The applause in the Augusta History Museum was loud and spirited at the end of the summer’s “As It Was” programs on Oct. 6.
With humor and authenticity, Janet Haferkamp Fuhr and Judy Heger Paul, both retired RNs, had taken their audience back through years when nursing was a noncomputerized profession. Rather, human skills and a scissors, bandages and thermometer in the back pocket of their apron were some of the “tools of the trade.”
Before Janet and Judy, wearing their white starched nurses caps, gave their presentation, five other colleagues had taken the museum’s Sunday audiences on “As It Was” story trips into the community’s past.
All speakers were so-called “children of the Depression,” who had followed the vocational legacies of their fathers and grandfathers, the first- and second-generation children of the 1830-’40 immigrants to the Augusta area.
Although over the years many words had been written to tell Augusta’s history in books and articles, this summer’s audiences heard Augusta’s history in the series of “As It Was” talks presented by their community seniors.
For instance, the first German-speaking immigrants brought with them European musical traditions. Many were fond of the deep vibrations of reed church organs that dated back to the 10th century, as well as the sighing harmonies of the wind instruments, such as the clarinet or the tempo-setting oompapa beats of drums. And among the immigrants there were always the reed sounds of pocket harmonicas.
Not having been trained in Europe, first- and second-generation Augustans often learned to play instruments by ear. In 1855 they established the immigrants’ noted Harmonie-Verein cultural society and its band that gave the settlement a cultured reputation up and down the Missouri River.
And then there was the third-generation Femme Osage boy who learned to love and play the organ by reaching up to poke at the keys of his mother’s home organ. Sharing that experience with the museum’s summer visitors was Clarence Sehrt, who learned to play by ear and today is still at the Femme Osage Church’s keyboard.
In the immigration days of the 1830s and ’40s, many newcomers to Augusta were listed as “farmers” on the passenger manifests of transatlantic ships that brought them to the New World and Missouri. The lessons to be mastered were numerous.
After first clearing the land with oxen, the newcomers gradulally learned to grow maize for their own dinner tables, as well as for their livestock, and to plant orchards as commercial crops.
As agriculture became the major industry of the local area, some farmers found that mules — introduced from the Spanish Southwest via the Santa Fe Trail — were perhaps a better source of energy than horses.
By 1865 Missouri was the leading state in mule population, and sizable rewards were paid for the return of strays.
High school agricultural textbooks accorded significant attention to the care of mules. That was what Hubie Mallinckrodt learned from his second-generation Missouri River Bottom father, along with the advantages of tractors and other farm machines that came along.
Through stories and memorabilia related to the farmers’ early four-footed helpers, Hubie shared the story of agriculture’s evolution with museum listeners.
Although they were not farmers or had specialized only in growing grains, some early Augusta immigrants experimented with growing grapes as a New World sideline.
However, finding varieties that would grow well in Missouri soil and climate was a long process.
Regional success came by the late 1840s and after the Civil War, Augusta immigrants were able to establish a cooperative wine company.
In the next generation it was Alfred Nahm who carried that legacy on, but in a single-family-run winery. And grandson Robert Knoernschild, in turn, inherited that business’s stories of working with but a handful of employees, including his three aunts.
The history museum audience found the family-business recollections notable, especially the account of Grandfather Nahm surviving Prohibition by stressing his “medicinal” and “sacramental” production.
As the calendar showed a new century, a noisy contraption surfaced on Augusta’s streets in 1912. Traveling eight miles an hour and making a honking noise at each street corner, it startled horses and mules pulling wagons and buggies about town. The new street object was called “automobile.”
Blacksmiths were sometimes asked to repair parts of the metal invention, and a town license was issued to operate one vehicle “for passenger service.”
The “taxi” was a new idea, as was a shop called “garage” that provided service and mechanical repairs.
For instance, in 1922 Pete Kemner’s Augusta Garage was established and later passed on to third-generation sons Paul and Bob. Constantly adjusting to changing mechanical technology — vulcanizing tires, innovating welding and wrecker service — the garage served the Augusta community with skilled “know-how” for 68 years until 1990.
Education, too, was changing in form while Augusta maintained its widespread reputation for first-rate schools. From the time of the rural New Hope School of the 1840s, the settlement was known for its dedication to high-quality bilingual, science-oriented education.
Achievements included racial integration of the town school after the Civil War; the system of year-end testing when teachers publicly examined their pupils in all subject matters in the prescence of parents so they too coud learn; and the tax struggle to add second and third years of high school.
At the Lutheran Church, traditional parochial education was continued and Ruth Knoerschild Stelzer shared a class with but two other pupils. Following high school and motivated by 1930s encouragement for girls to also pursue a vocation, Ruth went off to college to learn to be a teacher.
To many seniors in the history museum’s summer audience, her stories of “As It Was” classroom teaching sounded familiar, but also like past science fiction: Classes in geography, penmanship, government, civics, as well as math and spelling bees.
Similarly, the Museum audience’s introduction to stories of bygone nurses’ training and practice required suspended belief — recollections of young women shaking down oral thermometers, wearing starched white caps and a pin of certification, decipering physicians’ scribbled handwriting, knowing well a 1 1/2-inch thick book of regulations, but not the word “computer.”
The generation of young women with Augusta immigrant ties who went into early nurses training was offered to the history museum audience by retired RNs Fuhr and Paul, appropriately on Oct. 6, traditionally celebrated as German-American Day.
Their accounts left some in the audience wishing for a return to at least some of the “good old days,” that is, emphasis on “people care.”
Thus, with personal stories, Augusta’s seniors filled in a century of community vocational/professional developments in culture, agriculture, wine-making, mechanical technology, education and medical care — from the time of settlement in the 1830s to the post-Depression period of the 1930s and beyond.
In addition, after each presentation, the Sunday guests were treated to “designer” refreshments highlighting the “As It Was” program theme — cookies shaped like mules and hand tools, containers of grape sorbet, school lunch buckets with “goodies” for the day, and mini cheesecakes decorated with chocolate squiggles suggesting the black sutures of bygone medical days.
Refreshment artist was Joann Milster, treasurer of Friends of Historic Augusta.