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‘Good citizen’ circus helped the war effort

We lived in Vermillion, South Dakota, in the summer of 1942. That summer my father was in the service as a Navy SeaBee and my mother, a nurse, was in Minneapolis taking classes at the University of Minnesota. As a result, my brother and I were staying with my aunt Mary and her two children. My uncle was on the road throughout the state as a Civil Corps worker. The five of us lived in a two-bedroom apartment on Pine Street, just two blocks from the University of South Dakota. It was a busy summer for aunt Mary to take care of two girls, ages 7 and 8, and two boys, ages 9 and 10.

The 4-plex where we lived in 1942 in Vermillion, South Dakota. Contributed photo

The four of us cousins, along with two neighbor boys, were ready for a summer of adventure—fueled by our imagination. A lot of our ideas were about how we could contribute to the war effort. We were encouraged to be good citizens. In addition to the rationing of items, we wanted to raise money that we could donate. One of our fundraising ideas was to put on a circus and invite people to buy a ticket to attend.

The “circus” supplies came from the college. The university students left a gold mine of “throw-away” stuff behind when they moved out after spring semester. We found dresses, bathrobes, hats, beads, perfume, paper, pencils, color crayons and comic books. We packed our finds into our Radio Flyer wagons and hauled them home. Using this loot, along with whatever we could get our hand on, we set up a circus.

The plan was to sell tickets for 5 cents and give the money to war defense. The six of us were the performers. We had a ringmaster (who was the oldest and tallest), a wizard (who held an upside down fishbowl as a crystal ball), a “hula” dancing girl, the ticket seller, a fat lady, and a “midget” (the youngest and smallest). Our choice of performers was definitely affected by our imagination, the characters we had available, and the materials we had at hand!

Our backyard circus group included John Teeman, 10 (cousin); Chuck Monson, 9 (brother); Howard Book, 9 (neighbor); Cecile Monson, 7 (me); Janet Teeman, 8 (cousin); Johnny Book, 6 (neighbor).

We did have a few customers (mostly kids). Most of them only looked, but five of them bought tickets, and we were able to donate 25 cents to the war defense fund! A great day for the Good Citizen circus!

“Peddling” for the Troops

We spent a lot of time that summer gathering needed items for home and trying to sell other items to raise funds. One of the neighbor boys had a “trike-bike” that we could use to pedal the 12 blocks to the stores downtown. Aunt Mary would send us to the store with a list, a page of ration stamps and a bit of money. The trike-bike served us well. One person was the driver and, the other rider sat with his/her knees folded on the back basket.

When we got to the store, we had to get in line if there were any of the ration specials. One of the specials that we were excited to get was a package of chocolate chips for 25 cents. A special that we could not get (because we were short on both money and stamps) was nylons for $1. We rarely had enough stamps or money to get other rationed items such as chocolate, butter, elastic, nylons, or more than a tiny bit of sugar (when those things were even available). Other than the specials, one of our favorite finds at the store was the oleomargarine that came in the 7×7 plastic bags. The bags were white with a yellow button in the center. It was so much fun to knead the bag to “make” butter. Everything we purchased was then brought home via the trike-bike.

We also tried to sell other items to raise money for the war effort. These efforts were less than successful—possibly because we were the manufacturers. We “made” cosmetics from powder, perfume and oil. No buyers. We also created “sandals” from parts of cardboard boxes with shoe strings for ties. Also no buyers. I can’t imagine why!

When we would get frustrated with the lack of a favorable response to our efforts, we could always find a distraction by walking around the University of South Dakota museum archives. The archives were housed in the basement of a building and included great things to fire our imaginations—animal bones, rocks, dead snakes and fossils. There was no charge, and we would tour the exhibits enjoying the cool air. A good way to spend a hot summer afternoon!

The Victory News

Our war efforts continued that summer of 1942. We decided to print our own newspaper called “The Victory News.” The newspaper was created by writing with red and blue color crayons on white 9×12 typing paper. We were so proud of our “Red, White, and Blue” newspaper! We hand wrote each page to create 20 copies. Our plan was to sell all of them for 5 cents each. The articles included, “How to Harvest Produce from your Victory Garden” and “Buy Liberty Stamps—Turn them into Bonds!” It was a lot of hard work to hand print each of those 20 issues. We sold five copies and raised 25 cents. We learned that publishing a paper is not easy. Imagine that!

The summer of good citizenship flew by. Our cousins moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We continued living in Vermillion. My mother returned to Vermillion, and her work as a public health nurse. My father was still in the Navy. My brother and I went back to school that fall and started third and fifth-grade. School had started, the circus was gone, but it was a great summer!

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