Article #31- Doc Hibbeler
Article #32- Doc Hibbeler (cont)
Article #33- Heald Home
Article #34- Creek Greens
Article #35- Bobby's Adventures
Published March 10, 2004
Published March 24, 2004
Published April 7, 2004
Published April 21, 2004
Published May 5, 2004

 

Article#31- Doc Hibbeler

If you go into the Convent for the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood and peer into some half-forgotten storage room, you'll find a chair that, to the casual observer, would seem curiously out of place.  That's because it's a dental chair.  So what is an old dentist chair doing in a convent? 

To tell the story, I have to introduce those of you who didn't know him to Dr. Oliver Nicholas Hibbeler, known to all of us who learned that it simply wasn't possible to open one's mouth wide enough to suit him, as "Doc."  And if you didn't know him as a dentist, then you would surely have seen him in the front row of every parade the V.F.W. marched in, for he was surely one of the most patriotic men O'Fallon ever sent off to war.

When he graduated from St. Louis University School of Dentistry, Doc bought $800 worth of equipment on credit from Sandler Dental Supply and started his practice in south St. Louis.  His wife, Edna Huelsmann Hibbeler, had lived near Warrenton as a child and Doc's family had lived in St. Charles for a while so it wasn't long before the young couple packed up their $800 worth of equipment and headed west.  This was 1933, the Depression was in full roar, and two of the Hibbeler's eight children had already arrived.

At the time, O'Fallon already had a dentist, a Dr. Lusby, who lived and had his practice in one of those beautiful old homes that lined Main Street years ago.  Finding no opening for a dentist in O'Fallon, they checked out St. Peters (too small), Wentzville and Warrenton (already covered) and Wright City (also too small).  That led them up Highway 79 to Old Monroe where Doc was introduced to Dr. Percy Neunlist.  As Doc told his son, Ollie, Dr. Neunlist was so happy to have a dentist in town that he found a place where Doc's young family could live and offered him office space right across the hall from his own offices.


Doc Hibbeler working on his grandson, Kenny Mudd.
(Photo courtesy of Susan Hibbeler Mudd)

Okay, so how did the dental chair come to be in the Convent?  Well, story has it that the Sisters spent the school year spread out over Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri teaching.  Instead of staying at their stations at the end of the school year, the Sisters returned to the Convent.  In fact, years later when the Wabash Railroad no longer made stops in O'Fallon, the one exception was to let the returning nuns off the train.  As Ollie said, "Everyone knew that if a passenger train stopped, it meant the nuns were coming home."  While they were home for the summer, the Sisters used this time to get physicals and dental work done.  When Doc moved out here from the city, the Sisters asked him to provide them with dental care at the Convent which he did one day a week.  Then when Dr. Lusby passed away, the Sisters helped Doc and his family move to O'Fallon, to the two-bedroom house on Woodlawn that, as Ollie said, "had wood floors, a yard with trees and a two-car garage!  It was like living in a mansion!"


Ollie Hibbeler with his dad's chair still in storage at the
Sisters of the Most Precious Blood Convent.
(photo courtesy of Cheryl Hibbeler)

Doc's first office was right about where Ann's Bra Shop is now, the same office that at various times housed the telephone office, Laura Roeper's dress shop and Dr. Mangold's office.  From there he moved his office to the rear end of the bank building at the corner of Main and Elm Streets.  When the bank moved to its new building further down Main Street, Doc Hibbeler moved his office to the building on West Pitman where his son, Phil, still has his veterinary practice.

Through the years, Doc and Edna Hibbeler had eight children.  When Doc went off to war in March of 1942, (and there are a lot more stories to come on that subject) Oliver, Jr., Walter, Gerald, Glennon (aka Scratchy), Phil, Dorothy and Susan were already part of O'Fallon's landscape, and though Doc always argued that he went off to war because it was his duty, Edna teased that it was because of the seven children.  The youngest, Mary, was born after Doc returned from his tour of duty in Europe.

Doc Hibbeler retired from dentistry in August of 1977.  Edna Hibbeler whose granddaughter, Cheryl, describes as a woman who was "keenly aware of the world and what went on it," died at home on August 23, 1981.  Doc continued to live at home with a lot of help from his family until he passed away in January of 1992.  I can just imagine that as St. Peter greeted him at the Pearly Gates, Doc most likely said, "open wider!" 

 

Article#32- Doc Hibbeler(cont)

"Open wider!"  If you read last week's article and noticed that the last two words of my lame attempt at humor had been cut off in the layout process, the punch line (what Doc Hibbeler probably said to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates) was "Open wider!"  Oh, well.

Doc Hibbeler was O'Fallon's only dentist for a number of years but, just as notable as the dental care he  administered is the fact that he interrupted his dental practice for two years to serve his country.  Doc went off to war in March of 1942 leaving his wife, Edna, and seven of the Hibbeler's eight children in the care of his O'Fallon neighbors.

The trust he displayed proved to be well-placed.  During WWII, people were issued ration stamps that allowed them to buy certain commodities like sugar, flour, and shoes according to their family's needs.  Gasoline was one of those commodities.  Ollie Hibbeler told me that his mother never worried about being able to buy gas.  "Mom would go to Griesenauer's garage, tear out every one of the gas coupons and hand them over."  Ed always told her, "Your husband's in the service and you've got all those kids so don't worry about it."   Ollie told me how people sometimes exchanged stamps according to their need.  "Mom didn't get too many chances to put up jelly.  She let it be known down at church that she had an awful lot of sugar coupons for eight people.  Pretty soon the farmers showed up at the house and Mom traded her sugar coupons for their shoe coupons because we kids could go through shoes like crazy."


Doc Hibbeler in his medical gown at
 basic training at Camp Barkley.
(photo courtesy of Susan Hibbeler Mudd)

 A crisis hit for Edna and her brood one day when the refrigerator went out.  She called Herb Gutermuth of Gutermuth Gas who came over, looked at the old icebox and pronounced it dead.  The problem was, with the war on you pretty much had to put your name on a list and wait for a new one.  Ollie told me he'd never forget what happened the next day as long as he lived.  Herb showed up with a brand new Servel refrigerator and told Edna, "Don't you worry about it.  Doc's in the Army doing his part."  When she protested that she couldn't afford it, he said, "Did I ask you for any money?"  Ollie could only assume that his dad paid Mr. Gutermuth when he returned.

Doc did his basic training at Camp Barkley, Texas in the 90th Artillery Division.  The unit kept the T & O (Texas and Oklahoma) patch from WWI though troops from Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska had been added.  Then it was on to more training in Camp Dix, New Jersey and in England but the unit's first experience in battle was the sixth hour of D-Day on Omaha Beach.  They went on to fight at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.  Ollie listened often to his dad tell stories of the war.  Though Doc was a dentist, he had a medical background so when the aid stations were set up, Doc got the job of handling triage as wounded were brought in on stretchers, jeeps and ambulances.  As Doc told Ollie, "I had to make the decisions:  that one's slightly wounded, that one's seriously wounded and that one's gonna' die.  You don't think that was tough?"  When there was a lull in the fighting, Doc served as a field dentist and was also assigned to admonishing the soldiers about the care of their feet.  Particularly during the Battle of the Bulge, the soldiers had a hard time keeping their feet dry, often being forced to lie in snow and wet leaves, a situation that often had dire consequences for the soldiers.

If it's true that everyone has fifteen minutes of fame, Doc's came when he was sent home from Europe.  By that time, it was fairly obvious that the Allies were going to win the war in Europe.  To bolster morale, the Army came up with a system of points for discharging the soldiers.  Of all the millions of soldiers in the European theatre, our own Doc Hibbeler was the first to get discharged.  He left Cherbourg, France on a cruiser full of wounded and arrived in New York City to a bevy of reporters and photographers.  The message carried in all the newspapers was, "This is the first soldier coming home and pretty soon your loved ones will be next."

 Doc returned from the war to find his children quarantined in their house with chicken pox.  Ollie remembers all the kids talking to their dad from the windows.  The next day, Dr. Sasaki told him, "The heck with it.  You've had the chicken pox-just go on home" but then told Doc, once he got home to see all the kids, "Now, you know you can't leave the house for two more days."  So much for Liberty.

 

Article#33- Heald Home

I remember a time when the now stately brick house in Ft. Zumwalt Park was home to the park's caretakers. My husband, having been an adventurous boy-child, remembers the house as "a neat old building" perfect for pretend games of 'Army.'  That would have been the early sixties when the house was in total disarray, boarded up (though apparently accessible to young boys) and used to store rakes, shovels and tools.  And I remember when no one had any idea who Darius Heald was.

On March 20th, though, Darius Heald's home was the site of a fund-raiser for O'Fallon's Community Foundation, an organization committed to raising money to support O'Fallon's culture and preserving its history.  The home, now in very pristine condition, was available for tours while partygoers made the best of a windy and brisk evening inside a tent.  The consolation (more than adequate) was an impressive array of good food, conversation with people who are committed to preserving O'Fallon's history, and the expression on Raleigh Jessup's face.  Spending most of the evening next to the model of Zumwalt's Fort that he whittled from an original log salvaged from the Fort, Raleigh had the look of a man whose dream was on the verge of becoming a reality.  Asked how he felt about the Foundation's work, he said, "I hope that this is the start of something real big for getting the fort reconstructed and hopefully I'll live long enough to see something happen.  I keep telling the Mayor that and he keeps nodding his head."


Raleigh Jessup with his acclaimed model of
Ft. Zumwalt Fort.
(photo courtesy of Lewis Swinger)

Jeanette Koechner who is President of the O'Fallon Community Foundation, explained that when the Zumwalt brothers came to this area from Kentucky in 1798, they were Revolutionary War veterans looking for land with "little more than their animals, tools and each other."  Zumwalt's Fort was actually a homestead fort used by frontier families to provide protection from Indians during the War of 1812 when the British armed the Indians and instigated raids against Americans.  After the war ended, Jacob Zumwalt sold his land to Nathan Heald who had been crippled when he and his wife, Rebecca, were captured by Indians during the war.  They raised their family in the cabin but Nathan died when his son, Darius, was only ten years old. Darius went on to raise a family of his own in the cabin and around 1884, he built the stately brick home that now graces the park.

The O'Fallon Community Foundation's initial project is to rebuild Zumwalt's Fort and the first step in this project is an archeological dig required by the State of Missouri.  While no formal costs have been established, it's estimated that the dig alone will cost approximately $50,000.   Though there were at least thirty "War of 1812" forts throughout Missouri, Zumwalt's Fort is the only one being considered for reconstruction.

Though most of the cost will be covered through private donations and fundraisers, MasterCard and the City of O'Fallon are working together to create and market a card issuance/usage program to benefit the Foundation.  As Dennis Maher explained, "MasterCard will be issuing 'The O'Fallon Community Foundation MasterCard' and invites, along with the OCF and the City of O'Fallon, all that are interested in improving the O'Fallon Community to use it.  Every time the card is used, MasterCard will make a donation to the OCF.  Residents and merchants are being asked to participate in the program as funds generated will benefit projects in O'Fallon."  If you'd like to participate, you can call toll-free 1-866-GET-MBNA, ask for the No Annual Fee O'Fallon Community Foundation MasterCard and refer to Priority Code J6EP.


Jerry and Marianne Davis, Ozzie Maher taking their turn at the
 buffet at the O'Fallon Community Foundation dinner and auction.
(photo courtesy of Lewis Swinger)

In a fast-growing community like our own where so much is made of anything that's shiny and new, it's good to know there are people committed to keeping our history alive.  It's good to know that people like Raleigh Jessup sometimes have their dreams come true. 

 

Article#34- Creek Greens

We had lunch one day last week with Arlene White, the lady who'd been an invaluable source of information for me when I was researching the Sage Chapel Cemetery.  We got to talking about the upcoming Easter weekend and though I'd been thinking of doing some experimenting with our own menu, I'd decided I'd better stick with the old favorites.  You know how people are-they don't much appreciate anyone messing with their holiday dinners!  Then Arlene started telling us about one of her family's favorites that she hadn't had in a long time-creek greens.  Though their real name is Crow's foot, they got the nickname "creek greens" because they grow along the banks of creeks. Her family used to gather creek greens from the creek that ran under Hwy. 79 near Firma Rd.  The first batch, which arrived around Easter, was always the most tender.  As summer wore on, the greens got tough and bitter.

Much more tender and flavorful than most greens, Arlene said that creek greens were a staple for black families when she was growing up.  To prepare them, you pull the leaves off the main stem just like you do with Swiss chard and then parboil them.  The first water is poured off and the leaves are cooked a second time with ham hock or whatever meat you prefer, sometimes adding potatoes but always spiced with cayenne pepper.

All this talk of greens got Arlene to remembering a man named Fletcher Harris who was well known for his dandelion wine.  He lived back in the woods near St. Dominic High School and long after the rest of the world got used to modern conveniences, Fletcher stuck to his pot-bellied stove, heating his home with wood.  He never had air conditioning and never had electricity-"didn't want it," Arlene said.  His only vices were his dandelion wine and his chewing tobacco and he always kept a patch of cotton growing in his garden to remind himself of the hard times he and his wife had known.

Listening to her, I couldn't tell which had made the greater impression on Arlene as a young girl-the dandelion wine or the patch of cotton-but she remembered both very well.

On an entirely different note, Wabash Realty said good-bye to one of its founders this weekend.  Harry Specking passed away on Easter Sunday from complications associated with congestive heart failure.  Harry joined Al Knobbe here at Wabash Realty in the early sixties, opening their first office in the old city hall building on Main Street.  From what I've heard, they were quite a pair in business. Betty Knobbe described her husband, Al, as a "maverick" and everyone who knew Harry, knew him as a "by-the-book" kind of guy. 


Al Knobbe and Harry Specking getting final signatures for a development.
(photo courtesy of Wabash Realty)

Harry was born March 15, 1922 and grew up in north St. Louis where his father supported his family selling real estate, even during the Depression.  Harry served his country in the Army during World War II and went into his own real estate business as soon as he returned.  As my husband, Lewis, is fond of saying, "Harry Specking forgot more about real estate than most agents ever learn."  My mother-in-law, Betty Swinger, joined Harry at Wabash Realty in the mid-1970's and they worked together until they both retired in 1995.

Harry Specking was a man of faith who, until his illness, walked to the church near his home every morning for Mass.  Besides his family and friends, few things were more important to Harry than his faith and his integrity.  Right and wrong were like black and white to Harry though I never heard him utter a judgmental word about anyone.  "Business is business," he would say but he believed that every human being deserved to be treated with respect and courtesy, and in Harry's presence, they always were.  When he retired, he took a Bible and an old real estate manual out of his desk and never looked back.  It seems he left this Earth the same way he retired.  We were blessed to have him as a mentor and friend and we will miss him greatly. 


Article#35- Bobby's Adventures(#1)

One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies is the scene in "Dead Poet's Society" where Robin Williams, who plays the role of literature professor in a stuffy New England prep school, has his students stand on his desk in order to view their world from a different perspective.  These boys, having been strait-jacketed to convention by the age of six, are hesitant at first but most eventually embrace their professor's antics.

I like this scene for several reasons.  One, because I stand only five feet tall myself so I've always wondered what the world looks like from, say, six feet.  Secondly, my natural curiosity has always demanded that I have an open mind so I've always been willing and eager to look at things from another perspective.  And third, having been one of four girls who raised two boys, I can attest to the fact that no one looks at the world quite as keenly and from as many different angles as do young boys.

All this leads me to the stories a friend of mine told me about his daily rounds through O'Fallon as a young boy.  Bobby Lindemann was seven years old when his parents opened Bill and Mabel's Café on Main Street.  They lived above the café and with older brothers and sisters busy helping out with the Cafe, Bobby was pretty much on his own.


Audrey Sommer Lang and Adolph Haas in the lumber co. office.
(photo courtesy of Audrey Lang)

One of the first points on his daily rounds was Harris Lumber Company at the corner of Church and Main Streets.  Bob and I both remembered it as Haas Lumber Company, probably because Adolph Haas worked there so many years that those of us who didn't know better just thought he owned it!  The highlight of his visits to the lumberyard was when they got in a load of coal.  That may not sound too exciting but if you'll read it the way an 8-year-old boy saw it, it takes on a whole new meaning!  As Bob relayed it:  "The Wabash depot agent would call when the train was approaching O'Fallon and we would jump into the truck and go to the railroad siding and watch the train 'shoot' the coal car onto the siding.  They would stop the train on the mainline quite a bit before the siding switch and unhook the back of the coal car from the rest of the train.  Then the part of the train with the coal car would start moving forward at just the right speed so that they could unhook the front of the coal car from the front of the train.  The engine would then accelerate away from the coal car.  After the train got past the siding switch and before the coal car got there, they would throw the switch and the coal car would go shooting onto the siding under its own power. Sometimes the coal car was going too fast to stop where they wanted it.  We would have to hook a big chain to it and to the truck and pull it back into position.  Best of all was when the switchman wouldn't get the switch turned before the coal car got to it. The switchman would cuss, the brakeman would cuss, most of the guys from the lumber company would cuss-it was great!  The engine would have to reconnect with the coal car and try it again."


C.J.Harris Lumber Co. at the corner of Main and Church,
decked out for the Centennial in 1956.
(photo courtesy of Audrey Lang)

If all that cussing wasn't enough fun for an 8-year-old boy, another stroke of fortune came when the coal fell off the conveyor belt as it was being moved from the hopper car to the truck.  Bob's job was to pick the coal up off the ground and throw it up into the truck.  "It was hot work and by the time we got finished, I would be black from head to toe.  Mom never seemed to mind me coming home filthy because she knew I'd had a fun day!" 

When they got a boxcar load of lumber, it had to be unloaded one piece at a time.  His favorite part of that job was being in the boxcar with all that "new lumber" smell; a smell he can recall to this day. 

On other days, Bobby helped deliver coal to houses around town.  Most houses had a coal chute door on the driveway side of the house.  Sometimes Bobby would have to crawl through the coal door and spread the coal around in the bin so it would all fit.  

Looking back, Bob says he doesn't know why the guys at the lumberyard put up with him.  Hmm, let's see-picking up coal, sliding down coal chutes, loading lumber.  Surely, Bob, you've figured that out by now!  More 8-year-old adventures next time!