My dear uncle, Bill Spencer, who left us on Christmas day, 2020, was such a favorite of mine. We were a lot alike, and we had many of the same interests. It was Uncle Bill who taught me to play cribbage, but was never one to let me win. I learned to play well, and when I won…I knew I had really won. Back when you could get away with letting your kid drive on your lap, or even themselves with you in the car, well before they were of an age to get a permit, he let me drive to their cabin when we visited. Even my dad was ok with it, so I drove the three of us for quite a while. As a mom, when my kids needed family history information, I knew that my Uncle Bill was the guy to go to. He was the family historian from the time he was eight years old, and I quickly became as obsessed as he was. Uncle Bill did his research the old fashioned was, by making trips to different places to look in cemeteries, county and state records offices, and libraries. It was much harder work back then, and those of us who have been the beneficiaries of Uncle Bill’s hard work, can say that he has done a great work.
Uncle Bill is my dad, Allen Spencer’s older brother. Uncle Bill was ten years younger than his sister, Laura Fredrick, and three years older than his younger sister, Ruth Wolfe. The two boys were in the middle. The family lived many years in Holyoke, Minnesota, and ran a farm there. Uncle Bill, being the oldest son, played a big part in the farming. He, along with mostly my dad and Aunt Ruth helped with haying, and growing the the gardens. Their dad worked for the railroad, and so the farm was largely left to my grandmother, Anna Spencer, and the kids. My Aunt Laura was married during a good part of the younger children’s growing up years. Nevertheless, Uncle Bill and Aunt Laura were very close during his childhood years when their mother was working and Aunt Laura took care of him. They grew to have a close friendship, as well as being siblings.
As they grew older, Uncle Bill and my dad were the definitely the boys of the family. They loved getting into all kinds of trouble. The jumped on the moving trains, even though they had a pass to ride. They played with dynamite, even sinking the gatepost couple of inches. They also loved to go fishing, and often brought home a good catch, which all the family got to enjoy. Even though they were typical boys, I guess they weren’t all bad. I’m sure that when Uncle Bill got to Heaven a little less than a month ago, there was a wonderful reunion between the brothers, as they rest of their family too. It makes me sad to know that all of the siblings are gone to Heaven now, but only for myself and those of us left here. For the siblings it a big celebration. They are all together again. Today would have been Uncle Bill’s 99th birthday…and his first birthday in Heaven. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle Bill. We love and miss you very much.
Yesterday, we received the news that our sweet Uncle Bill Spencer had passed away from Covid at the Middle River Health and Rehabilitation Center in South Range, Wisconsin. He was a little under one month from his 99th birthday. Uncle Bill had lived at the Middle River Center for about ten years now, and we have had the opportunity to visit him there twice. I wish it had been more, but we live a long way away from them, so it wasn’t to be. The center was a nice place, and the people there loved Uncle Bill. We could see that the people there had a heart for their residents, and that gave us peace of mind. Uncle Bill tested positive for Covid on December 14th, and was doing ok until the morning of December 25th. By that afternoon, he had gone home to Heaven.
Uncle Bill was the last of my dad’s generation in their parents’ line, and lived the longest of them all. He was the second child of my grandparents, Allen and Anna (Schumacher) Spencer, born in Tomahawk, Wisconsin on January 21, 1922, when his older sister, Laura (Spencer) Fredrick was 10 years old, born August 3, 1912. We don’t know why there was such a distance between the two older children, because the younger three were pretty close together. My dad, Allen Spencer followed on April 27, 1924, and Aunt Ruth (Spencer) Wolfe on November 9, 1925. As they grew, the brothers, William and Allen were good friends as well as siblings. The fact that both were boys gave them many interests in common.
I recall some of their stories told when Uncle Bill came out for a visit in 2006. One of my favorites was about Independence Day celebrations. Growing up on a farm in the Holyoke area of Minnesota, they boys worked to plow, and remove rocks and tree stumps from the fields. This made them experts with dynamite, a fact that we hadn’t heard before. That in itself is very interesting, but they were also kids, and…well mischievous to say the least. Their July 4th tradition was to set off a dynamite blast…at daybreak. When I asked if people got mad at them, they said that they were out in the country, so who cared. Indeed!! One time though, they decided to try something new. Their mom had gone into town, leaving the boys at home. Their curious minds kicked in. They decided to find out what would happen if they set off a stick of dynamite on the top of the gate post. Yikes!! Well, they found out what would happen. When the dynamite exploded, the gate post sunk several inches into the dirt. The gate would no longer close, of course, and he boys immediately set about fixing it before their mom came back from town. They had no desire to find out what she thought of their prank.
While it makes me so sad that my uncle is gone now, I can feel his excitement as he entered Heaven to find his parents and siblings waiting for him. And what a wonderful thought…he was home for Christmas this year. I would imagine the celebration was wonderful. The boys were back together after so many years. I can picture them…just like kids again, filled with excitement, but I can also imagine one other thing. I can hear God saying, “The boys are back together…hide the dynamite!!” God knows his children well, and it simply wouldn’t do for those mischievous Spencer brothers to set off a stick of dynamite, right there on the gate post of the Pearly Gates, and sink one side several inches into the ground!! Nevertheless, I can see their minds clicking, sharp as ever now, thinking…”Hey, lets give that a try!!” Dynamite or not, there is a party going on in Heaven today. Grandma and Grandpa Spencer, and their kids are all together in Heaven again, and that’s worth celebrating. Uncle Bill we all love you very much and we will miss you always. You are in our future now, and we can’t wait to see you again.
When Alfred Bernhard Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite and other high explosives, died on December 10, 1896, he left a request in his will, that the bulk of his vast fortune be placed in a fund to finance an award to be “annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” He did not state why he wanted to make such a bequest, but it was believed that he did so out of moral regret over the increasingly lethal uses of his inventions in war. The first Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The ceremony came on the fifth anniversary of Nobel’s death.
Educated in private schools in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Nobel excelled in Swedish, Russian, French, English and German. His primary interests were in English literature and poetry as well as in chemistry and physics. His interest in literature and poetry, was upsetting to his father, who considered him an introvert. He wanted his sons to become engineers, and to join his enterprise. In an effort to redirect Alfred’s interests, his father sent him abroad for further training in chemical engineering. During a two year period Alfred Nobel visited Sweden, Germany, France and the United States. In Paris, the city he came to like best, he worked in the private laboratory of Professor T J Pelouze, a famous chemist. There he met the young Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero who, three years earlier, had invented nitroglycerine, a highly explosive liquid. Alfred Nobel proved himself to be a brilliant chemist. When his father’s business faltered after the end of the Crimean War, Nobel returned to Sweden and set up a laboratory to experiment with explosives. In 1863, he invented a way to control the detonation of nitroglycerin, which was previously regarded as too dangerous for use. Two years later, Nobel invented the blasting cap, an improved detonator that brought about the modern use of high explosives. Previously, the most dependable explosive was black powder, a form of gunpowder. Nitroglycerin remained dangerous, however, and in 1864 Nobel’s nitroglycerin factory blew up, killing his younger brother and several other people. Searching for a safer explosive, Nobel discovered in 1867 that the combination of nitroglycerin and a porous substance called Kieselguhr produced a highly explosive mixture that was much safer to handle and use. Nobel called his invention “dynamite,” for the Greek word dynamis, meaning “power.” Securing patents on dynamite, Nobel acquired a fortune as humanity put his invention to use in construction and warfare. Over his lifetime Alfred Nobel earned 355 patents.
All his work, left little time for a social life. At 43 years of age, feeling lonely and old, he placed an add for a woman who might become a suitable mate for him. The only one who came close to being the one, was Countess Bertha Kinsky, unfortunately she returned home and married Count Arthur von Suttner, but she and Nobel remained friends and kept writing letters to each other for decades. Over the years Bertha von Suttner became increasingly critical of the arms race. She wrote a famous book, Lay Down Your Arms and became a prominent figure in the peace movement. No doubt this influenced Alfred Nobel when he wrote his final will which was to include a Prize for persons or organizations who promoted peace. Several years after the death of Alfred Nobel, the Norwegian Parliament decided to award the 1905 Nobel Peace Prize to Bertha von Suttner.
The first Nobel Prizes were awarded on December 10, 1901, and subsequent prizes are awarded each year on December 10, because it is the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. It is the perfect day for the awards to be given. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decides the prizes in physics, chemistry, and economic science. The Swedish Royal Caroline Medico-Surgical Institute determines the physiology or medicine award. The Swedish Academy chooses literature, and a committee elected by the Norwegian parliament awards the peace prize. In 2006, each Nobel Prize carried a cash prize of nearly $1,400,000 and recipients also received a gold medal, as is the tradition. Some notable winners have included Marie Curie, Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Martin Luther King Jr, the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Nelson Mandela. All made Nobel efforts in their field.
Over the years, my family and I have spent many vacations and weekend trips, especially the 4th of July, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We love the area, and it’s close enough to home to get there even for a three day weekend. Bob and I mostly love to hike the many trails there, as opposed to the tourist attractions, since we have been there many times. Nevertheless, there are a few places that we usually go and things we usually do, like the 1880 Train, Keystone, and of course, Mount Rushmore. Being patriots, Bob and I are very much impressed by the carvings on Mount Rushmore. I think most people know that four United States Presidents, who were instrumental in making this country great, are carved in the granite face of the mountain. If you go there, you will see, President George Washington, President Thomas Jefferson, President Theodore Roosevelt, and President Abraham Lincoln, looking out across the land, making a majestic tribute to these men and to our nation as a whole. These four presidents were chosen because they represent the first 130 years of American history well. These presidents were selected by Borglum because of their role in preserving the Republic and expanding its territory. I can’t go there, or even drive by the monument, without feeling a deep sense of pride and awe. It’s almost like you can feel history when you are there.
On March 5, 1925, the Governor of South Dakota, Carl Gunderson signed the Mount Harney bill, which would allow the carving of a monument in Custer State Park. The mountain was chosen as the sight for the carvings by Gutzon Borglum, the artist in charge of the project, and really the visionary of what it would become. It was dedicated on October 1, 1925, as the sight for the carving that South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson first dreamed of seeing in the Black Hills, back in 1923. On October 7, 1927, the actual carving began. The project took 14 years and 400 men to complete the carving of the mountain. The conditions were harsh and dangerous, yet no one died during the project. Over 90% of Mount Rushmore was carved using dynamite. That is probably one of the facts about Rushmore that most people find most intriguing. The blasts removed approximately 450,000 tons of rock. If you walk on the President’s Trail, you can still see the drill marks used for the dynamite. The fine details were finished with jackhammers and hand chisels. It really isn’t what you would have expected at all.
George Washington was dedicated on July 4, 1930. Then work began on Thomas Jefferson, but many people thought it was Martha Washington for a time…a drawback of an artists work being done so much in the public eye. Thomas Jefferson was dedicated on August 30, 1936. Abraham Lincoln was dedicated on this day, September 17, 1937, and Theodore Roosevelt was dedicated on July 2, 1939. The Hall of Records was never finished because of dangerous working conditions. Gutzon Borglum died suddenly on March 6, 1942, and the work on the mountain was finished by his son, Lincoln Borglum. With the onset of the US involvement in World War II, the mountain was declared complete on October 31, 1941. So ended the work on the mountain, and I really never get tired of hearing the story.
For as long as I can remember, my Uncle Bill Spencer was a gun dealer. He went to gun shows, had every kind of gun imaginable, and every accessory for them. Uncle Bill is a patriot, and he hated anything that remotely resembled an infringement on our Constitutional rights…especially the 2nd Amendment. Not only did he sell guns, but he talked to people about the importance of fighting for our Constitutional rights. That’s not surprising really, my dad, aunts, and uncles on both sides of my family, grew up in a time when America was strong and people understood what it took to keep it that way. Of course, there are still patriots today, but there are also far too many Americans who have forgotten the reason behind our freedoms. And that government should not be allowed to infringe upon those rights.
My Uncle Bill, and my dad, Allen Spencer, who was two years younger than his brother, were around guns and dynamite most of their lives. The dynamite shocked me when I first heard about it, but after they finished their story, it all made sense. For anyone who has ever tried to get rid of a tree stump, dynamite makes sense at some point. However, these boys were just a little bit crazy with their dynamite antics, from sinking the gate post while their mom was in town and then fixing it before she got home, to blowing up dynamite to celebrate the fourth of July, I don’t think their mom ever knew what to expect from them. Nevertheless, they were both safety conscious too…even as kids. They knew what could happen if you weren’t safe.
One time my dad heard that Uncle Bill was going to be in Rapid City for a gun show. Dad had been growing a beard for a centennial, and so didn’t look exactly like himself. We showed up at the gun show without telling him we were coming. Mom and Dad sent us girls ahead to just look around Uncle Bill’s table. Dad’s plan worked. When Uncle Bill finally realized who we were, he was both pleased and stunned. It was such a great prank to pull on him, and he was totally fooled. Then we had a wonderful visit with him afterward. Uncle Bill has always been so special to me, and I missed him a lot. I think we had a lot in common. Our interests run along the same lines, and that made our visits special, and our partings tough. I’m thankful that we still have Uncle Bill in our lives, but I wish we could see him more often. Today is Uncle Bill’s 94th birthday. Happy birthday Uncle Bill!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
As young men, my dad and his brother, my Uncle Bill loved to do all the normal guy thins that most young men want to do, and hunting was right up there near the top, along with fishing, and pretty much anything that had to do with guns or dynamite, such as blowing a tree stump out of the ground, or sinking the front gate, and then fixing it before their mom found out. They were rough and rugged boys who, like most young men of those times, were growing up too fast. Times were hard, and families needed all the help they could get from all their children. Hunting was something families could do to supply food for their tables, and rabbits were always in abundance…then and now. Of course, for my dad and uncle, the guns were a cool as the hunting. They both loved guns and knew how to use them from the time they were little. Uncle Bill was hunting this particular day with a Mossberg, and my dad was using a 1906 Winchester.
Like most boys, they had high hopes for their hunts. They were going to bag that big buck, or the most rabbits, or even bring in the most fish. I’m sure they competed against each other, but I think that quite often, they pooled their resources and tried to beat the record they set the last time they went. Of course, nothing went to waste either, because that was not how things were done. The kills they made provided food for their family during those hard times of the great depression.
Though times were tough, I don’t really think my dad or his brother noticed it much, nor did their sisters really. Sure, they knew times were tough, and that everyone had to help out, but it was simply a way of life, and nothing they thought was so special. I guess that is pretty common with most people who aspire to do great things, whether it be heroic acts, service to country, or stepping up for family. Heroes come in all kinds of forms, and I’m sure that my dad’s family thought of their kids as heroes for all the help they gave them through the years.
After my story a couple of days ago, on logging in the old days, my cousin, Elmer told me a story that our grandma told him years ago. I didn’t know that some of my mom’s family was also in logging. They were loggers in Cascade, Idaho, which is a beautiful area. In figuring the time frame, I would expect that my Great Uncle Herman was a logger in the 1940’s or so. Logging may be something that can be done year round these days, but back then it was more a seasonal thing, and required that the men who worked there find other work in the off season.
According to the Grandma, who is Great Uncle Herman’s sister, he had been hired to dig graves in the off season. The ground there is rocky, and in the winter, the ground gets frozen and really hard. Digging graves under those conditions would be quite difficult. Uncle Herman’s boss told him to use a little bit of dynamite to loosen the soil a little bit. I don’t think my uncle had ever been around dynamite much…nor have I, but Elmer figured that a quarter of a stick would have been enough. He didn’t know for sure how much dynamite Uncle Herman used, but apparently the resulting hole was big enough to bury half of the townspeople. The good news was that somehow he didn’t hit any graves in the area, because no body parts were unearthed…thankfully, because I can’t imagine what a scene like that would do to a person.
The pictures that immediately came to my mind when I heard this story is the look that must have appeared on my uncle’s face when he saw what the dynamite had done. I also thought about the noise the blast made, and the fact that this mistake was not going to be able to be kept to himself. Not only would his boss know about it, but the whole town was going to know about it. Of course, Uncle Herman lost his job that day, and went on to do other off season work…probably a lot less exciting, but maybe less dangerous for everyone concerned. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that every time that incident came up in Uncle Herman’s mind or in the conversation that was going on, he couldn’t help but laugh at the very absurdity of the situation. I know Elmer and I have laughed about it repeatedly since we heard the story.
Sometimes, when I look at some of the pictures of my dad and my Uncle Bill, and think about all their antics, I find that they remind me quite a bit of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. They were always getting into trouble…oh not the kind that was really bad, just the kind that was a little bad. And of course, their favorite thing to do was to go fishing…or anything else that involved the water and no school. They were always trying some new thing…some new invention…or some new gimmick. Just like Mark Twain’s characters.
I can totally see my dad and uncle as two more characters in those novels. They would fit right in. I’m not sure the story lines would even have to be altered…except to add to more kids. Dad and Uncle Bill used to do things like setting off dynamite on Independence Day…not firecrackers…no, that was too small scale…they set off dynamite. Or they might set of dynamite on the top of the gate post…just to see what would happen. Of course, then they had to take out and reset the gate post before their mom got home from town, because she would have tanned their hides for them.
Don’t get me wrong. they had to work hard, as did their sisters, but if there was a way to get out of the work, or to find some shortcut, you can be sure that the brothers were right there. My guess is that as little boys, they were a handful for their mom. I’m quite sure that my grandmother would have done anything for her kids, but I think her boys might have been hard to reign in sometimes. But still, they were loyal to her and mostly helpful.
I guess you would have to say that they were…adventurous, and that is the part of those boys that reminds me of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Their adventures are what got them into trouble, and yet, their adventurous spirit is what made you love them in spite of their crazy antics. That is the kind of boys they were. And when Uncle Bill came out here to visit my dad before his passing, you could still see the twinkle in their eyes when they talked about the things they used to do. It was pretty funny. In my mind, I could just see my grandmother, on her way home from town…wondering what her mischievous boys had been up to all day, and what messes she was going to come home to. I’m also quite sure that more often than not, she came home to some mess that needed to be cleaned up…and a couple of boys who needed a good spanking…even if they didn’t mean to make the mess. I can also see her dealing with the dilemma of should I spank them…or just laugh about the whole thing.
I don’t pretend to know a lot of the details of my dad’s young life. I do know that the times weren’t always easy, and since my grandfather, who worked for the railroad, wasn’t around much, the kids helped out around the place. My grandmother was a very strong woman, and she was very capable of running the farm. That may have been how many of the women were back then, but as strong women go, she was right up there at the top, or so I’m told. She trained her children to be hard workers, and responsible people, and they all were. My Uncle Bill and my dad told me about blowing tree stumps out of the fields with dynamite so the land could be worked. I’m sure they didn’t mind that job too much, since dynamite was something the also played around with…like blowing gate posts deeper into the ground, only to have to fix it before their mom got back from town. My guess is that she was about the only thing they were afraid of.
My Aunt Laura was ten years older than my Uncle Bill, who was the second child, so she helped with caring for the little ones so her mom could do the other things she needed to do. I’m quite sure that running a farm would have been very difficult without the help of my Aunt Laura, not to mention lonely in those early years, when the younger children weren’t much company. There were fun times too, of course, such as fishing, which the boys thoroughly enjoyed, but there was always work to be done, and the fun times were squeezed into the middle.
Everyone helped out…the girls as well as the boys. From running a horse drawn plow to a tractor, stacking hay and caring for the animals, it was a team effort. The kids had great respect for their mother and would do anything for her. It was a time that was much different from our own. There weren’t as many conveniences, so the land had to be worked in the old ways…using horses. I don’t think my Aunt Ruth minded that too much because many of the pictures I saw her in included horses. They did have a tractor, although I don’t think it was in the early years, but when they did, it was obvious that my Uncle Bill enjoyed using it very much. The boys always liked machinery…throughout their entire lives.
Life on a farm in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s was difficult at its best, and downright ugly at it worst, and it took strong men and women to make things work, but that really is what our country is all about…strong people doing their best to do what is right and good. It is our heritage, and it’s not a bad one. Strong people are what built this country and I believe there are still a lot of us around to continue to make this country great.
When my dad was a boy, he and his family, including his sisters Laura and Ruth, and his brother Bill, lived on a farm in the Great Lakes Region. The winters were bitterly cold, and long. The snow got deep, and you only went places if you had to. This didn’t stop the kids from getting out and playing in the snow, which is typical. Bundled up warmly, their big sister takes the boys outside to pull them on their sled for a while. I’m sure the free time that provided to their mother, who had been cooped up with these bored children, was a blessing.
Living on a farm back then, the kids needed a good imagination to entertain themselves, because there were no video games to play with. Kids had to make their own fun, and my dad and his brother were very imaginative. What began with two sweetly innocent little boys, would soon graduate to the pranks and antics of boys with big ideas. Once summer arrived, the possibilities were endless. From setting off dynamite on the forth of July at daybreak…a prank that makes me wonder how many times their mom wanted to throttle them, to sneaking out by the river with buddies to cool off and maybe try their hand at smoking. You put a group of boys together on a summer day with nothing much to do, and they will be sure to come up with something…a thought that makes me cringe.
Of course, there were the chores too, and my dad and his brother were never real troublemakers, just typical boys.The did use the dynamite to work the place too. The would blow tree stumps out of ground that was needed for some other uses, and they fixed fences and gate posts…sometimes after the sunk the post into the ground with one of their dynamite adventures. They took care of the family pets, and other such chores, like cutting and stacking wood. But they always found time to play, and of course ride the horses…a mode of travel that was far more common to that era that this one. My Aunt Ruth, however, was the one who seemed to me anyway to be the one to thrive on the horses. She can be seen in many of the old pictures riding a horse or in a wagon hitched to two horses, to take her to a quiet place where she could sit and enjoy the warmth of the afternoon sun.
That was just a different time and place, when life wasn’t so fast paced. When people worked hard, and then took time out to relax and enjoy the beauty of the country they lived it. It was simply life on the farm.