Community Alert

Life and legacy

January was my birthday month, and I’m now 89 years old. I never expected to live this long, and I certainly didn’t think I would be working at this age. But I fortunately chose a profession that I love. And thank goodness, the News is willing to put up with me.

As a child and teenager I was sickly, but things began to straighten out for me when I reached my mid 20s. I had been valedictorian of my high school class but had not felt well enough to go on to college. However, I became very bored staying home. I had much enjoyed mathematics in high school, and I suddenly decided that I could attend a business college for a year or two and become a bookkeeper.

I was able to pay the tuition upon enrolling, having saved up babysitting money and gift money I had received through the years. The classwork was easy for me, except for typing. I just couldn’t combine accuracy and speed. All of a sudden, I had finished everything else and was “typing only.” That’s when having paid tuition in advance proved to have been a wise move. The school was eager to get rid of me!

They started sending me out on interviews, and I was quickly hired by the bookkeeping department of a Minneapolis clothing store that no longer exists. I was very pleased with the salary, and at first I enjoyed the work. I had been a member of the staff of the student newspaper in high school and had loved doing that. Now I began to question my idea of training for bookkeeping. For fun evenings, I wrote short stories and I wrote letters to many relatives and friends. World War II was going on, so I didn’t aspire to owning a car, gasoline being rationed, etc. I went home to Northfield frequent weekends by train. One weekend as I boarded, someone waved to me and called to me to share her seat.

It was Margaret Starks, who later became a close friend. She was a daughter of Nellie Phillips, who wrote social items for the News and the “Mom” column regarding Northfield young people in service.

While we visited on the way to Northfield, Margaret suddenly said, “You should look into it, the News needs a bookkeeper. I thought to myself, “I will look into that!”

I can’t remember whether Margaret gave me a ride home or whether Dad was there to meet me, but I know I went into the front door and walked through the house to the kitchen where Mother was at work. I said to her, “I hear they need a bookkeeper at the Northfield News. She replied, “Yes, you have an appointment at 7:30.” (I had told her the only reason I would ever return to Northfield would be to work at the paper.)

Well, I was hired, and I’ve been here ever since. One of the reasons I wanted the job was that I hoped I would get to do some writing. And sure enough, I was able to get the bookkeeping done in half a week and I could spend the other three days writing. I suppose I did that for a year. But then Norman Roe, a brother of the publisher, Herman Roe, arrived on the scene. He was an accountant and had been working for the government. But he had taken seriously ill and had separated from the government work. Now he was feeling better and was willing to take on the books at the paper. I got to write full time. After a while, I was named editor and did that for 19 years.

I stepped down from editing when I turned 65, but no way did I want to stop writing. I had become active in the Northfield Historical Society, so taking over “Do You Remember” was a natural. And I continued my personal column. As the years have gone by, I have become healthier. When I turned 75, a bunch of my allergies disappeared. I just have food allergies left. Maybe I can be rid of those, too. I’m really looking forward to the 90s!

A person can still ride a train

When I was a child and even when I was in my 20s, I very often went somewhere on a train. During World War II, train travel again became most satisfactory because gasoline was expensive and buses were always having flat tires out in the "middle of nowhere."

I renewed my acquaintance with trains when I used to spend a spring weekend as guest of the John Schillbergs in Osceola, Wisconsin. Mrs. Schillberg was the former Martha Miller Closson of Northfield. We had been across-the-street neighbors in Northfield. After my mother died, Martha invited me to spend Mother's Day weekend in Osceola.

I can't remember when part of that weekend became a historic train trip. John was a member of the crew, dressing up in a railway employee's uniform and giving a lecture on what we were seeing as the train went through a picturesque portion of the countryside. Our party was seated on both sides of a table and served a very tasty dinner.

Well, Martha has been dead for many years now. John remarried and I had lost track of him, had no idea whether he was still alive. Recently, the Castle Rockers travel club, of which I am a member, advertised a Sunday ride on the Osceola and St. Croix Valley Railway, and I just had to do that again. Was John still a member of the crew, I wondered. Was he still alive?

Kay Rathke of Northfield, who is a member of the Castle Rockers board, and I made the trip along with a good number of Northfielders. We went by Northfield Lines from the Waterford area to Osceola. I was surprised when we stopped in Stillwater for dinner. It was the historic Freight House where we ate, having a choice of a chicken sandwich or a hamburger with very good "trimmings." I was mystified, but soon we were underway to Osceola.

We got there quite a bit earlier than the time to board the train, so we rambled around the streets in the rather small city. I didn't see much that I remembered. A copy of the Osceola-St. Croix Valley Railway News that we were given included a brief history of Osceola. I learned that the town was named for a much-admired Seminole Indian chief. In its early years, the settlement depended on steamboats to bring in needed goods and to export farm products. The town celebrated in 1887 when a long-awaited rail connection gave them access to the outside world. The Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad, currently known as the Soo Line, came through Osceola. Now, except for the Sunday special trains, there has been no train service since 1961.

The Osceola article said that Oliver C. Wyman, who made a fortune in the wholesale dry goods business in Minneapolis and had a summer home in Osceola, wanted his wealthy weekend guests to be welcomed at a railroad station of suitable elegance. He pressed the Soo Line to erect a much better depot than a community the size of Osceola could expect.

Well, mostly I remember the Dairy Queen, and fortunately, since we hadn't had dessert at Stillwater, we had time to buy one there before boarding the train.

I was surprised as we climbed aboard the train that the car was nothing like what I remembered. There were no tables. I "sunk to China" in the seat. But later I learned that there were more expensive cars on which food was being served on tables between seats.

All of a sudden I saw John. I was able to hail him down, learned that he is still working aboard the train. He is 88 years old. The "crew" is entirely made up of volunteers. It's lucky that I saw him, because he was working in another car.

The scenery was beautiful, but leaves hadn't started to turn there — that was Sept. 26. I would have liked to have been aboard a car where there was a lecture, although I am not sure that it would be like what I remember.

I'm mystified about the train. I was not aware that we turned around, but suddenly we were on the way back to Osceola. Maybe there was an engine on both ends!

Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. Follow her on Twitter @rooksuzy

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