Following the Norms

I actually like it when someone catches my mistakes.  It means that not only are a few people reading the blog, but some of them are really paying attention.  My friend Barb Gray once sent an early-morning email alert to notify me that my lead was not a complete sentence.  She wasn’t just nitpicking.  The little essay in question started with a fragment of a thought that just drifted away into nothing.  Even I had to stare at it a while to figure out what I meant to say.  More recently, Keith Jones from Marshall County pointed out that the detail from a vintage Colton’s map which I had thoughtfully provided to illustrate Thomas Lovewell’s 1858 mail route, had Nottingham in the wrong place.  The error, not mine this time, but the map maker’s, made a huge difference.  Instead of meandering off towards Marysville, Thomas was actually traveling up the Black Vermillion valley every weekend past Barrett’s Mills, which was reputedly the home of a way station for the Underground Railroad.

Some weeks ago, when Dale Ann Johnson pointed out that I had referred to her father as Norman Dahl instead of Norman Stofer, after slapping my head and doing a Homer-esque “Doh!” I retraced the path of my error, which involved an odd coincidence.

Exactly one day before Dale’s daughter Ashley first got in touch with me about some of her grandfather’s keepsakes, it had suddenly popped into my head to look up the ancestry of Melvin Dahl, a farmer from my old hometown, who was a grandson of Martin and Alma Dahl, pioneer Kansans who were the source of a detailed account of the early years of settlement along the White Rock.  I knew Melvin because he often gave me a lift to Mankato, where his wife Florence and I were co-workers at the Buffalo Roam Steak House.  I belonged to the same 4-H club where their daughter Marilyn played a mean accordion.  I didn’t travel in the same circles as their son Norman, but he was a well-known young farmer in the Formoso area whose life was cut short by bone marrow cancer twenty years ago.  I’ve learned that in his later years Melvin  took up genalogical research, and produced a history of the Dahl family which I hope to read someday.

Anyway, in making my apologies to Dale Ann, I told her that Norman Dahl’s name popped into my head out of years of familiarity, while I was never acquainted with her dad, and didn’t recall hearing his name before.  Even as I wrote those words, I felt a little tingle of doubt.  Was I sure about that?

When I got home from work that night I started going through a series of pictures taken ten years ago - and there was Norm.  Rhoda Lovewell had introduced me to Norman Stofer at the Lovewell Family Reunion in June of 2007.  I not only met Norman, but enjoyed a nice chat with him and took his picture.  I also took down his address and phone number.  However, in 2007, I was collecting information with no direction or goal in mind.  I had no inkling of every working on a website or producing a booklet of family history, and I never sent Norman a letter or called him or even checked out his family tree.  

Norm & Rhoda

In my defense, I had optimistically made the 700 mile trip up to Lovewell and back in one day.  The drive, coupled with a frantic afternoon of photographing everything in sight and introducing myself to a few dozen strangers, had blended the whole experience into a perfect blur.  Thank goodness I still have the pictures to remind me about what I saw.

Benny White Owl

If I had kept in touch with Norman I would have learned much earlier about his parents and grandparents, and his dad’s business in Hutchinson, celebrated here on a photo with an art deco border.  

Why Bennie seems to be giving an on-the-spot radio news report remains unclear.*  By the way, he was “Bennie” only on visits to his old stomping grounds in Republic County.  Back in Hutchinson he was successful businessman Benjamin T. Stofer, who partnered with his son Norman and groomed him to take over the family ventures.

One of the clippings Ashley sent was an extended version from local newspapers of a story about Bennie that made the pages of Time Magazine in 1951.  As the national publication succinctly put it:

In Hutchinson, Kas., firemen and cops ended their search for Ben Stofer’s body in the Arkansas river after they spotted him watching operations with other spectators.

His companions had called out to him several times when they were ready to head home from their late-evening fishing trip, but the sound of the wind and water must have drowned them out.  Fearing the worst, his wife Opal flagged down a passing car and asked the driver to send for an ambulance.  Hurrying past a crowd that was congregating at the South Main bridge, attendants and a police lieutenant arrived just in time to see Ben walking toward them with a pole over his shoulder and a bait bucket dangling from his hand.  

Ben probably cast his share of fishing lines into the waters of Lovewell Lake over the decades.  At the Lovewell-Davis reunions in recent years, Rhoda Lovewell handed out prizes for various attainments, and Ben’s son, the energetic Norman Stofer, was often in the running for the title of oldest attendee. 

Stofer and Son

Norman was 90 when he died last fall, leaving boxes and scrapbooks full of family memories that we’ve all been sorting through together over the last few months.  It’s been a little bit like time travel to the 19th century and back again, with frequent side-trips along the way. 

I’m sincerely grateful to Norman for holding on to all of those precious family souvenirs, and to Ashley and Dale for sharing them with me.

Returning to 2017, it’s time to remember that this coming Memorial Day weekend will bring another Lovewell-Davis reunion.  

It’s rumored that Rhoda Lovewell will be there to conduct at least a version of the guided tour of historical sites I missed out on last time.  Of course, I’ll be skulking about, always on the lookout for something interesting to write about.  The lake should be full, and the hills will be green.  With the reunion occurring on Memorial Day weekend, it’s probably too much to hope that the trains will be busily chugging past the little town that Thomas Lovewell built around a depot 130 years ago.  But, we’ll see.    

*Far from doing a Walter Winchell impersonation, Dale Ann assures me that her grandpa is innocently wielding his favorte prop, a White Owl cigar.  Turns out, Bennie always dressed like Walter Winchell. 

© Dale Switzer 2023