Voices of the Ozarks – Joan Whitener

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My name is Joan Whitener. I was born in Flat River Missouri, September 6, 1935, I’m 83, soon I’ll be 84.

When mother and dad were married they lived with my mother’s mother who had lost her husband for awhile. She went to Jr. College for awhile and her brothers were int he service. Then my mother and dad moved to Fredericktown with his mother and dad. I was only 18 months old when we moved to Fredericktown so I have no memories of this time. But during that time they lived with dad’s parents, Eli Minor and Mary Burdella Minor, she was a LaPlant. When I was 6 I remember grandpa Eli and my dad and his brothers that were home at the time built our house on some land that grandpa Eli gave us and it was right next door, across the little field. My parents names were Claude and Glendora Minor. Mother was a Dudley from Flat River and she was a school teacher. And my dad was a farmer and a chicken rancher for awhile. And then he was a foreman in the shoe fitting department at Spalsbury, Steis and Deevers Shoe Company which was the precursor to Brown Shoe.

She remembers the building of the house and then a year later they decided they needed a basement so they hand-dug a small basement to put in a furnace and washer.

Joan is asked about her mother being a teacher and she says that she taught for 32 years. She was a teacher in the Boswell community (the name of their small community outside of Fredericktown) and then, later, in Fredericktown. Several of those early communities such as Cobalt Village and Katherine Place are mentioned. Joan says that her father was on the Boswell school board. Joan mentions that her husband, Bill Whitener, was from the Cedar Grove community. Earlier that area was called Creek Nation and it consisted of  several communities: Boswell, Little Vine, Cedar Bottom, Cedar Creek and Cedar Grove. Nearby were others such as Black Mountain, Minimum and Annapolis. She says they all had there own schools and churches.


Joan says that the area had its earliest farmers in this area in 1803 and by 1830 it was well populated. She says there were farmers there raising cows, hogs, dairies and chickens. She’s asked about allotments and she says that a lot of the earliest ones were given land grants. She says that by the time she was married to Bill in 1955 they had already consolidated all the schools and that they lived in the Cedar Grove community. The name Creek Nation was no longer used. She’d gone to Boswell for 6 years and was taught by her mother for 2 of those years. Her school was in Mill Creek. There school was about 30 children and was all 8 grades. She remembers walking about a mile and a half to get there and back. As they walked the neighborhood kids along the way would join them. She mentions that of her siblings she was the oldest and is the only one left.

After the 6th grade the Mill Creek had a 2 room school. 1st to 5th grade was in one room, 6th to 8th grade was in the other room. She went there for the 7th  grade. She says the building is still there but is now a home. She graduated from the 8th grade and then road the bus to Fredericktown for the rest of school. She graduated from Fredericktown High which was the end of her schooling.


She says that she worked a lot at the home too. Her siblings were both younger than her by about 3 years. That left her with dishes, ironing, and house chores. They didn’t have a farm but gardened. Her granny who they called Birdy, had a huge garden and they would help her too. Her granny taught her to make pies and to this day making the pies is her job when they have family gatherings. Back then she used lard as it makes the best crust. These days she uses Crisco and butter which works just as good. Lard is rendered from pigs. For mincemeat she says you would use

suet which comes from cattle. She says that in her family,  no one but her likes mincemeat pie.


We get back to discussing schools and she says that when she went to the high school it was up on High Street, she graduated in 1953 and got married in 1955. It was not the Marvin College buildings. She’s not sure which of those buildings were still there at that time.

She’s asked if she remembers community events or celebrations in the community and says that she remembers box suppers that were prepared by older students and women in the community. The were box lunches that would be auctioned off as fundraisers for the schools. She says they had the King and Queen contest and Christmas and Halloween programs.


Joan is asked if she remembers anything about World War II and she does remember that her grandma Minor, Birdy, had five boys in the war all at one time. Her dad, the oldest of his siblings, was the only brother that was not in the war because he had a family. She mentions that one of her dad’s brothers, Floyd, hand two Purple Hearts and other medals and that he was a major when he retired. She wasn’t sure how he got the two Purple Hearts.

Her mother also had three brothers that were in the war. She points out that her mother’s family and her father’s family were all about the same age and that each family had 11 children. She’s asked if she was close to her cousins and she says that she was. They would have summer-time reunions and that they stayed in touch via the phone.

They talk a bit about food rationing during the war and how it affected people in Madison County. She says she remembers her mother had a food stamp book for things like sugar and other rationed items.


Joan talks about early married and going into business with Bills parents, Clark and Louise Whitener. They went in together to purchase a farm right next door to his parents, it was the old Ed Lewis farm. They lived in the old house for 5 years but there was a lot of termite damage and it couldn’t be repaired. They tore it down and built a basement that they lived in while the house was being built on top of it. Then they started having children. They had 5 children in 7 years.

She says that the Lewis family that previously owned the farm had 13 children. They had a very large garden and a very nice milk or spring house about a half mile away. It was placed far away but was the best place because of the location of the spring. She says her grandparents, the Minors, had a great spring, very cold. It still runs today.

She’s asked about the abundance of food in the country compared to the city.  Says her father, when he was around ten, lived in the Bruno area which is down by the community of Jewett. Her dad told her that one winter a deep snow had covered all the fence posts. Her dad and grandpa would go out and find rabbit holes to hunt rabbits which was the only meat they had. They had potato’s and turnips. She says they had some tough times partly due to weather but also due to having 11 children to feed.

Growing food and canning are discussed. She says one summer they canned 500 quarts of green beans but that was one of the few things that grew well that year. We discuss the difficulty of growing some crops.


Joan is asked about the safety aspects of canning food and what process ensures safe-to-eat food. She explains the process that she used for canning. Joan points out that if you are going to ferment something like kraut you don’t use heat and use different lids because the process is different.

We ask Joan about her husband and she says that Bill was a full time farmer. He never had an outside job and they were full time farmers. They ran a cow, pig, and layer operation. The also rented land for their cattle.


She was in charge of the laying operation. She says they had 600 layers at a time and points out the difference between layers and heavier breeds that were kept for meat. She describes the process of collecting, washing, candling and grading eggs which were collected 3 times a day. They delivered three times a week to area grocery stores. She’s asked about the candling device and she describes that as well as the weighing machine.

She describes the cattle and hog operation which was fairly large, 300+ cattle. Haulers would take the pigs to St. Louis. She’s asked if they had employees and says that they usually had one employee. The kids helped a lot too.

She points out that Bill had his Future Farmer “American Farmer” degree and a few others from Future Farmers. Her son David and his son Eli and daughter Rachel also have the Future Farmers degrees. She describes the Future Farmers program and how it begins in high schools and then is finished after high school with further farmer vocational training. We briefly compare the 4H and Future Farmers programs. She describes the FFA as a more advanced vocational training for farmers that includes business related topics as well.


She’s asked about local farmers being bought out by larger corporate entities. She’s asked about the local farming community and if there are many local farmers. We discuss this year’s planting of corn and soy beans.

Joan goes back to the operations of farmers in recent history and talks about some of those operations. She mentions that there were 5 dairies in Creek Nation. She mentions the Bollinger family and their cattle and hog operations. She says back then they were more full time farmers whereas now many of them doing the farming on the side and also hold down another job. Some of the possible reasons for the changes are discussed, such as the cost of living and the cost of feed. She says that though the Bollinger family had larger operations, John’s wife worked away from home as did many others. Joan says that she herself worked on the farm until the kids were gone then she went to work at the animal hospital  as their bookkeeper for ten years. She also worked at the sale barn writing tickets. Then she also ran for County Clerk and was elected and served 4 terms, 16 years before retiring.  We discuss how as farmers get older sometimes they might move onto other, non-farm work which is what she and Bill did.


She talks about retiring at 72 and appreciating her grandchildren. Her kids and grandkids are all still nearby and very close except for her oldest daughter who works for LabCorps in Dallas Texas.

We ask Joan about her thoughts on the outlook of Fredericktown and Madison County. She says she loves it here and believes it is a wonderful place and people.

She mentions that she wanted to talk about the local water ways and bridges and fords. She says that over in their area there is the Whitener ford because there are so many Whiteners living there.

We ask if she uses a computer and if she’s online. She says she is. She doesn’t use Facebook but she does look online for interests that she has such as antiques and flowers. She also plays a few games. She doesn’t really use it for email or text, she prefers to just use a landline phone for staying in touch.


The interview is concluded.