CHAPTER 3: EARLY LIFE
I. MY EARLY LIFE
Recollections of Roland A. Gurgel via emails to family, 2000-2001
Back in the office for a time at least. Three days ago had a double hernia repaired. All seems to be on the mend now. Still a bit of pain getting up and down, but aspirin, etc., seems to help alleviate that.
We have given you an insight into my grade school days under my one teacher both in the school and at home, namely, my father. Now I want to give you some pictures of early life outside the classroom walls.
To get a picture of outdoor life in Wonewoc, you might want to someday, if you have not already done that, take a trip from La Crosse, Wisconsin east on Highway 33. That highway begins at La Crosse and heads east across the lower third of Wisconsin to Port Washington on Lake Michigan. Some points of interest are Wildcat Mountain, Wonewoc, Reedsburg, Baraboo, Portage, Beaver Dam, Port Washington among others. To a large extent while I was in my early years this area was farming country. Small farms were operated in the valleys and on the hillsides that were cleared of trees. It was also dairy cattle country. Every farm had its meadowland and its tilled acres. Acres on which were grown barley, wheat, corn, and hay. All the crops were stored on the farm for the cattle and horses. Tractors came a bit later. In my grade school days I did some work on friends' farms with horses. It was not until I was a sophomore in high school that I spent a summer on a farm and worked with an old Fordson tractor, steel wheels and all.
As mentioned in an earlier chapter, Wonewoc is located in the Baraboo River valley. It has hills and cliffs of some proportion on all sides.
You should recognize this little town as ideal place for an outdoor loving boy to grow up in. A Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Fin of a later date. Woods to roam in and explore looking for early spring flowers, May flowers, Blood Roots, Trilliums, Honey Suckle, etc. Interested also in spotting the many varieties of birds, not to forget the various kinds of wild berries.
The valley also offered the lure of a river to fish in, to swim in, to watch the ebb and flow. There was definitely a rising and falling of the river due to a dam up the stream a ways from our home. The dam was built to provide an electric generating plant with sufficient water to keep its water wheel operating. Below that dam there was a shelf of concrete extending down the river some 30 or so feet. When the plant was not generating that shelf could be climbed down on and fished from it. Behind the dam was a pool of some depth. It was a swimming hole for those who had bathing suits. Boys could jump off from a bridge built over that pool down into the water.
Fishing was very definitely a way of spending many hours in the summer months. Different spots in the river offered different kinds of fish—suckers, carp, sunfish, bass, bullheads of various sizes, as well as some other kinds. Our fishing started out with lithe willow branches as a pole. We graduated to cane polls in later years when we had our paper routes and a better assortment of hooks. Bait came from the garden, which we had to till before heading out to the river. We pealed our eyes for earthworms as we cultivated or hoed the rows of vegetables in dad's gardens. Once that last weed that dared show its head was cut down, we were off for greater adventures. Sometimes it was to the river just a few blocks from our home. Other times we would head north on the railroad tracks to one of the various sloughs that had deep enough water to support fish life. From the tracks we would head out over meadows, always hoping there would not be some mean tempered bull waiting for us, or some swift diving red wing black birds guarding their nests made in the ground ready to let us know we were in their territory. Once I can recall the whistle of bullets flying very near to us. Where they came from I do not know but they were close enough to whistle in our ears.
Usually we would pack a lunch and stay until we had to be back to carry our papers. The papers would come in from Milwaukee and Madison on a 2:30 p.m. train. The one great help for us was mother. She loved fish so much she would volunteer to clean all that we caught. At times we did pitch and help her.
One fishing trip stands out in my mind over the years. A member of the congregation, Will Ratzberg was his name, took my father, Ernie and me to Wisconsin Dells to fish the Wisconsin River there. I remember it for several reasons. Even back then the Dells was a famous summer resort.
It had water shows. Indian powwows. Rides up and down to the upper and lower dells. To go there was exciting even thou we did not see the shows or take the boat rides being next to all these things were a great thrill for a little lad. Another reason it sticks in my mind was because when I claimed thirst, my dad said with all this water in front of you should you be thirsty. Drink from the river and I did. The river was not so polluted, as it is today. At least my father thought it was safe. I did not get sick. But I don't think I have ever again knelt down and taken water directly from a river. The third reason for recalling the trip was the fish my father caught. It was a very large dogfish. Who would eat a dog fish. They were considered to be a rough fish that at best should be returned to the river. Dad was about to throw it back in when some Indians came up to him and said, we will take and eat that fish, very good tasting don' throw it away. So dad gave the fish to the Indians. Live Indians asking us for a fish what a day to remember.
Fish stories that are true, that have not grown with time. In later years I have had many a good day on lakes and streams but the trips with my brothers, Herman and Ernst stand out as being as great as any.
Will continue on another day. Dad
II. GRADE SCHOOL DAYS
I took you to our life in the woods, the home of the wild flowers, birds, berries, and exploration, and spent some time taking you to the river and our fishing expeditions. There is one story in connection with the life on the river that I have told you at times. I will repeat it here for future generations. One day when I was down with a cold or sore throat and home bound, my father decided to follow Ernst and Herman on their pre-paper route travels. Unknown to them, dad followed them up the tracks to a section of the river they liked to visit for the purpose of taking a swim. Father discovered that not only did they swim, but that they swam without a bathing suit. An item of clothing we never owned up to that point in our young lives. When they came home, he confronted them with his discovery, gave them some chastisement and announced that swimming suits would be provided. That was one time when I thought being kept at home because of illness was a blessing.
We always had to go to the depot to pick up our papers for delivery around the town. As a result we became very much acquainted with the depot agent and the life in the depot. The telegraph intrigued us. We tried our best to figure out the dots and dashes that came over the telegraph wires. Jack Kutcher was the agent and operator of that office. We became well acquainted with him. He was always good for a story or two and a few jokes. One of those jokes lives in my memory to this day.
Wonewoc had no theatre. The merchants would provide, however, a free show on Wednesday evenings during the summer. It was done to bring in customers to their stores on that night. The show would not begin until after dark. Then a movie camera stationed in a side street would provide a movie projected against the side of a building. These were movies without a sound track. Every so often a bit of dialogue would be projected beneath the picture. Most of the time these were Westerns. Movies filled with action and little need for sound. Here is where Jack Kutcher comes in. One of the frequent stars of those western films was a man by the name Tom Mix. When we would ask Jack Kutcher when we came to pick up our papers on a Wednesday afternoon, what movie was going to be shown that night, his standard reply was "TomMixen cement." So my early movie experience was a concrete thing.
In connection with our trips to the woods, I might relate an incident in my life. Up in the woods not to far from our home we, and a neighbor youngster, had a shack. It was an abandoned outhouse, but to us it was a woodland retreat. To get to that house in the woods it was necessary to get over a fence. We had laid a plank up to a fence post and would run up that plank and jump over the fence. On one occasion I ran up that plank jumped straight up and came down on the barbed wire and took a nosedive with my arm extended down to the ground. Ernie and I returned home.
I stretched out on a dining room couch and suffered in silence for some time. Finally Ernie decided that dad should know that something was wrong with my arm. Dad took me to the doctor, had an x-ray taken, which revealed a brake in the bone below the elbow. The doctor put the arm in a cast without totally straightening it out. To this day I have a depression in the joint of the elbow. It provides me with the excuse for poor handwriting. My mother always reminded me how that night in pain I called to her that she should take my arm in another room.
In connection with our daily trips to the depot to get our papers, Ernie and I had to put up with the town bully. He was the son of a tavern keeper in the village. He loved to threaten us, in one way or another. For some time we endured the bullying. If you would know Ernie as I did, you would realize that he would tolerate such goings on for just so long. So it was that he finally said enough is enough. One day he challenged the fellow and gave him a beating. That ended that. The only thing left to challenge us after that were the dogs that barked when we came on to their property. You all know about barking and growling dogs.
Paper routes were long and stretched out. Wonewoc for the most part was a village along Highway 33. That highway came into town from the north ran past the cemetery down a residential area into the business district then turned east for a block and headed south again about a block and a half after the turn it passes St. Paul's Lutheran Church, our church, and continued south for six or seven blocks and so out of town. There were side streets here and there and in the northern part of the village a street ran parallel to Highway 33 for a good many blocks before it turned at a hill and joined the highway out to the north. In the center of the down town area a street took off to the west out past the power generating plant over the river and stretched out for quite some blocks into the country. That area was called Canada. Why I do not know, except that when delivering a paper or two way out yonder on a cold, windy winter day, one could readily believe you were in Canada.
Papers were delivered to customers six days a week for 12 cents a week. The paperboy got six cents and the other six cents went to the publisher. If you had a Sunday route, the Milwaukee Journal, you would get 2 cents for delivering that paper. We might have 15 or 20 customers, which meant anywhere from 90 cents a week to $1.20 a week. For that money we walked several miles a day from one end of town to the other and out into Canada.
Surprisingly enough over the course of four or so years we put enough in the bank to pay for educational costs at DMLC or Northwestern College for several years. In those days board, room and tuition ran from $100.00 to $120.00 a year for all three together.
Before I take leave of grade school days I should mention our sport activities. Across from our home was the school playground. On summer evenings the boys from town that belonged to the church would gather there to play some baseball. My brother Karl was very much a part of that activity. He was always the catcher. We younger children would sit on out front porch and watch the games.
The village also had a baseball team and my father would regularly take us to watch their games, usually on a Sunday afternoon. They played teams from neighboring towns. When became a little older we would be allowed to get on the back of a truck and ride to out of town games. Many of the players were from our church and we looked up to them as heroes.
We had a change of pastors when I was in the early grades. The new man organized a young people's society and he had them build a tennis court in the field in front of the school. It had a shale base. That tennis court became the playground for Ernst and myself. With money from our paper routes we bought tennis rackets and balls and soon became the stars of the town. (Don't take that too seriously, but we did manage to become quite adept. Ernst more so than your father.)
One more aspect of that period remains to be touched on, namely, journeys into the country. Will touch on that next time and then to dormitory days for 11 years.
III. HIGH SCHOOL
Farewell to Wonewoc: The day after Labor Day in September of 1934 this 13 year old boy headed out to continue his education in the city of Watertown, Wisconsin at a Wisconsin Synod high school and college called Northwestern College. That school had its beginnings in the 1860s patterned after the German system of higher education. The high school years were not known as Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior but rather Sextaner, Quintaner, Quartaner, and Tertianer. Your Latin will help you understand those terms. Six, five, four, and three and then into two and one year of college.
Let me back track for a moment. I was confirmed on Palm Sunday in the year 1934. The pastor who confirmed me was a man by the name of Martin Glaser. He and my father were members of the Wisconsin Synod but the congregation was not. It was an independent congregation that supported the Wisconsin Synod and from which body it received all of its pastors and teachers. I do not know whether it is still independent or not. There are only a few things that I can recall about the two years of instruction I received from Pastor Glaser. I would guess the reason for that may well be the thorough instruction I had received from my father from grade 1 to 6as well as the family devotions provided by my dad.
One of the things I do remember from the confirmation class was the remark made by the pastor that we should stay away from spicy foods for they would destroy our taste buds (how about that Daniel) and the 5th commandment might well be involved. Another incident that I can recall was his admonition to me not to speak so loudly when we as a class one examination Sunday would recite together portions of the Catechism. He was probably right for when I gave class sermons in the Sem in later years, my classmates would inform me they would come with cotton in their ears. The powerful voice was not by my design but it has been there over the years so I am told. For many hard of hearing in the pews it has been appreciated, others have to adjust to it. Back to the pastor's admonition to tone down: I did and then he had to say pick it up for the rest of the class depended on my leadership and when they could not hear me they were lost.
Before we were confirmed we had to make a trip into the pastor's study and recite the six chief parts of the Catechism in one standing. Half way through that ordeal I fainted on him and scared the daylights out of him. The incident stayed with me through my years in the ministry and in dealing with youngsters.
I had many friends in that class. Boys with whom I had spent much time on their farms or village homes as the case might have been. Those friendships melted away after I left Wonewoc. Oh, I would visit them when I came home for Christmas and Easter vacations, as well as for summer months. Sine we no longer shared class hours, recess, and after school activities there was a growing apart. The old observation "out of sight, out of mind" proved true to a large extent. I still remember their names and many shared hours with pleasure, but I doubt that I could recognize them if I were to meet them on the street today.
Thankful I am for the companionship, the help, the insights, the advice, the pleasures they afforded me. There were two boys that were best friends. I remember them especially for an incident in my life. On October 10th, 1933 when I came home after delivering my afternoon papers they were waiting for me at our home. It was the one party I can recall that my folks gave me over the course of many years—a surprise birthday party for Roland. The two boys there were Norvin Penshorn and Edgar Stehr. I hope you have experienced some such special day in the years you have spent in your parent’s home.
I started this edition by saying Farewell to Wonewoc, but like so many people it is hard to say goodbye. We get to the door and slow down, old thoughts creep in, old ties rear their heads, old joys have to be talked about a bit more. Eventually someone has to close the door and send us on our way. You will have noticed over the past many pages that Wonewoc still "Howls" in my ears and heart. Oh for the days gone by. When they were there we looked ahead to years yet to come and when those years have come and gone we look back with a tear in our eye and a longing in the heart.
Enough of this. Next time we will say Farewell to Wonewoc and Hello to Watertown.
I arrived in Watertown under the eye of my oldest brother, Karl, who was a sophomore in the college department that year. After finishing high school at DMLC in the spring of 1933, Karl had taken his college freshman year at Northwestern in 1933 - 1934. He was well at home there after one year, very much a part of the music scene, orchestra, chorus, and the like. He had found himself a girlfriend, Lydia Naumann, the daughter of the chaplain at Bethsaisda Lutheran Home. As always, Karl was a very quick and busy fellow—get out of my way here I come sort of a fellow.
We had left Wonewoc early on Tuesday morning by train—first to Madison on the Chicago Northwestern Line and then from Madison to Watertown on a different line, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul. Got into Watertown by noon and had a long walk from the depot out to the college. Karl knew the route very well since his girlfriend lived not too far from the depot. I had my ears burned constantly on the long walk to the college, for I had filled my suitcases with goodies from mother's kitchen. Being just a little fellow hardly 5 feet tall and not yet 100 pounds, I could not carry too big a load. Karl was not a big man. He was by far the shortest of us boys. He took after his mother rather than dad. Anyhow he did help me out with my load for which I was thankful. How my trunk, which I still have by the way filled with quilts etc. of mother's makings, how that trunk got to the dorm I do not know. Probably was sent by train and delivered to the dorm some way or other.
Watertown was a city of some 10 o12 thousand people. That meant it was twelve or more times as large as little Wonewoc. A city well laid out and beautifully adorned with many trees, parks, and impressive buildings. It was a city of white brick homes and stores to a large extent. The reason for that type of buildings was the fact that there were white clay pits a bit on the outskirts of the city. The Watertown people had learned that you build with that which is close at hand. I knew those clay pits very well for when I got to Watertown they were filled with water, much of which was spring water and so very cold. Those pits became the swimming hole for many of the boys of my class. You really woke up when you jumped in them. I remember one day when my muscles refused to function because of the cold water. I needed some help to get to shore. Down through the years there have been various times when my life here on earth might well have come to a sudden end. I have often thought that the Lord had use for me to keep me going as long as He has.
In becoming acquainted with the city, one of the first things that caught my eye was the rather large library that was located on the far end of the city's business district. It was quite a distance from the college but I made regular and frequent trips to that building. Wonewoc had a little library and that had been a well-visited place during my Wonewoc days. I think I read every book on the shelves. Some of which should have been left unread, but what a wider world I found in the library in Watertown especially in my second and fourth high school years. They seemed to be last demanding of study hours than the first and third.
As you know walking has been a great part of my life. I have learned to do a lot of thinking while the feet move. I could take the lessons offered in the classroom and sort them out while walking the city streets. Many a sermon was written in the gray matter and filed away for future use while I journeyed the city streets or walked the parks. Watertown had many lovely streets to travel and some very well developed parks to enjoy. Over the eight years spent in that city, I would guess there were very few streets and parks not traveled.
Watertown also had a river running through it or skirting it. The Rock River with some historical fame made its way to that city. That river served me as did the Baraboo River. In the winter months it was the place to go ice skating. There was a warming house built on the edge of the river in which we could put on our skates and to which we could retreat when the nose and fingers yelled for help against winter winds and temperatures. It was on this river that there would be built a hockey rink and in which we had class hockey games. It was my job usually to be the goalie. No pads, no masks, Just do your best to avoid serious injury.
Many a pleasant Saturday afternoon or evening was spent on that river's ice. I can recall classmates daring to float down the river in the springtime on sheets of ice as they broke away from the main sections of ice. I never had the desire or the courage to try that
Watertown also had another distinctive feature. The interurban from Milwaukee came this far. That was an electric coach that ran on a track from Milwaukee through many towns then back to the big city. The tracks ran right next to the college campus and there was a stop on the corner where one might board the 'streetcar' to head east to the big city. It was rather inexpensive to take and I did ride it on occasion to visit Milwaukee relatives of which there were more than a few. The line was discontinued before I finished my years in Watertown. When I got to the seminary, there was a similar line running into Milwaukee that passed through Thiensville.
Will sign off for today. Dad
Throughout my Thursday's edition I referred to the river in Watertown as the Fox. That was not right. It was not the Fox River but rather the ROCK RIVER. Please note that correction.]
V. WATERTOWN, HOME of NORTHWESTERN COLLEGE
I began giving you a picture of the city of Watertown, Wisconsin, the home of Northwestern College where I spent 8 years in preparation for the ministry. Have given and will give you somewhat of a detailed picture of that city not only because I spent many years there but there was an opportunity that all of you might have grown up there.
In 1948, if my memory serves me well, just a year after I had moved to Rib Lake from La Crosse, Wisconsin, I received a call to serve as associate pastor to St. Mark's congregation in Watertown. That call was in part due to Prof. Walter Schumann. He had been one of my professors at Northwestern and then I had been his assistant in La Crosse. From La Crosse he went back to teach at Northwestern in 1947. When the call came to me I was asked to go to Watertown and confer with Schumann and with Prof. Kowalke who was president of Northwestern College. When I came to Watertown I first called on the man whose associate I was called to be at St. Mark's. When I came into his office the first thing he said to me was, "I didn't want you to be my associate I wanted my son to have that position." From there I went to see the professors who had asked me to contact them. There reply to me was, that it was not the congregation's wish to have the pastor's son as their pastor, but I should give the call serious consideration.
I had been in Rib Lake only a year and I felt that I owed those people years of service, and I was not too keen on entering a position with a pastor who wanted his son. (By the way he never did get his son rather a class mate of mine became the associate) I returned the call, what might have been for all of you had I accepted was schooling from kindergarten through college. What might have been and what has been are two different things. In reality you had the opportunity to attend ILC and live at home.
Let me return to Watertown, the city. At one time it was slated to be the capital of Wisconsin. But some financial incidents got in the way. The city found itself in financial trouble and so dissolved itself. It would elect a council. They would meet at night under a bridge, I believe, do their business and dissolve.
Another bit of history, if you call it such, had to deal with the city brewery. It was located next to a hog pen. When a batch of beer turned sour it was dumped into the hog lot and so you had intoxicated pigs in town.
Watertown as you might expect had many churches. There were two big catholic churches. The largest was a German Catholic Church on the west side of the city. It was a beautiful building with stained glass windows. In the center of the city was an Irish Catholic Church not quite so large but also well built. Some of us students of college age made a point of visiting these churches to get an idea what they were like. We were impressed with the mystic beauty of the interior structure.
Besides the catholic churches there were a great number of other denominations including a Moravian Church. There were 5 Lutheran Churches: one Missouri Synod Church, one American Lutheran (originally Old Ohio Synod) Church and three Wisconsin Synod churches. Trinity was fairly new at that time. It had renovated a house to serve as a place of worship. It held its service late in the morning. So students who wanted to sleep in attended that service. St. Luke’s was an old congregation. Its church building was relatively small. Very few students attended its service. I did go there on occasion. St Mark’s was an old and very large congregation. It had a good-sized building and also a large school. It was served by two pastors, who conducted a German, as well as an English service each Sunday. Many of us students attended that church.
The Missouri Synod Church was St. John's. Since we were in the Synodical Conference at that time some of the students would attend services there on occasion. I did too for that congregation had a very gifted pastor. The faculty frowned on our going there but did not outright forbid it.
During my years at Northwestern I played in the band. We were always invited to play for the church picnics of both St. Mark's and St. John’s. They were held on separate Sundays. One of the big contentions between the two congregations regarding their picnics was who could sell the most beer. Remember you were dealing with good German populations.
It was of interest to me to note when the strife between Missouri and Wisconsin grew heated, St. John's left the Missouri Synod, but they did not join Wisconsin rather they went to the ELS.
If you remember your church history, the history of the Synodical Conference, you will recall that it was toward the close of the 1930s that differences began to evidence themselves between Wisconsin and Missouri Synods. The strife grew during the 40s and into the 50s. I was a student through the last half of the 30s and the first half of the 40s so I had a ringside seat, so to speak, at the.
He was so interested in what was going on that he took his honeymoon to a Missouri convention to get all the latest details. By the way his bride was the daughter of a Missouri Synod pastor. Karl was well aware of Missouri's mistake.
I will take you inside Northwestern’s dormitories and classroom buildings in the next episode.
VI. NORTHWESTERN COLLEGE
The College: Northwestern College is located on the southwestern corner of College Avenue. The campus occupies many acres. Those acres on which the buildings are located have a great variety of trees on them. If my memory serves me right in my day there were over 120 kinds. As a test in my Quinta (sophomore) Biology class we were required to identify them by their leaves and bark. One that I still recall was a cork tree. It is native to Spain.
To the east of the building area was a huge athletic field. It had a baseball diamond, a softball diamond and a tremendous area of just plain grass area. When I came to the school in 1934 this area was roamed over by dairy cattle. I should mention that there was also a football field on the south side of this field. When a football game was scheduled for a fall Saturday afternoon, the Sextaners (freshmen) were required to take wheelbarrows and shovels and remove the many cow pies that were on the field. The high school boys were also required to mow the campus lawns and to shovel the snow in the wintertime. No lack of exercise for these young lads.
Just when the college stopped producing its own milk from its dairy herd, I do not remember. It must have been in my early years there. The barn was demolished and all traces of the farm vanished. I might mention to the south of the campus was a hill going down to the south. On this hill were a fair number of burial lots. At one time the college tried to buy this small cemetery with the assurance that the graves located there would be properly relocated. The relatives declined the offer. I do not know if the cemetery still is found there or not. Most likely it is, for people are very hesitant to have gravesites tampered with.
The buildings on the campus were as you might well guess constructed of white brick. The older ones, the classroom building and the old dormitory were quite well faded by the time I arrived. They had been built in the 1860s. The new dormitory and the gymnasium had not yet faded. The bricks were still quite white in appearance. These buildings were erected in the early 1910s. There was also a dining hall of some size which housed the cook's family, some kitchen helps' rooms and on the second floor a sick bay. I remember spending some time in that sick bay being taken care of bv an English World War I nurse. I had a sinus infection and that nurse insisted on having me sniff up medicine to clear the sinuses. The cure was more tortuous than the sickness.
The so-called new dormitory was of three stories with an addition above the third story for a few piano rooms. I made use of those rooms to learn to play hymns. From a hallway on that fourth floor addition one could look down to the first floor. I can recall an incident regarding that opening down the stairways. We had a few students who contracted Scarlet Fever. The whole dormitory was quarantined. In addition pills were supplied the healthy students to help build up immunity. Many of the students just would not take the pills. Rather over a period of weeks they saved them. When the quarantine was lifted someone took all these pills up to the fourth floor and dropped them down to the first floor. A sea of white pills covered the area.
These weeks of being quarantined brought about a business in the dormitory. After chapel students with money in their pockets would head across the street from the college to a little store where they could purchase baked goods or candy or a snack of one kind or another. When the quarantine hit the store was off limits. One bright and enterprising fellow (Harold Hemple was his name. He had been a good friend of my brother Herman when they both attended DMLC in New Ulm) he had goodies of one kind or another brought on to the campus. He opened a store in a basement room of the dormitory. So began a college canteen. I would guess the little store across the street lost business even after the quarantine was lifted, for the canteen continued throughout all my years at college.
Speaking of snacks, as I said above students with money in their pockets would go to the store across the street. Remember these were the middle thirties. It was a time of severe depression across the land. Not too many of us had money in the pockets. From whence came snacks for those of us who had very little cash on hand? Every two weeks Karl and I would put our dirty laundry in a special laundry case and sent it home for mother to wash it. It was a standard request from me that when she returned that laundry case there would be in it some home made bread sandwiches. Karl was not too much interested in this but I was. What a treat mother's own baking. Homemade bread has always been a well-received treat. One very important part of my marriage pact with your mother was that she would keep the table well supplied with fresh homemade bread. I can still see her baking in the wood-fired oven on Tenth Street in La Crosse the first loaves she ever made. They came out perfect as they did ever after
Dormitory Life: The first year at Northwestern I lived in a dormitory room that was made for four students. The room had four desks and bookshelves and chairs. Across the hall was the bedroom again made for four. It had two double-decker beds and four closets. My roommates were Maynard Witt, who was the room buck since he was a senior in college, my brother Karl, who was a college sophomore, a fellow by the name of Maurice Nelson also a college sophomore, and myself. Witt as well as Karl were strong-minded individuals without much give on either side. I witnessed many an argument between those two. Over the course of many decades both never changed much.
I have not heard from you for a while. Overwhelmed with work? Or just overwhelmed? After a few days of discomfort to say the least, I am now beginning to feel better than I have for some time. I should have had the surgery some years ago but as usual one puts off to tomorrow what he should have done yesterday.]
Spring has arrived in all of its vaunted beauty and delight. I have been able to do some walking and enjoying the fresh air and sights.
VII. NORTHWESTERN, continued
In the Golden Book of Songs, from which we sang a great deal during grade school days, there is a song called The Lost Chord. I thought of that song last night and again this morning. I composed an email yesterday morning, Sunday, and sent it off. It got lost. Do not know if it is sitting on Mars or is on the Space Craft way out yonder. I have tried to trace it but to no avail. So will begin anew.
In a previous edition I referred to names for high school classes at Northwestern. They were not known as Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior, but rather Sexta, Quinta ,Quarta, Tertia. These names reflect the old German Gymnasium system of higher education. It was composed of a six-year program. Beginners were six years from the finish so they were called Sextaners. Then came Quintaners - five years from the finish, Quartaners were four years from completing the course, Tertianers were but three years from completing the number of required years. Then came Ober and Unter primus. I think that is how they were called. They would be like two years for an Associate of Arts degree. At Northwesterrn College the high school followed the German designation for the classes, but the college department went to a four-year course leading to a Bachelor of Arts degree. In that department the familiar terms were used, namely, Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior.
It is of interest to me to note the difference between the Wisconsin Synod and the Missouri Synod schools of preparation for the ministry at least in by gone years. Both synods had four years of high school, but Missouri had only two years of college before the seminary while Wisconsin had a four-year college course. Missouri had five years of Sem while Wisconsin had three. I would guess Missouri followed the German Gymnasium system through college while Wisconsin did not. After many years Missouri has gone to a four-year college course in most of its institutions. Dr. Martin Luther College (DMLC) which was a college founded by the old Minnesota Synod (now a part of the Wisconsin Synod) also had a six year system. My father graduated from that institution after four years of high school and two years of college training to be a teacher.
Besides names there was a great difference in requirements between the standard high school and Northwestern Preparatory department. Let me give you a run down on what was required of us during the high school years. There were subjects that ran through from beginning to end. We had four years of Latin, four years of German, four years of literature and grammar, four years of math (algebra, geometry etc.) four years of science (physiology, botany, physics, chemistry), four years of history, four years of religion, a year of art, a year of hymnology. Classes ran from 8 o’clock in the morning until three in the afternoon. There were no study halls during those hours they were all classroom hours. Study halls were from 7:30 to 8 o'clock in the morning and from 7:l5 to 9:l5 in the evening. This was also a six-day a week program. On Saturdays classes ran from 8 until 12. When you start adding up the number of subjects carried each year and the number of days spent in class each school year you will begin to realize that what I have often said to you, namely, that by the end of the first semester of our high school Junior year, we had enough credits to graduate from any high school in America. Every year we had 220 school days.
More than a few decades ago at the complaints of parents and students these requirements were lowered a great deal. In our day we did not complain we either buckled down or were eliminated. I must say the broad and demanding curriculum given us has been a tremendous help to me throughout my years. The great amount of literature in English, German, and Latin, the science courses, though much of which is no longer considered valid today, the math courses and I especially enjoyed the plane and solid geometry courses, the history courses from ancient down to modern, all these helped provide me with a well-rounded background. When it came to the religious courses, I will say what I have revealed before, they were too a large extent a review of what I had learned from my father.
Professors that made an impression on me: Herman Fleischer, the grandfather of the Fleischers in the CLC, he was dramatic, understandable and capable. He was called "epi" you Greek scholars will recognize that preposition. Got that name because he always emphasized the wrong vowel. Walter Schumann, he knew how to put flesh and blood on the dry bones of history. Elmer Kiesling, he made poetry and plays come alive by his reading them. He could take the part of every character in a bit of drama and bring them to life. He is the only professor in my many years of schooling who invited me to leave his classroom for a period because I disturbed him. Your father whispering too much? Unbelievable!
Alexander Sitz, made the Gospels come alive in his own quiet and slow way. Windy Wendland, who never succeeded in making me appreciate algebra, geometry, yes, but algebra? Then there was Rusty Westerhouse, so named because of his hair, he taught history of the middle ages, did not have the flair of a Schumann or Fleisher. I remember starting out in the rear of his classroom. It was a section for foolishness. When the first test paper came back with a C on it, a C in my favorite subject? I moved to the front of the room and the grade quickly changed. He was one of the few teachers to loose his temper with our class. He had enough of the noise and lack of attention and his book flew across the room and he stomped out. Now what? one of the students thought we ought to send a delegation to him demanding an apology. That was not agreed to rather we sent a delegation offering our apologies. Huth, nicknamed Deckel, a deckel is a German name for a hat, hut is another name for hat, so Prof. Huth became Deckel. He was in his 80s when I started in 1934. I had him in Latin, English, and Art. He was totally past his teaching days. Latin that first year was a nonentity. English was a waste of time. In Art I learned how to draw a cow. We would ask him to draw on the blackboard a cow. He would sketch an outline of a barn and then a line sticking out from it. He would say that is cow behind a barn with its tail sticking out . As a result of little learned in Latin from him, in our Quinta (sophomore) year we had a tutor by the name of Oscar Naumann who tried to cram two years of Latin into one for us. This man Naumann later became president of the Wisconsin Synod for many years. During his tenor the CLC was formed. Henry Schmeling known as Hank Schmaltz, he loved to schwafle. Not a good teacher. I had him in Latin the last two years of high school. We learned more about being a pastor and a husband than we did Latin. He had been pastor in Sparta, Wisconsin for some years. When he would begin saying in German "also ich noch in Sparta war": we knew we were in for anything but Latin. When in the spring of our Tertia, Senior, year we saw in the college catalogue that we were to have Schmeling in our first year Greek class, we went as a class to the president, Kowalke, and petitioned him to reconsider. He gave us no ear. The faculty appoints. Tht is none of your business. We were in for two years of college Greek that would leave much to be desired. It had its results that were much like my first years of Latin. At the end of the sophomore (college) year, the faculty decided to divide the Junior and Senior college Greek classes in an A and a B class. The B class would remain with Schmeling. The A class would have Martin
Franzman, a tremendous scholar in languages. I was placed in the A class with a few other of my classmates. It took us only a few days to realize that we were in no way able to compete with the seniors in that group who had had Schumann and Franzman in their first years of Greek. So we went to Franzman explained our situation and asked for help. Franzman had had Schmeling in Greek during his college years so he knew what our situation was. In a few weeks of intensive tutoring he brought us up to being able to move with the seniors in that class. For the rest of my class who had to suffer through another two years with Schmeling I had only heartfelt sympathy.
Let me take you ahead a few years: From the late 60s to the year 1978 I served as college dean at ILC. During those years I had students come to me complaining about the teaching abilities of various of the professors. I could sympathize with them, but also understood upholding the decisions of the administration in teaching assignments. I tried my best to diplomatically speak with the teacher involved and hope it might bring about some desired results.
Going back to the various professors that I had during my years at Northwestern, Paul Eichmann, he was the science teacher. Very capable and well prepared. Besides subject matter there was one remark that served me well over the years that came from his lips. He said, "the subject you like the least work at the hardest and you will soon discover that it is your best subject" has served me well over the years. I enjoyed his botany course because it required us to get out into the woods and gather flowers to be put into an herbarium and you know the woods and I have been friends for many years. His physics class and chemistry were demanding but beneficial. In college I had a course in Astronomy with him that I enjoyed. He and another professor, Binhammer whom I never had, would regularly be seen on the football field punting, trying to drive each other back over the goal line with the length of their punts.
A few humorous incidents from Eichman's class: One day during physics class I felt a sneeze coming on with rapidity, I reached into my pocket for a handkerchief and sneezed. Instead of a handkerchief I sneezed into my billfold. Eichman stood there laughing and said "that is why they call it filthy lucre.* On another occasion I was playing with a toothpick and a rubber band the toothpick took off and plowed through the hair of the student sitting in front of me. Eichman smiled and remarked that the physics class was no place for dangerous weapons.
So much for the moment. Do the observations bring back memories of you high school or college days?
[Note: Greetings from your Dad
Paul has not sold either one of the homes he owns. He is planning on moving into the country estate in June if it is not sold by then. The town house will be leased to his son Micah and to Luke Bernthal.]
We hit 80 degrees yesterday. Cloudy and warm here today.
Neil Bernthal, one of Ruth’s sons, will be going to Winter Haven to teach come fall. Vanessa Bernthal, Ruth’s oldest will be married in June. She and her husband to be a Wales will be going to West Columbia, South Carolina, where he will begin his teaching career. He graduates from ILC in May
VIII. More NORTHWESTERN FACULTY
To finish off on the faculty that I got to know at Northwestern: The president of the college was Kowalke. He taught in the college department. College sophomores had him in literature of England—Milton, Keats Shelley, Byron, and that group. I knew him as a very sarcastic individual. If you got off on the wrong side of him BEWARE. I had him also in Hebrew in College Junior and Senior years. He was not an inspiring teacher but I guess a good administrator. In my high school freshman year together with seven others we were invited into his home for an evening meal—a very formal affair. He had no children and he and his wife would always dress formally for their evening meal at least so I am told. I mentioned that he had me call on him when I had the call to St. Mark's in Watertown. He was very encouraging to me at that time.
There was also another professor in my day, we knew him as Doc Hermann. I had him for a time in high school tertia English class. I had him for only a few months before he died. The thing I remember about him was a frequent remark he made about cutting close to the roots. It was his way of saying produce or else. The one thing about his death that I appreciated was that Martin Franzman was called to serve for a time as his replacement. After serving out his year, he went to the same and completed a three-year course in two years. Came back to Watertown and served St. Luke's congregation as vacancy pastor and then was called full time to Northwestern College. I benefited a great deal from his tenure as a professor. I had him in Greek for two years, also in Church Latin for a year, also as an advisor to a literary Society, and from his chapel talks. He introduced chapel talks to the college chapel gathering. Before he came a professor would read a portion of Scripture have us sing a hymn and a prayer. Franzman read a Scripture portion and then gave a little sermonette on the text. Those talks have been published in a book on St. Matthew's Gospel that bear his name. Some of you will have met him in a book entitled THE WORD OF THE LORD GROWS and perhaps in another book entitled HA, HA AMONG THE TRUPETS. The man was a first rate poet. Sorry to say he left Northwestern College sometime after I graduated and he went to the Seminary in St. Louis. I met him years later in the airport in St. Louis when I served the CLC congregation there as vacancy pastor.
I had an email this morning from Deborah reminding me of an incident on one of the first days at Northwestern. Had brought a sack of plumbs along from home and standing at the dorm room window threw one out and lo and behold out of nowhere came walking by a college senior in a light suit. He and plumb came together unexpectedly. He came fuming into the dorm and only by the kind intervention of brother Karl was I saved from some unknown fate. I can still see the look on the face of the man when he and the plumb met. It was totally unintentional on my part.
Speaking of windows two other incidents come to mind from other years. Dormitory windows were usually anything but clean. Having washed the room windows one day so they were as clean as the outside air, a roommate decided to take a short cut to the gym which was just a few feet away from our dorm room. He jumped out the open window so he thought and was surprised to find himself going through the glass and out to the lawn. The moral of that incident was always leave a smear or two on a window when cleaning to save some unsuspecting fellow from a smashing incident. The other story and it is true was a happening to a roommate of mine by the name of Maurice Nelson. He like some others would at times take a night off or an evening off without permission from the dean. How to get back into the dorm without being caught was a problem. Our bedroom window faced out to the back of the dormitory. Just below the window was a track of steel. On it ran the buckets of ashes from the furnace room in the basement. Maurice would come around the back, swing up on that track and into the bedroom. His problem was that one time someone forgot to open the window and he came through the glass with a shattering noise. How to explain the cuts and bruises?
Northwestern was a boy’s school. Oh, there were some girls from the city who attended but they were few in number especially in the high school years. The college freshman class might have a few more. The college offered a business course in the first two college years that did attract some girls. In my class, if my memory serves me well, there were three girls, a doctor's daughter, a member of St. Mark’s, and a pastor's daughter. The doctor's daughter was a catholic as was her family. She took all four high school years and two years of college with us. I remember her as very bright and for years outshining the boys in ability. But it was interesting to note that when we got into college we not only caught up to her but left her behind in academic achievement. The girls were known as 'townnies.' They had a room in the basement of the classroom building that they could call their own.
In spite of the few females on campus Northwestern was a boys' school. There were no parties, so social events, no mixed gatherings. It was a school devoted to study and to men's sports and sports very definitely came in a poor second. Games if at all possible had to be played on Saturdays so as not to disturb study halls or classes. We did have high school football and basketball teams. By the way the high school team always gave way to the college. High school basketball served as the preliminary to the college game. I have mentioned on more than one occasion that the high school students were kept in a state of humility. You were nothing until you got into college and especially when you got to be a college junior or senior. I am not discounting this procedure. It served a purpose that I have seen to be wise. When I see the pomp that very often goes with high school students of today, I appreciate the humility we were taught at Northwestern
I did go out for football my first year at Northwestern. But when you remember that I was hardly five feet tall and not quite a hundred pounds you will realize the humor in the situation. Two things come to mind. In practice I was on defense when coming through the line carrying the ball was a senior by the name of Otto Pagels. He was all of two hundred pounds. I looked at him and waved him by. No foolish thought of tackling that guy and being a dead hero. One time I was given the ball and came through the line and burst into the open. I can still the look of disbelief on the faces of fellows, what ever happened to let that guy get loose.
My contribution to sports was to play on class teams in basketball and softball, most of all to cheer the varsity on in their endeavors. We had no cheerleaders in my early years. The girls never dared or never thought to take over that position. I was into college before we had a formal cheerleader and of all people who would you expect to introduce that role? None other than Arvid Gullerud. He came as a college freshman from DMLC and joined our class. When basketball games got under way there was Arvid on the floor leading cheers. Northwestern College was a boys' school from start to finish.
I am convinced the male domination because basically there only males around through the eight years of high school and college led to a devoted life of study and mental growth without the distraction of a lot of social activity. It made possible the carrying of the tremendous class load that was set in front of us.
With that observation that may well be disputed, I will run and hide for a while.