Gentle readers, I talk to strangers on the phone…even for hours. Sometimes, they tell me their life story without even asking me for one morsel of my own history in return. Kinda strange I guess, but probably just as well. Somehow, it feels normal.
So, when Kathryn Frazier, president emeritus of Friends of Historic Augusta, texted me on April 6 to recommend that I interview a 95yo man who lived near Augusta in the 1930s, I didn’t hesitate. I texted the daughter of my next interviewee to let her know I would thoroughly enjoy a conversation with her and her dad.
The dad is Tom Rueschhoff. The daughter is Joanie Rueschhoff. They live in Crestwood, MO, and Joanie agreed to set up a conversation involving all 3 of us. We spoke on April 21, 2023.
Tom Rueschhoff: I was born in ’27.
Paul: So, I think you’re the same age as one of your schoolmates at Immaculate Conception…Aloys Struckhoff was born in 1927.
TR: Aloys was born in ’28 or ’29. I know he was a grade or two behind me. (In an earlier interview with Aloys, he gave me a birth date in the autumn of 1927 - https://www.augustamomuseum.com/post/tell-it-like-it-was-aloys-struckhoff-part-1 Gee, it’s fun to reference your own work.) 😊
P: Where were you born?
Joanie Rueschhoff: In St. Louis. His family home was on Weber Road.
TR: Yeah, I was born in St. Louis, and the reason I was in Augusta was…when Father Range became…he was the pastor out there…and his sister, Agnes Range, was his housekeeper. And she wanted a couple of us boys out there…for company for her. I was from a large family. There were 11 of us…right during the Depression. That’s how I ended up in Augusta, about 1935.
JR: And those were his (Tom’s) aunt and uncle, which I think I told you before.
P: And the aunt’s name was…?
JR: Aggie. Agnes was her name. She never married and had no children. She was the sister of Tom’s mother. What was your uncle’s name, Daddy?
JR: Adolph Range…they called him Reverend Uncle, and Agnes was his sister, and their sister was my grandmother. (This photo of Adolph Range, according to Joanie, was taken in Washington, MO, likely during the time he was at the Augusta church in the 30s.)
P: Tom, were you born in a hospital, or not?
TR: No, I was born at home.
P: And your parents, what kind of work did they do?
TR: My dad was a watch and clockmaker jeweler.
P: Oh. Not many people tell me that one.
JR: Tell him what your dad did before the Depression.
TR: Well, before the Depression he worked for the Ball Time Service. He would go around the stations and make sure the clocks worked…keeping time.
JR: The train stations. Ball Time Service was to keep the…all the clocks in train stations working properly.
P: I’ll look that up.
Gentle readers, what would I do without Wikipedia? Ball Watch Company was, and is, a Swiss luxury watch company founded in 1891. This is from the Wikipedia article: “Before the development of railroads across the United States, there was no need for a standardization of time or any real accuracy in timekeeping. Each town kept its own local time, based on the position of the sun. When trains began to connect distant cities, it became problematic and difficult to avoid collisions. Moreover, there were no policies or standards for the watches used by the railroad employees.”
So, Mr. Ball, “set up “RR Standard” (“RR” for Rail Road) to assure a high accuracy and perfect reading to all railroad employees. He also created the BALL Time Service, an after-sale service to which every employee of the rails had to bring his watch every two weeks to make sure the accuracy and reliability of the watch was maximal.”
P: Was your mom stay-at-home?
JR: She took care of 11 kids.
P: And where do you fit in the line, Tom?
TR: Right in the middle.
JR: He was the 6th boy; there were 6 boys in a row. (See photo of Rueschhoff family - St. Louis, 1937.)
P: So, what grade were you in when you came to Immaculate Conception?
TR: Third grade.
P: And what was your first impression of being out there?
TR: Well. It was different. I started in mid-October. I came in the middle of the school year. But I was out there 5 years.
P: Your family was still back in St. Louis…is there anything that sticks out in your mind…when you came to this place called Augusta…and you weren’t even in town…you were out in the sticks. What was that like for you? How did you deal with that?
TR: I didn’t mind; it was pretty nice out there. The people were all nice. I made some friends there. I went squirrel hunting and rabbit hunting with them.
P: Sounds like fun. Do you still remember the names of your schoolmates?
TR: Paul Kemner. I saw him last October there at the Octoberfest…at Immaculate Conception Church.
JR: (Via email) Not sure why dad said Oktoberfest at IC – they actually don’t call it that. It’s a turkey dinner and we call it homecoming.
TR: And I knew the Kesslers…they had a dairy farm. I was out there last fall. (Pictured below is Tom Rueschhoff between Tom and Gerard Kessler, sons of Francis Kessler, who attended the IC grade school in the 1930s. They are posing at Francis’ old house west of Augusta. This pic is from 2022.)
JR: What were your Kessler friends’ names?
TR: Oh, Andrew, Francis…the older brothers were Jim and John Kessler.
P: Do you remember some girls?
TR: Angela Kuchem and Loretta Struckhoff…Mildred Ueltzen…they were in my class. Then…Dorothy Kopman…Mary Louise Kopman…Mercedes Struckhoff…Leonard Struckhoff…Freddy Struckhoff.
P: And the other Kuchems?
TR: Yeah, I knew Roman. Well…Angela. Dorothy Struckhoff was a Kuchem; I knew her. (Here’s a photo of Santa and the grade-schoolers.)
P: Were the boys and girls in separate classrooms?
TR: No, there was only two rooms. They had the first 4 (grades) in one room, and the 5th through 8th in the other room.
P: Two different teachers, I guess?
TR: Yeah, there was a teacher in each room, and they had a sister who did the cooking, and the housekeeper.
P: Do you have any idea what order of nuns they were?
TR: I’m saying Franciscans.
P: And your uncle, was he a secular priest, or did he belong to an order like the Jesuits…or Franciscans?
JR: He was a Catholic ordained priest.
TR: From the archdiocese.
P: Do you remember the parish picnics…what they were like?
JR: We still go to them!
TR: I remember. Yeah, it was pretty nice. They had bingo, and they had all kinds of prizes. I remember my uncle going up to Washington…shopping for prizes for the picnic. They had all kinds…like utensils for cooking… And they had a beer stand. I think they had hotdogs and hamburgers.
P: Did they have any outdoor games like horseshoes?
TR: Yeah, my uncle did put up a couple of washer boxes near the school. One thing I want to say…my uncle was kind of interested…he had the young people set up, and they would put on a play, and that was upstairs in the school…they had a hall there and a stage, and he would put on a little show. Then after the show, they’d have a little dancing and music. And downstairs they had a bar.
JR: (Via email) He (Tom) enjoyed the plays upstairs but never participated…doesn’t act or sing. (As an example of theater productions at IC, see the attachment of an advertisement in the Marthasville Record, dated Nov. 8, 1935.)
P: Because you were there all the time did you have to often serve Mass, like funerals and weddings?
TR: Well, I served Masses, yeah. Well, I don’t remember serving for a funeral. And weddings…they usually had some of their own relatives for that.
P: I just thought maybe you had to serve more than the other boys because you were handy.
TR: Yeah, my brother and I, my brother, Bob, did.
P: Bob was older, or younger?
TR: He was older, a year and a half older.
JR: (Via email) It was dad, Bob and Jim Rueschhoff who attended. Also, my Aunt Cecilia Rueschhoff, now Brandt, went there the year dad came to St. Louis – 1937. So, they traded places that year.
Gentle readers, here’s a photo of Al, Vic, Cecilia, and Tom Rueschhoff in Augusta with their older brother, Bill’s, car…1939-1941? Sorry to confuse you with more family names, but big families are inherently confusing, don’t you think?
P: What was the road like…I mean what’s now Highway 94, in front of the church?
TR: Well, they were all just gravel. Gravel roads all the way to St. Charles.
JR: Paul, I don’t want to interrupt your line of questioning, but while we’re on the subject of Reverend Uncle…he was actually responsible for getting the electricity through to Augusta.
P: That’s interesting.
TR: We already had electricity at the church when I got there, but around 1935-37, he…Reverend Uncle, had a meeting with the farmers and then talked to the electrical company about getting electricity to the farmers around there. There was a house next door to the rectory, and they had electric, but there was no electric all the way down the road west of the church.
P: For that matter, when you came to the grade school, was there indoor plumbing?
TR: There was water…but the restrooms were outdoors. The rectory…we had restrooms, but the school didn’t have any.
P: How far would you wander? Did you go on walks with the other kids? Did you explore the woods very much?
TR: From the church we would walk up to Leonard Struckhoff’s (a fellow student at IC, and the son of Robert Struckhoff). You could see it from the back of the church. We walked up there, and there was a path the kids would walk back and forth to school on. And they’d come through Robert Struckhoff’s farm because they came from down in the bottoms. They walked all the way to school, especially if the weather was nice. And Freddie Struckhoff (another fellow student) …always had a little 22 rifle, and we’d go out in the woods and hunt for squirrels.
Gentle readers, I’m no expert on Struckhoffs, and who is related to whom, but…I do know that Robert Struckhoff (1877-1952) is Donald Struckhoff’s grandfather. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/49738591/robert-b-struckhoff. One of Robert’s sons was named Beda, and he was Donald’s father. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/49738542/beda-h-struckhoff. Here’s a photograph of Beda Struckhoff and Father Range doing their best Charlie Chaplin.
And for you newcomers who don’t know Donald, I’ll tell you he’s a farmer who lives on Hackmann Road, and if you’re still clueless, check out this short video of Donald on his International B-275. https://www.youtube.com/shorts/AS6lrByvkcY.
And as long as I’m sharing my vast knowledge of who’s who around town, I’ll enrich you with this: Donald’s sister, Maryann, is married to Glennon Kluesner, the guy on Hwy. 94, with that huge vegetable garden. Maryann’s daughter, Rachel, is married to Greg Bley, a St. Louis fireman, who lives next door to Donald on Hackmann Road. Another Kluesner daughter is Sarah Peper, a fisheries biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. And how do I know her occupation? Well, I’m one of those eggheads who listens to NPR. https://www.npr.org/2022/05/16/1099096687/missouri-scientists-work-to-save-lake-sturgeon-by-electronically-tracking-them. More importantly, Donald’s niece, Sarah, is helping me with this story by contributing photos and all manner of Immaculate Conception Church history.
And by now, patient readers, you may realize that I’ve gone off on a tangent again. That’s so true, but I have my reasons. One is that I try to relate all my stories to the people who currently live in the Augusta area. The other is that writing about a boy from STL attending the IC grade school, gives me the impetus to aim my curiosity at a new subject, Immaculate Conception Church.
In part 2 of this story, I’ll share what I’ve learned about IC, but I’ll also circle back to Tom Rueschhoff and his daughter, Joanie.
Hasta la vista, baby…and stay curious.
P.S. Donald Struckhoff is the interviewee at the June 13, live, public Tell It Like It Was at Harmonie Verein, 5333 Hackmann Road. The “Just Ask Donald” show starts at 6:30pm, and doors open at 6. Angela Stephens is the emcee. Free admission. Cash bar. Ask Donald a question or 2 from your own curious mind. Donations are graciously accepted.