Laura's Letters - Epilogue
My intention in writing this book, was to try to bring my grandmother, Laura Hills Wyngarden, to life for me - as I never knew her. She died long before I was born. I also wanted to include aspects of life in North Dakota that my children and grandchildren will not know about,
and perhaps might find interesting.
Much of what I have written is fiction - because I know so little of what my grandmother’s life was like. But whenever I could, I used real information gained from the ancestor.com website. I used real people’s names who lived in the area, and who might well have said and done the things that I attributed to them. I have not intentionally made anyone say or do anything that I think would have been out of character.
When Laura died, her husband Nick hired Pearl Alta Smith, to come to be his housekeeper full time and care for the younger children. In the 1930 census, Pearl, 31, is listed as living with and possibly working for Henry and Ida Reed, both 63, in Weiser Township, Kidder County, North Dakota. Here is what Pearl's daughter Inez said about it. “My mother (Pearl Smith at the time) did stay at the Wyngarden home to take care of Laura after Laura found out that she had cancer and also to take care of the children that were still at home. As I understand it Laura picked my mother to stay with her. I think they knew each other and were probably friends. My mother took care of Laura and the children and cooked for the family until Laura passed away. Laura told Nick that she did not want anyone else but Pearl taking care of her kids after she was
gone. My mother stayed on as a paid employee to take care of the kids and cooked for the family for the next year at which time Pearl and Nick got married. My mother always spoke kindly of Laura so I am sure their relationship was good. Laurence was six years old when his mother passed away. He told me that he remembered two things about her. One was that he was trying to put his own snow boots on and knew that his mother would not be able to help him anymore. He
also remembered what song was sung at her funeral. Dick must have been about 10 years old when she passed away. My mother seemed to love all of the Wyngarden children, but she was especially close to Dick and Laurence. Perhaps because they were so young when she started to take care of them.”
On June 1, 1933, Nick married Pearl. They continued living on the farm in North Dakota for several years, and had two more children: Inez, born April 8, 1934 and George, born January 26, 1938. Because of the terrible farming conditions during the 30s Nick sold his farm, and
moved temporarily to Minnesota - but then moved his family out to California, where they had a good life. This is what Inez says about those days. “I remember that Chester, Mildred and Allan always wrote a lot of letters to my mother after they left home. I also remember one time when Allan wrote home to borrow some money and my Dad did not want to send him any. My mother sneaked the money out anyway and sent him a Money Order. I was with her when she got the Money Order and she told me not to tell.”
Larua's sister, Josephine died in 1939, and her family continued to live in the Saskatuan area. Laura’s other sisters, Bertha, Mary, Ida and Agnes, all ended their days in Oregon. Benjamin and his family continued farming in the Kidder County area where he had originally homesteaded, and he died in 1960. His granddaughter, Karen, provided me with lots of family details. I believe that Oscar continued to live in Montana where he died in 1960.
Of Laura’s children, Chester, (always called Chet except by Mildred) who was my father, after getting his degree in chemistry from Jamestown College, worked as an orderly at the State Mental Hospital, where he met and married my mother, Ann Woychik Hutchinson, who was a widow with a 10 year old daughter, Kathleen. They moved to Bismarck, where he first worked at the State Penitentiary for a few years as an orderly, and then trained to become one of the first X-ray technicians in North Dakota and worked at the Quain and Ramstad Clinic. They had three children; a son, Donald John who died when he was three weeks old, my older sister Judy and me. He died in 1976. Judy died in 1998.
Mildred wrote this about her later life. “It was my senior year in high school when my mother passed away. I had started school the fall of 1931 but had to quit as mother got worse
and went to the hospital. She passed away in Jan 1932. I started school again that fall and graduated in May 1933. That summer I went to Steele and wrote teacher’s exams and passed and received a certificate for teaching good for two years. I applied at Chase Lake School District and was hired. I taught there from 1933-1935. A country school, all grades but I didn’t have that many pupils. The district was hard up so I took part of my wages by rooming and boarding at the different homes. At the end of the second year either I had to write again to renew my certificate or go on to school. I chose school as I didn’t feel I should be teaching without more education.
That summer I went to summer school at Valley City Teacher's College. I didn’t care for teaching and would have had to go to school a couple years, so that was when I decided on nurses’ training. I had decided I wanted to be a nurse years before when we visited my aunts Ida, Mary and Agnes who were nurses at the Deconess Hospital in Butte, Montana. I applied at the Trinity Hospital in Jamestown and was accepted for fall, 1935. I enjoyed nursing and was there 1 1/2 years. when my health broke down so I had to quit.
I spent 10 months in bed, and the doctor had said I had TB. It has since been decided that he was mistaken. I had a thyroid problem. During this time the folks lost their place in North Dakota and moved to Minnesota. I went with them. That was 1937. I was there when George
was born in 1938. That spring I left Minnesota to live with Ida in Parker, South Dakota. That was where I met my husband Lyle.
In 1939, Ida and I both went to Sioux City, Iowa, to work in the Methodist Hospital. I could have gone back into nurses’ training at that time but didn’t. I have often wished I had. Lyle and I were married December 24, 1940, in Sioux City. I stayed on and worked until spring - Lyle went back to Parker where he was employed at a service station. I moved there in April, 1941. On November 21 we moved to Monroe, South Dakota, where Lyle took over a service station. In August we moved to Sioux Falls and Lyle started work with the Chevrolet Company. He worked for them until February, 1948, when we moved to the edge of town and Lyle became self-employed starting Lyle’s Garage. We did very well there, but Lyle always dreaded the winters. He had
polio at age six and one leg was left paralysed. That leg always bothered him in the winter so when an opportunity for work in California came we decide to move there in 1966.”
Laurence, the youngest son, also moved to California, and he also became an
x-ray technician like his brother Chet. He married Annaliese, whom he met in Germany and they had one son, Ralph. Laurence died in 1989.
Allan and Richard both served in the Second World War, and after it was over, they moved to Madras, Oregon, where they both worked on a seed farm. Allan married Ruby, and they had no children. Ruby died in 1986 and Allan in 1990. Richard married Doris, and they had three
children, Jay, Mark and Gayle. Richard died fairly recently.
Allan's wife Ruby wrote this to me, about 1980, and said this about him. “Allan
served in the Air Corps. He was a welder on aircraft and was stationed in England for three years from September 1942 until August of 1945. He saw a lot of England and Scotland. ”
The descendents from Hills family - specifically from Laura’s family – numbered over 150 in 1995 -and no doubt have increased by many dozens since then. Some still live in North Dakota, but many now make their homes in Oregon and Washington.
Nick’s brother, Leonard’s family stayed close to their roots. His son Leonard married Barbara Vellenga - the daughter of one of the people I mention as being in the community when the book starts. They continued to live on the homestead property, and although Leonard died in 2005, now his daughter, Jane, farms those same acres, and no doubt has many of the same problems to face as the early farmers did.
Len’s daughter Eileen, married Warren DeKrey, again from a Dutch family that moved into Kidder County at the same sort of time as the Wyngardens. Warren was a banker, and they are now retired and live in Bismarck.
Eileen has answered many of my questions about her family, as well as my grandther's over the years. When I asked them about Nick and Pearl's move to California, she said this. “I remember visiting with your grandfather and Aunt Pearl, going over to their place on horseback, riding Tony, the black horse that your Uncle Allan had given to us to take care of while he was in the Conservation Corps during the depression, because there wasn't any work for young men. Your Aunt Mildred had TB, and would sometimes be out in the yard in bed so she could be in the sunshine and fresh air. Inez was very young at the time, and Laurence was about seven or eight years old. The weather was so dry, and the crops so poor, that many people were on relief, a government program that gave us food and fuel. I think the Wyngardens were too proud to take
a handout, so I remember not having oranges in my lunch box while others did. The grasshoppers also were a scourage so that any green grass of garden crop that had been painfully watered by hand, was eaten up when the hoppers came through in dense clouds. They would even gnaw on the handles of tools left outside. Uncle Nick and Aunt Pearl went first to a little farm near Detroit Lakes along with Laurence and Inez.
“I don't remember how long they were there, but their farm was bought by Albert Halverson and his wife Agnes. Their only son, Marvin still lives there.
“I just talked to my brother Leonard, and he remembered a bit more about it than I did. He said they left because of soil erosion, grass hoppers, no rain. George was born in Minnesota. Their address was Four Corners and it was near Detroit Lakes and Frazee. I'm sure the
living conditions were not too good in Minnesota.
“Leonard remembered when they were in California picking cotton, Aunt Pearl was quite fussy about keeping it clean, but Unlce Nick worked faster and had some dirt in his sacks, but since they were paid by the pound, he figured it was more profitable that way!”
The picture above of the Rinse Wyngarden original land, then owned by his son Leonard, and now by his daughter Jane. The original house, considerably altered since the homestead was claimed in 1906, is the one on the right in the picture.