Sharing memories of growing up in McGregor

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Bob Eggen

Alice Staples

Arlys Denning

Jim Hendrickson

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Four McGregor residents shared their fond memories of growing up in the community at the McGregor Historical Museum’s fall event on Oct. 27.

Alice Staples, Arlys Denning, Jim Hendrickson and Bob Eggen reflected on “Growing Up McGregor Strong: 1940-1960,” to an audience of around 30 people.

Not surprisingly, school was one of the topics the speakers referenced the most.

Staples attended the Moody Ridge one-room country school. Water had to be carried from the neighbor’s well, and the building was heated by an old wood stove.

“There was a flagpole in the yard,” she recalled. “We would raise the flag and bring it down in the evening.”

Her fondest memory, though, was of the school’s bookshelf.

“On that bookshelf I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the ‘Little House on the Prairie,’” Staples said. “That introduced me to the love of reading. It wasn’t long after that I found the McGregor Library.”

Staples said transitioning from country school to attending school in town was a bit intimidating. Denning agreed, noting the fashion difference.

“Like Alice, I was in country school, too. When I got to town school, all the girls had anklets and I had to wear long underwear and long socks. That changed,” she said with a smile.

By the time he was ready to attend high school, Eggen, who grew up in lower Sny Magill, said he was glad the school finally had a bus.

Before, he commented, “if you wanted to go to high school, you had to walk six miles back and forth.”

McGregor had just one bus. The first run, Eggen recalled, went to Clayton to pick up several kids, then it came back to McGregor, dropped them off and went to the other rural areas.

“At 10 minutes after 7—I still remember the exact time—I had to be at the bridge as the bus came,” he said. “It never went by my house.”

Eggen said it was a mile and a quarter walk to the bus stop,  if he took the road.

“But we never went on the road. We went down through the pasture. The trick was we had to get across a creek there that came down from Paradise Valley. For awhile, they had a log there, but it was only about that big around,” he detailed, showing the circumference with his hands. “And you know what happens when you try to walk on a log. We got to school a lot of times with a wet foot.”

One of Hendrickson’s best memories also came from school. It was where he discovered the identity of his “mystery girlfriend.”

Like Staples, Hendrickson said he enjoyed visiting the McGregor Library, going Wednesday and Saturday nights each week.

“My mystery girlfriend I would only see on Wednesday or Saturday nights. She was blond, and to me, she was beautiful. I was in the sixth or seventh grade,” he shared. “But I had no idea who this person was. She wasn’t in our school and I said, ‘I gotta find out who this girl is.’”

“Well,” he continued, “the first day of our freshman year, I walked into study hall and there she is. She’s now my wife.” 

The speakers also touched on some local history. Denning shared some old newspaper clippings about McGregor’s creamery and talked about her father, who was a butter-making champion.

In addition, she, with the help of audience members, recounted the businesses that once lined Main Street.

Hendrickson remembered Emma Big Bear.

“Emma Big Bear lived on the riverfront, and we spent a lot of time with Emma,” he said. 

 Some people, Hendrickson said, thought Emma rather curt, or rude, but he felt she was often just frustrated by the language barrier.

“I always enjoyed my time with Emma,” he stated.

Eggen explained how Sny Magill got its name.

“I don’t know if you’re acquainted with the Sny Magill slough area,” he said to the audience, “but it’s quite unique. It has 99 Indian mounds in that small area. There was a man by the name of Magill who settled down there and built a home and lived there. The French word for slough is ‘sny,’ so it was Magill’s Slough. That’s how Sny Magill got named.”

Staples said she didn’t remember much about WWII, but did remember the rationing of gas and tires, as well as the school kids collecting milkweed pods.

“I don’t know what they were used for for the war—some thought parachutes,” she mentioned. “There were gobs of those milkweed pods, and we must have done such a good job collecting them that there are no seeds left, and they urge us now to plant them.”

All the speakers said they enjoyed their time spent growing up in and around McGregor.

For a time, Eggen made deliveries for Bickel Grocery.

“I knew where everyone lived in McGregor and Marquette,” he said. “It was the most fun I ever had, driving that truck around and visiting all the households.”  

For Hendrickson, the area’s natural beauty was important.

“Probably the highlights of my youth were roaming all of these hills,” he said.

Staples agreed: “I still think McGregor is a beautiful river town.”

To hear more stories from the event, check out the videos posted on the McGregor Historical Museum Facebook page.

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