Sisters take same train ride mom took to marry their dad 75 years ago
It was 75 years ago when Lavonne Olson graduated from Windom High School in 1943 and rode a train out to California at the age of 19 to marry the love of her life, Francis “Fritz” Fett. Fritz also graduated from Windom High School in 1940, (three years before Lavonne) entered the military service and was stationed at Fort Ord Army base in Monterey, California. They would have their 75th anniversary on June 19, however Fritz passed away January 2017 at the age of 96.
What’s unique about this story is two of Lavonne’s daughters, Nan Schoborg and Sheila Paulson, wanted to experience first hand the trip their mother had traveled by train from Minnesota to California and to celebrate the 75th wedding anniversary of their parents. Nan, from Delano, always wondered what it would be like to revisit her mom’s train trip out to California. So, she convinced her sister, Sheila, from Darwin, to make the trip with her. Coincidentally, they picked the same day their mother left Minnesota – June 9.
Lavonne was excited for her two daughters making this trip. She presented them with a bag of cough drops because when she rode on the train 75 years ago the air on the train was filled with coal dust. She also gave them a jar of olives because when she rode the train she had a jar of olives, too.
Lavonne has a very good memory and kept a notebook about events in her life.
Lavonne was born June 7, 1924, on a very rainy Saturday night on their farm five miles southeast of Windom. She graduated from high school on June 4, 1943. On one cold, wet October day in 1940, Lavonne went to a high school football game at Windom. On the wet bleachers she found herself standing beside Fritz Fett. They had never met but began talking as they cheered for the team. At one point, Lavonne pushed Fritz off the bleachers, and he ended up taking her home after the game.
Fritz was born Nov. 20, 1920. On his senior year of high school, Fritz played basketball and was on the track team where he participated in the high jump, doing the “Western Roll.” After graduating from high school on June 3, 1938, Fritz farmed awhile and worked at the Bergen Store before going into the Army on July 31, 1942.
June 1943 was a busy month for Fritz and Lavonne:
• June 4, Friday: Lavonne graduated from Windom High School
• June 6, Sunday: Bridal shower given for Lavonne by her aunts
• June 7, Monday: Lavonne’s 19th birthday
• June 9, Wednesday: Lavonne left on the afternoon train for California. With all the excitement and anticipation of her long trip, she ate the olives and drank the olive juice before the train even got to Wilder, just five miles away from Windom.
• June 10, Thursday: The train stopped at Omaha, Nebraska, with a two-hour layover.
• June 11, Friday: The train stopped at Kansas City with a three-hour wait for a train from the east going to California. The train that came was very old, because the best trains were used for servicemen. The first coach behind the engine was only for women and children travelers. The windows didn’t open, so traveling through the desert during the day was hot and sweaty, and at night the traveling was cold. The train engine burned coal, and a fine layer of soot dust settled on the travelers.
• June 12, Saturday: At 3 p.m. the train reached its destination — Salinas, California. Fritz was there waiting for the train, and they went by bus to Monterey, California. After getting off the bus they walked three blocks to a place Fritz had found for them to rent — a small building that had been a goat shack before the war. The landlady had fixed it up to rent out to servicemen at a charge of $7 a week.
• June 14, Monday: Lavonne took a three mile bus ride downtown to get a blood test. California law stated that a blood test had to be passed before anyone could get married.
• June 15, Tuesday: Lavonne stayed around home. Fritz was at the Fort Ord Army base.
• June 16, Wednesday: Lavonne repeated the bus trip downtown to the doctor’s office to get the results of the blood test. They were told they passed, and they could get married.
• June 17, Thursday: Lavonne went by train from Monterey to Los Angeles where she met Fritz’s Aunt Blanche, Uncle Bill and cousin Mildred Fett.
• June 18, Friday: Fritz’s older brother, LaVern arrived at Bill and Blanche’s place. Vern was also in the Army, stationed in California.
• June 19, Saturday — WEDDING DAY!
Fritz went on the overnight train from Monterey to Los Angeles. Lavonne, Blanche and Bill met his train. From there they went to the courthouse to get the license to get married. Yes, the courthouse was open on Saturday! Then, they went to Uncle Bill and Aunt Blanche’s home to get married. After the ceremony and eating some wedding cake, Fritz, Lavonne, Blanche, Bill, Vern, and Mildred went to Knott’s Berry Farm and had chicken dinners.
• June 20, Sunday: Fritz and Lavonne went back to their home in Monterey. When they got home, Fritz carried Lavonne across the threshold.
Nan and Sheila said reliving their mother’s 10-day trip was everything they had hoped it would be and more.
“It was a lot of fun, and I imagined mom walking around on those streets in her skirt, walking down to the park, wondering when dad’s going to come home,” said Nan. Sheila agreed.