Friendships…They can last forever, but don’t wait too long
By Lily Kongslien
Special to the Star Journal
During the holidays, a get-together of several of us old-time “McNaughton Gals” prompted me to appreciate these friendships more as we all get older. The neighbors and friends of years gone by helped make us what we are today.
We were all from a close-knit community and each of us, over time, attended the McNaughton one-room rural school which was located on the corner of Bridge Road, just off Hwy 47 north (and near where the Fredrich Gas Station, Bar and Restaurant was then located). The school was large, but the enrollment declined during the late 30s and it was torn down during WW2 years. This large white building was the learning center of the community and it was here that firm and lasting friendships were formed. Back in those days people did not travel to the extent that they do today, and our near neighbors were our closest friends, not only in distance but in the heart.
During my first year of high school, I was fortunate to be able to stay at home, but rode daily to school with the Shimkus family of young people; Annie and Helen in the upper grades and Mary and Johnny who were just starting high school, too.
It was a good year with many adjustments for country kids. But in the summer of 1936 the Shimkus family moved to Laona and I wondered if I would be able to continue on in high school. But family friends, the Blackmans, who had been living in the Beaver Lake area just north of the McNaughton post office and store were now residing in the city, and offered to have me stay with them for the school year. Earlier they had helped another student, Bernard Bumpus from Lake Tomahawk, and he stayed with them the year before I did. Of course, we were old friends and our parents were close friends, too, so it made it very “homey” for me. There were four kids; Burl, Karl, Martha and Flora but the continued friendship between me and Martha has continued to this day with the possible exception of a few years here and there through time. But several Septembers ago, after a spell of writing and reminiscing through our letters, Martha came up one weekend to see her old home site and we planted a willow on the property they still own. It was a memorable occasion and we both enjoyed every moment of the evening. It meant so much to both us, as my brother and I and her family spent many happy childhood days at their former home there on Beaver Lake. Flora now lives out west, Karl is in Milwaukee, Burl is in Texas and Martha resides in Illinois. Wonderful memories of a kind family to took me into their home and hearts so I could go on with my high school education. My next two years of school, through graduation, I worked in the home of attorney John Sweberg and his family for my room and board; another very kind family who became MY family while I was away from my own. Dorothy Sweberg was very instrumental in helping to form my “growing up“ years and I am forever grateful to her and the family.
But back to my McNaughton friends and our recent visit and luncheon: The oldest member of our little group is Stella Udkler (Shaltis-Ludgaitis); her brothers Tony and Stanley were my brother’s closest friends while going to school, and together with those two, plus Johnny Shimkus and Jim Yuske they had many an adventure. Helen (Shimkus) Puza, who has since passed away and her cousin Helen (Arcimas) Schultstrom were in the group, plus Ethel Shaltis (she had been married to Tony Shaltis until his death); and I, Lily (Wolff) Kongslien made up this small group of friends, You can imagine the chatter and laughter as recollections were brought up – one tale leading to another. We talked about school days at the old McNaughton School, our families and how we’ve changed (gotten older and perhaps wise) and memories of our parents and families when we were youngsters. What a wonderful thing to be privileged to do, after all these years! I’m so glad when, a few years ago, we decided to get together once or twice a year, at least, and resume our friendships. Together with the Shimkus family and my family, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the Rapps family, the Fredrich family, the Yuske and Warekois families. I know I am leaving out some, but these families had kids the age of my brother and me. McNaughton has changed, with children of these families living elsewhere, but we were once-upon-a-time a very close-knit group, all different yet with kindred hearts. One word of advice I would like to give – don’t wait too long to renew old acquaintances. It is a precious thing – FRIENDSHIP.