Adapted from the original email letter sent by Paul Ovaitt on August 2, 2023
Tom Rueschhoff, Part III – When I learned to curse – Paul Kemner – The play’s the thing (Shakespeare) - The play’s not the thing (paulO) - A tall tale – Elmer Kemp – camp Klondike - the coalbin
Okay, gentle readers, now that I’m finished with the early history of Augusta’s Immaculate Conception Church, I’m circling back to my original topic, Tom Rueschhoff. You may recall that Tom not only attended the IC grade school in the 1930s…he lived at the rectory with his Reverend Uncle (Fr. Adolph Range) and Range’s sister, Agnes, otherwise known as Aunt Aggie to Tom.
I phone interviewed Tom and his daughter, Joanie, on April 21, 2023. Some additions to the interview resulted from subsequent emails and texts with Joanie Rueschhoff.
One thing that sticks out for me, from our chat, was Tom’s reference to putting on plays in the upstairs hall and stage. Boy, did that resonate with me…for a couple reasons. In my youth I played rock’ n’ roll in many church halls which were often located on the second or third floor of Catholic schools.
As I recall, St. George Catholic Church in Linn, Mo had such an arrangement. Hence, my brothers and I would drag heavy amplifiers upstairs until we reached the hall which had a stage. And remember, in the mid-60s, it was fashionable to own amplifiers that stood as tall as a refrigerator and weighed about as much. I mean…you had to make a face to lift one.
I think that’s when I learned to curse.
But the second resonance came from the very concept of presenting plays and concerts on a stage, in a hall, which was designed into the campus/church grounds. I went to grade school at St. Peter School in Jefferson City, MO. Next to the church was an old, large, brick building known as Selinger Centre. It housed, among other things, a huge stage and plenty of seating space. Like all my siblings, I was coerced to enter talent contests which took place on that well-worn stage. Question is…why was it there at all?
And why did a small church like Immaculate Conception in Augusta see fit to construct a quite nice stage and hall above the classrooms? Well, anyone who follows my stories will know that I’m not going to do any serious research to answer that question, but that won’t stop me from speculating. I mean…maybe it was a German-American Catholic thing…? Oh…but that’s right…I said I’d talk some more about Tom Rueschhoff. Let’s see what a fellow classmate can tell me about him.
paulO: I’m doing a story about a guy you may remember…well…actually, Tom and Bob Rueschhoff.
Paul Kemner (on 4/22/23): Sure! They were both in the same schoolroom as I was…and we were real close buddies…and played together a lot of times. Tom was in my same class all throughout school…and Bob was one or two classes ahead of us.
Gentle readers, I was unable to insert a photo of the ICC graduation class but look for it in the attachments. According to Sarah Peper, the photo of the young graduates with their diplomas was taken in the Ueltzen home. Seated left to right are Loretta Struckhoff, Angela Kuchem, Mildred Ueltzen, Andrew Kessler, Paul Kemner and Tom Rueschoff.
pO: And in those days it was like a two-room school. Half the kids were in one room and half were in the other.
PK: First, second, third, fourth were in the lower grade. As you came into the school from the west it was…a side door…that would be the first room. Then we had a middle room, and that was a chapel. The third room (east side) was five, six, seven and eight.
pO: Is the chapel still in that room?
PK: No, it’s used now…half of it is a cloakroom, and the other half is a rest room.
pO: And those old schoolrooms, do they still have a cloakroom in them.
PK: No, there’s a long hallway in front of those three rooms. There was a cloakroom in that hallway with hangers…not hangers…the ability to hang up your clothes on a hook.
pO: Are there still blackboards in those rooms?
PK: Yeah…the blackboards (actually green) have never been removed.
pO: Did you have to go outside for the bathroom…an outhouse?
PK: (Chuckle.) That was for sure…cold weather or hot summer. And it was…oh, probably…down…back…I would say maybe… If you were just walking…maybe 4 minutes to get there. You know…it was a split toilet. One side was for the boys, and the other side was for the girls.
PK: And the playground was…well…everywhere. We had a team of…I don’t know how many on each side, but we had baseball…well, I guess it was softball…and we played over beyond the burial grounds.
pO: And the girls, did they play with you?
PK: Nah, I don’t believe we had the girls with us (laughs)…I better not be making that sure.
pO: But you had classes with the girls.
PK: Oh, yes.
pO: Tom Rueschhoff said that if he did go to town, to Augusta, he would often visit you and you would play. Do you remember much about what you would do with him?
PK: Well, there was Mildred June Ueltzen, Bob and myself, and who else? Most of the children were out in the rural area. Oh, wait a minute…there was Buddy and William Dieckhaus…that was two who lived in Augusta.
pO: Tom told me that the church and the school had electricity before the farmers did (in the 1930s). Do you know anything about that…when electricity came?
PK: When I was…I don’t know how old, but I helped Dad (Pete Kemner) …just be a flunky for him. He helped wire some of those farmers’ properties when electricity came available. Dad was in the garage business; he also was doing electric poles.
pO: Busy guy. Where did the electricity come from? Was that from Troy, MO?
PK: Yes, yes.
pO: Was that Cuivre River?
PK: No, it was… Now doggone it…I better not say that. I’m not just sure about it.
pO: Tom Rueschhoff told me a little about the pond behind the school.
PK: That pond has just been rebuilt, 2 or 3 months ago. It’s much bigger and much deeper. When I was there, it was maybe up to your stomach, in the middle of the pond. And during the winter we’d have our sleds out there, and there was a pretty good-sized hill coming from the school down to that pond. We would sleighride down to there. Or if it was cold enough…it would freeze over. We’d play hockey or just ice skate.
Gentle readers, already I’m on page 4 of this Word document, and I haven’t much touched on the topic of theatre and German immigrants. So…I’m going to flip a coin now. Heads – we stay on the topic of Tom and Augusta, or tails – the play is the thing. Okay…heads it is. The play is not the thing.
Joanie Rueschhoff: Dad, you told me about the pond behind the church, and how you used to go ice skating and fishing.
Tom Rueschhoff: Oh, yeah. Well, the Struckhoffs sometimes let their cattle in there. When it was snowing…we’d sleighride down and sometimes go onto it if it was frozen over.
JR: In the summer…would you go swimming in that pond?
TR: No, never.
TR: Nah, there weren’t any fish; they had bullfrogs. Onetime, my brother and I went down to the pond…we were going for bullfrogs. (Tom proceeded with his tall tale, but I could only understand occasional phrases.) …halfway in the water…here was a big bullfrog looking us right in the eye…my brother went in with…bare feet there…he gotta hold of it…and here he had one of the biggest bullfrogs I’ve ever seen…measured 24 inches long. We cleaned it and my aunt fried it up. We had a nice bullfrog meal.
JR: They always ate their kill back in those days.
pO: That’s a good idea, I think.
TR: My brother, he was able to shoot a duck or two off that pond. My uncle had a 12 gauge shotgun.
pO: Did you and your friends go all the way down to the river?
TR: Yeah…I remember going mushroom hunting down in the river bottoms.
pO: Did you do well?
TR: Yeah, we did pretty good. There was a time I remember…it wasn’t like we got a whole lot, but enough for a meal or two.
pO: Did Reverend Uncle and your aunt like the mushrooms?
TR: Yeah, I think so!
pO: Was the Mass at IC in Latin or sometimes German? And did you have to learn a certain amount of Latin to serve Mass?
TR: Always in Latin. Yeah, we had to repeat the Latin.
pO: How long did a school day last?
TR: Well, at 8 o’clock we went to the church, and Mass was over in about 20 or 25 minutes. Then we went back to school until 3 o’clock.
pO: Did all the students bring their own lunch?
TR: Yeah, everybody brought their own. My aunt would have lunch for us…prepared when we went home.
pO: You said you had running water there. Was that from a cistern or a deepwell?
TR: It was from a cistern. There were 3 cisterns there. When it would rain, you’d let it rain for about 10 or 15 minutes, then go out and flip it (the diverter) over to let the (clean) water go into the cistern.
Gentle readers, again I was unable to insert the desired photo. But look for an attached picture of youngsters gathered around a cistern pump. Please note that Paul Kemner has Andrew Kessler on his shoulders. And there’s someone on Tom’s shoulders.
pO: Did your aunt or your reverend uncle have a little garden?
TR: My aunt would raise some tomatoes, strawberries…something like that. They didn’t raise a whole lot.
pO: Any chickens?
TR: At one time they had chickens. They had a chicken house there, but when I was there they didn’t have any chickens.
pO: Tell me what Augusta was like back then.
TR: Well, it was a nice little town. I knew the Kemners. They ran their machine shop…the automobile repair in town. And he was the Chevrolet dealer in town.
pO: Did you ever go into the blacksmith shop?
TR: No…I went past it…it was right across from the Knoernschild grocery store.
pO: I guess you went into the grocery store.
TR: We used to go in there quite a bit, and the other one…Haferkamp’s.
pO: Were there many black people left, living in the Augusta area?
TR: No, I didn’t see any. I don’t think there were any in town, that I know of.
pO: When I got there in ’76, there was Elmer Kemp and his wife who lived up on Schleursburg Road. I was told there used to be more.
Gentle readers, many of you are aware that there was a black school at 255 Green St., currently the home of Ruth Nolting Fuhr. In its 1991 town building survey, the Missouri Office of Historic Preservation reports that the building had once served as a “colored school & church”. This survey is interesting to anyone who is remotely intrigued with Augusta history. Allow me to give you a link - https://mostateparks.com/sites/mostateparks/files/Augusta%20Survey.pdf
When I interviewed Helen Mae Haupt Weissflug in April of 2021, we had this exchange on the topic of black schools. https://www.augustamomuseum.com/post/tell-it-like-it-was-mi-casa-es-su-casa
P: What about the black schools; were there still any in the area when you grew up?
H: I think it might have been somewhere on Schluersburg Road. But cater-cornered from our home, where the Fuhrs lived, that was a black school when my mom (Regina Haupt, 1901-1995) grew up.
P: You mentioned Schluersburg Road…I remember Elmer Kemp and his wife lived up on the ridge when I first came here.
H: Yes, that was one of the names…there were a couple people…they dealt with my grandpa Haferkamp’s store. And mom worked there for a while, and she had a real good…communion with those fellows. They got along really well, and they liked for her to wait on them.
P: Well, Elmer seemed like a sweet man. I liked him a lot. I would see him at Frank’s General Store. And on one occasion he hired me to winterize his home. (Elmer and Hilda Kemp are buried in the town cemetery.)
In Anita Mallinckrodt’s (our town historian’s) book, Augusta’s “Harmony”, she quotes the Augusta School Board as saying, “In November 1936 the Augusta School Board voted to consider moving the colored school to camp Klondike, since all the colored scholars reside there, provided proper arrangements can be made for a suitable building.” Anita further says that the school was moved to the Klondike location probably in 1937. So, I called Paul Kemner again to see what he knew about camp Klondike and if it was the same as the sand plant east of town.
PK: Well…that was before my time, but I assume that that’s what it is. I’m not certain though. I don’t recall colored people ever…well there were two working there…but I don’t recall any living down there. I don’t really know. It might be that it (the camp) was somewhere in that vicinity.
pO: BTW I’ll just remind you…that you guys (Paul and Bernice) agreed to do the Tell It Like It Was Live in September. That would be September 12th (2023) , on a Tuesday night.
PK: What time do you usually start?
pO: It’s good if you get there by 6pm. One of us will come pick you up.
Gentle readers, do any of you know anything about camp Klondike? No? Okay, back to Tom Rueschhoff.
pO: I guess that rectory had a basement or a cellar?
TR: Yeah, it had a basement. They had steam heat in that house…radiators.
pO: I guess you were burning coal?
TR: Oh yeah, in fact, I remember my uncle used to order a half a trainload I think…of coal…for the church, the school, and the nuns’ house (and the rectory). And then, 3 or 4 of the farmers with their trucks…on a Saturday, or whatever, would get all that coal…and then they’d haul it up to the church and put it in the basement. And then my uncle, and my brother and I, went down to the coalbin with a raker. We would pull the coal mountain in a little further. When we were done we looked like black people.
pO: Did they have a metal door…something to open, and throw the coal down there.
Gentle readers, now that we’ve hit bedrock, I’m going to end this chapter. When I return, I’ll tackle the topic of stage plays and Catholic churches…if there is such a topic.