DL couple met in the 1940s
By Vivian (Makela) Sazama
Lowell and Vivian (Langdon) Hunt first met about 75 years ago. This spring, they will celebrate 72 years as husband and wife. The two have cherished their seven decades together and look forward to more adventures ahead.
Lowell was born in 1929 in Pocahontas, Iowa, and he remembers the Great Depression well. “We had dairy cows and my dad had to buy hay from South Dakota,” he said. “It turned out to be mostly thistles, but dad added some protein with it and the cows ate it. I was seven years old in 1936 when things got so bad Dad gave away thousands of gallons of milk.”
Lowell remembered Pearl Harbor and the beginning of WWII. He was 12. It was about that time when his family moved near Canby, Minnesota, in 1946 on March 1, just in time for spring planting.
Vivian was born in 1931 in Sioux Falls, S.D. during an October blizzard. Her family later moved to a farm in the Canby area, near the town of Burr.
Vivian first met Lowell’s sister, Darlene, when the school administration asked if there was someone who would show the new students around the school. Vivian volunteered. The two became best friends, and Lowell started to learn about Vivian through his sister. The first summer Lowell lived near Canby, he and his father were in the Victor Hardware Store in town when he heard Vivian’s name and went to take a look. He liked what he saw. Vivian didn’t see Lowell for weeks later.
“I first saw him at the beginning of the school year in the auditorium. Here was this new student, this young man with jet black hair and a red sweater,” she smiled. She was a sophomore and he was a junior.
The two families lived just 6-7 miles apart, and they were in the same 4-H group. On June 27, 1947, a 4-H meeting was being held at Lowell’s family farm when a severe hailstorm hit.
“The hailstones were baseball sized,” he said. “It broke the windows on the south side of our house. One hailstone smashed through the south window, bounced on the floor and smashed through a window on the north side of the house!”
“We took cover under pillows and mattresses!” Vivian said.
The hail killed all of their chickens and ducks and there were dead birds all over the yard. The cattle and ponies had big welts, so they had to put salve and such to help them heal up.
“The cars at that time had cloth-covered tops, under which was insulation and chicken wire. The roofs were all broken up. In most cases only the chicken wire was left. We had just mowed our really good crop of alfalfa into great big windrows the day before, and after the storm passed, we couldn’t find even one intact alfalfa spear; it had all ground up and washed away,” said Lowell. “I didn’t see my dad cry very much, but that time, he cried. Then he said there’s only one thing we could do, and that was to plant soybeans in its place. If soybeans were planted by the 4th of July, we could still get some kind of a crop. As soon as it dried up enough, I began working up the land while dad went looking for soybean seed to plant. But every other farmer in the area had the same idea and it got hard to find seed. Dad went all over in Iowa and South Dakota, and everywhere, and would bring some seed home and I would plant it while he went looking for more. We ended up putting in about 80 acres of soybeans. We had to get a short maturity seed.”
“My family went home the night of the storm, seven miles away, thinking our crop of corn would be all destroyed too, but our corn was still standing high, not a bit of damage,” said Vivian. The storm had traveled a narrow band and blasted through all the way to New Ulm, 110 miles away.
Later that summer Lowell’s aunt in Iowa, who was a foreman of a crew that detasseled corn for seed corn, was looking for help for a couple of weeks. Vivian and Darlene volunteered to go, along with other members of their 4-H club. Lowell also went with as part of 4-H.
“I was a farm girl who milked cows, did the binder, shocked grain and all kinds of things. I was the oldest of six kids and had always worked hard,” said Vivian. “The detasseling job gave us spending money for school clothes and such.”
“On the way down to Iowa our group stopped by an abandoned gas station that had a well and a water pump, complete with a tin cup to drink from. Someone had the idea to take a picture of me and Vivian beside that pump,” said Lowell.
On April 2, 1950, Lowell, age 20, and Vivian, age 18, were married.
“The day after April Fool’s Day,” said Vivian. “My bouquet had yellow roses which had special meaning for me. Dad had bought an old farm and the house was black, which I didn’t like. But next to the front door was a bush of yellow roses, which made it all better.”
Lowell worked as a filling station attendant in Canby after their wedding. After six months the couple moved to Minneapolis. Lowell worked at another filling station, and Vivian was a bookkeeper at RCA Victor Televisions until their first child was born.
“I had worked for the Auditor’s office in the courthouse in Marshall when I was in high school, so I had gained office experience,” she said. “We lived in a small apartment (for about two years) that was right up against the furnace room in the basement.”
After a while, Lowell began working for a branch of General Mills (Larro Feed Mills), where he worked for three years. He then worked as a grain sampler for the State of Minnesota and in 1962 became the Grain Inspector until 1968, when he accepted a job as a Warehouse Examiner for grain elevators with the USDA.
“There I learned the trade of measuring grain,” he said. “Usually a grain elevator had to move grain from one bin to another in order to weigh it and take inventory. I learned how to take measurements instead, making the process easier.”
While working for the USDA, Lowell had to travel a lot. “One year it was learned that an elevator in Great Falls, Montana, had been losing money and it was suspected that there was some stealing going on,” he said. “We went out there for three weeks and found out that a farmer and an employee at Rye, Montana, would weigh in a truck load of grain, then dump off just a few bushels and run the truck through again, always after hours. We went back home for a week, then had to go back out again for another three weeks. It was a lot of time away from family,” he said.
Lowell worked for the USDA for 12 years. During that time he trained in different employees, and one young 23-year-old woman gave him a book, Iococca by Lee Iococca. That book would inspire him to a new adventure.
Lowell’s son-in-law’s father, Jim, who was on the board of directors for the elevators in the Canby area, had asked him for recommendations for a grain elevator manager who was getting set to retire. Lowell sent him several recommendations, but no one worked out. Lowell had always wanted to work as a grain elevator manager, and after the two stints in Montana, he made the decision to leave his USDA job.
“I told Jim I found a manager for him. Me.” said Lowell. “My father-in-law thought I was crazy to leave such a nice job after 12 years, but Vivian was all for it. I had the option of managing elevators in three different towns, and settled on the Taunton Cooperative Elevator near Canby.” The couple bought his parents’ farm and farmed it for four years while he managed the elevator.
From Iococca’s book, Lowell became inspired to form his own grain measuring business, the Lowell P. Hunt Grain Inventory Service, using the experience he had gained from his prior work. He credits the young woman who gave him the book for the confidence to start out on his own. To this day he says he has given out 15 copies of the book to others.
Lowell started working at his new business part-time, on weekends and after hours, together with his son Douglas, and in 1986 the business had become so busy that he had to leave his elevator manager job and go into his business full time.
In 1988, Doug became a partner in Lowell’s business. Later that year Doug resigned from his job and moved his family to Sioux Falls, S.D., and continued growing the family business. In 1996, Lowell turned over the business to Doug, who then changed the name to Hunt Grain Inventory Service. Lowell and Vivian’s son-in-law Pete Snortum and others have also contributed to the business’ great success, which is now in its 43rd year.
After Doug took over the business, Lowell and Vivian sold their farm to their daughter Desli and moved to Appleton, Minn., where Lowell began working seasonally driving an anhydrous ammonia truck. “I finally had enough of that,” said Vivian. “Eighty years of age working 12 hour days.” In 2010 they sold their home and moved to Detroit Lakes.
“We’ve moved 16 times,” said Vivian. “From Canby in 1950 to Minneapolis. In 1954 we bought our first house, a two bedroom in Spring Lake Park, for $8,900. In 1956, when Lowell began working for the State of Minnesota, we moved to New Ulm. In 1958 we moved back to Minneapolis. In 1959 we bought a duplex. In 1962 we built a twin home in Columbia Heights. In 1968, when Lowell began the USDA job, we bought a very nice home in Luverne for $24,000. We were moving up in the world,” she laughed. In 1974 the family moved back to Canby, knowing that their parents were getting older.
While in Luverne, Vivian began mentoring young people on the Bible. “They would stop by if they had questions about what the Bible says,” she said. “I came from a family that did not go to church or Sunday School, but when I was 11 I got saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. Ever since, I’ve had an abiding relationship with the Lord. Many times I would pray and ask the Lord about different things and He would answer me. I love music but never learned how to play the piano. One day I asked the Lord to let me play and He did! I can play without needing to read notes.” she said. “Our oldest son was in high school and he and his friend would fast and pray and witness to their classmates. They attended a Lutheran bible study and led many students to the Lord. We needed a public place to minister and found an old duplex and began a Coffeehouse Ministry there. We would get donations of pop and chips and kids could drop by after school. We would have bible studies there; in the upstairs, we would have times of prayer with the kids if they wanted it. In the basement my son would play guitar and we would have times of worship. It was a lot of fun! The word spread and it was a great time. The Landlord supported it and didn’t even charge us rent; we just had to pay the utilities.”
Lowell has his own story of faith. The couple have seven children. “All D’s,” laughed Vivian. “Dianne, Dawn, David, Debra, Douglas, Desli and Daniel.” When Lowell was 38, Vivian experienced difficulty giving birth to their sixth child. “I went into the chapel at the hospital and I prayed,” said Lowell. “ I then went home and got the kids ready for church. That night there was an invitation to come forward to receive Christ, and I ran to the front!” Together he and Vivian are active in the Christian Fellowship Church in Detroit Lakes, as well as the Cowboy Church near Height of Land Lake. They go to the monthly Hi Mileage Club meetings at the Community Alliance Church, and Lowell participates in the weekly men’s bible study and enjoys mentoring young men in their faith.
One passion Lowell has always had over the years is sports. “I would come home after church every Sunday and watch football all afternoon,” he said. “Another thing I like to watch is high school basketball. I got started going to the state tournaments in 1946 when a guy I was working for said he had an extra ticket and asked if I wanted to go.” Lowell has kept almost every program since the 1950s, and estimates that he has attended about 1,500 basketball games and 67 of the last 70 tournaments. “I have seen good coaches and bad coaches,” he said. “The bad ones will ream out their players in front of 10,000 fans, which can be devastating to a high school kid.”
Vivian estimates she has attended at least 60 state tournament games. “I missed a few because the kids were small,” she said. Together they try to attend their great grandson’s games as much as possible or watching them on YouTube.
Lowell had his 72nd class reunion last summer in Canby, which he organizes now. Seventeen out of his class of 56 are still living, and nine attended the reunion. “We get together at the Pizza Hut, and boy, we can tell the stories,” he said.