Norma Jean Steele, Bob Dole's sister.
Interviewed May 1, 1996
FL: What was it like to grow up during the Depression and all Mother Nature's
additions to that-- dust storms and all that?
Well, I was pretty young during the Depression. But I do remember a lot about
the dust storms because everybody ran for the sheets and anything we could find
to put 'em in the tub, get 'em wet and put 'em in the windows and the doorways.
And I mean the dust would filter through, no matter what. I can remember a lot
about the dust storms. That seemed like that was the big thing. Of course we
worried about what the circumstances would be, like losing the crops around
this area. But we always came through it, it seemed like. You keep right on
going is what you do.
FL: The Depression. How it affected your lives growing up.
Well, we did have a point during the Depression when things were really tough
before the oil boom here. About the time the oil boom hit, Dad decided it was
time we had to do something, he didn't have the house payments and so we moved
to the basement, but we didn't seem to mind. We kind of sat down to talk it
over and we didn't seem to think anything about it really, we just gathered up
our stuff and moved to the basement. We were down there probably two years but
we got a hundred a month and that took care of our house payment. But we had
nice people upstairs, they were just really nice. They were in the oil
business and we were just really good friends and they stayed a long time.
FL: Paint a little bit more, a specific picture of that. What your house was
like on the top floor and go down to the basement and what that meant.
Well, at that time we had, Dad, and I think it was one of our uncles, went down
and set up a bedroom downstairs cause this was just a two bedroom house. And
for when we were younger, we had twin beds in our bedroom. And the two boys
slept together and the two girls slept together. As the boys started getting
older, Mom and Dad decided it was time to do something so they fixed a basement
bedroom for the boys. That was nice. I had my own twin bed. And closet space
was a problem too. We didn't have that many clothes but still, mixing up the
boys with the girls and all. It was kind of nice when they got moved to the
basement. Then of course when we all moved downstairs there wasn't really
bedrooms. I can remember Mom hanging sheets up downstairs as divider walls.
And it worked. You know, we didn't think much about it.
I really can't remember ever thinking we were poor. I really can't. But I
know a lot of times my friends would have new Sunday school shoes and new
clothes at Easter time and so forth, but we had to take turns getting shoes and
I can remember one time cutting out, we were always glad to get an empty cereal
box and cut out inner soles for our shoes. Make them last a little longer.
Sometimes we had enough to make doubles. And that really made them last
another month or so. I can remember breaking my shoelace and we'd tie them up,
re-tie them up until they were so short that we finally had to give in and get
But we kind of, Mom knew what was on the agenda and so did Dad. And if someone
needed something for something in particular, why, they'd do their best to get
it. Course my mother used to sew and that helped a lot. And people knew we
were having problems with four kids in the family and they'd give Mom old
clothes and Mom would take those apart seam by seam and redo them and make us
clothes from those things. It never bothered us as all. I mean I was tickled
to get something new.
FL: Your brother Kenny spoke about living in Russell and about Mother Nature
turning everything upside down. You don't spend too much time dreaming, you
sort of march ahead eyes down. Tell a little bit about that.
Well, for one thing as we grew a little older I can remember babysitting for
the neighbor next door and I'd go in and get the kids a little lunch to eat at
night, something to eat, and get them their baths, put them to bed, do up the
dishes and maybe I'd get a quarter. And I'll tell you it was wonderful to have
all that money. Of course, we could take that money and save it for something
we really wanted and usually it went on clothes. That's what we usually did
with it. And we were good about being in school at, all the time and on time,
and our grades were average or above and we got free matinee tickets. And that
was a Saturday afternoon deal. But we couldn't go until we had all our work
done. And that was another thing. Of course we all had jobs. Kenny and Bob
went out and mowed yards when they were younger.
And I can remember Kenny's story about the cold green salve, and we all helped
him on that. And he won a bicycle because he had sold so much cold green salve.
And I think my sister also, she babysat some too. And, we worked around the
house. When Mom started selling sewing machines I wasn't in kindergarten yet.
So I would go with her and I spent my day drawing pictures and coloring in the
car. We had this old Plymouth and Dad just took the back of it out and built a
little platform to set a sewing machine on. We'd go out, Mom'd haul that thing
in. Of course usually the man would come out and help her carry it in. And
she'd give a demonstration and try to sell the sewing machine. And some days
it was good and some days it wasn't so good.
Some days Mom would bring home some chicken, somebody'd donate some chickens
just, you know like, maybe we'll do this, and thanks for doing this and here's
some chickens for your family and so forth. It was nice. It was nice. And I
really enjoyed it. And her home base was over at Hayes. So we'd go over there
and she'd have meetings over there. But she also gave sewing lessons right
next to my Dad's poultry. So that was pretty nice.
FL: Let's just try to get a sense of this amazingly organized day and week. When
you got up task by task, chore by chore and each day was set aside for a
different chore. What did you have to do?
Well, to begin the week, Monday was always washing day. So we were expected to
get up early, get our bed stripped, and take them down to the basement where
the washer and the tubs were. And I loved to help wash. That was fun. Take
things through the wringer and all that. And we had all little tubs, and
sometimes we'd get a leak in them and Dad would have to work on them. I can
remember helping with the washing before we went to school a lot of times. And
maybe even get them on the line to help Mom cause she had a lot to do. And,
but she expected us to get up and help.
Sometimes it was 6:30, 7, quarter to seven, and up we'd get. There was no
choice and we just did it. You know it was a family of four. Dad usually was
on his way to work. He'd go at 6:30 or before and he'd take off out the back
door and walk down the alley to work. And sometimes at noon when we'd come
home if the weather was good we'd get the sheets off the line and try to remake
our bed. That was our job, to take care of our own beds and our bedroom. And
then after school, there was no goofing around. You were just supposed to come
home and get your work done. And a lot of times when Mom was working after she
started selling sewing machines, she was busy. And she'd leave early in the
morning after all of us had gone to school and a lot of times the dishes would
be waiting. And sometimes at noon, she'd get home and have lunch for us, but
there wasn't time to eat and do the lunch dishes and off she'd go again. And
we'd go back to school. And then they were waiting for us when we'd get home
in the evening. So that was just expected.
And we had these little notes written out, Norma: peel potatoes. Gloria: do
this. That was kind of the way it was. And the boys usually had after school
jobs. And we had homework too and that had to be done. Bu that was just
Monday. We go on to Tuesday and that was ironing day, always. Of course Mom
did our ironing until we got a little older and we learned how to do it to.
We had big ironing. She ironed everything. We starched everything. So that
helped the way we looked a lot of times I'm sure. Cause she liked to have us
look nice when we'd go to school. And Wednesday, I think that was kind of
clean house day except that Saturday was our big cleaning house day and baking
day. But we'd get down, scrub and wash the floors and have a cake baked for
Sunday. And we had to get our shoes polished for Sunday school. And you
either planned on Sunday school and went to Sunday school or you didn't go to
that free movie. That was just the way it was. You didn't argue about it, you
just did your job and everything's pretty good. And Sunday school, we went to
Sunday school always and usually Mom had made our clothes. I didn't sing in
the choir that early but I did later on, but we all took part. Sometimes we
had MAR as we got older and we used to go to those Sunday evening meetings too
at church. It was a pretty busy week. And Saturday was the day that the boys
got out and did the yard work or whatever and helped Dad.
Dad always kind of helped them learn how to do the yards and mow and they
delivered hand bills and a lot of times we'd pitch in and help them a little
bit if they had a big route. But we had our jobs on Saturday too, Gloria and
I, so we had to go over the house and we always had a lot of family and
company over on the weekends. They'd come in and Mom would fry chicken and
sometimes we'd make homemade ice cream and it was fun getting together with
everyone. We like the idea of the company.
FL: What about Thursday and Friday?
Thursday and Friday a lot of times Mom would do extra baking and mending.
She'd get the little Singer portable she used to have and she'd get it out and
she'd either sew for us, and if we wanted something made especially for
something, some special, like the fair, the Hutchison Fair was a big thing, and
Mom used to make maybe a new skirt for us, and blouses. And we'd save those
until the Fair. We couldn't wear them until then. But we had to take over
everything in the house for her to sew, because she couldn't do the cooking and
the dish washing and all these things too. So if we wanted her to make
something special, and we always knew at Fair time we'd have a new outfit cause
we'd do the work. And that was kind of neat.
FL: How would you describe your mother? Was she a perfectionist?
My mother was a perfectionist and she expected us to behave and when Mom
brought in the scrub pail, we ran to our chairs. And that's true. We each had
a chair we'd run to and we didn't get down until the floor was dry and then
she'd wax it and then we still had to stay up there. And every now and then
Kenny'd get a foot down and act like he was going to get out in the middle and
Bob would say, "Kenny, you're going to get in trouble." But I can remember
being in that chair a lot, just from her doing her scrubbing and waxing. She
didn't want it messed up. She was down there on her hands and knees. She
did it the hard way. I mean she wanted it done right and a mop just doesn't
get it. And that's the way we've always done too.
FL: You said that can also be tough too.
It can be tough. Because it's real hard when you have a big family to try to
get all these things done, it's a little frustrating because you know there's
days when you just can't. And I can remember Mom staying up wee hours after
we'd go to bed to finish something that she was sewing on. Or something that
she had to do for her sewing lesson. She'd be making things, hemstitching and
so on, that she was going to give to the class the next day.
FL: Describe what it was like to try and live up to your mother.
Well, Mom was a wonderful cook and my grandmother was also. And of course
Grandma Dole was a great cook. They all were. This was kind of the way we were
supposed to do. Learn how to wash, learn how to iron, learn how to keep a
clean house and cook. And as far as the future, I hoped that I would get to
go to school someday after I graduated from high school. Of course I knew I'd
graduate from high school, there was no question about that.
FL: About not being able to go out at night until you finished.
Oh absolutely. And my girlfriends would come over and they'd spell me off
while I was hanging things, putting things away. And Mom would say, "You have
to get your ironing done or you can't go to the game. That's all there is to
it." And they'd just, or a movie or something, you know. They thought that
was pretty tough cause they didn't have to do those things. They'd press a
blouse maybe if they were going to wear something special but that's just the
way it was and it seemed to work. I learned a lot from my mother, I'll tell
you. And my Dad.
FL: How were you disciplined when as kids you would do something wrong?
Well, my Dad could say boo and he'd have me in tears. I can remember getting
the belt but not very often. That wasn't a thing that either one of them, Mom
would send us in, one of us in to get the belt and I just couldn't find those
belts. She knew better. But I just could not find that belt cause I knew
somebody was going to get a spanking. Sometimes she'd try to find out what
happened, who did what, and she'd just go down the line with us. And we didn't
always think that was quite the way to do it, but that's the way it was. But
she liked to have us mind. Dad could talk to us. Dad could talk to me. I
don't know how he affected everybody else, but he just had a way that when he
said something I knew he meant it. He didn't have to take action with me. He
never did. I tried to do what I was supposed to do, but it wasn't always easy.
Cause we liked to cut up and have fun too. We'd get the giggles after we'd go
to bed at night and things like that. And Dad'd come in and say, "You kids
pipe down in there." That was his way.
FL: Would you say that your parents were more on the reserved side or
affectionate and very demonstrative?
Well, you know for years I can remember going in to kiss Mom and Dad goodnight
and all of a sudden it stopped. I don't know why, whether we got to the age
where we didn't think that was necessary or what, I don't know. They showed a
lot of affection when they were with us and I always felt like they loved us
all and I'm sure they did. That wasn't the thing. Now I know here's a
difference in the way people show their emotions and all, but my, we always
said goodnight. That was always one thing. We didn't always run up and kiss
them goodbye. My kids did. But you know I think it's, of course my husband
was that way, so I think the kids were that way. And I can remember Dad
kissing Mom goodbye before he went to work or something. If she was in the
basement or someplace he didn't always hunt her up to do that. But I felt like
we had a lot of affection and love when we were younger.
FL: That one story. About your father getting up early in the morning.
That was Dad. He had us setting up at the breakfast table and he realized that
the clock was wrong. We had breakfast at, I think it was three o'clock in the
morning. And he said, "Come on kids. You've got to eat. You got to get ready
for school." Mom was feeling bad, she had the flu. And had had a cold and was
just really down. And he said "You just stay in bed this morning. I'll cook
the kids a little breakfast." But we had to get ready first before we came to
the table. One bathroom with four of us getting ready to go to school and all.
He just couldn't believe that we were setting there like that. And nobody was
hungry. He made pancakes I believe it was, pancakes or french toast and we'd
usually really go after those pancakes but nobody could eat. Then he realized,
"My god, what have I done? The kids are up this time of the morning."
FL: He had sent Bob to get milk hadn't he?
Well, that was another time. He sent Bob down to get some milk and he went
down to Holzer's grocery store and they weren't open. So Bob just sat down on
the curb and waited. And he waited. And he waited. And I think that was
like, it seems to me it was more like five o'clock in the morning. But it was
still too early to be down buying groceries. And I think Dad finally went down
and got him cause he finally realized either the clock was wrong or he thought
it was later than it was. We laughed about that a lot.
FL: Who was Bob close to inside the house?
Well, that's kind of hard to say. We all kind of took our turn I think. But I
kind of liked following Bob cause he didn't seem to get into as much trouble as
Kenny and Gloria. And Gloria will tell you that I'm sure. But I don't know he
seemed to sense what was right and what was wrong about what we should do and
wasn't supposed to do. Of course I was close to Kenny too in a lot of ways. I
mean I always have been. Different times, different closeness.
FL: Do you thing Kenny's illness affected Bob?
Well, it affected all of us. I can remember going over and sitting with him at
the St. Anthony's hospital after one of his surgeries. One out of nine.
Kenny had osteomalitis of the bone he had to have nine different operations and
it set him back a whole year in school. And of course it affected all of us.
But I know, we all worried, including Bob, about whether we'd have to go
through anything like that. We still don't know why he had this problem. But
it made Kenny a lot better kid. He really had a lot of time to think. But he
was happy-go-lucky and that helped get him through I'm sure, and that helped
all of us cause it was tough to set up there with him and see him hurt like
And they used maggots to try to do away with the part of the leg that had
disintegrated and they needed to get rid of that. So instead of cutting and
cutting they put the maggots in kind of encased in tape and he had scratched
it. His right leg, it would itch, and he would scratch it. And one night, one
evening when we were over there, these things go loose in the bed. And of
course he was just totally trying to get away from them. Of course my folks
worried about how they were going to replace them. It seems like they were
about $60. And that was like thousands now, you know, cause we just didn't
have it. And I don't even know that Kenny had insurance, that Mom and Dad had
insurance on us. I don't think they did. I think we all had one policy of
$1,000. I think that was about the size of it.
FL: As you look at your brother today, in his seventies, do you see the very
young Bob Dole there?
Well, I see a lot of Bob Dole as he is today in the way he was then. And I
wish I was as young as he is, and I am younger by years. But he has so much
energy. I can't keep up with him. I don't know how some of his aides do. But
yes, I see a lot of Bob and I know Bob well enough that when he tells someone
he's going to do something he does it. He stays with it. And I think this
comes from the way we were brought up. My mother and Dad instilled in us that
honest was so good for all of us. And I think being in church, and our little
town of Russell helped too because there were so many wonderful people and
there still are. In fact, that's why I came back to Russell, Kansas.
FL: Tell me about Bob at the drugstore where he says he learned so much about
life, about humor...
Well, I know when they hired Bob, Mom and Dad thought it was really great but
they didn't want it to interfere with his schoolwork. And he was kind of on
trial just to see how things went for a while because they wanted to be sure
his schoolwork was taken care of first and then his job later. Of course I
loved going down there, but we had to go home after school. And if we tarried
along the way sometimes we'd get in trouble. Sometimes we'd get the Saturday
movie taken away or the ball game that week. He was great. I can remember a
lot of the girls that used to go down there just because Bob was down there,
because his personality and he was in sports and everything.
FL: What did the place look like? What did he have to do?
Well, a lot of Bob's one liners and I still say he got a lot of those from my
Dad. My Dad was a dry wit. He would say something and maybe five minutes
later everybody would get the joke and then roar because he was so funny. But
you'd walk into the place and find a stool to sit on or they had some little
booths in the back and Bob would be up there jerking sodas, fixing cokes or
pouring coffee. And course the kids hung out in there and the Dawsons loved
that. They thought a lot of Bob. And they like him because he was popular and
he was a good-natured kid and they could joke around and it was fun to go in
there. That's what everybody felt. And even the business people would come
down for their coffee breaks and things. So it was pretty neat in Dawson's
FL: A lot of humor.
Oh yes, Chet and Bub both. And even old Dutch would sit back there, he was
the father of the Dawsons, and he'd sit back there and you'd see him kind of
raising his glasses and he'd kind of grin you know. And he was getting a big
kick out of it when Bob was there.
FL: When things were so uncertain and difficult, talk about all of that.
Well, I think you have to give up things, sometimes your dreams, sometimes you
know, and work toward whatever you wanted to do in your future. I think that's
why we felt it was important to get a job or pull together. We all had to work
together and that's what we did. And I think that was the answer for all of us.
We stuck together and worked together and everybody did their own job and I
know I couldn't see how I was ever going to school. But I had several jobs
myself, with Doc Walls, my sister worked down there. I think we worked all
Saturday, from early morning 'til late at night for $1.20. And that was great.
We had money in our pocket. And I worked at the bank. I worked several
places. I always tried to better myself a little bit. When I started working
at the bank I was trying to buy one War Bond. That was during the time that my
brothers were both gone. They left about the same time. Kenny, with his
osteomalitis to the bone, was set back a year and we spent about six years in
school together. We graduated together. And so, but I'm sure that wasn't in
Bob's dream to start with. He wanted to go to college and he was in college.
But he knew that it was coming and he just went ahead and signed up. Of course
Mom was pretty upset and the same time here was Kenny. He did the same thing.
It was hard.
FL: Do you remember the first time that you saw Bob after he came home from the
Yes. It's terrible. My mother was there. I was going to Western Union School
at the time. Somebody had talked me into doing that. And I thought that would
be fun. I'd love to learn how to use a teleprinter and so I was in
Springfield, Missouri and I got word that Bob had been wounded and he would be
brought to Winter General Hospital in Topeka. So of course that weekend when
school was over, a friend drove me to, she lived in Topeka so she'd take me
back and forth almost every week. And I spent as much time as I could with
Mom. And my mother got a little room in a house that was just not even a half
a block from the hospital so when I'd come on the weekend, they'd let me come
and stay with Mom. And Dad would drive back and forth after work on Saturday
night and spend Sunday.
And it was horrible. I couldn't believe it was him. That he was in a full
body cast and when he first got back and settled in his room, he had gotten
Mom a beautiful brooch. So he had the nurse, he knew she was coming, she was
in the hospital and on her way to his room and he had this brooch draped over
his cast. And he wanted for her to have it but he couldn't hand it to her.
That was pretty neat. But it was hard, you know. It's still hard. And Bud
Smith was missing and we had to hide the papers from him. His friend Bud Smith
died at that time and he was missing in action and they finally declared him
dead so he never did return. But he was a good buddy of his all through high
school. They were always in sports together, you know, basketball, football
and track. And in fact, Bud's family, the Smiths, moved to Texas and he stayed
with the family the Hoags for a year and graduated here. But he was one of the
boys that they went to college and they were in the same fraternity and just
So we had to hide the papers when that happened, the Russell papers. So Bob
wouldn't know about it until he was better. Cause he was touch and go, and
then he lost a kidney after that, after he was in Winter General. But anyway,
finally when he got better and could come home, that was great. Folks moved
out of their bedroom and put him in the front bedroom of the house. And he had
french doors so people could come in and visit and if he was asleep or
something course we wouldn't bother him but we had a hard time finding out what
was going on. He wasn't ready to talk about it. And he finally got to where
he would tell us. But it was a long time after that, like a year, better.
But little by little he got to where he got up. And the first time they tried
to get him to stand up, get him on his feet, his legs were just shaking so bad
and we tried to help him. And finally he got to where he could go out and set
in a chair in the living room. And he just went up step by step. Then he got
to where he could walk out in the yard. Of course we had this friend of his,
Adolf Reisig, made the pulleys and put different weights on him as he got
stronger. And as he was doing better with pulling his pulleys, he'd put a
little more weight on it. And I think that helped Bob immensely. And he's
never forgotten Adolf for that. They've always, of course they were good
friends too. Football team and so forth too. But you could see his
improvement. We really, I was amazed. I know I felt that way cause I didn't
know if he would ever get better. I just felt like I knew Bob well enough, he
would never quit. He would never give up.
FL: Describe the support that he got.
Well, at the time Chet Dawson was the Commander of the VFW. And he come up
with that idea and thought it would be wonderful. If people wanted to give to
help him get that other surgery, he'd just set up a pencil box at Dawson's Drug
Store. Well, another store would hear about it and they'd say, "Well let's get
a cigar box." And so they'd do that too. And that's how they came up with, I
believe it was $1,800 and some odd dollars. But a lot of times it was like 50
cents or a dollar, whatever they could give. But they all wanted to help.
That was great
And what about your life. It had to have changed.
Oh absolutely. Our whole family's life changed cause she spent all her time
with him. Which is where she needed to be, where Dad wanted her to be. And he
spent as much time as he could on the weekends. And when he got real bad with
the high temperature, and that's when he lost his kidney after he was there, we
thought we was going to lose him. And the nurse came in, the male nurse came
in. He had this tray with a tongue catcher on it. And they called Dad. And I
took off work and jumped in the car and I mean we had someone help us get
through, the highway patrol helped us get in there. And there really wasn't
much hope for him, he was just real bad. But he came through that too.
Talk a little bit about the nature of his injuries.
Well, the feeding was tough. That I think bothered Bob as much as anything. Of
course he had no way to go to the bathroom except to us. We tried to,
sometimes we'd give him a bit of something, maybe too big a bite or too small
of a bite, you know, and his appetite wasn't all that good anyway so it would
have been nice to do some of that cooking ourselves. But he never complained,
he just let us do whatever.
FL: What was that song?
Well, I think Bob's favorite song at that time was "I'll Never Walk Alone".
And he loved to have us play it on the record machine. I think he just, the
words tell you, you know, that he's going to keep going, and he has people
behind him. That's the way I always felt, maybe I'm wrong. I don't know what
his interpretation was. But I know that was his favorite song. He'd say put on
a stack of records Norma Jean and put that on top. And it'll play over and
over. And that's what he like to do. Of course, you know, we kind of just
catered, and tried to help him do what he needed and tried to make things as
enjoyable as possible. Of course Mom always fixed his favorite meals and all
that. Tried to get him to eat, encouraged him to eat.
FL: You said to me a while ago that it took him almost a year to talk about
what happened. Do you remember when he started to talk about it?
STEELE: It was just little bits and pieces was all he'd ever talk about because
he'd gone so long and had this, we never did get anything on how he was
situated. We heard from the War Department and then a friend of his wrote
letters for Bob and tried to sound like he didn't want us to be upset before he
got back to the States. But we heard from him and that helped us kind of get
through that period of getting the word from the War Department and getting him
home, you know, back in the States. And, but we didn't ask him. We knew that
it had been a terrible thing. We got some something from the government, I
remember reading that. But we didn't push him to talk about it. First we had
to get him well, to where he could feel like he could open up. And I think
this is the way it happened. He little by little he told a little more about
it, but we still didn't urge him to talk about it until he was ready.
FL: In that period he was struggling to get well, one of his greatest fears was
that he would end up in a wheelchair. Describe that.
Well, he did make that comment. He said he just didn't want to be saddled with
that for the rest of his life. He was going to overcome it. He was going to
work at it. Cause he didn't want to sit on the streetcorner and sell pencils.
He had to make his own way. And I think that was his goal was to get better
enough to be able to go on with his life.
FL: Do you remember when he told you that story?
Well, that was much later, but I can remember him talking about, he had some
fears. Course the night that he lost that kidney, that was a bad night too.
He really felt like this might do it where the other didn't. But he was gravely
ill during that time. But he just picked himself up and little by little built,
every day he could see a little improvement. He said, "I'll bet I can do that
thirty times tomorrow." That was his, really proud of what he could do. You'd
see him squeeze those balls and pull that weight up and see it get up so high
and he'd have to drop it and you know, you just struggled with him but you
didn't help him then cause he had to cope with this and he was doing what he
FL: Could you describe exactly what had happened to Bob so we understand more
about what he had to do to strengthen himself?
Well, to start with Bob was machine gunned through the right shoulder, below
the right shoulder. This left him, of course, paralyzed completely to start
with. Little by little this came back to him. He had an area here where he
had no bone in this arm. And he made a little muscle from his elbow up to the
end of that tissue. And he had a little muscle that he'd built up. And that
was from the pulley and the exercise that he did with the balls. He had some
little metal things with handles that you squeezed. That was all supposed to
help him and he used every bit of it, a lot.
Of course he lost that kidney, and that was while he was still in Winter
General Hospital in Topeka. And he got through that okay. And that meant, Dr.
Kalikian had heard about Bob and so he went to his clinic and found out that he
thought he could help him and he'd like to try. And course we didn't have the
money and again that's when the people really took part and got some money
together for him for the surgery. And he put a hinge in Bob's arm so he could
use his arm this way. And he could never raise it out like this but it was
used so it could be, at least bend his arm. I know they had to take out some
bone for that. They had this bone in a little jar for a long time. I don't
know what ever happened to it, but I didn't even like to see it. But it did
give him more movement. I'm saying, I'm using my right arm but it was actually
his left. And he uses that pencil or pen and it's my understanding that his
fingers still separate and go apart when he doesn't have something clenched in
that fist. He used to carry a piece of rolled-up paper sometimes, just a piece
of white paper. But a pen works real well. You just imagine holding something
like that every day. And he does. And that way it isn't quite so noticeable
either. And even when he's out in a crowd he'll always put his right hand
There were probably some hints of perfectionism and workaholism, do you see
those traits in Bob.
Oh, absolutely. I think we all had those traits to a certain extent, but I'm
sure Bob does. Dad was also a man that did his thing. He worked hard, he'd
start early in the morning and he'd come home at night and he'd have the
newspaper rolled up in his arm and he'd put it on the porch or hand it to one
of us and he'd get started on the yard. And he was a perfectionist in his
yard. I mean he didn't want a weed, one in his yard. And I can remember him
taking the hose to rinse off the sidewalks. He wanted the house on the outside
to be clean. Of course Mom kept it so clean on the inside too that it... But
that was his thing. And of course the taught the boys how to mow and do things
like that so they would know how to do it. And of course they went out and
made money mowing yards.
I think it comes from my Dad also. I mean they were both that way. I'm sure
that's probably what attracted one to the other when they got married. Mom
always looked nice and neat. Dad's overalls were starched. We ironed those
overalls. That's for sure. He wore overalls until the day he died, but he was
proud of those overalls. They took him everywhere he needed to go.
Bob, when he was talking about his father, he broke down crying. Do you
Yes I do. I remember. Cause he was always so proud of Dad. Like he said, Dad
always liked wearing his overalls. That was just part of it. That was his work
and he'd get, he'd crawl on those trucks. He invented that ladder. My Dad
invented a ladder to go on the side of a truck and he got a patent on it. I
don't know what it ever come to but we were real proud of him because he'd done
this. But he said it made it so much easier to climb on those big old trucks
with the beds on them and check out the wheat. To get the moisture of the
wheat. But, Mom ironed them. Every time. I don't think he'd put `em on, well
he never had to cause they were always ready to go.
FL: Nice dressers?
I can remember Bob asking me to press, he said, "How'd you like to make a
quarter? I'd like to have my best new pair of pants before I go to work." So
of course if we didn't have them done maybe they were in the washing and we'd
have to get them dried and pressed. And it was always no problem. He was
particular too. He wanted to look nice. We all did. Cause that's the way we
started out. It just seemed like that's the way it's supposed to be.
FL: What other ways was Bob particular as a child, as a young boy?
Well, he liked to do his homework and I can remember Kenny would settle for his
paper maybe being a little messy. But Bob would redo his and make sure his was
neat. And Kenny thought he had it done and that's good enough. You know
Kenny was a different kid altogether. He was a neat kid too, but his grades
weren't as good as Bob's. Neither were mine. Bob was a very good student. He
was a hard act to follow. I'll tell you. But he worked at it. And worked at
his jobs. He was particular about the way he worked at the drugstore. He
wanted to look nice and he wanted keep things clean down there. And he'd walk
around with that rag always wiping off the counter just over and over and over.
I can see my Dad doing that at the creamery and I see my mother doing that in
the kitchen so it was part of it.
FL: Were you aware of his large ambition at that young point?
Did he talk to you at that point as a young kid, about what he wanted to
Well, we always claimed he'd be a lawyer because we'd be sitting there with our
little toys, we didn't always have a lot but what we had we'd be playing with
our toys and Bob would have a book. We have a Christmas picture in fact with
the four of us around the tree and Bob is reading his book. And we're, each of
us have a doll and Kenny has a tool chest or something, with a hammer. He's
holding his hammer.
FL: Church. Did that play a large role in your family's life?
It did for us. Well we did go to church, Sunday school especially. And I
didn't really stay for church when I was younger, none of us did. We'd go to
Sunday school. It was part of our life. It was a Sunday ritual, that's all.
We just planned to go. And as we got older, of course, instead of Sunday school
we went to church. Sometimes both, but not often. Usually an hour was good.
FL: Was there talk about God and spirituality at home?
We used to have a blessing. It was a little bit like our, as we got older that
kind of flew out the window like our kisses did, goodnight kiss and all. But
we all believed of course. And more so than ever after Bob was wounded, after
Kenny was so sick. And he got better and we still couldn't believe the service
would take him, not on unlimited service. But he was back in service after all
those surgeries. And then he'd come home and he had some problems.
FL: Did Bob himself or the family ever ask questions about religion or talk
about his faith?
I do remember Bob was superintendent of Sunday schools when he was also County
Attorney in Russell. And I liked that 'cause I knew the kids liked Bob and I
thought that was good way to train kids. You know. They'd follow him and he
was good. He visited the Sunday school classes. And I was real proud of him.
I thought that was a nice thing to do.
FL: They talk a lot about the Kansas style of understatement and reserve...Was that true of your family?
Well, you get so involved when you live in a little town you know everybody's
private comings and goings. And especially in Bob's case everyone knew him,
everyone was for him and hoping for the best and they showed that in their
caring ways. They'd come to the house, they'd come to the back door and leave
a pie or bake a cake and send it over. And that's the way the people are in
Russell. And they're always behind you, you know. I can't imagine Russell not
being that way. And I'm even finding it true. My mother was the first one that
would go out and collect for flowers around the neighborhood if we lost
someone, one of our friends. She'd always send food.