By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Dr. David Frogner and his wife, Ethel (known to her friends and loved ones as “Eckie”), came from completely different backgrounds.
Dr. Frogner grew up in Colfax.
Mrs. Frogner grew up on a farm in Cooks Valley.
Both of them, however, graduated from Colfax High School.
They celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary August 21.
And although Dr. Frogner, who practiced dentistry in Colfax for 34 years, has an excellent memory and many stories about Colfax, he says he does not have many specific Christmas memories.
Mrs. Frogner says she was an “outdoor” person who helped with chores on the farm when she was growing up and had very little to do with Christmas.
“I don’t have many specific memories of Christmas. The memories are only moments in time, but I can remember it was a cold, snowy time of year but there was a lot of family warmth and a lot of good family meals Mom used to make with chicken and the gravies and the apple pies,” Dr. Frogner said.
“I remember the church and school programs. We looked forward to those Christmas programs. After the programs, the kids would all get a brown paper bag with candy or popcorn balls or something like that. That was really a big treat,” he said.
“My mother would sit in the rocking chair and watch us put the Christmas tree up. We didn’t put it up until the day before Christmas. Otherwise, we just farmed,” Mrs. Frogner said.
When asked if she did Christmas baking, Mrs. Frogner said she did not.
“I never baked a cookie. I never made a cake. I frosted one once. I said, ‘what color should I make?’ Gladys (her sister) said ‘make it blue,’ and I did. I made it blue,” she said.
“I was more of an outside person. The boys were gone. I was with my dad all the time. I rode the horse,” she said.
“I’m no Norwegian, but I married one,” Mrs. Frogner said.
“She’s a sauerkraut and dumpling kind of person, but she helps me make the lefse. That was the first on my bucket list when I retired, to make lefse,” Dr. Frogner said.
One of Dr. Frogner’s good friends had a father who was a barber.
“They had Christmas presents wrapped for the boys. So we unwrapped one. It was an electric train set. I helped him set it up. It was three or four days before Christmas. Beulah (Hjort) came home, and she wasn’t very happy. I left in a hurry,” Dr. Frogner recalled.
“They had a clothes chute from the upstairs down through the first floor and into the basement. We used to get into that clothes chute and slide down and come out in the basement. That was serious trouble,” he said.
“I have a lot of memories of Colfax as I was growing up. How the community was and where the businesses were and how Colfax has changed. I have a lot of good memories and a lot of good friends,” Dr. Frogner said.
“Erling Lunn and I were the only ‘town boys’ in our class. We had a few memories together, too, that were interesting. Erling lived on the south side of town,” Dr. Frogner said.
Erling Lunn died in the 1958 tornado.
“I can remember one time when we were kids, Erling and his brother had a big sled, and we were out on the hill behind where the nursing home is now. I can’t remember who had the farm, but we’d slide down that hill. There was a fence at the bottom of the hill, and a cow lane that came down. We were sliding down the hill, going down the cow lane. There were three of us on the sled, and Erling lost control. He hit a post,” Dr. Frogner recalled.
“His brother, Rolf, and I went right through the fence. Erling had a minor injury. My chest was kind of sore, and I can remember my boots were all tore to pieces. When I got home, my folks asked me what happened, and I said we were out playing on the ice and there was a fence out there and I slipped. I tried to cover up that we had gone through the fence. Eventually they found out about it. I think there was a little article in the paper about it,” Dr. Frogner said with a laugh, noting it was difficult to get away with much growing up in Colfax.
One winter when it was particularly cold, “I can remember I had a knit cap. It didn’t have a visor, but it had ear lappers that came way down and tied under the chin. By the time I got down to where the beauty parlor is (Deluxe Beauty Salon), I was so cold, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was crying. We went into the house. Hovlands owned the house. We got warmed up and then we could go the rest of the way to school. It was kind of brutal back then at times,” Dr. Frogner said.
“During some of those really bad cold winters, then the summers were dry and there was a bad drought. I can remember going with Dad when he worked for the feed mill. I can remember about all they had was sand burrs and grasshoppers. And the farmers bought poison from Dad to poison the grasshoppers. They mixed it with sawdust. Dad went out to see how it was going. (The farmer) had a pitch fork, and he was tossing the sawdust out on the field to kill the grasshoppers,” he said.
“Donny Tandberg was a good friend of mine. He was telling about his dad chopping down the trees so the cattle could eat the leaves. Some of the farmers loaded their cattle up and hauled them up north so they could graze in the swamps up there. It was tough going for the farmers. It was so wild up there, they had to watch the cattle all the time. Miles and miles of nothing,” he said.
Eckie’s father was a milk hauler, Dr. Frogner noted.
“With a horse and sleigh. He quit for a while. We lost the farm and moved three and half miles out of town,” she said.
“We lived across from the Valley Tavern. I thought it was a big hill. We’d take a syrup pail, Gladys and I, and we’d go to the tavern and get beer in it for Pa,” she said.
Mrs. Frogner’s father also drove a school bus in Colfax, and eventually, he bought a milk truck.
“It got to be five loads of milk instead of one load. He drove to Albertville and Popple Creek,” she said.
World War II
“During the war, I was 10 years old on December 7, 1941. I can remember where I was sitting. We were sitting by the radio Sunday morning listening to it. Later on, a lot of the boys I knew went into the service, and quite a few of them got killed. They were killed in the Battle of the Bulge,” Dr. Frogner said.
“One, Lefty Teppen, his name was Torgrim. He was a fighter pilot in the Navy, torpedo pilot. And he was lost in the Battle of Midway. The war, I was really interested in it. The only place you found out about it was in the paper or magazines or at the movies, where they would run a newsreel every night before the film.” Dr. Frogner said.
“I can remember these big old engines coming through Colfax with their troop trains. They had tanks on them and cannon, and from what I remember, heading west. I can remember those years,” he said.
“It was kind of a tough time for the whole community. A lot of young guys who didn’t make it. It was quite a sacrifice for the families. Gold Star mothers had their flags in the windows. I had a cousin, Edmund Frogner, he was in a B-17 bomber. They flew bombing runs over France and Germany. After they had 25 or 30 missions, they didn’t have to go anymore. The U.S. Air Force lost 50,000 men or 60,000 men. He had completed his last mission, and he was helping train some other pilots. Three of the B-17s crashed together, and he lost his life,” Dr. Frogner said.
“Wayne Viets was in the service. He was over in England at that time. He talked to Alma Frogner, Edmund’s mother. He had gone to see where the accident had happened. Those are some of the memories,” he said.
“We used to go to Bloomer (to the movies), and my mother had a fur, and I’d stick my head in there and cry because they were showing World War II,” Mrs. Frogner said.
“When I was in high school, we paid 12 cents a gallon for gas,” she said.
“During the war we had food stamps. Sugar was rationed. Tires were rationed. Gas was rationed,” Dr. Frogner said.
“Farmers could get all the gas they wanted,” Mrs. Frogner said.
“I remember playing at a friend’s house. We were playing up in the attic. His dad must have had 10 one hundred pound bags of sugar up there. I don’t know how he got a hold of it,” Dr. Frogner said.
Dr. Frogner noted he had a sister who was four years older than he was, and he has a younger sister, Mary, who now lives in Bloomington, Illinois, and is eight years younger.
“We always had a big skating rink up behind the school. Kids were playing hockey up there. We always spent most of our time outside if it wasn’t too cold. I always enjoyed that. I never got frost bitten too bad,” Dr. Frogner said with a laugh.
“When I was a kid, I got some figure skates. They had a sawtooth on the front so you could walk and run in them. I was playing hockey and got hit and broke my nose. I can remember going down to Eau Claire to have it set. About a week later, I was at the movies, and we were going in, and it was just packed with kids. And Stuart Barstad backed up and bumped me in the nose. I could feel it crunch. I never told my folks, but it always stayed a little bit out of shape,” he said.
“There used to be chicken coops around town and barns and people had cattle around town. They hauled ice. There used to be an old ice house across the creek here, next to where Juul Noer lived. There was a cement block factory just across here on the creek. We spent time there when I was a kid. We managed to stay out of trouble most of the time. I can remember them delivering chunks of ice for the ice boxes at home,” Dr. Frogner said.
“When I was four years old, Dad bought the house across from the (train) depot, and I spent 13 years there. And those are the years I can really remember,” Dr. Frogner said.
“Dad was in all kinds of businesses. Colfax Oil Company. Hills owned that. He ended up manager of Cranes Elevator. He was manager of the O&N Lumber Company. I worked over there quite a bit when I was a kid. We hauled coal and cement and lumber. Then he ended up in the post office and was a rural carrier, and finally he was the postmaster,” he said.
“The first postal job he had, he was on a mail train from Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois, sorting mail at night. He was down there for three weeks, and I don’t think he could stand it being away from the small town of Colfax and family. I can remember we went down to Eau Claire and picked him up, and he came home and stayed,” Dr. Frogner recalled.
“I remember there was a fire in (the house next door) in the winter time. It must have been way below zero. The fire hydrant was frozen. I remember the firemen coming in the house and getting boiling water in kettles from my mom to thaw the fire hydrant out,” he said.
“My dad was on the fire department. I can remember, he was up on the roof, and he came down and his jacket was full of ice. He stood it up on the kitchen floor. I can remember sitting on my mom’s lap, crying. I was scared to death. There wasn’t much distance between those houses.”
“When I was in third grade, I got a strep infection. There were no antibiotics back then, and I spent three months in bed. I can remember my throat was so swollen up, and I couldn’t eat very well. I lived on egg nog for I don’t know how long. I was lucky to recover from it,” Dr. Frogner said.
“I remember I couldn’t even swallow my saliva. My mom had a brown paper bag lined with Kleenex, and I was spitting in there all the time. And one of the doctors came, one of the newer ones, and he asked what that was for. My mom told him. He said I had to stop. I had to swallow the saliva. It would upset my system if I didn’t. I was lucky to make it out of there. A lot of times with strep infections, there’s heart problems along with it. It especially gets in the heart valves. That’s never been a result for me of that infection, but it sure could have been,” Dr. Frogner said.
“When I was in Boy Scouts, there was a camp out on the lake, and we used to walk out there. It had a bigger dining room, some bedrooms and a kitchen. We’d bicycle all the time. We’d go to 22-Mile Ford, or out to the dam, and go fishing and swimming. We spent most of the summer in the water,” Dr. Frogner said.
The Frogners live on Iverson Road in Colfax next to Eighteen Mile Creek. When Dr. Frogner was a boy, the area where it is creek now was known as Mirror Lake.
“Used to be good swimming out here, too. Dr. Holter told me when he first moved here, the hole, that was just off the corner of our lot (where their house is now) was 14 feet deep. You’d catch all kinds of trout out there. There’s a couple holes out there where you can catch some trout. You used to be able to jump off the bridge when you were swimming,” he said.
“I can remember when they ran the village sewage right into the water. There was a concrete spout where the sewage came out and right down the river,” Dr. Frogner said.
“One year when I was in the Boy Scouts, I got a little pup tent for Christmas. My folks were gone, so I put it up in the living room. That was the house across from the depot. And I had to tie it to the table and the lamps and to the davenport and all of that. I had it pitched, and it just about filled the living room. You had to hop over the ropes. I caught heck for that. I had to see if it worked. I could hardly wait for it to warm up (outside),” he said.
“One time, we were living in that house, and there was a tree on the corner. My dad had a swing hanging from a tree. My sister and Ruth Gregory and I were all sitting in that swing, and I must have had my dad’s boots on. I don’t know how old I was. I couldn’t walk very good with them. And we were sitting in the swing, and we heard (a noise) behind us, and it was a great, big bull. They used to have meat markets around town, and they had pens for (the animals). And just like that, those two girls took off, and I could hardly run. I about died of fright before I got to the porch,” Dr. Frogner said.
“Right where Cenex is now, there used to be a bigger building, and there was a theater in there. They didn’t have talkies. They had a piano up front and someone playing the piano, and there were captions, and you watched the movie and read the captions. That’s the earliest I can remember of movies,” he said.
“There was a meat market in part of that building, and out back, they had a pen and a building there for the cattle to be in. Frederick Teppen was a little older than I. He started a fire in there. I don’t know if he was smoking or what. But that thing was going up in flames. It was a windy day. And the house that Susie Hill owns (on Pine Street), that started on fire. And across the street is where Frederick’s folks lived, and that house started on fire. Debris had blown across the street. There were three buildings going. I can remember him sitting on the Farmers’ Store steps all by himself, trying to hide out a little bit. He was a couple of years ahead of me in school.”
Fortunately, they were able to put the fires out.
“They didn’t get very far,” Dr. Frogner said. “On the eaves, I guess. It was a long time ago. But those are the moments in time you never forget.”