“Christmas at the Courthouse: Gratiot County’s Gift, 1949-1970”

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Christmas Season 1966 at the Gratiot County Courthouse. This photo remains as one of the best remaining pictures of the courthouse taken during the holiday season in Ithaca.
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Glen Rhines prepares to decorate the Gratiot County Courthouse in 1963. The sleigh weighed a lot, but Rhines got to the top of the courthouse. It was a dark time after the death of President Kennedy and the idea of dressing up the courthouse became one that Rhines enjoyed.
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Glen Rhines prepares for Christmas at the courthouse, 1964.
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A man and his reindeer. Glen Rhines prepares for set up in 1966.
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Santa’s Sleigh makes it to Ithaca with help from Hollis Cooper and Glen Rhines.
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Randall Johnson constructed Santa’s throne for 1960.

With the end of World War II, the lights came on in downtown Ithaca. In 1945, the business district celebrated its first Christmas by using more lights. However, this “lighting up” of downtown Ithaca centered around the way businesses decorated their shops and buildings.

In 1946, with the end of a nationwide coal strike, the last restrictions came off of all the Christmas decorating in Ithaca. Residents in the city were encouraged to enter a home lighting contest from December 21-25. The winner won $75 in cash, and a trophy went to the best-decorated store. The motto for Ithaca that Christmas was, “A wreath on every door and a tree in every window.” The war was over, expectations about conserving light and energy ended, and it was time to return to a normal Gratiot County Christmas.

Three years later, in 1949, the Gratiot County Courthouse officially debuted with “special lighting effects.” These included strings of lights that were fastened from the top of the courthouse and extended down toward Center Street. Santa, sleigh, and his reindeer all sat on top of the building, along with lighted Christmas trees. Each window of the courthouse had either a glowing star or a candle in it. Other trees on the grounds were also lighted. Shoppers downtown also saw designed wreaths on each light pole, and they heard Christmas music playing over the loudspeakers.

Starting in the 1950s, Ithaca encouraged residents to go all out and decorate their homes and lawns at Christmas. Churches also were asked to participate, and those with the most entertaining scenes received recognition in the newspaper. In 1962, The Edwin McGillis family on East Newark Street won first prize and a $25 Savings Bond for their nativity scene, which included over 20 hand-cut and painted figures that they had on their lawn. McGillis told the Gratiot County Herald that he spent over 350 hours on the display.

                Ithaca teacher Randall Johnson helped to bring a memorable addition to Christmas at the courthouse in 1960 when he helped to build Santa’s throne, which sat on the northwest corner of the courthouse lawn. The throne was eight feet high and sat on a decorated platform. A public address system made it possible for people to hear Santa talking to those children who sat on his lap. On Santa’s first night in Ithaca in his new chair, he listened to over 600 children tell him about their Christmas lists. By 1960 the official start to the Christmas season in Ithaca started one night with someone officially flicking on the switch for the lights at the courthouse and downtown.

While all of this brought attention to Ithaca during the holiday season, someone in 1963 became involved with decorating the courthouse in new ways. This person was building superintendent Glen Rhines. His work and leadership helped make the Gratiot County Courthouse a Christmas landmark in the 1960s that people came long distances to see.

Initially, the board of supervisors spearheaded the decoration of the courthouse. In time and under the work done by Glen Rhines,  many people and businesses helped to make the courthouse decorations the most beautiful Christmas sight in the county. Starting in November 1963, Rhines had $100 and used jailhouse labor to set up more than 300 lights above the main entrance, around the main roof, and an arrangement around the bell tower. This early holiday season proved somber in Gratiot County as the nation had been shocked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy at the end of November.

As Christmas approached that year, Rhines put up twelve Christmas trees on the roof, as well as smaller ones on the grounds.   Also on the roof, viewers saw Santa Claus and his reindeer headed for the sky, along with seven elves. The area around the former bomb shelter between the courthouse and jail had a manger scene, along with three wise men and camels. Hanging above the bomb shelter was the Star in the East. On each day in Ithaca, new things seemed to be happening as the new Christmas displays went up at the courthouse. Ithaca stores donated strings of light; the local lumber company donated plywood for figures; the Ithaca Chamber of Commerce gave financial support. A Chamber member even donated the Christmas trees. Getting the sleigh (cutter) up on the roof was Glen Rhynes’ most significant challenge, due to its size. Rhynes later remarked that “I don’t care how big it was. I’d have got it (up) there.”

                People also began to learn about the amount of work Rhines put into the displays that he started in 1963, which newspapers labeled as the first elaborate Christmas courthouse display. The life-size figures Rhines used all had to be cut out of plywood with a single keyhole saw. Christmas lights,  dipped in paint, gave off different colors. Large “Merry Christmas” and “Happy, New Year” signs hung above the main courthouse doors.  These signs all had to be hand cut out of scrap roofing metal, and painting the figures became an essential part of the project.  When lights came on at the courthouse in that season, it was the dome that drivers and residents could see from all sides of Ithaca.

Starting in 1964 and proceeding through future Christmas seasons, Glen Rhines worked with decorations from the preceding year while continually adding new ideas. As the displays grew in size and popularity, so did the preparation time they occupied each fall. In 1965, Rhines added nine handmade reindeer, some brightly colored snowmen, over 500 lights, and seventeen decorated Christmas trees. Rhines was also busy as he helped build a very elaborate sleigh for Santa to ride in when he appeared that year in Ithaca. Hollis Cooper of Middleton provided the ponies that pulled the sleigh through Ithaca (complete with the instant antlers that the ponies grew). Santa’s sleigh and ponies would be a regular occurrence in Ithaca each Christmas through the rest of the 1960s.

By 1967, the courthouse started to move away from cutout figures to using plastic figures in the nativity scene. In late November that year, tragedy was averted when Glen Rhines fell 35 feet from the top of the courthouse on Thanksgiving Day. Rhines, while standing on the railing next to the clock, reached out and tried to cut a wire. The wire broke, Rhines fell backward, and he ended up on the railing below him.  Luckily, Rhines suffered no serious injuries – he only damaged his new wristwatch.

 One of the last changes that was made in the 1960s took place in 1969 when the board of supervisors spent $950 for a new nativity scene at the courthouse. Roger Kleinhans of Ithaca added lights to the dome.

For those who think of postwar Ithaca, we remember how the courthouse appeared and how it was associated with the Christmas season in Gratiot County. It was a memorable gift at a significant time in Ithaca and Gratiot County’s history.

Copyright 2019 James M Goodspeed

Gratiot County’s Finest Hour, November 1944: “Stay With It – This War Ain’t Over”

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Above – November 1944: Post-election news coverage – FDR gets 4th term; Private Ceo Bauer of Ithaca served his country and was wounded near Metz; bond sales lagged throughout the count in November 1944; Lake Shore Sugar Company ad to buy bonds.

      It was an election year in Gratiot County, and residents decided if Franklin Delano Roosevelt would serve an unprecedented fourth term as President of the United States. In the end, Gratiot elected Republican Thomas Dewey – and did so by over a two to one margin. It was the second election FDR lost in Gratiot County; however,  Roosevelt carried the nation decisively.

   Degrees of apathy and war-weariness went across Gratiot County when the government announced another loan drive. Some sales were quite weak in the county. Possibly people who thought the war would soon end did not have to buy more bonds?

      Citizens needed to contribute tin, paper, and even clothing – all for different acts of rationing and help for the war effort. Above all of this, more and more stories of men who were killed or wounded appeared in the news. Also, the number of prisoners of war in German and Japanese camps kept growing.

        It was November 1944.

The Draft, Letters to Home, In the Service

      During November, Michigan had over 1,000 men who were deemed “draft delinquents” (meaning that the draft board could not find them and the men would be immediately eligible for the draft).  Most of the reasons for these involved changes of address and the failure to inform draft boards about where these men could be located. Early in the month, the Gratiot County draft board urged men to come forward and correct the issues over their addresses. Most of the men in the group consisted of those in their mid to late 30s.

     Gratiot County gave generously of its sons for the war. Out in Riverdale, the community compiled a list of more than one hundred men who had entered the service so far. Two of the families, the Vallance and Langin families,  had at least five sons each in the service.

       Letters rolled into the county and appeared in the newspapers. Readers learned of the wishes and status of men and women who served the country in a time of war.

      In the Pacific, Corporal Rolland Miller wrote by candlelight to the Gratiot County Herald and asked why he had not seen a newspaper in over two months. He also wondered how people at home could forget about those fighting in the Pacific. Miller wrote, “Why do (people at home) think that they are working so hard not having time to write? What do they think we are doing, just spending a vacation on one of these tropical islands? I was through the battle of Palau Islands, and will gladly trade places with anyone.” Corporal Leland Thum of Ithaca also wrote that he was safe after the invasion of the Philippines. “I am where there is some civilization: it seems pretty good.” Private Ellsworth Tissue of Ithaca also wrote he too had arrived safely in the Philippine Islands. So had Robert Ode, a yeoman now on an LST Flotilla Eight. Ode watched the ships firing on the Philippine mainland in preparation for its invasion. Ode remarked that the first landings on the beaches went better than expected; however, Japanese airplanes targeted the beaches early in the mornings.  Sergeant Leo Morrison of Middleton arrived home on leave from New Guinea. He had been overseas for 34 months. Seaman John Boyd of St. Louis had been rescued at sea after his ship, the USS Abner Reed, sank while fighting the Japanese. He had not been home since July 4, 1943. Lieutenant James Alley of Alma served as a Navy chaplain in New Guinea. He had spent days in wet jungles, and he spent ten days in one foxhole while being bombarded by the Japanese artillery.

       Also out in Asia, Corporal Franklin Klein wrote home to Ithaca that he had received a newspaper, a crossword, and several letters. He wondered how the Blue Star Mothers were doing with getting a memorial built in Gratiot County.  Klein had just spent his second birthday in India. Nora Lewis of Ithaca also received a letter that her nephew, Corporal Clair Aldrich, wrote from “Somewhere in China” and had a slight cold. It was quite warm there, he and four other men lived in one tent.  Tom Horn II wrote to his parents in Ashley about service in India. Horn tried to teach his “barer” English, and the worker taught him Hindustani. Ten rupees a week proved to be an enormous income for those servants who helped Horn’s unit. Seeing a movie proved to be a big deal for Horn; men who had been in his part of India for 30 months found the entertainment a welcome relief. He missed eating fresh peaches and grew tired of eating CBI (corned beef indefinitely). He wrote, “Ma, can you send me some good old pickled herring and sandwich spread in my Christmas package?” William Kyes of Elwell received an appointment to Lieutenant Colonel in the 9th Bombardment Squadron. Kyes flew octane gas across “the Hump” to China. Corporal Robert Lobsinger of Alma kept his foxhole right next to his bed in the Netherlands East Indies. While the banana plantations were plentiful in his area, most of the fruit remained out of season, and the Japanese refused to stay away from attacking Lobsinger’s unit. They downed two Japanese airplanes in two nights.

       In Europe, Private Arthur Stead of Ithaca had been recommended for two Bronze Stars along with his unit, which had moved across Western Europe and was now in Holland. Stead lived in Ithaca for 25 years. Corporal Marion Howd of Wheeler was a member of the 94th Bomb Group and served as a flying control specialist, directing traffic on and off fields for bombing missions over Germany. Lieutenant George Townsend of Alma completed 63 missions over Europe in a B-26 Marauder. He received the Distinguished Flying  Cross for flying his Marauder over the English Channel on only one engine. Although he had to ditch the plane, all of his crew survived, and only one suffered injuries. An RAF unit rescued all of the crew.

      Rhinehart Burke of Alma wrote a long letter from Holland to his parents. Burke missed his church back home, and he observed how people dressed well as they headed to church services. While visiting an art store, Burke purchased a beautiful oil painting after finding a translator helped him to buy it. Burke also saw stark differences with the German villages he encountered: most suffered from bombings, and the German citizens looked sad and unfriendly. Sergeant Russell Larson of Ithaca and Private Robert Nelson of Emerson Township found each other while in Germany. The two friends learned of each other’s unit through letters from their parents, and the men met through a chance meeting. Russell served in the Medical Corps, while Nelson worked with Ordnance Evacuation Company. Sergeant Grant Marr served as a crewman on a B-17 bomber in England. His unit received recognition for maintaining aircraft that flew 60 missions without any mechanical problems.

      The war continued in places like Italy, where Corporal Leon Snyder served with the 53rd Signal Battalion on the Gothic Line. Snyder was in his 27th month overseas. Sergeant Elon Pratt came home on leave after 31 months in Alaska. His new station would be Belly Field, Texas. The Harrier Brothers, Ernest, and Norman, both had their pictures in the paper. Both men were still in a camp in the United States. Former Fulton Schools superintendent, Corporal Lloyd Eberly, helped soldiers at the Army Air Forces Convalescent Home in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Eberly left his job at Fulton and entered the service in August 1942. Lieutenant Don McMullen of Ithaca addressed the Rotary Club about his service in Australia and New Guinea. He served in the antiaircraft and was in charge of operating 10-millimeter guns to protect harbors and airfields. McMullen soon headed for Florida and reassignment for service during the war.

       Major A.J. Anthony, a former local pastor in the county, now sought assignment as an Army chaplain. The two Mallory boys, Galon and Horton, were in the news. Lieutenant Horton Mallory headed for Miami Beach, Florida, to re-enter the Army Air Force after having a 30 day leave in Elwell. He was given a break after completing 50 bombing missions in Italy and surrounding territories. Lieutenant Galon Mallory,  also headed back to the service following a break from his duties as a bombardier in Europe. Sergeant Wallace Moore returned to Middleton to visit his mother and wife following a year as a radioman. He had completed 64 missions.  Ferris Slates of Alma came home on November 12 after serving 35 months in the  South Pacific. Corporal Slates served in the chemical warfare service. Word came to Breckenridge that Staff Sergeant Earl Luneack arrived home for reassignment processing because he had completed a tour of duty in Europe. Luneack flew 34 missions as a B-17 gunner. Ensign Warren Williams of Alma also came home after serving eight months in the Panama Canal Zone. Williams headed to Miami, Florida, with his wife as he anticipated reassignment duties. Both Maynard and Merle Peacock from St. Louis had been home on passes to visit their families. Maynard would return to New York City to the Fleet Post Office; Merle headed back to Texas for training at Pampa Air Field. Elizabeth Hanover told her mother in Ithaca that she had been transferred to a Red Cross hospital in Norman, Oklahoma.


      The most challenging news for families in Gratiot County came with the status of service members. Often the stories proved to be grim, incomplete, and sudden.

       Private John Trefil of Fulton Township received the Purple Heart for injuries suffered in the invasion of France. Trefil continued to serve in Belgium and now in Germany. Claude Coleman of Breckenridge came home after his ship was torpedoed in the Pacific. He received the Purple Heart. Sergeant Ronald Motz of Ashley, a tank operator,  wounded near Brest, France, was sent to a hospital in England to recover from shrapnel wounds. He was expected to recover and then return to his unit. Private Ceo Bauer, Jr. of Ithaca was reported wounded near Metz. He wrote home that he had been evacuated by a C-47, had a comfortable ride to England, and Bauer tried to be upbeat by saying the wound meant he got an increase in pay of $10 a month. The family of  Robert Sherwood of Ithaca rejoiced to hear that their son, who had previously been listed as killed in action, had only been wounded. His name had been accidentally listed as KIA in the daily newspapers.

       Then came the names in the newspapers of those listed as “wounded.” Private Oscar Russell’s wife in Alma received notice that he had bee wounded September 20 in France. Other WIA included Marvin Bish and William Freeman of Alma. Lieutenant Kenneth Delong of Alma returned to a Naval hospital in Oakland, California. He was listed as “resting” after being involved in the action at Tarawa, Kwajalein, Bougainville, and other places. Sergeant Gord Purdy had serious wounds suffered on October 1 in Germany. Private Melvin Bass of St. Louis sustained wounds in France on October 21, and his family just received the word. Private Leland Perry, formerly of Alma, received the Purple Heart for injuries suffered in Italy on October 1. St. Louis boys, Harry Struble and Donald Good, both had been injured in France and Germany, respectively.

        The news about the deaths of Gratiot County men continued to shock families and loved ones. Sergeant Howard Mahin of Elwell died in action in Germany on October 18. Mahin had served in Africa, Sicily, Italy, England, France, and Germany. Marine Levi Clark of Alma was killed on Peleliu Island on September 16, and news arrived that he had been buried there in the United States Cemetery. Clark, a 1936 Alma High School graduate, left behind a wife and a seven-month-old son. Private Timothy Long, a former St. Louis resident, was killed while serving with General Patton’s Third Army. Long had also served in the Aleutian Islands and left for Europe in February 1944. The family of Private Stuart Brown held a memorial service at the Edgewood Church of God. He died on August 11 in France. Another memorial service took place at the Breckenridge Congregational Church for Private Jack Cooper on November 5. Many people attended the ceremony. Awards and decorations went to the families of Ronald Nesen and Kenneth Barton, both of whom had been killed in action earlier in 1944. News also came to Alma confirming that Sergeant Robert Wellman, who had been listed as missing in action, was killed March 9, 1944, over Berlin, Germany. In his last letter, Wellman told his sister that he had been on fifteen bombing missions over Germany. Francis Stockwell of Alma died on an island in the Pacific on October 6. Sergeant John Kapustka of Middleton had been missing since October 1943. Now, he was pronounced dead.  Private Sidney Lennox of Alma died in Italy on October 26. Lennox had only been overseas for six months and previously worked for the Alma Trailer Company. John Detwiler of St. Louis was killed somewhere in the Pacific. The family believed that he participated in the invasion of the Philippines. He had been in the service for three years.

       Many in Gratiot County dealt with the whereabouts of missing and captured prisoners of war. Sergeant Louis Baker had been missing over France since October 6, and he left for Europe just before D-Day. The Germans had captured private Irwin Morey of Wheeler. He had been listed as MIA, as was Ray Bartlett of St. Louis. Lois Barden of Ithaca traveled to Selfridge Air Force Base to receive an Air Medal in honor of her husband, Lieutenant John Barden, who was captured as a POW earlier in the spring. The War Department sent word that Corporal Tony Brzak moved from a POW camp in the Philippines to Osaka, Japan.  That was all that the Brzak Family in Ashley knew about the whereabouts of their son and brother. Corporal Nolan Lamey also had been a prisoner of the Japanese since May 1942. Lamey was from Ithaca and had been in the Philippines for about six months when captured. Sergeant Dean Button sent a letter home from Germany that he was a POW after being listed as MIA on a June 24 flight over the Ploesti oilfields in Romania. So too was Sergeant Edmund Moreno of Alma, who had been missing since July 7. Ten days later, the family found out that Moreno was a POW.

      To keep the memory of those POWs in the minds of Gratiot people, the Red Cross offered special forms at its Ithaca headquarters so that families could write to their loved ones in camps. The letters need to be mailed by November 30. A collection of Nazi weapons, flags, and other items came to the county courtesy of Captain Charles Hanover. Lieutenant Don McMullen also sent a Japanese rifle home, and the Red Cross included it in its POW display.

Bond and Loan Sales

      The Sixth War Loan campaign started in Gratiot County on November 20 and ran through December 16. The campaign set a goal of raising $1,103,00.00 for the county, which was $279,000 less than the Fifth War Loan campaign that took place in July. An organizational meeting took place at the Park Hotel in St. Louis for workers who would furnish a “Dutch treat” (buy your meal). Leaders hoped that fifty volunteers would show up for the meeting. Each township had a quota to try and reach for the campaign – Ithaca’s goal was $43,100, while Pine River’s target was $26,900.

      Michigan Chemical Corporation of St. Louis ran a sizeable ad encouraging everyone to purchase at least one $100 war bond. Still, sales of bonds were deemed slow, and the newspapers described the attitude of many in Gratiot County as being “apathetic” when it came to sales. Leonard Refineries gave out bonds to workers for its Suggestion Contest, a reward for workers who came up with ways to improve safety and production.  Individuals heard that “Now is the time to remember Pearl Harbor” and buy a bond. President Roosevelt asked citizens to “stick to the plow” and to help continue paying for the war effort. At least 125 store owners in the county closed their businesses for one hour and attended a meeting at the Strand Theatre in Alma to learn how to encourage patrons to buy a bond. On the first Monday of their “push” to sell more bonds, the businessmen referred to it as “G-Day” or “Go Gettum Day.”  Also, the Strand Theatre had a special movie on December 7 to commemorate Pearl Harbor and bond sales.  “Going My Way” with Bing Crosby appeared for a single showing that evening and the only way a person could see it would be to buy a $25 bond. More intensive canvassing of homes in St. Louis, Ithaca, and Alma took place at the end of the month when bond sales lagged.

       One loan drive that seemed to have more success in November involved the United War Fund drive, which reached $15,000, or 82 percent of its goal early in November. Within a week, Gratiot County went over its target and even had a small surplus. One of the key selling points of this drive dealt with supporting the USO, both stateside and overseas.

Farming in Gratiot County

      With the harvest of the fall crops, farmers faced calls to come and help in beet factories as there was a shortage of workers. By November 9, the beet harvest almost finished in the county and would be completed by the end of November.  Some workers made their way to the sugar factories in the county. However, more workers were needed. The Alma plant had an urgent request for at least sixty workers early in the month.  One evening in the Alma plant, Earl Gladding of Riverdale severely injured his left arm when he fell asleep and got it caught in some machinery. Gladding luckily only suffered severe lacerations. A fire broke out at the Alma sugar refinery when a Mexican fell asleep while smoking in bed. If not for prompt fire service, the building might have been destroyed. The damage was termed relatively light. Food processing plants in Gratiot County wanted workers whether they wanted a short term or an all-winter job. If more people did not come in for work, the country agricultural agent warned that children might have to be employed.

      The absence of workers on farms sometimes led farmers to sell their property due to a lack of help. Carl Soule put his farm up for auction outside of Crystal because his son had been called to the Army, and he had no help. He also sold six cattle, four horses, and his implements. Mrs. Lenore Conklin of Vickeryville also sold her farm, which had been in the Conklin family for 77 years. She also faced a shortage of help.

      Alma Production Credit Association held its annual meetings at the Strand Theatre. Farmers from Gratiot, Isabella, Clare, Montcalm, and Mecosta counties attended the program, which lasted a full day. Between 300 and 400 farmers and their wives regularly participated in the meetings.  Also, those farmers who wanted their AAA milk subsidy payments now had to get an application through the mail, then fill it out and return it. Payments soon would be mailed to county farmers.

      Milkweed pick up reached its conclusion in November. Several Ithaca High School boys helped out at the Ithaca fairgrounds with sacks of milkweed that came in from across Gratiot County. A total of 4,637 bags arrived by November 9, which amounted to enough milkweed to make 2,500 life jackets. Youth who brought in bags were paid 20 cents each for a bag, and many of them picked six bags an hour. The Gratiot County Herald stated, “This is pretty good pay, and the work is neither difficult nor hard.”


    Different items remained rationed in November. Calls went out for more contributions for a tin shipment to get a complete carload at the Gratiot County Salvage Office. People who had tin to contribute went to collection centers like Moblo Hardware in Riverdale and Lanshaw Hardware in Wheeler to drop off their items. From there, the tin would go to Alma. The Gratiot County Rationing Board issued 189 tire certificates – most of them went for grade one passenger tires. The Office Price Administration told people that there would not be an increase in gasoline rations for people traveling South for the winter. Only people with permanent changes in residence, or those who had to move due to job relocation, would be given an increase in gas.

       The item most in need of conservation and rationing turned out to be paper. Michigan held a statewide campaign to conserve bags, wrappings, and paper in the wake of the holiday season. People were asked to eliminate gift wrappings as much as possible for Christmas. On Armistice Day, the St. Louis Boy Scouts held their paper pick up in St. Louis, and they asked contributors to make sure and tie up their paper and cardboard. Ralph Paton headed the Boy Scouts drive. Ithaca Boy Scouts, under the direction of A.O. Ensign,  also held a pickup of paper,  along with rags and tin cans.

      Collections of household fats in Gratiot County ranked in the bottom of Michigan counties that month.  It had collected less than half of its 3,875 pounds of fats. Dr. Thomas Carney, chairman of the Gratiot County Council of Civilian Defense, requested county newspapers to publish the need for more household fats for the war effort. Every pound of waste fat could be turned in for two meat ration points and four cents. Alma Public Schools held a clothing collection for child war victims, known as “The Bundle Day.”  Shipments of clothing went from the United States for war relief agencies in countries like Sweden and the Middle East.

      Grocer and meat dealers from the county attended a meeting in Mt. Pleasant to meet with OPA leaders about the topic of inflation.  The OPA stressed the importance of food costs, the rise of inflation, and the impact on the family budget. In another announcement, the OPA said that restaurants could not charge more than fifteen percent beyond the cost of a Sunday dinner when serving turkey and trimmings for Thanksgiving.

And So We Do Not Forget

       A showcase at St. Louis High School had a Japanese flag, money, and pictures from the Pacific Theater. The items were loaned by the family of Ed Malik, a Marine and graduate of the Class of 1942…Traffic from M-46 to US-27 grew significantly in early November as deer hunters began their pilgrimages north for the opening of firearm season…St. Louis residents were called to meet at a special town meeting to be held on November 29 to discuss a proposed Community Center. Interest was reported to be very high in the project…The William Fields American Legion Post prepared to host its annual venison feed. The post supplied potatoes – successful Legion hunters brought the venison…More neon signs started to appear in St. Louis as businesses discussed ways to draw people to the downtown area…”Hangar Tales” was a regular column in the Gratiot County Herald. News about what was going on at the Ithaca Airport kept readers informed of happenings there. The airport pledged to try and operate with consideration to church services and funerals – if ownership knew ahead of time…Sanburn and Johnson prepared to open a Sinclair Station in December, opposite the Court House…Consumers Power Company reduced gas and electric bills in December by 75 percent as a result of an order from the State Public Service Commission. This reduction applied to heat, light, and refrigeration for all-electric and gas items…Ashley High School sponsored a carnival on November 21. The carnival hoped to raise funds for its athletic teams…Gratiot residents could request a free copy of “Simplified Spanish.” It intended to bring people from both the North and South Hemisphere closer together by learning the Spanish language…Two Breckenridge men paid fines for a Halloween incident involving the tipping over of outhouses in Breckenridge. The owner waited for culprits to turn over his privy, then shot the boy when trying to scare him. Both were arrested and fined…Ed, John and Alfred Zelinski of Perrinton brought back their limits of bucks. Ed’s weighed 200 pounds…American Legion posts and auxiliaries called upon people in Gratiot County to help provide gifts for wounded, sick and disabled men women in government hospitals…Six-year-old Gladys Bendall of Elm Hall was seriously injured when a horse kicked her in the face. The child was injured while chasing a horse up the pasture. Dr. Guinand treated her nine stitch wound…Ithaca leaders planned activities for a proposed V-Day celebration when the war in Europe ended. Both the Ithaca Ministerial Association and the Ithaca Chamber of Commerce had plans about when and where the services would take. The places for services depended on the time of day when the German surrender was announced…A.A. Sprague of Ithaca wrote a letter asking that the county not build the proposed veterans memorial. Instead, he suggested the county build a community building as a lasting memorial…Harry Bolyard of Middleton purchased a new building downtown for his Shady Nook store, complete with showers, bath, and restrooms for his workers…Michigan Chemical Corporation wanted farmers to come and work in St. Louis during the winter.

     Reverend Peter Varnoff, a Russian refugee, spoke to the Ithaca Baptist Church about conditions in the Soviet Union. He told the audience about the current open window for religious freedom that existed there and that it may soon close…Blue Star Mothers filled cookie jars for the sick and injured men at Fort Custer…the Gratiot County Chapter of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis reelected its officers, held its meeting at the Commerical Bank in St. Louis and said it had $1,674.02 in its balance…A county-wide TB clinic took place in Alma at the Stilwell junior high building…Gratiot County muskrat, coon, and mink trappers prepared for the opening day of the season on December 1. Because of the dry fall, it was uncertain what trappers would find in ponds and marshes in the county…Channing Pollock, a noted lecturer and author, opened the Town Hall Series, sponsored by Rotary Clubs in the county…Doctor and Mrs. McWilliams of Maple Rapids were honored for their service to the village. Doctor McWilliams, raised in Gratiot County, was a World War I veteran and the only doctor in Maple Rapids…A total of 32 students from the county were currently enrolled at Michigan State College in Lansing…The city of Alma prepared to crack down on reckless bicyclists who were a menance to the public… Four Breckenridge gas stations had been targets of robberies. More than $100 was missing…Adult Education was the topic in Alma as discussions took place about creating a program for people in Alma. A speaker from the State Department of Public Instruction was present to speak at the Alma High School auditorium about the topic…The Alma Church Federation prepared for its annual Thanksgiving Service at the Alma Baptist Church…James Mertens, age 14 from Alma was killed another boy’s gun accidentally discharged. Mertens was pretending to be a dog and scared up the game on the Fitzgerald farm when the incident occurred…Ashley High School put on a play entitled “Everything Happens to Us.” The group had practiced for six weeks, and it showed as the play was deemed by viewers to be the best Ashley students had ever performed…The American Legion in Alma prepared to hold the Armistice Day program at the high school…Two Alma men, Lester Wood and Red Greenbough, claimed that they saw an albino buck inside the city limits on Bridge Street. They followed the deer early one morning until it disappeared in a swamp near Mid-West Refinery…Robert Haenke of Saginaw paid a fine of $33.85 for shooting a hen pheasant in Arcada Township…A Halloween prank north of Elwell resulted when a car ran over a set of stones placed in the road by pranksters. The stones, more than one foot in diameter, left drivers “severely jolted” and huge dents in the pan of the car…A record attendance took place at the Alma city Halloween party. A crowd of 1,011 came for a costume contest, cider, and doughnuts.

        And that was Gratiot County’s Finest Hour during November 1944.

Copyright 2019 James M Goodspeed


Gratiot County’s Finest Hour, October 1944: “Harvest Season During War Time”


Above,  from October 1944 Gratiot County newspapers: “Pipe Dream” from Alma Record and Alma Journal; Lt. Vern Salden paid the ultimate sacrifice for service to the county and the nation; Community War Fund advertisement; hunting season in the county; help was needed at the Lake Shore Sugar Company; Halloween and Coca-Cola.

         The harvest season in Gratiot County during October 1944 was a good one. Although parts of Michigan suffered from a severe drought during the summer, Gratiot County seemed to get the rain when it counted most. As a result, a bumper load of crops was coming in. However, it was hard to find enough farm help to get the crops harvested in a timely fashion as there was not enough farm labor. Some area farmers relied on  Mexican workers and also from a new source – German Prisoners of War.

        Over-optimism continued to run through Gratiot County about the state of the war, even though some residents started to understand that it would not end in 1944. Fighting remained particularly difficult in the South Pacific, even though the United States made progress. News from Europe remained positive that the Allies were making progress against Hitler, but things there could change. By late October 1944, it was estimated that 2,225 men and women left Gratiot County for service during the war,  and at least 50 had not come back alive.

        Gratiot County also continued to bear down on rationing as some items that had been readily available during the summer were now being rationed more tightly.  It was harvest season in Gratiot County.

Rationing Must Continue

      As Gratiot County went through October 1944, rationing continued to be an essential part of life. Shortages of individual items continued even though it was harvest season.

    The St. Louis Co-op Creamery placed a large advertisement in the Gratiot County Herald telling customers that the current butter shortages meant that not everyone who wanted the creamery’s butter could obtain it. Stockpiles of butter in the nation fell to the lowest levels in almost thirty years, causing people to have to rely on daily production of butter for months to come. It was estimated that October 1944 production was about ten percent lower than 1943 and that the process of separating butterfat from butter for the war effort was the main reason for the decline. At the start of October, butter reached its all-time high of twenty rationing points.  To calm the public, the OPA announced that it did not think that it would ration coffee because it had a four-month stockpile.

      Gratiot County residents continued to contribute items such as tin and paper for rationing drives. The War Production Board said the shortage of both items was critical. A few large paper manufacturers in the country stated that they were down to one day’s supply of paper to operate. On October 7, Ralph Paton announced that Boy Scout Troops Numbers 103, 109, and 112 would pick up the paper in St. Louis as long as people tied the paper into bundles and left it on the curb. The WPA also called on homemakers to save all tin cans that they had available. In Alma Schools, students were organized by grade level to help collect paper.  In Alma on October 24, another tin and paper drive took place. In Alma Schools, students were organized by grade level to help pick up tin. Junior high students went door to door a weekend ahead of time, encouraging people to prepare for the drive. When the day arrived for the pickup, senior high students arrived in trucks to pick up the donations, with each truck having a teacher in charge. Another tin pick up took place in St. Louis on November 6.

      One place in Alma that people could send their tin was the railroad siding where a railroad car accepted the donations. Other sites in the county where tin could be left included Sumner Hoxie Store in Elwell, Dodge Hardware in Middleton, Mike Sheridan’s barn in Perrinton, and Lanshaw Hardware in Wheeler. In Alma, the Office of Civilian Defense in the city hall basement answered questions about donations. City hall also had a display in its window on East Superior Street, which showed how war materials could be made from paper products.

      The entire scrap drive that October proved to be very successful. Alma students brought in approximately one half-ton of paper and 3,500 pounds of tin. A total of eight trucks in Alma brought in the items to the drop off location. The Fulton school also brought in a truckload of paper and tin, which C.M. Dodge hauled in from Middleton.

Tires also had to be rationed, even after three years of war. Twenty-three tire inspection stations in Gratiot County, each approved by the Office of Price Administration, had been announced in late September. Some specialized in auto tires, others dealt with truck tires. King’s Service Center and Bottom Brothers Oil Company in St. Louis were added to the list, as was Montgomery Ward Company in Alma. At one meeting, the Gratiot County Rationing Board approved the purchase of 175 tires and tubes. Most of them were classified as grade 1 tires, and the others were for small trucks and small implement tires.

Foods and other items were also in the news. Rationing boards could no longer accept applications for more canning sugar and families had to make their sugar coupons last until at least February 1, 1945. An easy way to store vegetables through the winter would be to consider bulk storage. A sketch of how to create a bulk storage unit for backyards appeared in the Gratiot County Herald.

       Those who collected and brought in grease drippings received two meat ration points and four cents. The OPA also announced that it wanted to see the return of two pants suits to a household in order to economize clothes. Also, a new shoe stamp would be available on November 1 and people had to get by with no more than two pairs of shoes each year. Homemakers also were asked to carefully consider how to mend, knit, and design new clothes for their families – all for the war effort.

Farming in Gratiot County

     Excellent weather and only light frosts helped the October harvest. While these conditions remained optimal farmers had to get their crops in to help with the war effort.

        The sugar beet harvest appeared to be the most newsworthy. Getting farmers to grow sugar beets had always been a goal from the government. Any sugar producer who worked on his farm for more than six months of the year received ration free sugar for home use, according to the Office of Price Administration. Sugar beet plants in Alma and St. Louis pleaded for help from farmers who completed their work in the fields. Beets appeared to be yielding more per acre in the county, and even more beets from fields near Lansing arrived at sugar beet plants in Gratiot County for processing. As the beets rolled into Alma and St. Louis, the plants begged people to work for them. Women too were asked to come, fill out an application, and work in the yards.

      Other ways of getting farm labor during October included Mexican workers. While many worked in the county and performed necessary labor,   news coverage sometimes was not favorable concerning them. Nine laborers were held in the Gratiot County jail in October because they did not have proof that they crossed legally into the United States from Mexico. Some of these men admitted that they paid $100 for illegal passports, while others confessed that they got into the United States by swimming across a river. Twelve investigators from the United States Immigration and Naturalization  Service spent three days checking beet workers in Gratiot County, and they had a big station truck in Ithaca ready to deport the illegal workers to Detroit, and then back to Mexico.

     However, the most significant help in the sugar factories came with the arrival of German Prisoners of War from Camp Freeland. Manager John Kelly of the St. Louis plant soon told the newspapers that the company contracted with the government to bring in German POWs. Busloads of POWs arrived at the Alma plant and provided labor for three shifts each day. After each shift, a bus returned to Camp Freeland, while another bus arrived to provide more POWs for the next shift in Alma.

      In other farm news, the students from Paul Andrews’ class at Perrinton helped to construct a new farm shop. Made of cinder block and measuring 40 x 60 feet, the building was intended to be used by farmers in the community to repair their machinery. Perrinton students asked for farm help to come and help put the building up at the end of the month. Rationing of farm equipment came to an end, except for corn pickers. Now farmers no longer needed a certificate to obtain machinery. The OPA also announced that it would release another 30 percent of tractor gasoline stamps to farmers who had not yet received them. Michigan State College offered tractor maintenance classes for one 4-H member from each county in the state with Standard Oil providing the funding for the program. The Agricultural Conservation Program sent committee members out to area farms to check on how farmers performed. Members went door to door to ask farmers about how much fertilizer they applied, if they plowed under sweet clover, or if they did any tiling in 1944.

      One of the more interesting side notes with farming in October 1944 had to deal with hunting, specifically hunting pheasants. Pheasant season in 1943 had been a bumper year for hunters in the county, and 1944 was expected to be just as good. If a hunter did not get his limit of two pheasants on opening day, he usually did the next time he was out in the field. The biggest challenge for hunters dealt with the lack of ammunition. Those dealers who had ammunition for sale only sold 10 to 15 shells at a time, and sometimes only one box to a hunter. Almost all of the shells for sale tended to be for 12 gauge shotguns;  no dealer in the county had enough to keep up with demands. Still, the anticipation for hunting proved to be so high that Ithaca schools did not have class on the first Monday in the season. Hunting on Sunday proved to be an issue for many folks, and some counties in Michigan even banned it. This did not stop people like Doctor Harvey Thompson of Ithaca who closed his practice in November to go hunting.

        Then there was the issue of the bad behavior of some hunters. Many complaints came from farmers on opening day concerning road hunting and trespassing on a property without permission. Frequently, bands of hunters, sometimes as many as nine in a group, strung out across fields in an attempt to hunt any birds in an area. At the time, only two hunting clubs existed in Gratiot County, and both existed in New Haven Township in the Culy and Sethton school districts.  Sometimes hunting accidents occurred, such as when a gun discharged, or when a young hunter shot another friend. In one case, a husband in east Gratiot County shot his wife as he chased a downed pheasant into the brush. When the husband dropped his gun, the gun went off accidentally, wounding his wife.

       During and after the season, groups sometimes held pheasant dinners. The William Fields American Legion Post held one, as did the Pine River Community Farm Bureau, which fed 35 members and guests on a Friday night. The Ithaca FFA chapter held a “pheasant feed,” along with help from the home economics club. Hunting captains, Richard Moomey and Jack Martin, headed two teams of fifteen hunters, each made sure that their group brought enough birds, rabbits, and squirrels to feed everyone. The team that brought in the least amount of game got to do the clean up afterward.

The Red Cross Continues Its Work

      A new Red Cross home service office opened in Ithaca inside the Cities Service Building. Miss Elizabeth Hunter, the Michigan field representative for the Red Cross, came to Ithaca for three days to see the facilities, which sat opposite the courthouse. For part of their work that month, the Ithaca Red Cross helped the young wife of a serviceman to find a home in the area. Blue Star Mothers also used the Ithaca office to pack 54 Christmas boxes, with a plan to pack another 24 to ship overseas.  Russell Gaffney sent a letter to the Ithaca Red Cross from New Guinea. Gaffney appreciated and praised the work of the Red Cross, where he was stationed. On a side note, the Ithaca Red Cross looked for a hard coal heating stove and wondered if anyone could donate one.

       Over in St. Louis, the chapter there completed its assignment of 12 convalescent robes, 36 bedpan covers, 36 bedside bags, and 23 hot water bag covers. They were also at work on 25 hospital bed shirts and 25 pairs of pajamas. Mrs. Fred Bennett and Mrs. Dines both cut 22-bed shirts themselves.

     A Prisoner of War display continued to make its rounds through the southern part of the county through the support of the Red Cross. The display told people what kinds of gifts could be mailed to POWs, such  underclothes, pajamas, socks, shoes, and toiletries.

Drives, Loans, Bonds

      The United War Fund Campaign started in early October with the theme “Be Ready and Dig Deep.” The county needed to raise its quota of $18,407. Organizations like Neighborhood War Clubs and the Boy Scouts prepared to go door to door to ask for support. In Alma, approximately 100 women there from its Neighborhood War Club lead that drive.  Lobdell Emery Company gave $1,000 to start, and Alma Trailer Company donated another $350. By the end of the month, St. Louis was struggling to raise its quota of $2750. Alma also was short of its $5750 goal.  In spite of this, groups like the Boy Scouts and the Elks Club continued to raise needed funds to support the work of USO entertainment units, which was a goal of the United War Fund Campaign.

The Draft

      Questionnaires went out to all 2-C registrants in the county. These men faced the expiration of their six-month classification, and after the harvest took place some men would not be as needed for farm work.

       A group of over 50 Gratiot men left from Alma on October 4 was inducted into the Army and Navy. Army inductees headed for Fort Sheridan, Illinois; Navy men went to the Sherman Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, for induction. Most of these men had taken their physicals back in March and now made up the most recent group of men to leave Gratiot County in many weeks. Robert Kent of Ashley, Paul Lehmkuhle of St. Louis, and Robert Blanck of Alma comprised a few of the men who left.

        Alma College planned a November 1 service to recognize 85 graduating seniors who left for the Navy or who had other assignments to complete their V-12 Service Program.  On Friday, October 27 Navy Day in Michigan took place. Governor Frank Kelly urged that all residents recognize the importance of the role of the United States Navy in defending the state and country.

In the Service

       Many names of men and women in the service of Gratiot County continued to appear in local newspapers. One of the October stories centered around the family of Mary Scramlin of Riverdale who had nine grandsons in the service.  The village of Bannister could also say that they sent several sons off to war. In the Gratiot County Herald,  Dale, Robert, and Ernest Boog had left. Robert and Ernest served in Italy in the Army; Dale was in the Navy Air Corps at Whidbey Island, Washington.

       Sergeant Earl Troub of Middleton had been in England for several months and now was in France. Troub sent home a box of linen handkerchiefs to his mother. Private Fred Hicks of St. Louis was in the 82nd Airborne and saw action in Holland, specifically at Nijmegen. The three Vanecek brothers from Ashley all served overseas: Emil in England, Charles in India, and Frank in Africa. Private Robert Gallant of Ithaca, a former star fullback on the football team, was a sheet metal mechanic who repaired airplanes in England. Gallant spent time training with other star high school, college, and professional athletes at an Aircraft Repair Depot somewhere in England. The athletes tried to introduce football to Englanders. Sergeant Mike Simonovic of St. Louis served with the 772nd Tank Destroyer Battalion. Private Clifford Gault, also of St. Louis, was an ordnance soldier in England who waterproofed armored vehicles, tanks, and jeeps. Sergeant Maynard Brewer got word home to St. Louis that he had spent several weeks in a hospital in Africa due to contracting malaria. However, Brewer now was up and moving around. Sergeant Melvin Smith of Alma was with the 60th Troop Carrier Group in the Mediterranean and helped drop supplies to partisans in Yugoslavia, as well as evacuating wounded fighters.

      Stewart Coleman and Clifford Peet enjoyed a short leave at their homes. Coleman spent 18 months on submarine duty in the Pacific; Peet did the same in the Atlantic on LST duty. Private John Chvojka entered the Marines and was stationed in San Diego, California. Chvojka eventually paid the ultimate sacrifice when he died in 1945 in the Pacific. Sergeant Leroy Dancer left Wheeler after a fifteen-day visit for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Dancer had previously spent four months as an instructor at Camp Hood, Texas. Kenneth Harrier of St. Louis, a member of the Merchant Marines, came home from New York City on a three-week leave. Harrier had escorted ships across the Atlantic to England. Marvin Cole of Middleton, also a Merchant Marine, came home from being stationed in England, Ireland, and Scotland. Cole had many stories to tell about Hitler’s robot bombs. Cadet Calvin Haskett came back to convalesce after developing a heart condition during high altitude flight training in Tucson, Arizona. He would recover.  Sergeant James Hercik of Alma prepared to return to Fairbanks, Alaska, after an 18 day leave.

       Out in the Pacific, Allie and Lyle Inbody met in New Guinea. Allie operated cranes as a Seabee, and Lyle had been aboard ships going from California to New Guinea. Lyle Inbody initiated the meeting by surprising his brother in the chow line one Sunday. The two brothers spent a weekend on Lyle’s ship. Marine David Swigart of Alma completed his training and awaited deployment after enlisting in June. Norman Hearn, a Pharmacist Mate 2/C, hoped to be home for Christmas. Hearn was in the Hebrides Islands.

      Women from Gratiot County did their part. Private Thelma Whitcraft from Alma served in the Army Corps as a photographer. Eloise Harrier of St. Louis joined the WACS and prepared to be inducted while in Detroit. Harrier was the last of four children in her family to enter the military.

Letters to Home

      Ernest and Bob Boog of Ashley wrote to their parents that the two brothers found each other in a camp in Italy in mid-July. They had been near each other in North Africa and now were in Italy; they just had not been able to meet. The meeting took place when Bob walked into his brother’s camp.  Gayle Stellow wrote to his parents about fighting on Palau, which he said: “was no picnic.” Stellow sent home some Japanese souvenirs: paper money, writing paper, a pen, and ink. Although pinned down several times by Japanese snipers, Stellow had never been hit. He wrote that Guadalcanal had been tough, but the fighting on Palau was worse because the Japanese fought to the death from their caves. Sergeant Harlan Stahl had letters and correspondence sent home through an English family that he befriended. The two families then exchanged news while the Englanders described the “doodlebug” bombings taking place. Major Forest Acton wrote to his mother that while living in tents in France during the summertime was okay, it was beginning to get too cold to stay in them at night. Acton had already seen Paris. He wrote, “The war looks very good for us now. We are all hoping very much that we get this thing over with and are on our way home by spring.” Private Sonny Stewart sent a letter home to his parents in Ithaca describing what he had witnessed at sea: a whale, a shark, and flying fish. His ship had a PX on board, and the food was cheap. Candy bars only cost two cents each. Sergeant John Hoyt had visited Rome, the Vatican, and other sites. He had also been to Monte Cassino and could not believe how the bombings had turned it into “rubbish.” Although 14 stories high, the monastery now did not have a single block left standing. The attack and shelling of the monastery had been a result of rooting the Germans out of their high ground positions which they refused to give up.

Those Wounded in Action, Killed in Action, Missing in Action, Prisoners of War

       Area residents learned about those who were wounded in action through newspaper accounts. Private Robert Rich, whose parents formerly lived in St. Louis, lost his left arm in Italy.  His wife lived in a trailer home with their two children in St. Louis. A nurse wrote Rich’s first letter home to his wife as he was right-handed. Private Richard Fishbeck suffered a clean wound to his left foot while fighting in Germany. He was hospitalized and expected a good recovery. Sergeant Ed Yankie of Breckenridge suffered wounds while on duty at Anguar Island. Yankie was serving with the 81st Division.  In mid-October, news that Private George Erickson, Sergeant Donald McDonald, and Private Jesse Hanford had all been wounded in the South Pacific.  Without details, other names also came to Gratiot County that they had suffered injuries. These men included Corporal Albert Edgar (Breckenridge), Corporal JC Wheeler (Ithaca), Dan Campbell (Bannister), and Private Leland Perry (Alma). Private Watson of Alma was in the Marines and had been wounded. His family did not know details about his injuries. Corporal Eugene Randall of Breckenridge made it home after suffering chest wounds in July. Randall faced another surgery because of his condition. Sergeant Gordon Purdy of Alma was seriously wounded on October 1, just after receiving an increase in rank. Purdy saw action in Luxembourg and Belgium and he graduated from Alma High School. Private Leroy Shaver sent a letter to a friend in St. Louis indicating that he had been wounded in southern France, but he was getting proper medical attention. Private Merton Peacock was recovering after being injured in France on August 8. Peacock had been in several English hospitals, but he was improving. Sergeant Mike Moste of Breckenridge had been in Africa and Sicily and was recently wounded. Private William Lippert of Alma was seriously wounded in action in Italy on September 19. He served with the quartermaster supply company.

      Those who paid the ultimate price in the war made up the grimmest news and made up the lists in county newspapers. The Gratiot County Herald ran the names of 49 men from the county who died in service to the country as of October 26. The list continued to grow.

       The story of Lieutenant Vern Salden, who was with the 9th Air Force, made the headlines. He had completed 58 missions in Europe when he was killed over France on October 5. He was an Ithaca High School graduate, and his last letters home came in late September and early October. Salden was only 24 years old. Private Gerald Bradley of Elm Hall  who had been listed as missing in action, now was stated as killed in action on September 23.  Bradley saw action on the Anzio Beachhead. Private Jack Cooper’s memorial service appeared in the news. The 19-year-old was from Vestaburg, and his services took place in Riverdale. He became the fourth Richland Township boy to die from Montcalm County. The Elwell Methodist Church was the site of the memorial service for 21-year-old Earl Langworthy, who was wounded on July 18 in France and died one week later. Langworthy had been in Europe for about two months when he died in a hospital in England. The family of Lieutenant Kenneth Barton of Breckenridge traveled to Selfridge Air Force Base to receive Barton’s Air Medal and Oak Leaf Cluster award. Barton died over England on May 23, 1944.

       There continued to be a list of those Missing in Action. At least 16 men were missing as of November 1944. Private Anson Foster of St. Louis was missing since September 15 in France. Sergeant Edgar Walter, a tail gunner in the Army Air Force, was missing since September 11 over Germany. Walter was from Ashley. A day later, September 12, Sergeant Nolan Howe also was missing over Germany. Private Irwin Morey of Wheeler had been missing in France since almost the same time as Walter and Howe. Lieutenant R.N. Perry, whose mother lived in Middleton, was listed as missing in action after a flying mission between India and China.  President and Madame Chaing Kai-Shek of China cited Perry’s air wing for its role in the war.

       News and updates about Prisoners of War, primarily in Nazi Germany, also appeared in the news. Sixteen names now were listed in newspapers. Sergeant Benny Zamarron of Ashley sent a letter home to his parents. He had been a prisoner since May 8, 1944, and was uninjured after landing as a result of a mid-air crash. Zamarron claimed that he was in good health, and he was not even scratched when he landed. He requested that his family send him packages as well as the latest news. Some of the other POW names included: Tony Brzak, Dean Button, John L. Barden, Marshall Mockridge, Gale Ludwick and others. Private Ivan Monroe of Bethany Township was captured in France on August 11 and then escaped the German captors only a few days later. Monroe’s mother received the good news of her son’s escape precisely two months later on October 11.

And So We Do Not Forget

       Collection for the county-wide Milkweed drive was to take place November 2 at the 4-H Building on the Ithaca Fairgrounds. Children were told to bring only dry bags of pods for pickup. Washington District Number 4 at Bridgeville stated that “The collection of milkweed pods (here) was very satisfactory.”…Professor Robert Clack from Alma College gave a presentation to the St. Louis Lions Club. Clack, who had lived in China, believed that the Chinese would be able to hold Japan until the Allies arrived… According to the OWI, an estimated 500,000 workers were expected to change jobs after V-Day in Europe took place. However, jobs should be good for at least six months after the war ended…Reverend and Mrs. B.C. Avery and their daughter arrived in Ithaca and were installed as pastors at the Ithaca Church of God…Ithaca Blue Star Mothers Chapter Number 111 met at the Thompson Home Library. They were responsible for sending 126 Christmas boxes to men and women overseas…An unidentified World War I veteran wrote a letter to the Gratiot County Herald. He asked that instead of a memorial being built to current servicemen and women, the county should build a “living war memorial” for the entire public to use, such as an auditorium or recreation building…St. Louis had an honor roll installed in the window of Young’s Department Store. It was hoped that the framed honor roll would be displayed in the city hall after the war ended…With the shift to Central War Time, the Ithaca Post Office announced that all mail would leave for rural routes at 8:00 am slow time for delivery…The Alma Blue Star Mothers announced they had nearly reached their funding goal for the Gratiot County War Memorial…A severe shortage of teachers for Michigan colleges continued to go on despite an increase of yearly salary to $1,525  for those teaching in public schools. This was a raise from $1,200 in 1941.

       The Detroit Tigers played for the American League pennant and Tigers fans listened on their radios in homes across Gratiot County…University of Michigan football fans lamented the Wolverines’ loss to Indiana, which took place in Ann Arbor…Willard Davis of Alma invited people to see his Victory Garden on North Grove Avenue. Davis created a Victory Garden during World War I…Alma prepared for its Halloween Festival and costume judging would take place on Woodworth Avenue, between Superior and Downie streets, for those above the sixth grade…Miss Maurine Stovall of Alma won an award at the Professional Photographers Association of America convention in Cleveland, Ohio. “Bombardier,” a

photograph of the likeness of Lieutenant Wesley Hathaway of Alma, would be part of a traveling loan exhibit that would travel across the United States. Stovall was the owner of the Stovall Studio and Camera Shop…A frozen food locker plant received a permit to open in the basement of the Harris Milling Building on East Superior Street in Alma…Central Michigan Aviation, Incorporated acquired a lease for the Alma Airport. Clare Warren and Ray Joynt headed the company…The patching of state Trunkline between M57 and US27 was completed, however, the stone did not arrive in time for application for the non-skid surface…The supply of absentee voter ballots for Gratiot County voters for the November 7  presidential election was nearly exhausted, even though the number of ballots that had been made increased fifteen percent from the last election…and George Schleder was elected Chairman of the Emerson Farm Bureau Group at the Beebe Hall in Beebe. Eighty members belonged to the group.

And that was October 1944 during Gratiot County’s Finest Hour.

Copyright October 2019 James M Goodspeed