Season of Sorrow Part VI
©Mildred B. McCormick
Part V of Pope County in the Great Depression dealt with farmers’ cooperative efforts to improve crop production, and workshops designed to provide training and facilities for building and repairing home and farm equipment.
Local women and young people were also remembered in our planning. National Youth Administration (NYA) sewing rooms, Illinois Emergency Relief Commission (IERC) canning factories, 4-H and garden clubs helped train women, children and young adults in more productive domestic endeavors. Music and drama productions added excitement to lift long-depressed spirits. Recreation centers initiated by NYA and WPA in several communities provided a broader social life for all ages.
A recent interview with Paul Blatter, at his home in Robbs, filled in many blanks in my understanding of NYA activities. Much information was gleaned from stories in back issues of the Herald-Enterprise, and I had worked, myself, as a high school student in the late 1930s, grading papers and helping with office work. But Blatter, as the former NYA superintendent of Pope, Johnson, and Hardin counties provided the explanations which sorted out the various activities of the organization.
The NYA office was on the second floor of the Dr. J.W. Dixon building on Main Street in Golconda (now Farm Bureau offices). Opal Creal was office secretary, later succeeded by Bonita Karnes. Blatter’s job as superintendent was, primarily, to locate sponsors for the work crews--these had to be non-private--for example: churches, schools, city and county offices, public aid office.
NYA actually began as a program to help needy college students stay in school, but expanded to include vocational training for high school graduates and even later provided help for those who had difficulty remaining in high school. One requirement was unchanged--some form of education or job-training was mandatory for any program. Up to $24 per month could be earned by each student worker. Hardin County enjoyed a fringe benefit: some of the workers organized an NYA string band (volunteer) which played in the local area.
One of the early projects was the sewing room, developed to train young women, ages 18-24, in dressmaking. Two were established in Hardin County--at Elizabethtown, with Ruby Robertson in charge, and Cave-in-Rock, supervised by a Mrs. Kaegi. The plant at Golconda, located on the second floor of First National Bank, was managed by the late Ruby Abbott.
Illinois Emergency Relief Commission provided materials; the finished garments were distributed to relief clients. Many young women learned skills which served not only as job-training, but also made them more capable homemakers. (Former IERC Superintendent Thea Sando recalls earlier sewing clubs, one of which flourished at McCormick where women met in their living rooms--not all were relief recipients. Bolts of cloth were provided by IERC, as they were for NYA rooms. A daughter of one of the club members won a blue ribbon at Illinois State Fair with a dress she had made from flour sacks. The club once came to stay at Country Home for three days and attended a Chautauqua program in Golconda.)
Young men in the same age bracket were also trained by NYA. They worked at various county schools, usually under the direct supervision of the school janitor, sometimes a principal or a board member. At Stony Point, under the eye of Board President Gale Stone, the school was completely redecorated, including refinishing of furniture and floors. At Golconda Grade School, Janitor John Lamb added landscaping and culvert-building to the curriculum. A group in cooperation with WPA built a golf course on Rauchfuss Hill. The two agencies also constructed a riverfront playground at Golconda, complete with croquet and tennis courts, under the supervision of Recreation Director Bluford Seets.
By far the most ambitious project of NYA was the construction of Golconda City Hall in 1941. The city had never had a proper meeting place--there was no firehouse nor city jail. An old calaboose--an embarrassing eyesore--stood on the lot where the City Hall now stands.
The NYA crew, instructed by George Schrenk (roof supervised by Ralph Stone), built the hall in less than a year at a cost to the city of less than $2000. A quarry was opened south of Golconda (now owned by Cornelius Cannamore). George Schrenk, stonemason, who learned the business from his father who cut most of the early tombstones in the county, taught the crew in this phase of construction. Blatter says that the edges of each block in the building are cut with the precision customarily seen in fine monuments. A blacksmith was on hand to teach the art of sharpening chisels.
The building provided the city with council room, office for city waterworks, office intended for city court, now city clerk’s office. Other rooms were intended for: kitchen pantry, women’s cell, men’s cell, furnace room and fire department.
Blatter remembers that a council member, the late George Trampe, insisted that a special kind of steel be installed in the cells to make them escape-proof. The council agreed and a rather lengthy wait for the bars occurred. The irony was that for some reason (probably a change in state regulations) only one man was ever incarcerated there. Mayor Walker Moore once personally escorted one of the town drunks to the city jail (to keep him safe until called for). The special steel bars have never been tested.
On jobs such as building construction and maintenance, one of the trainees was appointed foreman, and there was a timekeeper. One was responsible for coordinating transportation--all providing opportunity for further training.
IERC training programs for men were discussed in Part V. The most successful endeavor for women was the canning factory, with the initial installation completed in August 1939, upstairs in the old Opera House (above what is now Hank’s Tavern). Services were available to all. Relief clients received 100% of their produce; all others gave up 50% to be distributed to relief clients who had no gardens of their own. County commissioners furnished tin cans for all. There were 10 workers, with Clayton Ramage as foreman. Produce was carried up the narrow, enclosed wooden stairway, with garbage returning by the same route.
Other canneries were established at Raum, Hamletsburg (a report in October stated that 5,000 cans had already been processed at this center in one month), Herod, Eddyville, Bay City and Brownfield. Mary Trimble Hall was the IERC caseworker responsible for the coordination of these projects. As was the case with NYA jobs, these canneries were intended to provide instruction as well as a much-needed product. Overseers were paid by WPA. A complete list of these managers is not available to me at this time, but Margaret (Mrs. Clarence) Barger had the job at Eddyville, Dora (Mrs. Phil) Walter at Brownfield, and Paul Richerson at Raum.
The late Catherine (Mrs. Lowell Ed) Trovillion, shortly before her death, told me of the operation of the Brownfield cannery. A neighborhood woman who canned great quantities of food each summer fell seriously ill one summer. Her friends and neighbors sat on the porch of the postoffice and peeled peaches, provided by her husband. Mrs. Walter supervised the canning for her.
Thea Sando remembers the resourceful woman who, lacking a garden plot, planted Kentucky Wonder beans on the slope of the bridge fill at Lusk Creek, north of Golconda. Her spectacular bean patch was one of the stops for sightseers that summer.
State agencies provided equipment and supplies. They also conducted training classes in safety procedures. Home Bureau brought in experts from Ball Bros. Co. and Kerr Glass Corp. who gave canning demonstrations throughout the county. Farm Bureau provided great quantities of seeds, and introduced the pressure canner to Pope County women by providing loan equipment. Later, IERC made the canners available to their clients.
There were other cooperative signs of the times. WPA endeavored to keep small factories in operation--each payroll was vital. IERC joined forces with WPA to keep a mattress factory solvent in the central part of the state. IERC purchased the inventory and distributed mattresses to clients, especially the ill and handicapped. Many went to tuberculosis patients--the disease was probably our worst health problem in the 1930s.
Cotton mattresses were also manufactured in Pope County, using the most primitive equipment. Catherine Siener told me of the mattresses made by local citizens in the late Byrd Allen’s garage. Cotton batts were pressed between planks, stuffed into bedticks which resembled large pillowcases, then sewed with great, long needles. Similar operations were to be found in other communities such as Hartsville, where Almon Stuby furnished the building. Corinne Fulkerson remembers that baseball bats were used in this plant to beat the cotton pads into shape.
WPA also hired women to work in homes where the mother was ill or disabled. These workers performed duties similar to those of today’s chore-housekeepers.
Sando also remembers an important by-product of these cooperative efforts. The dividing line between town and country was breached, and even the derogatory " reliefer" was not heard so often. Factions became more cooperative rather than so sharply competitive.
Some serious discussion groups grew out of these various working crews. They tackled such problems as how to get 14-year-old dropouts back in school, the conviction that I.Q. test questions were unfair to rural students, and that textbooks were slanted toward urban populations. IERC later arranged for extension, credit-bearing classes for teachers where, for a fee of $35, they could learn how to set up projects for students--many of these students later involved their parents in projects which began our real cooperation with Southern Illinois University. SIU encouraged, besides classroom instruction, the collection of folk songs, drama, local history and legend. There was enthusiastic talk for a while about a possible outdoor theater on Rauchfuss Hill.
The concluding chapter of "Season of Sorrow" will recall the activities of 4-H clubs, recreation centers, drama and music tournaments, and the Pageant of 1935.
Thea Sando, born 3 Feb. 1909, in Waterville, IA, to Eric and Margaret Thompson Sando, died 16 Oct. 1988 after a long battle with leukemia. Services were held at Old West Paint Creek Lutheran Church near Waukon, IA, where she grew up. She is survived by 5 nieces and some cousins.
Miss Sando was Pope County Superintendent of the Illinois Emergency Relief Commission (IERC) created during the 1930s to meet the needs of victims of the Great Depression. From 1956 to 1972 she was Director of Social Services at the University Hospitals in Iowa City. She also spent some time in Norway, in her field of public health. After retirement she devoted much time to senior citizens and was voted most outstanding senior citizen of Johnson County, IA in 1981.
She was educated in Iowa schools (BA, Univ. of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls) and completed graduate work at the University of Chicago. She was an active member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Iowa City.
Miss Sando is remembered by Pope Countians as the person responsible for the Country Home and the Sweet Potato House and Co-Op. She was a tireless worker for Pope County in the Thirties and lived to see many of her ideas put into practice. She followed the latest developments in the county through stories in the Herald-Enterprise and was as excited as any current resident about local accomplishments and dreams.
My friend Thea Sando is dead. I call her friend although I was little more than a child when she left Pope County after her tenure as the second superintendent of Illinois Emergency Relief Commission (IERC) had ended.
When I decided to write about the Great Depression in Pope County, for Springhouse, my first thought of a resource person was of Thea. After a considerable search, I found her in a nursing home in Iowa, blind, and ill with leukemia.
Had I known her condition I would never have had the temerity to write her, but in my ignorance I wrote a formal request for her cooperation. Three days later I answered my phone to hear the words (almost as if delivered from a speaker’s platform):
""This is Thea." It was a pronouncement I was to hear many times in the following year.
Never have I received more help on a project, and never have I seen such enthusiasm. Even so, she asked for samples of my work. She had no time to waste with someone who, as she said, could not capture the spirit of the times, as well as catalog the events. She sent me dozens of pages from her files. She called often (our arrangement was that she always call me, collect, when she felt able to talk. Many times her voice failed in mid-sentence and she hung up, but the enthusiasm never flagged.)
I taped everything I wrote. She listened, always had cogent remarks and suggestions. The last chapter was taped and mailed only hours before I was notified of her death.
Mrs. Wilbur Stoen, a member of the family, said that Thea at the very end of her life was trying to solve the Iowa farm problem and dictating helpful suggestions to an American student she was counseling in his studies in Norway. She spent no time on self-pity. The few remarks she made to me about her illness conveyed little more than an occasional frustration that it interfered with her plans. Thea was often controversial, but always committed, and her courage was awesome.
Mildred B. McCormick is a member of the Barger family which has lived in Pope County since 1818. She graduated from Pope County schools, earned the BA degree from University of Illinois, Urbana, and the MA from SIU-C.
She has been a teacher of English at LaSalle-Peru, IL, and Pope County high schools, and taught part time from 1973-1986 at Southeastern Illinois College. She writes a weekly column for the Herald-Enterprise, Golconda, and is a regular contributor to Springhouse.
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