Historically Speaking: Friendships from days gone by continue today
A recent get-together of several of us old-time “McNaughton Gals” prompted me to appreciate these friendships more as we all get older. The neighbors and friends of years gone by helped make us what we are today. We were all from a close-knit community and each of us, over time, attended the McNaughton one-room rural school which was located on the corner of Bridge Road, just off Hwy 47 north, near where the Frederich Gas Station, Bar and Restaurant was then located. The school was large, but the enrollment declined during the late ‘30s, and it was torn down during the World War II years. This large white building was the learning center of the community, and it was here that firm and lasting friendships were formed. Back in those days people did not travel to the extent that they do today, and our near neighbors were our closest friends, not only in distance, but in the heart.
During my first year of high school, I was fortunate to be able to stay at home, but rode daily to school with the Shimkus family of young people – Annie and Helen (in the upper grades) and Mary and Johnny who were just starting high school, too. It was a good year with many adjustments for the country kids. But in the summer of 1936, the Shimkus family moved to Laona, and I wondered if I would be able to continue in high school. But family friends, the Blackmans, who had been living in the Beaver Lake area just north of the McNaughton Post Office and store, were now residing in the city, and offered to have me stay with them for the school year. Earlier they had helped another student, Bernard Bumpus from Lake Tomahawk, and he stayed with them the year before I came to live with them. Of course, we were old friends, and our parents were close friends, too, so it made if very “homey” for me. There were four kids; Burl, Karl, Martha and Flora, but the friendship between me and Martha has continued to this day, with possibly the exception of a few years here and there. Recently, after a spell of reminiscing through our letters, Martha came up one weekend to see her old home site, and we planted a willow on their property which they still own. It was a memorable occasion, and we both enjoyed every moment of the evening. And it meant so much to both of us, as my brother and I and her family spent many happy childhood days at their former home out on Beaver Lake. Flora now lives out west, Karl is in Milwaukee, Burl is in Texas and Martha resides in Illinois. What wonderful memories of a kind family who took me into their home and hearts so I could continue my high school education. My next two years of school, through graduation, I worked in the home of a lawyer and his family in exchange for my room and board: another very kind family who became my family while I was away from home. Dorothy Sewberg was very instrumental in helping to form my “growing up” years, and I am forever grateful to her and the family.
But back to my McNaughton friends and our recent visit and luncheon. The oldest member of our little group, Stella Udkler (Shaltis-Ludgaitis) was not able to be with us that day. Her brothers Tony and Stanley were my brother’s closest friends while going to school, and together with those two plus Johnny Shimkus and Jim Yuske, had many an adventure. Helen (Shimkus) Puza and her cousin Helen (Arcimas) Schultstrom were in the group, plus Ethel Shaltis (who was married to Tony Shaltis), and I, Lily (Wolff) Kongslein, made up this small group of friends. You can imagine the chatter and laughter as recollections were brought up, one tale leading to another. We talked about school days at the old McNaughton School, our families, and how we’ve changed (gotten older, and perhaps wiser) and memories of our parents and families when we were youngsters. What a wonderful thing to be privileged to do, after all these years! I’m so glad that a few years ago we decided to get together once or twice a year, at least, and resume our friendships. In addition to the Shimkus family, the Shaltis family, and my family, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Rapps and Frederich families, the Yuske and the Warekois families. I know I am leaving some out, but these families had kids the age of my brother and me. McNaughton has changed, with children of these families living elsewhere, but we were once-upon-a-time a very close-knit group, all different, yet with kindred hearts.
One word of advice I would like to give: don’t wait too long to renew old acquaintances. Friendship is a precious thing.