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Friday, May 6, 2016

Gray Matters: A Friend from Long Ago

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A hometown friend recently encouraged me to write again about some of our earlier residents. She said she had just visited the Reed Center and that always made her nostalgic for some of the special people who had made growing up in our little town so extraordinary. She then mentioned Dora Shefstad. I remember Dora well so writing about her will be a real pleasure. Her husband, Wilbur, was a descendant of I.M. Jackson who was Marcus' very first citizen. In contrast, his wife, born Dora Hahn, was a much more recent arrival. She had been born in Germany. When she was very small her father was called into the army in WW I. During his time of service his young wife died leaving Dora and her two brothers virtual orphans. She was sent from their rural village near Darmstadt to live with an aunt in Berlin. Following the war her father remarried but she remained

with her aunt. Circumstances eventually became so dire in the capital that they moved to Manheim to live with another relative.

In a rare somber moment Dora described those difficult times. I doubt if any of us can recall being hungry because there was absolutely no food to eat, but that was a very real part of her childhood. As she explained, Germany is too small to produce enough food for its population so it had always imported food. That was impossible during the war and, though there

was some food available afterward, they had no money with which to buy it.

Dora's mood brightened as she recalled her school days while living in Mannheim. She loved learning, but beyond that the poorest children were sent to live with families in the Black Forest during the summers. There she lived with a kind family who gave her plenty to eat and chores, much easier than she was used to, such as baby-sitting or herding cattle in the

woods with another youngster. Flax was the farmer's main crop, so after it had been processed and woven into fabric it afforded another pleasant task for the children. They had to spread these lengths of linen out on the

grass and sprinkle them as they had to be kept damp for the sun to properly

bleach them.

When these Schwarzwald summers came to an end, conditions worsened. Finally, in what seemed almost a godsend, her late mother's sister sent money so at age fourteen she could accompany two older cousins to America.

Dora smiled as she told me of their coming by steerage which is supposedly the poorest way to travel. But it was such an improvement over the way she had lived that it seemed almost luxurious to her. She vividly remembered

that she had tasted her first ice cream on that trip.

In the US she worked out her fare and continued working for relatives until she met Wilbur. They were married in 1949. After farming for some years they started Shefstad's Shoe and Canvas Repair Shop and in 1959 they moved into the house at 303 N. Elm where they lived our their lives surrounded by a most spectacular flower garden. Its rival at this time could be that of master gardener Greg Geerdes in that very same block.

(There must be something in the soil there on North Elm)!

Dora rarely spoke ill of anyone, but she once admitted to being a bit annoyed with people who complained about things in the US. One time she put it this way, " I came with nothing and the US didn't ask me to come. But when I came they took me in and gave me a whole new lease on life. I am eternally grateful."

I hope you have enjoyed my recollections of this special lady as much as I have enjoyed recalling them, thanks to my friend's gentle urging.

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