1921-1936: From Happy Days to Depression

 

The widower, Hiram, needed help raising his three children. In Alton, he met Elizabeth M. Kern Hancock (1893-1999), a young widow (her husband had reportedly died as a soldier in the Great War), who was raising her four year old son, Harold A. Hancock. They decided to form a new family and were married in Minneota, Minnesota (northeast of Sioux Falls) on March 28, 1921.

 

Hiram & Elizabeth 1930s

 

Evelyn, Harold, Dad, and Vic after the wedding

 

A devout Catholic (several of her brothers may have been Catholic priests) Elizabeth insisted that the family attend church together, so husband, Hiram, was baptized shortly before the wedding, followed by the children, Arthur, Evelyn, and Victor, a few months later in Gregory, South Dakota.

 

Arthur was baptized on July 10, 1921 at Gregory, South Dakota.

 

After a short stay in Gregory (Dad's school records show some time in Gregory) the newly formed family moved from to O’Neill Nebraska. Dad received his First Communion on June 11, 1922 at St. Patrick's Church in O'Neill. Some oral tradition recalls that Hiram had severely injured his back working in the Alton, Iowa creamery and received a generous compensation which led to the move to a nicer home in O’Neill.

  

Mom and Dad revisited O’Neill in the 1990’s. Mom recalls Dad’s reflections: (picture on left) “The home looks like it hasn’t changed in sixty years. It’s like time returned to a young boy and a new life in a new town. There was a large vegetable garden and a pretty big potato patch to tend and weed. A cow to take outside of town to pasture with friends. And always the chore of dishes. Having to clean what seemed like a million pots of stick, gluey oatmeal. Hangs on as a dislike for oatmeal to this day. When the potato patch was clean and Dad said it was ok, the boys Art, Vic, and Harold and friends could go fishing. The Elkhorn River has a fine sandy bottom and is great for wading and swimming too. The children walked to school and home for big meal at noon. Had to clean up dishes and kitchen before returning to St. Patrick’s (St. Mary's Academy). [picture on right] This is the rear view. At the foot of the ladder you can see the cellar door. The area in front of the car is the bedroom where Art stayed when he was ill. Otherwise his bedroom was upstairs. This house had a furnace and a hot water heater, but no inside bathroom.” This was Dad’s favorite childhood home. He would help Hiram back home from various drinking spots.

 

In O’Neill four new daughters joined the family:

Fidelis (1922), Zita (1923), Marcella (1925), and Marilyn (1926).

 

Hiram and Elizabeth with Marilyn, Marcella, Zita, and Fidelis

 

Dealing with back pain and the pressures of providing for this family of 10, Hiram became alcoholic and developed asthma along with serious health problems. Unable to work regularly, he could not support the family. Dad was busy as a top student in his class at St. Mary's Academy and was enjoying life in O’Neill.

 

St. Patrick’s Church and School. Dad could still recall

 where he sat when he made his First, Holy Communion.

 

 He helped the family finances by working at Golden Bakery and doing other odd jobs around town.

 

 

O’Neil’s Golden Bakery 50+ years later

 

Somehow Hiram and Elizabeth managed to hold onto the house in O’Neill until 1925. On May 27, 1927, Dad received his diploma from Saint Boniface's School in Stuart, Nebraska. He also received a public school eighth grade diploma from Holt County on May 16, 1927. He had just turned 15, so the moving from place to place must have slowed his progress to graduation. The joy of graduation was soon replaced by one of the saddest times for the family came when they were forced out of their home that winter. Dad recalled Christmas Eve that year when the family pushed the car, the tires slipping without chains, through snow drifts to his Uncle Carl’s ranch where the family stayed for three months. While the rest of the country still enjoyed the prosperity of the roaring 20’s, the Collins family had entered a time of depression.

 

A few years later the entire country was in the grips of the Great Depression. The family had returned to Alton by 1927. Hiram was still too sick to work. Giving up any hope of finishing high school at St. Mary's in Alton, Dad joined his stepmother in trying to keep the family fed. He still found time to get together with the neighbors for a few lighter moments (see below)

 

Evelyn teased Dad about nodding off during

this picture with the “Mexican neighbors”

 

In 1933 Dad took a break from farm life to serve time in the National Guard:

 

Camp Rapid 1933. Arthur Collins BT8EF 147E ART

 

Elizabeth continued to use all her talents to make ends meet. She even turned worn suits inside out to make new ones for the boys. Hiram went for treatment in Wyoming in 1935, staying with his aunt and cousins in Burns (Collins side of the family) writing occasionally to keep in touch.

 

Aunt and cousins in Burns, Wyoming 1936

 

After the family left Iowa, Dad recalled trying to live in a shack by the river in Vermillion, stuffing newspapers into gaps in the walls to eliminate drafts and subsisting on rutabagas during a cold winter. A pot belly stove supplied the only heat and served as a stove as well. It was another terrible winter when his father was returning to South Dakota by train. On January 7, 1936, he died of heart failure as the train arrived in Sioux City. Dad and his brother, Vic, were there to meet the train shortly after their father had died.

 

 

Hiram Collins 1889-1936

 

Shortly after Hiram’s burial in Vermillion (not in George next to his first wife, Zoe, since she was not Catholic), Elizabeth insisted that Dad strike it out on his own. She appreciated all that he had done to help provide for the family, but she wanted him to have his own life.

 

 

Dad circa 1936

Evelyn’s wallet photo

 

Dad hated to leave brothers and sisters behind (see pictures below), but he knew his stepmother was right. He needed to strike it out on his own.

 

Tom (Evelyn’s Husband), Harold, Frank, and Vic

 

Evelyn with husband, Tom Warnstadt, and with her brother, Vic

 

Evelyn and Tommy

 

The Collins Sisters

Fidelis, Evelyn, Zita

Marcella, Marilyn

 

Teenagers: Marilyn, Evelyn, Marcella, and Fidelis

 

Next: 1937-1951: California Hope

 

Arthur B. Collins