Adapted from the email letter originally sent by Paul Ovaitt January 19, 2023
Ruth Nolting Fuhr Part 2 - Paul and Paul and the garden – hoboes - Fuhr’s AG - Red Schoendients and Bob Gibson - the ball diamond – Lavon Fischer – a horse and a stepladder
Gentle friends of Augusta: I suppose this is where we left off with the Ruth Nolting Fuhr interview. Remember, anything in (____) is my input.
P: Let me think…Paul Fuhr bought that house that you live in…after he quit farming (where Glennon and Ruth Stelzer lived). But was his wife (Lydia) already dead when he bought the place on Green Street?
R: No. She had multiple sclerosis. She lived in a chair all the time. And Mel said we can’t get married until after mom goes…and I said what a horrible thought, but anyway… After she left us, we got married.
P: And then, where did you live?
R: We lived in Washington for a while…until after Neal was born…and Melvin’s dad wants us to buy this property, so, we said we’ll see what we can do. And we bought it. And Doris and Willy built a new house.
P: So, Paul Fuhr moved in there…and lived upstairs.
R: Yes, but in his later years he bought a trailer and put it on our property and that’s where he lived for a while.
But dear readers, this old clip from the Missourian (date unknown) somewhat modifies the narrative: “Miss Doris Fuhr and her father, Paul Fuhr, have moved in her new home she had built this summer. She had it built next to their former home, which Melvin Fuhr has bought and will move into it in the near future.”
P: Paul Fuhr had a garden all the time down there…is that true?
R: Oh yeah. This year, Paul (Hopen) has been having a garden there.
Cheryl Fuhr Wehmeier via text: Even though Grandpa lived with Aunt Doris, he still had a garden, mowed the grass, and helped Dad with his property. The parade picture is a picture of Dad driving the “puffa”, the walk behind tractor that Grandpa used for his garden and gave us rides in the wagon. Grandpa called it the “puffa”. (BTW Cheryl provided all the photos for this story.)
P: Did Mel ever turn into a gardener?
R: No. He worked at Mallinckrodt Chemical Co. in Weldon Spring…when they terminated the people there, then he got his pay, and he said, what are we gonna do with all this money…and Freddie Knoernschild wanted to know if we would buy his store. So, that’s how we got the store (Fuhr’s AG – now Hoffmann’s Emporium).
P: So, he made pretty good money at Mallinckrodt’s. Is that what you’re saying?
R: …Freddie says, will you buy the store? …and Mel says, well, I’ll try it; I never was a storekeeper before.
P: How many years do you think you had it? When did you get it?
R: I can’t think off hand…1960, I guess it was.
P: Well, you got married in 1960. Do you think you bought the store…like 5 years later?
R: Maybe 3…the early 60s.
P: I think you told me that you made the aprons for the store staff.
R: That was easy to do. First, I had the denim ones, and later on I made the white ones. The white ones you could bleach, and get that scum off them.
R: We had these hoboes come in from outside of town. They come to Mel and say…can we have something to eat…and Mel would say…well, pull the grass off the sidewalk and sweep it real good, and I’ll give you a good sandwich…and they thought it was real nice, and they made a little mark on the side of the store so anybody else coming into town could see it. (Laughs.)
P: My mom and grandma in Jeff City, used to talk about feeding hoboes and the mark on houses. Was that pretty common to have hoboes walk into Augusta?
R: Oh yeah, but Mel always made them go to work. There were a lot of hoboes up at Aholt’s cave up there. (Anybody familiar with this?)
P: We generally associate hoboes with the Depression, but this was 30 years later.
R: I guess you’d call them homeless now. At Christmas time we’d have a lot of candy up front, and they would be begging up candy and stuff…and we’d say you can’t have none of the candy.
P: You know, I used to live in the Salem Schoolhouse in the 80s…
R: Oh yeah, I remember that…
P: There was a man I’d see periodically who walked the MKT tracks. His mother lived in St. Charles…and he would walk the tracks…sometimes jump a train. But that was his life, going back and forth across Missouri. Anyway, I’d feed him and give him a place to sleep.
R: My sister has the railroad crossing sign at her house.
P: From Augusta?
R: Yeah, down by the trail.
P: Don’t tell Benny Moseley.
P: Mel would also butcher for people, true? So, people would bring a hog to him, let’s say, or what?
R: Well, he had a cooler out…we bought a cooler…he had it in there, and when it was time for doing it, he’d take that thing and put it on the butcher block and start cutting up whatever people wanted.
P: So, people would bring him the animal already bled out…and gutted.
R: Right…I hope so.
P: Good. He didn’t have to do all that…but this may be a weird question…what did he do with all the parts…the bones…whatever you had to discard?
R: I don’t know. We’ll have to wake him up to ask him.
P: Eww, that’s a tough one; I don’t think we’ll get him up. Maybe some people came and got the offal for their dogs.
R: I never thought about it. But the butcher block is still in the store…up there in front. And the locks for the store is still there. We told Red Schoendients (known for his coaching, managing, and playing years with the St. Louis Cardinals) …he said he wanted the lock…what will you sell it for? I said we ain’t selling it, and he said what would you take? And Mel said if you buy the lock, you buy the whole store. They weren’t interested…Red Schoendients and Bob Gibson. (American professional baseball pitcher who played 17 seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals, 1959–1975). They come from one of the wineries and wanted something to eat.
P: I bet you have all kinds of stories about the store.
R: I have some stories I won’t tell.
And out of the blue:
R: I never got rich by anything like that, but I was switchboard operator in Washington…9½ years before I got married.
P: What was the name of that phone company?
R: Southwestern Bell. It was Ozark Central first.
P: Party lines?
R: Not all of them; most had straight lines. They had long-distance. You had to have a key to get in. Then you’d put it back, and make sure they got connected.
P: You and Mel had four children: Neal, Cheryl, John, and Jane. Can you tell me anything about parenting, like how your parents did it, and then how you did it? Were your parents strict?
R: Oh yeah, they were strict!
P: How about you, were you a strict parent?
R: No, not too much. I…we didn’t let them get by with much, but…
Jane Fuhr: I’m on the other line, Paul. Mom was a lot more lenient than dad was…in my opinion. You had to follow dad’s rules pretty strictly.
P: I’m gonna use that if you don’t mind.
Ruth: No, I don’t mind. I don’t think truth can hurt you.
P: Ruth…your mother…did she live to be almost 100 years old?
R: Yes, we buried her on her birthday.
Jane: She died 4 days before her birthday, so we buried her on her 100th birthday.
P: But Ruth, your dad died young, it looks like.
R: Yeah, he was 48. He had a bleeding ulcer they couldn’t fix.
P: Say, when did Mel get into town politics?
R: About the same time we had the store. They had a slate…at the Lutheran church (polling station at the time). They wrote the name of who they wanted. There was a blackboard, and they put his name up…he didn’t even know which one…
P: And he got elected? That’s funny.
R: It came out of left field, you know. He said he’d try it. (Left field – what a great segue she pitched to me.)
P: Let’s talk about the ball diamond. How did Mel get into that? Was he asked to do it?
R: Yeah, well he did what all the other people…Donald Flynn and all them people…we had like a little athletic club, but it’s gone now…there was some women involved, too.
P: So, the athletic club decided they needed a diamond. Is that how it worked?
R: Well, the kids need some place to play. So, Mel said he’d see what he could do. So, he went down to Sportsman’s Park (the predecessor to Busch Stadium). They were gonna give away them lights, so we got ‘em. Him and a bunch of other people went down there. It took a lot of toting and dragging around, I guess.
P: Yeah, because they’re big. Do you know who wired them?
R: Probably Struckhoffs.
P: Hey, did you know Lavon Fischer (the sports announcer at the Augusta diamond) very well?
R: Yeah, I knew him.
P: I thought he was pretty amazing with all his stats.
R: He was! He knew all the stuff…he wrote all the time down…who had what…how many balls and strikes and everything like that.
P: I don’t think many towns have that.
R: Well, they’ve got a little sign down there in honor of…it’s in concrete.
P: No kidding? I’ll have to get a picture of that. Where do you…?
Jane Fuhr: Yeah, Paul, it’s kinda directly behind where home plate would have been.
Gentle readers, I didn’t find the sign or the concrete, but I snapped a picture of where I remember Lavon sitting, announcing, and keeping stats, but then I deleted it when Cheryl sent me a photo of Lavon at his microphone behind the chain-link fence. I also texted Steve Fischer and learned that Steve’s dad, Omar, was a first cousin to Lavon. And here’s what Find-a Grave says: Lavon was an only child, never married, and always lived with his parents, and after his father's death, he stayed with his mother. He worked for McDonnell-Douglas in St. Louis. Lavon enjoyed baseball, and was the announcer for many of Augusta's ball teams for years. Within days of retiring, Lavon died suddenly. His mother passed just three years later. Lavon was buried at Bethany United Church of Christ Cemetery in Schluersburg, MO.
Sometimes my mind drifts when I write this stuff. Right now I hear an organ and the roar of the crowd. You can too. Please open the attachment of me playing CHARGE! and Take Me Out to the Ballgame on my 2017 American Strat.
"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was written in 1908 by two Tin Pan Alley songwriters, Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer. Oddly enough, neither composer had attended a game prior to writing the song. It has become the unofficial anthem of North American baseball. The chorus is traditionally sung in the seventh-inning stretch of a baseball game.
"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" written by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer, performed by Paul Ovaitt
R: We used to have that food stand down there, and the flood came by and took care of all that…had to start over.
P: That’s lousy.
R: That was Mel’s…I don’t know what you say…his best wishes for that ball diamond all the time. He tried to get the teams together, and finally run out of kids…and they had to go to Dutzow.
P: I guess baseball’s not as popular as it once was. Maybe kids do so many activities already now.
Jane: I think…my opinion…you don’t have to put this in your story…nobody wanted to help anymore. There wasn’t enough help to keep it going anymore. They were struggling to keep people in the concession stand…they went with a smaller concession stand. A lot of kids started signing up in Dutzow…and that’s where the Augusta kids play, as far as I know.
R: …we had the best roast beef…I don’t know why. I made the roast beef sandwiches…they said they wanted something different besides hot dogs and hamburgers.
P: Okay, I think you’ve given me a story.
R: I hope I don’t tell you any lies.
P: I don’t care if you tell me lies if they sound good. (She laughs.) If it makes a good story, I’ll take your lies.
R: But the ballfield down there is still sitting there…and it’s still dedicated to Mel on the sign there, and nobody plays ball no more. They quit the ballfield and everything, and there sits this big sign dedicated to Mel Fuhr. And I said – why don’t we take it down and put it in my yard…maybe put a horse or a dog by it? (We laugh.)
Gentle Augustans, speaking of a horse, Ruth went on to tell me about the horse they acquired when a customer paid off his grocery tab with a horse and a stepladder. You can’t make this stuff up.
I think I’ll call this story done and throw another log in my woodstove… Thanks for reading, and your comments are always welcome.
Jane: I look forward to reading it.
Ruth: Danke, danke, danke.
P: Bitte, bitte, bitte.
Ruth: Ja, ja, ja.
P: Auf wiedersehen! (Which roughly translates to…keep reading my stories until we meet again.)
More importantly, stay curious.