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Retired teachers, twins, write book on childhood

Hotdish was something Joe and John Gindele had never heard of before moving to Minnesota at age 18. They attended St. Cloud State College in the early 1960s, long before the official name became St. Cloud State University. The twin brothers grew up in New York City, but they decided to attend college in Minnesota because they wanted to be independent and learn about a way of life different from their own. They also had relatives living near Albertville. Aunt Lilly and their cousins lived on a farm on Pelican Lake, and this is where the brothers spent many holidays, shoveling out the barn, hunting muskrat, mink and fox and listening to Boone and Erickson on WCCO.

The Gindeles spent a year at the University of Minnesota before transferring to St. Cloud State, where they lived in Shoemaker Hall. Tuition was $6.30 a quarter hour at the time, significantly less than tuition at the University. Textbooks cost $3 to $5 each. The brothers recall gas prices were 21 cents a gallon in St. Cloud before a gas war drove the price down to 17 cents a gallon. Living so far from home was a challenge initially. “We survived by burying our noses in our books,” Joe said.

During their college years, Joe became president of Shoemaker Hall, home to 400 men and 200 women at the time. The brothers have many memories of their time at St. Cloud State, including campus visits by Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, The Lettermen, The Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Vienna Boys Choir. Atwood Memorial Center and the Garvey Commons dining room also opened.

John graduated in 1967 with a degree in industrial arts education, and Joe graduated the following year with degrees in industrial arts education and mathematics.  The native New Yorkers moved to the Twin Cities where they lived together and taught in the Robbinsdale school district for a combined 64 years. They also both taught at the University of Northern Iowa where they received their doctorate degrees. The brothers, who have lived in Minnesota for over 50 years, are both retired, and have co-authored a book about their experiences growing up in New York City.

Yorkville Twins: Hilarious Adventures Growing Up in New York City, 1944-1962, includes childhood memories of their family and friends, school days, part-time jobs and their everyday life as they grew up in a family of seven in Manhattan. Friends and family members who had heard stories about their lives and adventures growing up in Yorkville had encouraged them to write a book. But they also wanted to write the memoir to honor their parents and other immigrants in search of a better life.

Mary and Otto Gindele, parents of Joe and John, married in 1933. They were hard-working immigrants with strong values who made many sacrifices for their five children. “We children might have been poor in things but we were rich in love and values,” they write. They credit their parents for their strong value system. They were taught to be truthful, to treat others as they want to be treated and to work hard. All of the Gindele children graduated from college, something that was unheard of in their neighborhood during that time.

Otto came to America from Germany in 1926, and he eventually began a career in the bakery business. He worked for many bakeries before becoming a night baker for Éclair. The brothers remember that their father slept much of the day, and he would wake up at 5 p.m., eat supper and walk eight blocks to the subway station where he took three trains to get to work. He would get home at 4 a.m. He was part of a crew that made the presidential inaugural cake for Lyndon B. Johnson. The cake was shipped to Washington, D.C. in two trucks and was then assembled to form the shape of the United States. Their father was very proud of this accomplishment and being part of the historic occasion.

Their mother, Mary, came to America in 1922 from Czechoslovakia, and she did domestic work while raising five children. She cleaned other people’s apartments and took in laundry. She was paid 15 cents for each shirt that she picked up, washed, hung to dry, ironed, folded and delivered. She was an excellent cook known for her chicken soup, potato pancakes and noodles made from scratch. The Gindeles remember eating cooked noodles fried in butter with bits of smoked ham or dried mushrooms. For birthdays, their mother made homemade strawberry shortcake with real whipped cream, a big treat. Friends were invited to a party where they all played Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

The Gindele family lived in Yorkville, where many immigrants settled during the peak years of European immigration. The neighborhood is located on the east side of Manhattan just north of midtown. It was primarily a middle to working-class neighborhood and the home to many people of Czech, Slovak, Irish, Polish, German and Hungarian descent. Most of the residents lived in four or five-story walk-up tenement flats where families often shared a toilet in the hallway.   The brothers write that their family felt rich because they had their very own bathroom in their apartment. There was little privacy in the apartment. Curtains separated the bedrooms, and the only door was on the bathroom.  In 1955, the rent was $38 a month.

Their apartment had steam heat and gas for cooking. Ground-floor apartments were often too warm, because the steam heat had to rise from the cellar to the fifth floor to provide heat to those apartments. When the family lived on the top floor in another building their mother sometimes would turn on the gas stove and open the oven to warm up their cold rooms. In the summer, the apartments were stifling without air conditioning so the kids would play on the street to escape some of the heat and occasionally someone would open up the fire hydrant so they could cool off. The police were not too happy, the Gindeles remember. If the heat was too oppressive some kids in the neighborhood would sleep outdoors on the fire escape. During the day, the brothers might ride the subway downtown to Macy’s or other department stores to cool off in the air-conditioned buildings.

Their family had an icebox in the early years, and a block of ice, wrapped in newspaper, was delivered twice a week for a quarter.  They usually shopped daily at the store down the block for milk, eggs and butter. The family eventually got a gas-operated refrigerator.

Entertainment before television included daily radio programs. “We listened with delight to Abbott and Costello, Amos ‘n’ Andy, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, The Goldbergs, Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, and Sherlock Holmes,” John writes. After they got a 19-inch Emerson television in the early 1950s, they had fun watching The Three Stooges, The Roy Rogers Show and on the weekends, Frankenstein. The brothers have fond memories of playing in the street with other kids on the block. They played hide and seek, kick the can, hit the stick and stickball almost every day. They also could walk to the park, playground or candy store, take the elevated train and tour the museums on their own. A one-way ride on the bus or subway cost 15 cents in 1956, so they would walk downtown and back and spend the money they saved on a hot dog from a pushcart vendor.

The neighborhood where the Gindele brothers grew up looks much different today.  “The distinct ethnic pockets of population are, for the most part, gone,” Joe said. “Many old brownstone apartment buildings are still standing or have been renovated. The wrecking ball took others down. These were replaced by 30 and 40-story high rises with rental prices to match.” The Gindeles are always excited to go back to Yorkville and walk the streets of the old neighborhood. “We usually make a pilgrimage to Orwasher’s Bakery. They make European-style bread and have been open since 1916.”

Yorkville Twins has become required reading for the freshmen and junior seminar classes “Critical Thinking: The Immigrant Experience in NYC” and “History of the Hudson” at Mercy College in New York City for both 2012-13 and 2013-14. The book also received a silver finalist award in the 23rd Annual Midwest Book Awards. For more information or to order a book, visit their website

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