Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared July 28, 2007.
WORTHINGTON —Someone said, “If you had known Babe Ruth, you would have called him George.” This may be so. I never was big on nicknames. They told me, “Siets died.” I had to translate. Elwin died. Elwin Sietsema.
It has been a tough week at Worthington.
Roger Rohrer left us, too. Roger the Indomitable. Roger had his Ben Franklin store when F.W. Woolworth opened in competition right next door. Roger still was conducting a thriving business when, after the passing of years, F.W. Woolworth threw in a towel and left town.
Do you remember when Roger broke a leg? He rolled through his store with a child’s scooter, his bum leg on the platform and his good leg supplying the power. He said scooting was easier than going on crutches.
Roger Rohrer was chair for Worthington’s first planning commission, giving direction to the city’s original zoning code.
Perhaps I should ask some indulgence with regard to Elwin. My word — Elwin and I were friends through 70 years. There is a ton of wives and husbands, a ton brothers and sisters who did not know each other through 70 years.
I remember — oh, summer mornings. Elwin’s dad, engineer on a steam locomotive, was in their living room in an easy chair listening on a radio short wave band to Adolf Hitler spouting to the German people. Mr. Sietsema did not admire Adolf Hitler. He worked to be informed with regard to what it was that was developing in the world.
In those same long-ago summer mornings Elwin’s mother would be in her kitchen, maybe making jam, often making bread. I remember a morning when she sang “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” while she kneaded her dough.
It may be from this background that Elwin got a musical proclivity. It was the big band era. Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. While Elwin was still in high school — when classmates worked at grocery stores stocking shelves and carrying out customers’ grocery bags — Elwin was doing gigs with Tiny Little’s band, establishing a solid rhythm with a bass fiddle.
Oh well —
When he was beyond 80, during his Florida winters, Elwin still was doing stints with a band. You should not be surprised that the Barbary Coast Dixieland Band from the Twin Cities will be playing at the memorial service this morning.
Elwin loved making music, but there was another thing.
My brother was 19 months old, put in my care and put outside in the backyard for the first time. Elwin appreciated this was a milestone. He came across the street with his camera and made a picture of the two brothers. He went back to his basement, to a darkroom he had fashioned there, and, largely self-taught, he worked the magic of that time with chemicals and black and white film and a printer. I have one of the first, one of the original Photos by Elwin.
Elwin later went to a famed photography school in California and did a photo thesis on The Baja. He was one of the first people on earth to do a photo study of The Baja.
World War II upset all things, as Elwin’s father had feared. Boys through all the earth got no choice with regard to whether they wanted to go to war, but they got a choice of armed forces. Elwin chose the Marines. He experienced two landing craft invasions of South Pacific islands. He suffered that grievous wound of the senses, which is to go on living after your guys have been shot and are lying dead all about you.
From all his interests and diversions, Elwin settled on photography. He came back to Worthington with Dorothy and built the studio on Oxford Street. Together they reared Mary and Tom and John.
I heard people this week talking of photos Elwin made for them. People were looking in albums for children’s pictures and digging out wedding pictures.
Photography. Music. There were still other things. My word — Elwin was deep into retirement years when he rode his motorcycle across South Dakota to visit his brother’s family at Rapid City.
The test was whether you could find a way through life on a route of your own, without walking in ruts or ambling along paths charted by others. You got an A-plus.