70 years of love and togetherness
Seventy years ago on Nov. 12, 1943, John Gordon Askew and Geraldine Stuntebeck were married in the sacristy of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Wadena by Father Huersch. It was so cold their vows made frozen clouds in the air. World War II was still on. Fuel was scarce and rationed.
Geraldine was lovely in a brown jersey dress trimmed in chartreuse. She carried a bouquet of yellow roses and baby’s breath. Pat Stuntebeck accompanied her sister wearing a blue jersey wool and rabbit fur dress. Staff Sergeant Gordon Askew and his best man, Sergeant Robert Askew, his nephew, were handsome in the uniforms of their country.
Thirty-five guests enjoyed a breakfast in the Commercial Hotel dining room. Wednesday morning Sergeant Askew returned to Camp Sibert, Alabama. Geri returned to her employment in Minneapolis.
Two weeks before becoming Mrs. Askew, Geri opted for one last fling with her girlfriends. It would also be a tryout for the car she bought the week before, a 1941 Ford convertible that cost $800 which she could not afford. Reasoning that no one could resist a white convertible with a black top and red leather seats, she signed a paper and drove away.
Friends Betty Schiller, Mabel Fox and Kathleen Breuer readily agreed to a last fling and offered to go along. They saw Old Faithful, the Rockies and whatever else appealed to them. Each girl started out with $75. they would share whenever possible. A week later they tooled back into Wadena, each with $10 left in their pockets. The only car problem had been having the radiator overheat in the mountains.
With fun-time over, Geri had to get back to reality, namely paying for the fancy car. She had a good job. That car would be paid for in no time, she reasoned. She didn’t want to have any debts when Gordy came home.
Geri returned to her job in high spirits announcing she had gotten married.
“Congratulations,” her boss replied in the same tone he would have used to say “pass the salt.” He then fired her, stating “I will not hire the wife of a soldier. They move all the time.”
There was nothing for Geri to do but climb back into her car and start looking for a job to pay for it. She found a job and when Gordy came home they sold the car for $1,000 to help them get started on their new life. Geri spent $75 to buy a warm black Russian rabbit fur coat. It helped compensate for the cold 25 blocks she had to walk to her job.
Gordy served four and one-half years in the army. Being color blind, he could not train to be a pilot. Several years later the Air Force called him back for a year and a half. Bad feet kept him from going overseas.
For the next several years Geri joined Gordy at camp. They lived in new Mexico and Texas. Their son Steven was born in 1944 in Texas. Twin girls, Susan and Janet, joined the family in 1947 in Wadena. Rita came in 1955 and Teresa in 1958 to complete their family.
Finally out of service for the second time, Gordy and Geri returned to Wadena to look for a job and a place to live. Both were in short supply. They heard about a wide place in the road, nine miles northeast of Wadena called Bluegrass. A grocery store with living quarters in the back was for sale. After looking it over, they bought it. It was rundown, needing sprucing up and new merchandise. The store and apartment had electricity. There was a cold water faucet but no other plumbing. Geri took a dim view of the little building at the end of a path, eyeing it with trepidation. She was a city girl. Installing indoor plumbing was one of the first improvements.
In the 1940s Bluegrass had a lot in its favor. There were various stores, churches, a creamery, school and cemetery. It was surrounded by fair farming country. Gordy noticed various Bluegrass music groups in the area and hosted one of them to play play in front of the store each Friday night. A new country tune at the top of the charts, “Minnesota Bluegrass,” helped his project along. Saturday night as Askew’s Store became ‘party night.’ After four years they sold the store and moved back to Wadena.
Wadena was looking for a postmaster and Gordy applied for it. For the next 30 years life and times for the Askews settled into a pleasant routine that kept everyone busy. Gordy became involved in the city council for 18 years and the civic and commerce for 30 years. He was the Regional Manager of the Post Office Authority Association and involved with the office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) Board as well as other organizations. Politics had always been an interest to Gordy. Those were vital years in Wadena with decisions made that still stand today.
Gordy is known for giving his best efforts to anything he is involved in, like managing the sewage and disposal plant. A special interest was the OEO program, designed to give the less fortunate a chance to earn a decent living.
While Gordy was busy, Geri was president of the Christian Women’s Group in her church for 12 years, a Girl Scout leader for 12 years, a member of the Wadena Garden Club for 15 years and she was active in the cross country ski club. She was a dedicated volunteer at the nursing home where the residents loved her. The Askews enjoyed dancing with the Whirlaway Square Dance Club.
Currently when the Askew family gets together with friends they have a ball talking over early Wadena as memories and stories flow. None could be better at it than Gordy, with his clear memory and being raised on Main Street.
Gordy went to work in the Commercial Hotel as a bellhop when he was 12 years old. There were six flights of stairs to the top floor. The top floor held the $1 rooms and where folks most wanted to go. They always had the heaviest bags, the least money and yelled the loudest. On a busy week it was bedlam. Patrons shouted “hey Gordy, over here. Gordy, Gordy, Gordy,” until he could hear it in his sleep.
The Commercial Hotel was the poshest hotel on the line between Fargo and St. Cloud. The best rooms with private bathrooms cost $2.50 a night. A big steak dinner cost $1.25. Fanny Young was head cook with Allie Mason and Jenny Harrisson helping. Snow white linen tablecloths and napkins, real china dishes and sterling silverware graced the tables. Hubert Humphrey was a regular guest, Clark Gable stayed there, as did Gala Curci, an opera singer.
Gordy knew Wadena like the back of his own hand after delivering the Minneapolis Journal for 20 years. He did jobs for most of the merchants on main Street at one time or another and helped set up tents for many Barnum and Bailey shows.
Acres of cordwood for the heating plant lay in long rows on the eastern edge of Wadena, a playground teenagers could not resist. Keeping police officer Abe Lee in stitches, they chased each other in rattletrap cars in wild games of tag. He seldom caught up one of the culprits.
Jefferson Street was gravel with Toney Lorenz and his team of black horses trying to keep it in shape. Three-day blizzards were common. Then Lorenz took off the wheels and put runners on to clear one lane. In 1931 a new Ford truck with a blade in front showed up. That same year Greyhound buses joined the scene.
Being teenagers in Wadena for Gordy and Geri was strangely alike. Each set of parents had their own business and were fixtures in this pioneering town. Gordy knew he would be called into service while Geri learned to keep the books in her father’s business, Stuntebeck Ford Motors.
Life for the Askews has been interesting. Their children have been and are a constant source of pride and pleasure. Senior Judge Steven Askew retired from the bench in 2009, while each of their daughters have retired from the classroom or is still teaching. They and their families are assets in any community they choose to live in - a caring, dedicated family.
Harking back to that frigid room that day so long ago when they were married, a guest opined that if it was this cold in Heaven, one would be more comfortable in hell. No way could they have imagined then all that has transpired in 70 years, like rubbing elbows with two world wars and surviving the worst depression in history.
Being together was of utmost importance then and still is. With life being the way it is, there will be more unpredictable curves in the road ahead. When they come, Gordy and Geri will dispatch them like they always did - together.