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My Early Life on South Hill

My folks both came from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. My dad, Lester Goelzer, was born in 1901 and came to Puyallup in 1906. My mom, Faye C. Kehr, was born in 1903 and arrived in Puyallup in 1909. They were married in 1923.

When I was born in 1937, a ten-day stay in the hospital cost $35.00. Dr. Aylen brought us kids into the world at the old Puyallup Hospital.

We lived to the west of the Willows grocery store in a house my folks had built on 10 acres in 1927. The address was Airport Road, Rt 2 Box 340. Airport Road (now known as 112th Street/39th Ave. SW) had narrow lanes and a water run-off dip on both sides. Drivers were always catching a tire in this groove and throwing the car every which way.

Bill on today's propert

The late Bill Goelzer stands on the property where once stood the Goelzer home of Bill's childhood, now partially occupied by Wells Fargo Mortgage across the street from the bank on 39th Av SE (112th ST). In the background stands a row of California Coastal Redwoods his father planted along the property edge in 1948-50.

We had a trail through the woods, over a creek, and coming out next to the Willows grocery store. The store was owned by George & Georgia Miller. They had a son, Art, and two daughters, Margaret and Nancy. The girls would sit me on the meat counter and teach me how to tie my shoelaces as they sang, “Billy Boy, Billy Boy, Charming Billy.” My older sister, Barbara, and brother, Bob, went to the Puyallup Heights School with Miss Burns as their teacher. Past the 6th grade, they went to the Puyallup High School. When my younger sister, Georgina, and I started school, we attended Meeker in the Valley. We walked over to the Willows corner to catch the bus. Across the street where Howard Annis had the gas station there were lots of willow bushes (Willows Corner). As we all had pocket knives in those days, we would whittle whistles to blow on the bus. The teachers usually took them away when we blew them at school, but we could always make another the next day.

In the 40’s, my sister, brother, and Nancy Miller and myself went to the McMillan reservoir on 128th St. (Old Military Rd) to have a picnic lunch. At that time there were picnic tables and lots of lawns. Our dog, Tippy, decided to take a swim in the reservoir, which got us kicked out of there. Some time after that, they put up fencing and wouldn’t let people in the area anymore. I think it was because of the war, and not just because of our dog.

When we needed milk, we walked over to the Crabb’s (who lived on the east side of Meridian) with a couple empty gallon jugs and brought them back full of milk. Bob Crabb had a basketball hoop in the barn, and we enjoyed playing “horse.”

In the winter, when we had really cold weather, we could ice skate on the frozen creeks. We’d have to stop and crawl through barbed-wire fences so we could skate into the next field.

strawberry pickers

The Goelzer Strawberry farm in 1954 looking East. The 512 freeway now goes down the middle of this view along with the north/south exits to 9th Av E. (see map end of this article). The trees in the distance is where the South Hill Mall and Park Plaza, (Best Western Hotel etc.) now stand. The row of cars is parked on 9th Av E. In 1958 Bill’s father, Lester Goelzer, made this field into a Christmas tree farm.

My dad was a farmer and grew strawberries, daffodils, and Christmas trees. We kids always had a lot of work to do, helping our folks. We had over 100 pickers to harvest the 26 acres of strawberries on the farm on 9th Street, now covered with SR 512, on/off ramps, and mini-storage sheds. On hot days, my dad would buy 4 or 5 cases of soft drinks for a bonus to the pickers. He also would take a pick-up load of us up to 5 Mile Lake for a swim after work.

My growing-up buddies were Martin Crabtree and Willard Bill. They lived where the South Hill Mall is today. The Felbell family along 5th Street had a large barn, and in the summer they let us sleep in the hayloft. Sometimes Mr. Heinz, who lived across Meridian from McKays stables, would have us boys stomp down his hay so he could get more in to the barn. Then he’d take us to the Roxie in Puyallup to see Gene Autrey movies. In those days we had two theatres, the Roxie and the Liberty. The Roxie always showed westerns.

We also hunted with bows and arrows. We would cross Meridian and go east, behind Thackery’s and McKay’s property. There weren’t any roads but there were trails and a peat bog and lots of swampy areas. We shot a grouse once, built a fire, and roasted it. It was kind of raw, but we frontier men ate it anyway. There were trails from Dr. McKay’s to the Meridian Riding Club and we would travel these and explore.

Millers ran the Willows store in the 30’s and early 40’s, the Crabtrees, then the Spencers, and during my high school days in the 50’s, the Letourneaus. Their son, Dick, and I would cashier, stock shelves, and handle the business on Sundays by ourselves. My dad passed away in 1975, my older sister and brother in 1994, and my mom in 1995. I am lucky that I had wonderful, loving, and hard-working parents. My folks’ home on 112th Street is gone but I still live on the back part of the old farm in the home I built in 1961. Huge changes have come to our hill with the mall, lots of grocery stores, restaurants, and traffic. I still like to call the South Hill area my home, and my post office box has a South Hill address. I am glad we have a South Hill Historical Society, and am proud to be a member.


This map shows were the Goelzer property was located on South Hill.