These are lifetime stories told
in 1958 by Jack Philippi who was an early logger and owned a
farm near Suring in the town of How, Oconto County.
The Swimming Lessons (and more)
I was born in 1883. My father always said that it was important for children to learn to swim. He started teaching me at a very early age in Pecor Creek which ran through our farm. Each morning he took me there to practice. Then it was to the nearby Oconto River, where I grew stronger swimming in the swift current. Still not satisfied, my father would wake me early each morning and off we would go to Lake Michigan. He, first, walked me out on the longest pier he could find and I would swim back to shore. Then he would patiently take me out in a rowboat. Each morning it would be farther and farther from shore. Thanks to my father's hard work, patience and determination, I became the strongest long-distance swimmer in these parts. I caught on to the swimming part of all those lessons right away, but I always did have trouble with getting out of those burlap bags.
My father had children with his first wife. My mother had children with her first husband. Both were widowed when they were married back in Germany. Then they made another family together. Pa was 53 years old when I was born in Wisconsin, two months after landing in New York City Harbor, and there were more to come. There were so many children in the family that Ma developed a special routine at mealtimes. When the food was cooked and put in serving bowls on the long table, she would open all the doors and windows to the first floor. Then she would walk out to the clothesline post and ring the dinner bell. When all the bushes and trees around the house stopped moving, she knew everyone was inside, and Pa said "Grace".
A Growing Concern
Mealtime was quiet and busy when I was a young one. With all the competition, I learned early on that eating was a serious business. There was not time to waste on such nonsense as talking. Once "Grace" was said, there was but one rule at the table. You could have anything you could reach for dinner....... as long as you kept one foot on the floor. All us boys grew up fast, with very long arms and big hands.
It was the custom to name children in certain ways back then. First boy was named after the father's father; first girl was after the mother's mother, etc. After running out of grandparents, the names came from the parent's brothers and sister. We ran out of them, too. It was all Ma and Pa could do to find enough friends and neighbors to finish up the lot of us. That meant there were some repeats. Pa had a son named John Francis in his first family of children. Ma had a son named John Miller in her first family of children. When I finally came along, they named me John Appolinarus. Every once in a while Ma would turn to Pa and say "your John and my John are picking on our John again."
We spoke German at home. I was 9 years old in April, 1893, when our family left the farm we had near New Frankin in eastern Brown County, and moved "way up north" to our new farm in town of How, Oconto County. I rode on the open wagon up front with Pa. Near the end of the trip, we stopped in a busy little town called Hayes to get fresh supplies and final directions at the Holl General Store. I tended the wagon and team while Pa went inside. When Pa climbed back up on the buckboard I gave him the elbow and pointed to a young girl sitting on the front porch of the store, talking with her sister. "That's the girl I'm gonna marry." I announced confidently. Pa said she was sure a pretty little thing (about 5 years old), but I might have to wait a few years before asking her father for permission, and sometimes those good looking ones have a roving eye.
little girl, Kate Holl, and I were married on
the 24th of September in 1908.
She's still the prettiest girl I ever saw, and we've been together for 50 years now
(told by Jack at their Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration in 1958).
First Look At Oconto County
the parents and youngest members of the family standing before
their log home in Oconto County. Left to right are son-in-law Anton
Maggie Miller Otradocvec (Christina Brust Miller Philippi's daughter),
Jack Philippi, Peter (Phil) Philippi, Joe Philippi, Father Matthias
Christine Philippi, Mother Christina Brust Miller Philippi, and
We got to the new place after dark, and I remember how cold it was. Our new home was a neat and trim little two story log house with a good size log barn nearby. It had been built by a fur trapper and hunter who was moving on. We lit the fire, unhitched the teams, had bread, cheese and hot tea, and went right to bed. The next morning my brother, Joe who was two years older, and I looked out the door in fear and sorrow. Surrounding the house in all directions were snow covered tree stumps, and beyond that was dense forest. The tears ran down our faces as we peered out. At the old farm, the trees were leafing out and the grazing pasture was already green with spring grass. It had snowed during the night way up here and there was no field, no pasture, no green to be seen anywhere. Surely we would starve to death here.
Well, that year we planted crops between the nearest stumps in spring, then began to dig other stumps to make pasture land and growing fields. It was hard, hard work. By harvest, we had more wheat and corn on that little bit of land between the stumps than we had on any three whole acres at the old farm. And Ma's garden had plenty of what we needed for the winter to come, with a little left over to trade off with the neighbors for what we hadn't grown. That winter we logged for money and managed alright. The next Spring we had fields to plow.
No Wedding Bells
Kate and I had planned a late September wedding for 1908. With all the new people and buildings, it was an exciting time and Kate had hoped to be marched down the isle in the new Catholic church in Suring. Catholics in the town of How had traveled several miles to Sacred Heart in Shawano, St. Michael's in Keshina, or St. Joseph of the Lake in Little Oconto (now called South Branch) to attend Masses. In 1907 the Bishop of Green Bay Diocese had granted permission for the formation of the new parish of St. Michael in Suring. The local members began attending Mass in the Suring social hall while gathering money, supplies and volunteer labor to build the brick church building. With the demands of farming, it was not possible to have the building finished by fall of 1908, so we accepted being married in the hall.
of 1908 was hot, windy and dry. There had been
several forest fires in the area. Late in the month, fire broke out at
one end of Suring village. Because the buildings were mostly wood and
was little or no room between them, it spread fast. By the time it was
over, 2/3rds of the village was in ashes, including the social hall.
services were then held in the old abandoned drugstore at the far end
the village. So Kate sort of got her wish. She did walk down the isle.
Papa John Holl proudly marched his pretty daughter down the center isle
of the old drugstore.
Pa told us stories about the "old country". One of his favorites was about the neighbor family who had lived on the same farm for many generations. This was a tough lot of boys and men. Over the years, each generation had added to the size of the barn until it was the largest and tallest in the whole area. The Pa was the unquestioned boss and told everyone exactly what to do. As each oldest son came of age, he would start to argue with the father over how things should be done. This arguing would go on, sometimes for years, until the oldest son would be big and strong enough to thow his father out the barn loft window. Then the son was boss.
Just as in the past, this son began to argue with his Pa about how things should be done. This went on almost constantly for several years until one afternoon they found themselves working way up in the barn loft. Suddenly the son threw down his pitchfork, turned to the father and hollered "I've had enough!", to which the father realized his time had come. The son went on "I don't care if you argue with me until dooms day, I ain't gonna throw you out that barn window." "You'll just have to stay here and suffer right along with me."