Residents remember: Poverty, fun times went together

We asked News-Sentinel readers to send us their memories of the 1930s. Here are three of the responses we received. Thank you to everyone who contributed.

My father had a shoe store that made custom-made shoes for handicapped people. But the crash took everything he ever had. And it was my luck to be born when there wasn't anything. I mean nothing. As far back as I can remember, I slept under an old overcoat, which was really warm. My sister slept under my dad's sheepskin coat.

We had a pot-bellied stove in the middle of the biggest room. It was pretty cold all the time. We lived out in what was called the Belmont addition. We were the poorest of the poor during the Depression. I remember food being so scarce that chicken feet were boiled for the broth.

White store-bought bread tasted like cake back then, and I've never lost my love for just plain bread. My dad walked the railroad tracks, looking for coal or something burnable. Our diet consisted of potatoes. One time boiled, one time stewed, one time fried, always in bacon drippings, another time with the skins on them. I still like potatoes, too.

My parents and we kids walked up to the township trustees' office on Superior Street once a month to get commodities and carry them home. If we ran out in the middle of the month, we had to beg or borrow. I'm not going to put steal down here. But, yes, I would.

I didn't know I had a birthday until I turned 16. Nothing was ever celebrated. But I'm a survivor. A lot of people couldn't have made it, but ... I didn't know we were poor. I remember my parents with lots of fond memories. We were a real family with music and conversation and togetherness.

Today I'm happy with who I am, and wouldn't trade my experiences for anything.

— Etta Mettert Barbarick

During the 1930s, I was a little girl, living in Fort Wayne, not really aware of the Depression and how poor we were because all my friends and relatives were in the same economic straits.

Some vivid memories remain of Daddy trying to find work, even going door to door, offering to do yardwork, cleaning, painting, anything to earn a dollar or two.

I remember the old Hollywood Building, where Mom and I went to get bread, corn meal and other staples from the county. Families didn't have 401(k)s and CDs to draw on in hard times. So many had to accept county assistance, what people called "poor relief." Many, including my parents, lost their homes, even had to sell their furniture and move in with relatives and share expenses.

But things got better, the economy picked up and life improved. A lot of construction was done in and around Fort Wayne at this time, financed by the federal government to create jobs.

Those of us who lived through the Great Depression learned how to economize, how to "make do," lessons of great value. As my mother always said, "It's an ill wind that blows nobody good."

There were fun times, too, things that cost little or nothing. Everyone who was around in the '30s and '40s must remember Swinney Park, the rickety, old roller-coaster, the "fun-house," pony rides, thrills for a dime. There was Bell's Roller Rink for the skaters, Valencia Gardens for the dancers, the Capitol and Riley Theatres with two features, a newsreel and a cartoon for 10 or 15 cents.

If you came into money, you could go to the Emboyd and see a stage show or big band. If you were broke, you could always cruise Murphy's or Wolf and Dessauer and "just look."

— Mary Koeneman

For all the poverty of the 1930s, we did not suffer. We had enough to eat and a warm roof over our heads.

Our family consisted of a mother and father and two boys and two girls. We lived in a house on Ruth Street near Spy Run Avenue. The old rental house still stands, strong and straight.

My big brother, Bob, and I knew every nook and cranny in our neighborhood. Bob had spent most of the summer of 1939 painting houses with my father to earn money to buy a bike. Boy, did we have fun checking out the stores for the best bike money could buy. In those days all the retail stores were downtown.

In a six-square-block area were four dime stores, Frank's Dry Goods Store, W.&D.'s, the Grand Leader, Sears and Roebuck's, the Boston Store, Western Auto and at least eight theaters. The bike we chose was a Western Flyer from Western Auto Store. The $24.95 seemed like a fortune, but it was every boy's dream to own such a classic.

That bike opened a new world to us. On summer days, we headed south on the old Spy Run Creek dike and crossed the iron bridge (still there today) to Lawton Par to the free swimming pool.

After we grew more brave, we headed north on Spy Run, avoiding the streetcar tracks. Down past the old Crown Brewery, through the woods and to the City Utilities Park, then known as the beach. It was a beautiful place, with ball diamonds, horseshoe courts, a boxing ring, a volleyball court and, best of all, a basketball court.

After a hot game, it was customary to run for the beach and jump off the high tower. Some would swim up under the dam and show off. Those were the carefree days of the '30s.

— Wayne L. Putt

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