Pickstown’s ‘First Families.’
Whether an actual ‘First Family or an early resident, the recollections presented here are representative of the experience and experiences of Pickstown’s early residents.
Denny Wohlford, Pickstown recollections
I keep wondering what went on in 1946. I know that I was due to enter the first grade in the fall of that year and my parents were already in Pickstown. Dad was sent there from Tulsa, Oklahoma right after the war ended. He never attended college, but went to work for the Corps of Engineers after high school graduation in Glasgow , Montana. He started as a low level chainman and worked his way up to assignment as area engineer in charge of spillway construction. Mom and brother Don were with him. I lived in Glasgow, Montana, with my grandparents that year and attended the first grade. returned to attend the James Street School in 1947. That year was somewhat grim as we contended with mud, wind, and minimal amenities while various facilities were being built. We had community movies in the “Government Garage’’(large equipment maintenance shed) and it held a small collection of local animals (prairie dogs, rattlesnakes and the like). The town got together on the Fourth of July and shot fireworks into the eastern hills behind James Street.
We moved to Maple Court when those duplexes were finished and lived next to the Seifert family. Dr. Flynn’s original office was a duplex on the Southwest corner of Maple Court. Mom had to go to Yankton and wait for Keith to be born as the hospital was not yet built. Dr. Flynn and Dr. Scales eventually lived in the duplex right across from the hospital. One year Don was in the hospital when a blizzard hit. He had to stay there for a couple of days extra. To liven things up, Bridget Flynn took him to check out a storage closet. Dr. Flynn was hiding in there with a bearskin rug wrapped around himself. When he jumped out of the closet poor Don just about lost it all. We laughed about that or many years.
When the “permanent housing” on Missouri Drive was completed, we moved into the fifth house down from the corner. It was always called permanent housing, and is indeed still there to this day. Our neighbors were the Strutz and Fero families. Colonel George Evans, the resident head engineer, lived in the biggest house with the best view, halfway down the street. He drove the only Cadillac in town, but there were also a couple of Lincolns elsewhere. We later moved to a duplex on Chapel Street to save a few dollars due to illness in the family.
Our neighbors were Reverend Grimm and his family. He was pastor in the church which was a very short distance away. The church was unique with its revolving triangular altar. One altar was for Protestant services, a second for the Catholics, and a third for Jewish services. The Catholics went into Lake Andes, as we did to the Episcopal Church, and I don’t recall anything but Protestant services ever being held in
The hills east of James Street were always a draw for hiking or overnight camping. We kept our backpacks, sleeping bags, and tents ready for an outing at any time. Dinty Moore stew, pork and beans, Cheerios, and a jar of milk were staples for survival. One year earlier, during a particularly cold winter, the free flowing Missouri River froze completely over. Chuck Gremmels, Tom Brokaw, and I decided it would be a good idea to walk Loy & Margreta cross the ice on the river and visit old Fort Randall which we could always see from afar across the river but never access. After checking out the fort site and sliding back across the river on the ice, we decided it would not be a good idea to tell our parents where we had been. We were not ready to be grounded with all of the opportunities for adventure.
I delivered the Mitchell Daily Republic to the south half of town and Tom Brokaw delivered it to the north half. I also delivered the Minneapolis Star and Tribune on Sundays. The wind always blew so every paper had to be placed inside the storm door. I would trudge through the snow in winter and come home to listen to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Somehow, I felt I could relate to that. In the summer I would strap my
canvas paper bag on the back of my bike for delivery. The Halloran’s had a pet raccoon that disliked
me and would climb into my paper bag while I was delivering. My only recourse was to remove the paper bag from the bike, slam it on the ground until the raccoon fell out in a dazed state, and hurry on to the next delivery. The paper route also helped me meet many families and that was a good thing. The drugstore was the assembly place for extracurricular activities.We would meet for coke and conversation after school and in the evening for games around the town. Try that in today’s society. A half dozen or so of us in my grade and the one behind us competed in sports year round. The town would let us throw on some lights on the
football field and we would play six man football. In winter we could usually find a teacher to let us into the gym and we would play basketball. Summer was baseball on the town diamond, and I had the ball and bat so I always got to play. Adult athletics involved traveling teams like The House of David (baseball players with beards) and the Redheads (a ladies basketball team all with red hair). One year we decided to create
team names and “uniforms”. My grade was the Warriors and the others were to be the Pheasants. We tapped our parents for bake sales and ordered greeting cards to sell around town. All was well until ErnieTrantina decided we were infringing on his drugstore business and forced us to quit our fundraising. However he was a little late and we ended up with our red and blue caps and sweatshirts anyway.
When I entered my freshman year I was too small to be on the teams, so I asked Coach Donahue if I could be student manager, a job vacated by John Halloran, who graduated. I had the privilege of cleaning up the balls and tending to the smelly locker room. Sports are big in small towns and the Engineers were no exception. I’m not sure six man football is played anywhere anymore, but we thought it was great. The District Basketball Playoffs were always at our gym because we had the nicest one. On a basketball trip to Platte, a group of local kids kept harassing us all during the JV and varsity games. After the game, Chuck Gremmels was soliciting people to be in his “gang” and show those kids from Platte that we were not to be messed with. Marc Rhoades and I foolishly joined him and subsequently got into altercations with the locals. I may be wrong, but I think Chuck held our coats. The fights didn’t amount to much, but after they broke up we discovered that everyone from Pickstown, including our transportation, had left the town. We were pretty scared at being left in a hostile town, but we proceeded to the main street and found a restaurant-bar that was filled with happy people, so they must have won the game. We asked if we could use a phone to call our parents, but a nice guy at the counter asked us what we were doing. When we explained our situation, he just took us to his car and drove us all the way back to Pickstown. Nothing was said to our parents about why we were so late, but things get around in a small town, and a few days later my mother asked if I had been in a fight. I had to admit it, but she just smiled and didn’t say anything more. I think she was actually kind of pleased about it.
There wasn’t a whole lot going on in Pickstown those days so my mother and others organized an annual talent show. She was somewhat of a stage mother and I did a little singing at the time, so I usually got included in the program. One year we had an Easter “Fashion Show”, and I sang Easter Parade to Sarah Halloran, who accompanied me. Another year I was dressed up in blackface (per Al Jolson) and sang “Shine On Harvest Moon”. I don’t remember the other acts except for Mike Nanos’ father, who would put a rag mop on his head, dressed up in drag (strapless dress), and sang “I Wanna be Loved by You”. The gym was filled every year and the town had a great time.
In 1949 my father was diagnosed with chronic leukemia. Treatment was begun at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and that was part of our routine for several years. Mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1951 and was treated at the Mayo Clinic as well. She went on to enjoy a full life, but Dad’s leukemia became acute in 1954, and he was able to last through completion of the spillway. He died in the fall of 1954 while I was attending Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault, Minnesota. Mom, Don, and Keith
moved to Tacoma, Washington to be near family, and we have remained in the area to this day.
I learned to pheasant hunt with my dad and it is a passion to this day. For many years, I have stayed in Corsica and spent a week hunting in the area. One farm is close to Lake Andes, so it is an easy drive into Pickstown to have lunch. Even though much is gone now, the town is actually much more attractive now with full grown trees and lots of grass. There wasn’t much of that in the first few years. It was a great place to grow up, and I treasure the time I spent there.