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home : letters : letters
May 25, 2018

5/11/2018 7:28:00 AM
Life is what you make of it

To the Editor:

Pride. I think we would all be better off if everyone took pride in themselves, their families, their work, their communities, and their country. Unfortunately, there are those who look down their noses at rural communities, and there are even some of us, especially our young people, who think they are missing out on something in life because they don't live in the city.

I realize there's more to do in the cities, and there are better opportunities to get ahead, but those of us who live in rural areas have nothing to be ashamed of.

Rural areas have produced all kinds of remarkable people. Thanks to the efforts of Carl Eliason, Sayner is the birthplace of the snowmobile. Tomahawk is the hometown of a Super Bowl champion. Eagle River is the hometown of a Stanley Cup champion, an Olympic medalist in hockey, and snowmobile champions. The Minocqua-Woodruff area is the hometown of Dr. Kate Newcomb, the "Snowshoe Doctor" who's story was featured in the 1950s TV show "This is Your Life," and it's where philanthropist Howard Young built his hospital.

I moved to the area in 1991, but I proudly tell people about my hometown of Alden, Illinois. Although Alden only has a population of 200, it was the home of a woman, two couples, and a basketball team who were worthy of national attention.

My grandfather owned a well drilling business. He died in 1937 and left behind a wife and three children, my dad being the oldest at age 11. Back then my grandmother had two options, she could support her children by selling the family business, or hire a man to run it for her. She chose a third option, to run the business herself. Until her death in 1947 she was recognized as the nation's first woman well driller. Her story was carried in the Chicago Tribune.

In 1946 my dad came home from the war after serving in the Philippines. Alden's pastor, the Reverend Carl Doss looked him up and asked him what the people of the Philippines were like. He wanted to know because his wife couldn't have kids, so they decided to adopt a dozen children, some of whom were from Asia.

This came at a time when Americans were still mourning our war dead such as local man, and Medal of Honor recipient, Elmer Bigelow. It came as quite a shock to the locals when they saw kids in town who resembled our former enemy. But the people came to their senses when they realized these were innocent children who had nothing to do with the Zeros who bombed Pearl Harbor. Their story can be found in Helen Doss's book "The Family Nobody Wanted."

Shortly after Reverend Doss adopted his kids, another Alden couple, Ralph and Doris Wagner, brought their daughter Sharon into the world. Doctors told them they couldn't have anymore kids, so they adopted nine children, and over the next 45 years they opened their home to over 1,100 orphans who stayed with them for various lengths of time. Their story was featured in the 1980s TV show "That's Incredible," as well as in several national magazines.

Alden High School closed its doors in 1948 and consolidated with nearby Hebron to form Alden-Hebron High School. In 1952 the school had a student population of 90 kids and a basketball team that consisted of five upperclassmen and four kids from the junior varsity squad. But those nine kids beat all of the schools from Chicago, Rockford, and Quincy to win the state championship. Their story can be found in the book "Once There Were Giants," and at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

There's another couple from Alden that I'm mighty proud of, and that's my parents, who will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on May 22. I think one of the secrets of their longevity is because they have lived in the country where the air and water are cleaner, there's less crime, and there's less stress.

I realize that my mother and father are not the first to celebrate their 70th anniversary so they aren't going to be on national TV, but I'm pretty sure they're the first from Alden to do so. They moved to Wisconsin in 1987, and they're probably the first from St. Germain to reach their 70th anniversary. Theirs is a story worth telling.

They were raised during the Great Depression. My mother told me her earliest memory was her father saying he didn't know where the next meal was coming from. Grandpa supported FDR, but he was too proud to accept a handout, and through hard work and determination he was able to provide for his wife and five children.

Mom fondly remembers playing hop scotch as a kid, riding her bike, and going on picnics, to parties, and to dances.

My dad's parents didn't support FDR, and his mother refused handouts when tragedy struck the family in 1937 when she lost her husband. He has told me he never had a toy until the army gave him a Sherman Tank to command. He fondly remembers playing baseball as a kid, going hunting and fishing, riding a Harley, tipping outhouses over on Halloween, and on those years when he got caught, setting them upright on November first.

In 1948 he boldly went to my grandpa to ask for his permission to marry his daughter. Grandpa fought in WWI and when he looked the young veteran over he acted as if he had been in one of those outhouses that Dad used to tip over, and said no. My parents were forced to go to Plan B.

Since my mother was about to graduate from Alden High School's last class, she secretly packed a suitcase. Shortly after receiving her diploma, she got in the car with my dad and they drove to his grandmother's house in Greenwood where they were married by the before mentioned Reverend Doss who had agreed to make an out of town house call. When the ceremony was completed, they were on their way to Niagara Falls.

Reverend Doss was suppose to let my grandparents know that he had just married their daughter, and the happy couple would be back after a two week honeymoon, but that didn't happen. That's because the Reverend Doss was also packing his bags because he was moving his family to California, and when he got back to Alden he forgot to make the call to my grandparents. For the next two weeks they had no idea what happened to their daughter.

You can imagine my parent's surprise when they returned to Alden and friends informed them about the mess they were in. I can also imagine how they must have felt when they approached my grandparent's house to explain that they decided to override grandpa's veto and elope. They probably wondered if the old Doughboy would allow them into his house, or if they were about to become Alden's second family that nobody wanted. To their relief, Grandpa welcomed them into his house. Now all they had to do was find work to support themselves.

Inheritance taxes had forced Dad to sell the well drilling business, so they got jobs in a factory. They worked hard, earned raises, saved for the future, but always made the time to take my brother and me to baseball games, museums, and on vacations to see our beautiful country.

Dad put in 20 years at Guardian Electric and moved up the food chain to become the deputy plant manager. Mom put in 35 years and became a group leader.

They mostly made relays for burglar alarms, jute boxes, and Boeing jets. In 1967 an order came in from the federal government for relays to be used on the first Apollo moon mission which gave them the distinction of being able to say with pride that their work went to the moon, and just as importantly, back in one piece.

In 1971, Dad started his own electrical contracting business. I had the great pleasure of working by his side for 34 years. He more or less retired three times, but he kept coming back. He was 87 when he took his tool belt off for the last time.

I now need to find an appropriate gift for their anniversary. It won't be easy because I have to ask myself, what do you get for people who, over the course of the past 70 years, have accumulated two of everything, half of which is being stored in my garage.

It's never been easy to shop for them. Mom tells me every at every Christmas and birthday to, "Save your money," and after I get her something she says, "What did you do that for?"

Dad is just as bad. I bought him a hammock when he retired the first time at age 62 because Paul Harvey used to say that when an optimists retires they should plant acorns six feet apart and then buy a hammock. I didn't know that Dad didn't like hammocks, so he returned the gift to me and suggested where I should plant it.

We will probably end up going to the casino for dinner and gambling. Mom always wears her lucky necklaces and wipes her "Who-Do" charm across the screen. When the symbols begin to come up she screams with excitement and starts to jump up and down in her seat while Dad sits quietly beside her, playing his machine while pretending he doesn't know her.

The local schools will be holding their graduation ceremonies about the same time Mom and Dad are celebrating their anniversary. The graduates can be very proud of themselves even though they may be in for quite a shock. They may have been their school's royalty during their senior years, but whether they choose to go to college, trade school, join the military, or get a job on the economy, they will be starting all over again at the bottom of the heap.

If there was but one piece of advice that I could give to them it's that life is what you make of it, so don't be a whiner, a carper, nor a quitter because that type of person never accomplishes anything. I have given many examples of people who have done very well even though they started out with very little, and those are the type of people they should emulate.

Hopefully, the new generation of Americans can find cures for cancer, discover a clean source of energy, become successful athletes, or just be productive citizens of the greatest nation on earth. I wish them well, just as I wish my parents all of my love and congratulations on their 70th wedding anniversary on their way to together-forever. I am very proud of them because their life and times together is an outstanding example of a job well done, and a story worth telling and remembering.



Bruce Van Hoozen

St. Germain





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