A Round Lake historian: Stanley Beal, 90, grew up in community, and still lives thereROUND LAKE — When Stanley Beal was a boy, a visit to the doctor cost $5, the same as the cost of tuition for a month of school. When he was a young man, people could only buy three gallons of gasoline a week, and the speed limit everywhere was 35 miles per hour.
ROUND LAKE — When Stanley Beal was a boy, a visit to the doctor cost $5, the same as the cost of tuition for a month of school. When he was a young man, people could only buy three gallons of gasoline a week, and the speed limit everywhere was 35 miles per hour.
And now that Round Lake’s unofficial town historian has reached his 90th year, Beal receives postcards and e-mail from all over the world from exchange students he has hosted or assisted.
As a child, Beal attended the Round Lake school for three years before the Great Depression made it financially unfeasible. That $5 per child per month fee was impossible for a struggling farm family to pay, particularly given that Stanley’s sister, a first-grader, brought the total monthly bill up to $10 — “almost unheard of capital in those days.”
Instead, Beal and his sister attended rural school at District 25, at what is now the Round Lake Township Hall.
“We were two in a class, and most of the time, I was the only boy,” Beal recalled. “And if that won’t make you an old bachelor, I don’t know what will.”
The schoolhouse didn’t have electricity, but it did have two indoor chemical toilets, both of which usually weren’t working at the same time. Beal took a length of rope to school one day to serve as a lock for the functioning one, preventing embarrassment for all his fellow pupils.
“The first two years, we had a teacher who didn’t like kids and should’ve been a warden in a reform school,” Beal said. That teacher was soon replaced by a sweet-tempered lady, Ivy Christianson Hanson of Indian Lake, who allowed her students to move the desks aside during the noon hour so they could play volleyball in the schoolroom. Knocking Hanson’s coffee thermos over three times in one day only drew a gentle admonishment: “Children, you’re going to have to be more careful.”
As was typical of the time, all the classes were taught in a single room.
“We learned more listening to other classes recite than we did from our own classes,” Beal said. “You heard everything.”
By the time Beal started attending school, the old rural practice of sending boys in their late teens to class during the winter — when the farm boy had little if anything to do — had already faded, perhaps because of the disruption a young man the same age as the teacher could cause in the classroom.
But other things were different, too. Each day, students carried water from the well into the classroom and the teacher would allow students to bring jars of food to school, heating them up with water on the old coal stove that kept the room warm. Sometimes, Beal remembers, the jar would break and the unfortunate student who owned it would have no lunch at all.
In 1934, Beal began attending Round Lake High School, which at that time had only three staff members — the superintendent, the principal and the English teacher. Later they added a fourth, the commercial teacher, who taught business, bookkeeping and typing.
“And I think we learned more than they do today,” Beal said.
The girls in Beal’s class of 13 were surprised to find that both the honor students were boys, which was practically unheard of.
Beal and the other boys wore ties to school, and they never wore shorts. The girls wore dresses, and couldn’t participate in competitive sports like the boys did.
“They were thought to be too strenuous for delicate female anatomy,” Beal said with a laugh.
There was no cafeteria and there were no lockers. Students had an hour for lunch, and the town kids usually went home to eat. But they soon learned the farm kids had goodies in their lunch pails and sometimes, those goodies would be stolen and eaten by the time lunch came around.
Beal has never ridden a school bus. In 1935 and 1936, when bad winters swept over the countryside, there were no snowplows and the roads were blocked. Sometimes a team of horses would drag a hay rack with a tarp over the back around to pick up the girls and bring them to school. Farm kids, too, would ride or drive ponies to school, housing them in the church barn during the day.
For entertainment, Beal and his friends went to movies, when they could afford it.
“We used to go to Lake Park (Iowa) for movies,” Beal said. “Thirty-five cents, that was a holdup!”
Less costly were the movies offered at the schoolhouse every Wednesday night. They were black and white silent films, and the local piano teacher would play music along to them. The fee was $1 per family per month. The more enterprising students went to school early Thursday mornings and searched the floor, often finding themselves fortunate enough to find a nickel or a dime on the floor.”
Beal graduated in 1938, and though his family wanted him to go to the junior college, they couldn’t afford it. Instead, he started working on the farm with his father, Ralph.
At that time, Ralph and his wife, Frieda, farmed 160 acres about half a mile east of the cemetery, just into Jackson County, and they did it entirely without electricity.
Electricity came to the rural Round Lake area in 1936, brought by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the national push toward rural electrification, but though it went practically up to the Beal family’s door, they didn’t get connected to it because they were only renting the land.
Not long after Beal graduated from high school and started working, World War II began. Three times, he was chosen for the draft, and he remembers his selective service number, 52338, to this day.
All three times, Beal passed the physical examination, despite having suffered a dangerous childhood illness at a young age.
“When I was 5 years old, I contracted bovine tuberculosis. I was one of these little kids who went along to the cow barn and milked the cows,” Beal said, recalling how he and the others used to drink raw milk straight from the cow before pasteurization became the norm. “I woke up one chilly April morning and my left hip was so sore I couldn’t hardly get upstairs.”
Doctor’s visits cost $5, and the family had to sell their laying hens to get enough money together. The doctor X-rayed Beal over and over again, with no shielding to minimize radiation, and then prescribed an hour of sunshine a day for his ailment.
“I was forbidden to walk all summer. My dad would carry me into Sunday school and I was carried everyplace, chair and all,” he recalled. “In September, I went to the Spencer (Iowa) fair, and he carried me all day long.”
Eventually, Beal was permitted to walk again and was allowed to start school a year late, at the age of 6.
“The doctor told me I could walk, but he might as well have told me to fly,” he said. “I forgot how.”
He soon relearned the skill, and by the time Beal became a young man, the draft board and examining physicians at Fort Snelling found him fit to serve in the armed forces three times.
But all three times, they told him to go home.
“There was a saying, then, that ‘Food will win the war.’ The draft board left me home every time. I was criticized for it, but I did what the draft board told me,” Beal said.
It wasn’t easy. Beal lost a classmate, Leland Earl Erbes, at Pearl Harbor, and he was the first casualty of the war to come from Nobles County.
And in the early years of the war, no one was sure how it would end.
“We were sitting ducks after Pearl Harbor, because the Democrats had let our armed services deplete to pay for social programs,” Beal said. “The men were drilling with wooden guns … if Japan had attacked a second time, they would have won.”
As the boys went overseas to fight, the people at home fought too, saving tin, paper, and fat and living on goods carefully rationed by the government, including meat, flour, coffee and clothing.
Most people who lived in town could buy up to three gallons of gasoline a week, though doctors and certain others could get more. People couldn’t buy new tires, and no new cars were being made. The speed limit of 35 miles per hour was universal, put in place to help conserve gas and save tires.
“Farmers could get all (the gas) they needed for tractors. That burned the city people up,” Beal said. “You’d hear remarks in town about farm kids with cars filled with tractor gas.”
Farm equipment, too, was rationed. Beal’s father and a neighbor bought a corn picker from Ling Implement and had to go to Pipestone in order to retrieve it.
After the war ended, it took a while for things to go back to normal. Car dealers, for example, would take a name and a deposit in order to purchase a new car. Some people put their names in at several places and ended up with two cars, prompting them to sell the extras to someone else. The nation started making cars again in 1946, though they were copies of the 1942 cars, Beal recalled.
“They hung every gadget they could on ‘em, and you paid what they asked. You didn’t dicker around,” Beal said. “(The deposits meant) they had lots of capital to work with.”
And the GI Bill changed things too, by paying for soldiers’ education after the war. Many of Beal’s friends qualified for it, and though Beal didn’t, he did sit in on some of their classes and believes they deserved the benefits they got, given what they went through.
For example, one Round Lake man, Charles Snelson, was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, in which thousands of prisoners of war were forced to transfer to another location, enduring horrific abuse from their Japanese captors. The Bataan Death March is now considered a war crime. One of Beal’s Sunday school classmates, Duane Jenkins, became a fighter pilot and disappeared during a dogfight over the Pacific Ocean.
Most of the men who came back from the war did well, Beal said, though a few of them returned with nervous problems, then called “combat fatigue.” In those days, few people talked about such things in public.
Beal’s father, Ralph, fought in World War I. Beal’s ancestor, Richard Morgan, of Wales, was the second man to be buried in the Round Lake Cemetery, and Beal’s grandfather, Curtis Morgan, broke the prairie sod for that cemetery.
A changed community
Plenty has changed in Round Lake since Beal was a child.
“We had three grocery stores, we had a drug store, we had a hotel, we had two pool halls, we had two banks, we had an implement shop. We had a car agency. We had several gas stations. We had a grade school — we don’t anymore, it’s in Brewster. We didn’t have a Lutheran church in early years. That came later,” Beal said.
Beal’s farming career ended in 1956 after his back gave out. He retired and did some traveling.
In 1990, he hosted a German student for just three evenings, and though he didn’t know it, that was only the beginning. At the age of 75, he took in his first long-term exchange student and began working as the local international exchange coordinator. Over the next two decades, Beal hosted four students and placed 17 others, in addition to working with the Crailsheim exchange program. He still gets postcards from all over the world from the students he assisted.
“It’s so interesting!” Beal said of his time with the students. “You have to want to do it. It isn’t for everyone, but I sure enjoyed it. It’s a responsibility… I learned so much from them.”