Historically Speaking: A tribute to my father
My earliest memories of my father are of a big tall strong man who was in the center of my life in a very vital way. He was a man of few words. but when he spoke, everyone listened, especially us kids. I always wanted his love, so I tried to be good, but I know I exasperated him many times with my curiosity and questions. It seems he was always working and had little time for relaxation, but in the evenings if there wasn’t special fixing and/or repairing needed around the house, he would tell us stories of Paul Bunyan and of a mythical figure from his childhood, Muenchausen, who was somewhat a counterpart to our Paul Bunyan. I recall many a cold winter evening when we were warmed by the old heater in the front room that he would spin yarns about these two characters that were almost unbelievable. He was a practical joker, and had a great sense of humor. We could always count on a good story or joke or puzzle.
He moved from Indiana up to Wisconsin so he could enjoy nature and all its beauties. His paintings and carvings depict his love of the outdoors. I only wish as I was growing up and still at home that I would have listened more to his teachings about nature.
He was born in Denmark and came to the states in 1908 to being a new life here. He kept his Danish accent all his life, but he always was very careful when he spoke, as I feel now that he did not seem confident in using the English language. He was a good neighbor and community member, served many years as supervisor in the Town of Newbold, and a couple of years he was constable, a job he did not care for in particular, as it involved lumberjacks and their problems when they had too much moonshine. He did not drink, but it hurt him to use his authority against them, as when they were sober he said they were good guys. He had a lot of common sense, and was involved in the town business and decisions.
One year, after the town had a lot of problems and needed to elect a good supervisor, he was put on the ballot as a “write-in” and made the newspapers because of controversy over the spelling of his name, but lawyers decided that the intent was evident, and he got into office. I was going to high school at the time and was working for my room and board at the home of a local attorney, and he followed the incident each night in the paper. Of course I was embarrassed, but also proud of him; embarrassed because so much publicity about the election, but proud because he was my father. He was admired by many because of his great common sense and humility.
My father worked hard on the farm, tending and caring for the silver foxes, and he also worked for the Town on the roads in the area. It didn’t leave much time for recreation and his carpentry skills. He was always willing to help a neighbor with repairs around their homes, but never took any money for these odd jobs… he always said that it was his duty as a friend and neighbor to be helpful when and where needed. He was repaid many times over by the high esteem his friends gave him.
He was always there for us, but by today’s standards he was very strict and expected good behavior at all times. This was hard for me, as I was very active, and I am sure caused him many a problem in my early years. But I would do virtually anything to gain praise from him. He taught me to love people, and to accept the fact that we are all the same, yet different. He always kept his word, and promises made, and this has made an impression on me that has affected my own life.
One of the greatest and most important lessons I learned from him was to watch his life and what he did, and want to grow into a person as he was each day; whether he was noticed or when he was snubbed as he kept on doing things for his family, friends and neighbors. I only wish I could be half the person he was.
After I graduated from the eighth grade and looked ahead to going to high school, it was necessary to get permission from the Town Clerk for tuition purposes, so my father and I went to his home to do this. The Clerk, an old farmer himself, said to my father, “..there’s really no reason for her to go on to school, she’ll marry a farmer and will be set for life.” My father didn’t listen to him but said this is what she wants, and she’s willing to work toward it. I was very proud of him again that day. And I know he was proud of me on a September morning a few years later when he drove me to my first school, and wished me luck as a new teacher. He believed in education, but he only had an eighth grade education when a boy. When he got to America, he learned to read by reading everything and anything he could find. He was very patriotic and flew the U.S. flag with great pride for his adopted country,
As I look back, I see, too, that he had great perseverance in all that he undertook; I have seen him face great disappointments and problems, but he kept going on despite these setbacks. During the Great Depression, I saw sadness as he had to end his work with his silver fox farm – a work he greatly loved, but he accepted the fact that it was over, and kept going on. I admire his steadfastness during life’s uncertain times and his wonderful ability to still smile and tell a few stories to whoever would take time to listen. He gave a lot to his family, never complaining when times were hard, and taught us to not give up. There were many good times and experiences that offset the bad times throughout this long life, I hereby give my utmost respect and love to my father, Rasmus (Ray) Wolff.