I worked at Hagberg’s V store on Main Street in my junior and senior years. While I was taking Child Development 101, George Berger and I had noon playground duty at the campus school. One noon hour, after lunch, we were taking the campus school students from North Hall to South Hall to play between the new library and South Hall. After we had gone across Cascade Avenue, George turned around and said, “Joe, you lost one.”
Sure enough, there was a little girl sitting on the yellow line in the middle of the street! I called to her to be careful and come to the curb. She said, “Come and get me!”
I went out, very carefully picked her up under the arms and carried her to the curb all the while scolding her and lecturing on safety, etc. George said, “Joe do you know who she is?”
I answered, “No.”
George said, “She’s the Dean’s daughter!”
I said, “I’m dead meat.” I thought for certain that I’d get a call from the Dean, but I didn’t.
Late one afternoon in the summer of 1961, while I was working at the store selling shoes, Mrs. Helen White came in and asked if she could talk to me. I had sold shoes to her and her husband, the retired District Judge Charles White, so we knew each other quite well. She was an elegant lady.
When Mrs. White mentioned that she had been to see the dean, I about died! I said, “Oh?”
She went on to explain they had raised three sons and Charles Jr. was a lawyer in River Falls. The other two lived out of state. Since the judge had a stroke and there were some after effects, they always like to have a senior boy from college live with them in case they needed help with anything. She told me she had asked the dean for a recommendation and he had recommended me. Wow, I thought. What a surprise!
Mrs. White asked if I could come to dinner with her and the judge. This would give them a chance to show me their home. It was a huge elegant white house on Walnut Street on a big lot. I was impressed. I couldn’t resist thinking how much hay it could hold.
The meal was very formal. We had a good visit and she showed me the upstairs. We went up a beautiful stairway to three large bedrooms. All their sons were tall like the judge, so they all had “long boy” beds. I chose the room with a bay window facing east and overlooking the river. Mrs. White told me that the carriage house in back was for my car and that she would do my laundry each week. Now, I was a fairly religious and prayerful guy who felt that my prayers were finally being answered. Needless to say, we agreed on the rent and I moved in. My responsibilities were to mow the lawn and change the screens and storm windows. I said I could handle that. Life with the White was a dream. They made me feel like a son and not a tenant. They kind of adopted me and I sure adopted them.
I was student teaching at the campus school in my minor, Industrial Arts. I had the electricity unit. When Mrs. White found that out, she asked if I could replace the light switch in their bedroom. I did and that really impressed them. Every so often they would invite me to dine with them. We got to know each other very well.
In the spring of 1962, the Whites bought a ’61 Chevy and told me they were going to visit their son Richard in Flint, Michigan and would be gone for two weeks. They asked me to look after the house. They also said, “We raised three sons and we know seniors like to party when it gets close to graduation. All we ask is if you do have a party that you please do not spill or break anything.”
I said, “No problem.”
When we finished seminars, it was party time. Things were going fine until we ran out of beer. Johnny’s was already closed, but I remembered that the judge had some beer under the basement steps. We borrowed that. I took up a collection to replace it. We cleaned everything up and all was well. That was, until the next day when I came home from work and the black ’61 Chevy was in the driveway three days early!
All the way from the carriage house to the back door, I was wondering what I could say? What will they believe? Am I dead? I went in and they both were at the kitchen table. I said, “Hey, welcome home. Did you have a good trip?”
They responded that they did, but decided to come home early since the judge wasn’t feeling well. I said, “Well, we did have a party and were careful to clean up, etc.”
Mrs. White said, “We see that and everything is fine.”
I said, “Everything went well except that we ran out of beer and Johnny’s was closed. I borrowed some beer from the basement and took up a collection, but haven’t had time to replace it yet.”
The judge looked at me like I’m sure he had done thousands of times when he handed down a decision and said, “Joe, why don’t we just consider that our contribution to your party!” I wanted to hug them both, so I did.
On graduation day, Mrs. White asked who would be coming to it and I replied that my mom, dad, and sister were coming from Eau Claire. She said, “I’ll have a graduation dinner for you and your family!”
What a wonderful experience at that time in my college career to know and experience such a gracious, caring family like the Whites. I stopped to visit them many times on my way back to Eau Claire to visit my own mom and dad.
Joe Schimml, class of 1962