TODD HALE: Where have all the square dancers gone? More on the Alexander Apartments –

Posted By on April 26, 2020

Time was when square dancing was a popular pastime for many folks in Owatonna. I even produced a radio show on KRFO with square dance music and news of square dances from an Owatonna square dance club member. For years square dancers drew large crowds of onlookers when the square dancers took the stage.

Now days, one never hears about square dancing and the current day and age has led to the demise of two Owatonna square dance clubs, namely the Do-Si-Do and the Steele Steppers. I visited with Owatonnas Harlan Holzerland, who called square dancing for close to 60 years all over southern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Like so many other dances popular in the 40s through the 70s, square dancing slowly diminished and today there is only one square dance club in our area, that being in Albert Lea. Both Owatonna Clubs threw in the towel due to lack of interest. The history of square dancing in Steele County is an interesting one, involving well known Owatonna personalities. Let me digress:

The year 1948 was the first year that an organized square dance club was formed in Owatonna. There were actually two clubs in Owatonna. In 1999, the oldest of the two, the Do-Si-Do club celebrated its 50th anniversary with a Sunday afternoon dance at Senior Place.

The Do-Si-Do club was founded by an Owatonna couple, Walter and Lois White, who, while visiting relatives in Arizona attended several square dance festivals. They brought their enthusiasm back to Owatonna along with a couple of instruction records. During the summer of 1949, they gathered a few friends and began instructing and dancing at the Mineral Springs pavilion. Spectators came and the interest grew and that fall the group decided to set a regular meeting night for interested couples. Alex Schmanski was the first caller. Later the club hired a youngster called named Arden Johnson, a junior at the University of Minnesota who earned income for school expenses by calling square dances. The interest in square dancing was gaining in parts of Minnesota and Arden was kept very busy. He taught the Owatonna members many folks dances between square dancing and later round dancing which gradually replaced the folk dancing.

Do-Si-Do charter members

Looking through some old files, I ran across a listing of the charter members of the Do-Si-Do Club. Youll recognize many of those names. Axel and Mildred Anderson served as the first club presidents followed by Malcolm and Connie Stephenson. Charter members included Dick and Jean Brindmore, Heber and Zelda Boyette, Fritz and Hazel Lenker, Al and Jo Wenner, Allen and Agnes Kasper, Valdimar and Olga Kasper, Chet and Audrey Hoffert, and Bob and Dorothy Rowley. Others who joined shortly after the club formed included Bob and Helen Shimpach, the Monty Kubalskis, Kenneth Srprungs, Connie and Helen Hanson, the Gordy Paffraths and the Walter Whites.

The club first danced at the fire hall, then after a year moved to the Auditorium Hall on North Cedar. A year later the club moved to the ZCBJ Hall south of town, then to the Park and Recreation headquarters on Mill Street and later to West Hills.

In 1950, the Do-Si-Do club became a member of the Folk-Dance Federation of Minnesota. In June of that year, the Owatonna Club hosted a state festival at Dartts Park on a Saturday afternoon. The club sponsored many regional festivals through the 50s and 60s which were usually held at the Monterey Ballroom. The name of the state organization was later changed to The Square Dance Federation of Minnesota and Owatonnans Heber and Zelda Boyette served as co-presidents in 1958-59. LeRoy and Kathryn Henning of Claremont served as co-presidents in 1989-90. Don Wesely and Darrel Lennon wrote and published a square dance monthly newsletter. Many locals became callers and served the club including Heber Boyette, Howard Ellsworth from Austin and Bill Morton of Rochester. Around 1970, Owatonnas Everett Jacobson began calling and he was joined later by Wayne Kubicek. It was Kubicek and I who produced the weekly radio show.

The Do-Si-Do club also hosted a festival linked to the Pumpkin-Fest in Owatonna. One year, a famous national caller named Cal Golden. Six people were designated as Honorary Members of the Do-Si-Do club. They included Alan and Agnes Kasper, Heber and Zelda Boyette and Everett and Luverne Jacobson.

The end of the Do-Si-Dos

The Do-Si-Do Square Dance Club dissolved shortly after observing its 50th anniversary. In 1974, a second square dance club was formed called the Steele Steppers. Roger Borchardt was the first president. Harlan Holzerland called for that club until he retired in 1986. He was followed by Wayne Kubicek. The Steele Steppers dissolved in 2007. This club hosted the square dance night at the fair.

A coveted award

for Holzerland

Harlan Holzerland received the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award from the State Square Dance Federation in 2007. The award is rarely given out and recognized Holzerlandnewss contribution to square dancing for close to 60 years.

Alexander apartment


A few weeks ago I wrote about a police raid at the Alexander Apartments, located at the corner of Main and Elm. The raid was in connection with suspects who were supposedly using an apartment in the building in connection with a kidnapping and stolen alcohol.

I ran across a column I wrote about the apartments when I received a letter from Helen Sorenson Petterson, who at the time was 92. She lived at the apartments. The contents of her letter sheds some light on the apartment complex and who lived there in its early days.

She wrote: My earliest memory of the Alexander Apartments was when I was about 14 years old and I came to visit my sister who worked at Federated. She and a friend shared a room at the Alexander apartment. What fascinated me about that room was that they had a Murphy bed that came down from the ceiling. Behind a small door on a wall was a mechanism that was manually operated to bring the bed down from the ceiling at night. The four legs lay parallel on the bed until brought down a couple of feet from the floor. The girls had to take each leg and set it on each corner of the bed perpendicularly so that they all rested on the floor. The bedding remained on the bed when they sent it back up to the ceiling in the morning.

One day while I was living at the Alexander apartments I was coming down a staircase when I met a young girl coming up from the basement and she was weeping. I went to her and asked what was the matter. She said her father was very sick. I put my arm around her and together we descended the stairway from which she had just come. Half way down I saw Hans Muillenberg sitting on a chair attended by Dr. John McIntyre. He died of heart failure. It was a real sad experience.

There were lots of bats in the building and the lady who lived next to me had a surprise when she came home from work one night. She had left a screenless window open and a squirrel had entered her room, ripping her curtains to ribbons, knocking the radio off of a stand and messing up her room entirely.

Don and I were married just across the street in the old Trinity Lutheran Church. We continued to live in the Alexander apartments for another year and a half. I think Bill and Bernie Reisenauer took over our apartment when we left. I was a resident of the Alexander apartments from April 1, 1944 to December 1, 1951.

In her letter, Helen listed those who lived in the Alexander apartments during the years she was a resident. The included Marian Nelson and Luella Kestle, Norine Peterson, Lorena Schrupp, Mr. and Mrs. Guy Cleftonk, Miss Fritch, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Kiley, Mrs. Hunter (Lester Bickfords mother), Mrs. E.K.Whiting, Sally Davis, Margaret Kessen and Freda Bell Haberman. (When Freda got married, Margaret invited Helen Sorenson to share the apartment with her. Margaret got married a month later and Helen had several roommates including Ruth Boots, Clarissa Swanson, and Arlene Rothi. Arlene lived there until she married Frank Anderson. Other residents included Judge Bernard McGovern, Osborne Partridge, Mrs. Rochford, Pearl Johnson, Esther Eliason Larson and daughter, Hans and Grace Muillenberg. Eli Eliason was the custodian for the entire building.

No Straight River Days

this year

The Medford Civic Club has announced that the annual Straight River Days celebration, scheduled for June 17-20 has been canceled for this year. Erin Sammon, Medford Civic Club president said, Its hard to plan for the unknown. Basically, every small town around us had already canceled their big events, so we felt it was time to do the inevitable. The club intends to host Straight River Days events throughout the summer.

Other cancellations

A review of already canceled events: Smokin in Steele BBQ and Blues Festival in Owatonna, Faribault Heritage Days, Dam Days in Morristown and Bullhead Days in Waterville, Big Brothers/Sisters Bowl for Kids Sake postponed till fall. Rotary Club shredding canceled, Exchange Club Book of Golden Deeds banquet postponed until fall.

Deadline for SCHS Preservation Awards coming

May 1 is the deadline date for nominations for the Steele County Historical Society Preservation Awards. This award recognizes Steele County buildings or properties for outstanding preservation and restoration efforts. To nominate, submit a letter explaining why you have chosen this property, some background information, the propertys historic significance, a photograph and a contact number. To submit a nomination, e-mail a message or mail a suggestion to SCHS, 1700 Austin Road, Owatonna, Mn. 55060. Honorees in the past have included Toreys Restaurant, Jefts Hall at Pillsbury, Kottke Jewelers, KIK Graphics, Lerbergs in Ellendale, Owatonna Public Utilities, First Baptist Church, the Zamboni Building, the Alexander home and many others.

Airport name honors Owatonna aviation pioneer

In 1987, the Owatonna Municipal Airport was re-named Degner Field, honoring Glenn Degner, who along with Tom Walsh and Joe Dulak, founded the Owatonna airport in a cornfield south of town. Degner went on to manage airport operations for decades besides running Degner Travel Service. Mary and I escorted cruises arranged by Degner. Ill always remember when we held an informational meeting regarding a cruise we escorted, Degner said, If something goes wrong, dont get your bowels in an uproar. Well handle any problems you may encounter. Glenn and wife Billie had their booth reserved for them every noon at Jerrys Supper Club.

A wonderful lady,

Ann Barker

Ann Barker passed away in her mid-nineties. She was indeed a wonderful, kind lady. I used to pick her up for church on the Trinity Lutheran bus on Sunday mornings. We had great chats about her past. She was born Ann Prokopec in Blooming Prairie. After receiving normal training in Owatonna she began teaching in rural school. She taught for about six years before becoming a full-time housewife. Theres lot of concern about class size today, but when Ann taught in District 13, Aurora Township, she had 48 kids in her class! When I interviewed Ann on her 91st birthday she said, My life has been people. I just enjoy my friends every day!

Joke of the week

The Presbyterian church called a meeting to decide what to do about their squirrel infestation. After much prayer and consideration, they concluded that the squirrels were predestined to be there and they shouldnt interfere with Gods divine will. At the Baptist Church the squirrels had taken an interest in the baptistery. The deacons met and decided to put a water-slide on the baptistery and let the squirrels drown themselves. The squirrels liked the slide and unfortunately, knew instinctively how to swim, so twice as many squirrels showed up the following week. The Lutheran church decided that that were not in a position to harm any of Gods creatures. So, they humanely trapped their squirrels and set them free near the Baptist church. Two weeks later the squirrels were back when the Baptists took down the water-slide. The Episcopalians tried a much more unique path by setting out pans of whiskey around their church in an effort to kill the squirrels with alcohol poisoning. They sadly learned how much damage a band of drunk squirrels can do.

The Catholic church came up with a very creative strategy! They baptized all the squirrels and made them members of the church. Now they only see them at Christmas and Easter. Not much was heard from the Jewish synagogue. They took the first squirrel and circumcised him. They havent seen a squirrel since!

Continued here:

TODD HALE: Where have all the square dancers gone? More on the Alexander Apartments -

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