Oral History of Wilma Yahney

Interviewed December 14, 2003, by Charlotte Wangrin

C. Wilma, do you have any information about the Dr. Bloomfield house in Napoleon?

W. Well I always knew that that was his home and I was told that his office was above the bank building. Now when I first came to work for lawyers in Napoleon George Meekison had an office there and I was told that probably was the office that he had.

C. That Dr Bloomfield had?

W. Yes.

C. Well, now, was this David Meekison's father?

W. Yes, both Meekison's father and mother had offices there.

C. I see. They were both attorneys.

W. Both attorneys. Of course I worked for David.

C. Now Russ Patterson said that they lived across the street there on Webster St. Do you remember the Pattersons' family at all? He may be about your age or a little younger?

W. I met him after I came back to Napoleon but I grew up in Pleasant Bend, the southern part of the county.

C. What was Pleasant Bend like when you were growing up?

W. Not much of a village but it had two grocery stores and a church and about 20 families I guess, something like that.

C. Did you live right in the town?

W. Right in the town. And Depression time.

C. What did your father do?

W. It was hard times, that's for sure. He did many thingss: grocery clerk, farm labor, road construction, some carpentry.

C. Yes, I should say. Is Pleasant Bend south of Holgate?

W. It's seven miles south of Holgate. It's south of New Bavaria. My maiden name was Hess.

C. Were you related to the Hess family here?

W. No, I don't think so. My great grandfather, John Hess, came with the settlers to New Bavaria and settled just inside the Henry County line.

C. Oh yes. I heard a talk recently in Deshler–of course that was more east--but this fellow had studied the area of the Black Swamp and he said it was more like a very shallow lake than a swamp at first and there were a lot of sassafrass trees because those could grow with their feet wet. Did you ever hear that?

W. Well, I didn't know they could grow with their feet wet but I can remember that as a child there were a lot of sassafrass trees around.

C. Did your mother make sassafrass tea?

W. Oh yes. Always, and I know we had two or three different places where we went to gather the roots. You didn't want the old heavy roots; you wanted some of the newer-growth roots that the bark was a Little bit lighter.

C. So it would make the tea more tasty.

W. 'Taster tea' I guess she always said.

C. So you remember the Depression too. I think the young people now are very much afraid of a Depression but it seemed to me that, yes, it was hard but it was nice too because the families were together more, you had quiet evenings.

W. Well I think at Pleasant Bend there were about half the people there that were related to my father. It seemed like everybody looked out for you.

C. As a child you were pretty safe, you mean.

W. Yeah.

C. What did you do on Sundays then?

W. Well we didn't get to church too often. My Dad would have liked it if he could have enforced the idea but you didn't do any work on Sunday. There were just certain Sunday pastimes but my Mother had never had that idea and it didn't just exactly always go over too well. (smiles) She was more lenient than he was.

C. What did your father do? Was he a grocer or--?

W. Well, he was a grocer up until the time of the Depression. He worked for his brother-in-law and the general store wouldn't support two families so he got left out in about '29.

C. My father had a joint ownership of a butcher shop about that time and the butcher shop started to fail, so the brother-in-law said that he would get out. So my father bought him out and then after he left my father found out that this brother-in-law had run up a lot of debts, and my father had to pay them because it was a joint ownership, partnership. So now not only did he have to pay for the store but he had to pay all these debts. It was hard.

W. Well most of the time my Dad had to do hard labor work for quite a while.

C. Now people in this area were quite fortunate because there were farms with food and you always had something to eat.

W. Well in those days we grew chickens ourselves and rabbits part of the time, so you always had eggs and meat and vegetables. The extra times were when with farm labor of butchering paid off in food. I remember eating quite a lot of organ meats and the tedious job of making head cheese.

C. Oh yeah. So your father would bring home food sometimes rather than money for his work. That's understandable in a time when nobody had much money.

W. I think as a child at that time one of the most frightening things was that when there was a large family that they were breaking up and children had to go to all sorts of places.

C. Oh, sad!

W. Yes, because it was frightening, I think, to children. We would know about this.

C. And they couldn't stay with their family because the family just couldn't feed them?

W. Couldn't feed them.

C. That is sad. Did you have any of the government things like WPA or CCC in Pleasant Bend?

W. I suppose we had for a while, just before things started to break a little bit. Dad rented a filling station there in town and there were three rooms in the back of it. Sometimes the County would come and give them extra food.

C. And your father then ran the pumps and filled the cars with gas?

W. Most of the time I ran the pumps and he worked out.

C. Oh yeah. How old were you at that time?

W. I suppose I was 12 or 13.

C. You were old enough to do that. Where did you go to school?

W. I went to country school through the eighth grade, a one-room school.

C. What was that like?

W. Well I remember it as being very cold. It had one pot-bellied stove with a tin sort of frame around it. You couldn't get too close to it, and no electricity. When we had our Christmas programs we had a Christmas tree with candles on it. Then I went to high school in Holgate.

C. Did you like being in a one-room school?

W. Didn't have anything to compare it with (laughs)

C. Did you learn quite a bit?

W. Oh I didn't have any trouble after I went to high school but I didn't have the background for some things. The school was east of Pleasant Bend--I never had other than a Roman Catholic teacher, and a Priest came in every week for a visit.

C. Were these teachers nuns?

W. No. This was a public school. It was Sacred Heart District before they had a Sacred Heart school.

C. But then most of the people in the locality were Catholic. Where did those people come from originally, do you know?

W. Bavaria and Germany. That's the area.

C. My, what a difference from those mountains in Bavaria to this flat land of Henry County.

W. Well I don't remember my great-grandfather but my grandfather lived in the home that he built which would have been about the era of the Bloomfield house. It was a bigger house for a big family. My grandfather's mother died when he was born and his step-mother made sure that any children she raised were Protestants, but all his older brothers and sisters were raised in the Roman Catholic faith.

C. Wilma. do you have any tales that they have told, your grandparents, about when they were first here?

W. No, my grandparents would have to go back another generation beyond that. All of my grandparents were born, I think, in Henry County.

C. Well then, you said you left the country school after graduating from the eighth grade, then did you attend high school?

W. I graduated from Holgate High School in 1941.

C. I see. Well that was in time of World War II then, wasn't it or were we already in war?

W. I started at National Business College in Ft. Wayne in September of 1941 and war broke out in December then. So I think I stayed until about February; they were reactivating the Air Force in Ft. Wayne. I can't remember what the base was but I think it had been fairly idle but suddenly Ft Wayne was all soldiers.

C. That was Baer Field, wasn't it.

W. Yes. That's right. My Dad got a little ouchey about it. He didn't think I had any business there so he finally pulled me out.

C. So what happened after that?

W. Well at that time he was working at Lima Tank. I started there that spring. I spent most of wartime driving back and forth for 10-hour days With gas rationing we car pooled six passengers to a car.

C. Oh my! You just worked in the factory then making tanks?

W. Well at that time they weren't making tanks. They serviced tanks. What I did, I started out as a helper and we started half tracks and jeeps and smaller vehicles. We worked with a mechanic to make sure that they were ready for shipment. Tanks were ready for overseas or stateside. They had to have a star painted on, and moisture-sealed in addition to the mechanical part.

C. You probably remember the song 'Rosie the Riveter.'

W. Well after about six months of that I went into a supply department, supplying spare parts and equipment. They'd come in with orders for a certain tool, spare parts or anything extra. We had stocked spare parts and filled orders then for what was to go out in the shipment.

C. That would be an important job I think. The soldiers in Europe, well in the South Pacific too would be waiting for those supplies.

W. If you didn't have what was supposed to be shipped right away you were supposed to figure out something that would work instead. That was quite a problem sometimes. You worked with different wrenches, different sizes and how you could stretch something and make it that size.

C. Did you ever go back to business college?

W. Never went back to business college. Between V-E and V-J Day, sometime in there I went to Toledo.

C. You were a secretary--where?

W. I started out with National Supply Co., an oil-drilling supply company. I ran a teletype there part of the time. They had wire connections with the Texas oil fields.

C. I thought you worked as the lawyers' secretary.

W. I transferred to Travelers' Insurance Co. and I was Secretary to the Manager of Travelers' Insurance Co. at the Edison Building, Toledo.

C. So you were commuting to Toledo quite a bit?

W. No. I lived in Toledo. I was married in Toledo in 1949. I moved to Holgate in January 1950 and started as a legal secretary for Lawrence Warden that summer.

C. Where did you meet your husband? What was that like?

W. Well, my husband was a Wyandot County native, a railroad man and he lived in Holgate during war time.

C. What do you mean by that? He did the Holgate job?

W. Well according to seniority when a vacancy came up they had to bid on the job and he came from Gary, Indiana. I believe, thinking he would get nearer. He would wait for an opening to get nearer to his mother.

C. Oh, that's where he was from, North Baltimore?

W. His mother lived in Wharton. That's a place the size of Pleasant Bend.

C. That's near Indiana, isn't it?

W. No. Wyandot County, kind of between Upper Sandusky and Carey. But he was in Holgate during wartime.

C. How'd you happen to meet him?

W. Well I guess I had seen him with kids that I went to school with in Holgate, but when it came right down to it a friend came to my house one day, introduced him and said we should double-date.

C. They used to double-date quite a bit in those days.

W. Well, we'd known each other, dated off and on for five years, then went steady for quite a while. Then Travelers' decided to move my boss to Washington D.C. and he wanted to take me with him. He decided it was time to do something else. (laughs)

C. So is that when he proposed?

W. Yes.

C. What was that like?

W. Well he proposed at a New Years' party in the old hotel in Holgate.

C. Oh, is that right? Did he take you out for dinner or something?

W. Out for dinner and of course he had passes for the railroad. We used to take the train to Chicago for the day, have dinner in Chicago. I saw Lawrence Welk in Chicago years and years ago.

C. What was that like? Was he a handsome fellow at that time?

W. Yes, pretty much so. Kind of down-to-earth though. My husband was a kind of frustrated musician. If he could get somebody to talk music to, let him try something out, why he was in seventh heaven!

C. Is that right? But he didn't play an instrument?

W. He had played one. He was a bass player and tuba, bass viol when he was growing up, but by the time I knew him he didn't have an instrument of any kind.

C. Well, those instruments were expensive, still are.

W. I was shocked when I heard what my daughter had to pay for one.

C. Yeah. You wonder how they can afford to buy as many of them for the schools, don't you? Maybe they get a discount or something.

W. Well I think they do. The kids are fortunate that the school does own so many of the instruments. I know in southern Virginia the school doesn't own anything.

C. Is that right. Did they have a band in Holgate High School when you were there?

W. Yes.

C. And they had instruments at that time, I suppose.

W. Yes, I think the school owned quite a few instruments. My son graduated from Holgate in 70 and he played in the band. At that time at least half of the instruments were owned by the school.

C. Well you know it hasn't been too long since they had a problem with high water in the Holgate school. Did they have that when you went to school years ago?

W. No. I have seen a little water over the bridge there by Dr. Cooper's house but it never came up beyond that. But it was different in those days. Nobody cleans the things out nowadays it seems like. Back when or before we were first married and lived in Holgate they came in and kept School Creek clean and free flowing, and then they went through a time where they let things grow naturally I guess and it made a big difference in the water in Holgate.

C. Now the folks around Ridgeville Corners said that it was up to the farmers who lived on the roads to maintain them. I guess maybe the County or the State paid them a little something and then they would make sure that the roads were passable. Each farmer would do his section. Was it like that when you were there?

W. Well I remember when they paved Rte 115 past the house. Before that a lot of the roads were just stone. Too much mud. I don't think there was any set state --no policy or any snow plow like there is today.

C. No I don't suppose there was. When it snowed, you stayed home. But I remember--of course this was where I grew up in Pennsylvania-the ruts were so deep in the road, and the tires on the cars were so narrow, that you'd get in one of those ruts and you could hardly get out. Every once in a while you'd get in a rut and you'd lurch to the right or left and we'd be thrown in the seat to one side or the other, we girls. Did they have ruts like that here?

W. Yes. There were quite a lot of ruts.

(End of tape)