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Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
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Memoirs of volunteers for the Retired
Senior Volunteer Program, Skagit County, 1989, Part 1

Part one of six
(Peth family barn)
      The Skagit Valley Herald's longtime photographer Scott Terrell shot this barn for a July 31, 2007, article, "Saving Skagit County's old barns." He captured the essence of a centennial [plus a decade] structure, that was standing two miles north of LaConner when Louise Schmidt Bensen [below] was born on the John Peth farm in 1919. The caption read: "La Conner-area farmer Gail Thulen hopes to save this old barn, built in 1898-99 by his wife's grandfather, John Peth."

      [Journal Ed. note: We recently discovered a charming little booklet that the RSVP program published in Skagit County during the celebration of the Washington state-centennial in 1989. The book was edited by two members of the staff, Dot Schleef and Char Shipley. Volunteers in the program — 99 in all, provided short vignettes about their lives that are fascinating to read. We hope that if readers know any of the people who wrote below that they will contact us and give us more details. For instance, if they did not indicate, can you tell us what city they lived in, what their spouse's name was, etc. Do you have a photo of any of them or do you know their maiden names? For those who are deceased, we wish them R.I.P. and hope that family can provide information about their death dates and an obituary. Further, we hope that those readers 75 and over will provide us with similar vignettes of their own lives and their families' lives so that we can expand this section in the future. Keep in mind that these volunteers were generally born from 1895 to 1915 and matured during the Depression of the 1930s. They were the generation prior to the "Greatest Generation," as Tom Brokaw named them, the folks who matured during the World War II years.]

Louise Schmidt Bensen, born 1919
    Any time, any amount, please help build our travel and research fund for what promises to be a very busy 2010, traveling to mine resources from California to Washington and maybe beyond. Depth of research determined by the level of aid from readers. Thank you.
      I was born on the John Peth farm on the Samish flats. My first historical memory is the flood in 1921. My father put my older sister and I in a row boat and rowed us across the fields and over fence posts to the foot of Joe Leary Hill where our grandmother was waiting with horse and buggy to take us girls to higher ground, Bay View.
      Here is also my story of the huge pine tree still standing on the old Osborn place at Padilla. I was 5 years old and my aunt and uncle took me clam digging on Whidbey Island. I pulled up the little tree and brought it home with me. My uncle helped me plant it out in the far corner of the yard. I've watched it grow all these years and I never drive by without recalling that day, which seems like only yesterday. One of my favorite stories told to me by my grandmother, Minnie Schmidt, was her arrival here in Skagit County in 1889 as a young bride. She and grandpa married in April of that year in California on her arrival from Denmark. They took the boat from San Francisco to Seattle, a small boat to LaConner, then a canoe to Bay View.
      There they purchased a wash tub, filled it with the necessities of housekeeping and with one on each side and carried it up a path through the woods; a place which was to be their first new home. Pitched a tent and lived in it until grandfather built a log house, dug a well, built a barn, etc. Although the house burned in the l940's, the barn still stands on the Ole Tollum farm on Marihugh Road [Northwest of Burlington and south of Edison.

June Swihart, born 1906
      I was born in Iowa and I grew up in Minnesota on a farm. In the winter time the snow was so deep it was over the fence posts. My Dad put a sleigh on runners, and put sleigh bells on the horse and we went around the neighborhood and picked up all the children for school. We always made our own fun. There were 9 children, and we made hoops to roll with a stick, made snow forts, and climbed trees. On rainy days we played or napped in the hay mow. I came to Washington in 1940, and came to Sedro Woolley in 1968. My husband and I worked at Northern State Hospital 17 1/2 years. Then I started volunteering at Sedro Woolley Senior Center.

J. Wm. "Bill" Taylor, born 1918
      I was born in Friday Harbor and raised on a farm. My father taught me that when working for someone, do what you are required to do and then, do a little more. It has paid off for me at every place I've worked. I have always been a leadman or foreman within months. I have worked on many fund drives; cancer, Red Cross, United Way to name a few. I enjoy working for organizations that help people — help themselves.
      I have attended several colleges (no degree) and taught one quarter at Whatcom Community College. I have worked at a g number of occupations — a sort of Jack all-trades, but master of none. I believe every day is a good day, only some are better than others!

(Catholic altar)
This 1939-era postcard shows the altar from the Catholic Church in Sedro-Woolley. It was then called St. Mary's; we are still researching when the church took the name Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Louis Mikota
      After my retirement in 1979, I continued as a volunteer fireman and treasurer in the Burlington department and financial secretary of the Knights of Columbus for three more years, before retiring from both jobs of almost 20 years duration. Retirement got me involved with the Senior Volunteer Program, taking seniors to doctors, etc., SHIBA, crime watch and volunteer bus driver for the Burlington area on Wednesdays. My spare time is spent in gardening, fishing, hunting, pinochle parties and honey-dos.

Doris Mikota
      This ardent flower gardener takes a water pail of flowers to the shut-ins, leaving a small bouquet of flowers to each, with a good listening ear to cheer them. I do enjoy the beauty of these lovely people and their collective years of wisdom. She also drives seniors on emergencies to their doctors or to the hospital and does personal shopping for them. It was two years she worked on the Burlington crime watch program. I am Doris Mikota, wife of Louis. I'm a household engineer and take senior telephone calls from the program that keeps my husband on the go in his volunteer activities.
      [Journal Ed. note: back in the early 1990s, I met Doris Mikota, when they were living on Horizon Street in Mount Vernon. She told me that she and her husband's family donated the money for all or most of the altar to the Catholic Church, Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Sedro-Woolley.]

Herschel Curry, born 1905
      I was born in Hiezer, Kansas. When I was a baby, my mother's health was poor, so my aunt took me home to care for me and I stayed with her. Then we moved to Indiana.
      In 1946 I moved to Washington and worked as a printer and paperhanger. There were probably 3,000 people in Mount Vernon then. Sane of the old buildings in town are still the same, but it has grown a lot.
      In 1952 I bought the house that Florence Newman's father built on the corner of 13th and Section. Later I sold it and moved to Avon. I worked for the state 6 years and then retired. One of my hobbies is growing flowers and trees. I've enjoyed volunteering for years.

Name: Mae L. Ewing, born 1911
      I was born in Sedro Woolley and had a wonderful playhouse my Dad had made. We covered the walls with postcards and I played with my dolls. My sister was born at home when I was three and a half and I didn't like it much. My Mother did not have time to rock me.
      I didn't like school. My Mother told me I had a guardian angel and I sat over at the side of the desk to leave room for the angel to sit. It was a good feeling! After high school, I went to business school and then worked at Skagit Steel in Sedro Woolley.
      During the war, I lived in Washington. D. C., and worked with Red Cross at a hospital. That started me in volunteering and I've been volunteering since I retired in 1976.

Ellis Andrews, born 1905
      Born Summit Park, Anacortes, WA. I am an RSVP knife sharpener at the Senior Centers. My Proverb: 'Tis not the tools a person has. It is knowing how to use the tools that they do have.
      My story: Money cannot buy sharpened knives. A lady handed me her knives. They were in bad shape, cracks in the handles, full of dirt and mud. I told her I would take them away from her because they were unsanitary. I told her I would take them home and put new handles on them. This was January, 1989. In March, 1989 I took the knives back to her with the new handles on them. The lady wanted to pay me. I told her "No, pay RSVP." A lady said, "You owe Ellis a big hug". That is more than money could buy.

Mary Ploeg, born 1917
      I was born in Bellingham at St. Joseph's Hospital. I've lived in Skagit County all my life, and my great-grandparents, Claude and Elizabeth Denis, came here in 1859. They lived in LaConner and my mother was born there in 1888.
      They later settled in Edison and that's where I grew up. I lived with my grandmother, Kate Schumacher, as much as I did at home. When I was I5 I started working as a telephone operator for Skagit Valley Rural Telephone. In the summer I worked all day for $1.00.
      I graduated from Edison Union High School in 1935. Then I worked on several farms as a cook and then got married at 19, 1 and lived on farms. In 1950 we bought the Dutch Pantry and managed that. We made lots of friends.

Clara Bowe Beyer, born 1911
      Born in Sedro Woolley, Washington. Moved to Anacortes at age of 4. Father worked as a shingle weaver, sawing shingles for one of a number of mills in Anacortes. He developed tuberculosis from shingle dust and at high school; I was let out early to go to the mill to help my mother nail bands.
      Started work in one of the two bakeries, after graduating, gained 15 pounds and fortunately left to work at Bank of Commerce. After 3 years when banks were closing during the depression, I left to go to work in Seattle. Returned to Anacortes at age 65 and became involved in Senior Center activities. Love to dance, bike, exercise and hike and help others.

Olive Annabell Lovell, born 1915
      I was born in Central Square, New York. I was raised in a small town. My parents were real good to us all and there were 3 brothers and 4 sisters.
      We all went to my grandmother's and aunt's during the summer when there was no school. I had a very good time. When I was grown up, I worked in a number of places in the State of New York. Then I went to live in Seattle. Then I got married, then came to the State of Washington. Then I slipped on the grass in my yard and broke my ankle, so I started getting "Meals on Wheels" and started going to the Senior Center. I sure enjoy helping others, as I got help when I needed it.

Edna Fritsch, born 1922
      This is my life. I started my life in Bramwell, Idaho. I am the 8th child in a family of 11 children, 4 boys and 7 girls to Sidney and Nellie Pitman, losing our mother at 8 years old.
      Attended school in Emmett, Idaho, for 6 years. Then my family that was still home, 7 of us journeyed to Big Lake, WA in 1936. We were in a Model-A coupe with a rumble seat. It took 3 days to make the trip. I attended the Big Lake school which was in the old gym while they built the school. We walked 1 1/2 miles to school. The family all had chores to do before going to school. All of us loved living near the lake, for hiking, swimming, fishing and boating.
      A wedding in 1943 — a very happy one lasting 38 years and having a family of I daughter and 1 son. Both are married and having four grandchildren makes life happy. Moved to my home place in 1944. Later on in life I started coming to Sedro-Woolley Senior Center and I am still having fun.
      [Journal Ed. note: we have not determined if Edna was related to the Fritsch brothers who owned the hardware store of the same name in Woolley from 1892 onwards, through their tumultuous years of the Teen and '20s decades. We hope a reader will know. Read about the Fritsches here: http://www.stumpranchonline.com/skagitjournal/S-W/Gen/WoolleyFire1911.html and we will be updating their family profile with new research next year.]

Mable Bakke, born 1905
      Once visiting my sisters in The Ralston Towers in Modesto, CA along with another sister who came from Whittier, all four of us made an appointment to have a shampoo and set at a beauty salon school. We had to walk some distance in the hot sun. A little old lady came up to the reception desk and discovered she had come off without her billfold and had no money.
      Molly, who always seem to have plenty, said, "How much do you need, honey?" The reply was, "Enough to get my hair done." Sister Myrtle was across from me — with eyes big as the moon. None of us said a word while Molly dug the money out of her purse and handed it to the lady and said "You live in Ralston Towers and you can give it to me later." The lady replied "but no I don't live there! I had paid my yard boy and must have left my billfold on the table." Molly, believing she too had walked a long distance.
      I was sorry for her. Later all of us said, "We want to know how this turns out." Answer was "Yes, she mailed me a check." This proves you will receive more than you give, for Molly always seemed to have money. She would say to me, "Spend it for what you need, honey," and anything she had was mine.

Rosella Irwin, born 1910
      I was born in Sedro Woolley, WA and have lived in Skagit County most of my life. I married in 1931 and moved to Anacortes then, living here since that time except for 2 years spent in Everett, WA and 1 year spent in California. I have been a widow for 20 years. I became a member of RSVP in 1974 or 1975.

Laura K. Myers
      I grew up with two older sisters in a nice big house in Seattle's north end. The older sister knew of secret rooms . . . one past the paneling in the dining room; the other was beneath a huge maple tree in the back yard. She said she would take us there if we followed her orders. But neither Cleo nor I were good enough to see these secret rooms containing all sorts of goodies.
      Our cat was a beloved pet and we wanted to know if he could land on his feet. He was lowered from an upstairs hall window. Then the sisters looked for something to use in putting me out the high window. Lucky me! Nothing was found. Incidentally, the cat came back.
      My teachers were competent and helpful. The algebra teacher even had "tea parties" for slow learners. I was on the Honor Roll in my Junior and Senior years. This April my Golden Beavers Class of 1932 is having a reunion. will anyone there recognize me now? Fifty-seven years ago I wore smaller shoes!

Marcile Gerlt, born 1918
      I lived in a small town of 5,000, Falls City, Nebraska, until I was 18. At that time, during the depression, my father sold his dray [transfer or trucking] business and we moved to a farm close to Centerview, Missouri. For me it was a big adventure. we had to use kerosene lights, carry our water up a rather steep hill and wash our clothes on a washboard. At harvest time, all of the families using a certain I threshing machine assembled where the machine was working and the ladies cooked a huge meal, the ingredients being supplied by the hostess, and the men did the harvesting. I also got to attend neighborhood dances, apple-peelings, and quilting bees. After getting a 60 hour teaching certificate I taught in the local school until I married — which was a no-no!
      [Journal Ed. note: back in the Depression years of the 1930s especially, in most cities the community let the school board know that only single women should be employed as teachers. Married women were expected to get by on their husband's salary and thus, should not be taking away a job from a man who needed to support his family.]

Clara Leslie Nagel
      I was born on my parents' homesteaded farm near Burnstad, North Dakota. I came from a family of school teachers. My father got his education at an Iowa college and taught for 17 years. My eldest sister also taught 17 years, all in North Dakota.
      I knew before I entered the first grade that teaching would be my profession and I learned to read so I could teach others to do the same. My husband was a school teacher and superintendent, teaching 42 years, and I taught 27 myself. We taught together for 20 years, including six in Alaska at isolated villages. We found children were the same wherever we taught and we enjoyed every minute of our life work.

Lilly Glassmeyer, born 1921
      I was born and raised in Mount Vernon, Washington. My parents were Carl and Helmi Newman. In 1939 I contracted tuberculosis I and spent 3 1/2 years in a sanatorium.
      When I was 24 I moved to Southern California, where I lived for 24 years. I moved back to Mount Vernon and took up flower and vegetable gardening. In 1982 hubby (John Glassmeyer) passed away and I began looking for other ways to pass the days. I started conducting the exercise class at the Mount Vernon and Burlington Senior Centers. In November 1984 I became Director of the Burlington Senior Center and held that position until November 1987. I now travel about the country, sometimes visiting my only son, three grandsons and two great-grandsons who live in Southern California. Otherwise, I shop for a shut-in lady, do handwork and flower gardening.

See Part One with links to even more of these 99 memoirs of Skagit County old-timers, organized in six sections.

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Story posted on Nov. 22, 2009, updated Dec. 7, 2009
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