"Winter veteran" recalls winter school days in the 1920s

Inez Gunkelman
Inez Gunkelman tells WDAY reporter Kevin Wallevand about her days in rural Barnes County in the 1920s and 30s.

FARGO — Talk to some of the hardened veterans of winter, and they will tell you that "back in the day", life on the prairie went on despite the cold and snow.

With businesses and schools shut down for miles around, one North Dakotan who has been through more winters than most people remembers a much higher tolerance for the weather.

At 97, retired Grandin, N.D., school teacher Inez Gunkelman is a "Google Search" of prairie life in North Dakota. She now lives in Fargo, but in the 1920s and 30s, she and her sisters milked cows and helped their father with chores on their farm near Litchville, N.D.


“That is how we got the groceries, we took the cream into town and got our groceries,” she recalled.

In the dead of winter, day-to-day life didn’t stop for hard-working farm kids in rural Barnes County in the late 1920s and early 1930s, even without modern conveniences.

Gunkelman said she got to school in the winter in a horse and sleigh.

“We would heat flat irons ... and wrap them in blankets, and put them in the sleigh with us,” she said.

But sometimes roads were impassable, and even a horse and sleigh or buggy could not get through. Then, everyone pitched in.

“We did not have plows back then, and so the farmers would have ‘a day,’ and all the farmers would come to open the roads, and they shoveled.”

And what does Inez, about to turn 98, think of winter shutting everything down?

Well — she doesn't say we’re soft, but she was in a hurry to get to the mall and get her nails done.

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