Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sally: My Grandmother's Life in Words and Pictures

In our fast-paced modern lives, we don’t often think too much about the past. We are consumed with the present—doing our jobs, taking care of families, etc. But I think it’s important to reflect on the past sometimes—where we come from, who we come from, how things have changed over the years.

I have had the good fortune to spend a great deal of time with three of my grandparents (my dad’s dad died when I was three), but my dad’s mom lived until I was in my mid-20s, my mom’s dad lived until I was 30, and my mom’s mom just passed away this year.

Having spent time with these grandparents, I learned a lot of stories of their lives—about growing up during the Great Depression, about World War II, about the 1960s, about loved ones come and gone.

After my grandpa Glenn passed away in 2010, I got thinking maybe I should record these stories, while I still had a living grandma. So I decided I would start interviewing my grandma Sally. I knew fragments of her life—that she survived polio, that my grandpa built a number of houses for them, that her dad was a wealthy developer in Wisconsin, etc.

But I didn’t know how the fragments fit together. I didn’t have a narrative that connected the dots. What follows is the result of two interviews with my grandma Sally conducted in 2011, in which she talks about the story of her life.

Sally passed away in 2017, and now these interviews are even more precious to me.  I present them as a gift to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—that we might better understand our shared past.

The Interview:

Jesse La Tour (JL): What are some of your earliest memories of where you lived growing up?

Sally Steffen (SS): My dad was a real estate man, a developer, so he developed this area of land and he built us a house right in the middle of it. It was a very nice home. I was the second one born in the family. We would drive down to Florida in the winter.  That was a really fun thing to do. And it ended up becoming a tradition in the family. We took our children there.

Baby Sally (at right) with her sister.

JL: I remember going to Florida when I was little.

SS: Yeah.

Sally (topless in front) with her family in Florida, late 1930s.

JL: What year were you born?

SS: 1931.

JL: What else do you remember about when you were little?

SS: You know, us kids could go out and play all day. We never went in the house except if we had to go to the bathroom or eat something. My dad was a warden during the war. If there was an air attack, he was assigned to blackout—making sure everyone turned out their lights and closed their drapes. There was a beacon up on the hill, for the airport, and we would have to run up and turn that off. We were prepared.

Sally (at right) with her sister.

JL: Thankfully that didn’t happen. An air raid.

SS: And there was rationing of butter and sugar and gasoline. You had to have stamps. My dad always had plenty (smirking).

JL: It seems like he was a really resourceful guy, your dad (Ted Morey).

SS: A couple days after my dad died, I was visiting grandma Miller in the nursing home, and her roommate had an article about my dad lying on her bed. And I said, “That’s my dad!” She said, “Oh, he was so wonderful. My husband was a carpenter. During the depression, Ted gave him the plans to build this house. He could work on it all winter, and we could get groceries all winter.” My dad had set it up with the grocer, to pick up their tab. My dad did a lot of things like that.

Sally (middle front) with her family. Her father, Ted Morey, was a real estate developer in Waukesha.

JL: Wow, what a small world.

SS: Yeah, isn’t that something? My dad was a drinker too. He was an alcoholic. He would go on binges. After Glenn and I got married, my dad found a home for us. It was like a duplex. But we had to wait to get in it, so we lived with my mom and dad while we were waiting. And before, if my dad went on a binge, he would come home and sober up. But while we were there, whenever he went on a binge, he would stay away until he sobered up.

JL: Because he would feel bad coming home like that?

SS: Yeah.

JL: I’ve heard that he would go to Chicago and hang out with Al Capone and people like that. Is that true?

SS: It’s true! He was in on a lot of stuff, and I’m sure it was because he was drinking and he just happened to be there. One time he had a guy in his car and dad knew the guy was gonna kill him, because they had just had a sale on some horses you know, for horse racing. And I think dad had the money. They guy kept opening the door, looking behind. And my dad thought, “Next time you do that, I’m gonna kick you right out.” And that’s what he did, he kicked him right out and kept on driving (Laughing).

JL: That’s like out of a movie!

SS: (Still laughing) Yeah. And the guy never came after him.

JL: I bet.

Sally as a little girl. 1930s.

SS: My mother always knit my dad sweaters. One day, a guy came to our door and he had this sweater that was really icky and wrecked and he said, “I took this off a bum, but I know it’s Ted’s.” And that made my mother so worried. That guy was from Chicago. My mother was a true blue gal.

JL: You haven’t said too much about your mom. What was she like?

SS: Well, my mother was kind of a spoiled kid. Kind of. She had two brothers and she had asthma. They had cats but they didn’t know she was allergic to them.

JL: That’s probably where you got your allergies. (Grandma Sally was extremely allergic to cats).

Sally (in black dress) with her sisters.

SS: Yeah. So my mom was kind of a spoiled kid, and my dad spoiled her too.

JL: Did she come from a wealthy family?

SS: No, she didn’t really. My dad did.

JL: So, she was a spoiled kid, but she ended up being a neat lady?

SS: Well, she was a good mom. But, after I had kids, she said, “You needn’t think I’m gonna do any babysitting.” And Nel (her mother-in-law) said that too. In fact, one time Tina called her ‘grandma,’ and she got really mad. So that was their attitude to being grandmas. But Glenn and I loved being grandparents.

JL: Well, I sure felt that love. I always liked going to your house.

SS: We just loved our grandchildren.

JL: I guess sometimes you learn things from your parents—what to do, or what not to do.

SS: Yeah, that’s it. See, my mom had six children. And they were spaced out where she had one ready to go to school, and then she was pregnant with another one. So she had her hands full.

Sally (second from left) and her sisters.

JL: I can’t imagine having that many kids. You had seven kids, and a relatively small income. What was that like? Was it hard?

SS: Well, it was worrisome for grandpa. He was under pressure. So it was nice when I could sell real estate.

JL: You were kind of ahead of your time with that. I mean, a lot of women didn’t work at that time.

SS: Right, right. They began to work during the war. They had to because the men were in the service or working. Your grandpa Miller (her father-in-law) worked every day for the duration of the war. He never had a day off.

JL: What did he do?

SS: He worked in a factory.

JL: I only remember meeting grandpa Miller when I was very young and he was very old, but my parents said he was a sweet guy.

SS: He was. He sure loved Nel. He called her his “babe.”

JL: And they were pretty different. I heard he was really gentle, and she was kind of a firecracker.

SS: (Laughing) Yeah she was!

JL: I guess every family has a firecracker or two.  Keeps things interesting.

SS: (Still laughing)

JL: What city were you born in?

SS: Waukesha (Wisconsin). I lived in the same house all my childhood. Glenn (her husband) lived in so many different places. He went to eleven different grade schools. I got to go to one grade school all my eight grades. I really loved living there. Our house was a couple blocks away from the school, so I went home for lunch. My grandma Kewer lived with us, and she would make us really good lunches. One of the important things in my life was that I was brought up Catholic. We’d go to church and summer school and Sunday school. But I went to public (as opposed to catholic) grade school, and my dad was the clerk of the grade school.


JL: What does that mean? What did he do as the clerk?

SS: He paid the teachers and cared about the school. It was a farm community. And when they had to add on to the school, it was a tricky thing to get those farmers to vote to build onto the school. So he started putting the farmers’ names up on a board outside the school, and they came up to him and asked, “Ted, what are you doing?” And he said, “I’m gonna put your name and what you collect from the government for not growing crops on here.” And they said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute.” Ted said, “We need to add onto the school, and we need you to vote for the money to do it.” Then they agreed (laughs).

JL: (also laughing) So he kind of coaxed them into doing it?

SS: (Still laughing) He tricked them into doing it, because he thought the school needed it, and the school got the money for the addition. That school is still there today. They were going to destroy it, but then a Christian school bought it and they used the original buildings and added more. It’s still there on the edge of Waukesha.

Sally in grade school.

JL: So what did you do after grade school?

SS: I went to high school. I was kind of lost when I went to high school, because I went into the city and there were groups of people who had already been together and then I came in from the country, and I didn’t fit in.

JL: That’s kind of how I felt when I moved from Wisconsin to California. At my new school, everybody had different clothes and talked different and acted different.

SS: Yeah, it was really hard.


JL: Do you know anything about your grandparents?

SS: My dad’s father (Robert Gideon Morey) was a brilliant man. Robert made a fortune, and lost a fortune, and made another one. He died in an accident. A car hit him on the highway when he was walking. He was quite a guy, and he made sure that his sons were trained to support families. He sent my dad down to Illinois to a broker to learn real estate development, and my dad had quite good success in Illinois. But then he met my mom, at his brother’s funeral (his brother went with my mom), and he fell in love with her. She didn’t want to move from Waukesha, so he bought a farm on the edge of Waukesha and developed it. But then the Depression hit.

JL: What did he do when that happened?

SS: He sold a lot of people pieces of property, and they were in the process of building their homes. But when the Depression hit, they got permission from the government to live in their garages. And that area kind of grew bad, because it was full of garage houses. But he developed a lot of Waukesha later, and ended up being really successful. It was hard through the Depression. But when someone came to our back door and needed something, he never turned them away. He always gave them something, even though he didn’t have a lot at that time.

JL: It seems like he was a pretty resourceful guy, making it though the Depression. How many brothers and sisters did you have?

SS: Three sisters and two brothers.

JL: Big family.


SS: Nice big family. And my dad was really excited when that first boy came. He named him Theodore, after himself. Theodore Mark.

JL: Is that your brother Mark, the professor?

SS: Yeah, he taught psychology at the University of New York in Oswego. Now he’s retired. My brother Johnny ended up being a teacher too. And my mother went to school to be a teacher, although she didn’t work. It was thought at the time that it would be below my dad to have my mother working. Otherwise my mother would have been a very good teacher or a very good, what do you call it, home decorator?

JL: Interior decorator?

SS: Yes! She would have been absolutely fabulous at that. She kept a really nice house, and made things nice for us.

JL: Do you mind talking about grandpa? (My grandpa Glenn, her husband of over 60 years, had passed away the previous summer)

SS: No.

JL: When and how did you meet grandpa?

SS: Well (chuckles a little), in my mind, as a person growing up, I always knew that I was going to have a lot of children. I just thought it would be the neatest thing to be a mother and have a lot of children. So, anyhow, some time in the late 30s, early 40s, my mother-in-law and father-in-law (Glenn’s parents) came into town, and they went into my dad’s real estate office and asked, “Do you have anything to rent?” because they wanted to move into the area.

Sally, 1940s.

JL: This was in Waukesha?

SS: Yeah, my dad had an office in town that said “Ted Morey Real Estate”—a great big sign. My dad was a really good discerner of people’s character, and he could tell that they were really good people. He said, “I want to take you out and show you this house.”

JL: This was Nel and Ace (my great-grandparents, grandpa Glenn’s parents)?

SS: Yeah, Nel and Ace. My dad took them out and showed them this house, and it was a block away from where we lived. Nel and Ace said, “We don’t have any money to put down.” Ted took $200 from his pocket and he handed it to them and said, “Now you’ve got the down payment.”

JL: Wow.

SS: The house was $5000. At that time, that was quite a bit for a house. At that time, like now, people weren’t getting very much interest on their money. And people that had money wanted to make interest. So they made private loans to homeowners through real estate people like my dad. So dad got them a loan and they got the house, and they moved in. Well, their oldest son (Glenn) was in the Air Force, and he was gone and I didn’t get to meet him right away. But the family all talked about him like he was really something. I liked his brothers. We had a lot of fun, sliding down hills and playing baseball and stuff—Gene and Ace and Jack. So finally, Glenn came home. And he had a girlfriend named Sally.

Queen Sally?

JL: A different Sally?

SS: Mmm Hmm. He had met her after high school. After he graduated, he had to wait to join the Air Force until he was old enough. So he went to work for the telephone company, and they shipped him up to a little town up north. His job was to take out the crank phones and put in dial phones.

JL: So that was like the end of the era of crank phones?

SS: Yeah, so he was doing that in Hortonville, and he met this Sally up there, and her family. He really loved her family. Her mother made him special fluffy egg sandwiches, and he loved that. So, when he went away to the Service, while he was gone, he was really lonely for her. When he came back on leave, he bought her a diamond ring, so that she would wait for him.

JL: Did a lot of servicemen do that, give promise rings?

SS: Yeah, and that made them feel better about the relationship. But when Glenn got back, he found out Sally had been unfaithful to him, and he broke up with her. Then one day, he was standing in front of his house with his grandma and his mom, and I went by on my bicycle and he told them, “I’m gonna marry that girl.” (Chuckles a little) He didn’t tell me that, though. But I was very young. He pursued me and I fell in love with him, and we did get married very young.

Glenn and Sally Steffen.

JL: I think people got married younger back then.

SS: Oh yes.

JL: I remember you telling me about when you got polio. Was that right after you got married?

SS: I got polio after I had two children. I tried to eat something and I couldn’t swallow, and I tried to drink something and it came up through my nose. And I wondered what was wrong, so we called the doctor. The doctor knew, because he had another patient like me, that I had polio—the kind that hits your lungs and brain, and people end up in iron lungs.

JL: Was that before they had the vaccine?

SS: Yes, they didn’t have the vaccine, and a lot of people got the polio in the fall of the year. So, when I got diagnosed, the doctor sent me to the isolation hospital in Milwaukee. Glenn snuck in the next day and he said, “Sal, I saw someone building a house. And if you make it through this, I’m gonna build you a house” (Smiles).

Sally 1940s.

JL: I tell my friends this story. It’s such a sweet story.

SS: (Laughing) Yeah. And he had never built a house before, but he had done some woodworking in high school. So I made it through, and he had to keep his promise. I called my father and said, “Dad, I really need a piece of property.” And he gave us a piece of property worth $300, which was a lot at the time. So Glenn started digging the foundation, and he had a book that he read about how to build a house, how to do it yourself. After the war, the thing was “Do it yourself.”

JL: The Builder Generation.

SS: Yeah. My father found a man to loan us the money to build the house, and Glenn built us that home for $7000. And that included the table saw and a washer and dryer. My mother always said she liked that home the best.

JL: Out of all the ones grandpa built?

SS: Yeah. I’ll have to take you by there sometime.

Glenn and Sally.

JL: Was that the house you guys called “The Old Home Place”?

SS: No, that was way before. We built The Old Home Place after we had all the children and they were teenagers.

JL: Oh. How long did you live in that first house?

SS: Well, Glenn had a job as recreation director at the Veteran’s Hospital. He would take movies around to show the guys and stuff like that. This was before TV. That job paid about $3000 a year.

JL: Was that not a lot back then?

SS: No, that wasn’t very much. So, in order to clear ourselves of debt, we sold that first house after a few years. Your mother (Jaclyn) was born there, and Becky. I was pregnant with David when we moved. So then Glenn built a new house in New Berlin, where my dad had some other land that we bought.

Glenn and Sally.

JL: Is that where my mom mostly grew up?

SS: Yes, in New Berlin. Our house was like a block away from the Catholic school, so it was really neat—the kids could walk to school and to church. There was a store on the corner. You know how today, people go to the grocery store and buy a whole bunch of groceries? Well, what we did was I would send the kids to the store just to get the groceries we needed for that day.

JL: Probably, back then, food didn’t have a lot of preservatives in it, like it does now.

SS: Right, and we had a milk man deliver our milk.

JL: I like that system. It seems better than what we have today—giant supermarkets and processed food.

SS: Yeah, and spending all that money going to the store.

JL: Like a hundred bucks in one trip.

SS: Yeah, our bill would be about $200 for the month, for all the kids and us.

JL: Was it like a credit system, where the store owner would keep a tab for you?

SS: Yeah, they would keep a tab.

JL: That’s like Little House in the Prairie—Olson’s store.

The Steffens

SS: Yeah. It was really sad one time. We got together with some neighbors to go Christmas caroling, and we thought we’d start at the store. We started singing outside the door, and they came to the door and told us that their son, along with several other people, was killed in a car accident that night, where a train hit their car. Jim, their son, was a favorite of our kids—he worked in the store and they really loved him and he really loved them. We didn’t do any more caroling that night.

JL: That’s awful. Especially in such a small town, where most people probably knew Jim.

SS: Yeah.

JL: What else do you remember about New Berlin?

SS: Well, now that the children were in school, I thought I’d like to do something for some extra income, so I advertised to take care of children, and that’s how we ended up with Stacy. Do you remember Stacy?

JL: I think I met her when she was older.

SS: Her dad brought her out to our house, and dropped her with us. He didn’t know us from Adam, but he left her at our house. Well, that wasn’t a big money-making proposition.

JL: Yeah, it probably cost more to raise a kid than what you got paid for it.

SS: (Laughing) Yeah, it did. But we didn’t care because we all just fell in love with Stacy. But then her mother (who was sick) recovered and her parents took her back. But she would still come visit us from time to time. So, I still wanted to do something for income. We were driving around the Kettle Moraine area and we ran into my dad where he was working there, building roads, and he said, “Why don’t you get your real estate license and come work for me?” So that’ what I did. The first time I took the real estate test, I failed.

The Steffens

JL: Did you take a class or something to learn about real estate?

SS: No, I just studied a book. When I went in to take the test the second time, I thought, “Oh no. I don’t know if I’m ever going to pass this.” I just cried. As I was walking out of the test, I got talking to a young man who also took the test, and he had taken a college course in real estate. Here I was, just a housewife, taking this test. But I passed, and I started working with my dad, which I loved.

JL: I heard you were a pretty good saleswoman.

SS: Well, it’s really easy to sell something that you love. Plus, my dad made it so easy, because the people could put ten percent down on the land, we’d write up a contract, and they didn’t have to pay any more until they’d sold their previous home and were ready to build their new house on their new land. They could pay at the closing, and they weren’t pressured for money. My dad charged six percent interest, which was a very good rate at that time, because interest was going way up. For every tract of land I sold, I would get five percent, so I made good money doing that. And if the person wanted their money back, the company would give them their money back, and I got to keep my five percent, so I was protected. Grandpa Glenn also worked with us and built houses.

Glenn and Sally (Florida?)

JL: Was he still working at the VA hospital?

SS: No, he was just doing the building. He built all different houses.

JL: What were some of the other houses he built? Did he build your next house?

SS: Yeah, that was The Old Home Place. And then he built the Hilltop House. That was a neat house. And then we moved up to Whitewater so the kids could go to school—David and Tina and Jill. Tina ended up moving out, but David and Jill lived with us and went to UW Whitewater. When our kids started to have children, when Mary had Stephanie, and your momma had Seth and you, those were very exciting years for us. Both of us loved having grandchildren.

Sally (left) with her daughters Jill and Jaclyn (my mom).

JL: I remember the house in Whitewater. We would visit there when I was little.

SS: The big one with the stairways?

JL: I think so. You lived in two houses in Whitewater, right?

SS: There was a big house that we first lived in on K Street. That one was neat. It had a big fancy staircase in the front, and then it had this little tiny stairway in the back.

JL: That one was by the University, right?

SS: Yeah, and the University wanted the land. We loved that house. We bought it for $37,000 and then the University bought it from us for like $80,000. So that gave us a little cushion of money. There was a carriage house in the back that had wood floors from when it had horses way back.

David, Sally, Jaclyn.

JL: You didn’t have horses at that house, did you?

SS: No, we had horses at The Old Home Place.

JL: My mom used to tell me about a horse named Barney.

SS: Yeah, Barney was wonderful. He was a great big pinto.

The Steffens had horses at The Old Home Place.

JL: Did you have a lot of animals at that house?

SS: Well, we went over to Fred Kurtz’s and we bought nine horses—one for each of us. I remember Glenn said, “I never realized how big an animal horses are” (Laughing)

JL: Was it hard work to take care of them?

SS: Glenn loved it.

JL: Would you all go riding together?

SS: Yeah, and uncle Gene would come over, and he loved to ride.

JL: Did you have a lot of land there?

SS: Yeah, we had 18, almost 19 acres. I still have the ad from when we sold that house. When we sold it, I had another real estate agent handle the deal, because it’s really difficult for me to sell something of my own.

JL: I can understand that. I have this art show coming up, and it’s hard for me to sell artwork that I made. I get so attached to stuff that’s a part of my life.

SS: Yeah, and you don’t really know what price to put on it. Some people put a great big price on something they built, but you have to be realistic.

JL: Yeah, you gotta go with the market.

SS: When the kids were teenagers, and they got in with some bad friends in Kettle Moraine, that’s what drove me crazy. I didn’t know what to do. Because, up to that point, having a big family was such a joy. And, all of a sudden, it was going haywire. I was trying to figure out what to do. That’s when Mary invited me to Elmbrook Church. I attended a parenting class there, and the guy said, “You have to get your priorities straight. You gotta put God first, then family, then work and other stuff.” I didn’t know what my priorities were, so I asked my brother-in-law Chuck and he said, “You’ve got this real estate business number one in your life.” I was also into horse racing at this time. One day, grandpa came into the office and I asked him the same thing, and he said, “You’ve got the horse races, you’ve put everything first before us.” So, when he left the real estate office, I was alone and I said, “God, I don’t know how I’ve got it. I’m too confused, and I need to know the answers. Please Lord, show me what to do.” And then, in the middle of the night, I woke up thinking, “John, Ezekiel, John, Ezekiel.” We had just gotten two big Living Bibles, and I opened one to 1 John. I didn’t know the Bible from a hole in the ground because I was Catholic, and we weren’t taught the Bible. Not that some Catholics don’t know the Bible, but we learned more about following traditions. So I opened the Bible to 1 John 5:11-12, “What is it that God has said? That he has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son. Those who have his Son have life, and those who do not have his Son do not have life.” And I was so excited. I said, “Oh Lord, I’m so grateful that I was brought up Catholic and I was brought up to know about Jesus.” Well then I turned to Ezekiel. It was a lot of chapters. But I got the gist of it—there was this 30-year old guy who had to tell his people to stop putting other things before God. So I knew what I was doing wrong. I was going to church, I liked going to church, but I was still putting all the other things in my life before God. So I told Him I wanted to put things right, and I was born again. In the next three weeks, I lost 18 pounds, because I was talking about God all the time, up night reading the Bible, and I was so excited. My dad thought I’d lost my mind. Jill Briscoe said, “Sometimes they ought to lock a person up after they become a Christian for a little while, to let them simmer down a little bit.”

JL: When was this? The 1960s?

SS: It was around 1976.

JL: That was the year my parents got married. In the mid-1970s, lots of your kids got married and started having kids of their own.  You said before that you loved having grandkids. What did you like about being a grandma?

SS: It’s so wonderful, because you don’t have the full responsibility of the child. You get to take care of them, and enjoy them, and then leave ‘em (laughs). So it’s really super. Your mom and dad lived in Madison—they were going to school, and your dad was painting on the side. They would put their bills in a pile, and pray. Your mom was working in a hair salon and the Lord was telling her that she should be home with Seth, because he was a little tiny baby. So she prayed and said, “Lord, if you want me to be home, have my boss call me.” And the phone rang and it was her boss, and she said, “Oh, Jackie, I made the wrong call.” And you mom said, “No, you didn’t.”

Sally and Glenn, definitely in the 1970s.

JL: Whoa.

SS: Isn’t that a neat story? Yeah, there were a bunch of grandkids born around the same time.

JL: Yeah—Seth, Livy and Jason were born the same year, and Jamie, Erika, and I were born in the same year.

SS: Our lives were so blessed. It was like a dream come true for me, because I always wanted a lot of children.

JL: Well, you got ‘em!

Sally loved being a grandma.

SS: (Laughing) No kidding! I was just putting the 17th great-grandchild’s name on this sheet that I have.

JL: I’ve seen the quilt you made with all the grandkids’ names on it, but I haven’t seen the great-grandkids’ one.

SS: I haven’t made a quilt out of it yet. It’s a long piece of material with their names. I just put Braden’s name on it.  That’s your cousin Jackie’s baby. He’s a good baby.

JL: So, when you lived in Whitewater, after you lived in the house by the University, grandpa built something called a “solar envelope house.” What was that?

SS: I could get you an article about it that was in the local newspaper that grandpa wrote. It was called “Living with Sol (meaning sun) and Sal (meaning me).” Would you like a copy of that article?

JL: Yeah, definitely.

SS: After the university bought our house, we bought a house over on Clark street that had an extra lot, and grandpa decided to build the solar house next to our house. Your dad (Jac La Tour) turned him onto the idea of the solar house. So grandpa designed it and built it.

JL: What was the concept of the solar house? How did it work?

SS: It was like a house within a house. To the south there was a solarium with big windows—it would trap the heat from the sun. When it was 20 degrees outside, it was about 80 in the solarium. The heat from the solarium would lift up and go thoughout the house—so the house would heat itself in the winter. And in the summer, the cool air from the basement would get pushed up and it was like air conditioning. It was really a marvelous concept. But it was so new that people didn’t get it. The people who ended up with that house took all the stuff out of the basement, and built some bedrooms.

Sally in Whitewater, WI.

JL: So they ruined the whole purpose of the house.

SS: They didn’t even realize what they had. We ended up losing the house. Grandpa agreed to build a house for this guy from England.  He signed the papers with the bank to get started, and the guy ran out on him. This was a time when interest rates were 17 percent, so nobody was building. People were getting out of the real estate business. We ended up with that guy’s mortgage on the house. When we lost it, that’s how we ended up in California.

JL: That was in the mid-1980s?

SS: Yeah, we lived in California from 1988-1992.

JL: How did you get the job managing the Villa Venetia (apartment complex) in Marina Del Rey (in Los Angeles)?

Sally in the 80s.

SS: It was through Mary (her daughter). She was the owner’s executive secretary—Jack Howard. He owned a bunch of properties, but he loved the Villa Venetia. The day that we had a picnic when we were leaving California, Jack came and asked us, “What would it take for you to stay?”

JL: I think I met Jack Howard.

SS: I’m sure you did. Then he got sick with that darn Parkinson’s. It killed him.

JL: I remember once, when a bunch of the grandkids came to visit, we all stayed in his old apartment.

SS: Oh yeah, and you could see the water? That was 347.

JL: Yeah, it was a huge apartment.

SS: All those apartments were huge. Even our two bedroom.

JL: So what kind of memories do you have from living in California?

SS: You know, in Wisconsin, we would take drives on into the country. You could get an ice cream cone or something. In California, we would get in our car and drive down Lincoln, and it was like a cement parking lot.

JL: Because of all the traffic?

SS: Yes, it was very frustrating. I loved walking out on the jetty though, and I loved the people who rented from us. And I loved re-doing the apartments.

JL: Yeah, it probably gave grandpa a nice outlet to do building and repair projects.

Sally, Jaclyn, Glenn in Fullerton, CA.

SS: Yes, and he was a good manager, because he was a strong person, and he was in charge, and people knew it. A lot of the guys who rented from us liked grandpa, because he was a “guy’s guy.” They would invite him to Laker games and stuff.

JL: I liked being able to see guys pretty often when you lived in California.  We were down in Fullerton—just a short distance away.

SS: To be around you guys, your soccer and basketball games, that was such a blessing. We could get our minds off work.

JL: You lived in California for four years. How did you end up moving back to Wisconsin?

SS: Grandpa would often talk about what he was going to do when we got back to Wisconsin. Also, his parents were getting older, and he felt responsible for them. Plus, my dad was getting ill, and we wanted to be by him. So, we finally decided to go back. And you know, the people at the Villa Venetia really honored us. They took up a collection and gave us around $2,600. That paid for our moving expenses.

JL: Where did you first live when you moved back?

SS: We got an apartment in Eagle. That was 15 miles to Nel and Ace’s, about 5 miles to my dad’s, and about 15 miles to Jill’s. So we were right in the middle. We were living there, and we thought we’d get jobs at Old World Wisconsin. But they wanted us to work weekends, and we really didn’t want to work on Sundays. We wanted to go to church. And then grandpa had his heart problem. His main artery was 94 percent blocked. Before that, we knew we wanted to build a cabin. But when that happened, grandpa cried because he thought that he wouldn’t be able to build it. The next time he got his heart checked, the doctor told him that his main artery was totally blocked, but his body had grown new arteries around it. Grandpa asked him, “What do you call that?” The doctor said, “I call it a natural phenomenon.” And grandpa said, “I call it three letters: G-O-D.” So then we decided to build the cabin. I was visiting California and I told Mary, “I have to confess, when I see people with houses, I want a house.” I prayed, “Lord, get me over that, wanting something I don’t have.” And THAT DAY grandpa called and said, “I found two lots.” He had found lots in Endeavor. It was $2900 for two lots with those big oaks. It was perfect. So they started building.

Sally and Glenn with the famous Dodge Rampage. Fullerton, CA early 90s.

JL: He was in his 70s when he started building that cabin.

SS: Yeah, it was 1996. He was 73. We called it The Dream Cabin.

JL: Grandpa both designed and built most of that cabin, right? Did he have help?

SS: Yeah, there were cement people. There was a retired carpenter who would come work with his brother. Grandpa totally designed it. I did a lot of the insulation. Remember that old truck that grandpa had?

JL: Yeah, the Rampage?

SS: Well, one day, we got all the wood for inside, and we were driving out of Menards (like a Home Depot) and the guy said, “You’ll never make it,” because the truck was sinking so low. But we made it home.

JL: That Rampage was like a cross between a car and a truck.

SS: Yeah, it was pretty sharp.

JL: Well, I love the cabin you built—The Dream Cabin.

Sally swinging at The Dream Cabin.

SS: I laid all the floor tiles, and grandpa did all the cutting.

JL: There was a field stone chimney, I remember.

SS: Yeah.

JL: And didn’t granpa design it after the Little House on the Prairie house, with a loft and everything?

SS: Yeah, and we have lots of old family pictures and stuff up there.

JL: It’s almost like a little museum of family history.

SS: It is.

Sally inside The Dream Cabin.

JL: Okay, one more question. Lots of people these days get married and then get divorced. You were married for like 60 years. What was your secret?

SS: Well, you know, it’s two imperfect people who were brought up differently by different parents. The only think I can think of is, “You have to forgive and forget.” People will do things that hurt you, but you have to forgive them. Some people refuse to do that, and they refuse to try. One time I ran across this article in a magazine that said, “Have your spouse live longer through massage.” I know grandpa liked it when I gave massages. I said to him, “I’m gonna do this.” So grandpa would lay on a sponge thing on the floor, and I would massage him, so he would live longer. If you can make your home peaceful, that’s important. Even when things are rough. You have to keep thinking of the other person, you have to love them, and keep forgiving them.

Glenn and Sally mid-2000s.

After my grandpa Glenn passed away in 2010, Sally moved in with my parents in Brea, California, so I was fortunate enough to be around her a lot for her last years of life. She passed away this year at an assisted living facility in La Habra, California.  Rest in peace, grandma Sally.

Sally and me, 2017.


  1. Jesse, this is wonderful! What a treasure for all of us who knew and loved her! I'd never seen any of those photos, and it was exciting to see how beautiful Sally was, even as a baby.

  2. I went to houses, farms, homesteads, reservations and stores all over the country and learned an additional story about some distant aunt sally of mine who had already brought the savages in and fed them at thanksgiving and they all setled peacefully together. The new aunt sally rared up at the cabin door wuth her gun and killed forty nine savages. 49 plus two is 51 nit 61. I then began listening to elvis pressly again and the song that has the line "ride salky ride" with poke salad annie and a rhyme i know from child hood paddy cake paddy cake, the baby is with us for evermore. I wish my famiy photo album uld be returned. Did yu ever marry john glenn the astronaught and did yu know he was an uncircumcised man and that the catholic church too woukd annul without lties back then.

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