Lake Lillian, Minnesota

edition of April 2013

Otto_Ford_Garage 1962

New Models

Wm R Johnson Motor Company of Lake Lillian proudly displayed its line of new 1963 model Ford Cars, Friday, Sept 28, as follows left to right: Ford Pickup F 100, Ford Station Wagon, Ford Fairlane 500, Ford Galaxie, and Ford Galaxie 500. Standing beside the cars are personnel of the Wm R Johnson Motor Co. Left to right: Otto Gauer, Clarence Hubers, Paul Johnson, Mrs. Hans Swenson, Dale Johnson and Wm R Johnson. Free coffee, doughnuts, and buns were served throughout the day to customers. photo by V. Eugene Johnson. published in the Lake Lillian Crier October 4, 1962

Otto Gauer was the main salesman for Wm R Johnson Motor Sales in Lake Lillian, MN from 1935 to 1970

Garys History: Growing up in Lake Lillian

My name is Gary Gauer and I was born in 1939 as the first of 5 sons born to Otto Gauer and Jeanette Erickson in Lake Lillian, MN. My brothers, Dean, Bob, Dan, and Jim, and I still live in Minnesota. Both of my parents were born in the Lake Lillian area and lived out their lives there. Dad was born in 1909 and grew up on the Gauer place 3 ½ miles east of Lake Lillian on the north side of Hwy #7. The land is in Section 15 of East Lake Lillian TWP.

Dad’s parents, Matt and Lena Gauer died in 1923 leaving 8 survivors. Matt was 59 and Lena was only 54. Dad was only 14 at the time and had 3 brothers and 4 sisters. Eleanor, at 12 was the youngest and twins Rose and Elizabeth were the oldest at 30. Rose was married and lived near Atwater. Elizabeth was married and lived in SD. Dads’ brother Leo was 21, married that year and continued to operate the home farm. Clarence at 26 became the administrator for the estate as he lived in Minneapolis at the time before moving to Montana. Glen was 19 that year and eventually became a wood craftsman living in Willmar. Lillian was married and lived nearby. The Gauer eight all eventually had families of their own so that I am one of 42 cousins.

Otto and his siblings attended Riverside School, Kandiyohi County District 89.

District 89 in 1915

It was located on the south bank of the Crow River, 1 mile south of #7 and ½ mile West of County Rd 2. All trace of the one-room country school is now gone as the River has been dredged into a wide ditch in that area. Dad enrolled at the Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis with the help of his older brother Clarence in 1924 but soon returned to the farm and did not graduate from high school.

Read more about the Gauer Family elsewhere on this site.

My mother, Jeanette, was the daughter of August and Frida Erickson who were married on Dec 13, 1904. August was an American born Swede and died in 1947 when I was 8 years old. Frida Sebulonsen was born in Norway and died in 1960.

August and Halfrida in 1904
			August and Halfrida in 1938

Their children Elvina, Elder, Vivian, Stanley, Evangeline, Dolores, Jeanette, Luverne, Eileen, and Norma grew up on farms near Lake Lillian. At first they lived in northern Renville County and moved to Lake Lillian Township on the north side of Section 5 before the 1937 crop year. Jeanette attended high school in Bird Island but dropped out before the junior year. My 3 Erickson uncles became farmers in Kandiyohi County and Aunts Eileen and Vange married farmers and lived south of Hector. All of my aunts and uncles married. Vivian, Stanley and Vange did not have children. I am one of 26 Erickson cousins.

See the Erickson pages for more about the Erickson side of the family.

The village of Lake Lillian began at its present site in 1923 when the Luce Line railroad was extended into southern Kandiyohi County. The tracks were along the North edge of the Gauer farm.

The original Bank building was moved from the townsite of Thorpe. The original Thorpe townsite was located 2 miles east on the South side of Hwy 7. There is no trace of it there now and a new Thorpe was established 5 miles east of the town of Lake Lillian along the Atwater road (county road 2). There is a small country elevator still there now and there was a small general store there yet in the 50's.

Early Luce Line passenger

Wm R Johnson (on left) owner of Ford dealership and banker Edward Erickson (on right) welcome Ford representatives ca 1935.

Lake Lillian Depot

Looking East from the main street at the Depot Building. The upstairs was rented as an apartment and my classmate Bobby Lundquist lived there for a time as a boy with his parents and older siblings. We put pennys on the track to be flattened by the heavy steam locomotive.

Wm R Johnson ca 1938
My dad, Otto, initially stayed with Leo on the farm and later was employed from 1935 to 1970 as a salesman for Wm R Johnson Motor Sales in Lake Lillian.

main street c1955

Lake Lillian was a busy place in the ‘50s serving the population of the surrounding farm community. Farms were smaller and each section of 640 acres had at least 3 farms with more than 5 people on each. Most farms were diversified with both livestock and cash crop land. Most farms had up to 24 Holstein milking cows and more than double that number in heifers and calves. Many also had about 10 Duroc or Poland China Sows to produce up to 100 little pigs each year. Also common were a chicken house for egg production and a brooder house to raise spring chickens for summer frying. The dairy and egg operations provided steady cash flow and year around chores. Oats were planted for pig feed and as nurse crop for alfalfa hay. The crops were rotated year to year with corn following the alfalfa and soybeans following the corn. Soybeans were sold for cash and excess corn not needed by livestock was sold. Some farms raised sweet corn or peas or sugar beets for cash.

The town of 300 people served as the main store for at least 700 more from the surrounding area. Town businesses in the ‘50s included 2 dealerships offering cars, trucks, tractor, and implements. The farmers had creamery, elevator and produce businesses. Others along the main street were The Lake Lillian Crier newspaper, The First State Bank, a post office, a barbershop, a blacksmith, 3 gas service stations, a car body shop, a lumber yard, 2 hardware stores, 2 cafes and a tavern. A butcher shop had some groceries and 2 general stores had groceries, shoes and overalls. The town had a lighted baseball diamond and a double A baseball team and a movie theater with movable seats to allow roller-skating. Other services included a plumbing and electrical contractor and bulk truck operators for gas delivery and livestock hauling. The railroad had a section crew for track repair and had a depot with an active railway express service in the 40’s. Steam locomotives were used and there was a wooden water tower along the south side of the tracks about where the elevator is now. The rails are gone now but the Luce Line trail remains in sections farther east. The last diesel electric train was in the summer of 1967.

The school and most of the businesses are closed. Today fewer farmers are on larger cash crop farms and they travel with better roads, cars, and trucks to Willmar and other places for a larger selection of goods and services. Most farms have no livestock and the barns are empty. The farm place of my Uncle Elder is gone without a trace. The grove and buildings in East Lake Lillian Township, SW ¼ of Section 20, were cleared so that the land could be reclaimed. The town survives today as a neighborhood with about the same population in town as before and a few businesses including the elevator, a convenience store and the bank that had grown into a rebate business. The fire department has a nice building that sits on the site of the old depot. The community has a community building for meetings and reunions by reservation and continues to support a Fun Days Celebration every year. Elementary school children are now bussed to the old high school building in Bird Island and the High school kids now go to Olivia.

The population was of mostly Swede and Norwegian background with relatively fewer Germans. When I was a boy some of the old timers still greeted each other on main street using their Swedish or Norwegian languages. A Catholic Church and 2 Lutheran churches are in town and Methodist and Baptist churches were near town. The Otto Gauer family attended the First Lutheran Church that most Swedish Lutherans attended. My mother, Jeanette, attended the Christina church in Lake Lillian Township Section 21 before it was torn down in 1925 and rebuilt as the First Lutheran church in the then new village of Lake Lillian.

Christina Lutheran church before 1925

The picture below shows the First Lutheran Church with a new front entry and rear addition as it looked after 1960 and before 2009. The church now has a wonderful new side entry addition built in 2009. The Grace Lutheran Congregation started by Norwegians and the First Lutheran Congregation started by Swedes are now merged with the new name of the United Lutheran Church.

First Lutheran Church

My Dad and his siblings had been members of the Baptist church located 2 miles from the home place on the East Side of section 9. The church existed there from 1898 to 1933 when it was destroyed by a tornado. It was replaced by a different design in 1933 and it lasted to 1972. See more in Lake Lillian churces.

East Lake Lillian Baptist

Matt and Lena Gauer are buried in the Baptist Cemetery and grew up Presbyterian in Iowa before moving to Minnesota in 1900.

A municipal water tower and system was installed in 1950. Before that every house in town still had an outhouse along the alley. The town did not have an athletic association to organize little league for the children. Soccer moms hadn’t been invented yet. We did our own sand lot and recess ball games where we just used a bat for alternating picking sides for the teams. We roamed all over town and got to know which of the outhouses were the best. We used a large lawn and vacant lots for touch football or a game called pump- pump- pullaway. During the winter of 48 – 49, We lived in the woods section of town and used the road on the hill for sledding. No sand or salt was used on icy village roads. Main Street had the only curbs and sidewalks. Most of the 9-year-old boys had flexible flyer sleds and we would start running down the road together and belly flop onto our sleds. The games were either to go farther or to reach out and spin the other guy out. Playmates nearby were Marlin and Dennis Flann, Suzie Linn and the Johnson girls. Sometimes we held onto the rear bumper of a passing car. No one got hurt that I know. In the summer, we made toys from the wood of apple and orange boxes and made our own play town in the woods. Making toys was a trial and error process in learning to use tools. Orange crates were also good as is or painted for comic book cases. Metal toys by Tonka, Nylint and Model were enjoyed a few years later by my younger brothers.

Most people in Lake Lillian in the ‘40s were emerging from the depression and war years with anticipation for better days. Dad was the main salesman for Wm R Johnson Motor Sales from 1935 to 1970. He sold Ford cars, trucks and tractors, Minneapolis-Moline tractors and machinery, as well as New Holland, Owatonna and Minnesota lines.

Minneapolis Moline Model ZB

We lived in a series of rented houses until I was 10 years old in 1949 when our flat roofed basement house was built. That served until May of 1954 when the house was built up just in time to welcome Mom home with baby brother Jim. It was a small house without a garage but Dad managed to pay it off before he was 60 years old. We got our first B&W TV in 1954 when I was 15. Dad had stomach problems and died after stomach surgery in 1970 at the age of 61.

Mom was busy with the household chores of raising 5 boys. Mom used a wringer washer and we hung the clothes outside on the line to dry. She ironed everything including the underwear. Later she took on the part time job of cleaning the church and eventually worked full time as a nurse’s aid in Cosmos. After Dad died, Mom married Willard Anderson a widower and farmer NE of town in 1972 and divorced him in 1980. She had breast cancer surgery in 1979 and died of cancer in 1982 at the age of 62.

I can’t tell you the address of the houses where we lived because there were no street signs or house numbers. Everyone had post office boxes in the post office. When I was a baby, we lived on Main Street in a duplex that was subsequently rebuilt into the funeral home. When I was 1 and 2 years old we lived on the Gauer home place 3.5 miles east of Lake Lillian, section 15, East Lake Lillian Twp. Dad often told about the Nov 11, 1940 snowstorm when he struggled to get home from town as the storm worsened. His car got stuck in the snow on #7 and he walked the last mile or so carrying two 5 gal cans of kerosene for the space heater in the living room. He was exhausted and almost lost when he made it home. Later, We lived in a house SW of the school when I was 3 and later lived upstairs in a house on Swede Hill built by Wallace Lundquist. We also lived in a Strom house NW of the elevator and lived in a Zupke house in the woods before moving to the then new basement house on Swede Hill in 1949. A coal fired gravity warm air furnace in the basement heated larger houses in the 30’s. The coal was delivered to town by railroad and stored in long sheds lining the track sidings. Smaller houses were heated by kerosene carried in 5-gallon cans into the rooms with stoves. We had a kerosene stove in our basement house. Kitchen ranges used LP gas in tall cylinders located outside. Douglas and Cyrus Flann of The Flann Hardware store delivered the LP cylinders in a beat up red 39 International pickup . The cook stove fed with wood and corncobs heated many Farm kitchens. My chore as a young boy was to get a bushel of cobs from a shed for Grandma Erickson when we visited her on her farm. Our new house in 1954 had an oil- burning forced air furnace and a 265-gallon oil tank in the basement.

Ray Erickson had Erickson’s Store with groceries, work clothes and shoes and he hired boys to sack potatoes for his store. We would use a two-wheeler to move the full burlap sacks from the garage in back to the front sidewalk, fill paper sacks there and carry them into the store for display.

I had one of two after-school paper routes in town for the Minneapolis Star and Sunday Tribune starting when I was 10. My first bike was a 26-inch Schwinn for my 10th birthday, and I purchased a basket for it with my route earnings. I became interested in current events by reading my newspapers about the beginning of the Korean War in June of 1950. We read Comic books that were a dime each and all the boys collected them. A nickel would buy a single scoop ice cream cone.

Many of my uncles and cousins were farmers. In the summer of 1952, I started as the hired hand for my cousin Warren Gauer. I received board and room, and $3 a week. From him and Uncles Elder, Stanley and Buddy Erickson I learned to do most of the things that a farm boy could do. Tasks were milking cows, feeding chickens, picking eggs, cleaning barns, feeding livestock, fencing, and fieldwork with John Deere A’s B’s and G’s, dragging, discing, plowing, and cultivating, mowing, raking hay etc. Warren would bring me home on summer Saturday nights and Mom & Dad would bring me back to the farm on Sunday nights for the week. I continued with Warren and Evelyn in 1953 and with Cousin Lowell and Arlene Gauer in 1954 and 1955. In 1956 I worked for Harvey Allen, a farmer north of town. The most satisfying was fieldwork on a John Deere tractor. The unique 2 cylinder sounds would tell you how the engine was loaded and if you were in the right gear for the work. I learned the necessary adjustments and maintenance of the machinery and watched the mechanisms while making the rounds. These were useful skills that made us farm kids feel superior to city kids.

John Deere A

John Deere G

My brothers worked summers with my Erickson uncles Elder, Stanley and Buddy, and all of us helped them on weekends in the summer and fall. Stanley Erickson was a bachelor until age 47 in 1958 when he and his friend Stanley Bomstad went to Minneapolis and discovered two sisters from near Alma WI willing to leave the cities and marry the 2 Stanleys from Lake Lillian. Garison Keeler on MN public radio surely could have sourced some of his stories from the Norwegian bachelor farmers and other characters from Lake Lillian. His Lake Wobegon sounds a lot like Lake Lillian to me. Stanley Erickson operated his own farm, rented additional land and did custom hay baling, corn shelling and combining for others. My uncle Stanley Erickson died in 1977 and his machinery was sold at auction. The auction bill listed an impressive array of machinery including a Steiger Bearcat II Diesel, a John Deere 4230, a JD 4020, a JD 60, a Melroe Bobcat and 11 antique tractors. Also sold at auction were 4 trucks and an International 915 combine. He was proud of what he had and it was always interesting to help him and operate the machinery that he had.

I started 1st grade in 1945 as WWII was ending and completed all 8 grades in the District 110 building located in the village of Lake Lillian.

District 110 ca 1946

The building was located West of the Village Park and had 2 teachers and 2 rooms. Grades 1-4 were in the little room and grades 5 – 8 were in the big room. Both rooms were the same size, of course.

The Little Room 1946

Little Room, Grades 1 through 4, Lake Lillian School year 1945-1946 Names:

Teacher Ms Botnen

Back Row: 1 Janice Hanson 2 Patricia Flann 3 Roger Flann 4 Llewellyn Schafer 5 Robert French 6 Dennis Flann 7 Cyrus Flann 8 Guy Ceske (Schafer)

3rd Row: 1 Barbara Karnos 2 Joanne Flann 3 Patricia Wallenta 4 Mary Johnson 5 Donald Hawkins 6 Norman Erickson 7 Robert Lundquist 7 unknown____

2nd Row: 1 Yvonne Erickson 2 Barbara Hopman 3 Doreen Johnson 4 Deanna Johnson 5 Carol Hawkins 6 Norita Wierspecker 7 Lois Linn 8 Darrel Flann 9 Marvin French 10 Julius Schafer

1st Row: 1 Twyla Johnson 2 Janice Gabrielson 3 Jeraldine (Susie) Linn 4 Deanna Swenson 5 Nancy Flann 6 Elaine Flann 7 Glenice Nordin 8 Gary Gauer 9 Jerry Flann

By 1950, Schools were starting to consolidate and one of the larger country school buildings was moved into town and placed alongside the big room. That made it possible to start a kindergarten and place first and second grade with them in the new room and have 3 grades each in the other rooms.

The picture shows the Big Room (grades 6,7,8) in the 1951-1952 school year with me in 7th grade at the front of the far row and my favorite teacher, Mrs Widlund, standing in the corner.

The Big Room 1952

Row 1: (on the right) 1: Dennis Lundquist 2: Barbara Flann 3: Sharolyn Spletter 4: Darryl Flann 5: Twyla Johnson 6: Rose Marie Nordin 7: Dennis Goplin 8: EMPTY DESK Kathy Wallenta could have been the one absent

Row 2: 1: Julius Schafer 2: Marlys Wierspecker 3: Freddie Witt (His father was funeral director.) 4: Glenice Nordin 5: Jerry Levod 6: Marjorie Spletter 7: Jerome Berg 8: Donnie Hawkins

Row 3: 1: Deanna Swenson 2: Nancy Flann 3: Bobby Lundquist 4: Gretchen Witt 5: Susie Linn 6: Floyd Kruse 7: Barbara Hopman 8: Charis Nordin

Row 4: 1: Gary Gauer 2: Dorene Johnson 3: Dennis Flann (Dennis was in 9th grade at BI already and visiting the day of the photo) 4: Norita Wierspecker 5: Deanna Johnson 6: Yvonne Erickson 7: Cyrus Flann 8: Carol Hawkins

These buildings lasted until 1955 when a new 8-room school with a gym was completed in the South east corner of town. By that time I was in high school in Bird Island on the way to graduation in 1957.

High school was 13 miles south at Bird Island. The bus was an orange 60 passenger 1939 ford with rattles, which was the prototype for today’s school busses.

This bus was used for a long time

We started our freshman year in the fall of 1953 with 48 classmates and graduated with 34. We built a replica of the Eiffel Tower for the Junior year prom. It was made of 2x2’s and lath and was large enough for the Grand March to parade under in the center of the gym.

I was class president in my Senior Year. I think it was my turn. The 1957 senior class traveled by Milwaukee Road passenger train from the depot in Bird Island to Chicago for our class trip.

Three days after high school graduation I left Lake Lillian and began working in a mattress factory on the midway in St Paul. My best friend Larry Linn also left home and worked in the mailroom at Farmers Union GTA that summer. By mid August we knew that earning our own way to college was going to take some time and both decided to join the Marine Corps for 3 year enlistment and left for San Diego on September 5, 1957.

me marching in boot camp
In boot camp returning from the rifle range.

me with A4 Skyhawk
I became an aircraft structural mechanic with, VMA 533 , an A4 Skyhawk squadron based at Cherry Point NC

We were just the right age to serve after the Korean conflict and before the Vietnam War. So it was an opportunity to mature and gain some life experience and save for college. I had enough money to pay for my first 2 quarters at the University of Minnesota and started right after my enlistment was up in the fall of 1960. Spring quarter 1961 was completed with the help of a student loan from the Lake Lillian PTA. Graduation from the University was in March of 1969 as a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering. This goal was reached with all possible combinations of full and part time school and work and with the partnership of my wife, Grace, after we married in 1966. The retroactive reinstatement of the GI bill also helped with the last year of studies.