Posts Categorized: Probits

Probituary: Ambrose “Spec” Wilmes

grandpa_specInterview and intro by granddaughter Molly. Spec passed away April of 2012

Ambrose Spec Wilmes was a man of stories. A history book that remained open for all who were willing to listen. He was also a beer drinker and a card player, but always wrapped up in these festivities you would find my grandpa, bringing to life the colorful and incredible story that was his existence. Painting your imagination with tales of a young boy hopping freights to California, playing instruments and singing for local barn dances, surviving The Great Depression or fighting in WWII. All it took was the slap of your arm and the statement “Hey, have I ever told you of the time…” and suddenly you were there, in another world and another time, sharing the memories of a man who no one could ever call dull.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be in the plays or a baseball player. I was in the plays at country school when I was seven or eight and always liked that. I also really liked baseball. There was no radio then to listen to the games, but we had our own team. We played in the pasture without gloves and a ball made of socks because we couldn’t afford to buy them.

What jobs did you do?
When I was a really little kid my first job was as a water boy. I had a cart and pony and drove water out to the threshers in the fields. I made good money doing that, $.50 a day.

When I got older I worked as a hired farm worker. Once the harvest in our area of Missouri was finished we would travel North and work on other farms. We used to follow the harvest from Missouri to Canada. After graduating high school I worked at the Maryville, Mo hardware store for about a week until two of my friends asked me to go to California with them. I got my paycheck; I was the only one with any money, and quit my job.

To get to California we hitchhiked and hopped freights, we would stop and work for one paycheck when we got hungry. We did many jobs in that time; we even topped sugar beats with the Hispanics.

My first job in California was with a company who was building a highway and railroad across the mountains. We all lived in camps right along where we were working.

Once I got to L.A. I worked in souvenir shop. I worked in the basement warehouse. When people would decide what they wanted they would send the numbers of the product down to me on an elevator and I would find the product and send it back up to them on the elevator. I also worked as a busboy in L.A. at may different hotels and restaurants.

I also bottled for coca cola. My job was to look for foreign objects in the bottled pop. We found a lot of cigarette butts and once I think I even found a dead mouse.

For a short time I worked for a carpenter, carrying wood.

I ended up in the Marine Corps as a gunner in dive bomber planes and then I was sent to radar and radio school. My official title ended up being ‘Radar Gunner’ and I spent my service time working with experimental night flying and bombing. We were the first unit to work with this new night flight/radar equipment.

After I got back from the service I was a radio repairman as well as worked at a service station where I pumped gas, washed cars, etc. I then worked in the railroad as a telegraph operator for 20 years. I worked many jobs on the railroad from Sioux City to Dubuque. During my time on the railroad, I opened a small gas/ grocery store in Brushy Creek, Ia. I’d haul groceries from the Fort Dodge warehouse. Those kind of convenience stores weren’t around in those days and my son claims I started 7-11 stores with my little store in Brushy Creek. After the railroad I opened a hardware store in Ida Grove, Ia. And after that hotel/ Laundromat.

Can you tell me what the Great Depression was like for you?
Just before the Depression, my father bought a 240-acre farm. He died shortly after that, I was nine, and left a new farm and 7 kids (2 girls and 5 boys) for my mom to care for. When the depression hit, we lost the farm but we moved to a little rental farm eight miles out of Maryville, Mo. My mother was able to keep the whole family together and she never turned away a beggar from town. She always made sure they had something to eat before they went on their way. At some point my mother sold off some of our animals and was able to get ahead just a little, with that money we put a down payment on a farm where one of my siblings and I were able to go to High School, we were the only two in my family to do that. The older kids could not go because they had to work on the farm.

How did you open the gas/grocery store?
First I had to borrow $500 from my mother to buy my initial groceries. I called the telephone operators and had them announce the opening over all the party lines. I offered free cigars to the men and free pop and candy to the women and children. I never had to pay for advertising and the opening was huge.

Can you tell me about the first time you jumped a freight on your way to California?
The first freight I tried to hop came around the corner and turned out to be a passenger train. Well you couldn’t hop a passenger train, so we turned around to leave but a railroad cop picked us up instead. We got thrown in jail for three or four days. They kept asking us if we had any relatives near, but we didn’t. Finally one of the boys got a hold of one of his cousins that lived near there. He came to the station to ID us. I turns out we matched the description of three boys who stole a car and they need someone to ID us and be sure were not them. The cop took us out to the highway where he’d picked us up and told us to ‘go home!’ We said we would but as soon as he was out of sight we headed to the other side of the road to head South for California.

What was a defining moment in your life?
The first time I learned to stand up for my rights was when I was working as a hired farm worker. We were working for a very large man in Fargo, SD. When we were all done working in his fields he told us to meet him in a bar in town to receive our wages. When we got to the bar, he was not there. We waited for him but he never came. The other guy I was working with wanted to just forget the pay and leave. We got a little ways out of town and I just couldn’t do it, I told him to turn around. We went back to the bar and found the guy we’d been working for. I stood up to him face to face and told him to pay us our money. I wouldn’t budge. The guy tried to say that he wouldn’t pay us because at one point that summer my team had gotten too close to the grain spout and torn it off and we had to pay for that. I said that was ok and he could take that cost out of my wages but we WOULD get paid for the rest of the summer. That was the first time I was scared in my life but the man paid us our money.

Probituary: Orville Magnus Running

orvillerunningOrginally published in the Oct/Nov 2009 Inspire(d) Magazine • Photo courtesy Luther College Archives

Answers recalled by daughters Marit Pudas and Marjorie Wharton • Orville passed away February 2012 

An Inspire(d) Probituary in honor of Orville Magnus Running, the great artist, mentor, role model, educator, and spiritual leader as he entered his 99th year (in 2012). Running’s artwork has been shown across the world and can frequently be seen throughout the Luther College Campus and in private collections across the upper Midwest. He spent his last days at the Aase Haugen home in Decorah.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
One day, young Orville wasn’t getting his way so he threw a tantrum. His father looked at him calmly and said: Orville is very angry and no one is afraid.

 What did you want to be when you grew up?
Orville loved chemistry, thought he’d like to continue studying it— until he found out it was a disguised form of math.

What do/did you do?
“Most of what I have done is based on what I learned in 8th grade shop.” He loved mechanical drawing; he discovered the wonders of India ink. He learned respect for tools and materials. He drew the plans for a printing press; Decorah machinist Mr. Karnik fabricated it following those plans. He also spent summers building silos – his crew could build a silo in one week.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?
Work gloves, cap, shop apron. Or perhaps a sketchbook, pencil, pocketknife ­– always carried one – it also functioned as a letter opener. Luther’s Catechisms, the Bible, and the old ELC Black Hymnary, although most of those were well memorized.

Try to describe yourself in one sentence.
Old Crock!

If you could eat anything every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Spam.

Multiple choice: tell us about… your wedding day.
Ordained to the Lutheran ministry and married to Marjorie Olney on the same day. It was the depression. Their families could not afford two parties; their guests could not afford two trips.

Second marriage to Mildred Lund. The reception was in the big dining room at Mildred’s Retirement residence. The caterer especially enjoyed the events because she usually prepared nice receptions for funerals.

Probituary: Dorothy Seegmiller

Dorothy Kid PhotoInterview/Intro by Janelle (Holty) Halverson • Originally published in the Winter 2014-15 Inspire(d) Magazine

Dorothy Seegmiller, 80,  loves phone calls, visits with friends, and a fun, social life!

Dorothy and her family (four children: Rodney, Mark, Daryl and Donna Kay) are dear friends of our family. You can count on her for a cheerful phone call and a chat that will leave you smiling. One of my favorite memories of a “Dorothy-call” is after she and Horace (her late husband), moved to town. Their house is located near the Lutheran Cemetery where my husband’s brother, Scott, is buried. Every time she would call, she always mentioned that she would chat with Scott while she was doing dishes because she could see where he was buried from her kitchen window. You never have to wonder if she is thinking about you or caring about what is happening in your life. She is a gregarious person who loves her new home at the Aase Haugen Home in Decorah. She says she never misses a chance to get out and socialize.

Dorothy and Horace PhotoWhat was the best advice you were ever given?
My grandmother told me “It’s your daily life that counts.”

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I think I wanted to join the military, but I never did. Instead I got married. I had a boyfriend at home, you know, and I couldn’t leave him (Horace). We got together when I was 14 and then we got married when I was 18, just about 19. I never thought I wanted to be a farm wife. I wanted to live in town. My grandparents lived in town and I just thought it was so much fun to live close to the activities and everything. But, I became a farm wife, 60 years. I enjoyed it but I don’t really miss the farm. I did that thing but I was happy to move to town.

If you were stranded on a desert island what three things would you want with you?
Definitely a good meat sandwich, a bottle of water, and my sunglasses.

Try to describe yourself in one sentence.
Oh, I don’t even dare say it (chuckles): Fat and Sassy.

If you could eat anything every day for the rest of your life what would it be?
Oh meat, I love meat. I’m from the farm. On the farm we had meat morning, noon, and night.

Tell us about your wedding day.
We eloped. I was in Decorah visiting my grandparents during the fair. Before we left that day I had to take all of my grandmother’s quilts out to be aired and put away. Then we left that afternoon to be married. We got our marriage license in Caledonia and got married and La Crescent at a little Methodist Church. The minister called the lady next door to the church to be our witness. We had a wonderful honeymoon through the West, about a week, week and a half. Through the Black Hills, Yellowstone, Montana, North Dakota, down through Minnesota and home to the farm.

What was your first job?
Babysitting for friends, relatives, and neighbors. The first thing I bought was a nice Easter Outfit and a purse and pair of shoes. Babysitting didn’t pay very well back then and it took quite a bit of change to buy a nice outfit.

What is your favorite memory?
My grandmother. We lived together on a farm on Locust Road, right across from where Horace and I lived – that was my home farm.