Voices of the Ozarks – Connie Nicholson

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:18

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. 

6:20

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.

11:05

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.

15:20

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.

19:19 

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. 

23:00

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. 

26:10 

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. 

32:10

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.  

35:10

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. 

36:20

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. 

39:20 

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. 

41:30

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. 

45:09 

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. 

50:00

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.

52:50

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. 

54:30

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.

57:31 

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. 

59:00 

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 – Rita Kayser

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Rita Kayser

0:15 

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. 

3:00 

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

4:15 

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. 

5:25

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. 

7:15

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. 

8:20

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. 

13:15

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. 

14:15

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.

15:30

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.

17:40

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

19:00

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. 

20:00

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

22:30

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.

24:30 

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. 

27:25

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. 

30:30

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.

32:00

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. 

33:25

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. 

34:00 

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. 

38:15

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.

40:10

 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. 

 41:20 

 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.

42:20

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. 

43:40

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.

45:00

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

46:40

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.

48:50

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

49:40  

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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0:17

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.

02:40 

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.

8:45 

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. 

9:45

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.

12:15

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. 

16:00

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.

18:00

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.

21:00

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

25:00

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.

27:00

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.

30:42

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. 

32:00

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. 

33:45 

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

34:30

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.

38:20 

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 

42:30

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. 

44:15

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. 

46:44

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.

47:40

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. 

48:20

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.

51:34

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.