Kentucky to Minnesota

amanda-chappell-stewartMy grandmother Amanda Chappell Stewart died 06 December 1923. She was born on 03 October 1859; thus she lived 64 years. She lived in Ohio County, approximately eight miles from our house. Robert, my dad, was the eldest of her five children. Dad’s younger siblings were: Chris, Melville, Beulah and Frank. My grandfather William Minor Stewart was born 19 March 1861 and died June 16, 1907 when he was 46.

In about the year 1922-23 good fortune came to Grandma Stewart. Oil was found on her small hill farm. Oil wells in that area were not abundant producers; I remember the price of oil was fifty cents per barrel. The oil money was divided between the five children.

Ford-Touring-Car-1923-american-automobiles.com_Ford_1923Mom and Dad began to formulate a change in plans. Dad purchased a new 1923 Ford touring car, probably costing $200 or less. Touring cars had canvas tops and side curtains, supposedly to keep out the wind and rain. My parents made plans to lease the farm and move to Owensboro so Lillian and I could go to high school.

There was a precedent for doing this: Grandpa and Grandma Brown had moved to Owensboro so that my mother, Mabel, could continue her education. We had no access to high school where we lived in the country. No buses and very few autos. Four-party telephone lines came in the late 1920s.

From the farm to Owensboro

Dad worked as a laborer for Kendall-Hill produce company in Owensboro, twelve hours per day, six days a week for $2 per day. Shared poverty lessens its intensity. We didn’t know we were that poor because most others were in the same situation.

We lived on Crittenden Street in Owensboro in a small duplex and paid $15 a month rent. The shared toilet and bathtub were on the back porch. There was a small kerosene heater for warmth when bathing in the winter.

We again had wonderful neighbours because our house backed up to the Tinius family on Lewis Street. The Tinius family had three girls and one boy named Charles. He was my best friend. Charles died of scarlet fever or diphtheria during our first year of high school. Ada Tinius married Noble Midkiff. Ada’s sisters’ names were Mildred and Emma.

Later, Marji taught with Noble at Fordsville High School in 1960-63. Noble was the “Ag” teacher. One Sunday in the early sixties we invited the Midkiff and Tinius families for dinner. I remember serving country ham and fresh strawberries from our farm. Mr. Tinius sat and cried when he talked to me because he could visualize what his son Charles might have been had he lived. The elder Tiniuses are gone now but we still keep in touch with Ada and Noble by phone and letters. What wonderful friends.

Brown and Stewart Courts

Now, back a few decades. From Crittenden Street we moved to an old two room tenant farm house. We had running water in the lean-to kitchen but an outdoor privy. The house was at the back of my maternal grandfather John Lester Brown’s property on Highway 60 East, which goes through Owensboro. The street was also known as Brown Court.

Red arrow marks Stewart Court. Brown Court is at far left. (tap to enlarge Google map)

Mother and Dad obviously lived in a very frugal manner but they saved enough money to make the down payment on a new house to be built on approximately six acres of Grandpa Brown’s land. He gave them part of the acreage and they paid him for part. The house was finished in 1933, located at 211 Stewart Court as the street was named.

stewart-court-1930s-bill-stewart-picsThat house is no longer standing. It was of modest brick construction but the location was a treasure. The huge side yard faced the Ohio River. Mother could stand at her kitchen window and watch the towboats go by.

The folks raised a large garden. We all worked in the garden to plant, care for, harvest and sell most of the produce in the city. My parents were good role models for me.

High School Graduation

I graduated from Owensboro Senior High School in 1933. The Great Depression was in full swing and widespread. After watching Mother and Dad work so hard with very little cash income, I decided to try to get a college degree and establish myself in some kind of profession.

Tap image to see names. Bill Stewart is 2nd from right in middle row.

Through contacts at church, I was hired at Kenrad Tube Corporation working in the chemistry lab. Kenrad later became part of GE. My wages were 37 cents per hour.

By living at home and being very conservative, I saved all the money I could. In March 1937 I was ready to start my studies. Dad agreed to co-sign a note for $1,000 with the Bank of Whitesville KY. Dad had a good reputation with this bank and he did not even have to give security. This small bank did not close its doors during the Depression. I later repaid the loan from my soldier’s pay.

University of Minnesota

I chose to attend the University of Minnesota because it was one of the few institutions in this nation that offered courses in aeronautics. I studied business, business administration and took some courses in aeronautics. I was poor in calculus and advanced mathematics but did very well in other subjects; i. e. I learned I had weaknesses and strengths.

The faculty and staff at the University of Minnesota were very good to me. They helped me in many ways, mostly in getting a part time job and always having good food. Remember, this was a big university; one of the Big Ten.

Most of my jobs were washing dishes and waiting tables. But there were some fun times too. I was truly surprised in the spring of 1937 to go to the matinee dance at the University ballroom; there was the Lawrence Welk band. In those days, it was common for many big bands to appear there. Admission was probably less than fifty cents. I had problems learning the polka but loved smooth dancing.

I was introduced to White Castle hamburgers here. The stand was across the street from the main campus gates. Burgers were ten cents each or three for a quarter!

Minneapolis White Castle on US Register of Historic Places. Now a jeweller and accordion shop.

My time at the University of Minnesota was the best of my life. It gave me confidence in myself, gave me rank in the military and opened doors in later life. It improved my ability to manage money, organize and plan; abilities which have gone with me all my life. If I have any legacy to pass on to my family, I couldn’t have done it without this education.

During my years at the University of Minnesota, I was in classes or working full time. I never had a vacation or break. The University was on the quarter system, in session year around.

Problem Solving Strategies

In Business and Marketing we had case studies regarding situations involving company and department problems with full discussion. This was problem solving from the bottom up. Essentially it was seeking a solution by discussion. The sessions were led by company representatives, faculty or guest speakers.

Later, upon induction in the Air Force, there was complete reversal of approach. The command structure was from the top down. But I have nothing but appreciation to the Air Force for teaching me to fly. At that time the standard cost of training a pilot was $50,000.

On 18 December 1941 I received the degree of Bachelor of Business Administration. Including the extra courses I had taken, with my hours in Engineering, my credits amounted to almost five years of scholastic work.

Next time: From Minneapolis as a student I went directly into another phase of life; induction into the military at Ft. Snelling, MN.

Previously, Pellville Kentucky. Also see Bill Stewart’s family tree.

John Prine

John Prine by_Ron_Baker-2006-wikicommonsWhen I hear the name John Prine, I think of Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. Yesterday, John Prine died from Covid-19. Yesterday was also the 26th anniversary of the start of that 100 days of slaughter in Rwanda.

So yesterday morning on CBC Radio, I listened to Lt.-Gen. (Ret.) Roméo Dallaire talk about Rwanda. He also talked about the threat right now of the coronavirus and its possible long term psychological Romeo_DALLAIRE.General_MINUAR-Enzolamine-2014-wikicommonseffects. Later, at the end of the day, I heard that John Prine had died. A circle come around.

Both these things made me think of Radio CFRK. That was the small radio station that UN peacekeepers set up in Amahoro Stadium in Kigali. One watt, enough to be heard throughout the city. I spent time in the makeshift studio with the DJ for the Downhomer show. Each province had its time slot and its DJs. They aired the music they liked.

Big Old Goofy World – Live in Kigali!

The Downhomer’s Newfoundland DJ liked John Prine. I taped him doing a mock interview with John Prine, doing both voices himself – “Live in Kigali.” Then he sang along, off air, as he played “Big Old Goofy World.” Fitting for the place and time.

It was the first time I’d ever heard John Prine, and I liked what I heard. So when I heard Mr. Prine was ill and hospitalized, like everyone who was a fan, I felt sad for a great songwriter. And I thought of that little radio station and the soldiers who tried to keep spirits up by playing music they figured their fellow soldiers and the people of Kigali might like.

kigali-sep-1994-photo-d-stewartGen. Dallaire knows first hand the trauma of conflict, of trying to provide services and broker reconciliation. He was not in Rwanda when I was there, a few months after the genocide ended. But I remember the respect with which he was mentioned by the troops who were there with him, as well as those who came later.

It’s a big old goofy world again. A different kind of goofy, different kind of danger. I’m sorry that this one took John Prine from his family and all of us. But I like to think of the solace and enjoyment that he gave at another time of danger. Thank you, Mr. Prine. Thanks also to Gen. Dallaire and to the soldiers who built and staffed CFRK in your off duty time.

Thanks to the Canadian Armed Forces, regular and reservists, for your help in this crisis at home. We’re all singing along with John Prine now.

For more on Canadian Forces and UNAMIR, see my post Rwanda as well as Rwanda 25 years ago.