Voices of the Ozarks – AJ Fencl

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My name is Albert Joseph Fencl, I go by AJ though. I was born on May 2, 1937. I was born on the head of Cedar Creek, Wayne County.  AJ describes his birth place and his dad’s farm. He lived there till he was 18, almost 19.

He started school at Burlington Grade School which was a little country school, no longer there. His first teacher was Wanda Stevens Leach. AJ was the only student there until the Bridges kids moved into he area. Later he went to Cold water for grades 6-8.


AJ points out that the roads were not rock but dirt and so they would often get muddy. When he was in the 6th grade he saved his money for a used bicycle. When the roads were dry he would ride the bike. If the roads were wet he would ride one of his dads mules or he would run.  Either way it was 5 miles to the school.

His favorite school subject was vocational ag. When electricity was offered in the area in 1948 they could not find an available electrician, they were all busy. His neighbor encouraged him to install the wiring so he did. He installed a 60amp box and wiring to each room for one plug and one light. It worked out fine. He was 11. As much as he learned in school he was learning hands on skills too. Helped his dad on the farm, his brother and the neighbors as well.


He talks a bit about the neighbor kids and various things about the farm such as drawing water from the well. It was a hand drawn well that they lowered buckets into. He would spend about an hour to an hour and a half to draw water for the pigs and cattle which he did every morning. This was also the water source for the household. 

He would also carry water to the cellar which was built into a hill. He would put water into a trench in the center of the cellar which would help keep it cool. This was also a daily chore.

They would keep the cream in there with all the fruit and vegetables. Eventually the cream would sour and they would have sour cream.


He describes the location of the farm which was at the Wayne county line and Cedar Creek near Cross Road Hill. One road went to Marquand, one went to Upper Bear Creek one came back down. He thinks that one is a forestry road now.

When he was a little kid his dad would hack timber into railroad ties which he would use to pay the poll taxes. In that process there were leftover checks of wood called “juggles” which he would collect and put in the wagon. They would burn that in their wood stove. He describes the process of cutting railroad ties. His dad also taught him how to make shingles. He describes the various tools they used: Froe , spoke shave, drawing knife. 


AJ describes wood shingle roofs and that you could actually see the sky through them because they had to have gaps. Those roofs were also very steep. He tells a story about his dad carrying hams up a roof. He was going to smoke them and he fell off the roof.  


He offers further descriptions of using the the various blade tools. 


He tells some of the background story of the family and how they came to the area by way of immigration from Austria to New York to Chicago. He offers his thoughts on the history of the family’s origins in Europe, particularly that the countries had become socialist or communist which he does not like. 

In Chicago his dad started work on the kill floor at the stock yards.  He didn’t know the language but went to night school to learn. He’d have a donut and coffee for breakfast and rented a room from his brother and sister-in-law. 

He eventually came to work as a chef at the Drake Hotel. At some point his dad got sick and had to take a break from his job. He took a train down to see some family friends, the Shondas. On his last day visiting them he ended up seeing a 40 acre property that happened to be for sale. He bought it on a whim because it was so pretty. He telegrammed to Chicago and quit his job.  


He was there 4 years on the place trying to farm before he went broke. He went back to Chicago and drove a cab for 4 years. During that time his younger brother Frank came down to take care of the place. He met Daisy who lived on the next farm down. They got married and stayed there 4 years. They ended up going back to the city and his dad came back down here.

Frank and Daisy stayed in the city for awhile and had a son, Jimmy. AJ tells the story of Jimmy going to WWII where he died. At that point Frank and Daisy came back down this way first settling in Valley Station then later to Cold Water. 

When his dad came back after his 4 year stay in Chicago he had saved some money and tried his hand at farming again. AJ describes his dads more successful efforts the second time around. He spent a lot of time and effort improving the rocky ground by pulling a lot of rotting logs out of the woods into his garden areas where he would plow them into the ground. He grew green manure crops and put barnyard manure onto the soil. He hauled limestone from the creek and piled it on a bunch of wood then burned the rock which gave him white lime. He then spread that on top of the growing areas. This improved the soil a lot and the farm was much more productive. By the time he died the farm was producing 100 bushels of corn to the acre. He used crop rotation and let the land rest every seventh year. 


AJ refers back to when he was a kid and the poll tax. There were no county road taxes so his dad would go out and work on the roads fixing ruts and holes.

He mentions seeing a helicopter flying overhead when he was a kid and it scared him. He says they lived far up in a holler and cars could not pass their place because the road was too rough. His dad had a car but used it sparingly because during the wartime everything was rationed. They’d use the car to go to church once a month because the closest was 8 to 10 miles away. His mother was from Club Missouri and that was twice as far so they would use the car for that too.


Once a week they would get the team ready and go to Coldwater to check mail and go to the store there. That was the local gathering spot and the men would get together and share news and politics. 

He talks about graduating grade school and choosing to go to Greenville for Highschool instead of Fredericktown because he knew some of the kids there. He would use his dad’s 4 wheel drive Jeep to get out to catch the bus. His dad also had an old 33 model ton 1/2 truck that he used on the farm. Sometimes AJ would use the truck to catch the bus.

AJ’s older brother taught him mechanics from an early age and he would help his dad keeping things in order.  AJ describes working on the old truck and driving it to the bus and the racket it would make on the hill.

In 1948 they got electricity and a  Ford tractor. His dad preferred the mules but AJ preferred the tractor. AJ did the plowing, cultivating with the tractor. They grew corn, wheat, oats, and alfalfa. In the summer time the hogs and cattle free ranged in the woods. He talks about how the farms all worked together cooperatively to thrash grain. They swapped labor together. They ran a separator with a W40 International Tractor. The tractor was very slow and loud and you could hear it come from a long way away. 

The crops were for their own use on the farm. The only thing they sold for a little money were eggs and cream. They had 100 to 150 chickens and milked several cows. They had a McCormick Deering separator that they used to separate the cream off which would get shipped once a week. It would get picked up my the mail carrier in Coldwater and take it to Piedmont where it went by train to Sunset Valley Creamery. 


They didn’t make much but they didn’t have to buy much either because they were pretty self sufficient. They bought sugar and coffee. They kept bees so always had honey. They always had a big garden and canned a lot which they shared with relatives who would come from the city once a month to get food. 

They would kill 4 hogs in the spring, 4 in the fall. If they ever ran low on meat his dad would have AJ go out and hunt squirrels. AJ didn’t care for  squirrel meat. He was expected to get a squirrel for every bullet. They didn’t really eat rabbits because of the worms in their necks.

Mostly though they were able to get by with the hogs and cattle.

His dad didn’t have him work until he was 10. 


He talks about his brother learning mechanics from his mom’s brother. And AJ learned from his brother. Later in life AJ made money overhauling cars and selling them. 

His dad had fruit trees, grape vines, and the things they needed to take care of themselves. He tells the story of the brakes failing on his dads truck and AJ running over the pear tree. 

They also gathered wild grapes, elderberries, greens, huckleberries, and blackberries.


AJ talks about the nearby farms that formed their little community cluster. They were all about a mile or two from each other: Huffmans, Whites, Bridges six farms in about five miles. He met his wife because her family moved into the Huffman farm later on after it went up for sale. They met one day in July because the his dad’s mules jumped the fence and got out. Phyllis, his wife to be, came up later in the day with her mother and grandmother, they were herding the escaped mules back home. AJ got them water and thought Phyllis was pretty. Not long after he asked her out for a soda after a church revival and that was the beginning of their courtship and later their marriage.


After getting married Phyllis got pregnant and he worked what jobs he could find but work was scarce. They went to the city for awhile and he worked there and their first daughter was born. They came back home here and he started hauling logs. It was less pay but they didn’t like living in the city. He went to work at the Brown Shoe factory for nine years. Then to the Pilot Knob Pellet where iron was mined and processed. He worked there 14 years starting as an underground laborer but bid up to other jobs such a powder monkey, driller, heavy equipment operator and finally into operations and the lab where he spent the last 7 years.  Their iron pellets were sent to Granite City steel and were made into all kinds of products. 

He had tried to enlist into the Air Force in 1955 but positions were scarce and he was never accepted. 


He describes his work at the Brown Shoe factory which was located over around North Mine LaMotte on property now owned by Madison County Farm Supply. They made different kinds of shoes: Kangaroo skin shoes for the nuns, penny loafers, lace-up men’s shoes, Life Stride and Buster Brown.

He estimates that they employed 200 to 300 people when he worked there. He left in 1969.

Fredericktown missed out on getting a couple production factories from other companies because Brown said that they would shut-down of other companies moved in. Then they ended up shutting down anyway. 

AJ says that all the time he worked he also farmed and ran cattle. He broke his leg in 1976 and had to take time off. During that time he ended up fixing used cars and selling them from the front yard. He ended up getting a dealership license. That lead to fixing and selling farm machinery on the side. Then he got a brokers and insurances licenses and started selling real estate and insurance. He finally turned in his brokers license two years ago.  When he was 62 he sold off the cattle and rented the farm out. 

He visited the old home place a few years back with the grand children and it has all grown up with trees.

One of his last jobs was to try truck driving. He bought his own truck and was hauling logs. That ended when he had an accident with a load of logs going into the woods taking him with it. He describes the injury to his face from that accident. That was the end of that!

*The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Ozark Regional Library or its staff.

Voices of the Ozarks – Connie Nicholson

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What’s your name? Connie Nicholson

When were you born?  April 7, 1948?

And where were you born? Fredericktown  

Well, I lived on, well, I don’t know the address. Across the street from where I live. I was going into the 5th grade. I went to school in Fredericktown over there on High Street. 

So, as a child, you lived across the street from where you live now? 

Yes, the house that I bought now on 306 North Mine LaMotte, yes.

I have four brothers and I’m the only daughter.  I raised Mikey, Ricky, and Randy and I’ve got a brother, we’re 14 months apart, so I just helped take care of them as I was growing up.

Were you the oldest?

Next to the oldest. My brother is older than me, Jerry.

So, as a kid in Fredericktown, what did you like to do?

Used to play in the yard, tag, hide and seek and night. We’d put cans on our feet and walk. Then I got a pair of roller skates. That was the happiest day of my life. Then my brother and I got a bike to share, that was the greatest thing. I had great parents. 

Connie recollects Christmas and decorating. She had a great childhood and great parents. She and her siblings had everything they needed. 

They played baseball in the vacant lot behind the Brown Shoe company. She recalls being a tomboy and climbing trees and the flagpole in front of Brown Shoe company. 


She recalls that for awhile they didn’t have an inside bathroom, they had an outhouse. She tells of the family dynamics that the kids didn’t take part of parents discussions, they were sheltered. 

She recalls the the train was still running when they lived there. She talks about the train depot.

Her dad worked in St. Louis during the week and would come back on weekends. During the summer time she and her siblings would sometimes go up and stay in his apartment when he worked. 

At the home in Fredericktown her mom gardened and canned. She helped with the gardening, snapping the green beans. The didn’t keep any livestock. She helped raise the boys. She recalls her mom being sick sometimes and thinks maybe she had a nervous breakdown. They were all born in the hospital. 

She recalls the old schools and how they were laid out and where they were.


Connie recalls the apartment in St. Louis. She describes the apartment but does not remember where it was. 

She describes the street on Fredericktown where she grew up and the kids she played with. She describes the various buildings that were there over the years and some that still are such as the tavern which used to be called Seabaughs, now it is Tom’s Bar. There was a laundry and a store that got tore down but the old barber shop building is still there. Sometimes things would flood because it was so low though some of it got built up.


The sometimes attended several churches over the years but she does not remember which ones.  She mentions that earlier on they lived out on J road. In those years, when she was younger, she recalls going to kindergarten and the mats they laid on. 

There were no town parks back then and they would just play in open lots. Later on they did have the swimming pool and teen town, both of those were very popular. After football games they would go to teen town which was near the old school. She recalls being a tomboy and her high school years. In her Highschool years she  would sometimes drive up to Flat River with her cousins. They would also go to the stockcar races in Colbalt Village on Friday and Saturday nights. When she was 11 to 12 years they would go to the movie theater on the town square.


She compares her childhood with kids today and says she had it better. She mentions that kids today seem to grow up to fast and that there are too many broken homes. She talks about visiting with her Highschool friends and the stores that they had around the town square. Some of the stores she mentions: The 5 and 10 store – Ben Franklin, P&Hirsch was next to that, Kelly’s Jewelry Store, a tire store, Schultes, which has different household wares, Sondermans and Seabaughs which were furniture store, the Democrat News was on the corner across from the funeral home. 


There is some discussion of her brothers and her father who was a plumber. Her brother Randy worked at Jimmy Thal’s for awhile and then worked with her father doing plumbing. Her brother Ricky worked at Gifford’s Lumber Company. Her father didn’t care for St. Louis, there wasn’t much to do there aside from work. He preferred to be down here because he could get outdoors and hunt and fish. In Forest Park in St. Louis you couldn’t hunt and fish. She discusses their time in St. Louis and how the neighborhood wasn’t as safe so they didn’t visit as much after a point. Her grandfather, who was also working there and staying with her dad,  was stabbed and almost died. That seemed to be a turning point for their spending time there. 


She discusses her cousins, aunts and uncles in Fredericktown. Most of them have now past on. She says there weren’t many festivals that she remembers except the 4th of July which she remembers fairly well. It wasn’t very big and they didn’t go on many rides but they walked around. She remembers that later on there was the Azalea festival. She recalls that when she was very young and living on J Hwy, they played cowboys and Indians, jumped rope, they played with jacks, she had a baton which she twirled and hit herself in the head. She doesn’t remember ever fishing but she hunted squirrels with her dad. She’d help him clean the squirrels. 


The house on J was small and made of concrete. She lived there until the 3rd or 4th grade. There was no inside bathroom, not tub or shower, they used a wash pan. They didn’t have a bathroom until they were in the house on in town. They moved to town when she was going into the 5th grade. First they rented a house on Schulte Lane, then later in the house on North Mine LaMotte.  


She talks about her dad fixing up the house, building kitchen cabinets, adding closets and shelves and more. She talks about having a radio and a black and white TV. They watched the news, and Matt Dillon and old shows such as the Twilight Zone. It scared her. 


Connie describes a bit about family life with her mom and dad and siblings. She says she was a happy kid and that her mom and dad were very loving. She says they never went without. She reminisces about her mom and that she was a good mother that encouraged her to be self reliant. 


She describes learning how to drive a standard transmission car, taught by her brother. Offers stories about her cousin driving them to Flat River and being a teen in this area. Cruising around town and getting her first car that her dad bought her when she was 16. It was a convertible and she called her friends to go out on the town. 


She describes meeting the guy who she ended up marrying. They met at a football game. She talks about The Pig, A & W and other restaurants and businesses that they frequented as a kid and later as a teen. A few stories just about doing things around town, running errands for her mom. 


She tells about her first job washing dishes at Graham’s Cafe, Truck Stop which was across from The Pig. Her aunt was a waitress there. She would stand on a square Pepsi box and and wash dishes. Nearby on OO there was a dance and party place called the Villa. People would come into the restaurant after the dancing. She made 50 cents an hour. She only worked Friday and Saturday nights, 11pm to 7am. She would sometimes bus tables and get tips. She really seemed to have fun working there. Got her Social Security card at 12 years old. She shares a story about getting the left over donuts that didn’t sell. She would take them home for her brothers and mom to eat. 


She was never in any clubs that she can remember. She was too busy being a Tom-boy! She was happier to be playing cowboys and Indians. She was a stubborn, determined kid and insisted that she be allowed to play as she wanted. She says she would never back down and sometimes got in fights. Kid stuff that she would later outgrow. She reaffirms that her parents encouraged her to stand up for herself and to be her own person.


She recalls the name of a neighbor when they lived on J Hwy, an older woman her mom was friends with named Ma Murray. She lived in a house that is now the Cornerstone Church. She would go and visit with her with her mom. Connie says she was very nice old lady. She describes the house and mentions that she had a coal stove to heat the house. She often sat on the porch and Connie would ride by on her bike and sometimes go visit. 


She describes the old Brown Shoe company and the family across the street that she would play with. They built a brick addition to the concrete  building and made a restaurant for the factory workers. It had been a donut shop at one time.  Her friends lived there too at one time, Marsha and Donna. Her friend Gracie lived down the street.


Connie talks about her fiancé and then husband who was a helicopter pilot. He once flew into Fredericktown, and landed in the Brown Shoe company lot. From there they flew to the Farmington airport. She describes the marriage as good but it didn’t last. They had one child, a boy. They were stationed in Hawaii and Kentucky. 


Connie describes raising her boy mostly by herself. She worked at a factory in Farmington for 17 years, Built Best. She lived here during that time, lived in the same house that she lives in today. 

She says she’s still good friends with Bonnie, her sister-in-law. 

As an adult raising a boy she stayed busy.  Her mom thought she’d have more kids but she never did. As a single parent she sometimes clashed with her parents but at the same time they stayed close. Having to work while raising her son was difficult but she’s thankful for how it all worked out. Currently her son lives in Fredericktown. 

*The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Ozark Regional Library or its staff.

Voices of the Ozarks – Victor Bailey

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My name is Victor Bailey and today is January 11, 2019. It is my birthday and I am 92 years old. I was born in 1927, the year that Charles Lindbergh became famous for flying the Atlantic. 

His parents moved to St. Louis county around the time that Lindbergh’s baby was kidnapped. The neighbors called the FBI because his family was new to the neighborhood. Victor suggests he may have been the youngest person ever arrested by the FBI.

He’s not sure why or exactly when the Bailey’s left Scotland. Later Bailey’s were Quakers. He mentions Patrick Bailey who, in 1680, had business dealings in that period. His mother’s native name was LaChance. He discusses the founding of the local village, St. Michaels which would later become Fredericktown. Among the founders of St. Michaels were 6 LaChances. 

Six generations of Baileys after they arrived in America, Joshua Bailey was born in 1815 and he is Victor’s great, great grandfather. He was married four times having outlived 3 wives. He had 19 children. 


Victor’s grandmother and grandfather lived 3 miles west of Fredericktown, from about 1910 on.  His grandmother was part Osage Indian and was born on Christmas Day and was 100 years old when she died. He discusses his grandparents  and their life their farm. 

He then discusses a visit to his grandparents  by a man after WWI who was ill.. Before dying he confessed that during wartime he and several other men avoided the war by hiding out and living off the land. They  had engaged in a series of bank robberies in the area and then hid the loot near the Current river. The man left a map for Victor’s grandpa who was never able to investigate. Victor’s father and uncles found the map many year later and eventually made several attempts to find the gold. He recounts several stories of their encampments and failed attempts to locate and recover the treasure.  


The brothers’ attempts to recover the treasure came to an end when the U.S. entered WWII. One of the brothers, Paul, joined the Navy a few days later. Victor recounts Paul’s time over seas and his return to the states and his adventures as a cowboy out west. He eventually made his way back to Missouri. Another of the brothers, Arlis, moved from St. Louis to Alaska where he became a fisherman.  Victor recounts various stories about Arlis’ time in Alaska.


Victor tells of his time working at the shoe factory, building a home in Oak Grove and starting a family. 

Wayne came back to Madison County and bought an old school house which he took apart. Victor sold  him 2 acres and helped him assemble it there. Wayne had inherited the infamous map and so Victor and his younger brother Morris agreed to help try to find the buried treasure. They couldn’t find the treasure but they did find an interesting cave which they explored the following weekend. After exploring they returned to the car and were met by a man with a gun who had come to see who was there. He informed them that the cave was a bear den! 


He quit the shoe factor and went to work for National Lead.  Around that time Wayne’s house burned and could not be saved. The map burned along with it.

Victor tells of his love of caves and going with his family to Hannibal to see the cave where Tom Sawyer got lost. He tells of his younger brother Morris, his sister who was married and lived in Texas and their brother Kurt who joined the Air Force. He and Morris often took float trips during the summer and visited. He tells a story of Morris who had gone to grade school in St. Louis and was picked on by a bigger boy. When Victor was 15 the family had moved back to Fredericktown. Morris had made a promise to himself to return to St. Louis one day and find the bully, Francis Fitzgerald. Around the time that Morris was 16 he went to work at the shoe factory. He got a car and went in search of Francis in St. Louis only to miss him. He’d gone that very morning to Chicago to fight in a Golden Glove boxing championship. Morris decided he’d forgive Francis Fitzgerald!

Victor recounts Morris’ love of guns and the two times he accidentally shot himself. Later Morris joined the National Guard and was noted for being a good shot at moving targets.


Victor recalls that many in the family were musically inclined. He started playing the guitar when he was 5 and always played it. He recounts working at Monsanto Headquarters around 1960 and that he had several patents in his name. 

He built designed a new kind of music instrument that hat an aluminum frame and a harpsichord type keyboard and 6 sets of mandolin keys for tuning and 8 sets of electric guitar strings which were coupled to 4 magnetic microphones he made and then coupled to an amplifier. He wanted it too sound something like an electric guitar. He recounts playing with his daughter Connie who played the melody and bass parts while he played the middle with chording. A disc of the music is available at the library.  He called the instrument a guitanna. He recounts other musically related projects. 

During that time he also built a sports car which took second place at a custom auto show at the arena in St. Louis. He also built and flew a gyro copter which he describes as a for-runner of the helicopter. 

He states that he has, for the most part, invented something at every place he has worked, and mentions having done so at the cap factory. Before he moved to St. Louis he designed and built a speed boat and used it on the City Lake. He designed and built the elevator in the Sonderman Building including the controls. 


He states that his grandma and grandpa LaChance lived in the Mine LaMotte area. His grandpa worked in the lead mines and was not very old when he died. His nickname was Squirrely LaChance because he was a crack shot at hunting. His grandfather died when Victor was 11 and his grandmother remarried to a farmer and James helped on the farm. He didn’t care for farm work so when he was 15 he ran away and joined the army. His granny found out and had him kicked out. He later rejoined and became an experienced communications officer and was stationed in Alaska. James’ older brother Harold worked in the mines and later owned a tavern in Mine LaMotte. He played music and was a bare-knuckled prize fighter which allowed him to make some extra money.

Victor recounts hunting when he was younger but states he would no longer hunt as he got older. He would rather watch the animals and would only kill something if it was a threat. He says he still likes guns and has several including an old 4-10 that had belonged to his mother who used for hunting squirrels which she would make into gravy. 


He recounts a story related to one of the guns which involved some in the St. Louis Polish community that had formed a militia, “The Polish Falcons” for the purposes of community self-defense. They disbanded later when things got better. 

He goes on to recount  working with young men from other countries at Monsanto which had programs for communications positions in their home countries. During that time Victor designed various instruments for Monsanto. He spent time with the men and would invite them and their wives to dinner with his family. He hoped it would help them as well as his own family via the cultural exchange.  They had people from Poland, Mexico, Israel, China, Japan, Arabia and France. He mentions several of them that became very special friends. 


Victor recounts the achievements of his son Donald both as a young student and also his career in aerospace with satellites and rocketry. He also offers praise for his other two children. Specifically he discusses his daughter Connie and her talents as a musician. Vicky Darlene, his second daughter, was born 4 years after Connie on the very same day. He discusses her excellent academics and career as a radio announcer. Unfortunately she died young having developed cancer at 36.

He says that he and his wife married at 20 and were married for over 70 years. He’s a grandfather thanks to Connie and is also now a great grandfather as his granddaughter Diane recently gave birth. 


He discusses his brother visiting and seeing his first radio controlled model airplane. He couldn’t afford the cost of such a thing so he built his own using cheap walk-in talkies to begin with building the remote control. He just finally left the hobby and at the time had 40 airplanes the biggest of which had a 12ft wingspan. 


He recalls that his brother Curt graduated Fredericktown Highschool and joined the Air Force. After basic training he went to New York to training with General Electric. When he came back he went into a special job in a new Air Force project for radio controlled bombers. They were setting off atomic bomb blasts on the Kwajalein Islands and flying the planes through clouds to collect samples. Kurt’s job was installing the radio control into the airplanes. After that he went to Germany to setup missile bases. He went on to work with rocketry.


Victor took his family to visit Curt in 1958 to Cape Canaveral in Florida. They got to see a moon lander that was stored behind the glass that was ready to be placed on a rocket for launching. He then shares that Curt passed at 53 years old of radioactive poisoning.

Victor briefly mentions his sister June and expresses his fondness for her. He then mentions his youngest brother Dale who is 18 years younger than Victor and currently lives in the Northwest of the U.S.


Victor offers up a list of things he has done in his life ranging from  being the president of the Oak Grove school board during the 1950s, an auto mechanic at DeSpain’s Chrysler-Plymouth dealership, manager of a sand-blasting operation, he worked for repairing farm equipment and painting and Sonderman’s Furniture and appliance where he repaired washers, dryers, refrigerators and furniture. When he retired he was working at the cap factory in Fredericktown. 


Victor talks of his good upbringing and his love for his parents.  

41: 30

He recounts his dad and grandfather building a one room log cabin which they moved into when they moved to Fredericktown from St. Louis. At the time it was the four kids and his mom and dad. They stayed in that while a bigger home was being built. He describes an old-fashioned house raising one day when members of the church came to help them. They had a picnic and the men worked on the house. He and his dad had already put in foundation using a homemade concrete mixer  made from a 55 gallon drum and the motor from a washing machine.  He helped his dad finish the house and learned enough that when it came time for him to get married he started building his own house which was around 1944. He and his sweetheart worked in the shoe factory and they pooled their money to finish.  They were married October 3, 1947 and they moved in. It was not finished but it was close enough.  They didn’t have electricity yet as it wasn’t available but he went ahead and wired it up knowing it would come eventually. 


Victor tells the story of the inspector coming at a later date so the house could get electricity. The inspector was very impressed with Victor’s wiring job and in fact said it was the best he had ever seen. 

44: 30

Victor signs off by sharing a few helpful life hints about staying healthy and being an optimist.  

*The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Ozark Regional Library or its staff.

Voices of the Ozarks – Rita Kayser

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Rita Kayser


My Name is Rita Kayser, I live outside of Marquand with my husband of 55 years. We have 4 sons, 3 daughter in laws and 6 granddaughters and we’re expecting our first great grandchild.

She was born in 1945 and grew up in the boot heel near Glennonville and Wilhelmina settlements which was purchased by the St. Louis Archdioceses and sold to the people as a great place to settle. Actually it was a dismal swamp. 

Her parents, Ed and Lucille Larken moved to Willemena from Kentucky in 1925. She shares the story of her parents’ drive from Kentucky to Missouri. 


Rita shares the difficulties of her parents and others living in the area due to flooding and crop loss. 


Her parents struggled during the Great Depression but like many, they were already poor before so it didn’t matter much. 

One time her father cut his finger and they doctored it but it got infected. It got so painful that he walked 10 miles in the middle of the night to get to the nearest doctor’s office. The doctor lanced the finger and it healed up though it was always crooked after that. 


In 1930 they moved and rented a new farm which was higher up, with better land and fruit trees so there was less flooding. 

No modern conveniences. They did have a well though it would sometimes dry up in the summer. Her mother would have to go to the nearby creek to wash. 

During this time they were living 10 miles from the nearest town, Campbell. They made their living as full time farmers and didn’t go to town often. When they did they would go by horse drawn wagon. 


Both Glennonville and Wilhelmina had schools, became a single private school when Wilhelmina slowly faded away. The Missouri Department of Conservation bought it and turned it into a wildlife refuge. There was a public school in Campbell. 


Her parents were a part of a small village with the church at the center of their life. Her mother became a midwife. There were a few others and a doctor in Campbell. Sometimes she was paid in barter, other times not at all. 


Rita tells the story of some Campbell business men that would come every summer to hunt and fish on the St. Francis river that was just behind her parents’ house. They shared bbq chicken and other food and a feast of other food one Thursday night. 


Her dad was bit by a rattlesnake while getting wood and no doctor was available. He soaked his hand in kerosine for 3 days. It seemed to help and he survived with no long term injury.


In November of 1937 they moved from Wilhelmina to 

Glennonville and were able to buy their own land. In 1941 they finally got electricity. It cost $5 to subscribe to it. They had a lightbulb in every room. They got an electric stove 2 or 3 years later and a refrigerator. They had a radio and the kids would listen to the radio shows.


In 1958 the house burned and they had to start over.


Rita describes the games that they played as children. They would jump rope, play Annie-over which was throwing a ball over the house and if kids on the other side caught it they would begin to chase. Snacks were cornbread or biscuits. They would go crawdadding in the spring. 


Rita shares general recollections of life such as playing music, religious lessons, visiting family back in Kentucky.  


She remembers that in 1949 her older sister was getting married and bought the family an icebox. She was 4 years old and her job was to empty the drain pan. She remembers how nice it was to get chips of ice from the ice-man. 

She clarifies that the icebox was not an electric refrigerator but more like a cooler that kept food cool with the block of ice.


Rita describes how special Christmas was and tell the story about Santa’s “Brownies” visiting. 

She describes taking baths in rusty water and doing laundry and using lye soap for everything from bathing to dishes to laundry. 


Rita describes community gatherings such as socials which were held every two weeks. The had a hall where they would show movies on an improvised screen. The hall, school and church were about 2 miles away.

The biggest community gathering was the annual Glennonville Picnic which was the highlight of the year. The town was started in 1905 and the first picnic was 1908. It started out as a last Saturday in July celebration, a sort of thanksgiving for good crops. They’re still doing it every year. 


Rita discusses making dresses, sewing and school. Their school was large and a multi-room building. She graduated in 1963 and there were about 60 kids in her class. In the lower grades some were combined, 1st and 2nd, 3rd and 4th.


She discusses learning from the nuns and how they got much of their exposure to culture from the nuns.    

She talked about their cloths, they either came from the poor box or they sewed them but they didn’t think anything of it. 


Her mother was a 4H leader which was another social event with a big award night in Kennet. When she was 18 she got the highest honor and a $100 savings bond which she spent not long after to help pay for the birth of her second child. 


She discusses picking cotton. She mentions a book that she wrote, How Could Cotton be Hard. As soon as they were finished with school in spring they started helping with cotton. 

”As soon as we put down our pencils in the spring we picked up our cotton hoe.”

They would chuck cotton all summer then they would go back to school for 6 weeks and then they had “cotton vacation“ which wasn’t really a vacation. They would pick cotton for 6 weeks then go back to school. They got paid 3 cents a pound so if they worked hard all day they could make $3 to $6 a day. She describes the phrase “Now we’re in tall cotton.”

There was a nearby pilot training facility and so they would see airplanes was rare for those days. Around 5 o’clock the planes would often make a line-up and circle as they went back in to land and they always knew it was almost time to quit for the day.

She remembers her dad cranking a car to start it. She said most people in the area had at least one vehicle. They didn’t have a truck so when they harvested cotton they’d haul it in a wagon. 


They would put their cotton money aside for school clothes and lunches and would always have a little left for “mad money”. Her favorite store was Woolworths. Their once a year  meal out was usually at the Woolworths lunch counter when they went shopping. She always got a BLT on toast.


 She discusses the garden that her mom would keep. Her mom would put up hundreds of quarts of vegetables. They would help when they weren’t busy with cotton. Her mom would pick blackberries. 


 They had livestock such as hogs, a few horses and her dad used a team of horses for farming. They were behind the times.

 They didn’t stay cool. They didn’t have an air conditioner or even a fan.


Flooding got better after the Wappapello dam was built except in spring when they would let water out. In the 60s to 70s they took out 17 miles of the St. Francis river by straightening it which reduced the amount of flooding a lot. When they did the Wappapello dam they flooded Greenville. The town was relocated.  A 100,000 acres were put under water. 


Rita discusses the initial plan of the St. Louis Archdiocese to buy the 14,000 acres and the intent. She says it was thought that St. Louis was getting crowded and that it would be good for the children to be living in the country. Apparently it was bought without much research because it wasn’t very good land, very swampy.


Rita discusses possible reasons that Glennonville thrived and Wilhelmina faded, particularly cultural backgrounds and leadership of each town. 


She discusses how she came to live in Marquand. They’d moved around a lot because her husband did construction and they followed the work. They’d lived in Festus for many years and he worked in St. Louis. 15 years ago they moved to Marquand to raise cattle. She’s active in the church.


Rita  discusses visiting friends and family in the boot heel and also how she met her husband. 


Rita discusses being a writer at local newspapers, magazines and a compiling family history books. 

*The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Ozark Regional Library or its staff.

Voices of the Ozarks – Phyllis Fencl

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Phyllis was born in 1936 in Zion Missouri, 12 miles south of Fredericktown. She’s lived in Zion her whole life with the exception of a short time in St. Louis when she and her husband felt like fish out of water. She was born at home and had an older brother and an older sister.


Her childhood school was in a 2 room brick building with no electricity but thanks to close proximity to the  Mississippi River Fuel Transmission  (Now Center-point Energy) running water was available. Phyllis describes what it was like to be in a 1 room, then 2 room school with various grades in the same room. The school had a beautiful library full of books which Phyllis enjoyed because she loved reading books. 

“Every year the teacher got to order more books. I devoured them. I read books I didn’t even like because they were books and I wanted to read.”

She and all of her cousins, 17 first cousins, went to the school together. There were 60 students in the school, 1 teacher. Eventually a second room was added and the upper grades were moved into that room. Phyllis feels that a mixed grade school room helped the younger students advance more quickly as they were exposed to higher level teachings. She tested at the top of her class and her fellow classmates did as well.


When the weather was nice they would be driven part of the way by her dad to the grandparents then walk the rest of the way. When the weather was bad her dad would take her and cousins all the way to school. Her favorite topics were English and Home Economics. She did not enjoy history which she regrets as she loves it now. 


Phyllis discusses the High School in Fredericktown. The Marvin College building was the auditorium with a Vo/Ag and Home Economics departments under it. There was a granite building that was the gymnasium. Activities such as plays were in the auditorium or gymnasium. Her dad went to college at Marvin when it was a college. She graduated from the Fredericktown High School and went to Mineral Area College for awhile.


The Depression did not seem to impact them as much because everyone in the family and community had farms with large gardens, fruit orchards and livestock. They had more food than they needed.  There was a small store in Zion but no trading or bartering that she remembers. Her father also sold eggs in a store in Fredericktown, Kinders Store which was in Northtown. He also raised livestock during WWII. Particularly he raised and trained mules for the government. 


Her aunt saved the feed bags that came in a nice, soft cotton material and her mother would by them for 25 cents each to make dresses based on pictures in Montgomery Ward catalogs.


Not everyone had vehicles. Her dad had a truck though and on Saturdays they would go to the creek and clean the truck so that on Sundays he could pick people up and give them a ride to the church, 12 Mile Baptist Church in Zion which is still in use.


During the winters the family and community would gather in homes to quilt. 


Living without modern amenities was just a fact of life. For example, there was no air conditioning. They swam in the creek, slept on the porch and avoided being upstairs during the heat of the day. No electricity until she was 12 so no fans either.


Polio and other childhood diseases such as measles, etc.  She had measles 3 times, “big” measles, “little” measles, “red” measles. Their doctor was in Fredericktown but on occasion a closer doctor would visit the home for some emergencies. That doctor once tended her when she had double pneumonia when she was five. The hospital didn’t open until the 1960s, home births were common.


When she initially began attending MAC she wanted to become a librarian. The married young at 19 and then had children. She didn’t begin working outside the home until her youngest was 4 years old. 


Her work outside the home began with Brown Shoe in the office and then at a Fredericktown loan company. She took a break to help take care of her first grandchild and then went back to work, this time at SMTS “part-time” but as it turned out it was full-time, often more than full time because the company was growing quickly. She retired from there after 30 years. 


Built the home they still live in and their girls married and they became grandparents, then great grandparents and now great great grandparents.    


Favorite stores in Fredericktown included fabric stores such as Figlers. Phyllis recalls some of the businesses that were in town: Lawyers, Snap, Gramn, and Reed, Hills Sporting Goods,Economy Sales which was a liquor store, the only place in town that carried Bibles which could be the source of some embarrassment. Other stores included Jones Brothers, P & Hirsh, Federated, Blair’s, Schwanners, Tom’s Shoes, Lumber Company, Schultes, Jones Brothers, Western Auto, Dicus Drug store that also had a lunch counter, Huff’s Cafe, Wards and Kroger. She mentioned how the stores came and went.


The slow-down of the town after the mines were closed. 

At the mention of trains running through town Phyllis recalls the only time she ever took a train was when she was younger and a member of the FHA. On her 16th Birthday in 1952 she left for a trip to Columbus Ohio.  They stayed at the Deshler Walach Hotel and and while gathering there in the hotel lobby President Harry Truman arrived. He asked, why are all these girls here and was informed that it was an FHA convention. He asked if anyone from Missouri was there and Phyllis those from the Missouri groups raised their hands. He asked that they visit later so that they could sing the Missouri Waltz for him. They were surprised and had to try to learn the words before visiting 


Important community groups and traditions are mentioned. She was a member of the 4H. She mentioned the importance of church. Every June her grandparents celebrated their wedding anniversary and the family held a large gathering, usually of a hundred or so,   which included the church congregation, family and community. 


One of their favorite past times was just playing in barns. They would climb up into the hay lofts and play house and school. Spiders and snakes! She was always creeped out by both. She tells the story of her cousin throwing a dead snake which hit Phyllis on the neck and. Phyllis fainted. 


Local community celebrations such as the county fair are discussed.  She mentions attending the county fair and she’d often be stuck with her dad while her mom took the two younger siblings. Her dad was a business man and often stopped to talk to people so she spent that day mostly listening to adult conversations and never getting to the fun stuff.


Her mother was very creative and good at turning everyday things to their advantage. For example she would gather hail after hail storms and use that to make ice cream since both ice and ice cream were hard to come by. 


Her mom was an orphan, raised by her aunt and uncle. 3-4 times a year they would visit family in Bell City. When those cousins visited Zion it was usually a big event for the family. She remembers taking them down to the barn and showing them around the play places and horses. She recalls the simplicity of those times and how kids played with fewer toys and how they would often improvise. 

She recalls being baptized in a spring fed creek in November. There were 15 or so to be baptized and she was the first so she had to stand, wet and in the cold while all the others were baptized after her. Her mom had brought blankets though and did her best to wrap her up and keep her warm.


Phyllis recalls how her grandparents came to be in the area. Her Grandfather was Ben  Whitener and his brother was Lawson that they called Poley, and another brother, John Henry that owned a department store in this area at some point. Her Grandmother was a  Cloninger, her mother was a Graham, they’d all come from South Carolina. She recalls a Fredericktown photo calendar from years ago that had a photo of one of John Henry’s delivery wagons in it. They came in the mid 1800’s and had a Federal Land Grant. She’s not sure why they chose this area to settle in.

Keywords: Zion, Fredericktown, Madison County, Missouri, small town, rural school, Great Depression, folklore, oral history

*The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Ozark Regional Library or its staff.