THE BATAVIA HISTORIAN

Volume Forty-Three

No. 4

 

October 2002

 


George Von Hoff: A Proud Navy Veteran and Citizen of Batavia

 

The story that follows comes primarily from an interview of George Von Hoff by Elliott Lundberg and Bill Hall on June 11,

2002. Other sources include "It Was Pure Hell," a story based on an interview of George by Jay Curtis that appeared in NavalHistory, June 2002; "Misfortune at Coral Sea" by Daniel Verton that appeared in the same publication; and "Living to tell about war," an interview of George by Natalie Bauer that appeared in the Daily Herald, May, 2002.

 

vol_43_24.jpgThe two naval battles Coral Sea and Midway, fought less than a month apart sixty years ago, stemmed the tide of Japanese aggression in the Pacific and forever changed the nature of warfare at sea. And Batavian George Von Hoff was in the midst of the first of those battles, forced to jump into the shark-infested sea when the aircraft Lexington on which he was serving was sunk by Japanese torpedo planes. George was born to Otto and Minnie Van Hoff on June 1, 1921, in Batavia.

 

After attending the old Louise White School, he went on to Batavia High School and graduated in 1940. As was common in those "depression days," he worked while attending school. His first job was with Dub The story that follows comes primarily from an interview of George Von Hoff by Elliott Lundberg and Bill Hall on June 11, 2002. Other sources include "It Was Pure Hell," a story based on an interview of George by Jay Curtis that appeared in NavalHistory, June 2002; "Misfortune at Coral Sea" by Daniel Verton that appeared in the same publication; and "Living to tell about war," an interview of George by Natalie Bauer that appeared in the Daily Herald, May, 2002.

Leifheit, delivering newspapers to 72 homes in the southwest part of Batavia. He recalls, "At the end of the month when payday came, I didn't have anything coming because I put ice cream and pop on the tab and Dub would check it off. "My mother," George continued, "was against movies and playing cards. She thought they were a sin. She told me off one time when I was down in the Vanity Theater. But six months later, I got a job as an usher there, and she thought that was all right -- that it wasn't such a sin. The owner of the Vanity Theater was Joe Burke; that was before they changed it to the Capitol Theater. He would come in on Sunday afternoon at 1:15. One Sunday I put a wedge in the back door and let Jim Hazelton,qBob Wicklund and Milt Peine in. When Joe Burke came in, he turned the lights on, and there were those three guys. He fired me, so then I went over to the bowling alley and got a job setting pins for a couple of years. "Batavia didn't have enough money in 1934, 1935 and 1936 for football," George recalled, "but in 1937, when I was a sophomore, they resumed football and I played at Batavia High School. I played basketball, too, but I wasn't real good. After I graduated in 1940, Ray Collins, a city council member, got me a job in construction as a laborer.

 

I worked maybe three weeks, and I saw that the plumbers who were working there were making twice as much as I was. So I thought I would join the Navy and learn a trade -- maybe I would be a plumber." After George joined the Navy, he went to boot camp at Great Lakes for nine weeks. "After that, he said, "I wanted to be on an aircraft carrier. They said that they wanted eighteen men to volunteer to go on the aircraft carrier Lexington. I stepped out before they finished, and the officer said, 'OK, wise guy, get back in line.' Lo and behold, he had miscounted and he only had seventeen, so he let me go." George went from Great Lakes to Bremerton, Washington, to join the Lexington. "We made $21 a month, and insurance cost me $6.50. It rained all the time there, but I couldn't afford a raincoat. In the beginning, all I did was chip paint. Some of this was down in the bilges, and I certainly wasn't learning a trade. "Finally, they took me in the V-2 division -- that's aviation structural mechanics.

 

They work on everything in airplanes except the engine. I was a lot happier because I was learning something useful, such as how to weld and rivet. I had what I wanted, a potential trade and a big ship. vol_43_24.jpg

"Mostly the planes would practice shooting at a target. The ship would pull this target at about 200 yards, and they would shoot at it. They would usually hit it, and I had confidence in the ship if any enemy planes would come:' "The Lexington eventually got orders to go to Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, we left there on Friday, December 5, and were on maneuvers when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941; otherwise we would have been berthed next to the Utah and would probably have been sunk. When we returned to Pearl Harbor a week or so later, some of the fires were still burning. "On February 18, 1942, thirteen big Japanese bombers were coming after us," George said, "but I didn't think they could even get close to us. Anyway, we had a pilot who came off the Saratoga, a sister carrier that was in for repairs after being hit by a torpedo. That pilot was Butch O'Hare, who went up and shot down five of those planes. We were just clapping -- this was like a football game, really exciting. Later, after Butch was shot down, O'Hare Field was named after him." George resumed, "My job was to fight fires and, if the planes came back with holes in them, to put some fabricand some dope on the holes so the they could go back out. Later on w~ would patch the holes with aluminum.

 

The Japanese torpedo planes were so much superior to ours. Ours would go about 120 miles per hour; the Japanese would go 350. But they didn't protect their pilots like we did -- we'd put steel behind the pilots. Another thing people didn't know about the Kamikaze suicide bombers was that they would bolt the pilots in so they couldn't get out. "In May, 1942, the Japanese had an idea they would go to Australia, and we intercepted them. This was the Battle of Coral Sea. They had carriers and cruisers so we sent out our bombers, keeping the fighter planes to protect the carrier. We got up about 5 a.m. that morning and helped load the torpedoes and the bombs and refuel -with that we were ready for battle. The Japanese sent 69 planes against the Lexington. Oh, it was terrifying. They'd come out of the sun, and we couldn't see them. And their fighter pilots would go all along and shoot the Marinef' and their guns. Wilen tnefirst wav~ finished, the rest of them would come in. "I noticed hits from at least two torpedoes and three 500-pound bombs, and there were a lot of close ones that did damage. And now we couldn't shoot the planes down like we did -most of the Marines were dead. They had tracers, every eight shot was a tracer, and we could see them coming. They were shooting about fifteen feet over my head, and that's when I got scared -- terrified. I didn't want to die -- I was 21 years old -- and I said, 'God, you're not supposed to make a deal, but if you save me I'm going to be a good Christian the rest of my life.' For sixty years, I've never gone to bed without reading a chapter of the Bible. "By late afternoon, the ship was afire with aviation fuel. Everybody was 'srrified as they tried to fight the fires, finally the captain gave orders to abandon ship. I had $400 and a picture of a girlfriend down in my quarters, but the compartments were sealed, so Ijumped even though I was afraid that the sharks would get us. Three days before, we threw some rotten meat over the side, and the sharks gobbled it up in a frenzy, The captain was the last one to jump off, and he had his dog jump off, too.

 

"The destroyer Hammann, which was sunk later in the war, was picking up survivors. It had 150 men; there were about 500 of us survivors sitting just as close as we possibly could, all night long. We were cold and hungry. I didn't like to see people burned up, but we saw a lot of that. In the morning, they thought they saw Japanese planes on the radar screen, but it turned out to be the Air Corps coming to help us -- a day late." Why is it said that this battle changed forever the nature of warfare at sea? It is because the entire battle was fought without the opposing naval vessels ever seeing one another. The battle consisted entirely of planes versus ships -- the U. S. carriers Yorktown and Lexington against the Japanese carriers Khokaku, Zuikaku and Shoho. The Yorktown and Lexington dive-bombers sank the Shoho, giving rise to the immortal words "Scratch One Flattop" that were sent back to the task force. And, of course, we lost the Lexington. Historians, it has been said, have generally drawn the same conclusion about the battle: although a tactical Japanese success, the battle is remembered as a strategic U.S. victory. It set the stage for the Battle of Midway, one month later, in which the Japanese navy suffered a devastating loss from which it never recovered.

 

But back to George Von Hoff. Although the Navy was supposed to give 30 days leave to survivors of a sunken ship, George said, "I didn't get back to the States until October. This girl from East Aurora told me she wasn't going to wait any six years for me. I asked Bill Wyllie's sister for a date, but she was going with John Pini. My cousin Marian Kibling knew Ann Ekstrom. Although she was engaged to somebody else, I got a date with her -- but then I had to go back to Alameda. I knew I wanted to marry her, so I worked in a steel mill for about two months to earn money for a ring. This was in 1942 during the war, but everybody needed help so I worked eight hours for the Navy and then went out and worked in the steel mill. "We got married December 20, 1942. I sent Ann the money to come out to California. When we found that we would have to wait three days to get married in California, we took a bus to Reno where a Methodist minister married us. "I got 30 days leave in 1946 and got out of the Navy, which was scary. I shouldn't have done it. I rejoined in August, 1946, remaining in the Navy as a chief petty officer until 1960, when I returned to Batavia. I havetaught Sunday School classes for 54 years. "Ann and I were married 56 happy, happy years. We had four sons, and I could talk all day about them. Since Ann died, I'm so lonely, especially on Sunday nights. But I still watch football and basketball and help with tennis. And, after sixty years, I still get goose bumps when I hear the Navy hymn, and the Batavia Loyalty song.

 


 

The Batavia Historian, recipient of the Illinois

State Historical Society's 1997

Award for Superior Achievement, is pubiished

quarterly by the Batavia Historical

Society. The editor, Bill Hall, will welcome

any suggestions or material -- 630-8792033.

The Depot Museum, a cooperative effort

of the Society and the Batavia Park District,

is open from 2 to 4 p.m., Monday,

Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

from March through November. The

director, Carla Hill, can be reached at

630-406-5274.


High School Yearbooks Needed

 

There are large gaps in the Batavia High School yearbooks available in the Gustafson Research Center. Years missing are 1945, 1946, 1951, 1963, 1966, 1967, 1979, 1985, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001". If

you have any of these that you would be willing to share in the research center or if you know where we could obtain them, please call Bill Wood (879-1933) or Carla Hill or Chris Winter at the Depot Museum (4065274).

 


Harry "Cornie" Pierce -- Batavia's Mr. Scouting

by Donald Miller

 

 

Don Miller, a Life Member of the society who now lives in Grampian, Pennsylvania, previously provided us with valuable information about Scouting in Batavia during the years following World War II (July, 2001, issue). He has now sent a 17-page tribute to Troop 12's beloved and long-time Scoutmaster, Cornie Pierce. Although printing the entire piece in the Historian is not practicable, we have included the beginning and end and have selected some anecdotes that give a flavor of the times and, particularly, the personality and character of Cornie Pierce. The entire tribute is available for reading in the Gustafson Research Center.

 

 

vol_43_26.jpg"If you lived in Batavia during the 1940s and early '50s;' Don wrote, "you lived in typical Smalltown, USA. With a population in the five thousand, some hundreds, you knew a good share of the residents, many personally, almost as many by nickname. Some of the residents were known by just about everybody. Think about education in Batavia and J.B. Nelson immediately came to mind. Police? Top Cop 'Ruck' Clark, of course, just as 'Bud' Richter was Batavia's fireman, and Father Donovan was the town's beloved Catholic priest. Among this select group was another individual also known to just about all, but, unlike the others, different things to different people.

 

That would be Harry Pierce." Pierce, as Don notes, was a man of many parts. In the business world, he started in the sales department of TheChallenge Company and became trust officer at Batavia's First National Bank. For years, he served as the secretary/treasurer of Batavia's school board; finally, as the school system expanded with the population, he became its first full-time business manager. As more than one person has observed (and we can include former principal Bill Wood in this number), his skill with numbers and thrifty nature made his performance more valued by Batavia's taxpayers than by those employed within the school system. "If you were an athletics enthusiast," Don observed, "you'd know Harry Pierce for different reasons depending upon your age. Were you of his generation, you'd remember him as a valued member of the high school football and basketball teams, and later ... as an end on Batavia's renowned Green Pheasants. Should you be of the next generation, you more than likely would know him as a highly regarded referee with the IHSA ...

 

"Ironically, however, ask almost any boy in Batavia, or for that matter, almost anyone connected with Scouting anywhere within the Tri-Cities, Mooseheart, Elburn, or any part of DeKalb County about Harry Pierce and you'd probably get a quizzical look, possibly a blank stare, maybe even a "Who's that?" However, ask about Cornie Pierce and instant recognition was yours ... It was a nickname bestowed upon him early in life, and he lived with it throughout his days. [It came from] nothing more complicated than a natural affinity for corn flakes ..." Don's heartfelt tribute to Cornie Pierce lists his many qualities that made him a superb scoutmaster and led to his recognition throughout the Chief Shabonna Council. Rather than to recite these here, we have chosen to tell a few anecdotes that carry us back to life in the late 1940s, that illustrate Cornie's leadership qualities, and that make him come alive for the current generation. "When I joined Troop 12," Don recalls, "we were in the latter stages of World War II. New cars had not been available for several years, and whatever you were driving when the war broke out, simply had to do. Pierce was driving a 1934 Chevy 4-door sedan, distinguished by its faded dull black finish and offsetting cream-colored wheels.

 

It was a rather Spartan model, with accessories limited to such luxuries as a heater. "The radio was an afterthought -- a plain metal box the size of two backto-back cigarette cartons. It fastened to the steering column. Functions were limited to an on/off/volume switch anda tuning button at the driver's end. "Like the car's body, the upholstery had seen better days. All in all, inside and out, nothing to write home about. That car, however, ran like a top and, between scouting and high school officiating, accumulated more than its share of miles. "Come football season, Friday night might find it at West Rockford, Saturday afternoon in Naperville. Likewise basketball -- Friday night, perhaps, a game as far away as Sandwich, then Saturday night just down the river at Marmion. It was the same with scouting. Be it Starved Rock, Rotary McQueen, Elburn Forest Preserve, or any number of other camping locales, that Chevy got us there. "No matter how busy he was;' Don continued, "how hectic his schedule, Cornie Pierce always had time for any of his Scouts. Be it the greenest Tenderfoot groping his way through early requirements, or one of his long-timers looking for advice on some far-out, specialized merit badge, individual help, guidance, and advice were available. "When Bob Schiedler and I decided to shift it into high gear and go for Eagle, it was Cornie who sat down with us and mapped out a plan and a schedule.

 

Our finished plan was aimed for an early 1950 date of completion. We made Eagle in late 1949. Not a bad plan. "Personally, I was rather fortunate in that upon turning eighteen (and thus eligible) he installed me as Assistant Scoutmaster, the only one he had at the time. In a nutshell, that wvol_43_28.jpgas a real stroke of luck, as it provided me with a great deal of one-on-one time with him. Planning, setting up, and evaluating troop activities all took vol_43_27.jpgtime and work, but it was a labor of love. "Most fond of these memories are the meetings often held at our favorite location. Pierce was an ice cream lover, and in those days the original Fruit Juice House on the east end of Aurora's New York Street made fantastic hot fudge sundaes. Occasionally, when the weekly Scout meeting was concluded, we'd lock up the cabin, get in his car (by now Pierce's name had risen to the top of Scoop Clark's post-war waiting list, and the old reliable '34 Chevy had been replaced by a sleek new '47 Chevy Deluxe), and head for the Fruit Juice House. "It took some time to kill one of those sundaes, but we'd do so at our leisure in the car, all the while discussing what was pertinent to the times. It usually started with recent Scouting activities and future plans, but more often than not, evolved into many things.

 

I heard about how things were getting tough for bank robbers because of security measures such as those taken by First National Bank. I would hear his side of a now-and-then controversial call in a key basketball game. And he loved to reminisce about the Green Pheasants, particularly such things as playing the Joliet Prison team inside the walls of the penitentiary and lining up against Baby Face so-and-so or some other celebrity mobster of the day. "Eventually, however, we would invariably get around to things of more consequence, things such as my future. We both knew that time in the armed forces was essentially inevitable, but beyond that, what? He could never emphasize education too much, the need for honesty and morality in all things, and above all, the art of getting along with people. I had no idea then of how much of this would remain with me to this day, but the fact is that it has, and I am grateful. It should also be noted here that this good fortune was not mine alone. To the contrary, there were many Eagles before me and, undoubtedly, a number of Assistants after, who shared in such experience. There is no doubt in my mind that, they too, today, share my perspective. "Unlike many people totally immersed in volunteer activities," Don emphasized, "Cornie never forgot that he had a family. Despite his hectic schedule, the Pierces were a tight knit family.

 

Generally, where we (troop 12) went, they went. When the troop went to Rotary McQueen in the summer, we'd take the campsite most remote from the main camp and in the most wooded area. Pierce would take a family tent and pitch it a little further into the woods, just beyond the troop. "Rose and the girls would participate in many of the activities m meals, campfires, swimming (with the camp staff, as opposed to our troop), etc., and apparently enjoyed themselves. Even on those occasions when Pierce could not obtain the necessary vacation time, they'd come. He'd be there at camp, but at 5:30 in the morning, up and on his way to the bank in Batavia. He'd drive the 55 miles, put in his full day, and then return to camp around 5:00 p.m., sharing the evening with the troop, the family, and camp activities. "On my last trip to the museum, I was fortunate enough to stumble into Sandy Chalupa, Cornie's younger daughter. Despite the passing of many years since last seeing each other, recognition was mutually instant. Our conversation, as might be expected, almost immediately gravitated toward her dad. In the course of the conversation I inquired as to whether she had possibly considered donating her dad's uniform to the museum. 'That would be impossible; she advised. 'We buried him in it.' 'How appropriate' were the words that instantly crossed my mind. Those two words said it all. As I conveyed them to Sandy, I could only think: What a wonderful way to say goodbye to such a wonderful man m a Scoutmaster of Scoutmasters- yours truly Batavia's Mr. Scouting.

 


 

The Three Day Strike

by Helen Bartelt Anderson

 

Our readers always welcome the emories of Helen Anderson, who grew up on a farm east of Batavia in what is now Fermilab. Helen and her husband, Cliff, recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.

 

 

Nearly every day we read in the papers about labor unions, strikes, lawyers and courts. Employees try to negotiate with employers for cost of living wages and so on. I would like to tell you about a strike right here in Batavia and thesurrounding area, especially in Dupage County. It affected many people but lasted only three days. The dairy farmers with the help and urging of the Pure Milk Association called for a strike against the Chicago milk dealers. The reason? The federal government demanded that dairy farmers must make improvements on their cow barns. Cement floors in the barn and milk house were required. Farmers received only eight cents a gallon for their milk. Many farmers with large families or renters were finding It financially impossible to comply with the government mandate. Much of the milk from this area was trucked directly to Chicago. My father, George Bartelt, delivered our milk to Batavia's Bowman Dairy, which we believe also sold to Chicago. One icy morning Papa loaded his eight cans of milk in his small truck. He drove to Bowman Dairy on North River Street where the milk would be processed. Before he reached the driveway to the plant, he was stopped by three men who said, "Turn around, George. Take our milk back home.

 

All of us Pure Milk Association members cannot accept the low price we receive. We must receive more money in order to update our milking facilities. George, we are placing you at the picketing station; you will be with two other farmers." Papa went home to tell Mama that he wouldn't be home for supper that night. He was thankful that his new barn had already been built. Mama's comment: "We knew this was coming, George. We will do the best we can to milk the cows and do the other chores." Roger and I were both in high school. Mama wrote to Uncle Charlie to come and help. But by the time he received the letter, the strike had ended. Every morning Mama skimmed the cream off the top of the milk cans. We had cream on our oatmeal or cream of wheat. We had jello with whipped cream and other creamy goodies. Mama churned butter. I needed to know more about the milk strike. I called my friends who have wonderful memories -- Jeanette Anderson and Lloyd Kautz. The are both members of the Batavia Historical Society. Jeanette said, "My parents did not have a dairy farm. They had a few cows. They only sold to private customers." Lloyd said, " Sorry, Helen, I have absolutely no memory of this strike." His parents no doubt sold their milk to a different dairy.

 

I called the Gustafson Research Center of the historical society. No record of the strike. I called son Jim to check the internet. He came with a huge stack of information on milk strikes everywhere but here. The strikes were all in the 1930s, mostly in the state of New York. Was our local strike in 1928 the first? Then Jeanette called back. She asked, "Have you called Chris Feldott?" I said, "No, but I wilL" Chris answered the phone ---Bingo! He confirmed my belief that the strike was in 1928. He knew it was called off in three days because the big Chicago dairies' lawyers prevailed. The reason: Chicago's babies have to have the milk. The dairy farmers lost nand Chicago won again. 1929 - The stock market crashed. 1930- Papa died as the result of a farm accident. Life Goes On!

 

vol_43_29.jpg

 


 

Membership Matters

Since the last issue, the following persons have become members of the society

(all from Batavia unless otherwise noted): Charles R. Anderson, Charlotte

Argall (Des Plaines, IL - a gift from Jeanette N. Anderson), Richard and Imy Isbell

(a gift from Mary and Ed Hays), Kent and Evie Johnson (a gift from Mary and Ed

Hays), Mary Karalis and family, Patricia Reid Lindner (Sugar Grove), Nancy and

Alan McCloud, Steven and Christina Stewart, Dale and Sue Willerth, and Dale

and Donna Womack (Yorkville - a gift from Mary and Ed Hays). We welcome

these new members and look forward to their participation in the activities of the Society.

We regret to report the death of members Genevieve Becker (life member),

Lois Hauman, and J. E. (Ed) Peterson (life member) and extend our sympathy to

their families and friends.

 

We received a gift of $300 from the Hansen-Furnas Foundation, at the direction

of Marilyn Robinson, to be used in rebinding books. We have also received

gifts in memory of Joyce Wyllie Limbaugh from Lillian Brown, Doris Perna and

Marilyn Phelps; in memory of Harry Hill from Richard and Lois Benson; in memory

of Lois Hauman from Richard and Lois Benson; in honor of Cliff and Helen

Anderson's 65th wedding anniversary from Walter and Georgene Kauth; and from

Marilyn Phelps in honor of Walter and Georgene Kauth's 50th wedding anniversay.

We wish to thank these donors for their support.


More Memories of CarL j. HarLeen

 

The last issue included an excerptfrom a letter that Carl Harleen, a nativeBatavian who has lived for manyyears in California, recently wrote to

Cliff Anderson. We promised that wewould include more of the letter in alater issue, and here goes. Cliff, asmost of our readers know, operated ahardware store for many years onSouth Batavia Avenue, and this letteris a warm, well deserved tribute to him.

 

 

One Christmas time when I was eightor nine, I had my heart set on a new snowsled as one of my presents. As the daysgrew closer to Christmas, I could see presentsas they were put under the tree, butnone was the shape of a sled. To make along story short, Christmas Eve came andno sled. That was it -- I'm not going to getone, period. It was dark outside when thedoor bell rang, and when the door wasopened, there you were with my sled,making a delivery on Christmas Eve.I bought a pair of Nestor Johnson iceskates from you and, as the rule went, theywere bought a little big so you could growinto them. Well, I took the skates with meout west, and as of a few years ago, Ihadn't grown into them yet! You told methe importance of having the skates sharpened properly -- it was to have them hollow ground. That was good advice.When they needed sharpening and I tookthem to you, I can still see the set-up youhad. The grinding wheel and motor werenear a metal plate, and on the plate wasthe rig for holding the skate.

 

You wouldslide the skate up carefully to the grindingwheel, and the sparks would fly, giving twosharp edges.In your store, I think you sold Philco radios,and you also did radio repair. I keptthat in mind when I became interested in"ham" radios. With Bill Johnson, we eachconstructed a portable 5 meter transceiverwith a #19 raytheon tube and with the batteriesin a compact carrying case. We were"bootlegging" (operating without a license)so we couldn't run to the "ham" operatorslike Willey Ahlgren or Fritz Carlson tocheck things out when we ran into problems with the sets. When we did have alittle trouble getting them to work, webrought them to you, and you took time t,check them over and find the problem with no cost to us. I don't think we ever usedthem: it was just the thrill of getting themto work. I remember Fritz Carlson washeavily into "ham" radio. He had the callletters W9LHA. I can hear him say,"W9LHA, the Last HonestAmerican."You took such good care of your bicyclethat when you sold it to me, it was like anew bike. It was a Hibbard Spencer, 27inch,black and orange, with a maroonbasket on the front. It was a great bike,and it gave me nothing but pleasure.When you and Victor Swanson went into Chicago to pick up supplies fromHibbard Spencer Hardware, you took mealong and timed it so we could take in aWhite Sox game at Comiskey Park.

 

There weren't many Sox fans left in Batavia when the three of us took off for the game.The biggest high school sport in townwas basketball. When I was in eighthgrade and needed a ride to an out-of-towngame, you were always available. Weweren't very big at that time, and we wouldpile in your sedan, Lord knows how many,and off we would go to the game. No onewas left behind -- you would always findroom for one more. That was you, Cliff,and I really appreciated it all.

 


 

Eighth Annual Outing , at Starved Rock

Beglns Next Week; Owners Donate Autos.

 

vol_43_30.jpg

 


 

Readers' Corner

 

 

Scouting in 1932

The article [which appears beside this column] about the Boy Scouts is a scanned page from a scrap book I made in 1932. Due to the depression there wasn't money for the luxury items like scrap books and glue. This particular book was small, so in order to put many articles on a page, I folded them to accommodate the page. We made glue out of flour and water, and once in a while purchased a school glue that "flowed" through the rubber cap -- saturating the article. Troop 12 was my brother's troop -- although the article incorrectly states Francis "Barker" instead of Francis "Barkei." Many of the boys listed was his buddies. At that time we lived next door to the Schielkes on Columbus Street. Hope this adds to your history of the Batavia Boy Scouts.

 

--Mary Helen Barkei Marler

 

Sheila Tierney Stroup's Columns

When Sheila Tierney Stroup and I were in school together, it never dawned upon me that someday I might serve as her Boswell. Her remembrance piece in the most recent newsletter was wonderful. Quite some time ago our mutual friend and classmate Barb Shaw Young described an internet strategy for reading on a regular basis Sheila's columns in the New Orleans Times Picayune. From http://www.nola.com/t-p/today you'll get a screen saying that you'll be automaticallyredirected to the Times Picayune home page. From the home page, scroll down to "Columnists" and click on Sheila Stroup for Sheila's latest columns. One of my favorites was the first time Sheila brought her husband "Stroup" home for dinner in Batavia, and his chagrined horror when he realized he'd be missing the IIlini, game on TV. Another, in the pre-9/11 days of innocence, concerned Sheila's sister flyin into New Orleans for their mother's 91st surprise birthday party, and how the cake's frosting had shifted so that instead of 911 there appeared to be a public service announcement of an emergency phone number.

 

--Rod Ross

 

 


 

THE SEARS HOMES

Quality Homes Made to (Mail) Order

by Rosemary Thornton

 

Rosemary Thornton, a dedicated Sears home aficionado, recently published The Houses That Sears Built. The story that follows appeared in Historic Illinois, a publication of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which has granted us permission toreprint it in the Historian. We thank the agency and RosemaryThornton for the opportunity to share this informat.ionwith ou.rreaders, especially since Batavia has Sears homes that will be pictured In the next Issue

 

 

Modern shoppers marvel at the ease of shopping at home, choosing from mail-order, television-shopping networks, or the one-stop system available on the internet. Although it may seem new to many, shopping from home has been available for a long time. In the early 1900s, consumers could order just about anything out of the Sears general merchandise catalog: tombstones, handguns, obesity powders, and sofa beds. At its peak, the four-pound Sears catalog offered 100,000 items within its twelve hundred pages, eventually including entire kit homes -- ordered by mail and shipped by rail. Although Sears homes generally share neighborhoods with a lariety of other homes, one Carlinville

neighborhood consists of nothing but Sears homes. The first Sears Modern Homes catalog, issued in 1908, offered 44 house designs, ranging in price from $495 to $4,115, and even a schoolhouse for $11,500.

 

vol_43_31.jpg

 

A few months after a customer selected a home and placed an order, two boxcars containing 30,000 pieces of house would arrive at the nearest train depot. A 75-page, leather-bound instruction book, with the homeowner's name embossed in gold on the cover, gave precise directions on how to build the new modern home. The instruction book offered a somber (and probably wise) warning: "Do not take anyone's advice as to how this building should be assembled." Sears promised that "a man of average abilities" could build the house, but also estimated that a carpenter would charge $450 to assemble those 30,000 pieces of house, which included 750 pounds of nails. A painter, Sears predicted, would want $34.50 to apply the 27 gallons of paint and varnish that came with the kit. In the 1922 catalog, under the heading "something you should know," Sears stated that other skilled labor would cost $1 an hour. Masonry (block,brick, cement) and plaster were notincluded as part of the package deal,but the bill-of-materials list advisedthat thirteen hundred cement blockswould beneeded for the basementwalls and foundation. The salutary effects of living in a modern home were extolled throughout the pages of the Sears catalog. Beyond the financial security and comfort in old age that owning a Sears home would surely bring, Sears promised that their modern homes would improve the health, morals, and wellbeing of its occupants.

 

The term "modern home" was part of the vernacular in the early 1900s. It was a descriptive term indicating that a house had modern amenities (those things we consider necessary today), such as a centralized heating system, electricity, and indoor plumbing. In some cases, the houses were more modern than the community in which they were built. Electricity and municipal water systems were not available in every locale where Sears homes were sold, so Sears offered houses without bathrooms well into the 1920s. Home purchasers could easily turn to another page in the catalog to choose an outhouse for a mere $23. This also, explains, in part, why Sears sold heating, electrical and plumbing equipment separately, and not as part of the kit. Sears's marketing strategy made purchasing a home nearly painless. The company began offering mortgages for their houses in 1911, and easy payment plans made homebuying attainable for the masses. Loan qualifications were amazingly lax.

 

A 1920s Sears mortgage application asked a few simple questions about the house and lot, but only asked one vague financial question: "What is your vocation?" Who knows how many of those who would not have otherwise qualified for conventional mortgages were able to build a home of their own because of Sears? Sears's marketing department was forward thinking in other ways, too. Corporate customers could purchase entire ready-cut, ready-to-build neighborhoods. The Sears homes -- even the small est and those purchased in bulk -were high-quality products, so why did Sears stop selling them? One single event that affected nearly everything in American life in the 1930s also forced Sears to severely curtail its business practices. The Great Depression caused hemorrhagic financial losses for Sears. Because Sears had offered mortgages on their homes, the Depression put them in the uncomfortable position of having to foreclose on their own customers. It was a public relations nightmare, and after a fe:t' .... stops and starts, the Sears Moderd Homes Department closed permanently in 1940.

 

Now, many decades later, finding the estimated 75,000 homes offered in about 370 different designs proves challenging. Illinois probably has the largest collection in the United States, but Sears homes are located in all fortyeight contiguous states, and there are a few just over the Canadian border. It is difficult to track them because Sears destroyed their home sales records shortly after they closed the homes department. And sadly, most of the people who ordered and/or built these homes have now passed away. Although there is no modern-day counterpart that offers consumers quite what Sears delivered -- a highquality, build-it-yourself house and unbelievably easy mortgage qualifying criteria and terms -- consumers can still buy a Sears home. With a little detective work home buyers can determine whether or not there are any "used" Sears homes available for sale. And considering the growing stock Of lesser-quality available housing, U"J purchase of a Sears home is still a sound investment.

 

Do You Have a Sears Home - Or Do You Know of One in Batavia?

 

Sears homes are not as easy to identify as one might think. Current owners are sometimes unaware that they are living in a Sears home. They are not necessarily unique; Sears attempted to capture what were popular current styles in their models. And some builders who saw Sears models that they liked probably copied them. Then, too, over the years many owners of Sears homes have made modifications that make identification difficult. We know about several Sears homes in Batavia, but we are sure that there are others we have not identified. If you know, or even suspect, that you have identified one, please call Bill Wood (879 1933), Bill Hall (8792033), or Carla Hill or Chris Winter at the Depot Museum (4065274). We plan to include pictures of some or all of these houses in the next issue. As noted in the accompanying article by Rosemary Thornton, these homes, which were sold between 1908 and 1940, were high-quality products. Although some, probably most, were relatively modest, others, including one in Batavia, were decidedly upscale. Over the years, there were hundreds of models. Please let us know about any of these homes in Batavia.

 

 


 

Yesterday in Batavia

by Marilyn Robinson

 

Did you know that the Batavia High School Football Team of 1915 wasn't scored upon? Of course, there were extenuating circumstances. There were fourteen men on the squad that year. The seven returning lettermen were James Niles, Richard Benson, Ralph Swan, Otis Council, Russel Dunlop, Spencer Johnson, and George Ticknell. The rest of the squad were Earl Newton, Sugar McNair, Raymond Markuson, Elmer Sackrison, Siegle Sandberg, Oliver Swanson, and Robert Averill. The first game was a good practice for Batavia at home. The men had little trouble defeating the St. Charles Boys' Home by a score of 76 to O. The second game was away, but the team entered it with confidence, being backed by a large number of Batavia High rooters led by cheerleaders James Dunlop, Ted Daniels, Mike Cahill, and Paul Parce. St.

Charles High School got near the goal line twice but couldn't get through the strong defense of Batavia. The final score, Batavia 34, St. Charles O.

 

The third and final game of the season was the toughest. Crystal Lake was played off its feet in the first half as Batavia ran around the ends at will and completed a number of forward passes. In the second half Crystal Lake came back stronger and held Batavia to only one touch down. Still the final score was Batavia 33, Crystal Lake O. Four days after this game, Coach J. K. Fancher contracted diptheria and was quarantined. Five days later, schoolwas closed because of the epidemic for two weeks. When smallit reopened November 8, local doctors came to the school each day to give medical exams to students and teachers. Many others caught the dreaded disease and by December 2, one-half of the students were out because of it.The school was closed again until after the Christmas holiday on January 3.

 


 

A Taste of History

Society's September Meeting

 

At the Historical Society's general meeting on Sunday, September 22, Gerry Dempsey, President of Batavia Enterprises, held the attention of a large turnout of members and visitors with his description of, and stories about, the many historic Batavia buildings that his company has renovated and leases. His remarks were supplemented by descriptive material that he circulated and by pictures and artifacts that those in attendance could examine. He announced the gift of some of these artifacts to the society for display in the Depot Museum. Dick Benson, vice president and program chairman, announced plans for the next general meeting to be held on Sunday, December 1. In the afternoon, the Rumps family will conduct a tour of their Frank Lloyd Wright home on North Batavia Avenue. Following that, the usual potluck dinner willbe held atBethany Lutheran Church. Please markvour calendars.  Following the eeting, attendees enjoyed refreshments that were donated by Panera Bread Company.

 

 


 

What's New At The Museum

Carla Hill, Director

 

It is hard to believe that fall is quickly approaching. This summer has been a busy time for us at the museum, although the hot weather kept attendance lower than usual for the summer months. May was a whirlwind of activity, with third graders coming through the museum as well as a Cross Cultural Arts class from the Batavia High School. There were groups from the Art Institute and the Park District's Kids Club. Museum volunteers also met in May to discuss issues and receive new manuals. Chris Winter has been busy working on new displays for the museum. Her latest exhibit, "Historical Batavia A-Z," has received many compliments and has given us an opportunity to show off artifacts and photographs, some of which had never been on display.

 

The Furnas Electric display, a gift from the Hansen Furnas Foundation, is now complete and makes an informative and colorful addition to the corridor of the Gustafson Research Center. Chris and I are continuing to work on new programs and trips that are being offered through the museum. One of these is the ever-popular trip to the Newberry Library in Chicago. The museum recently received a generous donation from Bea Hodson, which will enable us to purchase a life-like mannequin for the railroad exhibit. Her husband, Chuck Hodson, was the last stationmaster for the depot, and the mannequin will be dedicated in his name. We are looking forward to a great fall and winter season at the museum. As always anyone interested in volunteering at the museum should contact Kathy Fairbairn at 406-9041 or Chris and Carla at the Museum at 406-5274.