Voices from the Past (1992)
Our oral history treasure
The Friends of the Stewart Library (now Drake Community Library) embarked on an oral history project in 1992. Their goal was to record the memories of a group of twenty Grinnell residents about their experiences during the Great Depression of the 1930s and 1940s. The idea grew out of a reading and lecture series featuring books about the experiences of Iowans during those difficult years. The project was funded with a grant from the Iowa Humanities board and was directed by Valerie Vetter.
In an effort to document the impact of that period on the Grinnell area, volunteers conducted one to two hour interviews that were recorded and later transcribed. Photographs and brief biographies of each of the interviewees were produced for an exhibit about the project. A video describing the venture featuring six of those interviewed was also completed, “Testaments: Voices from the Past.” Video interviewees are Anna Ramsey, Sid Potts, Martin Pearce, Augusta Pederson, Dick Sears, and Grant Gale.
For each of the twenty participants, you can view a photo of that person, a short biography, a PDF of the interview, an MP3, and a link to that person’s interview in Digital Grinnell. For help on downloading PDFs and MP3s in different browsers, visit the Downloading Documents page.
Since the time of the project, many of those who were interviewed have passed away, making this material more precious still.
"Testaments: Voices from the Past"
Grant Gale: 13:55, 17:49, 24:08
Martin Pearce: 7:17, 10:17, 17:08, 20:57
Augusta Pederson: 8:49, 12:05, 22:40
Sid Potts: 5:23, 20:22
Anna Ramsey: 1:50, 23:13, 24:31
Dick Sears: 6:37, 12:47, 15:51, 19:41
Armstrong, Everett (1917-2000)
Born in Chester Township on January 3, 1917, Everett moved into the city of Grinnell in 1930, where he graduated from Grinnell High School in 1935. After returning from a tour of duty in World War II, he founded Armstrong Electric from which he retired in 1980. He represented the Fourth Ward on the City Council from 1949 to 1951. He and his wife, Phyllis, were the parents of a daughter and a son.
Arnold, Margaret (1906-1999)
The daughter of Dr. O.F. and Laura Parish, Margaret was born in Grinnell on June 14, 1906. She graduated from Grinnell College and taught fourth grade in Flint, Michigan, for a short time. She owned and operated Arnold’s Shoe Store in Grinnell for 53 years and retired in 1989. After retirement, she continued to live in Grinnell and enjoyed reading, which she could not do during her busy working years.
Berman, Isadore (1924-)
Isadore Berman was born February 22, 1924. He graduated from Grinnell High School in 1941, served in World War II, earned a BA from Grinnell College in 1949 and, later, an MBA from Columbia University. He is continuing in the family scrap metal business. He and his wife, Ida, have a son and a daughter.
For more on Isadore Berman, see Dan Kaiser’s blog post “Alone Among the Gentiles.”
Breiting, Gene (1913-1999)
Dunham, Marian (1919-2008)
Born February 10, 1919, two miles north of Grinnell, in a house which had been built by her grandfather, Marian was a relative of J.B. Grinnell for whom the town and college were named. A graduate of Grinnell College, she studied Library Science at the University of Denver. She was the Librarian at Stewart Public Library for 22 years and at the Des Moines Public Library for 19 years. She then returned to Grinnell and resided at Mayflower Home.
Gale, Grant (1903-1998)
Born December 29, 1903 in Prentice, Wisconsin, Grant was educated in Wisconsin and Michigan. He came to Grinnell in 1928, and in 1929, was joined by his bride, Harriet. He was a professor of physics at Grinnell College. An observatory on the campus is named in his honor. He had three children.
For more on Grant Gale, see Dan Kaiser’s blog posts “Comet Fever: 1910” and “Japanese Americans Come to War-Time Grinnell.”
Video: 13:55, 17:49, 24:08
Hartzell, Josephine (1902-2004)
A resident of the Grinnell area her entire life, Josephine was born on November 29, 1902. Until 1980 she worked on the family farm doing chores and taking care of animals. At that time she moved into town, where she enjoyed reading and sewing in her retirement.
Video: 13:55, 17:49, 24:08
Hiser, Velma (1904-1996)
Velma Bissell Hiser, born July 10, 1904, graduated from Dexter (Iowa) High School, attended Grinnell College and graduated from Northwestern University. She received her M.S. degree from the University of Iowa. She taught at Grinnell College from 1937 until her retirement. For a time, she and her husband managed the Monroe Hotel. Breeding and showing Boxer dogs was a major interest of hers.
Jones, Virgil (1912-1995)
Born in Grinnell on September 10, 1912, Virgil graduated from high school and attended Grinnell College for a time. He worked in retail sales and traveled for the Grinnell Shoe Company. After service in the Navy during World War II, he and his wife, the former Ona Whitaker, joined in the operation of the Grinnell Livestock Exchange until 1973. They continued to live on the south edge of town.
Lannom, Dorothy (1912-2003)
Born in Cedar Rapids on November 3, 1912, Dorothy Williams came to Grinnell in 1934 as a graduate of Coe College. She taught home economics until her marriage in 1936 to G. Sharp Lannom III. She was interested in politics, and went to the Far East with the Iowa Development Commission and Iowa Governor Harold Hughes. Three of her four sons carried on the family manufacturing business.
McDowell, Arthur "Art" (1902-1996)
One of nine children, Art was born south of Grinnell on June 22, 1902. After graduating from high school and working for three years at the Farmer’s Elevator, he began his career in insurance. Upon retirement, he was Secretary-Treasurer of the Poweshiek County Mutual Insurance Company. He and his wife, Mildred, married in 1930, and had a son and daughter. He then lived in the Mayflower Home and continued his hobby of golf.
Parish, John (1904-1997)
The son of Dr. O.F. and Laura Parish, John was born September 23, 1904. After graduating from Grinnell College in 1927, he studied medicine at Harvard and interned at Johns Hopkins. He served in the Navy during World War II. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had three daughters. After retiring to Arizona for twelve years, they returned to live at Mayflower Home.
For more on John Parish, see Dan Kaiser’s blog post “Another Time When Polio Came to Grinnell.”
Pearce, Martin (1916-1998)
Born February 8, 1916, Martin grew up and farmed in the Westfield area on the farm on which his father and grandfather had lived. For a short time he worked in the meat packing industry in Des Moines, but returned to farming until moving to Grinnell in 1992. He and his wife, Doris, had two daughters, and a son who is engaged in farming.
Video: 7:17, 10:17, 17:08, 20:57
Pederson, Augusta (1904-2005)
Since her birth on October 29, 1904, Augusta has lived in or near Grinnell. After her marriage to Leonard Pederson, she was his partner in farming, active in Grange and church work, and a busy homemaker and mother. She was an accomplished cook, baker, and quilter. She and her husband had three children.
Video: 8:49, 12:05, 22:40
Potts, Lucille "Sid" (1910-2007)
Lucille McDowell was born in Grinnell on October 19, 1910. A 1928 graduate of Grinnell High School, she attended business college in Quincy, Illinois. In 1937 she married Dick Potts. She began her banking career in 1929 as a bookkeeper at Citizen’s National Bank (later Poweshiek County National Bank and then Wells Fargo). She retired in 1975 at which time she was an officer and board member. She then continued to live in Grinnell.
Video: 5:23, 20:22
Preston, Stanley "Stub" (1903-1999)
A resident of Grinnell all of his life, Stanley was born on May 3, 1903. After graduation from Drake University, he joined his father in the clothing business. In more recent years, he and his wife, Carmen, often wintered in Florida, where he enjoyed fishing. He had one son. “Stub” then lived in the Mayflower Home.
Ramsey, Anna (1908-2008)
Anna Ramsey, the daughter of Frank and Alice Knight, was born on November 22, 1908. She graduated from Grinnell College in 1930. She married Fred Ramsey and had a son and a daughter. Before retiring, she worked as a secretary at Grinnell College. She continued to live in Grinnell.
Video: 1:50, 23:13, 24:31
Sears, Richard "Dick" (1914-1992)
Dick lived on the same farm in Chester Township, north of Grinnell, his entire life. After two years of high school at Chester, he graduated from Newburg High School. He was active in the Poweshiek County Farm Bureau, the Ayrshire Breeders’ Association, community organizations and was also an auctioneer. He and his wife, Lola, had three children.
Video: 6:37, 12:47, 15:51, 19:41
Wieman, Laura (1913-1997)
Laura, the daughter of Henry and Merta Matlack, was born in Grinnell on July 19, 1913 and lived in Grinnell until 1936. She returned to Grinnell in 1966 with her husband, Henry Wieman, to her family home. She received a BA from Grinnell College and an MFA from Southern Illinois University. She taught in public schools and at SIU. She was a skilled weaver.