More Memories...

Memories of Great-Grandpa and Great-Grandma Reher and of Grandpa and Grandma Husmann...

by Vikki (Husmann) Deuel

(Daughter of Kenny and Donna (McGee) Husmann...
Granddaughter of Otto and Ella (Reher) Husmann...
Great-granddaughter of Ernest and Minnie (Stoltenberg) Reher)

I promised that I’d spend some time adding to Ella’s story, especially dad’s chapter. Cyndi did a great job of putting together her memories of Grandma’s and Grandpa’s farm and life in Chapman. Here are a few tidbits –

There’s been soooooo many times that I’ve wished I would have set up a tape recorder and made a recording of dad reminiscing about his childhood visits to Grandpa and Grandma Reher’s. As I remember, he always spent a great deal of time talking about how skilled his Grandpa Reher was at engineering ways to make work around the farm easier. I remember him talking about Grandpa Reher harnessing wind and water power long before it was the “in” and “green” thing to do. One story that both my brother and I remember dad telling us about was the way in which Grandpa Reher diverted the cold well-water pumped by a windmill into channels that ran (we think dad said) through the basement of the farmhouse during the warmer months of the year. While this seems a bit weird for those of us who spend a great deal of time and money keeping ground water out of our basements, Grandpa was pumping it in and using it to keep milk, butter, etc. constantly chilled in an era when his neighbors had to depend on the iceman’s deliveries of big blocks of ice for the family’s wooden icebox. That cold well water flowed through the house and back outside to be used to water the animals and Grandma Reher’s garden.

Dad also talked about how much he enjoyed listening to Grandpa Reher and his friends talk about their youth. Grandpa Reher was a good friend of another Grand Island native, Gus Fonner. Fonner loved the “Wild West” and was fascinated with Native Americans, which led him to become a performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Dad always said there was nothing more exciting to a young lad than to sit and listen to Grandpa Reher and Gus Fonner tell stories about Buffalo Bill and his friend Annie Oakley. (As an added point of interest, little did I know that when Doug and I would hear dad talk about his Grandpa Reher and Buffalo Bill, I would some day end up marrying a fine fellow who is a descendant of Bill Cody, complete with a Bill Cody family genealogy ID number). ☺

Doug and I agree that our favorite Grandpa Reher stories centered on Grandpa’s encounter with a few young Pawnee Indians. As the story goes, when he was a young boy, Grandpa Reher trapped along the Platte River during the long, cold winter months. Late one afternoon when Grandpa Reher was out checking his traps, he met up with a small Pawnee hunting group. Little did Grandpa Reher know, but a neighbor had been raiding the Indians’ traps and taking their game and furs to supplement his own catch. It appears the Indians were out for revenge when they ran across Grandpa Reher toting his trapped game back home. Believing that Grandpa Reher was the person responsible for stealing from the Pawnee’s traps, they chased him down, took the animals he had trapped as well as all his clothes, they left him by the icy river without a stitch of clothes. Dad said Grandpa Reher always thought it was somewhat of a miracle that he survived the “naked” hike back home in sub-zero temperatures.

Great-Grandpa Reher wasn’t the only one to have Indian “stories”, according to Grandma Husmann (Ella), any time Great-Grandma Reher baked pies she made sure she baked an extra one. Grandma Husmann remembers that “extra” pie was always set on the window sill to “cool” where, smelling the aroma of freshly baked pies, the Indians would come by, grab the pie from the window sill and off they’d go. One has to wonder if those pies were a way of buying some safety and/or peace and quiet from Pawnee hunting parties.

Grandma Husmann (Ella) always said, as young kids, they were rarely allowed to go down to the Platte by themselves because there was always a chance they would run into a “not-so-friendly” group of Pawnee. It seems rather surreal to me that I can recall these hearing these Indian stories from my dad and grandmother and think that it wasn’t really that long ago when Native Americans were a fact of life to be reckoned with for our family!

Speaking of Grandma Husmann, when I talked to Dort this afternoon she related a story that she and Bev had forgotten to share. I had asked how Otto Husmann of Chapman met and fell in love with Ella Reher of rural Grand Island. I was told that grandpa and grandma met during a wedding dance at the Platt Deutsche. A young love in the making, welllll, here’s the rest of the story. . . this is a chapter of their love story that grandma shared with Dort and Bev and one that grandpa must not have shared with the boys because it’s one I never heard from dad!

Ella and Otto - Married December 17, 1924

After the Reher-Husmann wedding, grandpa took his bride home to their house in rural Chapman. Regardless of our feelings about Chapman being a honeymoon site, according to grandma, their first night of wedded bliss was somewhat delayed. Grandpa got grandma home and before dark she decided she was homesick and had to go back to the Reher farm to see her parents. Now here’s where Dort, Bev, and I do a bit of speculating. We believe that meant that grandpa had to get out the wagon, harness the horses, and head 15 miles or so west to take grandma back home. Come morning, she returned to the farm, ready to settle in as a brand new wife – that was until late afternoon when she again told grandpa she was homesick and “just had” to go home to be with her family. Once again the wagon was out, the horses harnessed and the trip west was made. AND, once again come morning grandma was ready to take up the role of being a newlywed wife. Now my memories of Grandpa Husmann are somewhat fuzzy because I was only 10 when he died, but I do remember a pretty healthy old German stubborn streak (one which my dad certainly inherited)! So when the third day of the honeymoon was coming to a close and grandma began making comments about being homesick, she said Otto told her that if he took her home to her parents one more time he was leaving her there and he wouldn’t be back in the morning to pick her up. We’re guessing that grandma took him at his word and didn’t press her luck because well, we’re all here!

I said we speculated about grandpa making the trip to take Grandma back and forth from Chapman to the Reher farm in a wagon. There’s a small bit of history from dad that helped us come to that conclusion. Dad often shared stories of going to Grandpa and Grandma Reher’s with Doug and me. He had very fond memories of the Reher family get-togethers and those memories included making the trek from Chapman to Grand island in a horse drawn wagon. He added it was quite the journey and when the weather was cold they’d keep warm by heating bricks, wrapping them in burlap bags, and putting the heated bricks by their feet before they covered up with heavy blankets and quilts just so they could stay warm during the long ride to and from home.

Here are a few more tidbits from the recesses of my memory - ☺

The outdoor “movie theater” in Chapman was indeed in the vacant lot just east of the general store. As I remember (being the city kid who grew up in Omaha and who loved visiting grandma and grandpa “out” west), movies were shown on Wednesday nights when the stores were open in Chapman. Now, that would mean the co-op general store – I can’t remember any other stores that were open. As kids spending time on the farm in the summer, we loved those trips into town because, in addition to the movie, Grandma and Grandpa would treat us to a soda. Grandpa would place 25รง in our sweaty palms and off we’d go to the store to plunk the money into the pop machine, make our selection, slide the icy bottle through the metal maze, and finally get it to the end where we’d pull it out and pop the top. Boy-oh-boy did I love that icy soda on a hot summer night, especially because getting to drink soda was a real treat! I have to add that it was a dilemma to make a decision between orange pop and chocolate pop! In addition to the free “outdoor movies”, Chapman also had a community storm cellar located on the “movie” plot of land. Because the ground water level in Chapman is so high, very few homes have basements. Dad always said the community storm cellar was there for anyone to use during the threat of those good ‘ole Nebraska tornadoes. I remember exploring the storm cellar – it was dug about four or five foot in the ground and topped with a well-packed mound of dirt. The storm cellar was always dark, damp, smelly, and laced with spider webs – just the kind of place a kid loved to explore!

Visiting Grandma’s and Grandpa’s farm in the summer was such fun and so very different from our usual city life. Grandma was an amazing cook and dedicated a great deal of time to preparing meals for the family. It seemed like almost the entire day was spent in the kitchen – there’d be breakfast and gathering eggs from the chicken coop with hens who did their best to peck our hands and protect their eggs; than lunch (which was an entire meal with meat, potatoes, veggies, and dessert); finally after everything was cleaned up from the noon meal we’d start to put together an afternoon snack of sandwiches, cookies and iced coffee (put into mason jars with ice and wrapped in a tea towel to keep it cold) that had to be taken out to the field for the guys to snack on when they took their break. Dort also added that Grandma had saved a gallon-sized vinegar jar complete with a wire handle that she would wrap in a gunnysack and use to transport icy drinks to the men in the field – filling that gallon jar was a whole lot better than several smaller quart-sized jars!

Following the afternoon snacks for the workers in the field, it was back home, where finishing touches were put together for supper, which was also a major meal with meat, potatoes, veggies, and desserts. Somewhere in the middle of all that, we often chased down a chicken or two to kill so the fried chicken would be fresh; did a few chores to make sure the chickens had food and water; baked bread, pies, cakes, sweet rolls, and cookies; weeded the garden; and early in the week – did the wash.

Ah yes, the wash! I loved the excitement of the old-fashioned washer with the dasher, the rinse tubs, and the wringer. At home, washing clothes was a matter of plopping the dirty clothes into the washer, adding the detergent, and setting a dial or two then coming back 30 or 40 minutes later to take the clean clothes from the washer and load them into the dryer, again spinning a dial or two, then returning later to fold the clean clothes. Not so at Grandma’s! Washing clothes meant getting water to the tubs – making sure there was enough hot water to do the wash and enough clean water in the tubs to rinse out all the soap. Then there were the constant threats about getting your arms, hands, fingers (or other equally important female body parts) caught in the wringer – mind you, I only had to worry about the arms, hands and fingers because I hadn’t grown any of those “other” body parts yet! After the clothes were washed, rinsed, and wrung out – it was into a clothes basket and out to the clothesline to get hung up to dry, then return to the basement to do another load. This entire process was repeated until every piece of dirty laundry was clean and hanging on the line to dry. I remember how clumsy it was to wash Grandpa’s overalls and how heavy they seemed once they were soaking wet!

Aunt Bev and Aunt Dort tell a wash story from early in Grandma’s married life. I guess that having your wash done and hung on the line early in the morning was the sign of a “good homemaker” and one that you aimed to get done well before the neighboring housewives (much like the men rushed to have their fields plowed, planted, etc before their neighbors). At that time, the groove of trees by Grandma and Grandpa’s house wasn’t nearly has tall and dense as it was when I was a kid – which meant that Grandma had a clear view of the neighboring farm place. Much to Grandma’s chagrin, the neighbor lady always seemed to have her wash done and hanging on the line well before Grandma. Not to be outdone, Grandma set out to beat her neighbor and get her wash hung out early. The race was on, back and forth they battled wanting to claim the title of the “best wife and earliest washer”. Grandma finally won! Not because she started washing clothes in the wee hours of the morning (which she had tried, but the neighbor was still able to get her wash done earlier), but because she started hanging her dirty laundry on the line in the dark of the night before. ☺ According to the story – Grandma finally “came clean” and told her neighbor friend of her trickery, to which her friend replied that she had been hanging up dirty laundry for quite a while because she found it impossible to get her wash done and hung on the line before Grandma.

I have to add that getting the clothes washed and hung up to dry didn’t mean the laundry task was completed. Once the clothes were dry – it was off to the clothesline to fold some of the clean clothes and sprinkle the others with water from a pop bottle fitted with an aluminum “sprinkle” top that was full of tiny holes with a cork wrapped end that was jammed into the top. The clothes that were sprinkled were rolled up and placed in the freezer until the next morning when they were removed and ironed. As I remember, the ironing included much more than shirts, blouses, pants, aprons, etc. – it also included the bed linens. I add all this only because there are times, in my house, where I scramble to press an occasional blouse! I do remember Grandma having this fascinating gizmo (called a “mangle”) with big padded heated rollers and pedals that would raise and lower the rollers so large flat items could be inserted and pressed much quicker than the traditional ironing routine. Grandma’s boys (Kenny, Bob and Ernie) pooled their resources to buy this modern marvel for her.

Otto and Ella Husmann with their children: Kenny, Bob, Ernie, Beverly and Dorothy

I called Aunt Dort to double check my memories of helping Grandma and heard another story that is too sweet not to mention. Even though there was quite an age difference between Grandma and Grandpa Husmann, Dort said that Grandpa never went to town alone. While that doesn’t seem like a major deal – it presented a certain challenge for Grandma on “bread-baking” day. Not to be foiled, or upset the week’s schedule, Grandma didn’t let a trip to town keep the bread from getting baked. Grandma would mix the bread dough, put it in her big crockery bowls, and load the entire mess into the back of their car. Off to town they would go with the bread dough in the back seat. Once the bread raised, that meant Grandpa would go into the store to pick up the parts he needed while Grandma would crawl into the back seat to punch down the bread dough so it could raise again. By the time they arrived back home, the bread was ready to be put into the oven and baked. I remember Grandma’s bread as the best ever – I’ve attempted to follow her recipe, but have never managed to get my bread to taste nearly as terrific as I remember hers tasting. Perhaps, I need to schedule a drive into town for my bread dough!

Cyndi mentioned Christmas at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s. . .let me add that I’m the oldest of Ella’s grandchildren, but there’s literally a “slug” of others who follow closely behind! So Christmas (or any other family get-together) was a wild time for the 19 cousins. I marvel at how well all the aunts and uncles handled the chaos that we wrought, when my own three grandkids can drive me semi-nuts at times. I think Grandpa would tell us he heard Santa just to get a minute or two of piece and quiet when we were wired, chasing each other around the house and raising more than a little havoc! When the family was together and the weather was too cold for all of us to be outside, the cousins would have a grand time making tents, trains, and any number of other things from Grandma’s tables, chairs, and blankets. If the weather was nice, we’d explore the farm, chase mice around the grain bin, battle over who got first “dibs” on the tire swing, pedal the dickens out of the old grinder wheel that was used to sharpen tools, and spend time hypnotizing the chickens. Chicken hypnotizing was a wondrous feat that was accomplished by chasing down chickens, grabbing their legs, throwing them on the gravel drive and slowly tracing a half-circle in the dirt, back-and-forth in front of their eyes. After a while, if you were successful, you could drop your hands and the poor traumatized chicken would lay sprawled on the drive in a trance-like state, that was until on of us would make a loud noise and all the chickens would pop up and scatter. Which meant the chase was back on to “re-catch” the poor hapless birds and start “magic” process all over again.

My brother and I have reminisced about the fun we had on the farm as young city kids and the fact that those visits gave us a small “sense” of our farm “roots”!

As for dad’s (Kenny’s) side of the Husmann family, here’s a bit of info. . .

Kenny and Donna (McGee) Husmann - Married April 10, 1949

After dad and mom left the farm, we moved to Omaha where dad worked for John Wiebe and Wiebe Enterprises. Wiebe built the first shopping center in Omaha at 42nd and Center. Dad was the maintenance manager and was in charge of maintaining the HVAC systems, as well as the building upkeep. Because of the success of “The Center”, Wiebe asked dad to move to Newton, Iowa and help to build a shopping mall there. We spent almost three years in Newton, from the summer of 1960 to mid-winter of 1963 and then moved back to the Omaha area. Once we were back in Nebraska, dad resumed his duties at 42nd and Center, as well as taking care of the newly built shopping mall in Ralston. Dad began working with the Wiebe group on plans for John’s newest shopping venture, a mega-mall (for those days) in Omaha, which was to be named “Westroads”.

In between the move back to Omaha/Ralston and the work on Westroads, dad suffered a massive heart attack and was encouraged by his doctor to find a less stressful type of job. That suggestion resulted in dad’s desire to move closer to his family. During the summer of 1967, we left Ralston and moved to Chapman where dad started his own electrical and plumbing business. After several years of working on his own, he was contacted by Floyd Wheeler and asked to go to work for Wheeler’s Country General Stores. While working for Wheeler’s, dad traveled throughout Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado. Wheeler’s provided dad with the chance to get back to the same type of work that he did for John Wiebe, with the exception that Wheeler’s stores were farm stores and much more in line with dad’s passion. Wheeler sold out to Country General/ConAgra – it was from ConAgra where dad retired in the late 1980’s.

In addition to his work, dad was active on the church councils in Newton, Ralston, and Grand Island and was a member of the Grand Island Northwest Board of Education. Mom and dad divorced in 1977. Dad passed away on April 18th, 1995 of complications from a massive stroke. All of that leads to my younger brother, Doug and me.

Vikki and Doug 1955 (left) and 1974 (below)

We moved to Chapman during my senior year in high school (much to my chagrin!), I graduated from Grand Island Northwest, and enrolled at the University of Nebraska, Kearney (when it was still called Kearney State College). I graduated with a BA in Education and started teaching special education for the Grand Island School District at Walnut Junior High. Walnut is a high needs school. . .high poverty, high minority, students with high special needs – while all that presented a number of challenges, it was also a school where I fell in love with the students and their families. I went on to get a master’s degree in special ed., an educational specialist degree in school administration, and have completed all the course work required for my doctorate (which was where I wussed out and decided to forgo the dissertation and take a break for college!). I became the principal at Walnut in 1990 and retired from there in May of 2008. I started out thinking that retirement provided me with the chance to kick back and take life easy. Then I received a call from the University of NE at Kearney, asking that I consider teaching classes for the college of education. Soooo, now when people say they “thought” I retired, I tell them that I’ve merely “re-purposed” and have embraced teaching college juniors and seniors who are anxious to get into their own classrooms.

Vikki and Danny Deuel - Married April 9, 1977

My husband, Danny, left the stress of the loan business to start his own antique refinishing business, where he also does custom stained glass work. In addition to the crafty part of his life, he builds black-powder guns, fishes, plus sings and plays guitar for a small group that plays “oldie goldies and more”. He was in a rock and roll group in high school that went on the road and traveled the Midwest in the early 1960’s. The Vietnam War broke up the group – so, for years I heard “band” stories from Dan and one of his friends who still lived in Grand Island. A couple of years ago, the high school group got back together with their drummer and sax player who both live between Chicago and vacation homes in Colorado, and a guitar player from the Colorado Springs area. Recently, the “original” Quidons, all of whom are still amazing talented musicians have been playing 50 year class reunions in our area. It’s been great fun to hear to their stories while listening to some pretty cool old Doo Wop songs.

Addie with Kaya and Brayden

Our daughter, Addie, is a single parent of three small kiddies, Kaya who is 9, Brayden who is 6, and Lydia who will be 2 in March. In December, Addie graduated with a degree in drug and alcohol counseling and will complete her work for her BS in Behavioral Sciences in May. Her current plans include starting a Masters program in community counseling. Honestly, I’m glad it’s her not me that’s keeping her pace and schedule! Kaya stays busy with soccer, volleyball, softball, ballet, jazz, and tap. Brayden is a bit more laid back and concentrates mainly on soccer, while Lydia stays busy just bouncing around the house with one of her storybooks in hand.

My brother, Doug, and his family live in Rochester, MN. Doug graduated from Grand Island Northwest, got his undergraduate degree from the University of NE, Lincoln, and his MD from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Doug specialized in urology and completed a number of fellowships in pediatric urology. His focus is on children born with intersex disorders, meaning children born with a variety of conditions where their reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. When Doug told me he going to specialize in pediatric urology all I could think of was kids who deal with bladder control issues and bed-wetting. Boy was I naive! Doug is the Chairman of the Urology Department at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Doug married the love of his life - a Grand Island girl, Pamela (PJ) Bates. Pam stays busy with a number of special projects, several of which include keeping track of Doug and his schedule! P.J. and Doug have two children.

Their son, Caleb is currently living in Pocatello, Idaho and completing doctoral work at Idaho State University, majoring in political science. PJ and I spent time in Washington D.C. this summer visiting Caleb, who was doing lobbyist work with our congressmen. I have to add that, mention the word “politics” to me and I break out in hives so I’m amazed at people who find it a passion! When Caleb takes a political break, you’ll find him on the soccer field, snowboarding, or involved in any number of outdoorsy activities.

Their daughter, Jessie is completing her senior year of high school and has been accepted at a college in New York. She is planning on majoring in culinary arts. When she’s not cooking you can find Jess snowboarding or running. . .she runs high school track and cross-country. In fact, Jessie earned her first high school letter as a seventh grader. Boy can that girl run!! We have her dad to thank for that – Doug uses running as a stress reliever and has talked Jessie into running with him from the time she was little. I neglected to add that Doug is pretty serious about his running – he’s run the Boston Marathon, the New York City Marathon, the Whale Watchers Marathon, and well as a number of marathons across the country. His goal is to run a marathon in every state of the union and he’s completed over half of them. When Doug and his family come to visit, his idea of a short morning jog is multi-miles, while I look at walking a mile as a major accomplishment!

There you have a meandering of Grandma and Grandpa memories, as well as a quick update on Kenny’s side of the family. Vikki

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k..kowalski said...

Great tales! So happy that they are in print. Do you have a family tree on the Internet? Can you include them in a/the tree?

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