Interview with Ray (RH) & Mary Henn (MH)

Conducted by Betty (BM) and Chris Maier (CM)
28 July 2000, Strasburg, North Dakota

Transcription by Joy H. Stefan
Editing and Proofreading by Acacia Jonas

BM: The date is July 28th, the year 2000, and it’s about 2:15 in the afternoon. We’re in the Prairie Rose Apartments, right off the Linton Hospital. We have Ray and Mary Wagoner Henn with us, and we’re going to get started. Ray, can you say a few words?

RH: Yes, but I don’t know what’s important and all that.

BM: Mary, can you say hello?

MH: I’ll say “hi.”

BM: OK, that’s fine. What we want, really, is information about your growing up years in Strasburg, and particularly some of your school. Where were you born?

RH: I was born in Strasburg, ND, and went to grade school there. First in the church basement, I think it was, for awhile... the Catholic Church basement, and then later on in the new school that they built up on the west side of Linton.

BM: Who were your teachers when you started at Strasburg?

RH: Oh, boy.

BM: Do you remember any of them?

MH: Sister Edith.

RH: Sister Edith was our favorite. She was an English teacher. We wouldn’t have minded going to school for her on Saturday, as far as that goes. Sister Angela was one of them, wasn’t it?

MH: Angela.

RH: Say that again.

MH: Sister Angela. Sister Edith was our high school teacher.

RH: Sister Edith the main one.

BM: Did you start school in Strasburg too, Mary?

MH: Well, I think I started out in the country.

RH: Sure you did. She lived right within a half a mile of the country school out there.

MH: My folks planned on moving into town, so they did it a little sooner so I’d have the advantage of going to school.

CM: Where was the school located? The country school that Mary went to.

RH: Oh, about a half a mile east of their home place.

BM: And Mary, your parents were Thomas and Natalie Wagoner. And her maiden name was?

MH: Brickner.

RH: Natalie Brickner.

BM: So you went to a one room country school.

MH: I taught there too.

BM: And you taught there too.

MH: Yes.

BM: In that same school?

RH: No.

MH: No, I was in...

RH: No, she taught a year or two in a country school... the one straight west of Strasburg on the main road there. She helped out [ ? 048] I think. And she taught in Lake District for two years, I think. That would be north of Strasburg, and west of the lake there. The school is located just west of that lake down there.

BM: So when you went to high school, you went into Strasburg... both of you.

RH: That’s right.

BM: And who else was in your class?

RH: All these people on here. Well, in our class? Wait a minute...

BM: Oh, really? How many of you graduated?

RH: Our class was just Mary and I, and Phil [? 60] and John Dietrich, just our class.

BM: John Dietrich graduated with you too?

RH: Yes, right.

BM: What are some of the fun things that you did when you were in high school?

RH: I don’t know.

MH: We had the handiwork, what you call it. This is a picture of one of the things that I made. And my nephew made the frame.

RH: A German Sister from Germany that didn’t really do much [religious] teaching, so it was mostly in German too. That was beyond me. When they would talk German. I could talk German with the kids, but that was Sister... what was that little Sister’s name again? I can’t remember.

CM: So you were about the only English speaking kid in Strasburg.

RH: Well, yes. Later on the Hollanders went to our high school and all that bit. But I was about the only one I would say that talked the English. I caught onto their language, and we had no problem, with this in German. I just picked it up like that. I could talk German with anybody at that time.

BM: But your classes were taught in English?

MH: Oh, yes. You could take German.

BM: You could take German. What kind of extra activities did you have? Did you have a basketball or a football team?

RH: At recess we had football or kickball where you’d kick the ball over... that main road would be about a block long, so we’d kick that from one side to the other. There’s a little story connected with that. During one of the recesses we were playing that game and Adam Schmaltz, he was a sort of fellow... he kicked above the football and while I was kicking, he got me here, and I was laid up for a week with a cracked - it wasn’t really broken, but something lighter than that. I was laid up for a week.

MH: I think they called it a fracture.

RH: It was a fracture, I guess they called it.

CM: What was the time frame, now? What years did you go to high school?

RH: In ‘29, and four years earlier. We graduated in ‘29.

BM: So you started school in 1925, then.

RH: ‘25. This was taken in...

BM: 1927.

RH: Oh yes, 1927. I couldn’t see that. I looked up here for a date. They might have taken others too and said, okay. On play day one spring day we went to Braddock, just a bunch of us kids. We had no coach or anything, and we took this play day that was high jumping and all that stuff... running and racing, pole vaulting. We took that field up there. First place, I mean. That Morrison Zeus, he was very fast in running and all that. I took the high jump. It was 5 foot 2. I mean just scissors jump. There wasn’t a roll or anything. We had no facilities.

CM: Straight up and straight down.

RH: Yep, right. It was mostly the boys, I’d say. I don’t remember the girls being around there at that time. It was just kind of a boy meet.

CM: What were your activities during the winter months?

RH: We had one of the classrooms... we had a small court, not a court really, just a practice area so you could practice just against one wall. So we played in there. We had a bar where you could swing on the bar in that room, like they have. It was fastened down against the wall. It was mostly stuff that we did on our own, you might say. We had no coach or anything. The girls didn’t participate too much. We did have... when it was warmer outside, Mr. Max Fickney, he taught music lessons, and he helped us out with exercise. Not many of the girls took part in that. They always had a period or something where they all had to go see Sister, so they said ‘we can’t go.’

BM: Were you ever disciplined? Did you ever get in trouble?

RH: No, I can’t say I did. Not in school, anyhow.

BM: Did anybody else get in trouble in school?

RH: No, there wasn’t much of that going on that way. One time after school hours, this was in the winter time... somebody had a Names Day, an older person, and we stole some of their beer. I was a kind of onlooker, so we got fined about six or seven dollars or something like that, which was all full of baloney. We weren’t supposed to have beer in the first place and all that. There was a bunch of us kids and I was one of them. I was more just hanging in the back... you know what I mean. That’s the truth of the matter. But I paid my fine too.

CM: Those were the prohibition days.

RH: Right... sure, sure. They made their own beer and all that.

CM: Do you remember who made the beer?

RH: No. At home our folks made beer, and their folks made beer. It was all in a big five gallon crock.

MH: Kept it in the root cellar.

BM: They kept it in the root cellar she said.

RH: We didn’t have much activity as far as athletics was concerned. Just whatever we did on our own.

CM: During the summer months, did you have a Strasburg city baseball team?

RH: Well, yes, we had a Strasburg baseball team. I never played on it very much, but my brother played on it a little bit. We had a good team. At that time they had an imported a pitcher... over the summer months and so. Joe Fettig would have been one of them. He was the catcher at one time and later on he moved to Linton and played up here. There was Jake Baumgartner. He was a good pitcher. He played for awhile with the pros in Fargo, I think it was. Or Grand Forks, it could be. He never went to school. He was just a farm kid, so he might have had an 8th grade education.

BM: What did you do after you graduated from high school?

RH: What did I do?

BM: Yes.

RH: Well, for six months I worked in Herried State Bank as a posting. That was over the winter months. This was... Mr. Scherber owned a bank down there at that time and his daughter had been doing the posting, so she went to school and I worked from about October until around April when she got back from school. I worked in the harvest fields, and the chatterbox and earned a little money.

BM: That was work.

RH: That was work, you’re darn right.

CM: Did you go on into higher education, college education?

RH: No, I did not. Except I went to bank school in Minneapolis one time and passed that okay. And Wishek. We had to do a [? 211] one time, so I took that and made that. That was during my banking days though.

BM: So when did you two get married?

RH: ‘32.

BM: 1932. So, Mary, did you go... what did you do from 1929 to 1932?

MH: I taught school.

BM: Oh, the two years that you taught in a country school were in there.

RH: Well, she taught also in the Strasburg school too for a year. All grades. And that Strasburg school was... well, you know where the Baumgartners used to live? John Baumgartner, that school just across the alley there. It’s a home now. They made a home out of that.

CM: Was there any additional education required for Mary to teach?

RH: She just had a certificate to teach so long. She had that temporary teaching certificate. When that went out, she would have had to go to more school. But she didn’t do that. Some of them did that. She was a housewife then, so...

BM: Did you go to any school after high school, then?

MH: Summer school.

BM: Just to summer school. Where did to go there?

MH: Valley City

RH: She went with Phil at that time. Phil was there too. They were together. You lived in the same place I think, Phil and you, in that same home?

MH: We lived in a beautiful home in Strasburg. They had a special study room. They had company a lot in the evenings, so we couldn’t have the main floor, but I could have the upstairs.

BM: So you stayed at home then, when you were teaching.

MH: Yes.

CM: What were the prices of grain when you were pitching hay or boxing... pitched bundles...

RH: Oh, I don’t know. Because I wasn’t in that. $3.50, along in there, I’d guess.

BM: I was going to ask Mary if she remembers her first salary check. How big was it?

MH: I don’t remember that.

BM: You don’t remember that, huh?

MH: It wasn’t very big.

RH: Less than a hundred dollars.

CM: Did you ever get one of those school warrants when the district was broke and they’d give you a warrant that was worthless at the bank? Ray, you can tell us more about those school warrants in the bad days.

RH: I don’t think she... where she taught they didn’t have trouble evidently, so she got her pay. That’s all I know. And of course those warrants, you could cash at the bank at a discount.

CM: When did you get your first car?

RH: Oh, I don’t know that. But my kids were growing up. I got my first real car in 1955. So I was born in 1909. That’s really my first car. It was a 1955 Chevy. Mary, when her folks died, she had interest in the land, and that helped buy that Chevy.

BM: How did you go back and forth to school for teaching? Because if you lived in Strasburg and taught out in the country...

MH: I stayed at a country home.

BM: Oh, you did.

MH: The older boys, the 7th and 8th graders, they saw the school was warm before I came.

BM: That’s service.

RH: Her folks had a 1929 Ford, a Model A Ford, so she drove that back and forth. That’s how you got back and forth to school.

CM: Did your folks have a car when you lived in Strasburg?

RH: Yes, yes. My dad used the bank car, and her folks had a car, so after we got married, we got the use of that car. I drove that to Devil’s Lake one time, and the cable for the on and off switch went haywire, so I went to Ford up there in Minot and put it in, and her dad could never forget how I fixed that car up. I was just buying a cable. At that time I worked a little bit in the Ford factory like Schumacher down there. Just as a handyman, really, changing oil and different stuff. But I could time a Model A today yet. I would know the operation of it, so I could do it. You don’t need any mechanical tools to do it. Do you know anything about a Model A?

CM: Not much.

RH: A Model A has - down where the fan belt is and so on, there would be an opening, so you could put a round headed screw in that and fit that right into the... that was number one field. So I could do that. I could still do it today.

CM: So you were mechanically inclined.

RH: Oh yes, I was mechanically inclined. Oh, in the years when I did have a car, I changed my oil. I had little tools, so when my daughter came from Minneapolis when she got a car, a Chevy, I could tune that car up from one end to the other. Just with a few tools that I had bought over the years.

BM: How many children did you have? You mentioned your daughter.

RH: Okay, we had three girls and one boy. Julie, our daughter, lives out on a ranch out here. You know her, Bruce, that’s his wife. And my other daughter, Bev, is in Bismarck and married. She’s the head office girl for the superintendent there. She’s retirement age, but she can’t afford to quit, so she’s still working. She was married to Dave O’Brien. Dave O’Brien used to broadcast basketball games and stuff like that at one time. He was broadcasting scores at one time. I sent her to high school in Bismarck at St. Mary’s, which is one of the best things I ever did in my life. The school here wasn’t that good. They had teachers there... I don’t know whether Phil can say anything, but there was no Catholic allowed to teach up in that school for many, many years. That was the truth. That was in my day. Phil had nothing to do with it. Now they have a bunch of them there. The superintendent locally said no Catholic is ever going to teach in this school.

BM: That’s two of your daughters. What about the third one?

RH: Well, one is in Connecticut, and she was originally living in New York City where she was head nurse of the schools in her district where she lived. So she burned herself out doing that. She got married late in life, so they had no children. They live in Connecticut. She still works for a doctor there. She went to St. Louis to school, the big Columbia. She graduated from them and all on scholarships and things.

BM: She’s a smart gal, then.

RH: Oh yes, too smart. She wants to run my life from over there.

BM: They get that way, we’ve found out.

RH: She’s a good girl.

BM: They get a little bit over protective.

RH: Right, right. Even my son says she should run her own business.

BM: Where is your son?

RH: He’s in Bismarck. He works for the state department.

BM: Oh, up in the capital?

RH: In the capital, right. He works in Human Services.

BM: Oh, social work.

RH: I couldn’t think of what you call it.

BM: I have those days too. Sometimes I can’t even remember my name.

RH: He’s with social services there, been there for years. He’s only been over to Germany about four times.

BM: To Germany? Oh, how come he goes over there?

RH: He loves it over there too. He had a daughter over there who is married to a fellow in the army. He was stationed in Germany but he went into Russia every so often, so he’s now down in Kansas so he’ll get more education for going back over there sometime I guess.

BM: How many grandchildren do you have now?

RH: Eight.

BM: How many boys and how many girls?

MH: There are four girls.

RH: There are only seven, I think. It’s four and three.

BM: That’s pretty even then. Well, is there anything else you want to tell us? Any stories about your days in school?

RH: I don’t know. I can remember one when World War I ended. The band played and the bells rang. That was in Strasburg. And we used to have band concerts on Main Street. It was a big deal on Saturday night.

CM: Did you play an instrument?

RH: Yes, alto...

CM: Alto Sax?

RH: No, Alto Horn.

BM: Oh, that was next to the French Horn, which I played. Mary did you play a musical instrument too?

MH: No.

BM: You just stood on the street corner and watched them, huh?

MH: (Laughs.) Right.

BM: Did the band march?

RH: No. We had a bandstand on Main Street.

BM: Oh, where was the bandstand?

RH: Right on Main Street.

BM: Which end?

RH: It was right in the middle, in the section... the bank wasn’t too far away, and stores along there. That block. That’s where the bandstand was. There wasn’t that many... the bank and a couple of stores. The Bazaar owned that mostly and it went bankrupt. Because a lot of the customers didn’t pay their bills. They had a little of everything, a little furniture and all that. So when their sons and daughters got married, they’d buy the furniture in there, and didn’t get it paid for.

[end of side A tape]

RH: ... and they crashed with it. That’s one thing that hurt me over the years because I never had any guts to invest anything. But I never had any money either.

BM: They always say that’s a good time to invest... but, invest what? [laughter]

RH: I never got anything invested. I lived on my salary and started in the bank up in Linton then, for about $65 a month.

CM: How many businesses were there in town? Can you start naming them? Start at one end of town and name them off as you go?

RH: In Strasburg?

CM: In Strasburg.

RH: Well, there were two banks - the Security State Bank and of course the First State Bank across the street in the middle of the block. The Security Bank was where the bank is now. There was Keller’s Grocery Store, and there was a drug store in there, then later on there was another store down further at the end of the block, just across from the dance hall down there. It became a movie theater, silent movies in those days. That burned down along in ‘30. ‘31, I don’t remember what year it was. But that’s all been rebuilt. Across the street from there was the Strasburg Bazaar which I told about.

BM: Who had that Bazaar? Was that Baumgartner’s too?

RH: It was mostly Baumgartner’s, yes. I don’t think Phil’s folks were in that, but the other Baumgartner’s had that. And there was a post office along there, and then there was a drug store there, and the First State Bank, and a couple more stores along there and one on the end.

BM: Quite a little town, then. And the Catholic Church was up...

RH: Where it is now. Right.

BM: And the priest’s house was the big white building next to it?

RH: When I went to school down there, I took care of the church furnace and the school furnace while I was going to school. On Saturdays I helped clean up. The parsonage had a stoker at that time. We had ashes and a stoker in the basement. That was with Father Fox, I guess was there at that time.

CM: Elaborate a little bit on Father Fox. What did...

RH: Well, he married us and all that. He was a good priest and all that. He taught religion in school.

CM: Was he the one who started that good church choir they had down there?

RH: No. There was a fellow by the name of Max Fiechtner. Max Fiechtner lived in the home right behind the church. He also taught in the school of music at St. Ben’s there. Anyhow, he had... at that time Strasburg had this beautiful pipe organ, and he really could play that. The windows shook and rattled. That’s one thing I’ll never forget. And Cecilia Fischer could sing those high notes. It was beautiful. People went out of church feeling up in spirit. You could tell by their walk. They always had a good ending song.

BM: Somebody was telling us they had a good church choir.

RH: Yes, Mary belonged to that. A lot of those girls. And Pius Kraft and Joe Kraft, and they had a store business that I talked about there on Main Street. I only went from where the bandstand was. That was down a little further. We bought this table set when we got married. Can you imagine that? It needs a little cleaning up now. It needs a good coat of varnish. And the four chairs. We raised our kids on that. Well, my daughter Julie went through 4 or 5 sets, so that proves... the chairs would break down and fall apart. I’d say they went through about 5 sets.

BM: They don’t make things like they used to.

RH: Right. That stood up well, and we haven’t hardly done anything. I’ve got some stuff down there I want to try to clean it up a little.

CM: When did you move from Strasburg to Linton?

RH: Okay. In 1936, I think it was. I rented then. It’s a house I finally lived in and sold. I had an aunt, so I rented about a block away from there. 10 or 15 dollars a month. Just kind of a shack. It had enough rooms, but we couldn’t afford to heat part of it.

CM: Was your first job in Linton with the bank?

RH: No. I worked for the WPA in an office there, and I graduated into the bank from there. That was in ‘36 when I started in the bank. I worked there for 38 years.

CM: Who were the owners of the bank when you started?

RH: Mike Barger and John D. Meier. They were the owners. This was a bank too. It was a closed deal. The local fellows had shares in it. Of course Mike and John had shares, but no one else could buy in. That was the deal they made over the years. That was before I got there.

CM: Who were some of the owners of the bank at that time?

RH: Oh, god, they’re all dead. McCauly was one of them and Coy was one of them. L. D. Sieman out here was one of them. He’s dead now. I don’t know if you ever heard of him. Lauer was one of them, old man Lauer. That’s about all I can think of. I think I named most of them that were in that, who had shares in that.

CM: Where were you working during the Depression when the banks closed?

RH: I was working in that bank.

CM: You were working in the bank.

BM: The bank stayed open then?

RH: Okay. No, I wasn’t working there then. That was in ‘29. Where was I working then, you’re asking. I made a mistake there. That bank went through and failed. They didn’t have much assets, but they weathered it. But a lot of banks didn’t.

CM: I know you were in Strasburg in ‘29.

RH: Oh yes. I was in the harvest fields. I worked for Schumacher for a few months. I worked in the bank in Herried for six months. We weren’t married yet.

BM: You mentioned your father worked in a bank.

RH: He was one of them. There was an alcoholic man working with him. Phil’s uncle, I’d guess you’d call him.

BM: What did your dad do after he lost his job?

RH: He worked for the government, you might say. They made cattle loans and all that. He had to follow down and check them out. He was stationed here and there. He was stationed around North Dakota at different places. He was stationed in Linton for awhile. He had to go at Easter and did some collection work when that would come due. He was up there in different places, and he finally landed in Bismarck and worked for the Workman’s Compensation Bureau up there. He worked there for many years. The place they lived in up there, they rented and so that’s gone now. It’s replaced with another building. They didn’t live too far from that light up there. You remember that blinking light up there? He didn’t live too far from that. About two blocks or something like that.

BM: I’m not from here, but Chris would know.

RH: Chris would know.

BM: And his parents. His mother was from Strasburg.

RH: His mother I knew for years and years. She was a darn good bowler.

CM: Did you ever encounter any of the Lawrence Welk dances?

RH: I can remember Lawrence Welk coming in on Sundays, and in those days they had balloon pants. He had a pair of pants on here like that, get what I mean? I can remember that. He’d kid around with the rest of the people. He didn’t hang around there after he got going. He went south somewhere.

BM: Yankton?

RH: Yankton, and then he played many years down south.

CM: Chicago.

RH: Before that he was in the South somewhere and then he went to Chicago. That all happened. He’d be there awhile and then in Chicago. He played in Yankton. His dad used to have a pool hall where the dance hall is now. They’d have the window open in the summertime and they had a radio in there. His dad would walk back and forth listening to him.

BM: I can’t think of anything more to ask.

CM: How about Do You Remember When? Questions - Do you remember when... anything you remember that is of interest in Strasburg in your earlier days. Like when the snowdrifts went up the sides of light poles, or something like that.

RH: I don’t remember too much. We didn’t get in too much trouble, I know. I told you about the one, which was a farce as far as I was concerned. There were maybe 10 or 15 kids. I wasn’t one of the leaders. I was scared.

BM: Do you remember who the leader was?

RH: No.

BM: I remember I got involved with one like that too, but I remember who the leader was.

RH: Most of these people are all dead, as far as I know. I don’t know this Dr. [? 211] I don’t know if he’s alive. And Kopp is alive, I guess. But that’s about all. Oh, I do have something to say.

[there is a break in the recording here]

RH: ... on the west side of the street, or on the north side of the street, just a little ways from where Shriner’s Shop is now. They had a room in there about a 10 by 10 or 10 by 12, something like that. Sundays... this was a big barn - a stable barn. They had horses they rented. They were in the dray business. The kids would congregate in this room and they’d smoke cigarettes so much you couldn’t hardly see across the room. The interesting part is I asked some of the older ones could you quit if you wanted to. “I’d rather die that quit.” My dad was a happy smoker. I’ll tell you another thing. In school we would run around to the train track and go 2 or 3 blocks and run back. I could never keep up with them. I could keep up for awhile and then I’d get out of breath, so I never got a second breath. I blame it on my dad. He was a constant Camel smoker.

BM: You got that second hand smoke, then.

RH: I got that second hand smoke and that’s one reason I couldn’t keep up with these kids. I was just as strong as they were, but I could not do it. I’d just about break down before the end. I’m thinking back now... there was a reason. That damn smoke from my dad.

BM: Were there a lot of kids in high school smoking when you were there?

RH: Oh, no.

BM: You just tried it in the barn, then.

RH: I never smoked. I tried it a little, like horse manure and all that. So I never was a smoker. That’s one thing that deterred me though, too. They’d sooner die than quit. What in the hell kind of habit was that. That deterred me, I’d say.

BM: I’m surprised you didn’t burn the barn down.

RH: No, we didn’t. It burned down by itself. I don’t know why it burned down later on. It was a big stable. They had the dray business and all. They hauled coal. In those days we had coal for the fires. Most all homes had the coal fires. There was no wood stoves or anything like that.

BM: There wasn’t any wood around.

RH: It was either lignite or the black... they had both kinds.

BM: Or cow chips?

RH: Yes, cow chips. Farmers used that more. And they cooked on that and everything. In town that wasn’t going on, or very little of it anyhow. Where [? 274] lives, along... that used to be a pasture there. The town wasn’t that spread out, so that was a pasture there. A local man was getting the cows there. He died out in the pasture because he got hit by lightening.

BM: I think we’ll close for now. Maybe we’ll be able to add a little bit from Phil, and we thank you very much. I need some pictures before we leave. Okay?

[end of taping session - 288]

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