Interviewed (January 11, 2016) and transcribed by Marlene Patterson
Interviewed and transcribed by Marlene Patterson
MP: Today is Monday January 11, 2016 and I am interviewing Arthur (Art) Germann, Jr. who is a well known carpenter and builder of homes here in Napoleon for many, many years. How many years were you actively in the building business here in Napoleon, probably since you were a little boy you had a hammer in your hands.
AG: My Dad did get me a tool kit when I was a young kid. I actually started working for my father in 1955. He retired in 1970 and I kept on going until the year 2000. So I was working for over 45 years.
MP: I am certain you have run into a lot of people and things during your working years. Can you tell me when and where you were born.
AG: I was born in Washington Township, Henry County Ohio on Road V just east of Liberty Center..
MP: And that would be in Henry County.
MP: What was your father’s name.
AG: Arthur W.
MP: What does the letter W stand for?
AG: William. His name was Arthur William.
MP: What was your mother’s name.
AG: She was Edna Weirich, which was her maiden name.
MP: Where did you go to school, Art?
AG: The first two years I went to the old Southside School.
MP: Do you mean the one that was here on South Perry Street?
AG: Yes, right here on the corner of Perry and Meekison Streets.
MP: Would you have been in that district, oh yes you lived on the south side of Napoleon.
AG: We just lived a block up right on Brownell Street.
MP: How many children did your mother and dad have?
AG: I was an only child.
MP: What was your father’s occupation?
AG: He was a self-employed carpenter. He was a custom builder of homes.
MP: Where was the location of his business?
AG: He started out, as far as my Dad was concerned in1927 and was working for Carl Bush. He was a local carpenter and then around 1940 he went out on his own and then right after World War II he worked with Julian Aderman at the time. After the war they went into a partnership and put up a building there on Euclid Avenue on the south side.
MP: Is that building still located there?
AG: Yes, it is still there. I don’t know what it is being used for now. Some other company got into it and are using it now. In 1950 the two had a problem so they split up their partnership and he moved over to the Market Lumber Company building there on East Maumee.
MP: What is in that space now?
AG: That is where those apartments are now.
MP: Do you mean those high-rise apartments by the river?
AG: Yes. He was in there about 1950. When I was in high school I started working at the old Kroger Store in downtown Napoleon. It was located right where the Senior Center is now. I started there about 1950 and was working part time. I graduated from Napoleon High School in 1952. I had the job of head grocery clerk and I had to order groceries and we had a semi truck coming in with deliveries once a week. I was in charge of the stockers and I also had to run the cash register. Of course that was easy. There were no bar codes at that time. I kind of got tired of that job. I thought it was kind of boring. I had to work on Saturdays too. So then in the Spring of 1955 I asked my dad if I could go to work for him and he said sure, so I started working for my dad in the spring of 1955.
MP: So that worked out great for you.
AG: I can still remember the first job I worked on. Do you remember on the side right where Snyder Chevrolet is right there on Perry Street there was a hardware store.
MP: Do you mean the Pal Mar Rita store?
AG: There was a Red and White grocery store there too. That is where Dr. Manahan located when he first came to town he had his office there. We were in the building remodeling that for an office. That was the first job I ever worked on.
MP: That is interesting.
AG: That is where Dr. Manahan was located when he first came to Napoleon. In 1970 my Dad retired and I took over the business. My Dad was going by the name of Napoleon Cabinets and Builders and when he retired I decided to change the name to Germann Builders. Then in 1982 I moved the business over to Oakwood Avenue at the site of the old train Depot.
MP: Do you mean the building down by the railroad tracks? What was that building to begin with?
AG: The actual site was the old Wabash railroad passenger depot.
MP: Did you tear down the depot?
AG: That was torn down some years before that. Landmark had put up a block building. I think it was started by Farm Bureau or something like that. They mixed and ground up feed for farmers.
MP: Didn’t Landmark move over to Scott Street then?
AG: Yes Landmark moved out on Scott Street so it became an empty building.
MP: So then you took over the building.
AG: I actually bought the building from my cousin Randy Germann and John Meyers. They owned it before I bought it. That was in 1982. I continued in that location until May of 2000.
MP: That is the year you retired. Am I correct.
MP: That is 16 years ago.
AG: I know it. It doesn’t seem like it was 16 years.
MP: It’s scary because I don’t think that I am as old as I really am. A person should stop and think. I remember when my Dad turned 80 years old I thought he was a really old man.
AG: I remember when my parents turned 50 you thought that was old.
MP: When you come right down to it, it is old.
AG: You know what they say about getting old Marlene, getting old is 10 years older than what you are now.
MP: That is true. You have to think young. One of the tricks I have found is running around with younger people as your friends. I don’t enjoy running around with these old people with all their aches and pains. That is all they talk about.
AG: You have to think young.
MP: Let’s go back to some questions. We were talking about you and your building. What are some of your first memories of attending a religious service?
AG: I can recall at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Flatrock Township. My folks probably belonged there at that time as I don’t know just how old I was. What I recall and this was during World War II and it would have been at Christmastime. I know the Pastor at that time was Horstman. I know he had a sermon about Coming Home on a Wing and a Prayer. I don’t know why but that particular sermon always stayed in my mind.
MP: Maybe he was talking about the service men flying their aircraft. It was not very common to see airplanes in the sky when we were kids.
AG: I was actually baptized in that church. My parents were married in that parsonage. My Dad was baptized in that church and confirmed there.
MP: Was that in Flatrock Township?
AG: Yes. My Great Grandfather settled in Elery, Ohio in 1856. His name was Johann Adam Germann. He always went by the name Adam. Adam and his wife Catharine came to the United States in 1851 and they had one child at that time. They first settled in Crawford county and moved to Henry County in 1856.
MP: Was he one of the first settlers on that land?
AG: Yes. He got a grant from the State of Ohio for 80 acres there.
MP: Was that because he served in the Civil War?
AG: Yes. He served in the Civil War. He served for about a year. He was drafted into the Ohio 67th Infantry in November of 1864. He was drafted when he was 35 years old and he had 7 children at the time.
MP: I can remember my mother during World War II being so worried that my father might get drafted into the Army. What would she do for income to feed her family. He was classified 4F because he was raising 5 children. The draft board here in Henry County did not get to the letter F but it was close. I have ancestors that fought in every war including the Revolutionry War, War of 1812, both World War I and II, and the Korean, and also the Viet Nam War.
AG: I don’t know how my Great Grandmother survived with all her children.
MP: Somehow or other they survived.
AG: Maybe some of their neighbors helped them out.
MP: I know they didn’t eat steak and all that fancy food. How would you have liked to serve during the Civil War in such cold and snowy weather. They didn’t have warm Polartek clothes like we do today.
AG: A lot of the soldiers died from diseases back then. My Great Grandfather Weirich served in the Civil War also. His name was Franklin Weirich.
MP: I just admire these people that served in the Civil War. Can you describe one of your favorite childhood toys.
AG: We never had too much to be real honest.
MP: Nobody did as this was the Depression time. You just sort of made your own toys. Kids can have more fun with a simple empty refrigerator box than they can with an
AG: I did have one of the little red wagons. I grew up here on Brownell Street until I was about 12 years old. We lived there and it was just off Perry Street. We had no indoor plumbing at that time. All we had was a sink and a cold water spigot. We had a coal stove in the living room.
MP: Did it have the isinglass windows so you could watch the coal burn?
AG: It was just a regular coal stove.
MP: They kept people warm.
AG: In the morning when you got up out of bed you thought you would freeze to death.
MP: You would have to jump out of bed and get moving just to get your blood flowing.
AG: There were some days when it just seemed like we had lots of fun. There were at least 15 kids in the neighborhood. We played lots of games and just had fun.
MP: What kinds of games did you play with the neighborhood kids?
AG: We played softball, kick the can, and those types of games.
MP: We played kick the can and red rover too.
AG: Oh yes we did too. We played hide and seek games.
MP: At my Grandmother’s house we would play hide the button. I can just imagine me letting someone play hide the button here. I would probably kill them. It’s a blessing I don’t have grandkids.
MP: What did you like about your childhood, especially your school days? Did you celebrate your birthdays with a party?
AG: On my mother’s side we would get together more often than we did with my father’s side of the family. You see my mother came from a big family. She had one brother and four sisters..
MP: Can you name them?
AG: Her brother’s name was Hugh Weirich. Her oldest sister was Mildred and then Hugh. My mother was the next oldest and then Kathryn, and Mary and Virginia. My father also came from a large family. He had five brothers and a sister. They were Oscar, Clara, Ervin, Art, Carl, Jesse, Harold. His father was Henry. We used to get together quite often. We had family gatherings with my Aunts and Uncles on holidays and other times too.
MP: Then you were able to play with your cousins.
AG: Yes I had quite a few cousins.
MP: Did you play cards or what did you guys do?
AG: Yes we played cards,
MP: What kind of card games did you play?
AG: We played Rummy and Pepper.
MP: Did your family play Euchre?
AG: Not so much that I remember playing that as a kid. Mostly we played Pepper. On my Dad’s side we played Pepper, but I don’t remember playing Euchre.
MP: Did you ever play Zolo. A lot of the farmers out in Freedom Township would get a game of Zolo going. I never learned how to play the game.
AG: I have heard of it but I have never played it.
MP: We would play Dominoes, Chinese Checkers, and Marbles.
AG: We played Chinese Checkers, too. I had forgotten about that game.
MP: What was one of the first ways that you as a kid earned money?
AG: When I was a kid I would do all kinds of things just to earn a quarter. I mowed lawns, I would do different odd jobs. I would weed gardens for people. There was an old guy that lived here on the Southside on Perry Street. He had a farm and we would pick melons for him.
MP: Was it Arnold Baden.
AG: I knew Arnold and it wasn’t him, it was somebody else. He lived right beside Herm’s Meat Shop.
MP: I don’t know who that would have been.
AG: That was way back in the 40s. I started working while I was a junior in high school.
MP: So did I. I worked at Murphy’s during high school on weekends.
AG: I worked at the old Kroger Store. I would bag groceries on weekeneds and I stocked shelves. I worked there for over four and a half years.
MP: You rose up the ladder. It’s like the kids that get hired in at McDonalds. They are called Managers. It would inflate their egos. Did you celebrate family birthdays together?
AG: We would celebrate my Grandfather Weirich’s birthday. He lived to be 90 years old. We spent a lot of time at his place. On my Dad’s side it was usually on anniversaries that we would get together.
MP: Did you get together with your Aunts and Uncles too at Christmas time.
AG: I don’t recall Christmas get-togethers so much.
MP: Did you have family reunions or family get-togethers?
AG: Yes, we had the Henry Germann reunion. Henry was my grandfather. I still have the family records for this at home.
MP: I wish people would have more reunions. I wish that tradition was still going on.
AG: I think we had the reunions for over 50 years. We haven’t had one for a long, long time. I have copies of the reunions. Someone would sit down and take minutes of the meetings.
MP: Did they record records of births and deaths.
AG: Oh yes. My Germann cousins we still get together once or twice a year. Sometimes during the summer we go up to the lake where my cousin has a place. We still try to get together.
MP: Will you describe a typical family meal in your home. What did your Mom cook and did you like everything she cooked for you.
AG: We ate pretty much just staples. We had lots of potatoes and of course gravy.
MP: I love the little red potatoes just boiled. Did you have a lot of chicken?
AG: Yes we ate chicken.
MP: Did your family do a lot of butchering?
AG: I remember my parents going down to my Uncle Hugh’s to help him butcher several times. We never did on my Dad’s side of the family.
MP: When I was a kid I remember seeing hams and bacon hanging from the rafters out in the garage.
AG: My Grandad Weirich had a regular smokehouse.
MP: They probably made their own summer sausage too.
AG: My Mom and her sisters when they butchered would clean the intestines. They used the intestines to make sausage.
MP: I know, just the thought of it would make you want to go vegetarian. Looking back, what would you say was the happiest time of your childhood?
AG: I can’t recall any particular moment but it just seems like we didn’t have any worries. I feel like I had a very good childhood. We always had a lot of kids to play with in the neighborhood.
MP: Of course you were an only child.
AG: We spent a lot of time visiting my Aunts and Uncles. Of course I would go wherever my parents went. I didn’t stay home and have a babysitter come in. We would go to my Dad’s brothers and I always had cousins to play with. We would have homemade ice cream. That was always a big treat.
MP: You know talking about the War, did you serve in World War II?
AG: No, I was only a kid during World War II. I was born in 1934. I did serve my country. I was drafted in the Army in1956.
MP: Were you in the Viet Nam War.
AG: No, I went in right after the Korean War. They had the draft still going on.
MP: In a way you were lucky. My dad was lucky that he didn’t get drafted for World War II. You see he had five children. He didn’t have five children just to stay out of the war, he had five children when the war broke out. Russell was lucky too, because right after he graduated from high school he and his buddy drove out to California looking for a job. When they got to California the two of them went into the post office to mail a card back to his mother to tell her that they had arrived in California. A Marine recruiter saw them and of course he talked them into joining the Marines. Both of those boys were then sent by train clear across the country where they were signed up at Camp Lejeune.
AG: What year was that.
MP Russell graduated from high school in 1946, so that would have been the year he joined. A truce had not been signed declaring the end of the war. Both of them were still considered as serving in World War II.
AG: I was married in September and then in December I received a notice that I was drafted.
MP: Where did you get assigned to.
AG: I took basic training at Ft. Knox in Kentucky. I was there for six months, took my basic training and then I was transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia and I spent about a year and a half in Fort Benning.
MP: I had an Uncle Walter that was stationed at Ft. Benning during World War II. My memory of World War II was when my Dad had all of us kids sit down at the kitchen table and write a letter to my Uncle Walter. It got bedtime and you know it takes me a while to think up all the things I wanted to tell him. So I got up the next morning and my Dad had put all these letters in an envelop and had mailed them off to him. I didn’t even get to sign my name. But it is over with and you move on. What major event shook up your life or opened up new frontiers for you? Would you say that being in the Service?
AG: Yes but I never regretted being in the service. I am glad I served. I think something that helped me considerably was my being in the Rotary Club for 27 years. Being in an organization you learn how to meet and greet people. I made a lot of contacts and made a lot of friends. Being a member of Rotary helped my business. I had open heart surgery in 2009 and it really didn’t bother me that much really.
MP: Did you have the surgery where they crack open your chest?
AG: Oh yes, I had a triple bypass.
MP: I know my neighbor had open heart surgery and he takes several walks each day. What would you say were the best times for your family?
AG: I think about the 60s through the 80s when our kids were little and growing up back then.
MP: How many children did you have?
AG: We had 3 girls.
MP: What were their names?
AG: There is Kathy, Marcella, and Andrea.
MP: I know Andrea. She worked for R. J. Reynolds and would set up displays at our store. She was a very personable gal. Where is she stationed, where is her headquarters?
AG: She has her territory around here in Northwest Ohio, unless she gets her territory changed. She lives here in town. She likes her job.
MP: She was good at it.
AG: Yes she likes to meet people. Now Marcie, she is a Registered Nurse at Ohio State University. She has been down in Columbus for 33 years.
MP: Is she married?
AG: Yes. She has a girl and two boys. Now Kathy, she has lived in Madison, Wisconsin for the last 25 years. She has her own business and does diversity training and teaching.
MP: Where does she teach?
AG: She is not an employee of the University, but sometimes she teaches there. She contracts with companies and cities. She works under contracts. One of the big things now is race relations, homophobia, and different things pertaining to that.
MP: Can you tell me some of your retirement activities.
AG: Golfing is one of my main things. I have golfed for years ever since high school. There was a time when I didn’t play so much and I didn’t take it real serious. Now I really enjoy playing golf. Since I retired I play more. I belong to Kettenring Golf Club. Now it is called Eagle Rock. I have been a member and played there for many years. Now I have a hobby of making bird feeders. I make them in the style of a church and different things like that. First time I joined Kettenring was 1976, then I dropped out for a few years when the girls were in college. I went back again later on and I have played there ever since.
MP: Can you tell me about some of the houses you have built around here in town.
AG: Well I have built a lot of homes over the years. I can talk about where we are right now here in Bavarian Village.
MP: Now talking about Bavarian Village, did you have to bid on these condominiums as a whole group or did you have to bid on each condo separately. This would have been a huge project.
AG: There are 28 units back here in Bavarian Village. That was a bid through SSOE. That was the architectural firm.
MP: Talking about the architecture, I noticed the other day they are starting to put aluminum siding on these units back here. I think it will take away the Bavarian look. It has such a unique look to it. The condominiums have the Bavarian look straight from Germany. After all that is our heritage and we should be proud of it. I think they call it
progress, this idea of remodeling.
AG: It is the maintenance cost. The siding and trim take a lot of maintenance.
MP: What year did you build these condominiums?
AG: It was in 1992.
MP: That was not very long ago.
AG: It was in the 90s. As I recall I think it was 1992.
MP: Which one was built first?
AG: The first unit was the one you are living in right now. There was a Mrs. Krueger right next door, she actually bought the first unit. This would be the one adjacent to you. She was the first one. As you come in the first building on your right that was a Mr. Junge.
MP: That would be Elmer and Walt Junge’s father.
AG: That is right. I started both of these buildings at the same time.
MP: All of the condominiums are filled now but there have been two deaths. They have both been sold now. Maintenance is redoing the inside on both of these condos.
AG: It took me seven to eight years to build all of them. There was one year when I didn’t build any. They had to have one unit sold before they would begin to build another one. I would start building one and pretty soon the next unit would sell real fast.
MP: How many workers did you use at that time?
AG: I used four to six or more workers. It varied at certain times of the year.
MP: The condos are very well insulated. We can’t hear any noise coming from the fairgrounds. We can’t hear when cars drive by or when somebody pulls into our driveway. We lived on West Washington Street and it was just zoom, zoom, going on all day long.
AG: I built several homes in Twin Oaks and also in Anthony Wayne Acres. At Twin Oaks I built three that face the river. The first was Doug Schwab and then Bob Limbird, the optometrist. Then Walter Arps was on down. They are some of the nicest houses around. I also built numerous homes in the high school area.
MP: I like the looks of the Schwab house you built on West 424, facing the river.
AG: Those were used brick we put on that house. Those bricks were brought in on dump trucks. (Art laughs)
MP: I don’t care. They look pretty nice.
AG: Yes they do. I like the look too.
MP: You know, talking about bricks, you know where the Scott House is on Haley Avenue? That place needs a full time carpenter. The bricks on that house need restoring. It has such a beautiful setting. You can sit on that front porch or on the upper porch and you have a direct look at that beautiful courthouse we have downtown. I can just imagine Governor Scott sitting there and looking around. Like I said before, Bavarian Village is a very nice and peaceful place to retire. People are very nice and friendly and a person does not have to be a Lutheran to buy a condo back here. We have several people back here that are Catholic and a lot of residents attend St. John Reformed Church just south on Route 108. I don’t know what the given name is but Russell always called it the Reformed Church.
AG: I know which church you are talking about.
MP: Can you think of anything else that we might have missed?
AG: As far as business-wise, I did have another partnership. I had a partnership with Everett Johnson. He was with the Johnson Carpet business. He also had a shop behind his carpet business where he built cabinets and other things.
MP: Did he build cabinets for you?
AG: No, he didn’t for me, but he did all my floor covering work for me. He did all the carpeting for Bavarian Village and all the other homes I built here in town. We formed a partnership in the early 90s. We called it Lola Enterprises. We named that after our wives, Lois and Lavora. You remember Jeff Heinrichs, well he was coming to town and he needed an office building. We built a duplex office building for his dental patients out there on Independence Drive. We put up the building and leased it to him for ten years with the option after ten years he would be able to buy it back. It was a duplex and we no sooner had the building put up and we rented the other side to the Office for the Aged from the State of Ohio.
MP: That would have been a bonanza.
AG: We also bought the Strayer Appliance building downtown and remodeled that and we also put up a couple of spec houses. On 14B and Road S we bought 20 acres. We subdivided that into seven lots.
MP: Was that for housing?
AG: Yes. I was surprised. We sold those lots in less than three years.
MP: It was a booming time.
AG: Yes the 90s were a booming time. Those years were real good to me. I did very well in the 90s. Lois and I both retired in 2000. We dissolved our partnership and it was a good partnership. Everett was a hard worker. I remember he had some cancer problems. We were putting in some drains in those acres we developed and he could hardly breathe but he just would not give up.
MP: He put linoleum down for us on Washington Street and he did a really good job.
AG: It was a good partnership. I am a Ohio State Buckeye fan.
MP: Isn’t everybody?
AG: Well, you know, not everybody is. I am also a Cleveland Indians fan.
MP: Well we are going to have to wrap this up as I am running out of space. I thank you so much for our little talk.
end of recording