Mrs. Olive Johnston

by

Tom Twamley

 

A friendly smile, and a warm "Hello" are someof the most prominent traits of Mrs. Olive Johnston. Olive also has somefabulous cooking talents. Give Olive a stove and some pans and you arein for a connoisseur of fine foods delight.

But Olive's cooking talents have had a lot of practice. Like most farm children, Olive was expected to carry her share of the workload. Helping on the farm and in the kitchen helped prepare Olive for aproductive and happy life.

Olive had four sisters and five brothers. Olive startedlife in a farm house, and she has lived on farms and in farm houses eversince.

The William Clinton farm was located five miles south ofSt. Vincent, Minnesota in St. Vincent Township. Their land occupied portionsof sections number 20, 30, 29, and a portion in section 31. (1) WilliamClinton was a big farmer for his time. Even today a farm of this size isnothing to be laughed at. The Clinton family used horses to till the soiluntil farm tractors came into use.

The farm was nearly self-sufficient in that cattle, pigs,and chickens were raised in addition to a grain crop and a garden. Thenumber of horses and other livestock kept on the farm was large enough torequire the use of two huge barns, one for the horses, and one for the cattle. One of the Clinton farm barns is still in use on the Garth Symington farmand is still quite structurally sound. (2)

The Clintons were the owners of one of the few threshingmachines in existence in the St. Vincent area. After the harvest was completedeach year, the Clintons did custom threshing for their neighbors.

Including the five brothers and their father, it took twenty-threemen to run the farm during the busy season of the year. During the lessbusy seasons of the year, Mr. Clinton was able to get along with just hissons and one year-round hired man.

If you have ever had the delight of eating some of hercookies, or any of her cooking for that matter, you will know that OliveJohnston ranks with the best cooks in the county. Perhaps one of the reasonsOlive is such a good cook is that during World War I she received severallessons in substitution and doing without. Because of the war, there wereshortages of nearly all foodstuffs. One of the hardest felt shortages onthe farm was the shortage of sugar.

Because of the small quantity, it was a rare luxury. Eachmorning each man was rationed a teaspoon of sugar which he would eat likecandy. Syrup was used in place of sugar on the breakfast food. Wheat flourwas scarce so it was replaced with barley flour and rye flour.

World War I was hard-felt on the farm. One of Olive'sbrothers, Herbert, went to war to serve his country. As with many farmsin the area, the Clintons were short of help during the war.

World War I brought a new fear to the farmers that thecountry was being taken over by Communists. Olive remembers that in 1918a man came to the Clinton farm during harvest, worked for about five days,and then moved on to the next farm where he did the same thing over again. Several of the area farmers truly believed that the man was in fact a spy.

As a little girl, Olive went to school in (as it was called),number two schoolhouse. The school was located about a mile and a halfnorth of the Clinton farm and about a mile east of what is now the EarlFeick farm. This put it in section 24 up in the northeast corner. (3) The school was a one room affair with eight classes being taught in thesame area. The school house itself may still be seen, but it has been movedto the Lancaster area.

Olive usually had to walk to school in the morning, andalso walk home at night. School hours ran from nine in the morning to fourat night. Olive was persistent in attending school. October the 10th of1912 saw Olive receiving a perfect attendance award for several six-monthperiods. The certificate was signed by Blanda E. Sundberg, who was thecounty Superintendent at this time. Because of the small size of the countyschools, it was necessary to employ only one "traveling" Superintendent.

Graduation from grade school exercises were held at theSt. Vincent Schoolhouse. Olive never went to high school, as she was neededat home on the farm. Few country students received the chance to continuetheir education in those days.

On February 10th, 1928 Olive was married to Herbert Johnston. Herbert was originally from Hilltown, located in Kittson County.

The newlyweds first place of residence was on what is nowthe Arlo Bergh farm. It was then owned by Jim Brown. Herbert worked asa hired man on the farm. After working for Mr. Brown for a while, Herbertwent to work for Pete Webster on a farm one half mile north of Humboldt. This farm is now owned by the Stewarts of Humboldt.

Herbert and Olive then went to work for W. H. Easter, fatherto Mrs. Vera Bockwitz of Humboldt. The Easter farm was located just northof what is now the Howard Reese farm. After working for the Easter's fora time, Herbert and Olive again moved to Humboldt to work for Morris Florance. Mr. Florance at this time owned what was later to be the Hill Farm. Herbertwent to work as a hired man and Olive worked as a cook for the hired men.

Herbert and Olive lived in what is now Robert Bockwitzhouse. The house was at that time a boarding house for hired hands. Theyoung couple was prospering as well as anybody of the time. Herbert wasmaking twenty-five dollars a month and Olive was making thirty-five. Butthe hard duties of cooking for large numbers were too much for Olive. So,after eight months they moved back to the J. H. Easter farm.

Olive credits Mr. Easter for helping Herbert and herselfbecome farmers. Mr. Easter took them on as tenant farmers, they helpedhim farm in exchange for the use of the quarter section as well as the toolsneeded to farm it with. After saving and working very hard for ten years,Olive and Herbert were finally able to buy their own farm.

They purchased the quarter section they had been farmingfor Mr. Easter and they bought two quarter sections of land from PhillipBaldwin.

The two quarter sections Olive and Herbert bought are locatedin section number seven along highway 75. Olive and Herbert's farm wascertainly not a gift. They earned every acre. Their days started at fivein the morning and didn't finish until the day's work was completed. Thatday's work included not only the field work, but the care of the livestock. They had cattle, horses, hogs, chicken, and turkeys in quantity.

After eight years, Herbert and Olive were able to moveout of the house that had come with their farm and build a new one. Beforethe new house could be built the yard had to be filled in as it was locatedin a low spot. Herbert solved the problem by hauling cinders from the coalburning locomotives and dumping them in the yard. He also hauled gravelto pout on top of the cinders. Dirt was then placed on top of this to providea solid foundation.

With Olive's fine cooking and Herbert's inventive genius,the Johnstons prospered. Together they built something that the entirecommunity can be proud of. They proved that hard work and a positive attitudeis worthwhile.

Herbert passed away in October 1970. He had six sistersand one brother still living at the time of his death.

Herbert worked hard during his life, but he also enjoyedhimself. He had a love for travel. Olive and Herbert made the trip toNew York twice and went to California several times also.

As for Olive, she has remained on the farm, where she isoften visited by her many friends and relatives. She is in fine healthand her cooking is still the best in the land.

(1) Atlas, Kittson County, compiled by K. R. Thompson,1972

(2) Symington, Ed, February 1, 1974, Interview

(3) Atlas, Kittson County, compiled by K. R. Thompson,19972

Bibliography

Johnston, Mrs. Olive, St.Vincent, Interview, February 1974

Symington, Ed, St. Vincent, Interview, February 1974

Atlas, Kittson County; compiled by K.R. Thompson, 1972

Comptons Pictured Encyclopedia, volume 5, copyright 1967

 ty; compiled by K.R. Thompson, 1972

Comptons Pictured Encyclopedia, volume 5, copyright 1967