Prime Time: Author raises memories of Civilian Conservation Corps for Baker Park residents
Barbara W. Sommer, the author of "Hard Work and a Good Deal," made a surprise visit to Baker Park Apartments May 7.
Jane Smith, an Evergreen Reader at Baker Park was so impressed with the author and the book at a lecture that she and her husband, Bob, facilitated the visit. Sommer's book details the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota and was published by the Minnesota Historical Society.
"It brought back a lot of good memories," said Agnes Hoagland. "My mother died when I was 11 years old and my father left the farm to move into town (Fortuna, N.D.) to live with my widowed grandmother, Catherine Mullen. We were five children, the oldest 8 years old, and my father worked at various jobs including farm laborer, at the grain elevator and post master for a short time. When the Depression really got going, my brother, John Muller, went off to work for the CCC. My dad lost his job as post master and was fortunate to get a job with the WPA when he was 65 years old."
The tale Hoagland told of her teenage brother, who became the main breadwinner of the family by sending home his paycheck to his grandmother and his siblings, is just one of many similar stories.
Elsye McGuire, another of the people at the gathering, spoke about her experience with the young men from the CCC camp, which was located three miles south of Cass Lake on Norway Beach in Bena.
"They were young high school boys and away from home for the first time in their lives and very lonely," she said. "They would arrive at our place, Cal's Sweet Shop in Cass Lake, on the bus for some good time together. Sometimes they would cry a bit, and my husband, Cal, would put his arm around them."
The young men would come into town to spend part of the $5 a month they were allowed to keep. Some would spend their money on new socks or shoes and, of course, at that time, cigarettes or chewing tobacco and some 3.2 beer at Cal's.
McGuire said, "My husband, Cal, would visit the surrounding camps to talk with the boys about how to behave in town and how to get used to living in the woods, which was especially hard for the city boys. They all wore tan pants and shirts, which they washed themselves, using toilet plungers as agitators, and they hung their clothes around camp."
Cal McGuire must have done a good job mentoring the boys because two of them married girls from Cass Lake and stayed there after their enlistment. The years between 1933 and 1943, young men worked on reforestation projects; they planted trees, cleaned out swamps and fixed up the roadsides. Some of the projects can still be seen today, for example, some of the buildings and the log cabin at Itasca State Park. The camps were run like the Army with drills, calisthenics, educational opportunity and downtime to write home or read, play cards or just relax.
Hoagland spoke about her brother, John Mullen, who finished his schooling at his camp, which was far away from their home, and went on to get his GED diploma. After some stints in the Merchant Marines and National Guard, he went on to become head of maintenance in a federal building in the city of Tacoma, Wash.
Sommer's interest in oral history was evident as she quizzed the group and asked them to go back into their memory banks to add even more stories to those she already collected for her book. Northern Exposure to Lifelong Learning of Clearwater County will host a trip in the fall to Camp Rabideau, the Blackduck CCC camp, after the renovations are finished.
Evergreen Readers, which is a project of NELL, has had readers at Baker Park for about five years. Anyone who is interested in reading during the 2-3 p.m. slot every Wednesday of the year, can contact Patt Rall at 755-8942 or firstname.lastname@example.org. New readers are welcome and can be a substitute reader or have a regular Wednesday of the month. No experience is needed, just a love of reading aloud to seniors who have lost their ability to read because of sight difficulties.