Voices of the Ozarks – Rita Kayser

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. 

Voices of the Ozarks – Phyllis Fencl

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