THE BATAVIA HISTORIAN

Volume Forty-Six

No. 1

 


January 2005

Charlie Kline's Memories of Growing Up,

Working and Firefighting in Batavia

 

"I was born in Batavia, September 5, 1918, and I attended the Louise White School and graduated from Batavia High School in 1936." That is how Charles Kline began the interview with Bill Wood and Bill Hall on June 19, 2004. Charlie, as he was better known, had one brother, two years older. They lost their mother when Charlie was nine. At about the same time, his four year old cousin Ray Anderson's mother died, so their grandmother took over raising the boys of both families in the home on Park Street. She was strict and insisted that the boys

had to be in each night at nine o'clock, all the way through high school! (How would that go over today?) "One time," Charlie recalled, "we were sitting half a block up the street under a street light, talking to Johnny Kielion and Paul Stone. Up came Gram, waving her tiny arms -- she had a switch, swinging it back and forth. "We would walk up River Street and see some of the spooky shows, Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi, and we would walk home in the middle of the Streets because we were so scared, But we had to be in by nine." Asked about his schooling, Charlie recalled, "When I first started to school, something went wrong with my knee, and my mother took me to school in a coaster wagon, going down Washington Avenue and dropping me off at the door of Louise White school. When she turned around and went back, I went up Van Buren Street. I had an awful time when I started school. Later I used to walk to school with Don Schielke. He would comb his hair and wet it down with water.

 

He lived on Columbia Street about two blocks down, and by the time we got to school in the winter time, his hair was icy n he had crystals of ice. "My first grade teacher was called Little Miss Olsen -- she was the sweetest little girl anybody would ever want to have for a teacher. Our second grade teacher was called Big Miss Olsen; she was the wife of Glen Oppfelt, then a partner in Bert Johnson's Drugstore on Batavia Avenue. And my third grade teacher was Adine Bergman; her brother was Gunnar Bergman, who was famous for ping-pong and quite a baseball player. "My fourth grade teacher was Alma Anderson, a Batavia resident, and my fifth grade teacher was Edna Olsen. But I mustn't forget Miss White, the principal. She watched over me -every time we had to make Valentines in school for our mothers, I would cry. She was concerned and showed it; she said, 'Make one for your grandmother.' She was one of the best women-in-all Batavia at that time. "In the sixth grade we started junior high school -- well, we still stayed at Louise White, but we had a home room desk, and we had to go the different rooms, such as for science and for literature. My history teacher was Alice Gustafson -- a wonderful woman, and we all know about her. In the seventh grade, my science teacher was Opal Emery. The literature teacher was Amy Bell. And Frances Neddermeyer was our English teacher; she had to drive all the way from Naperville every day in her Model T Ford. "Miss Neddermeyer was a remarkable woman. One time there was a smart aleck boy -- I won't mention his name because he is still around -- who was acting up, and she said,'George, please leave the room.'

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He had an ink pen in his mouth, and he went smart alecking out of the room; she came up behind him and hit him along the side of the head so hard that the pen flew out and hit the floor. "Another time, I asked permission to leave the room to get a drink of water, and as I stepped out of the room I heard 'Slap, slap, slap.' There was Miss Scott, in the cloak hallway with some mother who had been called down to correct her son. The mother had brought the father's belt with her, and her son was leaning over while his mother wreaked havoc on his hind end." Asked about high school, Charlie continued, "All four years were in the Depression, and it was deep. [Ed. note: You can get an idea from the handmade program for the June 1, 1935, Junior-Senior Prom; note the dinner menu. What would today's students think, many of whom go to such places as Tribella and 302 West in Geneva for their prom dinner?] "The basketball team, I think, won the Little Seven championship. The boys just started to get tall, 5'9 or 5'1 0, maybe 6 foot was the tallest except for Eugene Seymour. He was about 7 foot tall -- that's one of the reasons I think we won the Little Seven that year. "H.C. Storm was a wonderful man, There were certain students who wanted to go to the University of Illinois, and he was helping them financially, out of his own pocket. I happened to walk out of the north end of the high school one day, and there stood Mr. Storm. He said -- and he knew every student by name -' Charles, where's your homework?' I said that I didn't have any, to which he replied, 'You go back in and get some.' That's one of the reasons that the old ones turned out to be so decent."

 

Asked about what he did when he got out of school, Charlie replied, "I started to work as an apprentice at the Challenge. After two years there, I was drafted and was in Pearl Harbor after the bombing -- saw a lot of wreckage. My brother was in England and my cousin Ray was in Europe when we got word that our grandmother had died, but none of us could get home. There was a plane leaving for the West Coast every hour, and I put in for a leave but the captain said, 'No, you can't go home.' I had wonderful memories of her, and still have. "When I got out of the service, I returned to the Challenge foundry and finished my apprenticeship. Elliott Lundberg worked in the office, and Eric Anderson worked in the foundry because his father, Big Oscar, was the foundry boss." "What about the fire department?" Charlie was asked. "You were a volunteer there, weren't you?" "Yes," he recalled. I had 27 years, and my father and I together had 69 years as firefighters. Former Chief Richter said about my father, 'Bud Kline was the toughest firefighter I ever knew. We didn't have protective equipment in those days, as we have now, but he was a born smoke eater. He would give it everything he had.' And my nephew Dave was a firefighter, too. "After seven years at the Challenge, it closed. I went to work for a while at Burgess Norton. Then Charles Dickenson, who was working at the Batavia Dairy, told me that there was an opening there.

 

So I went and spent over twenty years with them. The dairy had three owners -Frank Pierson, Melvin Kraft and Phil Ekman. People used to say, 'Kraft has the brains, Ekman has the money, and Pierson has the strong back.' Frank was a hard worker.

 

"Evelyn Mair, Tom's stepmother, worked there -- she was a wonderful woman. After a few years there, she decided to quit. She said, 'Mr. Pierson, I'm leaving in two weeks.' He didn't say anything. So, she decided later to tell him the same thing. He replied, 'Well, we all gotta go some time.' And that was it." Asked what he did after the dairy closed, Charlie replied, "I had twelve years to go before I was 65. I got a job at Walker's out on Kirk Road. It was a good place to work even though pulling exhaust pipes was.hard.J nevehad an easy job and never cormplained. Walker's had good benefits, and I quit the day I turned 65. Although Charlie spent his working days at these companies, first the Challenge, then Burgess Norton, then the Batavia Dairy and finally Walker's, it is easy to see where his heart was - with the fire department. His face lights up when he recounts his 27 years as a volunteer fireman.

 

 


 

The VanNortwicks in Batavia

Part 2: The Early Batavia Years

 

 

In the July 2004 issue, we continued with William VanNortwick's 1835 move, under the cloud of an undisclosed financial embarrassment,

from New York to Batavia. His son,John, remained in New York, working on the canals, while William, actingon behalf of his son, was attemptingto establish a milling business here. In this issue, we shall trace the developments over the next twelve years until John, upon completion of his work in New York, moved to Batavia with his family. What brings this story to life is the voluminous family correspondence,

which William's great-great-grandson, William B. VanNortwick, included verbatim in his VanNortwick Genealogy, a copy of which is in the Batavia Depot Museum.

 

We cannot overemphasize what a gem this collection is, bringing early settlers to life and vividly telling us what life was like in the early days of our community. It gives us far more than mere names and dates. In the story that follows, we find John's increasing frustration with his molther's handling of what John referred to as "the Illinois venture." We see business alliances develop and sometimes fall apart with persons whose names are prominent in Batavia's early history -- Judge Isaac Wilson,Joel McKee, Titus Howe, George  Makepeace, Alanson House and Colonel Lester Barker. We are reminded how tight money was on the frontier when we watch a dispute over $500 fester without resolution for more than five years.

 

The dangers of mixing business and family are driven home as we follow the entanglement created when one of William's sonsin- law refuses to move from property owned jointly by the VanNortwicks and some of their business partners. Most of all, we see clearly the risks that come from absentee ownership when inept management with frequent turnover, and possibly William's meddling, create continuing losses for John and his fellow New York partners. These problems are exacerbated by continuing cash calls, which some of the partners occasionally find it difficult to meet, and the apparent failure of John, in particular, to respond to urgent inquiries or to meet with others as scheduled. With these observations, we shall get into the story. As before, with one exception we shall quote from the correspondence verbatim, not correcting spelling or grammatical errors or attempting to edit passages that may not be completely clear. We do this to give the flavor of language that was prevalent in those days when many of the correspondents had little, if any, formal education. Although the grammar and spelling may be flawed, the writers had good vocabularies and knew how to express themselves.

 

 The only exceptions to quoting from the letters exactly as written are the occasional insertion of punctuation and the breaking into sentences of long paragraphs, especially William's. In March, 1836, William, now settled in this area, wrote one of his frequent letters to John, who had remained in New York. After discussing the weather (which he concluded was not as bad as New York's), he reproached his son for not having written in some months. "We have received no letter from you since December or any of our friends at the east. In your letter you informed us you expected to come here this winter. We have three times received packages of newspapers. On a paper in the first package, you wrote you were going west in January, which we supposed ment here. Last eavening we received a package. On one paper was wrote. 'I cannot see you this winter.' You may judge we were all very mutch disapointed.

 

Why you shold let the whole winter pass under sutch circumstances without writing to us, I can not tell. "In my last letter I endeavored to press on you the necessity of coming here this winter, and I thought I gave sufficient reasons but it seems my reasons were insufficient or eaven worthy of an answer -- I know very well the expence and fatigue of so long a journey and the necessary loss of time and should not under existing circumstances press it upon you if did not think your best interest would not be promoted by it. Eaven if you should lose your place on the canals on account of it, no cuntry perhaps in the wourld offers greater inducements to enterprising young man with small capital than this, and if you should make this your permanent residence I have no doubt that in three years you would make more than you would in ten years on the canals." Two months later, John had sent his father $200 with a promise of more, but William was still dissatisfied with his son's tardiness in writing. "I ... had fondly expected a letter from you ere this if you knew how mutch anxiety I feel to be informed on the subjects I wrote to you about.

 

My improvement here so mutch depends on your favourable condition to help me to means. I would barely mention to you that in order to get along with our business here I have been under the necessity of buying a span of horse and will want within sixty days [?] to pay for them over and above what I have formerly rote you. I want you to write to me immediately. Let me know about everything I rote about. I am preparing to build my dam. Should be glad if you could send me a mill wright. I do not expect you here this spring." But William's concerns were not solely with business. In 1836 newly arrived Methodists in the Fox River Valley organized a church in William and Martha's home -- the first religious organization within the present city limits. It continued to meet in the VanNorwick home until 1852 when the growing congregation built its first church. It would appear that dfficulties with the dam arose because of what William perceived as "Howe's prejudice against me." After a round of negotiations involving several persons and the exchange of several properties, William advised his son that the problems had finally been resolved, but in such a way that John ended up as a one-quarter owner of the dam rather than one-third as originally planned -all at a higher price. These negotiations must have been quite stressful beause we find William's daughter Margaret writing to John that "Mother's health is quite improved since this purchase as the contention between Father and Howe is now settled." Even with the reduction in John's interest, William claimed (possibly putting the best face on what had happened) that it was an advantageous arrangement since it brought in a man by the name of Boardman -- a "man of high standing and wealth and as a business man especially in hydraulics works not surpassed by any in this country or almost any other and from his high standing and business habit the company will derive an advantage more than equivalent for the deduction of his quarter of the propertiy -the payments are to be made as follows: one thousand dollars down, $2500 in three months, $2500 in six months, the remainder in one year.

 

Howe is to compleat and finish the dam and mill -- the company will own in all over eight hundred acres of land worth at least for farming purposes $6000." Still later in 1836, William wrote again to John, "I think propper to rite you again on the subject of your business here. In the first place I am perfectly satisfyed as to the propriety of taking into the firm Mr. Boardman as I am persuaded no other man in this country could have bought Howe out -- but I am not so well satisfyed about taking in Mr. Barker. This will reduce your share to one fifth instead of a quarter if you should agree to this arrangement." We have no indication how this transaction arose or whether it was consummated, although it probably was since we find William advising his son on how to pay his one-fifth share of some firm expenses. Presumably this Barker, later referred to as "Col. Barker," was the son-in-law of John Gowdy, the Revolutionary War veteran buried in the East Side Cemetery. All this apparently involved moving the dam to a place where William and Howe agreed that it should be built. William seems to have taken satisfaction in knowing that this would thwa' Judge Wilson, who, William wrote,J find is making grate calculations on the advantage resulting to him from the present location of the mill. This you will defeat by moving the present dam and mill." In January, 1837, Alanson House, one of the partners, complainied to John that "Ballard [first name Charles -- married to John's sister Frances] is determined to keep that place and refuses to pay any Rent or portion of its Products in consequence as Ballard says of your not doing as you agreed with him." This is a problem that would plague the business for years and will create friction between John and his partners, who thought, with what appears to be some justification, that it was a personal matter that he should get resolved.

 

In February, 1837, John made what appears to have been his first visit to Batavia, but there is no indication what decisions may have been reached. This must have been when, as reported in Historic Batavia, "the first plat of Batavia was made on the-east side by VanNortwick, Barker, House ant..b Co. with John VanNortwick doing the surveying." Over the next few years, the matter of Ballard's refusal to move off what was claimed to be company property and John's continual refusal to pay Ballard the $500 that Ballard claims John had promised him arises in letter after letter. So does the increasing irritation of the other partners that John does not take action to resolve the issue with his brother-in-law. House wrote John, "...we are disappointed Ballard is dissatisfied which dissatisfaction seems to have arisen from an incouragement held out by you to assist him to $500. Under such circumstances I think it devolves upon you as an individual to reconcile Ballard rather than upon us as a company to contest the point with him by Law." John did write to Ballard stating, "I very much regret that I ever had anything to do with property on the Fox River." We know that nothing came of this because the "Ballard problem" continued to raise its head, without resolution, until at least 1841. In August, 1838, William complained about the problems of old age in a letter to John: "[T]he mony was thankfully received and regret it very mutch that I am under the nesity of troubling you but so it is and I will not murmur or complain for, not withstanding old age, losses, crosses and disapointments meet together in me, yet the-Good Lord is very kind-unto me in giving us all to enjoy good helth and although we have but little of the wourlds goods we try to be contented and are trying to lay up treasure in heaven.

 

I feel that these little conflicts and tryals will soon be over with me - if I should be permitted to see three score and ten -- alas how few live to that age. Sixty years with its infirmities admonishes me my stay here is verry short. .." How familiar such musings must be to many with ageing parents. (And William remained on this earth for sixteen more years!)

 

We find the partners increasingly unhappy about their investments and most of them, at one time or another, anxious to get out. In 1839, apparently John was one of these. And there is dissatisfaction with the managment of the company's affairs. In a January, 1839, letter to John, House complained about the performance of Boardman, who a few years earlier was hailed as the saviour of the business. He wrote, "I have no reason to question Mr. Boardman's integrity but doubt his ability to conduct our affairs as they should be." This is a line of dissatisfaction that will surface, time and again, over the next few years, with several targets other than Boardman. In 1839, the first hints surfaced that William might be one of the problems in the operation of the mill. In a letter to John, apparently from George Makepeace, we find a discussion of William's health and the the statement: "I will remind you that he is growing old and his mind is failing fast." And then, we discover in a letter from William that the partners have been displeased because he has been logging on-company property. Apparently Boardman had been unhappy about this, and William had offered to pay for what he took. Now we again find William feeling rather sorry for himself. In a very long letter in May, 1839, he wrote: "I know I have been a grate trouble to you. Have patience a little longer. It will

soon be over. I presume you think you will never be sutch a burden to your little boy. I fondly hope you never may."

 

It seems that William's interference was getting worse; in April, 1841, House wrote John: "One intimation in relation to your Father I verry much regret, and as difficulties or differences has arisen between the old Gent and each individual having the property in charge before Churchil.-"":;' causes me to apprehend that something of the kind is now brewing. Churchill mention that the old Gent says that himself and young Parker (a ladd) is to take charge of the grinding mill in a few days exclusively, which he does not altogether approve. He sometimes countermands his orders in his abscence, which is unpleasant and very improper, especially as all the responsbility devolves upon him and not upon the old Gent." A month later William told his son, "Now I think you better say nothing to the other owners about Churchill management -- they will be satisfyed when they come here that he is not the man to manage business here and will find it necessary to buy him out." We do not know what John's response, if any, may have been, but here as in other instances it seems that the absentee John leaves others to sort out problems that are essentially family-related.1 Later that year, we find House rEI" turning to the partners' old refrain. II....; discussing a possible land transaction, he wrote John: "The slough and island ought to belong to the property there to make it valuable. McKee will probably ask more than it is worth to him, and again if he did not we are too poor to make any cash engagements. For My own part I am heartily tired of Western Speculation. It has been an incessant drain upon us without one cent return or, as I see, a prospect of it."

 

In May, 1842, John gave his power of attorney to his father-in-law, Meredith Mallory, to represent him in property "owned by me in company with Lester Barker, Alanson House, George R. Makepeace and J.S. Churchill." This was probably an initial step in edging his father out of the company's operations. Apparently in two letters, copies of which we do not have, John must have upbraided his father about something. William responds, "I think the first rather unkind. If you have been drawn into busines here that is not likely to be profitable, I am not to blame for it. I have done the best I could under existing circumstances." Moving forward to 1845, we see the same old problems continuing -- and John becoming increasingly exasperated. He wrote his father, "The fact is I am not made of money -- in order to meet my obligations I must have my pay as well as others -- I shall send no more money -- then the property must take care of itself..." And he concluded, "You may think some part of this letter is pretty short and sweet, be it so, you will understand that I have laid out a great deal of money in that country and not the first farthing2 have I ever received in return for anything ... I begin to think that it is about time the tables were turned and at least I feel that I should not be called up unnecessarily." At least one other letter is missing, but it is apparent that the strain was

increasing. In August, William wrote his son. "I received your letter of 17th of July last evening.

 

After maturely considering, I have come to the conclusion that you had better send some person here to take charge of your property here as soon as you can make it convenient for I do no think that I am nor ever shall be capable of rendering service that will be acceptible." Not having cooled off by the end of the letter, William reiterated, "In conclusion would call your attention to what I rote on the first page of this letter. I want and shall expect you to send some one to take charge of all, not a part of your property and businees here. I have ever endevored to promote your interist to the best of my ability here and elsewere ... I can truly say i have not spent your money in disipation or extravagant living. My attachment for this place and your interist has been strong and ardent but can assure you if you wish to send Mr. Mallory here or anyone else to -conduct your affairs here, I can give up my charge without a lingering wish to be in your way or theirs." John responded promptly: "Your letter was duly received without consultation. I made up my mind on its receipt to send Mr. Mallory on to Fox River if I could get him to go. This I have at length accomplished although much against his wishes.

 

He and Mrs. Mallory will leave here on Friday and will probably reach Fox River in nineor ten days." The letter went on to say that Mallory would have charge of all John's business on the Fox River, although William could continue to operate the farm if he wished. He acknowledged that the situation would create embarrassment for Mallory and "may appear humiliating" to his father, but that he trusted they would be able to work this out "to the comfort and happiness of both." Probably trying to soften the blow, John continued, "You said in a former letter that you did not expect that you would be able to carry on all my matters then to my satisfaction. This probably is true, and it may be the same may be said of anyone who may attempt it -- I have no doubt of your entire devotedness to my interest in the management of my matters -- Your age and the hardships and trials you have experienced have in some measure unfitted you for so arduous duties and so much care and fatigue as is necessary to the successful management of my affairs there." John may appear to come off here as a rather "cold fish; however, we can well imagine that his father's actions, incessant letters of complaint and the unsatisfactory state of the business in Illinois had probably driven him near to distraction.

 

How does one fire his own father easily? In 1846, John was preparing to wind up his work in New York and move with his family to Batavia. Some of the correspondence then suggests that there was a lighter, warmer side of his character than we have heretofore seen. Writing to his father-in-law, he said, "I would send my love to Mari and children but I suppose it may be doubtful whether this will find them there -- I guess I may as well send it - if they are not there to receive it you can hand it over to my next best friends."

 

And then to his own father, John wrote, "When I left I placed William [then ten years old] at home in part under your control and direction -- I hope you will see at least that he is kept from loafing about and out of bad company." We find no record of what John did regarding his property in the years immediately following or what the arrangments were with his partners, but an 1849 letter from House indicated a desire either to sell his interest to John or to buy John's. Apparently it turned out to be the latter because, as disclosed in HistoricBatavia, Joel McKee and George Moss purchased the mill from House in 1850. John had discovered other fish to fry. In the next issue, we shall trace the development of the VanNortwick business enterprises as John gets into railroads and other businesses, which in time were run by his son and grandsons. We shall hear no more about William -- although it is interesting to note that, despite his complaints about his health and advancing years, he lived until 1854, achieving what would then have been the ripe old age of 75. Ed. note: It is obvious that the principal source for this story was WilliamB. VanNortwick's VanNortwick Genealogy, but we had recourse to other sources.

 

Marilyn Robinson has written extensively about the VanNortwicks in her Batavia Places and the People Who Called Them Home, and we also obtained information from Marilyn's and Jeff Schielke's John Gustafson's Historic Batavia.

 

* We may do John an injustice; he may have been more forthcoming than evidence indicates. It would appear that the family letters in the VanNortwick Genealogy come primarily from John's files, and ones that John may have written to William or his partners were not always saved. 2 It is interesting to note that here, as late as in the 1840s, we find much of the correspondence referring to shillings and farthings.

 


A Gala Party For Museum Volunteers

 

On Tuesday, December 7, about 80 Depot Museum volunteers gathered for a luncheon and entertainment at Shannon Hall. After a delicious luncheon, Chris Winter thanked all the volunteers for their efforts during the year and then paid special tribute to five: Georgene Kauth for opening and closing the museum on weekends; Kathy Fairbairn for scheduling volunteers; Marilyn Robinson for all she does in keeping the Gustafson Center running smoothly; and Sandy Chalupa and Dorothy Staples for maintaining records of the society's artifacts. Then came the outstanding entertainment that Carla Hill and Chris had arranged. "Those Funny Little People" sang, danced and mingled with those in attendance in a performance that held everyone's attention. It was fun -- as usual. And a note to non-volunteers: You, too, can enjoy this annualluncheon and receive a free Christmas ornament by volunteering in 2005. All you have to do is call Carla or Chris at 406-5274 or Kathy Fairbairn

 


 

Membership Matters

 

We continue to grow! With this issue, we shall be mailing almost 600 copies of the Historian -- and many of these involve family memberships that include at least two members. Growth isn't everything, of course, but it shows the support of so many

people. We welcome this and urge those of you who can to participate in the society's activities. Since the last issue, we have added as life members Richard Henders of Batavia and Patricia Snickenberger of Winnetka (gift from Oliver Wolcott). Other new members (from Batavia unless otherwise indicated) include Margo Cooper; Dolores Derrick (gift from Lorraine Winter); Claudia Goggin, Laura Lundgren (DeKalb), and David Pinner (gifts from Ardenne Pinner); Diane Wicklund Van Bavel (Woodbridge, VA), Greg Wicklund (Geneva), and Lois Wicklund (gifts from Pete and Leslae Kraft); and Dr. Edward D. and Rachel D. Williams (Santa Fe, NM). We regret to report the death of life member Cora Mae West, known in Batavia as "the lady on the bicycle." We received a gift from Sally L. Hazelton in memory of Adelaide Nelson.


 

Cruising, Growing up in Batavia and other Memories of Bob Nelson

 

 

A recent newspaper story covered restaurants and cruising in the 1950s and referred to Batavia's Bob Nelson. Thinking this subject might be of interest to readers, Bill Wood and Bill Hall interviewed Bob on April 24, 2004 -- and we got a lot more than cruising. Bob is well-known for his many endeavors in Batavia, including co-chairing the annual Brotherhood Banquet.Those who drop into McDonald's any evening except Saturday will recognize him as a regular member of the illustrious group that gathers there for an hour or so to solve the day's problems -- and just to reminisce.

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"Bob," we asked, "the newspaper article on restaurants and cruising mentioned you and Jim Anderson. Who was the other one they mentioned?" "It was Kent Johnson," Bob replied, and then continued, "If you look back to the movie -- I don't know if you saw American Graffiti -- it gives you an idea about cruising. That was when kids back in the '50s and '60s were first getting cars, they were pretty neat and they would cruise. Our particular area of cruising was from Batavia up to St. Charles. There were no places in Batavia really, but Geneva had the Fox Valley Restaurant, and then we would go up Anderson Boulevard, which became Third Street in St. Charles. Then we would qo out east to what is now Rex's Cork and Fork; it was Locke's Drive-in at the time.

 

Back in those days, you had carhops. So you would go there and meet other kids from other towns and fall in love for a week or two. "Another place was Robert's Drivein in Geneva at the "Y" where First and Third Streets split. Same thing -they had carhops. And in Geneva for a while, on East State Street, there was a Dog 'n' Suds. We had a regular pattern, and we'd cruise up and down all evening long. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of great memories come from there. Some of the people I knew from the other towns, I still know. That's probably where I met them, back in those times when we were all in high school, or just out of high school." "What year did you graduate?" we asked. "I graduated in 1958 -- born in 1940. I always say I was born in Batavia, but actually, like most of my generation here, the first week or so of my life was spent at Community Hospital in Geneva. So, I don't know if that makes me Genevan or a Batavian, but I guess I've probably been long enough here now to be considered a Batavian." Asked about his growingup memories, Bob responded, "The first thing that flashes in my mind comes from Bill's reminder the other day that it was the 99th birthday of Jane Elwood, formerly Jane Tincknell. I sent her a card and reminded her that she and I opened the then new McWayne School on Wilson Street. I went from fourth grade in the old school into fifth grade at the new school. Miss Tinknell was my fifth grade teacher. "As seventh and eighth graders, we had dancing lessons at Louise White School. I must admit that the real highlight was walking back home to the west side and stopping at Vie's 'Elbow Room' for sundaes and cokes. "And then there were the paper routes. Our boss was Jack Laydon, and we met in the basement of his store. This was in the days when you folded each paper and put them in a sturdy canvas bag to be delivered, usually on your bike, to your assigned neighborhood.

 

The worst part was Sunday mornings when we got up at 3 a.m. so everyone could get their paper early. "In retrospect, the thing I remember about growing up in Batavia is what an innocent time it was. I don't know if there was any crime -- you never knew about it. Kids all knew each other. A big thing was when the east-side kids joined us. When I was going into seventh grade, neither McWayne nor Louise White had enough room for all the students, so they took a few kids from each school and combined them in the basement of the high school -- the building that later became the middle school and then was torn down to make room for the new library, By sheer luck, Jim Anderson, Dick Isbell and I -- the three amigos of our day -- were selected to go there. So we were pretty happy about that." Bill Wood inquired who some of Bob's teachers were in the basement of the old high school. Bob recalled, "Ruthe Seiler was my homeroom teacher for both years. And I remember George McCloud doing science experiments -- the nail in the coke bottle, making a door bell, things of that nature. There was Tom Wallace. And "Ace" Hapner was the basketball coach. Right around then Sam Rotolo came; he had us in football." Turning to Bill Wood, Bob went on, "You asked earlier about my grade school teachers. I can name them all. Dale Winter was the principal at McWayne. First grade I had Leota Capps Wolcott -- I think it was her first year in teaching. Second grade was a lady named Eldora Hoover, whom I think," Bob said, turning to Bill, "you probably have heard of. Third grade was Georgia McLain, fourth was Mary Powers, and fifth was Jane Tincknell and Mabel Galloway. Sixth grade I had Mrs. Everett and Marlis Averill.

 

"As I said, it was an innocent time, and I don't remember being conscious of a world outside of Batavia The first outside event that I remember hearing about was the Korean War. I remember this guy on the radio telling about the hordes of Communists pouring over the line, and I could just envision all those people who were against us, coming down and shooting guns and wiping out people. "But still, it was an innocent time. When the weather was nice, we were always outside. We played ball every day. Now everything is so organized. They have to have uniforms. On our walk every day, I go by the Little League park and see the equipment they have. Have you seen those bags with all the bats and everything, really nice, just like the major teams have?And it's all right n it's just that they can't do anything spontaneous." "Where did you play?" we asked. "Either down at the Walnut Street playground, once in a while, or usually up to the athletic field. We grew up there. There was a main diamond up there that's still here, butthere was one right next to the tennis courts n just a smallone n that we used. "The Batavia Cardinals played on Sundays on the main diamond. Maybe they weren't semipro, but they were just like semipro n good postcollege guys. A couple had even tried out for the major leagues.

 

A guy named Ray Collins kind of ran things. He was an alderman later. "There were no houses on Republic Road then, just farm fields, and the guys would sometimes hit a foul ball over there. Collins would pay you, either a nickel or a popsicle from the refreshment stand, to go through a hole in the fence and get it. But sometimes we'd go out there and hide the ball, then come back the next day and get it. These were nice baseballs, which we normally couldn't afford. Ours were all friction-taped up, just like our bats. "Sometimes the players would break a bat and just throw it away. We were bat boys, and we'd take the bats home. We would put wood screws in them, run friction tape around the handles, and use them ourselves. Just another example of the innocence of those days. "In the fall we probably played football. In the summer, swimming at the quarry -- I know there was a long stretch when I would go swimming three times a day n right when they opened up, then maybe later in the afternoon, and if my folks would let me, after supper. A lot of swimming at the quarry -- really a fun place. "That Ray Collins I mentioned earlier," Bob continued, "also had responsibility for the Quarry He'd be the guy on Sunday afternoons stopping the traffic and making sure the people were from Batavia.

 

If they weren't, he'd charge them the appropriate amount. A guy running the stand, at least for one year, was Russ Ahern, who was the coach of the Hebron basketball team that won the state in 1952. A couple of years ago, they came out with a book about that team, Then There Were Giants." "What about skating," we asked. "Yeah, I did some. The winters sure have changed. We'd go probably from November, sometimes through March. It would never melt enough that we couldn't skate. They would have a big old 55 gallon drum from Stephano's Body Shop, and we'd build a fire in that if it was real cold. A lot of kids skated. A couple of my classmates were rescued-- they skated too far up north one time and went in. Dave Mettel and Larry Ridgeway, both now gone, were saved by, I think, Donnie and Wally Benson. "I don't want to forget to mention 'The Huddle,''' Bob continued. "All during my early years, and I believe for at least 20 years or so, we had a thriving teen center know as The Huddle. Started and staffed by adults, it was the 'thing to do' in Batavia. I believe it was open year-round, but most activity was centered on Friday nights after the games. We had light refreshments (pop, candy, etc.), some ping pong tables, and most important, probably, a juke box. Kids could dance, just listen, or just hang out and talk. "Mrs. Hulda Scheidler was our adult chaperone for many years. She was honored as Batavia's 'Citizen of the Year' for all her many years of service to Batavia's youth. An absolutely wonderful woman." Bob continued with recollections j' .J. his family, one of which is particularl~ indicative of how things have changed over the past fifty or sixty years. It was a different world, Bob recalled. "My grandfather was a custodian at Bethany Lutheran Church. Most people in that neighborhood went to Bethany.

 

That's where they settled. But our family left the church for a few years, and I can tell you why n I have told everybody else. "When my grandfather died, he was not much more than a nominal church member. Back then, one of the traditions was that when a member died, they would ring the bell at noon the next day -- one ring for each year of the person's life. In those days people would count the rings and say, 'Yeah, that's so-and-so.' When my grandfather died, Pastor Haig came to the family, my Aunt Ann, and said, 'Now if you'll pay up your father's dues, we'll ring the bell' And the family left the church n rightfully so, I think. But later I got jealous of the other kids goinf" through confirmation and went back on my own in my junior year." , After graduation from high school, Bob worked at a restaurant for a while and then at Furnas. He recalls, "I can remember making a dollar sixty an hour, which was pretty good money back then, Then I heard about this place over at West Chicago that had just moved out from Chicago, Western Electric, and they were paying like a dollar seventy something. So I went over there and started on February 1, 1960. Except for a two-year interruption for military service during the Vietnam War, I worked there for thirty years. In 1990, I got a nice buy-out n pension and full medical benefits. "Then I worked for AI Birkeneder in his shop under Rachielles for almost ten years. After that I went to drive a school bus, and I just love that. I was at Laidlaw for two and a half years, and now I am in my second full year at Geneva." This ends our story -- but not Bob's. We trust that he will continue to be, a fixture in Batavia, as he has been IV over sixty years.


 

COAL CRISIS HITS BATAVIAIN 1950

National Coal Miners' Strike Affects City

 

by Marilyn Robinson

 

January 9, 1950, United Mine Workers began a series of wildcat strikes that caused a major coal shortage in the United States. Batavia soon suffered a severe shortage of coal. By January 13, the city had less than a week's supply on hand in local yards. Prospects of cold

homes and closed schools and industries seemed real as the city's coal pile rapidly diminished with no prospect of getting new supplies. Thorsen Lumber Company, Alexander Lumber Company, and the Plumer Fuel Company made efforts to take care of their customers as they divided their supply among those most in need. As days passed and the coal production business remained at a standstill, the emergency became more grave. The Grace McWayne School was down to a three-day supply, and the other schools had less than a week's supply. Closing of the schools appeared imminent. Public health was involved as homes that were poorly heated, or not heated at all, became a menace to the health of residents. If schools had to close, it would seriously interfere with the education of children. Closed industrial plants would interfere with family budgets and the community's economy.

 

Citizens sent letters to President Truman urging him to get the coal miners back to work or declare a national emergency. January 20 saw no relief. Conditions were worse than the week before. Dealers scraped the bottom of the bin in a desperate effort to keep fires going in Batavia homes. Zero weather did not improve the situation and meant that the little coal remaining was used up more quickly. McWayne School got a small supply of coal and did not have to close. A carload of coal from Kentucky was delivered directly to those homes that needed it most. By the end of January, there was no coal on hand at the coal yards for a few days. Some cars did come in but with not enough to provide for all homes and industries. Local coal yards required eight cars a week for normal winter conditions. "We are not getting anywhere near that amount. The situation is desperate," said Robert Thorsen. By February 6, President Truman had invoked the Taft-Hartley Act against the coal miners. Their leader, John L. Lewis,advised the men to go back to work, but they defied him.

 

 During February things continued as they had in January, but the first part of March saw zero weather that seriously affected the coal supply. Dealers ran out of coal for the many homes that had used their last shovel full. Batavia's situation grew more desperate. "How long would it be before night meetings, schools, and other community gatherings would have to be called off?" On March 7, the miners won a new contract, and the strike was over. It didn't take long before the coal supplies in Batavia were back to normal.

 


 

Record Attendance

At Annual Potluck Dinner Meeting

 

About 130 members and guests attended the December 5 Annual potluck dinner meeting at Bethany Lutheran Church. As usual the food was delicious, and the program was outstanding. In a brief business meeting that proceeded the entertainment, the members approved a change in the by-laws, providing for an increase in the board from eleven to thirteen members. Following that, the following officers and directors were elected: Richard Benson, president; Christine Winter, secretary, Jerry Miller, treasurer; and directors Philip Elfstrom, Robert Peterson, Marilyn Robinson and John White. Officers and directors continuing in office for another year are Patty Rosenberg, vice president and program chairman, Georgene Kauth, corresponding secretary; William Wood, historian; and directors Robert Brown, Carole Dunn and Alma Karas. After the business meeting was adjourned, vocalist, Julieanne Vickers, entertained the members and guests with a variety of Christmas favorites. A number of those in attendance bought cookbooks that Carole Dunn had prepared from recipes of dishes that members had bought to previous potluck dinners. If you didn't get a chance to buy one then, you can do so through the Depot Museum. They're a steal at $5.


Batavia When

Heritage Roundtable

At the Civic Center Tuesday, January 25

 

Please mark your calendar for Tuesday, January 25, 2005. The society will hold a Heritage Roundtable at 2 p.m. at the Bartholmew Room in

the Civic Center on that date. The subject will be "I Remember Batavia When." Be sure to come and bring your friends. Also bring photos or any other mementos to share. The discussion will be open and wide-ranging; we want to hear what you have to tell us about your memories of Batavia. Following the session there will be light refreshments and a chance to visit with friends. We'll look forward to seeing you.

 


 

Let's Hope You Get This On Time

 

Some of you may wonder why you are receiving issues so close together. It's because some of you, possibly as many as one half, received the last issue almost a month late. Your editor and the membership chairman were among those who wondered when the mail would arrive. It turns our that a number of copies were temporarily lost at the Postal Service's distribution center. We believe all were eventually delivered and have been assured that this issue will be handled carefully. We certainly hope so.