It’s not often that a son takes the time to visit with his mother about her youth. I hadn’t until challenged to capture the memories of someone for the Historical Society collection. It was a great opportunity to interview my mother—Bette Richards Wielert.
Mom was born in Sandwich, Illinois in September 1937 to Doras L. Richards (Del) and Sarah Campbell Richards (Sally). They lived along Route 34 east of Earlville until 1947 when they moved to a farm on Hinckley Road, about a mile north of town. Del farmed and was later in real estate, while Sally was a homemaker and teacher. She received her teaching certification from the Northern Illinois State Teachers College in DeKalb, which is now NIU. When they came to Hinckley, they did not know anyone, however a couple of families from the Methodist Church reached out to them and made them feel welcome.
Moving from Earlville was a huge transition for a ten-year-old. My mom was used to a one-room country school but in Hinckley, she rode the school bus to the grade school in town where she experienced being in a classroom with lots of her peers. She met Arlene Abell (now Petschke) while riding the bus and became close friends with other kids from the country like Irene Barr (Kaufman), Janice Schumacher (Bastian), and Charlotte Mullis (Johnson). One of her favorite memories and greatest joys was joining the band in 5th grade and playing the coronet.
During the holidays after the Richards moved to Hinckley, Mom remembers going go back to Earlville to spend time with their families that remained there. After a few years, however, they spent the holidays with their Hinckley friends from church such as Bob and Marge Dwyer, and Chuck and Gerry James. Mom fondly remembers Thanksgiving meals consisting of turkey, a Jello salad of some sort, scalloped corn, and sweet potatoes cut up into chunks and lathered with butter and brown sugar. Christmas meals were much the same except they generally enjoyed ham instead of turkey.
Mom told of one Christmas when she asked for a radio. She couldn’t wait to open presents so she decided to snoop in the gifts under the tree until she found it. Come Christmas morning there was no surprise feeling when she opened the gift so she decided never to snoop again. One of her favorite presents was a special, fancy doll that Santa brought her. She still has the doll today.
In 1953, the family moved to town on the east side of Maple Street between “Sport” and Louise Bastian and the Weddiges. The yellow house was too small for his family so Del added an addition to accommodate Bette and her brothers Jerry and Tom. Mom remembers the living room had beautiful stained-glass panels, there were three bedrooms, a large kitchen, and a bathroom.
When they moved to town from the farm, Mom had more of an opportunity to meet and make more friends. Among them were Jeryl Morsch, Barbara Dillenback, and Lois Burmeister. Lois was the younger sister of Warren (Red) Burmeister who at one time owned the laundromat, the Dairy Joy ice cream shop, and a race car. The fun-loving girls drove Red’s yellow pickup truck up and down the streets of town for entertainment with Lois doing most of the driving. Mom said she liked all of her teachers in school but her favorite was Lavonne Nelson who introduced her to the love of literature, poems, and English. She recalled Mrs. Nelson reciting Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling and introducing her to Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees”, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Mrs. Nelson also created a love for reading in Mom which persists to this day. She reads books daily along with her Bible and several devotionals. Mom also writes in her journal every day.
When mom was old enough to have a part-time job, she started with detasseling corn in the summer. She said it wasn’t so much fun, but the pay allowed her to buy her own clothes for school. Later she worked for Gertrude Synder at Synder’s Restaurant and for Charles and Berdina Bergstrand at the Tasty Pastry Shop (now the Hinckley Café). She tells that they were wonderful folks and Charlie’s chocolate cookie was her favorite. He also cooked up cube steak sandwiches on Saturdays for all of his helpers that still bring a smile. While mom was helping me at Bountiful Blessings, we tried to make Charlie’s cookies, but could never get it quite right.
Looking back on her life in Hinckley, mom recalls how she was welcomed here; and how her neighbors became best of friends. She hopes Hinckley residents will always reach out to the newcomers and show them the love and friendship she and her family have experienced. Hinckley is a place where people take care of their property and look out for each other. In the words of Bette Richards Wielert, “Hinckley has always been home, through and through.”