Vivian Hansen ... homesteader's daughter, wife, mother, educator

Vivian Hansen

by Nancy Haigh

The daughter of homesteaders, the wife of a sign painter, the mother of 10, a teacher of many and a local news columnist that reaches thousands all describe Vivian Hansen.

This spry, down-to-earth woman is about to celebrate her 90th birthday. Her family plans to help her celebrate in a big way, by inviting the Philip community to a buffalo burger feed on Saturday, June 20, from noon to 2:00 p.m. at the Fire Hall Park. The event is in conjunction with Festival Days.

The Early Years

Vivian was born June 21, 1919, to Rolla "Rollie" and Effie Palmer in her parents' home along Dirty Woman Creek west of Grindstone. She was what is considered a tag-along, arriving 13 years after the youngest of three other children - Evalynn was 18, Richard, 15, and sister, Cecil, 13.

Rollie arrived in this area in 1907. He, Effie and the three children settled in at the homestead. His mother, Celia Potter Palmer McCullum, had come the year before from Badger, SD, and homesteaded about one mile west of Grindstone. The Palmer homestead was farther north and west.

The Palmer family endured the usual trials that all homesteading families did. The drought that came just a few years after settlement disillusioned many and they left. The Palmer family sold most of what they had and moved to Brinnon, WA, in 1911. They didn't sell the land though, and when the rains came in 1912, they came back to stay.

Vivian recalls walking behind her father as he broke sod and finding Indian turnips. She also recalls drying corn to be used in family meals during the winter months, cabbage being made into saurerkraut and meat being dried, smoked or fried down. To fry down meat was to cook quantities of pork chops or sausages, layer them in crocks, cover with boiling lard and then a layer of salt after the lard had hardened. She notes the meat would keep for months this way.

Vivian remembers her dad being a skilled stone mason. He built a barn, she says, that was against a hillside, facing south. It had room for 12 stanchions, a calf pen, separator room, harness/tack room and mangers for four horses. "What a wonderful place to play," she reminises, "especially after he built the hipped-roof haymow above. It seems that there was a constant supply of kittens up there. My memories are so wonderful. I seem to smell the alfalfa and prairie hay, and look for eggs, just like it was yesterday."

Some of Vivian's favorite toys were her dolls. She had one or two porcelain dolls and she knows she broke one when she dropped it on the rock floor of the cellar. Other dolls included Darky, a black rag doll, Limberneck, whose stuffing had shifted away from the neck, and Juniper, whose head had been carved by her dad from a cedar or juniper tree, an Indian with a dried apple head, a clown doll and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls made by her mother. She also had books about Raggedy Ann and Andy.

Vivian remembers going to the Grindstone Hall and watching movies. Mr. Holzclaw from Cottonwood would bring a gas-powered projector and show black and white cowboy or melodrama movies. She adds that the projector was set up near a door so the exhaust could go outside. "It had a distinct put-put-put-put sound," says Vivian.

Vivian recalls that she didn't have to help with farm chores while she was growing up. Instead she helped her mom with baking, sewing and other household chores. Her mom was an amateur photographer and Vivian remembers that Effie took pictures of their family as well as neighbors. Effie used a box camera that sat on a tripod with a black piece of cloth covering her mom. To develop the glass plates, Effie would set up the developing materials in the cellar. One of the children would sit on the cellar door and open it when Effie needed light.

A Model T Ford was purchased by Rollie in 1928 and it expanded their world. Her dad had always wanted to go the the Black Hills, but it was too much of a trip with a team of horses. Once they got the Model T, they went several times for fishing and camping. "It had a top and side curtains," says Vivian. "Some Model Ts did not have those luxuries."

Vivian attended school through the eighth grade at the West Lincoln School, which was sometimes called the Nelson School. It was located one and one-quarter miles south of the Palmer place. She recalls that there were usually seven or eight kids at the school, although one year there were 14.

Teen Years

When Vivian started high school she went to Cottonwood, which was 20 miles from her home. She stayed with George and Dorothy Olson for the first year. Dorothy was a sister to Vivian's' best friend, Frances Rausch. The second year she stayed in the dormitory for $10 per month. Unfortunately, she says, it was located by the bar. Typically, the dormitories at that time were homes or hotels purchased by the federal government Works Progress Administration. During her junior year, Vivian and Faye Young rented an apartment over Dr. E.D. Cowen's home.

There were four or five teachers for the high school grades, which were in the basement of the school. Grades one through eight were upstairs. Vivian recalls those years as being a lot of fun, academically and socially. Some of her teachers were Earl Anderson, Halley James and Mutt Willard. Willard was also the basketball coach, she says.

"Science was really fun," says Vivian. "We did experiments with airplanes, chemistry and other things." She even took French as a foreign language. She notes that one evening each month a party was held at the school.

Vivian vividly recalls the early part of 1936, which was during her junior year. Generally, Vivian would go home each weekend. In January, the snow began to fall. She spent almost four straight weeks in town, January 24 to February 22. About a week and a half into that time, her dad and brother, Richard, were able to bring her wood and coal along with food and clothes. That was the last she was to see of them and get supplies until nearly three weeks later.

There were a series of blizzards during those four weeks, along with temperatures of 30 to 40 degrees below zero. Two men froze to death during that time, one was C.H. Bowen near Grindstone and the other was E.F. Fessenden from near Ottumwa.

School would be called off while the kids were in session and the older kids would walk the younger ones down the hill to their homes. There was one week in which no classes were held. Vivian recorded in her diary during that time that there was little coal to be found in town. She recalls that she took a sled and a sack and picked up fallen coal along the railroad tracks and broke twigs off a bush so that she would have fuel to keep the apartment heated. She also ran out of food and had to charge a dollar's worth at a store run by Sam Davis.

On February 22, Vivian and Frances Rausche caught a ride with the mailman, Swede Griggs. Howard Kennedy rode along to man a scoop shovel as needed. "We got to the Grindstone Post Office and then to our mailbox a little farther up the rode," Vivian recalls. "I walked part of the last mile and a half. Rol Fortune, Bud Fortune's dad, gave me a ride in his hay rack.

For her senior year, Vivian decided to go to Philip to school. There were just three people left for seniors at Cottonwood. "I looked forward to meeting new kids," says Vivian.

While in Philip she stayed at a dormitory, which had been the Wichester Hotel on Center Ave. Her roommate was Bessie Crowser and the dorm dean was Mrs. Taylor. Boys and girls both stayed in the dorm, with the boys on the west side.

All during her high school years Vivian was involved in activities, both socially and academically. At PHS she became the editor of the local section of the Scottie Messenger.

Outside of school she and several friends would attend dances, rodeos and other activities. Vivian fondly recalls the dances held at Bill Andrews', not far from the Palmer homestead. "He was a good fiddle player," says Vivian. She says neighbors that played other instruments, such as the banjo, guitar, drums and pump organ would join him. "My dad called the square dances."

The Palmer family, and surrounding neighbors, would often make ice cream, sometimes as a social event. Vivian says, "We had the milk, cream, eggs and ice. All we needed to buy was the sugar and salt." Their ice cream freezer would made six quarts. "We would pour the salty water into an old hollowed out log. Once the water evaported we had a salt lick for the livestock."

It was at the Plum Creek Rodeo on September 6, 1936, that she met a certain young man. She wrote in her diary. "Met Virgil Hansen at Plum Creek Rodeo. Gee, I like him! Fair rodeo." Vivian also recalls dances at the Plum Creek Bowery which was near Ferguson's Rafter Cross ranch. "It was in the open and boards were laid next to each other on the ground to form the dance floor."

Vivian was also involved in 4-H and part of the Grindstone Club. Julia Eggen was their leader. Vivian and Lucile (Dean) Peterson won a trip to the State Fair in Huron for their demonstration, "Undergarments for the 4-H Girl."

Following high school, Rollie and Effie paid for Vivian to attend college. She went to a business college for one year, partly in Mitchell and the rest of the year in Rapid City. Education was important to the Palmers. All of the children attended college.

Married Life

Vivian and Virgil married on April 1, 1939. "Virgil was my choice of all the boys I had known. He was tall, skinny, soft-spoken and artistic. And he had been art editor of the Scottie Messenger," says Vivian.

Vivian recalls that they lived with both of their folks at various times during the early years of their marriage. In 1942, Virgil took a job in Rapid City at the air base. The young family lived in different houses around Rapid City, sometimes taking in boarders. Virgil then took at position at Provo working at the ammunition depot. "We lived in a small teardrop trailer," says Vivian. There were four people living in that trailer. "One winter we lived in an old [railroad] boxcar. It was very snug and warm." The family spent two years at Provo before Virgil was drafted into the service. Following basic training in Fort Knox, KY, he went to New York to be sent overseas to a town just north of London. From there his outfit was sent to Germany, arriving just after the Battle of the Bulge. After serving in the army for a little over a year he was shipped home in 1945. While Virgil was overseas Vivian and the four children were living in on the former Hedden place on the west edge of Philip, along the North Fork.

In 1945, Ralph and Alvinia Hansen helped Virgil and Vivian purchase some land. Vivian recalls that Ralph and Virgil had been looking at some land along the Cheyenne River, but she did not like that idea, as Virgil would more than likely be in town nearly every day and she didn't want to be that far out with just her and the kids for most of the day. "Virgil liked to be around people," she says. So they settled on 420 acres on the north edge of Philip. Virgil did a little remodeling on the house and the family of six moved in March of 1946.

Virgil purchased five milking shorthorn cows from Earl Teeters. He borrowed some money and also purchased a team of horses and assorted calves. They also had chickens and pigs.

The house was located where Highway 14 runs now, north of what is now Scotchman Industies' east building. While there was a well on the property, it was not of good quality. Vivian remembers the cattle would hardly drink it, it was that bad. For the family, they hauled water from a well in a draw to the south of the house. That well is located south of Scotchman's main building, in a draw the business has since filled with dirt. Ralph and Virgil soon built two dams on the property, one to the northwest of the house and another on the property's northern edge. Vivian says that Ralph and Virgil built approximately 300 dams in Haakon County during the 1930s and 40s.

"Laundry was a big item in my life," says Vivian. Virgil would go to the creamery (where the Pioneer Review is now located) and get two 10 gallon cream cans of very hot water for Vivian to use for washing. Halvor Sorenson, creamery manager, would also give the Hansens buttermilk, most of which was fed to the hogs.

In 1955, the family, now 11 in number, moved into a new house that Virgil had purchased from Jim O'Connell to accommodate his growing family. This house was moved from its original location. It is the house in which Vivian still resides. Also, a new Highway 14 was being built and the old house was in the way. The new house had five bedrooms, which was a big deal, says Vivian. By that time the family included nine children, with the 10th to arrive in 1956. The children were: Wayne, born in 1939, Delores, 1941, Cecile Marie, 1943, Carol, 1945, Marion Russell, 1946, Leslie, 1948, Frank, 1951, David, 1952, Vinnie, 1954 and Hans, 1956, - 10 kids in 17 years.

Vivian notes in an article, "In 1957, after we had all our 10 children, I began to have energy to burn. I worked seven years in restaurants, (Park Inn, Highway Cafe, Midway, B&M, and the Pool Hall) while I worked at extension and correspondence courses. In 1962 and 1963, I spent the summers at Spearfish and got a teacher's permit and a school to teach." During those summers she would rent a room. One time she lived in her car until a friend invited Vivian to stay in her home.

Ohmer Cook hired her to teach at the Highway School in Jackson County. She taught there for two years. In 1964, Vivian received a bachelor degree in education from Spearfish. She also earned a master in education degree in 1972. Vivian studied for a doctorate degree for one semester. "It was geared towards administration, and I didn't like that. I wanted to be able to teach and be with the students," she says. Vivian taught for 23 years at Highway (2), Weta (2), Shoun (1), Milesville (1), Belvidere (2), and Kadoka (15), "with side trips to Interior, Belvidere and Long Valley." If the school was close enough, such as Highway and Weta, she drove back and forth every day. The others she stayed in a teacherage. "Virgil was very supportive, he helped me every way he could," says Vivian of her college and teaching years. "The older kids helped raise the younger ones. They raised each other."

Education was always important to Virgil and Vivian. Virgil attended Billings Polytechnic after graduating from Philip High School. "We wanted the most and best possible education for our kids. It wasn't easy to pay for a volume of Encyclopedia Britannica every month for two years. Our kids were regular and enthusiastic users of the Philip Women's Club Library on the fourth floor of the courthouse," she says.

Those lessons must have been learned as all 10 of her children have attended college, some have earned multiple degrees. She and her children and grandchildren, along with their spouses, have amassed 10 associate of arts degrees, 15 bachelor of arts degrees, three master of arts degrees, 20 bachelor of science degrees, 11 master of science, six doctor of philosophy, one each of a medical doctor and a doctor of optometry, master of fine arts, master of public administration, master of business administration, registered nurse degree and five have teaching credentials.

Fields of study range from engineering, English, education, various areas of science, accounting, music, computers, math, physics and several variations in the arts field.

Vivian retired from teaching in the mid-1980s. She was a substitute teacher for a few years. Virgil started breeding schipperke dogs. "We did a lot of traveling, buying and selling dogs," says Vivian. "It was Virgil's business and it gave him something to do after he retired." Virgil was a noted painter of signs and other projects. In fact many knew him as Dobby.

When Virgil passed away in 1990, Vivian sold all the dogs. She also went on trips, after that with a niece and nephew. "I also took painting classes in the [Black] Hills," she says.

Vivian continues to be active around Philip. She is seen at almost every function, often with pen and paper, taking notes for her Hit and Miss social column in the Pioneer Review. She began writing the column in December 1998, following Evelyn Anderson's retirement. "It keeps me going; keeps me thinking," says Vivian.

Wayne asked, "How do you pack 90 years into a single story?" It can't be done, nor can the emotions of memories be captured successfully. But as Vivian says, "I have so many memories, and they are wonderful."