Adapted from the original email-letters from Paul Ovaitt - Original date March 22, 2022
Gentle readers (I know there are a few of you), when last I wrote, Aloys was telling us about hunting in the floodplain. In this final installment, we’ll cover baseball, dancing and Aloy’s wife, Rita Voss Struckhoff. In a way, those three topics are related, but I’m not going to say I planned it that way. My whole style rejects any serious planning. Truthfully, I’d never get started if I had to envision the beginning, middle and end. Mostly, I write whatever bubbles up, and then edit it a bit…in other words, I just get started. It’s more fun for me that way.
But before I type another word, let me tell you that Friends of Historic Augusta, aka the Augusta Museum, has its own website,
https://www.augustamomuseum.com/ Thanks to Kathryn Frazier and her web wizard, Miranda Murray, you can learn more about the organization and even donate online. Also, you can go there and click on Tell It Like It Was to find past stories…well…the first one, Walking in the Femme Osage Valley, is there already. What’s cool is that the photos appear in the story where they belong; no more clicking on attachments or scrolling to the bottom of the story to see what I was talking about. Miranda will have the 2nd story, the Shirley Stelzer Toedebusch interview, posted soon. And they’ll just keep coming.
If you want to check out Miranda’s day job, go to: https://mirandamurray.myportfolio.com/ She’s pretty amazing! And she has no idea what sort of cyber trickery I’ll be requesting next for TILIW. Now back to Aloys.
Paul: Did music play an important part in your life?
Aloys: Well…I don’t think music did. I loved to dance, but I don’t think music played a part in my life too much.
P: In other words, you didn’t focus on what songs you like?
A: No, I couldn’t…it was mostly country western.
Gentle listeners, whenever I hear the term country western, I’m tempted to do like the Blues Brothers and start riffing on the theme from Rawhide. However, I’ll use some restraint, and instead submit a recording of Pat O’Donnell and me playing Cole Porter’s Don’t Fence Me In. In 1945, that song was a hit for Gene Autry according to the playback.fm website. Aloys would have been burning up the dance floor about that time. Btw my recordings are now in the more universal mp3 format. They should play fine on your device, but don’t forget the earphones.
Pat O’Donnell and Paul Ovaitt - Cole Porter’s Don’t Fence Me In
P: Were these local bands?
A: Yeah, there were a lot of them, and they were no farther away than Washington…I think there was one from Hermann…they used to have more modern music. I loved that one, but I can’t name the name of the band…Sonny Lethels (Lefholz) maybe.
P: We talked a little about outdoor “floor dances”. You said you had been to floor dances.
A: Yes, they were up closer to Dutzow, in the bottoms. I remember it was about a half mile from the intersection of 47 and the bottom road, but on the bottom road. The people’s name was Peters, and they had a place where the Dutzow church had picnics in the bottoms. That’s where I remember the floor dances being set up.
P: And you said you liked to dance.
A: Well, I thought I was a pretty good dancer. (Chuckle.) Well, I got by. I started going to dances between 14 and 16, I guess.
P: Did you have to walk or take a horse until you were 16, or what?
A: Well, most the time it was in Augusta or at a barn dance…and I don’t believe I walked much…most the time I was in a Model A Ford, just after I got old enough to drive.
P: What were the names of popular dances at that time? In the 20s there were the foxtrot and the Charleston. In the 60s we had the twist, the watusi, the loco motion, etc. Did you have any names for dances?
A: No, I can’t say we did. I didn’t know many songs or dances; whatever I thought was the beat I liked to dance to…well I went out and tried to dance it.
P: How about old traditional dances like the broom dance or the kitchen waltz?
A: I remember the broom dance. I used to dance that…you dance around and give the broom to a girl…and you try to get to dance with her. Usually, we thought they were pretty good dancers…and they might not have been worth a darn, but we thought they were good. Well, the bands mixed them up a lot, but the Nadlers, they just had…the one tone of music…and that’s just what we liked. That’s why we went there. I was glad to see them, and I knew them all. Their dad’s name was Oscar. He played the fiddle, I think. There was Leland and Leonard. And there was a sister who played a lot…piano, I think…Virginia.
Gentle readers, TILIW interviewed Virginia Nadler on February 5, 2019, at Cedarcrest Manor Nursing Home in Washington, MO. Virginia passed away October 17, 2020, in Washington.
P: Did any of the Dixieland music of New Orleans or the big band era music ever enter the local band scene in your youth? Did any of the bands have sax, clarinet, trumpet and so on?
A: Oh yeah, we danced to that too in Washington. Sonny Lethels (Lefholz) Band…you’d see them at the city hall or the city country club. There were some other big bands in Washington.
A: Do you happen to know the Toedebusch boys? They’ve got some good music going.
P: Sure, I know them. They’re the Texas Giants. And I bet you recognize many of the songs they play, but I don’t guess you ever danced to them.
A: Not too much dancing…I heard them play at a senior citizens home…you don’t see much action there. It was just a fun time. And there’s a Shortt boy, David, who sings with them. He’s a good singer.
Since we’re talking about dancing, now might seem like a good time to bring Rita Voss into the story, but when I asked Aloys how they met, he prefaced his reply with a baseball story. So, let’s talk baseball for a while. This sport was an important local source of entertainment since the late 1800s, but it was already about a hundred years old then. According to baseball-reference.com: “The earliest known mention of baseball in the United States was in a 1792 Pittsfield, Massachusetts by-law banning the playing of the game within 80 yards of the town meeting house.” Seems reasonable.
In her book, Augusta’s “Harmony”, Anita Mallinckrodt, writing about 1894, said, “That year, L. M. Fuhr, clerk of the Town Board of Trustees, recorded that the new sport had hit the rural areas.” Then she quotes the clerk as saying, “The Base Ball Club of Augusta came before the Board and asked for the privilege of playing ball on the Public Square, that they would clean it off and make it a little level free of cost…”
Aloys’ daughter, Chris Arnold, seem to think it was imperative that I should cover baseball with her dad. So, I did, but I failed to ask Aloys at what age he took up the sport, but I assume he was quite young. He certainly was passionate about the game. When I asked him a totally unrelated…and off the wall question…
P: What’s the funniest thing or person you remember from your youth?
A: I’m sure the funniest things happened in Augusta, right where we played softball in the town square. I don’t remember what they were really…I was a pretty serious sportsman; I’ll tell you that.
P: Did you guys ever break any windows playing in the square?
A: No…not that I know of. I didn’t, but I’m sure somebody hit a ball hard enough. I never was that good at hitting the ball hard…I could just hit the ball and run. That was my theory…run like I was scared all the time.
P: Where were the various local baseball fields?
A: Well, baseball we tried to play in the bottoms where the diamond is right now, but with all the floods we had to do a lot of work on that diamond…it was going to be the Augusta ball diamond…but we never got to play a game on that diamond at that time, because we just had it all fixed up and the rains come and the river come out, so that was the end of our baseball in the Augusta bottoms. I was probably 14yo.
I also played for Dutzow. They had a field right along the Bluff Road, close to the bank. They moved it later up to TT. And I played with Defiance; they had a team. I even played with a team in Washington.
Baseball fans, in 1947, Aloys was playing for the Augusta team when they won the Tri-County Championship. Please note the photo of these 20-something guys, then check out the team photo 50 years later at a reunion. I teared up more than a little when I looked at all these fellows who are no longer with us.
In 1956 Aloys was playing for the Dutzow team when he met his future bride, Rita Voss.
A: That’s a baseball story. I was in Dutzow; that’s who I played with at the time…and I was walking across the street…going to the tavern…and we had just won the league. I seen this little girl come across the street…and I played with her brother…he was on the same team I was on. I knew her…and I said what are you doing over here…sha said I’m gonna talk to my brother and see if can use his car. She said what are you doing here…I said we’re celebrating…we just won the league. I said do you want to come over and help us celebrate. She said nobody asked me. So, I said yes, I’m asking you, and that was that.
Gentle readers, Rita was born in Washington, MO in 1937, and went to school at St. Francis Borgia grade school and high school. She and Aloys were married May 11, 1957. So, we already linked the topic of baseball with Rita, but let’s move on to the joint topic of dancing and Rita. I asked Aloys if he and Rita danced much.
A: Well, we danced quite a bit whenever we’d go to dances, but children come along and kinda put a damper on the dancing. (Chuckle.) I never knew what caused it all, but I bet it was that dancing. (Bigger chuckle.) Thanks for bringing that up. (Even bigger chuckle.)
P: Speaking of children, would you give me their names, oldest to youngest?
A: Al, Julie, Chris, Eric, Marty, Cara and Amy.
P: Chris said you and Rita used to go to 3D dances.
A: Yes, we did…one price…and you dance, drink and…drive...? Drink, dine and dance…that’s what it was. Most of them were in Washington.
P: How about at your wedding reception…did you hire a band for your wedding?
A: Yes, we did, we had…I wish I could…but I still know a lady who played in that band…it was the Royal Missourians!
In the early 90s, I worked a lot for Mt. Pleasant Winery (painting walls and playing music with Augusta Bottoms Consort), and I made the acquaintance of Rita because she was running the cheese shop. Like everyone, I found her most pleasant, and eventually, I met Aloys and most of their kids. I asked Lucian Dressel to comment on those days and I received this brief but perfect statement, “They (Rita and Aloys) were both remarkable people, nothing but kindness and concern for everyone.” I also had a phone conversation with Rita’s daughter, Amy Konys, after I learned that she worked at Mt. Pleasant before Rita.
Amy: I did when I was 14yo. I got a job at the cheese shop…it probably had to be in 1987? Mom came on board shortly after…she was working at Walmart…and she didn’t like it. Then a full-time position came open at the cheese shop. I told mom about it, and she went and talked to the Dressels. She was hired and was there for many years.
P: Amy, what do you do for a living? And where do you live?
Amy: I am the human resource director at the Bank of Washington. We live at the farmhouse that dad and his brothers built for his mom and dad. We bought that…I’d say in 2006. And we built on to that farmhouse. It’s on the south side of 94, right after Hemsath Road and Noboleis Winery.
P: Near that new house right across from Noboleis?
A: That’s my sister’s house. We’re in the holler in back of her house.
P: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your mom?
A: I definitely would say, my mom could make anyone feel like…even if you just met them…dad does it too…that you’ve known them a lot longer…they both listen and grab you in…and you want to talk to them. They’re a very kind couple…such a good role model…they did lead by example, that’s for sure. Mom passed away 5 years ago…and they were 10 years apart…we never thought that story was going to go as it did.
Gentle readers, in part 2, we talked about river floods. I wanted to include a recording in that story but I couldn’t send it because a link didn’t exist yet. It’s a flood song from 1993, written by Gloria Attoun Bauermeister and performed by Augusta Bottoms Consort. Enjoy.
And for more Gloria, check out: http://gloriaattoun.com/Gloria_Attoun/HOME.html
Be well and be curious,
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