Voices of the Ozarks – Linda Whitener

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My name is Linda Gay Whitener. I was born March 11, 1953 at Saint Mary’s in Ironton Missouri.

What to you remember of your childhood?

It’s really easy to remember because I lived there until the 6th grade. I’ve been here all my life. Just recently moved in with my significant other on High Street just a couple of houses down from the elementary school.

Right after my birth we lived on Z Highway but I don’t remember that. My parents were George Robert Whitener and Helen Maple Miller Whitener. We moved to 310 High Street soon after I was born. One of my early memories is sitting with my dog Peppy, a black and white chihuahua on our gray couch and chair while everyone was working. Her dad would bring her a snack and drink while she sat and watched.

She remembers that the the driveway was dirt. She remembers visiting her aunt on the occasions that her mom worked at Brown Shoe where she was a cementer.  She remembers the cement being stuck to her mom and some evenings she would help her mom pick off the cement.

She never had any brothers or sisters  but her cousin was close to her in age, 3 months older and they spent a lot of time playing together when she would stay at her aunts. She remembers her aunt did not have running water but had a pump on the porch. She also had an old time wringer/washer. Also, her aunt had an outhouse which she remembers vividly because her house had a bathroom.  Her aunt lived on Z Highway.

She describes her aunts house as not having steps and being on a high embankment. Her mom would walk her all the way down the driveway to the barn which connected to the garden. They would walk the full length of the garden to get back to the yard. She said she felt like a prisoner just because the house seemed hard to get into and out of due to being on the hill and surrounded by gardens.

She was very close her her cousin and they played all the time. Even when he was older they saw each other all the time. She describes building houses by stacking planks of wood and he would often “lock” her in it! She’d yell and her aunt would come get her out. She has very fond memories of this time period.


She talks about remembering playing in the evenings and catching lightning bugs.

She remembers the neighbors. She was friends with the two girls and their dad often talked on a shortwave radio late into the night. Often in the summer her window would be open and she could hear him in the distance talking.  She remembers that and talks about playing with the two girls. She felt safe playing in the yards with her friends. They had swing sets and would build stuff. Other neighbors down the street, five kids, would also come over and play. She mentions that their dad had helped build the Arch in St. Louis but had gotten hurt and had broken both of his legs. His last name was Bacon but she does not remember his first name.

She talks about people in the town and county knowing one another, especially those that were long-term residents of the area. That so many were either related or just known and that with that familiarity came a certain trust.

She goes on to talk about how they would also help strangers. She says it was not uncommon for people to come along asking for help, specifically she mentions hobos that would come around the neighborhood from the train tracks. In such cases they would give them food and milk and send them on the way.  She relates a story about her German babysitter and such a wandering fella that didn’t really want food, he was just kind of lonely and wanted to talk and socialize but the babysitter chased him off with a broom.


“Our world was small back then. It was Z Highway and High Street.”

Linda says they really didn’t travel much at all. They would go to 12 Mile to see some relatives. Very rarely they would go to St. Louis, her grandparents lived there. She says it was so loud and seemed crazy and scared her. Sometimes they might go to Cape or Ironton but even those trips were rare.

Linda is asked about the grocery store that her mom shopped at and says she didn’t know because she never went and she emphasizes that she was really sheltered when she was little. She says everything was brought to her. Her aunt had livestock so they got eggs, chicken and other things from her. She recounts a story of a headless, chicken flying and landing between her and her cousin who had just been scolded. They were terrified.


She’s asked about school and says that she went to elementary school in the now gone buildings that were once the colleges. She never saw the first building. She went to school in the 2nd or middle building.

Linda says that in high school she didn’t really belong to any particular group of friends. One of her favorite things about school was being able to see her horse which was in a field across from the school, behind Doctor Newcomb’s building.  She always looked forward to seeing the horse after school. She graduated in 1971.

She’s asked if they had a tv and says that they did. She recounts going with her mom to Sonderman’s when they needed things. They sold an assortment of appliances ranging from tvs to microwaves to wash machines. They would run a tab there and her dad would pay for it when he went to town.

Linda talks about buying her car from Sheet’s Motors. She says the first couple didn’t work out and she finally settled on the third car which she drove for 15 years.

She describes how during that time you could buy things and run a tab because people knew one another. Just as they did and Sonderman’s when she bought her cars it was understood that her dad would settle the bill. She attributes the trust to a smaller, closer world where people were familiar with one another. Also, that people would give their word and it meant something.


Linda is asked about her dad taking part in strikes at St. Joe’s. She talks about that having happened once or twice. When he went on strike she remembers going to stay with her aunt and her mom would go back to work at Brown Shoe. She says that for many years she never ate Bunny brand bread because her dad wouldn’t allow it in the house because of some issue related to the strike and union. She couldn’t recall the specific issue.  The importance of the union and the role it played in the strike was discussed briefly.

Linda mentions that at one point during the strike her dad worked a bit at The Pig restaurant. Back then it was in a different location closer to where the bowling alley is. It moved later to what is its current location. She recounts being older and how the Pig was a part of the cruising loop for the teens. She talks a bit about the teens cruising from the Pig back through town to the Courthouse and down the four Main Streets. She says they also spent some time in the parking lot at the old Town and Country grocery store.

She would stay out later when her dad was out of town. When he was in town she’d have to go home earlier because he’d worry and would come out looking for her.


Linda is asked about being a teen during the 60s and 70s. She says there were some hippies but not many. She discusses music and trying to listen to rock music from St. Louis which was hard because of the distance. To get reception they’d have to turn their car a certain way or add aluminum foil to the antenna. Eventually someone opened a radio station in Fredericktown up on OO. It was mostly religious and country but some rock and roll too. Country seemed to be the most popular music but she and others also like rock music.

She’s asked about going to movies in town. She says it was very popular. She went occasionally but didn’t go that often. She’s asked if she remembers seeing the moon landing. She says just a little. She says her life was really very sheltered. She reiterates that they didn’t travel much and that her world was very small. This leads into a conversation about racism. She recalls that there was a lot of racism back then. She points out that it wasn’t necessarily racism against black people but Jewish people and others. She specifies that her dad was not racist and taught her never to judge people by their skin but by their character. Also, she says, not to judge based on religious beliefs. He taught her to be tolerant of other religions.


She’s asked about small towns and rural areas seeming to be more conservative, judgemental and fearful of other races, religions, etc. She agrees that she has often observed those things. She talks about, for example, the local Mennonites just a general fear of the unknown and differences in values. Linda talks about the importance of learning about other beliefs but also not being disrespectful. She points to different examples of conversations others have had asking questions that might have been disrespectful of the local Mennonites.


Linda recounts being a teen and the mystery surrounding local bars in town. She says that back then it wasn’t considered acceptable by many for women to frequent bars. Instead what would happen is people, women and teens included, would go out to bars that were way out in the woods run out of old barns, houses or shacks. She recounts going out to one such place. She wasn’t much of a drinker but she would drink sodas. They’d have a band and people would be dancing. What she describes might be termed a “juke joint”.


She graduated Fredericktown HS and then tried MAC but quit after a short time. She went to beauty school at Barbies in Ironton and opened up a small shop she ran out of her house on Newberry Street. She worked as a beautician for awhile then worked at Brown Shoe for awhile doing custom sewing, hand stitching patterns on shoes. When Brown Shoe went out of business she went back to MAC and got an associates degree then went to Southeast Missouri University. She was 5 hours away from educational degree and did a practicum in the 4th grade in Farmington. As she was finishing she’d sign up for a social work class and that changed everything. She decided that she’d found what she wanted. She ended up getting a Bachelor’s degree social work. Upon graduating she went to Walter Barron who oversaw a mental health program at the State Hospital in Farmington at the Hoctor Building. She started immediately upon graduation and began doing visits right away. She worked for them until they went private and relocated to Park Hills Mental Health Services and transferred there and continued working for Walt.


Eventually they were going to close and she was offered another position at the Division of Aging as Residential Care worker. She ended up having 8 counties, 64 facilities and 700+ clients that she worked with. She had to see each client at least once a year. She worked in St. Genevieve, St. Francis, Jefferson, Iron, Reynolds and several other counties. This was during the 80s and 90s. She shares some of aspects of that work such as diversity training and seeing so much of the region, meeting so many new people. She also worked with sexual offenders for awhile and  shares about that experience at a treatment center.