HELLO FROM EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN - merchants slogan: "We don't have it but we can get it for you."

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Kim and I spent some time at Ottowa House Books (aka Wax Paper Etc.) on water Street just past Fifth. If you love the smell of aged books as much as I do, and a chance to browse a great variety of topics, you really should stop in and meet the very fascinating proprietor, Charlie VandenBreul.

Tell him what you like to read and he will steer you to some appropriate titles. I always enjoy his company as I browse. Do stop in!


I received this next writing from my first cousin Ray Kondrasuk who certainly has done the research on the Wetzels!

Gilman's SS Peter & Paul Parish is celebrating its centennial October 17th; I've been asked to provide stories about its oldest member. This is what I've gathered so far; your own memory-jogging anecdotes will be quickly embraced.




Lucille was the firstborn on April 24, 1911, to Lew and Belle (Vincent)
Wetzel on their homestead three miles southeast of Beulah, North Dakota.
Often, the five dollars Lew might earn playing his violin at Saturday
night dances would be the only reliable income to feed his family. With
but an eighth-grade education himself, he did pass the state teacher
exam and taught the children of newly immigrated Russian farmers in a
one-room school.

After seven crop failures in thirteen wildly unpredictable growing
seasons, Lew surrendered to the uncertainties of drought, late-spring
killer frosts, prairie fires, locusts, wheat blight, and hailstorms. He
moved the family to Wisconsin in 1923, spending a year in Chelsea near


Lew invested his musical talents well, teaching Lucille piano and her
sister Alice violin. Their brother Francis learned the alto sax, sister
Gladys the trumpet, younger brother Raymond the tenor sax, and youngest
child Gertrude also the alto sax. Gert was also the vocalist, doing a
crowd-favorite impersonation of the 1940's pop singer, Wee Bonnie Baker, with her
spot-on mimicking of "Oh, Johnny!" and "Ma, he's makin' eyes at me!"

The family dance band made a cross-country tour to the west coast after
Lew wrote innumerable winter letters to municipalities arranging a
schedule of summer play dates en route.


Lucille and her sisters Alice and Ruth followed their father's early
lead and became grade-school teachers themselves; each sister later had children
who also taught.

Lucille wed a handsome Polish-born mechanic named John Kondraszuk even
though she knew she would have competition for his attention because of his ongoing
affections for embraceable members of the Winchester and Pflueger families.
That distraction became dramatic one night in November, 1943, when Lucille's
contractions began while John was away and isolated at deer camp. (Venison, yes; Verizon, not yet). A friend answered her urgent appeal and drove her to the hospital. Several years
later, that friend nervously paced the waiting room other times for the births
of his own Butch, Kenny, and Mike & Margie. Lucille's next infants, Jennifer (four years later) and Bob (five years) were born in February and September, so their father was present because they were "out of season" deliveries. But Lucille and John's firstborn, Ray, owes a safe and timely arrival to that "other John".


John Kondrasuk (the family dropped the "z" so no one would suspect they were Polish) made "deliveries", too. He did the "emptying".... the first-graders poured from his school bus along with their older siblings who guided them down the hall for a "filling" of minds in front Lucille's alphabet-topped chalkboards with those charts of smooth, correct cursive so quickly mastered by
fine feminine fingers, but a were challenge to little hands ever ready to swap a pencil for a Swiss army knife.


Fine feminine fingers caressed the SSPP organ, too... Lucille's keyboard up in the choir loft at the back of the church faced away from the altar, so she gave pitched cues for father's next "Agnus Dei" by glancing into a rear-view mirror on the music rail. For fifty years, Lucille directed and accompanied the St. Agnes Choir's sincere renditions traditional hymns, Latin high Masses, and even the "Lulajze Jezuniu" lullaby to the Nativity.

My mother was the Alice referred to in the story. Music goes back a long way in my family.


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