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Bob Lind column: Large family memories

Since the first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882, it's obvious those dreaming it up didn't have Olivia Schoelzel in mind. She wasn't born until 1900.

Since the first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882, it's obvious those dreaming it up didn't have Olivia Schoelzel in mind. She wasn't born until 1900.

But Olivia knew something about labor. The maternity kind. She had 21 babies in 23 years.

That, ladies, is a lot of labor.

Those children, born between 1925 and 1948, went on to produce more than 100 grandchildren for Olivia and her husband Rudolph. One of those grandkids is Joleen Trustem, Moorhead.

Joleen read a Neighbors column this summer about a couple who also had 21 children. Only it took them 28 years to do it.


"My grandparents did it in fewer years," Joleen writes, and sends along a newspaper clipping about the Schoelzel family reunion 10 years ago that was attended by 300 people of assorted ages who trace their heritage back to Rudolph and Olivia.

The reunion was held in Wisconsin. That's where the Schoelzels lived, on a dairy farm near Colby, east of Eau Claire. That farm is still in the family, operated by an uncle and cousin of Joleen's.

Memories ...

Although the Schoelzels lived in Wisconsin, their experiences as recorded in a family history book mirror those of farm families in Minnesota and North Dakota in that era ... except, undoubtedly, for the size of the family.

All of the 21 children were single births, and all were born at home, in the same house about 8 miles from Colby where their father was born.

One of the children died the same day he was born. Another son died at age 21. The other 19 lived long lives; in fact, 15 are still living.

Their 10-room house was on a 113-acre farm. Rudolph commuted to the garage in Colby where he worked as a mechanic from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., while his older sons worked the farm and his older daughters helped their mother with the cooking and baking. They baked 10 to 12 loaves of bread every other day. One girl remembers having to mix the bread dough in the morning before the school bus came at 7.

Rudolph said his farm work was pretty much confined to Sunday, when he did the things his boys were unable to do during the week.


Despite having a small army to feed, food was not a problem for Olivia and Rudolph. They had 15 cows to provide milk, they churned their own butter and they had plenty of meat they raised themselves. They used up to 100 pounds of potatoes a week.

The biggest problem was sugar during World War II. A family was only issued eight sugar ration stamps regardless of its size.

Olivia and the older girls sewed much of the children's clothing.

The boys would get home from school, carry in wood and water to the house, do chores in the barn, eat supper, milk, then crawl into bed. In the summer, they'd play ball with the neighbor kids, provided someone had a ball and could find a tree limb for a bat.

The family's first washing machine was a gasoline-powered Maytag.

By the time electricity arrived at the farm in 1944, the family already consisted of Mom, Dad and 16 children.

Hot nights, cold rides

The memories roll on ...


Dad writing by the light of a kerosene lamp; the nightly prayers; warm bricks to keep feet warm in the sled when going to church in the winter; in the summer, sleeping on the lawn when it was too hot to sleep in the upstairs bedrooms; canning food, including up to 60 quarts of corn; the kids playing such games as Pump Pump Pull Away and Tag; Mom patching clothes to make them last; Dad making Christmas gifts, including doll cradles for the girls; and the people who had parlors which were off-limits to everyone except company.

The kids earned money any way they could. They hired out to other farmers to pick rocks and shock grain. One boy earned 50 cents a day as the water boy for a threshing crew.

The children got new shoes each year when school started; they had to last the whole year. It helped, however, that the kids went barefoot in the summer.

One of the girls tried the old "lick the metal log chain in the middle of winter" routine. Her dad had to use a kettle of hot water to free her.

There were tough times, as when a farm building burned, and when kids got hurt, falling off a wagon or getting scalded by hot water; but there were wonderful times, too: the Christmas plays which packed both the school and church; the neighbors pitching in to help each other thresh; the ball games, provided it was still light enough after the chores were done.

Bubble lights on the Christmas tree; Dad counting the kids to make sure everyone was there; the nicknames the kids picked up, and now would like to forget, such as "Skinny" and "Weasel" and "PeeWee"; the wind-up phonograph; the flour bin; ringing the dinner bell to call Dad in from the fields; listening to the "Grand Ole Opry" on the radio.

It was another place, another time.

Olivia died in 1969, Rudolph in 1985. Their children and grandchildren are scattered.

But the memories linger on ...

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, N.D. 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail rlind@forumcomm.com

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