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Growing Up in the Berry Fields

by Helen (Heil) Rohlman

Our South Hill community was basically a rural agricultural area in the 30s and 40s.

In the Woodland School area we had four businesses: Howard Allen’s Grocery off 112th Street and Cedar Road (80th Avenue East), the Woodland Grocery owned by E.C. Allen (father of Ted & Harry) on the corner of Woodland Avenue and Knapp Road (104th Street East), and along Fruitland Avenue we had Gilliland’s Grocery and “Gut” Johnson’s Tallow Works. Boy, did it stink!

The young people, wanting money for new school clothes, were destined to follow the crops, as no Child Labor laws were in effect at that time.

We started the season picking strawberries for Lester and Faye Goelzer, Bill’s parents. They were wonderful people to work for. From my recollection some of the hired pickers were: Patty (Van Horn) Goelzer and her mother-Mildred, some of the Parks girls—Carol and Joan (Parks) Vosler, Bob Crabb and the Heil girls (Mildred Dobbs and Helen Rohlman) and their Mom Helena. The Moms worked daily with their children so as to guarantee their “bonus” which was extra money given as an incentive to work the whole season.

Then the raspberry season started and South Hill had few large raspberry fields to be harvested, so Cliff Miller (NIF) and his wife Hazel Whitford Miller Goheen would pickup a bunch of kids in the Fruitland and Woodland areas in a big berry truck, take us to the fields and return us home in the afternoon. Some names I remember are: Barbara Huff, the Strandley girls—Lillian, Betty and Eleanor, Joan (Parks) Vosler and sister Carol, Patty (Van Horn) Goelzer, several Templin brothers, Julia and Lynn Williams, Ronald Crabtree and the Heil girls again.

Everyone loved to pick for NIF and Hazel! They were always fair, not mean-spirited, had lots of drinking water in the berry shed, paid a reasonable bonus at season’s end—and the absolute best incentive of all was a trip to NIF and Hazel’s Clear Lake cabin for a few exciting days at the lake.

Hazel organized the food for the meals, NIF transported us up to the lake in his big berry truck. We kids ranged in ages from 11 to 16 and were excited to toss our bed rolls, extra clothes and bathing suits in the truck and head for the lake.

Hazel was a teacher and everything was well organized and duties assigned. Some of the older girls helped with meals and cooking, older boys cut and gathered wood and the younger ones were on KP or garbage detail or just plain “go-fers.”

NIF and Hazel didn’t have a well on their property so kids were paired up to take the row boat and row across Clear Lake to a small spring to get buckets of good drinking water.

Well, I was about 12 years old and my paired partner Lynn Williams was about 11 and we were selected to row for spring water. Now, what do you think these land-lubbers knew about a row boat? The closest thing I had ever maneuvered on water was an old wooden raft on our pond dipping for frogs and poli-wogs.

So, he took one oar and I took another and off we went. We pulled to the left and pulled to the right and made lots of circles but made little headway. We rowed and rowed and it got warmer and warmer and we were not even halfway across the lake and I said to Lynn.

“Can you see the cabin?”

He squinted and said, “NO!”

“Well,” I said, “If you can’t see the cabin, they sure can’t see us.”

So, we dipped our buckets in the lake and headed for the cabin and nobody was the wiser. (And you think today’s youth are smart, they had noting on the kids from Woodland.)

Blackberries, beans and bulb jobs were also available but most families only had one vehicle and the Dads generally used it to go to work and so the kids were often relegated to find jobs closer to home.