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LeRoy Nelson
Died March 2003. Obituary.
 

Rolfe High School Class of 1927

"The Roaring Twenties." These were good years - prosperous years - the period between two wars. Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States. Being a farming community, Rolfe was benefiting from improved farming methods. Although workhorses were still much in evidence, tractors were now being used. Farmers made their own seed corn. Corn was still picked by hand, but some innovative farmers used motor-driven corn pickers pulled by horses. Threshing crews banded together for oat harvest - the wives following from farm to farm to prepare meals for the hungry workers. Soybeans were not planted in the area at that time. Cattlemen rode on horseback and drove their fattened cattle to town, shipped the cattle by train to Chicago and received as many tickets back home as the train cars they used. Electricity in rural areas had not yet arrived nor had running water.

Rolfe was a bustling, thriving community known throughout the area as somewhat of a cultural center. After all, we could boast of two Rhodes Scholars, Virigil Hancher who would become president of the State University of Iowa and Gordon Siefkin, an attorney. The ladies had their church work and clubs, and the men had their fraternal orders. We had doctors, dentists, lawyers, barbers, blacksmiths, a drug store, grocery stores, clothing stores, hardware stores, dry goods stores, a bakery and even a Chinese laundry. If we wanted to shop in the city, we rode the train to Fort Dodge. Everything a person could possibly need or want could be provided right here at home - a world unto itself. We might leave for awhile, but we would surely return.

Many of the young Rolfe people were going away to college - traveling by train - their belongings packed in trunks. Very few students were fortunate enough to have cars. Each week, laundry was sent home to Mother in a small canvas bag. Letters were sent home often as phone calls were expensive and first class mail cost but one cent. We did the Charleston, wore our raccoon coats, smiled and thought the future looked bright.

Unfortunately economic conditions were not what they seemed. It was a lucky Rolfe High School graduate of the late twenties who would finish four years of college. Herbert Hoover became President in 1929. The Rolfe State Savings Bank closed in 1931. Our carefree life vanished before our very eyes. Farmers were burning corn rather than selling it for ten cents a bushel or on occasion nine cents. We watched as grain was scooped into the furnace to heat the courthouse in Pocahontas. People had their telephones taken out because they couldn't afford to pay the monthly bills. Land was lost. People went broke. Unlike many in the cities, we in the rural areas had food. The younger generation would recover. Many of the older generation would not.

But, I digress. I was a farm boy and started school in the Shelgren/Christensen Country School near Gilmore City. Since Grandmother Shelgren lived closer to the school than did my parents, I lived with her and attended school - that is until the cold winter weather arrived and I quit. There were no laws that said you had to attend school - education was a matter of personal choice. I attended off and on during my early years and when my parents moved closer to Rolfe, I enrolled in the Rolfe school and attended classes in the old building. However, there was a problem as no one knew what grade I should be in and consequently I was shifted from class to class for a few years until the best level was found. When construction was taking place on the present school building, we attended school in the churches. There were no hot lunches, and we carried our lunches in pails or brown paper sacks or walked home for lunch.

Some of the teachers I remember are Ethel Taylor, Miss Noble, Miss Nelson, Katie Peterson, Islea Olerich, Alma Olerich, and of course Miss Marcum. Our high school football coach was Lee Jordan. Mr. Evans coached basketball and A.O.H. Setzepfandt was superintendent. Our high school subjects were basic - mathematics, physics, English, and history. We took pride in learning and worked hard for good grades.

Sports were important - football, basketball and track. My position on the football team was that of center. Jim Wilson played right end, Jim Wilcox was right guard, and Marshall Tubbs was quarterback. As I recall, we won our share of games.

Music and speech skills were perfected with contests being held in neighboring towns. Plays were very popular and well attended. In my senior year, we performed Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women." Mrs. March was played by Clara Wiegert (Shimon). Harvey Walker was Mr. March, and I played Laurie. Lucile Dolan was Jo, and Jeanie McEwen (Gehrt) was Meg. Another play was "Mammy's Lil' Wild Rose." Mary McEwen was adorable as Rose.

Rolfe's newspaper was the Rolfe Arrow owned by the Soth family. (Loren Soth became one of the editors of the Des Moines Register.) School events were given detailed coverage as were weddings, births, funerals, birthday parties, slumber parties, travel, dinner parties, who went where, when and why. These were the days before TV, computers, and cell phones. Talking movies were in their infancy. The very first radio I saw was in the very house where I now live. Ed Rickard lived here at the time and had assembled a radio powered by a car battery.

We graduated and moved on in life, but school ties remained strong. I credit Margaret Pollock, class of 1928, with the following poem:

Some friends are different from the rest;
a glance, a smile we know.
We have a rendezvous that comes from long ago.
Sometime upon a crowded street,
or in a church, where lights are dim,
I see a face that warms my heart.
I went to school with him.

It has been seventy-three years since I graduated from Rolfe High School. My wife Mary* graduated seventy-two years ago. We have been married for sixty-seven years. Rolfe has always been our home!

-----

*Mary E. Nelson, nee McEwen, class of 1928

 

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