The Story of My Life
an autobiography by June Mary Walters
My parents names were Henry (Hank) and Helene (Lena) Dunker. I was the third child born to them on a farm near Jackson,Minnesota on June 5, 1924. My sister Grace was born 9 years before me, my brother Arnold was born 4 years after Grace, so I was always called the baby.
Dad was a farmer and rented farms to make a living. We never had electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. It was a struggle for him as my mother had developed a disease called multiple sclerosis (M.S.) which affected her nervous system. She had to walk with crutches. I was always outside behind my Dad. The only time I can remember Mom standing on her own was the day I got hurt. Dad was taking a hayrack off, so it must have been at the end of the growing season. His brother, Carl Dunker, was there to help him. They had stood part of the hayrack on end and as I walked by the wind blew it over onto me. We didn’t break any speed limits driving to the doctor in Jackson as cars didn’t go very fast in those days. The doctor stitched me up and I’m now 87 years old and still carry the scar on my face.
Soon after my accident we moved to a farm north of Alpha, Minnesota. The farm was owned by my Grandfather whose name was John Dunker. I’m wondering how many hours I spent swinging on a board and rope tried to a tree on that farm. That was probably the only toy we had?
We had to travel 2.5 miles to the only school in Minnesota School District #20. I guess we never appreciated the sacrifices Dad made to get all of us an eighth grade education. In winter he would get up early to saddle up a team of horses and a home-made sled. We sat on hay bales on the sled ride to school. Boy! Was it cold. We walked when the weather cooperated. In the summer I would walk through the fields to play with the neighbor kids. The neighbors farm was where I learned to ride a bicycle. Robert was a boy in my class. I remember he always beat me in spelling-probably still can!
After several years Grandpa sold the farm and my Dad had to look for another farm. The local grocer (where we bought all our groceries) owned a farm. Dad was lucky to rent his farm and we were happy because our new school was now less than a mile away. But when we moved into the new farm house we found it was not fit for humans. The upstairs was never finished. Dad and Arnold slept upstairs and when it snowed their beds would be covered white in snow, Grace and I slept in a very small bedroom downstairs. By then Mother was in a wheel-chair. She slept on a cot near a wood stove in the living room. This was the only heat we had. Dad always made sure there were enough logs in the stove to keep Mom warm. In winter the floors of our house were like walking on an ice rink. We had to be really tough to live through a long Minnesota winter. Dad and Arnold would clean out the horse barns of hay and manure and bank it around the foundation of the house to get ready for winter. Guess they thought this would help keep the wind/snow out. I was really glad for the first freeze as it helped cut the odor down.
The first day in my new school I was not allowed to go to recess with the other kids. My old District #20 school never taught me how to look up words in a dictionary, so I had to learn to use a dictionary while the other kids played. I never did learn to like that teacher. She had red hair and I thought she was mean. The next year we got a new teacher and she became my favorite teacher ever. I remember that teacher’s name was Mary Lansing.
My Mother passed away on Thanksgiving eve. She was only 39 years old and I was 10 years old then.
Mom passed away at home and I remember being in that old farm house sitting on my Aunt Betha’s lap when they told me the news. Mom’s funeral was in Kimbal Township, Minnesota and she was buried in Jackson Riverside Cemetery.
On Saturday nights we went to the small town of Alpha, Minnesota. The entire town was only about a block and a half long. Alpha had 2 gas stations, 1 pool hall, 2 hardware stores, 2 grocery stores, a post-office, 2 cafe’s, a barber-shop, and 1 bank. When Dad butchered a pig we rented a locker in Alpha to store the meat .
As there was no place on the farm to roller skate, I never failed to go to town without my roller skates. I’m sure the Alpha business people always appreciated seeing me and my roller skates come to town! In summer the town had free outdoor movies. We sat on wooden planks, watched free black/white talking movies and thought that was big time entertainment!
I remember when my sister Grace married Joe Zahorsky and moved to Lakefield, Minnesota. We had a girl come and live with Dad, Arnold, and me during the week to help with cooking and cleaning. Seems like she did not keep the job long, but who could blame her? After she left I took over the household chores. One day Dad put me on a train in Alpha to go visit Grace and Joe in Lakefield. That was a scary 20 mile trip alone and was my first train ride.
Dad must have been gone from the farm one day, so Arnold let me drive our FarmAll tractor. I drove it right through a fence. Arnold got to fix the fence and Dad was not too pleased with either of us. My daughter Mary repeated the same stunt at age 16, except she drove a 65 Chevy Nova through a fence near her high school. Marvin ended up fixing the fence. (By the way Mary–in those days I had my own pony to ride around the farm).
One year around harvest time Dad said, “Come on we are going to town to get you a drivers license”.
I suppose I was about 15 years old then. The farm machinery was always breaking down, so I got to go to Alpha to pick up parts while the men kept working. Can you just imagine how I hated that chore of driving to town?
When we had time Dad, Arnold, and I would go fishing for bullheads at Clear Lake (near Jackson) with the Wolfe family that lived across the road. Mrs. Wolfe was the sweetest lady. She was always willing to fry all the fish we caught. The Wolfe’s had a daughter, Dorothy. Soon Arnold was crossing the road to the Wolfe’s farm more. Sometimes they took me along on dates.
When I reached 17 years old I got a job in Sherburn, Minnesota working as a waitress in a cafe. The hours were long and the pay wasn’t good. They never heard of tips in those days. Soon after I started working in Sherburn, Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese and the U.S. entered WWII. All the young folks town left to join the service and the small town nearly died.
Arnold and Dorothy married and moved to a different farm. Dad moved to Alpha to live with his Dad and brother. I moved to the big city of Jackson, Minnesota and started work in the Minnesota Egg Plant. We candled and oiled eggs for the service men overseas. The hours were long at this job too, but the pay was better.
When the war finally ended Marvin came home from 5 years of service in the Navy. I first saw Marvin in Dorsky’s cafe in Alpha shortly after he came home from service. He walked in with some friends and I remember he was carrying a bottle of whiskey that he nearly dropped. He was dating another girl and I was dating another boy, but he that did not work out and he asked me to a dance at Fox Lake. A young Lawrence Welk and his band used to play dances at Fox Lake. Marvin was not much of a dancer at first, but he learned and I knew he was the one for me. Marvin decided to become a plumber. His schooling was paid for by the G.I. Bill. After school he went to Minneapolis, passed the test, and got his plumber’s license. He came home with a old Plymouth car. That darn car spent more time in the Plymouth garage being fixed than he did driving it. Luckily we made it to Fairmont, Minnesota on our honeymoon in a snowstorm.
As newlyweds we lived in an apartment above a cafe in Jackson. The cockroaches were plentiful in that apartment. We eventually had enough money to rent a house on Bluff Avenue in Jackson. My first experience at cooking Thanksgiving dinner included inviting Marvin’s family. We went to Fairmont to buy and table and chairs for Thanksgiving dinner. They really built furniture good in those days. That same Duncan Phyfe table and chairs is in my dining room after 63 years and many, many moves. Debbie Sue was our first child. She was born in Jackson in 1948. After several car trades we finally had a dependable car. Debbie decided to take up driving at age 2 years. One day I ran into the house, but left her in the car. After just a few seconds I came back out of the house to find Debbie and the car gone! Our house on Bluff Avenue was at the top of the hill. Debbie had somehow taken the car brake off and rode the car to near the bottom of the hill. I found her standing in the open car window while the car was on its side. Doctor Chris saw what happened and was coming up the hill to help. He helped me get Debbie out of the car and luckily she was ok. Then I had to call Marvin to tell him the news. Thankfully he never had a temper and was just glad she was not hurt. Shortly after that accident a man was backing out and clipped the only good side of our car with his trailer hitch. That car was short lived.
After 6 years of first spoiling Debbie our second daughter, Mary Jo, arrived on July 15, 1954. I remember that 4th of July was hottest I’ve ever been through, and we had no air conditioners then.
Soon after Mary came along we bought our first house on North Highway in Jackson. The house was just 2 bedrooms. Three years later Mark Steven was born on June 8, 1957. Marvin started out to Sherburn to tell his parents, but only made it to the Jackson VFW club and celebrated, so the news waited.
By then Marvin was tired of working as a plumber and being called out to fix oil burners at all hours of the night. It was a stinky, messy job. A fellow that worked for the gas company in Jackson told him they were hiring. He was hired by Northern Natural Gas Company in Jackson and attended company training for a while. We relocated to Forest City, Iowa on Mark’s first birthday. We only stayed in Forest City a few months. The girls attended school in Forest City only 18 days before we were relocated to Rockford, Iowa in September 1958. Marvin was promoted to manager of the Rockford gas office. We lived in a 2-story white house in Rockford and my nephew Monty Schwager lived with us for a while. Monty was younger than Mark and Mark would pull him up and down the street in a little red wagon. Mark was a great babysitter.
In 1961 we relocated to West Union, Iowa. Marvin’s new job was to open a gas office, run a natural gas pipeline into town, and connect as many customers as possible. He also did this in the smaller surrounding towns. The electric company did not much like him taking their customers and tried to scare people into believing the town would blow up. In 1965 my Dad still lived in Alpha with his brother. He suffered a stroke and we moved him to a nursing home in Jackson. He passed away soon after at age 79. His funeral was in Alpha and he was buried in Jackson Riverside Cemetery with Mom.
Was time to relocate again and West Union was the hardest town to leave because we had made so many good friends, had so many good times, and had stayed in West Union longer than any place. I always dreaded the moves for my kids. As they got older it got harder and harder to move. When I look back I think it was good for them. They learned how to make new friends and get along in this world, and I’m a proud mother for it!
In November 1968 we moved to Amarillo, Texas and into a new 3 bedroom, brick home on Puckett Drive. Marvin was promoted again and spent lots of time traveling the south-central U.S. One of his co-workers (and good friend) got us started camping. We bought a Jayco pull-out camper, took camping trips every summer and eventually camped in every state west of the Mississippi. When we lost our camping buddy ( Ed Osenkop), Marvin temporarily moved to Dodge City, Kansas to take his place.
Shortly after working in Dodge City the company asked Marvin to move to Durango, Colorado. That was not my favorite place to live. Retirement was looking pretty good then and we decided to rent in Colorado and keep the house in Amarillo while Mark finished school.
An opening came in the Alexandria, Minnesota gas office and Marvin took it. Moving to Alexandria was like going back home. We bought a house on a lake and Marvin finally retired at age 59. Marvin fished every day (he loved winter ice fishing), played lots of golf and lots of cards, and drank lots of beer. I was busy with craft projects and even won prizes at the Douglas County fair on some of my work. Alexandria is a resort town, so we were never short of company, but enjoyed every minute of it.
Our health started to let us down. On March 15, 1994 I had surgery to remove a lump on my breast, then had to drive every day 60 miles to St. Cloud, Minnesota for radiation therapy (and 60 miles back).
In 1995 we built a new house in Alexandria that was smaller and much easier to care for. That was my favorite house. In 2001 Marvin was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. We sold my favorite house and moved back to Amarillo, Texas to be close to my kids. Marvin suffered with this terrible disease until we lost him on Christmas Eve, 2004. We were married 56 years when Marvin died. How I wish he could be here to enjoy our grandkids and great-grand sons. Our great-grands sons Garet and Grant are now 4 years and Jaden is 9 months. What happy and busy little guys they are . I’m sorry Marv isn’t here to enjoy them with me.
In March 2011, at age 86, I had heart attack and made my first ambulance ride ever. I went to BSA hospital in Amarillo where they installed stents. I went through cardiac therapy and learned to like walking the treadmill 30 minutes every day. On September 4, 2011 I made another trip to BSA emergency room for stomach pains. This time I learned I needed surgery to remove blockage in my intestines. After surgery the doctor told me it was cancer.
Henry G. Dunker
Born Jan 12, 1886
Died December 26, 1965
Helene Dorthea Wilhemine Grunst
Born August 1, 1895
Died November 28, 1934
Marvin Lyle Walters
Born June 1, 1926
Died December 24, 2004
Debbie Sue Walters Williamson
Born September 16, 1948
Mary Jo Walters Fowke
Born July 15, 1954
Mark Steven Walters
Born June 8, 1957
Services will be at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at the Llano Cemetery Mausoleum with David Schatte, Associate Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, officiating. Entombment will follow in Llano Garden Mausoleum. Arrangements are by Boxwell Brothers Funeral Directors, 2800 Paramount Blvd.
The family suggests memorials be to BSA Hospice, P.O. Box 950, Amarillo, TX 79105.