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Gloria Dole Nelson, sister of Bob Dole.

Interviewed May 1, 1996


FL: What were the difficulties of the Depression, your specific memories, and how they might have influenced your brother....

NELSON:

I just remember that we didn't have a lot of money and that we didn't get to do a lot. The movies we sort of sacrificed. That was big for us to go to the movies and we had to kind of cut down and go less. Unless we made a little extra money babysitting. I used to babysit for 10 cents an hour and do their ironing and wash the dishes and put the kids to bed. Imagine, 10 cents an hour. But if I could go home with 80 cents that was 8 movies and that's the way we looked at it. But that was just one example. The folks, we could hear them talking. We could always hear them talking about how tough it was and if they could keep this payment and that payment and keep everything going, and they cut down on the groceries and then father was in business, he had eggs, he would go up to the grocery man up the street. And they'd work out a deal where my Dad could trade some groceries, milk, some of the necessary things for some of the eggs for Mr. Holzer the grocer. And they switched that way. The same way with the drugstore there. There was a man in there my folks' age that they played bridge with and they would work it if we had to have medicine or anything of that nature, cosmetics and my mother had to have soap and a little makeup and all that, and Dad would trade that for chickens and eggs and that's the way they got along. A lot of people did that.

And Dad had a book when he passed away that had a lot of people that didn't pay him. Still owed him, car people there, and car repair and I don't know if we had any insurance in those days. In fact I'm just positive we didn't because there wasn't the money in those days. But my Dad fried a lot of potatoes, we ate a lot of pancakes, a lot of scrambled eggs, cause he had eggs at the store you see, probably a lot of chicken, noodles, things like that. One of our special things was maybe on Sunday we could make ice cream. And have people over or go out to the grandparents. My grandmother, I remember her homemade bread. She makes these great big loaves of, we're talking today about the good homemade bread and the smell of it, that was all we needed. If they'd of let us we'd just eat bread. Her homemade butter, they churned butter in those days. You see my father could get the cream and you had the sour cream and you'd churn butter. That was [the] fun thing. Bob used to like to do that, churn that, watch that go into butter. That was one of the fun things that we did.

But it was tough. I know my folks were even worried about losing the home for a while there. But they weren't alone. People worked together. They trusted each other. I think my Dad was still paying for Kenny's hospital bill. He had osteomalitis and had to be sent to Hayes which was 27 miles away. And he would keep right on that for years and years and years. I think probably started out at something like $20 a month and finally got the bill paid. And those things, that's the way it had to be. Just didn't splurge. You couldn't.

FL: Can you talk about how those difficulties affected your brother.....

NELSON:

I think the Depression had a lot to do with our worries about money and learning how to try and scrimp and save you know. But I think it affected Bob most, 'cause he seemed to take Kenny by the hand, lead him across the road and sort of took him under his wing and I think to this day he still does this. He just has that feeling that he's the one.

FL: Other memories.....what about the landscape...how unpredictable nature could be at that time?

NELSON:

The dust storms, when they would hit, I remember one time when I was over to a girlfriend's house and my folks were worried cause there was no way I could walk home and telephones were busy, busy, busy. And the dust was like, you couldn't see the lights on the street. They always turned the street lights on. And the bathtub would be just dust. And my mother would put wet towels in the windows and doorways. But she would be very worried. It just come up like a tornado did, just came up all of a sudden, and we had no way to get from here to there. The only thing as a little kid I remember that we might get out of school for a day or two. But it was serious and it was serious to my father because he was working with farmers. And if the farmers didn't get any wheat, he didn't have any business selling the cream and the eggs. And of course your cows, where all the milk and the cream comes from that was another factor, and the chickens and egg business. So it definitely made a tough time for everybody on Main Street. And that's the impression, even though we were little it was brought up in our home. We could see the, right before our eyes it was there. It was obvious that it was going to be tough. It was just pulled the wheat crop right out of the ground, the dust. You'd see a few little pieces of green and the rest would be just dust, piled on top of more dust. It was real serious, very serious and we knew this. But luckily we didn't have any accidents that I remember in our home or anything, just kept the dirt scooped out.

FL: Tell me a little bit, with details, about how your house was organized. Your mother was a perfectionist?

NELSON:

My mother, I would have to say, was a perfectionist. The dirt just couldn't be there, that was all. And on Saturdays, my job used to be to clean out the cupboards. I don't mean, I clean my cupboards now like every two months or maybe longer. It was every week, we had to straighten out every cupboard and do it right. And then the refrigerator. And I can remember that. Taking everything out and washing it out good and putting it all back. And when she would scrub the floors, and I say scrub because she would get down there and scrub on her hands and knees, and four kids got on chairs. Similar to these high back chairs we're sitting on here today and we got out of the way and boy, we couldn't get down. Of course my little brother Kenny would be ready to get up when she gave the signal. But we had to stay up there until that pause. Now we scrubbed and dried and waxed and dried and we would have to be sure we didn't get on that floor. Then she'd go on out to the porch and did the porches. Scrubbed them and waxed them. And she kept it just spic and span. We were taught to, our clothes, we had ruffled dresses made out of material and little ruffles clear up and down and we ironed every ruffle. And I think Bob looks like that today. And I'm very particular. And we wouldn't think of putting anything on unless it was perfectly ironed and clean and all. And I'm not as perfectionist as she was, but that was just her nature. I think she was raised that way back in the days when she grew up and all of her sisters are that way. Go into any of their homes and you're almost afraid to use an ashtray. But they enjoyed life. That was part of their life.

FL: What kind of influence to you think her work habits and perfectionism and workaholism had on Bob?

NELSON:

I think he's like that also. Bob doesn't have an ordinary day of getting up and going to work at ten. He's up bright and early in the morning and he works out on his treadmill or whatever it is he does and walks and all of that. But he goes to work early and he works late at night. And he always has. Back in the days when he was in Russell, they said it was the only light on Main Street. If the courthouse was lit up, he'd be up there working. And I think, I heard him explaining to Elizabeth this time at the courthouse, he said, "This is a little room where I used to work late at night." I heard him tell her that. And I'm sure he did. That's the way he did in the campaign, that's the way he did everything.

FL: Tell me about Dawson's Drug Store.

NELSON:

That was the place in town. It was a popular place where everybody went. And had little round tables, like the little drugstore tables, the old type, and chairs and I always wished I had a set. We had one at one time and sold it. But we sat around at the little round tables or we had booths, you know. And it was just fun to go in there 'cause Bub and Chet would meet you at the front door almost, with a hug or a remark or something or talk about the sports or the happenings of the day with the harvest or whatever. And the harvest people used to come by there in their trucks and they'd run out there with Cokes, you know, trays, the old fashioned Coca-Cola trays, take them out to the farmers and let them have their Coke when they were working. And they looked forward to that because that was special. I don't even know if they were paid, that just was a thing they did every harvest. Harvest was a big thing, you see. But that drug store centered, they had to go by there to get. And they would deliver Coke. Can you imagine. Bob used to get the job of carrying Cokes down to the Cliff Hotel, an old, old hotel down there. Different people would order a Coke and maybe ice cream and they used to pack it in those days. Hand packed ice cream was special because you could get the kind in the carton, but Dawson's carried that Franklin's hand packed ice cream. Bob said it was work because you had to put it in and pack it down, put it in and pack it down. And they didn't sell it unless it was pure packed, really packed full. And that was something they did. And they'd deliver prescriptions and everything else. But he got to do a lot of that.

But he was usually behind the counter making sodas and milkshakes, root beer floats and other things that they talk about. He was given a root beer mug from the old drug store and it was pretty nice to have. An old fashioned one.

FL: What did he learn at Dawson's Drug Store that helped him later in life?

NELSON:

I think Bob learned to pick up, he got over a lot of his shyness.

He learned at the drugstore how to cut up, maybe for the first time and be not so serious and have fun and relax and remember to get his personality out a little bit. These little one liners, I think that's a very good place that they might have started because Chet Dawson was one of the owner's sons, and Bub, were just chalk full of these jokes and little things. And I think Bob got to where he could handle this and pick up on this. And not to say that my father wasn't the same way, so Bob already had it in his system. And Kenny did too. But that's where he learned a lot. He also learned a lot about people having struggles and tough times ahead. There were people with illnesses and the Dawsons would carry them. You know what carry them means. They'd let them take it and pay when they could pay it. Little or whatever they could handle. And that was something he learned. He learned a lot about sports. Of course K. State and K. U., the Dawson boys were started that quite young, to him, he was younger, so he learned about being competitive in sports. And that's I suppose why he went into all of those things too. Because he started at the drug store when he was about in the eighth grade. And he was all State football, track and basketball. And I think that got him into that which was good. Being competitive was very good for him. And politics, no there was no politics in this. This was just our hometown, homespun, good old living. Getting along with people. I think that's the big thing he learned. Being around people and enjoying people.

FL: Describe briefly the personalities in your family. You got into trouble but Bob was the goody-goody.

NELSON:

He and Norma. My Momma said after she saw me get into so many things and get kind of slap, slap. I think it's just our nature. To this day we're different personalities. I go out and laugh and cut up and she's more serious. Bob can be very serious but he can also just say something and you just wait a little bit and you get it and you just crack up. That's the way my father was. But he wasn't always serious. I don't mean to sound like he was just nothing but a serious person. He was funny. He could have a lot of fun. But he took everything to heart. When we were supposed to do our jobs and things at home, he did it, you know. Where we might slough off a little more Kenny and as I said we were the black sheep probably. I was probably the leader. 'Cause I was the oldest and he followed into that more than the other two. I know my grandmother used to say, "Send Kenny out, and Gloria out with one of the others. Don't send them out together." We'd go out there for a weekend. Kenny'd take a stick and break the eggs on the farm. And that was not very nice. And he'd do all kinds of little tricks like that. He'd get the chickens run around 'cause he thought that was funny. Well, then they wouldn't lay eggs, you see. Grandma would have to scold him. And things like that. She had a couple of lambs and he'd chase them around, get on the bike. He was just full of the dickens.

FL: With Bob you'd use the words, "he was the goody-goody."

NELSON:

Well, I don't know if he'd appreciate that, but I think so. You'd have to say he was the good one. He'd say "You better not do that. You're going to get into trouble." However he pulled a couple of things. He and Kenny took the car one time. The neighbors car and they backed into a tree. He was in real big trouble over that, I remember. And the folks were gone one time and he also took our car. Kids are going to do those things. And the example of the time down at the Aunt and Uncle's when they went for a little ride and they wanted to try this wine. I don't know how much, but Kenny, he was right there. The folks came home they were rolling down the hill having a good time. So they did childlike things, they did kid things. They did a lot of that. We made our own fun. I don't remember a lot about the swimming. We didn't have a swimming pool in Russell for years. So I think we went out to the farm, our Grandmother's place, and we had a place we could go swimming. But my mother was so afraid of water and therefore none of us, she used to say we could go swimming but don't go near the water. At least that's the way we joke about it. We all overcame that of course.

FL: Who was in charge of the discipline?

NELSON:

I believe my mother was. She would maybe tell Dad something. But it took an awful lot to get Dad to get us off to the side and punish us or anything. Mom would do the little "go out and get the switch" bit. I'd go pick out the smallest one I could find and that's the one that hurt the leg the most. And I think there was probably a belt once in a while too, in those days. But I think she would be the disciplinarian. My mother. But when you look back on it now she meant well. What she did was for our own good.

FL: Would you describe your parents as openly affectionate or demonstrative?

NELSON:

They weren't demonstrative. I don't remember that I'd see them hug or whatever. None of us were ever just really open people who walk up and hug. Now some of the family come along like my Aunt Gladys and her sister and that family and I think we all picked up on that. I don't know whether that was a reserve from maybe Mom was more reserved. Dad might have been more of the nature to just hug everybody cause he called all the kids Sis, all the girls were Sis, and he was a little quiet but he was a wonderful man. And I think Mom might have been just a little bit the type to not show her affection. But it was there. We knew it, but it might have been from that side that we just didn't. But the other side definitely showed it. Hug and love. And I always hug Bob when I get around him. I always give him a hug. He kind of likes that I think. Certainly he shows emotion toward Elizabeth. Did you see that one picture.

FL: Do you remember the first time that you saw Bob after he returned from the war?

NELSON:

Yes. It wasn't easy cause he was pretty conscious of his condition. His arm was up like this. Well, I don't know how he had his arm. This Adolf that's going to talk to you made a some kind of a machine, or piece of, a gadget I'd call it, to put his arm on. You know, a metal piece that come down his hand and his fingers were here. He'd come to the table a lot of times to eat and he'd spill. And he'd get upset and leave the table and go to his bedroom. Pretty soon he'd come back but it was not easy, not easy. When you go away like Bob was, 190 lb. man, sports, had all the use of both arms and legs, so active and so healthy, come back in the shape he came back in. He's just lucky he came back. That's why he's so lucky he came from Russell in the first place. Little town. Plus with his handicap he drove right on through, just drive, drive, drive. He has a lot of drive and determination. And I think the determination is what's gotten Bob Dole where he is today. A guy who could overcome this handicap. I don't think he even thinks of himself as a handicap. I can say this. I've learned little things about his war injuries that I didn't even know. I've learned things in the last year just hearing them said. He's starting to bring it out. First he wouldn't talk about it. We didn't push it. We didn't ask.

FL: Do you remember the exercises Bob had to do to get better? What was involved?

NELSON:

We learned this as we went on. Seeing him walk maybe a few steps, then half a block, then a block and then around the block. Step by step. And sometimes he'd work out there. Mom was gone all day and she said he worked out there he was just perspiring working on that pull thing, pull thing, pull thing. Then he had a ball. Both arms he had to work with. And he just never gave up. He just wanted to make sure he could overcome this thing somehow. That had a lot to do with it. I can say this because I think in anybody, the doctors have told me many times, I've had cancer twice in the last ten years and they said "Attitude is a lot of it." And I would have to say that's what Bob had.

FL: They said he was working out in the garage and they came back one night and they found him on the pulley.

NELSON:

Got hooked up on that some way. I don't remember that occasion. He got that from Kenny. Kenny must have been here. I might not have been in on that one. But I've heard the story also. I mean I don't know how in the world that happened. Must be the pull, he couldn't get out was that the situation? I'm sure he had several things like that happen because he went out there, Mom had to run to the store or something, he was out there along. She was terrified the one time when she came in, she felt he was working too hard, he just wouldn't give up. Like when you're first starting to walk and your supposed to exercise. Doctors will tell you to just go short distances or five minutes. He was overworking it and overdoing it. And I think he just got kind of himself, "I'm going to work hard and the harder I work the better I'll be." I guess that was his attitude. But don't knock it. Somebody told my husband, "Don't knock success." Apparently it was working.

FL: Do you ever remember him opening up to you during that period?

NELSON:

In that period he didn't say very much. He didn't have to, 'cause we could see it in his eyes and in what he was doing. And we just gave him the respect and let him be quiet and go along with. And some of the things I thought, "Is that even going to be worthwhile to try?" You'd think that was a lot of work and wonder if he was really going to get anything out of it. But we didn't let him know this. We didn't let on. He was private about it. And I'm wondering if that today isn't why he's still, why he is a private person. He's not a person to just tell anything about it. And we just let it go at that.

FL: Did you get to know his first wife well?

NELSON:

Yes. Very nice person. We loved her and she loved my mother. And she visited my mother after the divorce many times, and all of us. I still talk to her on the telephone. She and Elizabeth are the best of friends and of course we get Robin. And Robin is her daughter and Bob always manages to see that Robin gets to see her mother when she gets anywhere near the area. He always arranges it, time for them.

FL: Were you surprised that they got divorced?

NELSON:

Well, I don't really like to dwell on that divorce because that's over and done and I feel like at the time it was a thing to do because she didn't like him being gone, gone, gone, gone all the time and his hours, working like he did. And she's the one that wanted the divorce and kept bringing it up and finally he just said okay. And that's what happened. And that's been what? Twenty something years ago? And they're good friends. And he was very good to her mother even many years after the divorce. Her mother was just sick about it too, cause she just thought the world and all of Bob Dole. And we all were, but those things happen in life. I don't think it should be a mark of anything against him or her because apparently they just didn't see. Many years later she told my mother that she wondered if she maybe shouldn't have done it differently. She was too hasty. And I think she was shocked when he said okay. He'd just been hearing it and hearing it. When it's over, it's over. My Dad used to say it's not over 'til it's over. But when things are over, they are over...And that's sort of the way he felt about it. And it bothered my mother, I know.

FL: Her version is quite different. Her view is that she describes it as Bob's decision, not hers.

NELSON:

I know that. It's all right if that makes her comfortable, that's okay. It doesn't matter to me that much or to... Should it matter to the press? Or anyone else. But at the time that was the case. He wasn't going with anyone. She married before Bob did, you know. And Bob just didn't have time for her. It's a pretty hard life. You take some of these doctors, you wonder how they manage to give their wives a little time. And that was hard. But he was very, very close-- I know this isn't part of the question and you can cut it out if you don't--to Robin. Was and is and always shall be. I know that.

FL: Have you ever had a conversation with Bob when you were young or teenagers or even during the period he was struggling, about God or faith?

NELSON:

No. But we all knew that was part of our lives. We went to Sunday school and church and Bob has followed that clear through his life. He even taught Sunday school a while I think. His record's down at the church there in Russell. But he talks about God and faith. That's part of his thinking I'm sure. We did talk about that it was God's will if something happened to somebody, or it was sort of that way when he'd root the team on when they were having troubles you know. He never considered himself a star, he just considered himself that if something was going wrong, he'd cheer everybody up or tried to. And always said, "Whatever happens, only one can win. Can't everybody win. Both teams can't win." And that was the way I think he showed it. Plus he was competitive in high school in his grades and all that too.

I think he just felt like he had to take each day as it came. And certainly after he came back and what happened to him, he'd have to have that attitude. And I think that was probably part of his attitude. The God within him, you know. You don't give up, you have faith in God. Be his will, I will get well. But my work and my determination to go with it.

FL: Paint the scene for us with everybody assembled there in Russell when he appeared there during the Ford/Dole '76 presidential campaign.....

NELSON:

He came back with President Ford and Elizabeth and Robin and my mother were all sitting out there in the crowd. They had introduced him to make his speech like anyone would and he looked out and saw all the faces--some of the same people who had given him dimes, nickels, quarters, a few might have given him a dollar, to his family rather send him away to get that surgery with Dr. Kalikian. And he just couldn't take it. He just broke down. Home does that. Bob has got a lot of people around here that backed him all these tough times, especially when he came home in the shape he was in. He came back, he did come back the worst shape of any of our injured people from the war. Just looked out there and it just overcame him, that's all. And it was very, very touching.

But it was real, and he didn't mean to do that, he didn't want to do that, but it so just had to come out. He just remembered all those things. One by one and people. Last time he was here he said something about looking and not seeing the faces that some of the people he'd like to see. I know what he was thinking. Kenny, his brother, and his friends that have gone before him and his mother and his father and some people that were close. But that time they were there and they were standing up, cheering and excited about what was about to happen and it was more than he could handle. And I don't think it can hurt a man's character when he gets to the point in his life when he just breaks down. I think personally it shows there is some love and heart inside. And there again, God comes out a little bit I think.

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