Here’s a change of pace from my six part series on our month long stay in Door County Wisconsin. This week I take you to a place where I grew up, my home town, Hazen, North Dakota. I actually grew up on a farm fifteen miles north and east of Hazen but this is the town the prairie where our family shopped, went to school, and visited our grandparents. I’ve written a few blogs related to my home of origin, click here, here, and here to read more about this part of the world.
One of my first memories of Hazen is Bill Gutknecht’s Barber Shop on Main Street next to the Standard Oil Service Station. The barbershop was a popular gathering place where topics of the day were discussed and argued. Local news (gossip!) was freely passed around at Bill’s.I recall a long bench in front of the barbershop where the old timers would sit and watch the world go by, some of them waiting for the Kitchen Bar, directly across the street, to open for the day. There, card games were played and a few glasses of beer sipped before heading home for lunch and a nap.Both my grandpa’s were regulars at Bill’s Barber Shop.
On the next block was Rose Hardware, a magical place for a kid with a couple of bucks to spend on Christmas presents. One year, I bought my mom a lantern cookie jar for her birthday and Christmas. I spent a dollar, a deal from John Rose, the tall, friendly proprietor. A few years ago, my mom gifted that cookie jar back to me. It still smells like cookies! One of my prized possessions.
My Grandma Miller worked at the Hanewald’s Grocery Store for several years at the check out counter. We’d bring 15 dozen eggs, 30 dozen if the chickens were laying good, to trade for groceries. Mom would shop for necessities and pay cash for the difference between the value of the eggs and the final bill. Grandma always made sure got a little treat for the ride home.
For the first five years of grade school, I and all the kids in the neighborhood attended the country school down the road from our farm, Krem #3. Before Hazen was founded in 1913, the address of our farm was Krem, a small village five miles directly south of the farm. When the railroad built a spur line near Hazen, most of the business moved their stores to Hazen. Krem became a ghost town. A post office was established at Hazen, Dakota Territory in 1885. Hazen was named for the third assistant postmaster general, A. D. Hazen. In 1913, the townsite of Hazen was platted and organized. In just a few years, the town grew to include a couple of banks, a cafe, a general store, a meat market, an opera house, a school, churches, and a lumber yard. A boxcar served as the original train depot until a proper one could be built.
Here’s how the town looks today with population of nearly 2500 residents. It was about 1200 people when I was growing up.
In the early days, there were few trees. Those that were there grew along Antelope Creek that flows into the Knife River south of town. In the photo below, note the tallest structure in town, the grain elevator. Once a thriving co-op elevator, it’s now privately owned by a local farmer.
Just down the road from where I took this photo is the city cemetery. The road divides the cemetery in two. It’s also divided by religion and denomination. The Missouri Synod Lutherans, the ELCA Lutherans, the Methodists, and Catholics all have their separate areas. Go figure!
I was in the sixth grade when almost all of the rural schools were consolidated into the Hazen School District. Since we were near the beginning of the bus route, we spent at least ninety minutes a riding the bus. My sixth grade class had forty kids crammed into a room meant for thirty or less. At first there was conflict between the town kids and the country kids. These conflicts were solved on the playground at recess either with fisticuffs or in a game of softball. Those townies realized the country kids might smell like the barn but they were strong from slinging milk pails and hay bales.
Lunch at school was an hour. If I had a little change in my pocket, my friends and I would walk up town for a nickel or dime candy. Sometimes, we’d share a bottle of Coca-Cola from the vending machine in front of the Standard Station. It was at around 12:30 PM on November 22, 1963, when someone told us that President Kennedy was dead after being assassinated in Dallas, Texas. We hung our heads and spoke nary a word as we made our way back to school. The playground was silent as were the lines as we filed back into our classrooms. A few kids had tears in their eyes. Our teacher suspended teaching for the afternoon as we listened to the news from Dallas on the radio. It was a somber time, gone was the young president and his enthusiastic vision for the future.
John Moses, Governor and U. S. Senator
Hazen lays claim to John Moses, a transplant to Hazen after completing law school at the University of North Dakota. Moses was born in Norway in 1885 and came to the United States in 1903. He lived in Hazen for over fifteen years before being elected Governor of North Dakota in 1939. He was a popular governor, serving during WWII and a time of prosperity for farmers, rain was abundant and prices were good. He ran for the U. S. Senate in 1944, defeating the incumbent. Unfortunately, he died at age 59, about two months after taking office. He’s remembered in Hazen with a park near the high school.
My memory of this park comes from a Halloween prank. At the time, there was a creamery near the park, a group of high school boys who I shall not name, ran an empty cream can up the flag pole at the park. The clanging noise could be heard over the town. No one was ever caught nor has anyone admitted publicly to executing this prank. And I’m sure they meant no disrespect to Governor/Senator Moses, a fine man with a strong character.
A few dignitaries call Hazen home. One is Major General Eldon Joersz, dubbed “one of the fastest men alive.” General Joersz and another Air Force pilot jointly set the World Air Speed Record in 1976, flying a SR-71A Blackbird at 2,193.167 miles per hour. Now that’s fast!
General Joersz isn’t the only military service member honored by the City of Hazen. When driving the major streets, hundreds of banners wave from utility poles honoring Hazen Hometown Heroes. One of those heroes is my father. He left high school near the end of his senior year in 1945 to join the Navy. After boot camp and a bout of scarlet fever, he was deployed to the Pacific on a troop carrier. The war was over but millions of combat weary troops needed a ride home. Like a lot of WWII veterans, Dad didn’t talk much about what he saw and did. After about 18 months, he was discharged and came home to take over the farm. It’s nice to see Dad and other veterans honored and not forgotten for their sacrifice.
Two sisters, Kendra and Krista, from Hazen make up the country music-duo, Tigirlily. In high school, the sisters began performing through out the Midwest, singing at county fairs and outdoor festivals. As their popularity grew, they decided to make music and songwriting their life work. A few years ago they moved to Nashville to increase their exposure and make it big on the national scene. It seems they are well on their way. But they haven’t forgotten their home town or state, they wrote a song titled, “North Dakota.”
It’s been over fifty years since I left Hazen for good but it’s still my home town. Main Street has changed. The Barber Shop, Standard Oil Service Station, the Kitchen Bar, and Rose Hardware are gone. But other’s have taken their place. With the abundance of nearby recreation at Lake Sakakawea, the Knife River Villages National Historic Site, the electrical power generating plants, and coal mines that provide jobs for local residents. There’s a lot to like about Hazen, for me it’s the memories from times past.
Hope you enjoyed this brief tour of a town on the prairie.
Until next week, happy travels!