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Tell it Like it Was Tom Rueschhoff, Part 4 - Stage Plays

Adapted from the original letter from paulO sent on October 2, 2023


TILIW - Tom Rueschhoff/ Immaculate Conception conclusion – compulsive writing – stage plays – there’s no there, there – comedy of errors – Sarah Peper - Corinne Peper and the Trap Door – Dorris Keeven Franke – Morhaus Hall - Cathie Schoppenhorst – Lauren Seidel – The Zerobeaters - Turn Verein

Gentle readers, sometimes I think I write solely for the sake of writing…just like some people seem to talk constantly. You know the type…you could be walking across a frozen 91-acre lake in New Hampshire, and your friend chatters on while you’re listening for every crack, groan, and gulp of the iced-over lake.


I guess the analogy ends there because my compulsive writing will probably not pull you into an icy final act. At worst, the reading of this article will only be a 10–15-minute intermission in your life. Besides, I bet some of you are compulsive readers. You probably even read cereal boxes when you’re not glued to Facebook. So, now that I have confessed my own compulsive behavior, I’ll get on with the finale of the Tom Rueschhoff story. (((Remember, anything in parentheses is my addition.)))

You may recall that Tom, who attended the Immaculate Conception School in the 1930s, told me that his Reverend Uncle, Father Adolph Range, saw to it that the young people would always present stage plays in the 2nd floor hall which was in the IC school. That’s what started me down this rabbit hole. Thus, I’m writing about the ever-present hall and stage that once existed (at least in my mind) on every German Catholic church grounds. I somehow convinced myself that this phenomenon is largely a German Catholic thing. Admittedly, I haven’t looked very hard, but I just haven’t seen that many built-in stages at Lutheran or Evangelical (UCC) church campuses.


So, I asked a few heavy hitters in the local history arena, and they all assured me that there’s no there, there. And I suppose they’re right, but being the compulsive writer that I am, I continued with my little comedy of errors anyway. You may find it interesting or vaguely entertaining.

Here’s a photo of some of the heavy hitters I consulted…but ever since my brain hemorrhage 8 years ago, I’m not good at facial recognition. Somewhere in this photo you’ll find Cathie Schoppenhorst (Historian for Boone-Duden Historical Society), Bob Brail (BDHS newsletter editor and local historian/writer), Dorris Keeven Franke (public historian and award-winning author), Walter Kamphoefner (local boy turned professor of history at TAMU, and author of Germans in America), Lauren Seidel of 4 Rivers Genealogical Society, Joannie Scheppers Farris (archivist at St. Peter Catholic Church, Jefferson City, MO), and Ruth Nolting Fuhr (my favorite source for Washington anecdotes and Augusta history related to groceries and baseball).


Now, gentle readers, I’d like to quote from my 4/21/23 conversation with Tom Rueschhoff, “One thing I want to say…my uncle was kind of interested…he had the young people set up, and they would put on a play, and that was upstairs in the school…they had a hall there and a stage, and he would put on a little show. Then after the show, they’d have a little dancing and music. And downstairs they had a bar.”

I also learned that Tom never performed in these productions, but he enjoyed them. Here are a few current photos of the upstairs hall which seems to serve as a storage area now. First, is a view of the old stage as seen from the hall.

Second, is a prayer kneeler (or prie-dieu for you Francophiles) stored in the old hall. Note the tongue and groove flooring in the main hall.


Third, is a look under the wooden stage. The exterior brick wall is visible, as is the rougher diagonal floor sheathing. Sarah Peper told me that Corinne and her cousin, Molly, “were crawling around under the stage and found an old playbill under there. They were so thrilled- like it was a great treasure of the ages! I also attached a scan of the playbill the kids found. The cast listed on it are not from ICC. It must have been another parish coming to perform at our stage. I think that was pretty common, if one group had a play ready, they would take it on tour.”



A few months later Sarah emailed this message: “Regarding that moth eaten playbill the kids found under the stage last year - the play was three strikes, you're out. I think I sent you a photo of the bill...”

She continued, “Well, in looking through the minutes of the parish Young People's Sodality, I found a record of that play! Entered by the hand of secretary Dorothy Kopman (married name Bolzenius) in the attached photo. The play was performed at ICC on March 12 1939 by the Franklin Dramatic Club of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish of St. Louis.”

Check out this handwritten document.

Gentle readers, the ICC pastor before Fr. Range (Tom Rueschhoff’s uncle), was Anton Strauss. I seem to recall that Donald Struckhoff (farmer, fireman, and fountain of local history) had said that Fr. Strauss was extremely keen on producing plays because it helped students enunciate better. So, I called him about 30-50 times, morning, noon, night, whatever, with no luck; I was hoping for a direct quote. After my failures, I asked Sarah Peper to obtain confirmation on her uncle Donald’s words. Here’s what I got via text: “Donald says yes that is what his dad, Beda, told him.” She said, he said. Good enough!

Here you have a paragraph from the Marthasville Record regarding Fr. Strauss and an event he produced at the nearby St. Vincent Hall in Dutzow.

Best of all, please watch this video filmed by Corinne Peper, an 11yo student at St. Vincent de Paul School in nearby Dutzow. Corinne is the daughter of Sarah Kluesner Peper and Tony Peper. I was recently seeking more info on the Immaculate Conception grade school, when Sarah volunteered her daughter, Corinne, to give me a tour of hidden passageways of the school and the upstairs hall and stage. I was unable to meet with her at the suggested time, so, I instead asked for a video to accompany my Rueschhoff story.

Corinne made two short videos which Sarah Peper emailed to me with this message: “Hey Paul, attached are two videos that Corinne made. One going up the secret staircase from the 2nd floor closet to backstage, and one of her opening it from the top side. Hope it is useful. All the parish kids love that we have a real secret passage; they can’t wait to show it to their friends and visitors. But of course, back in the day it had the practical purpose of allowing an actor to exit out through the audience and then appear on stage for the next scene. They probably also used it to go downstairs into one of the classrooms for costume changes.”

Our webmaster, Miranda Murray, edited the videos into one 44 second flick which she uploaded to YouTube on the Friends of Historic Augusta channel. It’s called Corinne and the Trap Door. Tap this link [or the video below] to watch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omoTUe9XaPw





My spellbound readers, in the quest to determine if owning a hall and a stage was principally a German-American Catholic thing, I looked to my past as a boy in Jefferson City. But not fully trusting my memory, I turned to Darrell Strope, the librarian of the Cole County Historical Society in Jefferson City. He replied by email: “I could not find much on German Catholic drama clubs. Not as much as I had hoped. The attachments are mostly flyers or newspaper advertisements that show that they existed. I could not find anything before 1901. St. Peter's probably had a drama club before that. Selinger Center was built in 1937. Prior to that the plays were performed in the St. Peter School Hall. Most of the flyers/advertisements were from the late 1920s through 1950.” (According to the Jefferson City Post-Tribune, November 23, 1937, on that same date, the last presentation was given. It was “The House of Horrors.”)

Strope continued, “Included in the attachments are flyers for the Wardsville Dramatic Club and the Folk Dramatic Club. Please note that these are communities built around Catholic churches.”


Hmm, pretty underwhelming evidence, but I’ll show you one of the attachments Darrell sent me.


Folk is a community in northwestern Osage County, Missouri. It is located approximately ten miles southeast of Jefferson City and five miles west of Westphalia. St. Anthony of Padua parish was founded in 1905 in Folk.

About the same time, I contacted my grade school alma mater to see what they could tell me about the history of their halls and stages. I spoke by phone with Joannie Scheppers Farris, an archivist at St. Peter Church in Jeff City. She remembered my family name and our rock band, the Ovaitt Brothers, but she said she had little to offer to my research. Here’s a photo of our mighty band truck.


However, Joanie said many plays were presented in St. Peter Hall, the predecessor of Selinger Centre which opened in 1937 right next to the church. The Centre contained a basement with bowling alleys, kitchen and dining room, a handball court, and meeting rooms. The main floor had a stage, a basketball court, another kitchen, and a coat room. There was also a large upper balcony with a spotlight to light the stage. The upper level also contained a jukebox and a dance floor.

Well, that didn’t advance my search very much, but fortunately I have the privilege of communicating frequently with Walter Kamphoefner, Ph.D. So, over a beer, I bounced my idea off Walter, and it bounced back to the floor…again, there’s no there, there. But I didn’t give up; that wouldn’t be much fun.


So, I turned to Tom Rueschhoff’s daughter, Joanie Rueschhoff, and asked her to quiz her dad on this topic, but before long, I was quizzing her about her schooling and the presence or lack of acting opportunities. BTW Joanie is a professional actor, so, I was particularly interested in her response.


paulO: I’m making an assumption that you had a Catholic education.

Joanie Rueschhoff: Well, partially. I did from 3rd through 6th grade.

p: Did your school have a stage?

JR: No. They didn’t do any plays. We went to 2 different Catholic churches when I was growing up, and neither did any theater.

p: Well, it’s okay if my bright ideas flop because they always lead to something else.

JR: I’m trying to think of anywhere else in St. Louis, um… (long silence) it’s just kind of…almost…a rule…in the St. Louis area…if a child was artistic at all, you’d go to public school because the Catholic schools didn’t provide any art. In a public school, at least in this area, kids started playing musical instruments in the 5th grade. Musically, it was a disadvantage to be in a Catholic school, and acting was too, because when I switched over to middle school, they were doing plays and drama.

pO: That’s an interesting point of view.

So, I decided to try Paul Kemner again because he went to IC school in the 1930s.


pO: Immaculate Conception was putting on a lot of plays, weren’t they?

PK: Well, I really can’t say that, but I know when I was a kid we had plays there at the Catholic church, and I was in them…3 or 4 of them, I imagine. Well, I guess they went over. There were people there that enjoyed that kind of thing. Nowadays, I don’t know if I could say that.

pO: Well, everybody’s got so much entertainment now. How about the Evangelical Reformed Churches?

PK: You’re talking about the one here in town? And there’s one out there at Femme Osage…Defiance too. You know, I never went to any of those plays, but I would think that…that was the entertainment in those days.

pO: In Washington, were they having these plays too?

PK: Oh yeah…at the Catholic church every year. I wouldn’t doubt if the Lutherans and whatever other church that would have a large congregation…

Gentle readers, you can probably sense that my little drama was going nowhere fast, but I kept hoping for a deus ex machina to rescue my plot. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_ex_machina Maybe a call to Dorris Keeven Franke (Public Historian and award-winning author) would shake things up.

Dorris Keeven Franke: …the Germans used those stages for…not only their music and the singing and the drama…they had debates, plays that they put on…they would do their tableaus or the pageants…that was really popular in the 1930s. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t think that was as much Catholic as it may have been German…


Friends, that didn’t validate my theory, but maybe Bob Brail (of Defiance) could help me… Nope, not his jam. Perhaps, I should just change the direction of my story and call up a local that I know to be Lutheran.


paulO (speaking to Ruth Fuhr by phone – 8/9/23): Did you have a stage over there in Washington at the Immanuel Lutheran Church?

Ruth Nolting Fuhr (of Augusta): Yes, I have pictures of it. We used to have all kinds of shows…all the people had plays…sometimes Washington High School had plays…I’ve got a picture of one at Immanuel Lutheran here. (Ruth attended Washington High after graduating from Immanuel Lutheran.)

pO: Can you find that picture still?

RNF: Yeah, it’s lying here…’cause I’ve been going through some pictures…on my cedar chest.

So, theatre lovers, I paid Ruth a visit to see three photos, and now I’ll share them with you. Years ago, Ruth wrote information on the backside of the photos. According to her writing, all three pics represent a play at the Immanuel Lutheran grade school. Nothing on the back side indicates the name of a play, but the backside of the first photo is dated May 29, 1947, and says “Lutheran School”. Ruth is seated stage left (look for the arrow pointing to her head). She and the male actor seated stage right, are the parents of the 6 children between them. One daughter is reading a poem.



pO: And this was at…

RNF: Immanuel Lutheran…upstairs…they had two rooms…and in between there was steps going upstairs to the plays, and downstairs, you go that way to eat.

The next photo boldly says Missouri Pacific Lines. Note the scribbled circle around Ruth’s head. The backside shows a date of May 29, 1946, and the location as Lutheran School stage. I’m including the backside because it lists the names of her fellow actors.


pO: Now I’m looking at the Missouri Pacific Lines…what was that play about?

RNF: It was about the Missouri Pacific Lines. Everybody had something. They were on the train.

pO: Where were they going? Kansas City…St. Louis?

RNF: I don’t know.

pO: So, you don’t remember why all these people were at the train station? Were they strangers? Did anybody know each other?

RNF: No, we was all the school people!

pO: I KNOW that, but…

RNF: They were supposed to make out like they did…there was one Chinese person and a black boy, and this one’s an old lady.

pO: Do you think you were in Washington, MO, so to speak?

RNF: Yeah, I guess so…Missouri Pacific.

pO: And what was this next play about? (Dated 1950 and labeled Youth Group Lutheran Church. In Ruth’s handwriting, “I was Colored Lady Maid – Asma.”

RNF: They were having a clown and everything…there’s me. They colored me black. I didn’t know how to get that stuff off me.



pO: Here’s another question…in Marthasville there was a place called Morhaus Hall. Have you ever heard of Morhaus?

RNF: I’ve heard of it.

pO: So, you were never in there?

RNF: No.

pO: That’s all my questions.

RNF: Is it going to rain?

pO: Today? I think so. I left my car out to get it clean in the rain.

RNF: Be sure you have the windows up.

Gentle readers, why the shift to Marthasville? My answer: as I researched plays in newspaper.com, I came across other nearby venues…like St. Vincent Hall in Dutzow and Morhaus Hall in Marthasville. Thus, I invite you to first look at this clipping from the Marthasville Record, 4/3/1931, in which Morhaus Hall is mentioned 3 times in one short column.


BTW, the hall was also a cool place to see the latest moving picture. Here I’m quoting some cinema buff who posted this entry at cinematreasures.org. (dallasmovietheaters on September 4, 2015 at 4:29 pm).

“This theater’s history is rather challenging but it is clear that beginning as early as 1913, motion pictures are played at the multipurpose Morhaus Hall which was a local landmark in Marthasville. It also features speeches, dances, and concerts. It was demolished in 1966. Until 1925, another multipurpose hall called Mittler’s Hall is open and also features dances, concerts and events. That facility appears to be what this entry’s origin is on Depot Street.

Marthasville’s William T. Zimmerman who had shown moving pictures at the halls opened a regular movie house in nearby Warrenton. On October 17, 1925, he launches the New Marthasville Theater bringing regular moving pictures to what I’d assume was Mittler’s Hall as the hall is no longer mentioned. The theatre closes and the equipment is sold. But on May 12, 1928, the theatre comes back as the Morhaus Brothers rebrand the space as the Morhaus Theatre relaunching on May 12, 1928 with “The Cheerful Fraud.” It converts to talking pictures in 1930 opening with the film “Flight” on May 17, 1930. As noted, the theatre continues until August 11, 1933 when ads disappear. In 1937, the theatre makes a comeback known once again as the Marthasville Theatre. When that fails, it appears to end the life of this property as a CinemaTreasure. Movies are regularly shown at the aforementioned Morhaus Hall during the 1940s.”



My patient readers, my journey continued. More than once, I have been encouraged to seek help from local historian, Cathie Schoppenhorst. So, guess what?

pO: Do you have any sense that you’ll find more stages and halls in a Catholic church/school?

Cathie Schoppenhorst (by phone 8/29/23): Hmm, I do know that in the little bit of newspaper research I have done…from probably that time period…it seemed like a lot of churches had a stage like…okay, St. Paul’s in Marthasville had a stage in the basement. The community of Marthasville also had two different secular buildings where plays and musical activities… Every town had their choral group, and their brass band, and some of them had a string band. It was amazing how many different musical groups there were.

pO: And in Marthasville, one of those buildings was Morhaus, is that true? And where was Morhaus?

CS: Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you. I just know that there was probably one hall in the upper part of town in the earlier days, and later, I think there were maybe two downtown. One was on Depot St., and one was that building that is currently being renovated…

pO: Yes!!

CS: …the Preserve Marthasville building (105 West South St, Marthasville).

pO: We met that guy (Gabe Bockhorst, http://preservemarthasville.com ). Dave Klaas and I walk a lot, and Gabe invited us in! He was so forthcoming, and he showed us everything. He showed me the stage there. It’s concrete.

CS: That was also the high school for a few years. It was a corncob pipe factory. That building has had so many uses.

pO: Farm implements. (Some of you probably know the building as the Driemeyer Motor Company.)

CS: I’ve sent him some things. I think maybe Lauren Seidel sent him some things. Everybody wants to help him because we love the idea that he’s preserving the buildings.

pO: And what was that other name you just said? …Lauren Seidel?

CS: Yes, she is with Four Rivers Genealogical Society. She lives in the Dutzow area. And she’s just doing a phenomenal job of writing their Facebook posts and coming up with stuff from all over the place. She just did the Zerobeaters building…the ham radio that’s in the old bank building (in Dutzow).



pO: Would you mind passing my cell number on to Lauren just to establish communication?

Gentle readers, on the same day I spoke with Cathie Schoppenhorst, she sent me 2 more emails. The first contained a photo of a short article from the Warrenton Banner, Feb. 25, 1926. Cathie added, “My son, Tim, thinks it was torn down in the 1960s and said someone posted on the "Good Old Marthasville " Facebook page that it backed up to the creek aka Town Branch.”



Within hours I received another email from Cathie: “And more! Tim posted and Jim Buescher responded that it was behind the 2-story house on Depot Street between the brick bank building and the old feed store (the black building I mentioned earlier). Tim looked up the house and it is at 305 Depot St. and that property owner owns that lot 12 and the one behind it, lot 31. Then he looked at the abstract book (we're at the museum in Warrenton now) and found Morhaus bought the north half of lot 31 in Lagemann Addition in 1914. So now we know!”

“We think there were two Mittler Halls, one in the Merrimake Hotel uptown and the second in what became the Driemeyer building. We haven't come up with a 3rd named hall, but another place for entertainment was Meyers Grove which became Mittlers Grove. It was close to the intersection of Boone Monument Road (originally Davis Lane) and Loop Road just off of what is now hwy D. One of the Mittler Halls had a bowling lane in it.”


And friends, establishing communication with Lauren Seidel occurred the next day. This all happened so rapidly that I couldn’t quite remember what type of help I was seeking from Lauren.


pO (via email): I was picking Cathie’s brain yesterday on the topic of halls, stages, and stage plays because I write short history stories (based mostly on interviewing people). I concentrate on southwestern St. Charles County, but occasionally I stray into Franklin and Warren Counties. However, I don’t recall how your name entered the conversation…silly me. But I do remember that whatever Cathie told me was cause enough to want to be in touch with you. How embarrassing.

Lauren Seidel (via email): She probably recommended me for my work with Four Rivers Genealogy Library! I do a lot of research on buildings and places there. Our website is www.4rgs.org

We have a small blog that gets updated every couple of months. My research is primarily Washington, but I do stray to Dutzow, Marthasville, and Augusta occasionally!

LS (via cell 9/14/23): I don’t know a whole lot about stage plays…maybe the Turn Verein…probably did plays. I can’t give you anything specific right now. And I know that the (Washington) historical society has a picture or two…but Fifth Street School, they did some plays. They have pictures of kids dressed up like…giraffes, and things like that. But I think if you look at the Turn Verein…there’s probably something on Google about it…from newspapers.


Turns out…forgive the pun…turn means gymnastics, and as many of you know verein means society. Turn Verein was completed in 1866 and it was a center for social and cultural activities. Another organization, Theatre Verein, merged with Turn Verein in the same year.

pO: Turn Verein was downtown, more or less, wasn’t it.

LS: Yeah, it was near Second Street and Jefferson…that big green building…they just painted it green…I think they may have used that for part of the plays at Turn Verein. The rest of it they tore down, but that’s still standing. I think I’m headed into the museum tomorrow so…I can maybe send you a picture or an email if I find anything about the Turn Verein.

Gentle lovers of acting, I am simply amazed by the generosity of our local historians. Lauren Seidel, of Four Rivers Genealogical Society, was no exception. The very next day, Lauren sent me this clipping from the Franklin County Observer, dated 5/23/1924.



My patient readers, I see now I could write volumes on the topic of stage plays in our neck of the woods, but my appetite to write is currently sated. This is the final act of the Tom Rueschhoff story. I wonder what’s next.


Always curious,

paulO



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