Nationally, there have been recent discussions about immigration and citizenship. On a local level, here at the Sherburne History Center, in recent weeks, we have been called upon several times to discuss immigration and ethnicity in the county. With so much information about immigrants in my brain, I wanted to visit one of the truly unique and valuable oral histories we have collected about immigrants and Elk River.
Betty Belanger lived her entire life in Elk River. She was born to Hungarian immigrants north of Elk River. In the household, Hungarian was the language of choice until Betty started school at age six. Although a brief excerpt of her longer oral history, Betty provides interesting insight into growing up in Elk River:
I was born on the farm with a midwife who was a Hungarian immigrant. She delivered a number of babies for the Hungarian moms in the neighborhood. Her name was Theresa Toth.
I grew up on the farm and started school at age six. I fought with my parents to not make me go to the little country school. I wanted to go to the big city school and ride the bus. So I did go to school in town, in Elk River at the wood frame schoolhouse. The Handke building was already built by the time I started school. The senior high was over there in the new brick building and we were still in the wood frame building. We rode the school bus for a long time because there were only a few buses, so we had a good one hour ride (each day).
|View of Jackson Street in downtown Elk River. Some |
of the businesses visible include: Kemper Drug, the Bank
of Elk River, the Variety Store, and Dare's.
Downtown Elk River was awesome back then. We knew all the businessmen and all the businessmen knew all the citizens around here. It was really neat. The best part of downtown Elk River was the park. With this wonderful gazebo, we had band concerts every Thursday night. So everybody went into town for the free band concerts, and farmers did their shopping and listened to the music. It was an awesome gathering of a community.
My mother never went to town. She never learned English well enough to be able to communicate with the store keepers. But my dad and brother would go into town with the milk check and if I hollered loud enough they’d take me along and maybe I’d get an ice cream cone.
Once a month the milk check would come in the mail from the Princeton Milk Producers Association then the next day he would go to the bank, he would cash the check, make his mortgage payment, and buy groceries. And they could go in the bar and have a beer and buy me an ice cream cone.
My father did dairy farming, but he also dabbled. We always had a lot of chickens. We took the eggs into the grocery store to sell. I can remember going in the back room where the grocer would “candle” the eggs to make sure they weren’t fertilized. And then the ones that were okay he would accept and he would pay my dad for the eggs and then Dad would use that to buy groceries with.
Betty Belanger’s memories are rich in detail. In discussing the business district of Elk River, she remembered a multitude of stores and businesses. She explained the telephone company had offices and the switchboards upstairs above the Bank of Elk River. She remembered the Fairway Grocery, the Federated Store, Dare’s Furniture and Funeral Home, Andy’s Electric, The Golden Pheasant, the bowling alley and the movie theater. Like so many of the oral histories collected at the Sherburne History Center, Betty’s memories are truly rich and valuable. This brief excerpt provides a sense of growing up in Elk River during the late 1940s.