than my mother.
MP: She was such a kindly person, so sweet. We are looking at pictures and I see the hydrangea bush with the big flowers. This is at my grandma’s house. I think that is why I like hydrangeas.
WD: The shrubs they had along the house at your grampa’s, they trimmed those all down. The spirareas they trimmed them too. They are all gone now.
MP: Do you remember that big tree in the front yard with the big long cigars hanging down? They had it trimmed.
WD: Kind of like it drooped. I think Walter and Clarence did that. They used a string so they would have it straight.
MP: Do you want to add anything.
WD: I gave you a lot of hot air.
LD: Tell about the time you were going to run away and go to Germany.
WD: Oh no, I can’t tell that.
MP: Why did you want to go to Germany?
WD: I got into trouble with my dad. We got into an argument or something and it was right after dinner. Whenever I left or anything I would always tell them where I was going. I made up my mind I was going to run away. I remember I went in back of everything and behind the elevator and Alvin Miller was there at the elevator getting a train car ready to haul grain. You know Alvin he was everybody’s friend. I told him that I was going to Germany. He said well you should go because you have relatives there. I started walking. I was going to Uncle Bill’s who lived a mile from Gerald.
MP: Were you walking?
WD: Yes, I was only about five years old. Here Frank Zimmer came to Gerald to go to the blacksmith shop to get something fixed. Frank said to my dad I saw your boy walking on the road. I remember he had an old Model T Ford. Dad said to Herman Vajen, he was from Germany and he worked for Dad, so those two came back and picked me up. So Dad, he had a big old planer where he planed wood. He laid my butt across that and I got a spanking. That was my last trip.
MP: I think everybody wants to run away at some time in their life.
LD: These are all memories.
MP: Do you remember when the St. John’s Church burned?
WD: Oh, yes, that was in 1961.
MP: You’re very good with dates.
WD: I was just getting ready to go to Gerald to get some feed ground. It was kind of foggy. When I got in line to get my feed ground Lucia Rosebrock worked there in the office. She come out of the office and said “Our church is on fire.” Norman Ruetz said, “Come on, boys, lets go.” We were some of the first ones there. When we got there we could still see the altar. It was all smoke and we closed the doors and there was nothing we could do. Finally one truck came from Napoleon with some water. It was burning in the back of the church. On top our organ chamber, that was in there. The ladies had a gas stove down below. We put water down below and then up on top and all of a sudden we ran out of water. That’s when the fire took off and got a hold of that asphalt roof and that was it. I’d say within forty-five minutes the church was gone. The bell tower fell down. By noon it was all burned.
MP: Lightning hit the church am I right?
WD: That’s what they claim. Pastor Maassel had just been there and he is the one that called the fire department.
MP: I remember that John Badenhop lived next door, and didn’t he see it too?
WD: That I don’t know.
MP: I think he did. We were married in that church in 1954. Fifty-three years ago.
LD: That white altar is what I miss.
RP: Arnold Miller has two pictures of the interior of that old church.
MP: One of the pictures is even before they remodeled years ago. He found these in his mother’s things after St. John’s published their book.
WD: Do you have that book?
MP: Yes I do. Norma Damman made sure I got a copy. She bought it for me and then I got it from her. We have a copy of the inside of the old church and I put it inside the book.
WD: We had two aisles in that old church.
MP: What do you mean two aisles?
WD: There were two aisles running from the narthex to the altar up front.
MP: Wasn’t there a center aisle?
WD: Not in the first church. There were pews up to the wall. The choir was up to the front on the right.
WD: I have been to Germany three times. My mother had three sisters and three brothers there. I have a lot of relatives in Germany. The first time we went I wanted to stay in my mother’s home. Mom’s niece Ella, a widow lived there. She treated us like a royal couple. My cousin lives there now. We have been back to Germany twice.
MP: Rather than tear something down and build new they remodel. They don’t tear things down in Germany like we do here in America. There is nothing wrong with those old places.
LD: She had chickens and pigs right there in the barn with them.
MP: Isn’t it in Indonesia where they have the chickens living right in the house with the people. That is one way they get these diseases like the bird flu.
LD: Early in the morning you could see Ella out there with her sythe cutting the grass getting ready to feed the animals.
MP: I used to help feed the pigs. We had pigs in the barn in back of our house. I’d climb up on the fence, lean over and throw them the slop. It was usually potato peelings and leftover food. They loved it. They’d usually try to nibble at your feet.
WD: My Dad’s brother he had a lot of hogs. I helped him feed the hogs. They gave the pigs cooked potatoes. They had a regular cooker and they would cook the potatoes right in the hog pen. He had a big long trough and he would put the potatoes in that trough and he would put mash on top of that. Then he had a water faucet there and he would put water on top of that. The hogs made a lot of noise when they ate.
MP: It was probably cheap feed using the potatoes and fattened the pigs up too.
end of tape
The following information has been provided by Walter Delventhal
My recollection of the old saloon in Gerald.
The first floor was a large room that was used for the tavern. The second floor had about four rooms. This furnished the living quarters for the owners. When the Prohibition started in 1920 the saloon went out of business. Henry Witte, a widower was the lineman or repairman for the Gerald Telephone Co. The switchboard was located in Gerald. All the calls had to go through the switchboard. It served all of Freedom Township plus the adjoining area of the neighboring township. Henry lived in the saloon by himself. He also did odd jobs for people. When your Grandpa Gerken bought the Homan farm next to Gerald he hired Albert Meyer, a bachelor to do the farming. He moved in with Henry. When the house on the farm was available those two lived in that house. After this, John Norden used the first floor to repair automobiles. After John quit for a while it was empty. Then some people of the name of Welstedt, a couple with two small girls lived upstairs. Mr. Welstedt did auto repair work. Then your Dad bought the building. He took the building down and used some of the lumber for your new house. I remember your mother pulling nails so the lumber could be used. She was looking forward to her new house. It was a very sad day in Gerald when she passed away. She only had a short time to enjoy her new house.
The elevator was still using a steam engine to power the machinery. Electricity was mostly used for lights. More appliances, refrigerators, toasters, flat irons and TV was just beginning. Our electrical capacity was overloaded. When I got back from the Navy in 1946 I purchased an electric welder. I got along O.K. till Ferd Bindeman got a TV. He mounted it on a shelf in his tavern. Very few people had TV. Quite a few would come to watch boxing matches on Fridays at 9:00 p.m. The only problem every time I welded the picture flipped. I worked a lot after supper. I would join the crowd at Bindemans’. The World Series would be on TV. They were all day games. Ferd being a big baseball fan having sponsered a ball field and Gerald baseball beam. Welding was not permitted during the ballgame. I usually enjoyed the games also. In 1948 Napoleon Light Co. ran a complete new electric line along Road 15 to Gerald. That is when the elevator used electric motors to power the machinery. We were all happy Ferd could watch TV while I was welding.
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