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Janet and Reuben Dettmann: from coloring books to Sears and Montgomery Ward

By LeAnn R. Ralph

GLENWOOD CITY  —  Janet Dettmann says coloring books were always part of Christmas when she was a child.

Reuben Dettmann says he remembers that his mother ordered toys from the Sears catalog or Montgomery Ward catalog.

Except for one year.

Well, Reuben’s mother sent in the order for Christmas.

Unfortunately, the items did not arrive in time.

“My mom always ordered toys and stuff from Sears or Wards, and one year, it didn’t get there for Christmas. Wasn’t much you could do about it. We must have gotten them later,” Reuben said, adding that he mostly remembers being disappointed.

“Santa Claus must have made a wrong turn,” Janet said.

The Dettmanns live on a farm two miles west of Connorsville.

They have two sons and three daughters, and all of their children went to school in Glenwood City.

“My mother couldn’t walk for ten or 12 years. Must have been a miracle, because she started walking. But that’s why she always ordered out of the catalog,” Reuben said.

“I grew up during the Depression years. Things are not like they are now,” Janet said.

“I try to think back about what I got for Christmas, but I know I always got a coloring book and a new box of colors. At the school programs, we got a bag of treats. At the church programs, we got a bag of treats. That took care of the treats. Otherwise it was necessity — if we needed a pair of mittens or a scarf. But there wasn’t a lot of gifts,” she said.

Janet remembers Christmas shopping in Glenwood City for her own children.

“We’d always go down to Steffens to get the Christmas presents for our kids. Steffens Our Own Hardware. That was the place in those days,” Janet said.

“You didn’t travel. You didn’t go to Menomonie or the Cities. That was too big of a trip. We came to town and bought what we wanted. When your kids are little, it’s hard to drive so far for shopping,” she said.

Not to mention that at this time of year, the roads might not always be in very good shape, Janet added.


Reuben remembers bananas as a special treat at Christmas.

“That was the only time we had bananas was at Christmas,” he said.

Reuben also remembers skis and sleds and nuts and candy.

“The salted nuts were the best. I liked the salted ones,” he said.

“My mother always made popcorn balls. That was part of our Christmas,” Janet said.

“And I remember the bubble lights on the Christmas trees. They were fun. And we always made ice cream at Christmas. We had an ice cream freezer,” she said.

“It was the one special time we could go out and take the cream off the top of the milk and make ice cream. You couldn’t (take cream) too often (because it would reduce the butterfat) and you wouldn’t get your money out of the milk,” she said.

“I remember one year I got a doll. My folks were in the barn milking, so I started snooping around and found it ahead of time. I’m sure it wasn’t a big surprise when it came time to open gifts. My mother would take my doll over to Grandma and she would make clothes for it,” Janet said.

Another Christmas memory centers on Janet and Reuben’s very first Christmas together.

“I remember the year we got married, Reuben went out and got us a Christmas tree. It was a poor excuse for a Christmas tree. He got the tree out of the ditch. It didn’t hardly have any branches on it. (I tried) to hang ornaments on it to cover it up,” Janet said.

Reuben laughed. “We didn’t have money in those days to buy a Christmas tree.”

“If the roads were passable, we’d go visit relatives at Christmas. I had an aunt and an uncle living right next to us. If we couldn’t drive, we’d walk to their house. The folks would play cards, and the kids would play,” Janet said.

Country school

Janet and Reuben both grew up in the Town of Forest — Janet on the north side of the township, and Reuben on the south side.

And both attended country schools when they were growing up.

Janet had two brothers. Her older brother was five years older, and her younger brother was seven years younger.

Reuben had two brothers and two sisters.

“I remember being in the school programs, but I don’t remember much about the programs. We’d put a wire up and a curtain, and we’d have a theater,” Janet said.

“I had the same teacher for seven years. I had a different teacher for first grade, but the rest of the years, I had the same teacher. And I think it was always her husband who played Santa Claus. Our teacher was Mrs. Joe Holmes from Clear Lake. I think that’s how I got transferred to Clear Lake when the schools were integrated. I went to high school in Clear Lake. I graduated in ‘53,” she said.

Janet lived a quarter of a mile from school, but she says there were kids who walked over two miles. Reuben had farther to go and walked two-and-quarter miles to school.

Janet and Reuben noted that the country schools generally were two miles apart so the kids did not have to walk much more than two miles to get to school.

“Our mother would wrap us up in scarves so that just our eyes were showing. That old northwest wind was strong sometimes. And the roads weren’t plowed out like they are now, ” Janet said.

“A lot of times, the Caterpillar had to come because nothing else could get through. And the milk trucks with snow plows. They ruined their trucks with those snow plows,” Reuben said.

Snow and cold

Janet and Reuben said that years ago, winters seemed to be colder and that there was more snow.

“We had to walk two-and-a-quarter miles to Camp 14 (school). Sometimes Roy McCarthy’s brother Donald hauled milk, and he would pick us up and give us a ride to school. You could do that then. Nowadays you wouldn’t dare do that,” Reuben said.

“Sometimes we got so cold, we would stop at Janet’s grandparents, John Graese, to warm up,” he said.

“In those days, too, the cars didn’t start the way they do now. You probably had to crank them,” he said.

“When we had milk cans to take to the creamery, my dad would haul them. And then we’d ride on the sled down to the school, and he would drop us off. Then we didn’t have to walk,” Janet said.

“That was special when we didn’t have to walk to school,” she said.

“In those days, (Highway) 64 [at 128, Janet said], there’s a house there now, and that’s where the school was. Back then, 64 didn’t go where it is now. It didn’t go east at Camp 14, it went north one mile and then east,” Reuben said.

“There used to be two curves. There were two big curves, and 64 didn’t go straight. But that was a long time ago. I’m sure a lot of people don’t remember that anymore now,”  he said.

“My mother went to the school that (Reuben) did. They had a railroad track going through their pasture, and the kids would walk the railroad track to school,” Janet said.

Reuben said he does not remember much about his school Christmas programs, but he does remember that one person would play the accordion and another would play the banjo.

“Those were the good old days,” he said with a laugh.

“You knew your neighbors back then. The kids went to the same school, and the parents went to the PTA meetings. Christmas get togethers and picnics. So you knew all your neighbors. Now you don’t know the one that lives next door to you,” Janet said.

Christmas Eve

Christmas programs at church also were a big part of Christmas when Janet and Reuben were growing up.

“We’d always have church programs. And when we’d get ready to go to the church programs, it was always on Christmas Eve. And that’s when Santa Claus would come. So when we all got in the car to go to church, my mother would be poking around, and she wouldn’t get out to the car,” Janet said.

“Well. She was putting the presents under the tree, but we couldn’t figure out what was taking her so long. Then when we came home from church on Christmas Eve is when we’d open our gifts,” she said.

“The church program was always quite the thing. You’d go up and stand and repeat your verse, or whatever saying you had to memorize,” Janet said.

“We always sang ‘Away in the Manger.’ That was always the big group song,” she said.

The church was a mile and a half from where Janet grew up — Immanuel Lutheran Church in Forest.

Reuben also attended church at Immanuel Lutheran and at Trinity Lutheran in Glenwood City.

He says he does not remember much about the Christmas programs, other than that they would all get a bag of treats.

“Church was a big thing for us. But back then, it was the only place you could mingle with people. It was our way of knowing people, that and the school, a way of getting together with our neighbors,” Janet said.

Other music

For many years, playing music professionally was a big part of Reuben Dettmann’s life.

“I played in a polka band for 30 years or more. We played all over. That was fun. It would be late at night sometimes, and you’d have to come home and try to milk,” Reuben said.

“You played in the band, and I had Bible studies at Glenhaven for 30 years,” Janet said.

“The last one was Bill’s Polka Band. The first one was the Badger Hotshots. We played at the 400 Club and the Gray Goose. The 400 Club was on Highway 12 where Rassbach’s Furniture is. It was a nightclub. Frankie Yankovic played there a few times. The Gray Goose was in Hersey. Whoopee John. The Six Fat Dutchmen. All the main bands would play there,” Reuben said.

For Christmases today, the Dettmanns go to the home of one of their sons.

All together, they have 11 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and several step-grandchildren.

Two of their children live in the Twin Cities. The other children live in Menomonie, River Falls, and the state of Arkansas.