Joanne Rausch shares senior memories

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Joanne Rausch, Class of 1956 valedictorian, shared her memories of growing up in Guttenberg and owning and operating a small town business. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Joanne Rausch welcomed us into her comfortable home with a friendly smile, a fresh pot of coffee and a batch of homemade oatmeal cookies. 

Family ties

Seated at her kitchen table she shared her story. "I will be 82 years old this summer. I have two brothers, Harlen and Don, a half brother, Verlen Horstman, and three half sisters, Phyllis, Wilma and Bernice. Verlen was my mother's first child and Phyllis, Wilma and Bernice were my father's daughters from his first marriage. The girls lived with dad's sister, Alice. They got spoiled more so they stayed with her in Northwood, Iowa," she said. "Verlen lived with us until he was a teenager, and then he went to live with my mom's bachelor brother, Bill. He needed help on the farm. He finished out his education in Colesburg and graduated with the class of '49."

"Verlen enlisted in the Navy and served for four years," she said. "We always kept in contact with him. After the Navy he stayed out on the West Coast, but he would come back and visit every couple of years. I kept in contact with Bernice because she lived near Garber, but I lost track of the other girls."

Summer produce

"My mother had a big garden. In the summer she would pick sweet corn and berries before she went to work. We kids would sell them to the regulars, mostly from the Island, who would stop by. Butch Gilbertz always bought her berries. He would insist that every container be heaped up on the top. My mom went in his store one day where he resold the berries and all the cartons were just level to the top," she laughed. 


Rausch has always had a love of reading. She shared, "I liked to read – mostly mysteries. I would get my books from school, buy them at the five and dime or check them out at the library. The library was located in the municipal building where the current city office is. My mother doctored in Waukon. Whenever she went to the doctor she always brought me home a paperback book." 

She recollected, "I spent a lot of time with my good friend Hilda Moser. She had knee surgery and couldn't get around. We played a lot of canasta. I got tired of the card game and haven't liked it since. We went swimming in the river. They had a section roped off at the end of Haydn Street. Bernie Aulwes was the lifeguard. He hollered if you went outside the rope." 

Talented seamstress

Rausch's mother taught her how to sew. She proudly shared, "My mother taught me to sew on the old pedal machine when I was 13 years old. I remember getting into an argument with the home economics teacher about putting in a zipper. I wanted to do it the way my mom showed me. I made most of my own clothes and even made my own wedding dress. It was just a simple day dress. I bought my patterns and material at the Style Shop in Guttenberg. The Butterick and McCall's patterns cost 75 cents." She added, "My mother was an excellent seamstress. She made all my prom formals. Gladys Hohman would bring her bolts of plaid material to make into housedresses. She was particular, the button holes had to be bound button holes."  

Class valedictorian

Rausch attended school in Guttenberg and was the valedictorian of her graduating class. She explained, "There were scholarships available for me to go on to college. But they didn't cover everything, and I knew my mother couldn't afford the costs. Mr. and Mrs. Rankin were my favorite teachers. Mrs. Rankin taught business classes, and Mr. Rankin was the seventh and eighth grade teacher. Mr. Oakley was the music teacher. He encouraged me to play the oboe. I got a first place in a music contest." She continued, "Physics was my favorite class. It was the only one that challenged me. Mr. Archambault was the teacher and school superintendent. At the end of the year he would give us questions to consider. One year he asked 'Would a bathtub of water empty out faster if someone was in it or if it only had water in it?'" 

Working in and out of the home

"I worked for Rex and Babe Young for a while. They had a cafe – Young's Cafe. It was located on the south end of the old Murray's grocery store. I worked as a waitress. People used to come in after Lakeside. It was wall-to-wall people. It was pretty wild sometimes," she said with a smile. 

"I always had lunch ready for mom when she took her lunch break. After she went back to work I would start supper. I would fix some kind of meat and fried potatoes. Harlen and I would go to grandma's and help out on the farm.  I mostly helped out in the kitchen and carried lunch out to the guys in the field. My grandmother always fixed two kinds of meat and three kinds of pie. She also made donuts in the morning, and I would carry them out with Kool Aid to the threshers," she said. She laughed. "I remember one old bachelor that stacked up his plate with all the available food, layering it on top of one another ending with a piece of pie. Then he would pour gravy over the top of all of it! If there were three kinds of pie — he had three plates of food!" 

Local grocery stores

Rausch brought to mind, "When we had Bible school at St. John's Church we would run across the street on our recess break and buy a Slo Poke for a nickel from Willman's grocery. Mr. Willman had slicked back hair. He never had a hair out of place. Donna Vanderbilt operated the North End Grocery; she had living quarters in the back. She always had good lunch meat and fresh produce." 

She fondly remembered, "My mother walked every where. The only time she took the car was if it was pouring down rain. Her and I would make the rounds at the local grocery stores and stop at the North End for a fresh peach to eat on the way home. She had the best peaches." 

Joanne and Merlin

“I met my husband in 1955. He was six years older than me. He was from Dyersville. I was walking down the street, and he pulled up in his old Chevy and we started to talk. We were married in December the year I graduated from high school. We have three children, Steve, Nancy and Daryl. Nancy was born in between the two boys. She turned into a tomboy. She didn’t have much choice. I continued to sew my own clothes and the kids’ clothes also. I remember I made matching red and black plaid shirts for the boys and a red plaid dress for Nancy. It made them easy to find at the fair,” she smiled and laughed.

Rausch’s Grill and 66 Service Station

Merlin and Joanne owned and operated Rausch’s Grill and 66 Service Station for 33 years. “We started in 1967 and quit in 2003. We bought the place from the Horstman’s. Merlin continued to work at John Deere because everyone told us we were never going to be able to make a living. He quit Deere’s after our first year. We had a few lean years when they were working on Highway 52 and there wasn’t’ any through traffic, but all in all it was a profitable business,” she said. 

Joanne ran the cafe, helped out with the gas station and took care of the bookkeeping. Merlin was in charge of the mechanic’s area. “I did everything but fix cars. We got up at 3:30 each morning and headed to the business. I would peel potatoes and make the beef roasts for the noon special and cook Merlin breakfast before we opened. The cafe and service station were open for business from 5 a.m.- 9 p.m. We tried staying open 24 hours a day but found it wasn’t profitable,” she said.

The Rausch children also worked at the thriving family business. “By the time Nancy was 12 years old she could run the grill. We would set up the counter for the regulars, feed them the noon special, and they would be out the door in a half hour. That was when Hilton Homes and Trademark were in business. We built the bigger building so we could service their trucks,” she explained. 

In conclusion, Rausch wanted to clarify, “I was on the raft floating around on the flood waters with my brother Harlen. We were in about eight feet of water when he pushed me off. I had an instant swimming lesson! This experience has brought back a lot of memories about ‘The good old days.’” 


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