CHAPTER 6: RIB LAKE
I. RIB LAKE YEARS
Recollections of Roland A. Gurgel via emails to family, 2000-2001
Rib Lake was a Lumber Mill Town It had been built up to a large extent by the owners of the mill. There was a company store. Maybe some of you will recall the song about owing your soul to the company store. There were a good many houses built by the mill owners. One house just like the next. Over the course of years others moved in and built their own homes so there was some variety.
The mill itself was built on the west shore of the lake. Originally, I suppose, the logs from the timber lands were brought in by horse and wagon or sleigh depending on the season. For many years before we came there the logs were brought in by a locomotive running on tracks that were laid back into the woods. That track ran down to the lake just a few blocks from the parsonage. Each morning the train came to the mill puffing huge clouds of coal smoke. Keep your wash off from the lines until after the engine and cars headed back to the lumber camp in the woods. Arriving at the end of the lake where the mill was located the logs were dumped into the lake to be taken up one by one on a track to the place where they would be sawed. In the winter months the edge of the lake was known as the hot pond. The water was kept warm so no ice would form.
The logging was interesting. We journeyed out to the lumber camp one day to the operation in the woods. I cannot remember whether we rode the train back into the lumbering area or not. It is quite possible that we were allowed to do that. When we came to the lumbering camp we were invited into the dining hall and kitchen area. No one was allowed to talk while the meals were being served. The idea was to avoid lumberjacks getting into a fight. We also toured the sleeping quarters. Bunk upon bunk, no space wasted. When we came to Rib Lake the mill was in its last months of operation. The forest supply of logs was fast dwindling.
We also toured the mill itself. We watched the logs coming up from the lake on to the trestle headed for the saw. One man gave the signal to the sawyer what was to be done with each particular log. They, the logs, were constantly on the move until they were finally cut into the form determined. Then out to the curing, drying area and finally piled up outside the mill waiting to be sold and shipped.
As mentioned the whole operation was on its last legs when we moved to Rib Lake. A year or so after we came there the mill was closed down. With the closing many people were without a job. Many moved away. That included many who were members of St. John's Lutheran Church. The congregation lost a good many communicant members. But many remained as well for there were those who operated small farms in the area as well as working at the mill. The village Rib Lake was a village of some 6 or 7 hundred people, looked for a way to employ the people who stayed. A shoe factory came to town and provided employment for quite a few. The nature of the employees changed from the days of the lumberjacks and those who worked in the mill. They were husky strong men. In the shoe factory many more were women and smaller; or lighter men.
Just a few words about the lumberjacks: Many of them would work until they had accumulated a fair amount of money. Then off they went on a drinking binge. When the money was gone and the hangover done they would come back to town looking once again to go out into the woods. Quite often some of them would stop at the parsonage looking for something to eat to tide them over until they got back to the camp meals.
The village had as you might well guess its supply of taverns. It also had the company store as well as another grocery store run by one of the members of St. John's. There was a hardware store, a drug store run by the husband of one of our members. She was a good singer and really made the choir I started into something special. Her name was Thelma Upjohn. Her daughter worked in Eau Claire when we were there. She, the daughter was an artist with some ability. There was also a shoe repair store in town and again the wife of the operator was a member and she too was a singer with great ability. Those two ladies helped make that choir into something to rejoice in. There was a bowling alley in the village run by a man by the name of Kapitz. His wife belonged to our church. She put up with his infidelities for some time and finally decided she had had enough. Filed for divorce. The husband came to me and begged that I should bring about a reconciliation. She agreed and dropped the suit. When she did he turned around and filed for divorce. He didn't want the stigma of having her put him out. "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man?”
Rib Lake also boasted of a bakery. Every other week the baker would bake a rye bread such as I had never tasted before nor since. It was a light moist rye of some kind. I wish I had gotten his recipe. You had to be in line on the Saturday that he baked that bread. I can still remember coming home in triumph with a loaf of the coveted bread in hand. Mother and I would make that our supper. The village also had a barber shop run by one of the members. Sad to say he was not too faithful in attendance. But I did enjoy one special day with him. He took me out to the backwaters of a stream to fish for bass. I never ever had such luck bass fishing. Filling stations, a bank, and a funeral home were also part of the businesses. The funeral home was operated by Elmer Taylor. One of the finest friends I have had in my years in the ministry. I will write more about him in paragraphs to come.
Outside the village was the village dump. A place to haul your refuse and a place to come into contact with bears. Yes, there were bears within shouting distance of Rib Lake. When one went trout fishing in the woodland streams you kept one eye on the fishing line and the other eye one the watch for bears." I can recall the day when one of the member who lived on the edge of town came to the parsonage and asked whether we would be interested in bear stakes or roasts. A mother bear and her cubs wondered into his pasture and he disposed of them I was not too certain about bear stakes so I politely refused.
Speaking of being offered wild game, one fall day a bachelor member of the congregation came to the door with a sizable package in hand. He inquired if we might like some venison steaks. I accepted with thanks. After he had placed the package in my hand, he made the statement that of course I had a hunting license for it was required to have venison on the premises. He left. No, I did not have a license but we kept and enjoyed the steaks. I was not so certain that a license was really required but I never asked him.
More of Rib Lake to come. Dad
II. RIB LAKE DAYS
Notes or article author name can be added in this area.
The village of Rib Lake had three churches, a Methodist, a Catholic, and our Lutheran Church. In the area around Rib Lake were many small rural Catholic Churches. They were all taken care of from a large parsonage in Rib Lake that housed 3or 4 priests. It was always of interest to me to meet these priests at the post office in the morning. One was dressed in priestly attire the others is sports clothes. One had to stay home and answer calls the others were free to do their hunting and fishing in season and out of season. Game laws were not highly respected in that area at that time. The deer lived off the fields of the small farmers, so the farmers felt justified in taking one when they needed meat. It was not much different with fishing. I can remember preaching one Sunday on the Fourth Commandment and pointing out that meant honoring the state mandated game laws. Smiles on the faces of the members were rather obvious. The president of the country congregation, a fine older man, had his daughter and son-in-law living with him on the farm. The son came home saying he had worked hard to miss a deer on the road. The father said "next time hit it we need meat."
One evening I decided to go fishing and to take your mother with me. Elmer Taylor said do not worry about getting a license for Lois. The game wardens never show up on Spirit Lake. I decided the right thing was to buy her a license. That evening a boat pulled up next to ours and there was a warden checking on fishermen. I can still hear him saying as he looked at your mother's license. Indeed you do have brown eyes.
Making calls in the countryside one day I saw many of the farmers pausing from work, kneeling down, and crossing themselves. It was Corpus Christi Day and a Catholic priest was slowly driving down the country road elevating the communion host. All the "good" Catholics kneeled and bowed the heads. The only time I ever witnessed this in my lifetime.
The country congregation that I served was made up of farmers with small farms who worked part time at other jobs. The cattle usually roamed the woods or small meadows. The tilled fields were relatively small and for the most part were used for raising hay. Corn very often never ripened because of early frosts. A few of the members raised mink to supplement their income. They were quite friendly people and their children very often rather shy. They lived a secluded life. Homes were modest and some even primitive. I recall one log cabin in which the children climbed a ladder to the loft used as their sleeping quarters. Took me back to my study of early pioneer days in the east. The first Sunday that I preached in that country church, the congregation was almost entirely made up of women and children. After the service when I inquired where were the men and older boys. The reply was that they were out fighting a forest fire. Then I became aware of the smell and sight of clouds of smoke.
While I have you with me at that country church, let me give you a picture of it from the pulpit. Just beneath the pulpit was a wood burning stove. When that was fired up to heat the church, it heated the preacher up also. Talk about a sweating preacher, I was it quite often. It was the custom there to conduct Sunday School between the Epistle and Gospel Lessons. The children would come to the front pews and the pastor would tell the story for the day while the older members might catch up on the gossip of the day. Many of these things changed before I took leave some three years later.
I was in my second year as pastor when the synod officials decided to realign the country congregation with a different congregation. They told the officials "no way, they were happy with the way they were being served. Some years later the change was made. I was no longer there.
Toward the end of my years of serving in that area, the congregation decided to plant a wind brake by the church. Each member was to plant a tree and the spot and name were carefully recorded. I often wonder how my tree is doing now some 50 years later. If you ever get out to
Greenwood Township, east of Rib Lake, look up the records and see if your father's tree has survived. After I left they also built a new church building.
In my day there the road out to that country church was not a paved road. In the springtime it was often very muddy to say the least. During the week when I made calls getting stuck was not uncommon. On a Sunday morning, however, I took no pity on my car. It went plunging through the mud at full speed. I never missed service once. The country congregation wanted an early service so I always started out there. In the dead of winter I would get up several times at night to start the car so it would answer the call on a Sunday morning. I never missed a Sunday because of a car not answering the starter button.
Once incident I have related to you on numerous occasions was on a cold winter morning getting to the church in the country and finding no one present. The church was unheated. I went across the road to a little grocery store run by one of the members who also served as the custodian. When I asked, what was the problem, they replied have you looked at the thermometer this morning? It reads 53 degrees below zero. What are you doing out here? So I started back to town when I came to Copper Creek, a small creek that emptied into Rib Lake just on the edge of the Greening home, I looked out on to the lake and there was a man ice fishing.
Speaking of incidents: it was in serving this country congregation that I missed a scheduled meeting. It was on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon when there was a meeting of the Ladies Aid. I was on the road to Medford with mother and children, Lois Jean and Paul, when suddenly it dawned on me that I was supposed to be at one of the member’s homes for a meeting with the ladies. Too late to get back to where I should have been. Only one other time in all my years can I remember missing an appointment. It was shortly after I became president of ILC an urgent business matter made me forget that I should be in the classroom teaching a class. Instead I was in my car heading off campus. The students waited a few minutes and waved me on my way.
Well I have been roving around the countryside for a while. Will soon get back to town and our start in Rib Lake. Dad
III. RIB LAKE FOLK
Notes or article author name can be added in this area.
The Rib Lake area found people of many different European backgrounds in evidence. There were many Germans so we had German as well as English services. The lumber industry attracted many Norwegians, Swedes, and Finns. There was a Finnish Lutheran Church, a member of the Synodical Conference, not too far from Rib Lake. I can recall even preaching there on one occasion. Polish people were also in evidence. There were a few other nationalities to be found.
The parsonage was an old, very large structure. A closed in front porch with many windows graced the front of the house. A good sized living room off from which on one side was a fairly large study or office, There was a formal dining room which led into a good sized kitchen. Off from the kitchen was a bedroom and it had a smaller bedroom or nursery between it and a hallway that led to a stairway. On the second floor were three bedrooms and a bath. There was a full basement beneath the house with a furnace room a laundry room and what do you have room. In the laundry room one wall had a sizable opening that gave the mice free access to the house. It was a nuisance to say the least. Cannot remember if we ever got it fixed while we were there
The house was located on a little hill looking down to the lake to the south and to the high school to the east. Between the house and the lake there was a large expansion of marsh that had been filled in over the course of years with debris of various kinds, much of it from a tannery that had operated in Rib Lake in former years. The same was true of the area between the house and the high school. I mention this because of an incident that happened one spring. I was cleaning up the garden and burning the refuse. Suddenly a puff of wind picked up some of the burning materials and carried them down to field below. Well the upshot was a fire of some proportions. The fire department under the leadership of Elmer Taylor made an appearance and attempted to put out the blaze. Down into that mixture below the surface the fire found its way and smoldered for weeks.
As mentioned earlier when we moved to Rib Lake mother and Lois Jean were put under quarantine because of scarlet fever. I was allowed to conduct services but to refrain from too much contact with the members. Some contact was required because even before I was installed by my brother Karl, I had to officiate at a funeral. I did not have much of a problem figuring out what to do those first weeks of semi-isolation. Just down the hill from us was the lake and I knew what to do with that. Rib Lake was not a really large lake and it did not have a great variety of fish, but it did have a good-sized population of large or jumbo perch. They were not only of good size but of excellent taste. Soon after we came to Rib Lake the congregation purchased a pipe organ. An elderly gentleman and his brother came to install the organ. Because of a funeral one day they could not work so off they went to the lake to fish. They came back with a good sized catch of perch. Mother invited them to the house for a fish fry that evening. They did not stop eating until the last of the perch were gone. The brother loved his drinks and as a result at times needed to sleep off his indulgence. He would do that lying on the bellows while his brother worked on the pipes.
Permit me to take you back to the basement of the parsonage for a moment. It brings three memories to mind. While we were in Rib Lake Paul, John, and Kathy were born. Young babies mean a lot of washing. Your mother was diligent in keeping the clothes clean. I can recall going down into the basement one morning and taking a look at your mother. he had been busy with many things and her tired face greeted me. I sent her off to catch a nap and I finished the washing. Over the course of years I perhaps should have done that more often. Her parents were visiting us. A thunderstorm came up and lightning struck the church steeple. Mother was in the basement washing and apparently the lightning followed the wires into the basement and struck her. She came up after a while and was quite shaken. The third thing I recall about that basement was that it served as a home for a time for a puppy that was given us. It was a purebred cocker spaniel with papers. Mother took that pup under her wing. It was the only dog we ever owned. It did not last long. Paul as little boy had a run in with it and had his ear nipped. We do have a picture of Paul and that dog. While still a young pup it wondered over on to the high school grounds. The boys tossed it up and let it fall rupturing the poor pup. I had to take it out into the forest and shoot it to take it out of its misery.
Elmer Taylor was a man of many jobs and interests. He was president of the congregation when we came there. I can still see him going down the aisles at collection time. He would pat one on the head pull the scarf off another always something or other. He gave the bell ringer the instruction to ring the bell till he and his wife would get to church. He lived about a block away. When the bell started ringing they would leave the house and so they would be on time if the bell rang until they got there. He was the mayor of the village, chief of the volunteer fire department, and engineer for the sewer project. He bought the lumber mill when it closed down and turned it into a lumberyard. He was the undertaker for the area. His father had been before he was. His brother Art had a funeral home in Merrill, Wisconsin. Another brother had a funeral home in Wisconsin Rapids.
He had a cottage on Spirit Lake (BIG SPIRIT). Most of you will remember that cottage very well. We spent many a week there for vacations from New Ulm and Belle Plaine. We used it quite often while we lived there. Perhaps your father more than the rest of the family found time to fish out there. It provided a boat as well as some good fishing hours. Pan fish were in abundance, some bass, also northern could be had. Later, muskie were planted there. Today fishing there is poor. Both my parents as well as Lois' parents spent time out on that lake with us. You children will remember the boat trips to the little store as well as the paths in the woods Some of you will recall the day the tornado past through and lifted the water from the lake. Many pleasant memories of that lake and that cottage.
Our dining room set was a gift from the Taylors. They had it from their early married days. When they remodeled their home and bought a new set, they gave us the set as a Christmas present. Has been in our homes for more than 50 years. It was from Elmer's brother Arthur that I bought the De Soto automobile that served us from l949 until l960s. When we needed money for one reason or another Elmer would lend it to us interest free. He and his wife visited us in New Ulm and Belle Plaine and also Eau Claire. They served as sponsors for Roland H. Gurgel in l959 at Belle Plaine. Had mail contact with Elmer until he died a few years ago at the age of better than 90.
Next to the church was a small schoolhouse. We used it for Saturday school and summer vacation Bible School. It was large enough to give me the idea that we should begin a Christian Day School. I finally got the congregation to consider it. They voted to begin a school as soon as it was financially possible. That meant it was left in limbo.
I began a choir. We had many good voices and some exceptional voices. I referred to a few of them previously. Elmer Taylor had a good voice. Another man who was a big help was the owner of the grocery store, Harold Zielke. After some time the voices began to blend together and they enjoyed singing and I enjoyed directing them. I recall one Sunday when they were to sing I did not give them the music. Asked them to sing from memory and they did. Another young lady in that choir was Anna Mae Kohn who later married Mr. Dassow. They have been very active in the CLC over the years, first in California and of late in Loveland, Colorado.
Another family that was very kind to us and our little children in Rib Lake Days was a Mr. and Mrs. Herman Batzer. When we were preparing to move to New Ulm one of the big questions for our Lois Jean was, "Will I find a Mrs. Batzer in New Ulm?" Mrs. Batzer had been a school teacher in her early years. She had only a few months of Normal School. When during the war teachers were in demand. She offered her service but was told since she did not have a high school diploma, she would have to finish high school before they would permit her to teach. So as a fifty-year old grandmother she went back to high school in Rib Lake. She had fun in showing up some of the teachers. They could not give her a diploma quickly enough.
Will finish up with the three years in Rib Lake another day. Dad
IV. RIB LAKE NATIONALITIES
Notes or article author name can be added in this area.
I wrote about the different nationalities found in and around Rib Lake. I forgot to mention the Danes. We had a family of Danish decent in the country congregation. The name was Jensen. A fine family of parents and 4 children. Two young ladies of high school and college age and two young men also in their teens. They operated a rather large farm. Living with them was the grandmother who spoke very little English. I can recall visiting her and trying my best to read from the Danish Bible. The pronunciation must have been atrocious to say the least, but she seemed to understand and appreciate my efforts. The one daughter, Florence, became a teacher in a town outside of Watertown a ways, Juneau. During college days the Northwestern band always played for the church picnic there. It was a rather large Wisconsin Synod congregation. When the pastor retired, during our days in New Ulm, Florence Jensen tried to persuade the congregation to call me. The problem was that by that time I was not in line with the Synod's policies and they wanted no part of me.
In the village congregation was another Danish family. The grandfather, a daughter and her family who lived in the same house. The grandfather's name was Jepsen. He loved to work with wood. He made coffee tables etc. I met him shortly after we moved to Rib Lake. When I headed out to make calls in the country I would see this elderly gentleman sitting alongside the Rib River bridge fishing. I stopped to speak with him and so discovered Mr Jepsen. He was fishing trout. That was something new to me. A few days later he stopped at the parsonage and offered us a good sized German Brown trout. I was hooked. Bought my first fly rod and went out to visit with the trout family, brook and German brown.
Another avid trout fisherman was Vic Kohn, the father of Anna Mae. He operated the feed store. He took me out to the trout streams, but he said he would not show me his favorite fishing spots since I might show someone else and soon they would be overrun. He is the man who taught me the value of cats. His feed store had them in abundance and when I asked him why so many cats. He replied they are my profits. Every mouse they kill saves me so many kernels of corn or wheat or rye etc. It all adds up to pennies and dollars.
Rib Lake is the village where our first and second sons put in an appearance, Paul and John. They were still quite young when we left so they did not get to appreciate the lore of the woods and lakes at that time, but when we went back for vacations they had opportunity to appreciate the joys that part of Wisconsin had to offer. Kathleen also was born in those years but she was a babe in arms when we left.
Speaking of Kathleen, we had two young girls, high school age, from the Rib Lake congregation serve as her sponsors. Betty Blair and June Doubeck were the young ladies. They had been members of my first confirmation class in that congregation. There were seven or eight in that class. I never enjoyed any other class as much as I did that group. Bright, diligent, appreciative they were. They became part of a young people's society that was fairly large and very active. Young people from the country congregation came in to be a part of that group. They all blended well together and were a joy to be with. Leroy Greening was one of that group.
Young Peoples Societies have a way of blending and then moving on. It takes time for a new group to identify with each other. There seems to be a lull between one group and the next.
I think back to those two congregations with a lot of pleasant memories, perhaps because in reality they were my first congregations. In LaCrosse I had been an assistant. In Rib Lake I had the responsibilities.
We did not stay very long partly because we wanted a Christian Day School for our children and partly because the thought of serving one growing congregation beckoned. Serving two congregations can be demanding. What you do for one should be done for the other. Two Bible Classes, two children's instruction classes, two vacation Bible Schools, two Saturday schools. How I managed to find time for fishing --? Of course I did. Maybe more time than I should have.
While in Rib Lake I had three calls to serve other congregations. The first was to St. Mark's at Watertown. That was returned. The second was to West Mequon. That was also returned. The third was to St. John's at New Ulm, Minnesota. That was accepted.
We will take you on the journey another day. Dad
What you can do with the copies on ancestors—fine. When I look back I find many things that need correction. I have learned to be more careful over the weeks but I still find much that can use correction. I am not as familiar with the machine as I should be. I find paragraphs evaporating into thin air "where have all the flowers gone, Long time passing."]
Sorry I could not be at the wedding. I have had some correspondence with Jolene these past months. I wish her well.
This is the year for weddings. Saturday Paul's Daniel will be married. Next month Ruth's Vanessa will become a bride and then head to West Columbia, South Carolina where her husband to be will be teaching. In August Beth's Quinn is being married. As you know Tamra was married some weeks ago out in Boston.
Well keep up the editing.