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Published November 20, 2008, 12:00 AM

Another Great Depression?

The predictions are everywhere: the current economic crisis is the worst since the Great Depression or “we’re entering another Great Depression,” some of the pundits on financial channels are saying.

The predictions are everywhere: the current economic crisis is the worst since the Great Depression or “we’re entering another Great Depression,” some of the pundits on financial channels are saying.

A panel of senior citizens at Fair Oaks Lodge in Wadena don’t know whether or not we’re really in an economic downturn that rivals the mother of all recessions, but they have a few lessons to share after living through the real thing.

In a word, save. More on that later.

Tubandt remembered the onset of the Great Depression. His father was a wheat farmer in South Dakota who hadn’t had a crop from his fields in seven years due to a drought there.

“There was no rain,” he said. “Grashoppers too.”

They lost the farm in 1929 when the Depression hit. They moved with another family onto another farm and worked together on that one. Eventually, Tubandt said, his father was able to buy back the second farm and rebuild.

Norbert Ament remembers trouble on the farm, too.

“We got along as best we could,” he recalled. “We pretty near lost the farm.”

He recalled selling 200-pound hogs for $2 apiece during that time.

They were hard times, the group at Fair Oaks agreed, but they didn’t know what to call it, nor did they consider the time they were living through to be anything extraordinary — just hard times.

“We didn’t think of it as a Depression,” Opal Forsell recalled.

She said social gatherings were simple, but fun, and the community revolved around the school.

Esther Weappa said a real luxury in those days was going to school. Doris Eastman said she had to walk three miles to go to high school, but did it happily.

While the unemployment rate was sky high — north of 20 percent — most of the Fair Oaks folks said it was an advantage to live in a rural area like Wadena.

“There were no jobs in the city,” Ament said. “Around here, there were jobs on farms. I think we had it better than the city people had it.”

Tubant said being able to hunt and fish for food on his farm was a big advantage during those tough times.

Mildred Fyten said there was a spirit of cooperation back then.

“The farmers especially — they all helped each other,” Fyten said.

The Fair Oaks residents recalled as many happy times as hard times during the Depression. But they also remember scrimping and saving, and pitching in wherever they could.

For instance, Weappa recalled as a little girl getting the job of cleaning the chimneys and kerosene lamps, and she remembered skimping on clothing.

“We wore what we had,” she said. “My dad would come home with flour sacks, and we couldn’t wait to get a pattern [to make them into clothes.]”

But people then were also proud, Ruby Tubandt recalled.

“We roasted a lot of barley for coffee,” Ament recalled, making a sour face. “I wouldn’t drink it again. I can still imagine the taste of it.”

Ament also recalled “syrup sandwiches,” which are exactly what they sound like: syrup on bread as his lunch at school every day.

“Kids never went to school with holes in their knees,” she said. “Now they buy them that way.”

The group agreed that young people can’t even conceive of living like they did during the Depression.

“The young people now, they don’t believe any of this stuff,” Ament said.

He said he’s afraid the predictions of another depression may be coming true, and he’s seeing the warning signs with the rash of recent bank closures.

“It’s starting out just like the last one did,” he warned.

Asked if they believed that today’s generation had what it took to make it through a downturn like the Great Depression, most sat with arms crossed, giving a skeptical look. No one said no, but no one said yes.

But they did have a message for today’s generation.

“Hang on to some of your money,” Weappa said. “Gosh, if they’ve got a nickel, they go spend it.”

Glen Wheeler sheepishly admitted he spent everything in his pocket whenever he had money during the Depression, but did say he mostly bought shells for his gun, which he used to hunt for food.

Ament also warned that young people should always be saving when times are good.

“Start saving a little,” he said. “Things aren’t going to stay the way they are now.”

Eastman agreed: “Don’t spend all you got. Don’t spend your last dollar.”

And, capturing the get-through-it spirit so apparent in people who lived through the Great Depression, Helene Wallace, who is closing in on 100 years old, said: “Just keep going. Make the best of it.”

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