Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Life of a Country Boy

William N. Johnson, "The Life of a Country Boy," (Date unknown), p. 1. Image courtesy of Verla Williams.

The Life of a Country Boy
By William N. Johnson

I was born April 28, 1900. My mother said it was on a beautiful Saturday morning and that I weighed 8 lbs. and that I was a beautiful blond baby boy, but I think she exaggerated.

The first that I can remember was that I was moved out of my mother & dad's bedroom when brother Arthur was born. I was rather upset as I remember, but mother said I now had a real nice baby brother, and that made every thing O.K. He was so small, weighed only 3 1/2 lbs so mother said I must always be his protector. This stuck in my mind for years. I can well remember when he was old enough for country school no one dared to pick on brother Art, or they would deal with me.

I also well remember my Grandfather Sander. He was my mother's father. He was the original owner of the Johnson farm in Glenwood twp. He purchased the farm in 1870, as I remember. He formerly owned farms in Madison twp. and Decorah twp., the latter being on Hiway 9 close to present airport.

I remember him telling that he carried a sack of wheat to McGregor to be ground into flour and carried it back home on his back. No mills any closer at that time.

We used to kid him because he bought the Glenwood farm, hilly and woods, compared to the farm near [the] airport. His answer was, Water. He started a mill on the Glenwood farm, with a millrace or water directed from Trout River that ran through his farm. Seeing Trout River today, I can hardly realize that the stream was large enough to be able to give sufficient for water power, but it was the millstone from this mill [that] is now at Frankville.

Grandpa Sander told about buying the land west of [the] Decorah Court House, now known as West Broadway including Phelps Park for $200.00, borrowing the needed funds from Weiser, banker, paying 20% interest. He sold it shortly after purchase for $400.00. He thought a great profit for the [18]50's.

We always thought Grandpa Sander was a great man. He was 6'3" tall, bright red hair, tough Norwegian. His wife died when they lived in Madison twp. She was buried in the East Madison Cemetery, now well maintained. Mother was 4 years old when her mother died, and I will always think she was his favorite. Brede Sander died in 1905 and [was] buried in the Glenwood Cemetery. God rest his soul - a good man and a great Grandpa.

My father [Gustav Johnson] was born in Norway, "Nes på Romerike" and came to America when he was 9 years old. They settled in Madison, Wisc.

Mother [Henrietta Sander] was born in Madison twp. near Decorah.

A little history about father: his father was a musician. His mother a housewife. He had one brother and one sister. His brother became what was known then as a goldsmith. His sister, Bertha, was married to a man by the name of Muggy. Her husband died as a young man. She moved to Decorah shortly thereafter, buying a home next to what is now the Elks Home. I remember her well, as we visited her often, a very gracious lady. She later moved to Seattle, Washington. Sister Lillie heard from her often. She remarried a man out there by the name of Sivesind.

My mother's family consisted of three brothers and four girls, mother, Jane Hanson, Ellen Bakke, and Anna Peterson. Her brothers names: Ben the youngest, Anton, a L[uther] C[ollege] grad and Brede Jr.

Now a little bit about my life.

I was born on April 28, 1900 in Glenwood twp., Winneshiek County, Iowa. I can remember so many good things about my growing [up] years: Brother Arthur three years younger, [and I] were such good pals, country grade school, Parochial School always two weeks in the spring and same before school started in the fall. Our grade school called the Baker School had quite a large attendance; always around 30 girls and boys. Think of the job for teachers 1st through 8th grade classes and me at times not too easy to get along with.

My closest pal probably was Henry Johnson, no relation. He lived with his grandparents Hans and Randi Brustad, close neighbors. They were very poor, and therefore his school lunches not too good. I shared my good school lunches with him real often. Henry after some years worked for the Hormel Co. in Austin, Minn. (Meat Co.)

After finishing my 8th grade at the great age of 14, I went to and attended Valders College in Decorah winters 14-15/15-16/16-17/17-18, the first two winters in their Normal Dept. and two years after in the Commercial Dept. learning Business, Banking, and Law.

In the spring of 1918 I was given my diploma - William Norman Milton Johnson -beautiful and large [with] President Valders' beautiful penmanship.

Two weeks after my graduation, Charles Weiser called our home in Glenwood, talked to father saying Valders had recommended me for a bank job and asked Dad to bring me to his bank, resulting in offering me a "position" (I question) in his bank. $25.00 per month. "Big stuff." I became a teller, after six months doing odd jobs.

I roomed and boarded with my brother, Charles, paying $18.00 per month, so I had $7.00 per month for myself. Not too "extravagant." I had a savings in [the] Bank of $100.00 and after six months employment I was "broke." I remember seeing Mr. Algyer the bank V.P. telling him I couldn't live on my salary of $25.00 per month, and I would seek work elsewhere. I remember telling him Section hands on Railroad paid $4.00 per day.

He answered don't you think your opportunities are greater for promotion staying at the bank? I replied saying I had heard of Section Hands becoming President of the Railroad. He laughed at that, saying he would speak with the big boss, Weiser, resulting in my getting a raise to $40.00 per month. This I thought was wonderful.

I [had] however many wonderful years working in the Weiser Banks. I was promoted to Auditor of his many banks, later to Credit Manager and Cashier. Mr. Weiser treated us well. The bank closed in 1932. Not on account of bad loans, but liquidity. Deposits shrunk but loans did not. Under forced liquidation the Weiser bank paid out about 90%. If properly handled should have paid 100%. Other Weiser banks did. Frankville bank paid 110%. So much for my banking experience except to say I lost my bank stock investment, plus 100% assessment on my stock. It took me four to five years to pay assessment.

In 1932 Ray Algyer and I started an insurance and real estate business - named The A & J Agency, Inc. We struggled the first few years but it became a very successful business. During the first years I was appraising for the Homeowners Loan Corp. Also appraiser for the Regional Agriculture Corp. making chattel loans to farmers on livestock, machinery, etc. My partner Ray was appointed Conservator [of the] First National Bank of Sumner.

All income went into one pot - the A & J Agency - splitting other expenses, our net at year end. Not too much but kept the wolf from the door. Ray was a great partner. I have never heard him say a bad word about anyone. I remember him saying to me at the end of one year, "Bill, we haven't made too much money, but we have had fun."

The A & J Agency was quite a success after a few years. Ray ran the office and yours truly solicited insurance - sale of real estate, etc. It seemed like a real tough job, having been in the banking business where people have to see you for help, instead of you coming to see them for business.

However after some time all worked for the good. Our business grew, and our efforts proved successful. Ray and I owned 50/50 the A & J stock. Later he wanted to retire and offered me his share of the business at a very fair price, and I became the sole owner. Later I hired Willard Linnevold for help and later Stan Hanson as our business grew. Later I sold a percentage to Willard and Stan.

Mabel [McCauley] and I were married on Sept 19, 1931. Father Hogan performed the marriage at the Catholic Parish Home on East Broadway. Melvin and Margaret Sattre were our witnesses. Breakfast at the Calmar Hotel. Our homeymoon was a trip by car out east, to Niagara Falls, Canada and return, about three weeks. My parents celebrated their Golden Wedding the day after we returned home.


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