Joan Edith Gerken was born on January 21, 1926, to Ewald and Anna (Schumacher) Gerken in Dubuque, Iowa, at home, at 2331 Jackson Street. Joan's birth certificate gives her date of birth as January 20, but her father maintained that an error had been made at the time, and her birthday was ever celebrated on January 21. Joan was the fifth of eleven children born to Ewald and Anna; her siblings were Louise, Donald, Teresa, Adrian ("Butz" or "A.J."), Dolores, Ewald ("E.J."), Mary, William (Bill), Daniel, and Loras.
Joan was raised in Dubuque, living at both the Jackson Street residence and then the residence at 1304 Rhomberg before her parents bought what became the permanent family home at 2820 Burlington Street. The family were members of Holy Ghost Catholic Church.
Life during the Great Depression.
The Great Depression began three and a half years after her birth, and the Gerken family struggled to make ends meet during the worst times. Morrison Brothers, where Ewald worked for several years and where he had a brother-in-law as a foreman, kept him working whenever possible, but eventually he was permanently laid off. Her father worked for some farmers one summer and also worked for one of Roosevelt's work projects programs cutting wood for a time. He also went to Rockford, Illinois, at one time in order to find work. Joan remembered her father during those years couldn't find anything good about the government.
The Gerken family was forced to go down to the food lines, located at the old post office building, where the telephone company later was, and Joan remembered that they "were treated like dirt," which made her mother Anna ashamed to go down there. They received rice, beans, and much cornmeal, the latter for which Joan developed a strong distaste, and she avoided cornmeal for the rest of her life. They also went down to the bakery, where they could buy a floursack of day old bread for ten cents. The family considered it a treat if they could get some cakes along with the bread. Keeping a large garden at home became a necessity, and they grew as much of their own food as possible.
Joan recalled receiving her first new dress when her father received a soldier bonus as a veteran of World War I.
For leisure time activities Joan remembered playing ball, mumblety-peg, and land; the latter two games were played with pocket knives. She couldn't remember a day without having a pocketknife with her, and her brothers and sisters had them as well.
The Gerken family went on many picnics, and many mornings Joan and the other children went swimming at Municipal Pool off the end of Rhomberg Avenue, where admission was free between ten and noon.
Education of Joan Gerken.
On the seventh day of June, 1940, Joan E. Gerken graduated from Holy Ghost Junior High School. Her diploma was signed by the pastor of Holy Ghost, the Rt. Rev. John C. Wieneke and the principal, Sister M. Dolorian. The diploma stated that Joan "has completed the Junior High School Course of Study prescribed by the School Board of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, and by intellectual attainments, moral conduct and correct deportment is entitled to this Certificate of Promotion." Joan had attended Holy Ghost not only for junior high but for the elementary grades as well.
As was common in those days, Joan, naturally left-handed, was forced to write with her right hand, and she did so the rest of her life.
Three years later Joan completed her high school studies at St. Joseph Academy, the Class of 1943 being its Diamond Jubilee Commencement, the school having opened its doors at Thirteenth and Main Streets in Dubuque on October 9, 1868, as a boarding and day-school for girls, although by Joan's time the school no longer boarded students. In 1943 "DIPLOMAS FOR THE COMPLETION OF THE ACADEMIC [WERE] AWARDED TO" 28 students. (The Catholic high school for boys was Loras Academy; both schools eventually closed their doors when the co-educational Wahlert High School opened its doors in Dubuque.)
ARCHDIOCESAN SCHOOL BOARD
ARCHDIOCESE OF DUBUQUE
THIS CERTIFIES THAT
St. Joseph High School
HAS SATISFACTORILY COMPLETED THE HIGH SCHOOL COURSE OF STUDY PRESCRIBED BY THE ARCHDIOCESAN SCHOOL BOARD FOR DIOCESAN HIGH SCHOOLS AND IS AWARDED THIS
IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF WE HAVE AFFIXED OUR SIGNATURES IN THE MONTH OF JUNE ON THE FIRST DAY AD 1943. DUBUQUE, IOWA
Sister Mary St. Robert, B.V.M.
[The Most Reverend Francis J. L. Beckman, S.T.D.]
Archbishop of Dubuque
PRESIDENT OF ARCHDIOCESAN SCHOOL BOARD
Postcards, Work, and Vernon Larson.
Like her father, Joan collected postcards. Many people contributed to her collection, including her family, friends, and co-workers. The postcards from her co-workers were sent to her in care of, first, the Trausch Baking Company, where she worked in the office, and second, the Production Control Department at the John Deere Dubuque Tractor Works.
In a postcard from Joan addressed to "Mrs. 'Mom' Gerken, 2820 Burlington St, Dubuque, Iowa," postmarked May 15, 1944, and showing "Park Scene [the Grotto], Dickeyville, Wis.," she writes, "Dear Mom, Having a swell time and awful sunburn as you will see. Be home before you get this but I want it for my album. Love, Joan."
Later that year, Joan travelled to Bloomington, Wisconsin, and sent home a postcard, postmarked August 31, 1944, picturing the village, and wrote to her parents, "Hi, Got here O.K. Even though the Zephyr ride was short it was comfortable. It rained all day yesterday but today it is beautiful. On top of this hill in the foreground is where we are. It's sure nice up here. Saw the bread man today, and was he surprised to see me. Love, Joan." The bread man was undoubtedly someone she knew from work at Trausch's in Dubuque.
Postcards from her co-workers show Joan was working at Trausch in 1944 and in 1945 and at Deere in 1947 and in 1948; her employment at these places certainly is not limited to these dates. While Joan was still working at John Deere, she, along with some girlfriends, went to watch the men play basketball one night, and she first set eyes on a tall, blond Norwegian out on the court, a man named Vernon Larson.
Joan Gerken, V.E. Larson Say Vows.
At 8 A.M. Saturday, September 10, 1949, in the Holy Ghost Church in Dubuque, Miss Joan Gerken, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ewald F. Gerken, of 2820 Burlington St., and Vernon E. Larson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Oscar H. Larson, of Argyle, Wis., exchanged wedding vows before the Rev. Joseph F. Griffin. The day was also the thirtieth wedding anniversary of the bride's parents.
Professor John Kelzer was organist and Miss Helen Johnstone vocalist for the nuptials, and in the bridal party were the bride's sister, Miss Mary Gerken, as maid of honor, Joseph Richard as best man, and Jack Johnstone and Donald Gerken as ushers.
The bride chose a gown of white net over satin for her wedding and a fingertip veil of illusion net with an orange blossom crown. She carried a bouquet of red roses.
A gown of green taffeta was worn by the maid of honor, and she carried pink gladioli. A navy blue ensemble accented with white trim was the choice of the bride's mother, and Mrs. Larson wore a navy blue floral print. They had corsages of white camelias.
A breakfast was given at the Gerken home after the church service.
Vernon and Joan (Gerken) Larson's wedding day, September 30, 1949
back, l to r: Vernon, Jim and Marian McDaniel (his brother-in-law and sister), Oscar Larson (his father)
front, l to r: Joan, Gladys and Lillian (Vern's sisters), Mary Larson (his mother)
This photograph was taken at the home of Joan's parents, Ewald and Anna Gerken,
in Dubuque, later to become Vern and Joan's home.
Honeymoon to St. Louis.
Their honeymoon took Joan and Vern to St. Louis, Missouri. Their route took them along the Mississippi River through Hannibal, Missouri, where they saw the boyhood home of Mark Twain.
An amusing letter Vern wrote to his folks back home in Argyle, Wisconsin, from the Boss Hotel in Fort Madison on September 11, 1949, the day after the wedding, follows (Note the heading!):
Dear Mother, Dad, Gladys, Lillian, Jackie, Jimmie,
At last they caught up with me and got me behind bars. We're planning a prison break to-morrow morning. I told one of the guards to wake me up at 5 so I wouldn't miss it.
The wife and her husband (that's me) left Dubuque about 1:30. We ate supper at Burlington and drove here to Fort Madison, which is only about 15 miles from Burlington.
You know we stayed at Gerkens last night. They had the bed all fixed up for us. (Joan thinks the neighbor girls done it.) We threw back the covers and they had beans all over the sheets. So we cleaned that up and proceeded to get into bed. We reached down to pull up the covers and the rice started falling out. The darn brats had put rice between the covers. So we had to clean that up. To top it off they had beans and rocks in the pillow cases.
To-morrow morning we plan to journey on to St. Louis. After we get there I don't know what we will do. I would like to see a ball game or two. The hellofitis the St. Louis Cardinals aren't playing there now. The St. Louis Browns will be of course, but I would sooner see the Cardinals.
Will write you a letter or card from St. Louis, so good-bye for now.
Vern and Joan
P.S. Thanks again for the presents. They were really swell.
Luckily for Vern, the Cardinals soon returned to St. Louis for a home series, and the honeymooning couple were able to see them play the New York Giants. Both Joan and Vern kept scorecards during the game, a pitcher's duel which the Cardinals won 1-0; the only run of the game, scored by future Hall of Famer Stan Musial, came during the bottom half of the first inning.
Birth of Vernon Larson.
Vernon Eugene Larson was born on August 29, 1925, on the family farm in Wiota Township, Lafayette County, Wisconsin. He was the third of four children (and only boy) born to Oscar and Mary (Nyborg) Larson. His sisters were Gladys, Marian, and Lillian.
Vernon Larson's heritage.
Vernon's father, Oscar Herman Larson, was born on September 24, 1897, to Ole and Antoinette (Pederson) Larson in Wiota Township, Lafayette County, Wisconsin. Ole was born in Norway on December 17, 1853, and he married Antoinette Pederson on December 28, 1877. Antoinette was born November 7, 1856. Ole Larson died in February 1920, and Antoinette died February 13, 1933. They are both buried in the East Wiota Lutheran Cemetery.
Oscar Larson was well-educated, having attended college before taking over the family farm.
Oscar married Mary Nyborg on June 16, 1920, at the Cherry Branch (Wisc.) Parsonage. The wedding invitation was a simple 3 x 5 handwritten card: "Mr. and Mrs. Ener Nyborg request the honor of your presence at the marriage of their daughter Mary to Oscar H. Larson Wednesday, June, Sixteen,--Nineteen-twenty at eleven o'clock at their home, Wiota, Wis."
Mary Nyborg was born on April 26, 1905, in Wiota Township, Lafayette County, Wisconsin, to Ener and Martha (Ostby) Nyborg. Mary attended Owego Rural School in Wiota Township.
Oscar and Mary Larson lived and farmed in Wiota Township until 1962, when they moved into the village of Argyle, Wisconsin, having sold their farm to their daughter Lillian and her husband George DeNure. Mary worked at Oaktron Industries in Monroe, Wisconsin, from 1965 until her retirement in 1970. In 1992, Mary moved to Monroe to live with her daughter, Lillian DeNure. The Larsons were members of the Wiota Lutheran Church and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
A favorite poem of Mary's was "The First Snowfall" by James Russell Lowell, of which she had the opening stanzas memorized; these follow:
The snow had begun in the gloaming,|
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.
Every pine and fir and hemlock|
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.
The poem goes on to tell of how a father's thoughts turn to "our first great sorrow," "a mound in sweet Auburn/Where a little headstone stood;/How the flakes were folding it gently,/As did robins babes in the woods" and how the snow that now falls on the grave of that daughter is "healing and hiding/The scar of our deep-plunged woe." Why Mary was so touched by this poem, as to be compelled to memorize it, is not known.
Oscar Herman Larson died on September 5, 1981, at home on Broad Street in Argyle, Wisconsin, at the age of 83 years. Funeral services were held at 2 p.m. on September 8 at the East Wiota Lutheran Church, with the Reverend Lyman Oman officiating. "How Great Thou Art" and "The Old Rugged Cross" were song selections for the funeral service. He was buried in the church cemetery in the Larson family plot. Pallbearers included six of Oscar's grandchildren, Norman Larson, Phillip Larson, David McDaniel, Gerald "Jerry" DeNure, James "Jim" Noble, and John "Jack" Noble. Oscar was survived by his wife Mary; three daughters, Mrs. Alfred (Gladys) Huber, Ridgeway, Wisc.; Mrs. James (Marian) McDaniel, Rock Island, Ill.; and Mrs. George (Lillian) DeNure, Rt. 2, Argyle, Wisc.; a son, Vernon, Dubuque, Ia.; thirteen grandchildren and eighteen great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by all six of his siblings, Ida, Laura, Petra, Clara, James, and Nora.
Mary (Nyborg) Larson died on Thursday, November 17, 1994, at her daughter's home in Monroe, Wisconsin. Visitation was held on Friday, November 18, from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Erickson Funeral Home in Argyle. Funeral services were held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 19, at the East Wiota Lutheran Church, with the Reverend Lisa L. Nelson officiating. The pallbearers were her grandsons, Jack and Jim Noble, Jerry DeNure, David McDaniel, and Phil and Tom Larson. She was laid to rest beside her husband.
Mary was survived by two daughters, Mrs. James (Marian) McDaniel, of Rock Island, Ill., and Lillian DeNure, of Monroe; a son, Vernon Larson, of Dubuque, Iowa; a sister, Emma Kubly, of Kenosha, Wisc.; 13 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren, seven great-great-grandchildren, and six stepgreat-great-grandchildren.
Mary was preceded in death by her husband; a daughter, Gladys Huber, on March 14, 1993; four brothers, Ador, Ever, and Morgan, and Towald in infancy; and three sisters, Carine Carruthers, Mabel Metz, and Eina Metz.
Education of Vernon Larson.
Vernon received his elementary education at Owego School, District 9 in Wiota Township of Lafayette County. His teachers there included Mrs. Ervin (Sadie) Gilbertson, Dorothy Richter, Olive Davis, and Harold Henning. The latter had to take Vernon into Argyle to the doctor after Vernon, while sliding into second base, injured his knee during a baseball game. The injury required 10 stitches and 3 clips; Vern didn't recall who was watching the other students, if anybody, while the teacher took him into town to see to the wound.
Vernon's sixth grade report card includes A's in Spelling, Arithmetic, and Language or Grammar and B's in Reading, Writing, Geography, History, and for Conduct.
He received his diploma from Lafayette County Schools in the State of Wisconsin on "6th day of June A.D. 1939" for "having completed the Course of Study in the Elementary Grades required by law in the Public Schools of the State." The diploma was signed by Kathryn A. Cullen, the County Superintendent of Schools.
Arleigh Johnson, the church school teacher at Cherry Branch School, gave Vernon "very good" marks in Bible History (93), Explanation (90), Catechism (92), Bible Reading (95), Composition (95), Music (90), and Deportment (95) for his attendance from June 8 to June 30 in 1939.
Vernon attended Argyle High School where he was a B student. His freshman classes (and grades) included English 9 (B), Business Training (B), General Science (C), and Citizenship (A). His tenth grade classes included English 10 (B), Elementary Algebra 10 (B), Biology (B), and World History (B). For eleventh grade Vernon had English 11 (B), Geometry 11 (C), American History 11 (B), and Ec. Geography (B). His senior year classes were English 12 (B), General Math (B), Physics (B), and Economics (B).
Vernon played basketball, football, and baseball in high school.
Argyle High School
This certifies that Vernon E. Larson
has completed the Course of Study prescribed for this High School and is therefore entitled to this
Given at Argyle, Wisconsin, this 27th day of May 1943
R E Hendrickson
C F Thompson
Vernon was one of 38 students in the Class of 1943 that graduated in the Fifty-Third Commencement of Argyle High School. The commencement exercises were held Thursday, May 27, 1943, at eight o'clock in the high school auditorium. The class colors were blue and white, the class flower was the red rose, and the class motto was "Semper Fidelis" (Always Faithful). Clement F. Thompson was the high school principal. In a souvenir booklet "Commencement Memories," Vernon simply wrote "husband" under "My hopes and plans for the future." Other classmates autographed the booklet and wrote these humorous comments for what they wanted to be in the future (Keep in mind these were written in 1943!):
Autograph . . . Wants to be|
Glenn Kipfer . . . husband of Jap woman
Harry Johnson . . . waterboy for New York Yankees
Gordon Johnson . . . the murderer of Hitler
Miles Quinn . . . Deputy Sheriff of Dill.
Richard Wilson . . . Poorman
Bill Rossing . . . explorer
Dorothy Ulsrud . . . Housewife
Elton Eastwood . . . thief
Stanley Ayen . . . Flyer
Iola Nall . . . "fire eater"
Mabel Claussen . . . professional choker
Autograph . . . Wants to be|
Marian Nall . . . "my husband's wife"
Clayton Martin . . . Garter Inspector
Clarice Erickson . . . lady
Violet Holverson . . . a success
Bertha Haesler . . . Chauffeur
Gertrude Jegerlehner . . . "Gertee The Nurse"
Rose Marie Johnson . . . Another nurse
Milford Anderson . . . Garter Salesman
Kenneth Olson . . . Farmer
Paul Walder . . . a second superman
Lucille Jaeger . . . Somebody's Someone
Vernon moves to Moline, Illinois.
After high school, Vernon moved to Moline, Illinois, where his sister Marian had previously migrated. He found work with the John Deere Company, and he boarded at 2304 6th Avenue in Moline.
While in the service, Vernon continued receiving the Atlas, the weekly paper of Argyle, Wisconsin, in order to keep up with news back home. In one letter to the folks at home, he noted, "Got another Atlas today. Certainly am glad I'm able to get that. It's getting so filled up with news of the service men there won't be any other news in it."
After training, he received a furlough and went home to the farm in Wisconsin to see his family before heading out to Seymour Johnson Field, near Goldsboro, North Carolina, where he reported for duty on February 29, 1944, to await shipment overseas. Travelling to North Carolina took Vernon through Richmond, Virginia, where, during a stopover, he had his haircut; what impressed him was that in the barbershop he could also have had his nails done. Barbershops back home definitely did not have manicurists on the premises!
Life in the army.
In his letters home from Seymour Johnson Field in North Carolina, Vernon related a little bit about life in the service; a sampling: In one letter, Vernon noted, "At 1500 I take shots this afternoon--the kind they put in your arm, you don't sip them from a glass." From another letter, Vernon wrote, "To-day, being Saturday, was rather easy in certain ways. We finally got paid this morning, so you know what to expect, gambling, gambling, and gambling. I won't tell you how much I was behind, but I am now even for the day."
The letter continues, "This afternoon we got gas. Needn't need no A card either. We just went in the gas chamber, took a breath and we really had a tankful. We first went in the tear gas chamber. . . . We had our masks on when we went in, but had to take them off and walk out. Let me tell you it really burns.
"Next we went into the chlorine gas chamber. This gas is suppose to affect your lungs. We had to have our gas mask in the bag when we went in. Just as soon as we got in the chamber open up the bag and put on the mask, doubly quick too. It doesn't affect you unless you breathe so you can bet your boots I held my breath until the mask was on."
And another time Vernon wrote, "They have a dance here every Tuesday and Friday night so I guess I'll go down and walk over some of these Carolina babes' feet."
In late March Vernon was sent up to New Jersey. He had his picture taken there, but it was never received back home. Vernon figured the firm wasn't too worried about completing orders from the boys going overseas.
Vernon made it to New York City where he saw the Ice Follies; while there he also went to a night club where soldiers hung out, and he remembered that dances with the girls cost 10¢. Vernon wrote a postcard home, postmarked March 30, 1944, relating "Am now in N.Y. and I'm not lost much to my surprise." On the side of the card he wrote, "Wish I could be home milking the cow."
To England and France.
He departed for England on April 5, 1944, and arrived there on April 18. In a letter home dated July 1, 1944, Vernon related that "At the present I am in no danger whatsoever over here unless I get hit with a speeding bicycle." However, located just twenty miles from Bristol, where bombing raids were being run by the Germans, Vernon remembered the bombing was truly frightening for the "rookies" overseas.
Relief from the pressures of duty overseas was sought in British pubs from time to time, and Vernon recalled how the pubs closed at 10 P.M., at which time the people poured out of the pubs and entered the streets to go home for the night. In a letter to the folks back home, Vernon wrote to explain that "a pub is similar to our tavern and a bitter of course is beer in our language. A pub differs from our tavern in the fact it is a more or less of meeting place after their day's work is done. They sit and discuss the news of the day and slowly drink their bitter. While we back home would practically be getting tight they would be finishing their first bitter."
After evenings spent in a pub like that one, Vernon missed one item from home. His mother liked telling the story of how Vernon had complained about having missed having a pot under the bed. His mother classic reply was "As for the pot, don't worry about that--you missed it at home, too!"
After four months of duty in England, first near Bath and then at Darlington, he saw service in France. From France in September 1944 Vernon commented in a letter a little about England, "Back at our previous base in England we were living in tents and that was kind of rough at first, but after living in them a considerable length of time you become accustomed to them. I prefer barracks though, but of course they are not always available.
"The only time I got a chance to get close to London was while I was in transient, but that was close enough to see some of the damage that had been done."
Vernon's pay as a private in the army was sixty dollars a month. Those back in the states received fifty dollars, but "the fellows overseas get a twenty percent increase in their pay."
The buck private made a corporal.
Private Vernon E. Larson became Corporal Vernon E. Larson in a communication dated September 16, 1944. In his first letter home after that, dated September 19, he wrote to the folks, "Imagine you are wondering what the Corporal is doing outside of the envelope so I will tell you first off I am no longer a Buck Private. Shocking isn't it? Suppose you think anything can happen now. What makes me happy is the slight increase in pay."
Vernon saw duty in France at Nancy and Dijon; he was also at Vannes. He was part of the Northern France and Rhineland campaigns in 1945. A letter from July 1945, after the war in Europe was over, placed him at Camp Detroit northwest of Reims.
Vernon saw Paris once, and he went to Montmartre nightclubs on the rue Pigalle for music and dancing, and he saw the tomb of Napoleon at the Invalides. The closest Vernon came to Germany was at Haguenau, in the northeastern tip of France.
Back to the States.
He left France for home on September 5, 1945, and arrived back in the United States on September 16, 1945. On furlough, he was able to see his parents in November of 1945, and his parents returned him to Camp McCoy near La Crosse, Wisconsin, from where he reported to Drew Field, Florida, for the last month of his tour of duty.
Vernon's military occupation was that of clerk typist, and as such he performed various duties in a military headquarters unit and prepared all types of military correspondence, records, and forms.
As his Group was being disbanded in November of 1945, Vernon found he had much paperwork to do. From Drew Field in Florida, Vernon wrote, "Most of the fellows of the 500th Air Sv Gp have been discharged. Most of the officers are around, but there are only about 6 enlisted men. The men are turning in the equipment. Myself, I thought I wasn't going to do anything. However there is quite a lot of paperwork to be accomplished when an organization is to be busted up and I am in on that."
A month later, on December 14, 1945, Vernon was anxiously awaiting his own discharge. He wrote, "As far as work is concerned I haven't anything since we got through deactivating the outfit. Just lay on the sack and read or sleep all day. Great life. Always rested for the evenings anyway.
"Until a day or two before Christmas when I shall see you all, I remain:
Just another G.I.
At the time of his military service, Vernon is recorded as being 6 feet, 4 inches, weighing 160 pounds, and having hazel eyes and blond hair. In a July 1944 letter Vernon reported home from England that he was "getting a pot," as he now weighed 188 pounds, but he would lose it all very quickly after his discharge, and he was down to 140 to 150 pounds in just a few months.
Vernon highest grade held was that of corporal. His last organization was Headquarters and Base Service Squadron 500 Air Service Group. He received the American Theater Ribbon, the EAME Ribbon, the Good Conduct Medal, and the Victory Medal.
Corporal Vernon E. Larson receives honorable discharge.
On December 18, 1945, Vernon received his honorable discharge, at the Army Air Force Separation Base at Drew Field, Florida. His total length of service in the U.S. was 7 months, and his service on foreign soil totalled 1 year, 5 months, and 11 days.
Vernon did make it home for Christmas in 1945. And in celebration, Vernon was taken out for a night on the town by his father Oscar, in spite of the fact Vernon was not yet the legal age of 21!
Vernon returns to Moline, but is soon transferred to Dubuque, Iowa.
A couple months after returning home from the service, Vernon returned to Moline, Illinois, and his job at John Deere. At the time he wrote, "I still think I could make more on the farm, but of course the hours would be much longer on a farm. I'll be getting 90¢ an hour. Then plus the bonus it will amount to about $1.00 an hour. Guess I could be doing worse. The reason I'm starting at that rate is because of the fact I had worked down here before I went into the service.
"The trip down here was all right. Didn't meet any pretty girls though."
He again took his lodging at 2304 6th Avenue in Moline, and his rent from February 20 to August 15 in 1946 was $12 a week.
In the middle of August 1946 Vernon transferred to the new John Deere Dubuque plant, and he boarded first at 909 West Fifth Street and later at 568 West Seventh Street in Dubuque. His first day of work in Dubuque was August 20, 1946. Classified Labor Grade 4, Vernon worked in the shipping department as an assistant to the foreman during his first several years at the Dubuque plant.
It was in this city where he met his bride, Joan Gerken, whom he married on September 10, 1949.
Vernon and Joan briefly lived with Joan's parents in Dubuque before moving into an apartment in Dubuque at 787½ Hill Street. With them in this apartment building also resided Joan's sisters and their spouses, Louise and Wilfred Coakley and Teresa and Don McCoy, as well as the young children of all three couples. The Larsons then moved out to Zwingle, Iowa, before buying the Gerken house at 2820 Burlington Street in Dubuque, which became their permanent home.
Vernon and Joan Gerken Larson had the following children, all born in Dubuque, Iowa:
A daughter, Dolores Ann Larson, was stillborn October 9, 1960, and she was buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Dubuque, Iowa.
|The First Communion portraits of Vern and Joan's children were displayed in the living room of their home.|
top:Steve, Vern Jr.
center:Karen, Norm, Phil
Both Joan and Vern were avid bowlers who often bowled in two or three leagues a week for many years. Joan, who bowled left-handed, played in leagues at Creslanes and Fishers, on Monday and Wednesday nights and Thursday afternoons. In later years, after giving up bowling, she continued to meet on Friday nights with other former bowlers for a night of playing euchre. Vern played in leagues on Wednesday and Friday nights at Riverside and later at Imperial in Dubuque. Two leagues in which he bowled were the John Deere and Hawthorne Leagues. Of course he bowled with John Deere people in the former, but in the latter he bowled with people from the Dubuque Packing Company, in which he was the poorly-paid man on the team; the workers at the Pack earned better money than Deere workers at the time.
Both occasionally travelled to tournaments across the state and across the continent. Some of these tournaments took Joan to New Orleans, Denver, and Chicago and took Vern to Cleveland and Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
From New Orleans, Joan sent home this postcard in April 1966:
Dear Vern & S.V.K.N.P.T.C.,
Didn't like the Holiday Inn Motel so Mabel & I are staying at the Sheraton - Charles Hotel one block from French Quarters. The rest didn't like it too well but we didn't want to spend our money on cabs. Took sightseeing tour this P.M. Night club tour on Sat. nite & boat trip Sat. P.M. See you next Monday.
Kisses for everyone xxxxxxxx
Karen joined her mother Joan on the bowling trip to Denver in the mid 1970s, and Norm and Vicki, who then lived at Albuquerque, New Mexico, travelled up to Colorado to visit them there.
The highest game Vern ever rolled was a 264, during a state bowling tournament in Burlington, Iowa. As a sidelight, during a tournament in Burlington, Vern had accidentally left behind a pair of cuff links, but he was pleasantly surprised when they were sent back to him in Dubuque. The highest game he rolled during league play in Dubuque was in the 250s. At a company-wide John Deere 4-man tournament one year, Vern and three others took home the championship trophy.
In January 1973 Joan made the sports section of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald with the headline "Joan Larson rolls another 600 total." The brief item read, "Joan Larson bowling in the Fischer Matinee league Thursday at Fischer Lanes strung games of 227-191-201 for a 619 series." Joan made the paper in "City's Best" listings for "High Game" and "High Series" in the paper for her scores in that league that week, and with her in the listings was her daughter Karen, who had rolled a 206 game and a 534 series for the highs in the Kings & Queens league.
Joan was a longtime member of the Dubuqueland Women's Bowling Association and its parent organization the Women's International Bowling Congress, and she was also a member of the Dubuqueland "600" Bowling Club.
Cards and Taverns.
Both Joan and Vern enjoyed playing cards, especially euchre. Euchre was a common game played when family was gathered together for holidays and reunions. Vern and Joan played pinochle as well. In later years, Vern had a regular game on Friday nights at the Instant Replay, a tavern on Central Avenue in Dubuque. His children Karen and Norm often joined him there to play. Vern also played cribbage, which all of his children learned to play also, while Joan enjoyed gin rummy.
Other taverns Vern frequented over the years included the Atom, the Choral Club, Jack Noel's, and Spielman's Lounge. At the Atom, which was located at 34th and Central, many Deere workers would cash their checks on Friday nights, and Vern, along with his father-in-law Ewald, often played some euchre there after doing so. With a grin on his face, Vern recalled how Ewald, who was a foreman at Deere and who was naturally earning more than the average worker, would get out of the game once the stakes were raised to more than a nickel a game!
After one particular Friday night bacchanal, Vern arose the next morning, and he took the old Dodge to the gas station and told the attendant, "Fillerup!" After the attendant pumped out a thimbleful, he came back to Vern and asked, "Are you kidding?" Turned out Vern had gotten the tank filled the night before! Vern made a point of emphasizing that the car did have a faulty gas gauge. This was when the family was living on Hill Street in Dubuque.
Puzzles and Reading.
Working crossword puzzles was another activity both enjoyed. The Larsons subscribed to two newspapers, and Joan worked the puzzle that appeared in the Des Moines Register, while Vern did the puzzle in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Vern and Joan also enjoyed working jigsaw puzzles. They also read extensively: books, magazines, and newspapers. Periodicals subscribed to at various times over the years included the Reader's Digest, Catholic Digest, the Ellery Queen mystery magazine, Country, Country Living, the Catholic weekly newspaper of the Dubuque Archdiocese The Witness, Redbook, and Better Homes and Gardens.
Vern enjoyed playing horseshoes, too. He and his son Phil played in league at Flora Park for several years in the 1980s; his son Tom played for one season in the same league as well. Several years before, Vern played horseshoes at Gay Park with men from the neighborhood, including Joe Beurskens, who lived directly across the alley from the Larsons, and Orly Driscoll, who lived on Primrose Street. The Larsons had a horseshoe court in the lower backyard which was always used during family gatherings. In the upper yard were found both basketball and tetherball courts.
Andy Piper, Vern's son-in-law, a sportswriter for the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, wrote a feature article about the Larsons' horseshoe playing, and it appeared in the newspaper on July 10, 1997; the complete text follows:
Horseshoes in the yard: Anything but the pits
Family fun: Almost anyone can enjoy this activity
It was a couple of days before company was expected for the Fourth of July weekend. My father-in-law [Vernon Larson] made what sounded like an offhand comment but was really a request: "I imagine they'll want to pitch some shoes while they're here."
What he meant was, "Why don't you get the hose and shovel out and dig up the horseshoe pits?"
"Yeah, they probably will," I replied in as non-committal of a tone as possible--meaning, I'm not doing it.
I married into a horseshoe-throwing family and becoming a competent pitcher is as much a rite of passage as learning to play euchre. My wife [Chris] even subbed for her brother [Phil] in a league game once and, of course, refused the well-intentioned advice to stand a little a closer if she wanted.
The horseshoe court sits in the lower part of the yard, separated from the "upper yard" by a sagging rock retaining wall. The court has fallen into disrepair in recent years. The weather-beaten, dilapidated wooden backboards and rusted iron pegs have become just more obstacles to mow around, overrun by grass and weeds.
When my brother-in-law's family [Steve and Cathy Larson, Tanya, Melissa, and Christopher] finally arrived from California, the grass had been cut but the horseshoe court was still in need of some landscaping.
To the rescue came my brother-in-law, Steve. Or, more directly, his 17-year-old son, Christopher, and Bruno, foreign-exchange student from Brazil [staying with the Steve Larsons].
"Why don't you get the hose running and soak down those pits," Steve ordered shortly after arrival. "Then get the shovel and get that dirt turned over."
Over the course of the afternoon, Christopher's rebuttals, withering in the 90-degree heat, began to lose conviction. Resigned to his fate, Christopher enlisted Bruno's help. With shovel and hose in tow, they trudged down the steps to transform our sleepy yard into center court.
Let the games begin!
The two sets of shoes came off their nails in the shed and, once wiped clean of cobwebs, filled the air, mixed with the occasional clink of iron as shoe met peg.
Family members lined the retaining wall, awaiting their turn to throw a game.
A game of horseshoes on the Fourth of July seems patriotic somehow, even though the game probably originated in ancient Rome and was brought to America by British soldiers prior to the Revolutionary War. Horseshoes did become a favorite game of Colonial troops in garrison.
The inevitable dirt under your fingernails and the game's simplicity seem to connect you to the earth and the agricultural roots of our ancestors.
That's not to say the game is easy, it's just simple to understand. Three points for tossing a ringer and one point for landing a shoe within shoe-length of the peg, provided an opponent doesn't get closer. The only thing that precludes one from a game is not having the strength to heave the cast-iron "U" 40 feet.
It became obvious from the beginning of our family tournament that being paired with brother-in-law Phil meant victory. Phil is a former league player and still capable of stringing a few ringers together--even if his line-drive style of pitching creates some dangerous ricochets off the backboard.
I prefer a high-arcing toss with the shoe turning over just once in mid-flight. It's a beautiful sight when the shoe opens up and glides onto the peg--a rare occurrence in my case.
But more important than horseshoe success is a holiday family gathering made closer by a simple game, rooted in a family's history.
Around 1980, when the Trivia Pursuit game swept the nation, the Larsons joined in that as well, and it was commonly played at gatherings.
Knights of Columbus and Christmas parties.
Vern was a member of the Knights of Columbus, and once a year he sold Tootsie Rolls with the Knights, which was a fundraiser benefiting the mentally retarded. Vern always took his grandchildren down to the annual Christmas party that the Knights hosted, and everyone received a bag of goodies. When Vern's own children were young, they were taken to Christmas parties held by the Catholic Order of Foresters and the United Auto Workers, where Santa Claus made appearances and handed out goodies to the children.
Bingo and Parish festivals.
Joan also played bingo a couple nights a week during the late 1970s and into the 1980s. On Tuesday nights, she played at Holy Ghost, where her son Tom was a worker for a few years, and at the Knights of Columbus on Thursday nights. She would also play bingo at the annual festivals of Holy Ghost and the Immaculate Conception Parish at Kieler, Wisconsin, among others. The Larsons always attended the festival at Holy Ghost, which was held in the fall for many years but was later changed to a Sunday in August, while the festival at Kieler is a Fourth of July affair that the Larsons occasionally attended. Along with bingo, the Larsons enjoyed playing the wheel and card games and, of course, the food (Kieler had its well-known chicken dinner).
Cookie Jars and Auctions and Collectibles.
Joan collected cookie jars, and she accumulated several dozens of both new and old cookie jars. Shelf space became a premium, and two of her sons, Phil and Tom, built shelving in the kitchen area to accommodate the growing collection. Joan also enjoyed going to auctions and flea markets, and she often attended those that were held out at the Dubuque County Fairgrounds, and her children Norm and Chris often joined her for these events, and if needed, son Phil was called for the use of his pick-up truck. Joan did her own work refinishing several antique pieces of furniture that she had picked up at sales, including two fine free standing cabinets with glass doors and a large dining room table; and she also refinished much of the woodwork around the house such as the stairway, kitchen cabinets, and windows.
Joan's attendance at auctions led to a rather eclectic collection of other items, including Christmas odds and ends, anything picturing Currier and Ives lithographs, various pieces of glassware, kitchenware, washboards, crock pots, oil lamps, and much more. Joan also bought sets of Pyrex mixing bowls for her children when she came across them at sales. She would not hesitate to give her found treasures away to children; in fact, purchases were often made with them in mind.
Joan also collected souvenir plates and accumulated many cookbooks. She also made a point of saving fifty-cent pieces, silver dollars, bicentennial quarters, and other coins, and once in a while would take them to the bank to cash them in when a special purchase was to be made.
Her son Steve brought Joan a set of fine chinaware from Japan after being discharged from the Marines, and this became the Sunday and holiday dinner set, replacing Joan's set of Royal Currier & Ives dinnerware, which she had received as premiums from a grocery store. Joan later gave the Currier and Ives dishes to her son Tom and his wife Deb.
Moments in history.
The circumstances of their lower-middle class upbringing and lives caused Vern and Joan to vote Democratic more often than not. On November 22, 1963, Joan was doing laundry, and Vern, home from work with back trouble, was lying on the couch when the tragic and overwhelming news came that the Democratic and Catholic President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. One of President Kennedy's initiatives had been to land an American on the moon before the decade of the 1960s ended, and when the Eagle landed on the moon that momentous afternoon in July of 1969, Joan reacted excitedly, running outside to share the news with her son Tom, who at age seven was playing out in the backyard. By the end of the 1960s, the troubles of President Lyndon B. Johnson with the war and its American bloodshed in Vietnam gave the Republican Richard M. Nixon the Presidency, and Vern, like many others, referred to Nixon as "Tricky Dick." Nixon, of course, ended up resigning in disgrace because of the scandal called Watergate.
The Chicago Cubs.
The Larsons were Cub fans, and the family occasionally made trips to Wrigley Field in Chicago to see games. One trip in the early 1970s took Joan and Vern and Phil, Tom, and Chris to Chicago for a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry before the ballgame, and afterwards they travelled up through Milwaukee and over to Madison, Wisconsin, where they spent the night and toured the next day. In later years the Norm Larson family organized excursions to Chicago for ballgames, and Joan and Vern often went on these.
Vern also recalled going to see a professional football game at Soldier Field in Chicago between the Bears and the then-Chicago Cardinals.
Vern and Joan were able to travel more after the children were older. Joan, along with Karen, Tom, Chris, and her niece Margaret Coakley, travelled to Virginia in 1976 to visit Joan's sister Dolores. They visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, and Ash Lawn, the home of James Monroe, and a sidetrip to Washington, D.C., took the group on a tour of the White House and the U.S. Capitol, where the Magna Carta, the historical English document of 1215, was on display during the bicentennial year of the United States. The following year, Vern and Joan, with Tom and Chris, took a trip west to see Vern Jr. in Oregon and Steve and Karen in California. Vern Jr. travelled down to California with them, too. Along the way they saw the Badlands and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park and Old Faithful, the Golden Gate Bridge, Disneyland, and the Grand Canyon, among many other places. A trip closer to home took Joan and Vern and Tom and Chris to Herbert Hoover's birthplace and gravesite at West Branch, Iowa, and to the Amana Colonies.
In 1986, Vern travelled to California with Karen and Tom for a wedding. They travelled out by bus, but drove Karen's car back home, which she had left behind when she and Tom moved back to Iowa that spring. They also drove up to Boise to see Vern Jr. and his family on the return trip. At a racetrack there they saw Muhammad Ali, and Tom received his autograph. In 1987 Vern and Joan flew out to California to visit the Steve Larsons. Vern travelled to California again in 1995 with the Norm Larson family.
The Larson family made several trips during the course of a year to visit Vern's mother and father, Mary and Oscar Larson, at Argyle, Wisconsin. These were often Sunday drive excursions. The children always wanted to go out to the old family farm as well, which Vern's sister Lillian and her husband George DeNure had taken over, and occasionally the family stopped out for a visit, and the children could see the cows being milked or play in the hay barn. During the last couple decades of the twentieth century an extended family reunion was held at the park in Argyle every couple years around the Fourth of July.
For many years the Larson family went to Teresa and Don McCoy's home in Dubuque for Thanksgiving Day dinner and festivities. After a feast of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and many side dishes, games, such as Pokeno and Michigan Rummy, were played.
A month later the McCoys went to the Larsons for Christmas Day. Joan and Vern more or less held an open house on Christmas for any relatives who wanted to drop by. The Coakleys, who lived next door, often joined the festivities. Others who occasionally dropped in were Joan's brothers and their families, Loras from Dubuque, Ewald from Cascade, and Dan from Waterloo.
A buffet of traditional foods, including turkey, ham, German potato salad (Teresa McCoy's concoction, which included 10 pounds of potatoes with skins, 1 dozen eggs, 1 pound of bacon, and about 1 cup of vinegar and about 1 cup of sugar, both to preferred taste--husband Don McCoy was always the judge), and homemade pies, was laid out in the porch. Cookies and candies were spread throughout the house. Plenty of beer and pop was always on hand. Games were played, and the children enjoyed the company of cousins. Mom made Tom and Jerrys for everyone. Her recipe for this holiday concoction follows:
TOM AND JERRYS
Ingredients for batter*:
One dozen eggs, one pound powdered sugar, ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar.
1. Separate egg whites and yolks.
2. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar together.
3. Separately mix yolks and powdered sugar*.
4. Fold whites and yolk mixes together.
Pour shot of half brandy-half rum into cup. Add batter until cup is almost ¾ full. Pour hot water over batter into cup. Sprinkle nutmeg over concoction.
* = For additional flavoring her son Tom adds one teaspoon of vanilla and/or allspice (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg) to the yolk mix while making the batter.
The Larson house was always gaily decorated for the Christmas season, including a Christmas crib that Vern had made for holding a Nativity scene. A Christmas tree (sometimes two) was decorated with lights, ornaments, garland, and tinsel. Christmas cards were displayed in the hallway on the posts of the stair rail. Shelves and windows held all kinds of ornaments, bells, and figurines for decorations.
Christmas Eve became the time of the Larson family celebration of the holiday, with Vern and Joan, their children, and their grandchildren gathered for the afternoon and evening together. A large Christmas dinner was prepared and enjoyed, Christmas carols were sung, and Clement C. Moore's A Visit from St. Nicholas was recited by all. Only after all that, usually around nine o'clock, were presents opened. During these later years Joan also gave her children Tom and Chris and all the grandchildren the special gift of an ornament at Christmas, on which she wrote the child's name and the year given.
The Vernon and Joan Larson family portrait, taken in 1979.
back, l to r: Stephen, Norman, Vernon Jr., Phillip, Thomas
front, l to r: Christine, Joan Larson, Vernon Larson, Karen
Another family reunion.
The Larsons were all reunited one more time, in August of 1983, as part of a Gerken family reunion. Joan and her brothers and sisters had family reunion picnics periodically, most of them taking place at Eagle Point Park in Dubuque. The reunion picnic in 1983, however, took place at Flora Park in Dubuque, on August 14.
In 1983 Vern and Joan's children were spread across the country, with Steve, Karen, and Tom all in California, and Vern Jr. in Idaho. Norm, Phil, and Chris were living in Dubuque. Plans had not been made for a Larson reunion that year, but when it came to be that Vern Jr. planned to make it back to Dubuque from Idaho, and with both Steve and Tom with vacation plans to Dubuque from California that August, Karen decided to make a surprise trip from California, and she booked passage on the same flight with Tom, which took them to Madison, Wisconsin. Upon their arrival in Madison, where Joan and Vern, along with Vern Jr., had come to pick them up, Tom departed from the airplane first and made his greetings, not saying a word about Karen being on the flight too. At the luggage carousel Karen made her appearance, happily surprising Vern and Joan.
With the Larsons now reunited, a family dinner was held at the Cock 'N Bull on August 13, 1983. Present were Vern and Joan, Steve and his wife Cathy, Vern and his two children by his first marriage, Kim and Pam, Karen, Norm and his wife Vicki, Phil and his wife Diane, Tom, and Chris. After the repast, everyone gathered at the home of Phil and Diane at 1781 Scenic View Drive in Dubuque, for lively conversation and card games, with cribbage and euchre the games of choice that night.
The Gerken family reunion was held the next day at Flora Park. Many photographs were taken at the event, and in true Larson fashion, each of the five boys was holding a drink when Vern and Joan's children were gathered for a picture. The Larsons all gathered for the reunion included the patriarch and matriarch, Vern and Joan; Steve and Cathy, and their children Tanya, Melissa, Christopher, of Santa Ana, California; Vern Jr., of Boise, Idaho, and his daughters Kim and Pam of Portland, Oregon; Karen, of Lodi, California; Norm and Vicki, and their children Mandy, Nick, Ben, and Mark, of Dubuque; Phil and Diane, of Dubuque; Tom, of Newport Beach, California; and Chris, at home.
Vernon retires from Deere.
Vernon retired on August 31, 1983, after over forty years of service with the John Deere Dubuque Tractor Works as an assembler. He was also a longtime member of the United Auto Workers, for a time serving as union steward. Phil and Diane Larson hosted a retirement party for Vern at their home on Scenic View in Dubuque. His family presented him with a John Deere lawnmower for a retirement gift. Those in attendance included Vern and Joan's children, Norm; Phil and Diane Larson; and Chris Larson; all of Dubuque. Also attending were Vern's mother Mary Larson of Argyle, Wisconsin; his sister Marian and Jim McDaniel of Rock Island, Illinois; and his nephew Jim and Janet Noble and family of Bolingbrook, Illinois. After retirement Joan and Vern enjoyed their newfound time together by taking walks, often times at Eagle Point Park in Dubuque, and by going out for a small lunch at noon.
Vern and Joan's 40th anniversary.
On the eve of their wedding anniversary, Vernon and Joan Larson celebrated forty years together with a family dinner at The Moracco in Dubuque on Saturday, September 9, 1989.
Don and Teresa McCoy's 40th anniversary.
In 1986, three years before the Larsons 40th anniversary, many of the Larsons, along with other Gerken relations and friends, joined Joan's sister Teresa and her husband Don McCoy during their 40th wedding anniversary celebration at a Mass said for the Gerken family at Holy Ghost Church in Dubuque, which was followed by a family dinner at the Dubuque Inn, on June 14, 1986. The next day an open house picnic was held at the site of many a Gerken picnic, Eagle Point Park in Dubuque, overlooking the Mississippi River.
Joan's health failing.
In the early 1990s Chris and her husband Andy moved into the family home with Joan and Vern, and Chris was then able to help out with Joan as her health began to fail. Joan was diabetic, and this caused other health concerns, including pulmonary and cardiac problems. Joan had also broken her ankle in a fall caused by wintry conditions; this severely curtailed her activities, especially her walking, and she once blamed that for her advancing health problems as she was no longer able to get the needed exercise.
Joan, however, was not going to be kept down, and, once, straight out of the hospital, ready for something other than hospital food, she had Vern take her directly to Gene's Main Street Tap in Dubuque for a chili dog.
The wake was held at Gene Siegert & Son Westview Funeral Home, 2659 Kennedy Road, in Dubuque from 2 to 9 P.M. on Friday, September 30, which coincidentally was also the fifth wedding anniversary of her son Tom and his wife Deb. The Holy Ghost Parish wake service was held at the funeral home at 3:45 P.M.
The funeral mass was held at 10 A.M., Saturday, October 1, at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Dubuque, with the Reverend Frederick Fangmann saying the rites.
The pall was spread over the casket at the church by her husband Vernon and five of their children, Karen, Norman, Phillip, Thomas, and Christine. The pallbearers included her sons Phillip and Thomas, her son-in-law Andrew Piper, and her nephews Robert Coakley, Paul Gerken, and David McDaniel. Readings and petitions at the funeral mass were read by her children Thomas and Christine. "How Great Thou Art" was sung as the funeral procession left the church.
Joan was laid to rest at Mt. Calvary Cemetery (Jaeger Drive/Grave 13/Row 13) in Dubuque, Iowa. She was buried next to her sister and brother-in-law, Teresa and Don McCoy. A funeral dinner was held at Sweeney's restaurant north of Dubuque on U.S. 52 and a gathering at the Larson home at 2820 Burlington Street followed.
Surviving Joan were her husband, Vernon E. Larson, Sr., of Dubuque; two daughters, Karen (and Larry) Meyer and Christine (and Andrew) Piper, both of Dubuque; five sons, Stephen (and Cathleen) Larson, of Corona, Calif., Vernon Jr., of Boise, Idaho, Norman (and Vicki) Larson and Phillip (and Diane) Larson, both of Dubuque, and Thomas (and Debra) Larson, of Riceville, Iowa; 17 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter; two sisters, Dolores Gerken, of Farley, Iowa, and Mary Temple, of Tulsa, Okla.; and four brothers, Adrian Gerken, of Naperville, Ill., Ewald Gerken, of Cascade, Iowa, William Gerken, of Farley, and Daniel Gerken, of Waterloo.
She was preceded in death by two sisters, Louise Coakley and Teresa McCoy; and two brothers, Donald and Loras Gerken.
A poem in memory of his mother.
After Joan's death, her son Tom wrote the following poem entitled "Ode to Christmas Past" as a tribute to her spirit, a spirit that was perhaps never more evident than during the Christmas season. The poem is written in closed couplets of iambic pentameter verse.
|Ode to Christmas Past: In Memory of Mom|
We sadly said good-bye to Mom this year,|
But hold we fast to mem'ries, fond and dear.
When young it seems so magical and free,|
But now we know 'twas all a gift from thee.
Our sentiments at Christmastime do turn|
To one whose spirit will remain eterne.
Our Christmases have always been a joy,|
With Gerkens, Coakleys, and, of course, McCoys.
Elating spirits for the holiday,|
The trimmings in our house did Mom array:
Mom's Tom and Jerrys we enjoyed each Yule,|
And more than one would later play the fool!
The Christmas crib that Dad's two hands had made,|
And Christmas cards in hallway were displayed.
In progress one could find a euchre game;|
Such times as these we fancy to freeze-frame.
"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,"|
And ornaments discovered ev'rywhere.
Thus, uncles, aunts, and cousins--cri de coeur--|
Recall the mem'ries we now disinter.
On Christmas morn from bedpost I would leave|
To see a sight which now I apperceive:
|These times at Christmas do recall a life,|
For Mom to us invested love so rife.
Away a-working ere the sun's appeared,|
Mom's preparations groundwork are for cheer.
The ways that Mom has taught will now live on,|
As her succeeding generations dawn.
|Tom Larson, 1994|
Vern in 1996.
Vern continued to live at the family home at 2820 Burlington Street in Dubuque, along with his daughter Chris and her husband Andy Piper and their two children, Jackie (who called Vern "Papa") and Carrie. The two youngsters helped to keep Vern entertained, and he was a safe haven for them when strangers (anyone besides their Mom and Dad!) were about, and one of Papa's jobs was to hold them while they awaited their morning routines of changing, eating, bathing.
Having his offspring Karen, Norm, Phil, and Chris all living in Dubuque, who among them had eleven of Vern's eighteen grandchildren, provided Vern with an array of activities ranging from birthday parties, school activities, and sporting events, to the large family gatherings of Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, as well as those times when folks just stop by to visit.
Vern's excursions in 1996 took him to Rock Island, Illinois, to see his sister Marian and her husband Jim McDaniel; to Riceville, Iowa, for Tom and Deb Larson's annual party; to Monroe, Wisconsin, to see his sister Lillian; to Chicago for a Cubs ballgame with the Norm and Vicki Larsons, the Karen and Larry Meyers, the Phil and Diane Larsons, and the Chris and Andy Pipers; and to Farley, Iowa, to see Bill (Joan's brother) and Donna Gerken, and Dolores Gerken (Joan's sister).
When son Tom and his wife Deb visited Dubuque, Vern and Tom often battled over who would pay the tab for lunch. Lunch was often at a place where a burger and a beer could be obtained, such as the West Dubuque Tap or the Dubuque Mining Company. Tom and Deb often stayed at Vern's house on their trips back to Dubuque from Riceville, Iowa.
Vern continued playing pinochle at the tavern on Friday nights and attending Mass at Holy Ghost on Sundays, and he celebrated his 71st birthday with a family dinner at Sweeney's restaurant on August 29, 1996.
Vern sells family home to daughter Chris.
In 2000 Chris and her husband Andy Piper bought the Larson home, where Vern continued to reside, and where they helped minister to his needs as his health declined. Vern's children Norm and Karen also helped take care of Vern when the Pipers had to be away.
Vernon's health deteriorates.
Over time Vern was experiencing failing health, and ultimately he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He became less and less mobile and came to depend upon a walker get around. Eventually the walker was reduced to use around the house, and in 2000 he was confined to a wheelchair for excursions away from home. Despite that, it was not in Vern's nature to want to stay home, and his family often saw that he got out and about for special outings and occasions. One of these included trips to Rock Island, Illinois, on June 27 and 28, 2000, for the sad task of attending the visitation and funeral of his sister Marian McDaniel, who had suddenly passed away on June 23.
Tom and Deb had moved back to Dubuque County, to Peosta, and one weekend in June 2001, Tom was asked to tend to Vern while the Pipers were out of town. Vern had recently been sleeping in until 10 or so, so Tom was there early at the house when he arrived at 6:30 a.m. Tom checked on him once in a while, but he continued to sleep and snore. As it got past 11 a.m., however, he started getting worried, and now when he went in to check, Vern muttered out the words (not knowing Tom was there), "Here I come." Tom could only think, "You're not going anywhere on my watch." Tom asked him then if he was going to get up, apparently surprising Vern with his presence, and Vern responded, "No, not really." Not used to this, Tom called his brother Norm and had him come over to help get Dad moving. After getting him out of bed and on his medicine, Vern was much better, and even ended up sitting outside for awhile while his son Phil was working on replacing the back door.
On July 22, 2001, Vern went to the Ostby-Nyborg reunion in Monroe, Wisconsin. He was not too alert at the start of the day, and he had to inquire where he was going as he was being loaded into the Piper van. Once there, however, he was very alert and had his eyes wide open as he took in many old familiar faces. At one point when he was trying to say something to his sister Lillian--and she could not understand him because he was having difficulty speaking with volume--Lillian gave up trying to hear him and instead planted a big kiss on his lips, and he responded with the biggest grin on his face, which would be the last time that Tom remembers him smiling so broadly.
Activities toward the end.
Vern's activities became greatly limited as time went on, and he found it harder and harder to communicate as well. Many hours were simply spent looking at the television. Karen often stopped by to play UpWords or checkers with Vern. Norm continued to pick Vern up for his regular Friday afternoon outing to the Instant Replay for cards, and Karen always joined them there for pinochle. These Friday tavern trips became large family gatherings for the Larson family during the summer of 2001. Those regularly stopping by also included Norm's wife Vicki, their children Nick, Ben, and Mandy with Joe and their child Ethan; Karen's husband Larry, their children Melinda and Emily; Tom and Deb; Chris and Andy, their children Jackie and Carrie. Others stopping by at times during the summer included Phil, cousins Barb McCoy and Rich McCoy, and grandson Mark.
The following Friday, Tom and Deb went down to the Instant Replay, in anticipation of the usual Friday night outing. Karen then stopped by after work also. But Vern would not be coming down this night. Norm called the tavern to say that things looked bleak, and that death seemed near. Dad had not been eating--over the course of the summer he had found it more and more difficult to swallow--and he was becoming gravely weak. The time had come to say their final good-byes.
Vernon E. Larson, Sr., dies.
A vigil began that Friday night, August 24. The family gathered to await the inevitable. Vern received the last rites of the Catholic church on Sunday, August 26. Everyone went over to the house, every day, waiting. Wednesday, August 29, was Vern's 76th birthday, although it could not be celebrated. That night Chris last looked in on Vern after midnight, and Andy also checked on him about 12:30 when he arrived home from work. Chris went to look in on Vern in the morning, but discovered that over night, in the wee hours of Thursday, August 30, 2001 (Norm and Vicki's wedding anniversary), Vernon E. Larson, Sr., age 76, had passed away, peacefully, asleep, as the doctor had indicated he would. The time of death was set at 3 a.m.--because Karen had awakened about that time. Chris called the family, and Karen, Norm, and Phil were there when the funeral home arrived to remove the body. Tom arrived shortly thereafter.
Karen, Norm, Tom, and Chris met with the Reverend Paul T. Otting at Holy Ghost Church at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the funeral service and other arrangements. Phil and Andy, Chris's husband, joined the others when they met with Tom Siegert of Egelhof - Siegert & Casper Westview Funeral Home at 1 p.m. to make other necessary arrangements for the wake and funeral.
Friends called from 2 to 9 p.m., Friday, August 31, 2001, at Egelhof, Siegert & Casper Westview Funeral Home, 2659 Kennedy Road, Dubuque, Iowa, where Father Otting held the Holy Ghost Parish scripture wake service at 3:30 p.m. Vern's grandson Nick Larson read a poem he had written for his grandpa the Christmas before that celebrated Vern's gift of life to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Pictures and other items, such as cards, caps, and a jacket, representing Vern's life were on display at the funeral home. Below is a collage of images that was on display at the wake.
Steve, Norm, Vern Jr, Phil, Tom
The family gathered at the funeral home at 9 a.m. Saturday morning to view Vernon one last time before the procession to the church. The funeral procession traveled down John F. Kennedy Road to West 32nd Street to Holy Ghost Church on Central Avenue. Many were already gathered at the church, awaiting the procession. The pallbearers were Vern's son Thomas Larson; sons-in-law Larry Meyer and Andrew Piper; and grandsons Nicholas Larson, Benjamin Larson, Mark Larson, and Peter Larson. Vern's children Karen, Norman, Phillip, Thomas, and Christine spread the pall over the casket. The funeral mass was said by Father Otting at 10 a.m., Saturday, September 1, 2001, at Holy Ghost Catholic Church, Dubuque, Iowa. Vern's daughter Christine Piper read the first reading and responsorial psalm, and son Thomas read the second reading and petitions. "How Great Thou Art" was sung as the funeral procession left the church and the white pall was replaced by the American flag.
The funeral procession left the church following Central Avenue, East 22nd Street, Windsor Avenue, and Davis Street to Mount Calvary Cemetery in Dubuque. Father Otting conducted the graveside service, and military rites were accorded by the American Legion Post 6 of Dubuque with a gun salute and the playing of Taps in an overwhelmingly emotional ceremony. The American flag was presented to Norman after removal from the casket. Vernon was interred in Section 17, Row 13, Plot 12, beside his wife Joan and alongside his in-laws, Don and Teresa McCoy. Vern once said they were awaiting him so they could once again play euchre together, and now the foursome was complete.
A funeral dinner was held at Sweeney's restaurant north of Dubuque on U.S. 52 and a gathering at the Larson home at 2820 Burlington Street followed.
Vernon Larson was survived by five sons, Stephen (Cathleen) Larson, of Corona, California, Vernon Larson, Jr., of Boise, Idaho, Norman (Vicki) Larson and Phillip (Diane) Larson, both of Dubuque, Iowa, and Thomas (Debra) Larson, of Peosta, Iowa; two daughters, Karen (Larry) Meyer, and Christine (Andrew) Piper, both of Dubuque, Iowa; a sister, Lillian DeNure, of Monroe, Wisconsin; and 18 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Joan, on September 28, 1994; a stillborn daughter, Dolores; and two sisters, Gladys Huber and Marian McDaniel.