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Season of Sorrow Part VII
The Great Depression in Pope County

©Mildred B. McCormick 

 

The following account of youth clubs and recreational activities is the final chapter of the history of the Great Depression as it was experienced in Pope County. Part VI in the December Springhouse recalled some of the programs of NYA, WPA and IERC for women and young people.

For even younger members of the family the 4-H and garden clubs were the means to training and social life. There were 16 of these clubs, initially--8 organized by Extension Service, which were called garden clubs. IERC set up an equivalent number of 4-H clubs, according to Thea Sando, and the number substantially increased in later years. All were later called 4-H clubs.

4-H clubs encouraged many kinds of projects. Youngsters raised crops, livestock, poultry. George and Mary Gibson each led a club in my area. We Hilltop Roustabouts learned cooking from Mary, and George taught us to identify and classify the many varieties of trees in Pope County. We did soil-testing demonstrations and exhibited our prize products at the County Fair. We enjoyed recreation at all our meetings and attended 4-H Camp at Dixon Springs each summer.

One of the clubs raised turkeys. Sears gave 50 poults to each child and supported the project for six months. The clubís team won second place at the state 4-H meet. They missed first place honors on a technicality, but the audience kept them on stage for a full half-hour, asking questions, treating them as specialists in their field. State officials got acquainted with Pope County during this time. One came to inspect our projects--what was scheduled as a flying inspection trip--and got so interested he stayed three days.

Both IERC and Farm Bureau bought great quantities of seeds for garden clubs. One of the first--and most active--was at Raum. The students raised the vegetables, canned them, and held demonstrations on soil-testing, weed- and pest-control, and other related topics. All clubs kept careful records of procedures and expenses. Families helped raise money for projects and trips. An ice cream social was held at Old Grandpier to help our club. (Golconda Recreation Project gave a square dance to purchase materials for the boysí manual training class.)

Our lives were not all hard work and despair--at least not after we survived the first shocks and looked about us. But we applied the same principles of cooperation and make-do to our fun and games. We youngsters had school, church, and 4-H, programs, recreation, camps, music. Mabel McCoy headed Federal Music Project in Golconda. Her class of tiny tots, pre-schoolers, presented public programs at schools and at the courthouse.

Older siblings and parents created similar activities for themselves. There were drama groups--St. Josephís had a very active club which produced several plays. Farm and Home Extensions brought in a director, Irene Keith, who coached local talent in a musical comedy "Coast-to-Coast." Other such programs were performed from time to time. In 1935 the Farm Bureau Drama and Music Tournament drew entries from Brownfield (orchestra), Raum (menís, womenís and mixed quartets), Dixon Springs (play). The orchestra, which evolved into Golconda-Brownfield Orchestra, went to State contests. Pope County Chorus participated for 2 or 3 years in a cantata "Harvest Caravans" at Urbana in a program featuring 1500 rural people from 37 Illinois counties.

The late Thea Sando, Pope County Administrator of Illinois Emergency Relief Commission during the Thirties, recalled the development of the successful Pageant of 1935 as an outgrowth of singing schools held at points all over the county. At practice sessions the talk turned to other things--educational, then historical topics--local, state or national. The late Gusta Wellington knew the communities and people well and guided them to a cohesive and productive group. Sando credited this event with an important role in creating community spirit and pride at a time when they were so desperately needed.

The Pope County Historical Pageant was presented 16 August 1935 at the fairground. It was dedicated to pioneers, veterans and "patriots of peace" who had "in any way made life more beautiful."

A crowd estimated at 6000 attended the program. A cast of 350 performers, chorus of 125 voices from northern Pope County, Queen of Love and Beauty with her court of 18 attendants--one from each county community, 13 "aids" and a host of behind-the-scenes workers participated. Extras for crowd scenes were provided by 100 enrollees from Eddyville and Dixon Springs CCC camps.

Queen Fern King, Temple Hill, was crowned by Mayor Theo S. McCoy. Narrator was Col. Charles Durfee. The committee responsible for the production was: Drama Director Gusta Wellington, Carrie K. Duncan (business and publicity), Helen C. Baker (chorus director), R.D. Hartwell (band), and Helen Cromeenes. There were others who took care of property, lights, grounds. Accompanists were Mrs. Leo Modglin and Marguerite and Virginia Bean.

The drama itself was divided into four acts called "Epochs"--Revolutionary, Civil War, Immigration and World War. Each epoch was subdivided into scenes, or "Episodes:" Indians, pilgrims, Declaration of Independence, Minutemen, Nathaniel Pope, Sarah Lusk, Greenberry Newton family flight from Indians, Lafayette visit to New Liberty, pioneer church, pioneer school, domestic scene (husking bee, square dance, spirituals), slave auction, Civil War soldiers, Emancipation Proclamation, cowboys, immigration, World War (troop departure, Red Cross, Armistice). The final episode was "an attractive spectacle symbolizing the outcome of the different periods of American development and resulting in our nation measuring out liberty and justice for all."

Tournaments, pageants and other special events were the dramatic highlights in our social lives but we relied for regular recreation on our community centers. Almost every neighborhood had such a fixture: Brownfield, Raum, Hamletsburg, Bay City, Robbs are some I either knew or read about. These centers were one more example of how individuals worked together to provide for all. NYA, WPA, State Library, U of I, SIU and local organizations and individuals were among the contributors.

Boards of directors, similar to school boards, were appointed. Lowell Ed and the late Catherine Trovillion recently shared their memories of the Brownfield center with me. Mrs. Carl (Jessie) Brush, Rue Densch and Lowell Ed served on the Board. They first met at a house owned by Mrs. Brush, later moved to the old bank building. First director was Ernestine Hertter, succeeded by Roy Swinford. This center, like most of the others, provided ping pong, card games, pool table, library.

The 6 October 1938 Herald-Enterprise carried a news item describing the establishment of the fourth NYA and Illinois State Library Station in the county. Della Brace, Fannie Golightly and Everett Randalls were members of the Center committee which received 50 books from NYA Library Project. The library was located at Bay City Church, open Wednesdays and Saturdays, with weekly story hour open to all children of the community. Iolene Emerson was in charge.

One of the liveliest centers was at Raum--the one I knew well. Maude Taylor was very active in this group. Neither she nor I can remember who was officially the head honcho, but nothing ever happened at Raum without the blessing (and hard work) of Ross Taylor. The center was built for a lodge (one of the fraternal orders), later was the site of the canning factory and WPA workshop, and always buzzed with activities.

Besides the usual offerings--Ray Broadway and Lois Richerson managed library and recreation--there were regular programs. There were speakers: Judge B.F. Anderson, Col. Charles Durfee, Mary Trovillion Musgrave, local doctors and other talent. The club organized singing schools with teachers Burton Holloway and Lloyd "Chick" Gullett. Singing games were popular, with boys lined up on one side, girls opposite them. Maude remembers "Trip Charlie" and "Rosa Beckalina." There were debate teams, usually men vs. women, with such topics as: " Resolved: There is more fun in pursuit than in possession." The resourceful women asked a U of I debating coach for help on this one--and he came.

Maude once wrote a comedy, featuring local people: "The Little Clodhopper." This drama was performed with great success at Raum, Brownfield and Rock Quarry. There were pound parties where the popular card game was pinochle. One couple brought part of their large crop of peanuts one evening and announced they were hosts for a "peanucle" party.

The young people at Raum, each Easter Sunday, attended church and Sunday school then repaired to War Bluff for their annual picnic.

There was a highly successful baseball team which competed with other area teams for several years. The diamond was given by Ross Taylor and maintained by community effort. Carl "Bus" Brown frequently took all the little kids for a ride in his hay wagon after he finished his work on the diamond. This playground often became the focus of benefits for friends who met misfortune. Ice cream suppers were given for those who lost homes by fire or faced expensive illnesses (we had no Medicare and very few had insurance of any kind--health or property). Lanterns were hung in trees for these night activities. Here, too, plans might be made to gather a sick manís crop or cut his winter supply of wood.

These stories of The Great Depression are all history now. The community centers are all gone--few traces of the communities themselves remain. Like the rest of rural America our lives are organized by shopping malls, consolidated schools, trips to Disneyland, TV. Community spirit is still to be found, however, in small towns such as ours. It was cooperation that gave, and helps us maintain, our Marina, senior citizens center (Golden Circle), RIDES (public transportation), Historical Society Museum, library, improved schools and churches, fire and ambulance services. Behind each of these institutions so important to us stand groups of hard-working volunteers who are there when help is needed. Of course, grants and loans are often available but they arenít forced upon us. Someone does yoemanís service for each dollar made available to us, and those funds are only a small part of the necessary outlay.

Public welfare agencies are still part of our lives and have expanded social services to include such things as aid to dependent children, assistance to the blind and other physically and mentally impaired. IERC, the pioneer agency, was phased out in the late Thirties. It was replaced, at the State level, by Illinois Department of Public Aid (which evolved from Department of Welfare, to Illinois Public Aid Commission, to its present title). Administrators of this later agency have been Elizabeth Waechter, Max Gage, Millard Farmer, Irene Wardrop, Jim Mitchell and present director, George "Todd" Thodoropoulos. (My thanks to Mr. Farmer and Mrs. Wardrop for assisting me in interpreting the information.) In addition, Pope County General Assistance was created by the local government in 1936. Some of its administrators were: J.W. Mitchell, Lewis Welch, Elva Irwin, Maxine Hazel, and present superintendent, Kay Bennett.

But money does not buy community spirit. We have all the failings for which small towns are criticized--jealous factions, gossip, chauvinism. But it is possible, here, to meet the pastor who has sat all night with the critically ill; to see neighbors harvesting crops, replacing destroyed homes, holding benefits for those with misfortune. The Rod and Gun Sportsmanís Club, north of Golconda, holds benefit dances, on what sometimes seems a regular basis, for victims of calamity.

Most of us bear few scars of those gruelling years. My generation didnít have much to compare them with--it was normal life for us. Many of us are left, however, with a horror of debts, but a confidence that says we are equal to anything facing us, so long as we work together toward our goals.

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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