There is talk of a lay off. I don’t know what to think. Richard Worstell


The school year of 1927-28 passed without much record. May 29, 1928, Dick wrote from Detroit, Michigan. “I hear that you have to work 60 days at Fords now before you can make much more than $5.00 a day.” There is no actual record of where he was working during this summer. Wilda was probably in West Chester for much of the summer, as would be her habit for several years. Dick wrote he was expecting to see her and was concerned for his appearance, especially his nails. He had a habit of picking them to the quick, and Wilda had tried to get him to stop. However, it was a habit that would remain with him during his life, except for a few short periods of time. Nail biting would be a long time problem for his daughter, as well.

With the birth of the Worstell’s daughter, Ann Jean, on December 13, 1928, much of the family history would be recorded in photographs. In the spring, the Augustine grandparents along with their little black-and-tan terrier, Dean, paid a visit to the Worstells in their home in Ft. Madison. The home was a small little house to the back of a three-story brick apartment building on a tree-lined street not far from Riverside Park. The apartment building and its next-door twin were derelict in 1996 and only the outline of the foundation was left of the little home out back.

Though the baby is recorded as weighing over ten pounds at birth, she did not thrive as expected and weighed only two ounces more after two months. It was then that the doctor suggested supplementing the milk with oatmeal given by bottle.This did the trick.

Wilda had two baby care books written by Dr. Herman N. Bundesen, 1928, during the time he was Director of Health for the Sanitary District of Chicago. Ann Jean was unaware of this when during her first pregnancy she chose a baby book by the same author. (Wilda also had a 118-page government publication, Infant Care, 1926, first written in 1914, available for ten cents from the United States Department of Labor, Children’s Bureau.)

Richard and Wilda took Ann Jean to the First Methodist Church where she was enrolled in the Cradle Roll Department on January 7th, 1929, certified with a large scroll, and was baptized April 13th, 1930.

The end of May Richard went to Gary, Indiana, near Chicago, to check on a job. On June 1, 1929, he mailed a card from Valparaiso where he had been staying with relatives:

Dearest — Was over to Gary this morning and talked with Mr. Gleason the Supt. and also Mr. Burke the Ass’t Chemist. I am to call him Sunday A.M. for a definite reply. It lays between me and one other man. I have hopes of getting in as a chemist. Best love Dick

Richard wrote Wilda on June 3rd and then on the 4th, 1929, from the YMCA in Chicago. He explained that he had been unable to send for Wilda because he “was beat out of a job at Gary.” He continued:

This morning I hustled out to the Hawthorn plant of The Western Electric and I have spent the whole day there.... I was somewhat discouraged when at 4:30 in the afternoon, when I had gotten an interview, a man in the planning and organization left. I think I will get in tomorrow and if I do I think it will be a pretty good thing. Salary will be $40 per week. I will have my own desk and telephone and will be somebody.

I never know where my address will be the next day.... Tomorrow I start my training. I will inspect certain manufacturing processes for about a week or 10 days before I will be able to do anything. I think they will throw me in the harness then.... It will be the first summer that I have found something that I enjoy and where my education will be an asset.

Wilda and baby went to Chicago. Pictures show a very happy baby, who progressed from the buggy to the combination stroller/scooter, a four-wheeled conveyance with a removable foot tray to convert it from a stroller to a scooter. This is something that works fine for a child like Ann Jean, who was willing to stay in it. A more active child can slip out beneath the restraining bar in nothing flat. Family quarters were at 4420 Washington Boulevard, although captions make it appear that the little family moved to different quarters in August. Although the times were unsettling and the Worstells not financially secure, the pictures available show the family well-dressed, with a car, large baby carrage, and nice surroundings.

Avis Worstell Kaub was still single and living in Chicago at this time. She told about an invitation to dinner she received from Dick and Wilda. Avis was correct about Wilda’s view of her brother:

Once when your mother and father lived in Chicago, you were a baby, and I wasn’t married, I came to Chicago. I had a boy friend there who was in law school. I don’t know if I was looking for a job or what. Anyway, I was down town. The second day I was there he probably invited me out to dinner, because I called your mother to tell her I wouldn’t be there for dinner. I found out the next day, she had a special steak dinner for me and here I call up and cancel. You know, I hadn’t kept house. It didn’t mean anything to me. A date was the big thing. It was a great disappointment, I’m sure. I didn’t know any better. And the other thing was that she admired me enough that she wanted me to meet her brother, which was the highest compliment she could pay me.

The end of August, Wilda and Ann Jean were visiting the grandparents in West Chester. August 22, 1929, Richard, who had been concerned about his mother, wrote Wilda, “Will you write to my mother? I have been thinking of her lately. Please. You have her address.” The next day he wrote to mention an accident at the factory and told her that he must explain to the Department Head about “me leaving this way.” On the 24th Richard wrote to say he hoped Wilda would “get down to Ft. Madison just to see how things are,” at Harnetts. The Worstells were back in Ft. Madison in September.

Though not in an academic setting for the summer past, Richard had continued his intellectual efforts. The September 1929 issue of the Journal of Chemical Education published his article entitled “Chemical Education in Iowa High Schools.”

The school year of 1929-30 was Richard’s last year at Fort Madison High School; his contract was either not renewed or he had other plans. In the summer of 1930, Dick was back in Iowa City, at 115 North Clinton Street, and enrolled for two classes at the University. He wrote on June 11, and twice in July, about his classes:

The two courses in mathematics were too much for me and I saw I couldn’t handle it so I dropped the integral calculus and am taking a course in the teaching of physics instead.... If we can just sit tight until I bring my credentials up to where I can look the world in the face and not have any apologies to offer, everything will work out satisfactorily.... Working in electrical lab. Haven’t worked as hard for some time.

I got 90 on that math test I took Friday. Not so bad for me I think. The fellow next to me I thought was a lot smarter and he got 70. I think I will get a C plus or B in this course. I hope that next time I won’t have to study quite so much as I have had to this term. Seems I always have something that I can work on. I found out that we have to take an examination in our physics lab course. I didn’t think we would and that we would be graded on our laboratory reports. Sure got fooled that time, and it is hard too. Won’t get A now I’m sure. Will review a lot and do the best I can. It is pretty advanced stuff with some differential equations scattered through it.

... My math not so good. May get a C.... expect 2 B’s on my other subjects.

Dick’s laboratory reports were all typed. One of the experiments in the electrical lab was in the study of alternating current theory and was titled “High Frequency Resistance.” The reader should appreciate the old typewriters and the difficulty typing equations with subscripts, superscripts, fractions, and signs. (Then again, all you had to do was roll the platen to make fractions. If you were good at this the copy looked pretty good, and took less time than using an early edition of Windows, but of course the computer printouts look much better.) Richard received an “A” on his Resistance experiment. Another experiment was titled “To Measure the Charge on the Electron.” The mathematics, being more extensive than the other, is done in ink. The report includes an illustration of the equipment as well as a photograph of the setup. He received a “B” for this report. Each report is in its own school printed folder. The philosophy of lab reports has changed since then. It is no longer acceptable to prepare reports by copying the data from original recordings. The reports required today by university professors reflect the requirements of industry in that the lab report book, with each page numbered, contains all original data recorded at the time of the observation, as well as the computations. A few years later, Richard would reflect that it had been a mistake not to take the differential and integral calculus together. Perhaps. Many students would not want to take a year of calculus in a summer term.

In June the outlook for the future looked bright. From his letter on the 18th, it is obvious his optimism is overflowing:

I went down this morning to look at some suits at different places. Most of the places don’t have much in my size but I found one suit that I think is very good. Michael Sterns suit with two pair of pants for $25.00. I will have them fix it up for me. I think it is a real value. Looks good and fits wonderfully. I know you will like it. I would like to get another before the summer is over. I surely need some new clothes.

He first wrote on the 25th of June and then in July about a new position. He was writing on Ft. Dodge Junior College paper:

I want you to sign the 2 papers I am sending on the line for the beneficiary. It is a loan application on my policy.... and then maybe I will get the money.

Talked with Dean Thornton of Ft. Dodge Junior College. Mr. Thornton says that the J.C. has a good many social functions and that they sort of keep their activities quite separate from the high school. I will be the only other man besides Mr. T. on the college faculty and the highest paid teacher, more than they have ever paid….

Still hoping to be at Ft. Dodge next year.

The middle of July, Dick wrote about a doctor’s appointment and other topics:

Examined by doctors and consented to operation to remove tonsils and adenoids. My hearing has not been so good. It will cost me only $15.00 which is very reasonable compared with what someone like Dr. Reimers might charge.

You remember when we visited my uncle Will at Knoxville and they spoke of their son Paul that finished in Medicine here? Well, they are back here again for special work. Paul wants to take some clinic work. They may be here two years. They want us to call on them some evening. She seems very nice and they no doubt are very happily married.

Sorry to hear of Mrs. Vorhees being struck by lightning.

In August the tide had turned:

I have already written to Bill telling him he can have all the furniture but your cedar chest, the radio and the picture in the sun parlor.... We could let Roans use a few small pieces of our furniture for the storage maybe in case the truck man at West Chester couldn’t store it all. Do you think it would be best to have it brought up to West Chester if we don’t sell it or what would you advise? No doubt it would be best to store it at Ft. Madison if it didn’t cost too much. Things are certainly unsettled. I sent in the registration blanks to the Fisch Teachers Agency in Chicago....

I wrote to my father and told him the sad news.... and so we might as well explain it as best we can to everybody....

Math is quite hard for me. Rather ticklish proposition as to what the outcome will be. I don’t get on to it very well but I know most of the class is in the same fix. I don’t think I will fail. Will be a relief when it is over.

Made application for vacancy in Cedar Rapids schools.

Heard from Father today. Will bring the letter home so you can read it. Crops out there are not very good. He also sent a letter that Mother had written him. Seems that Ben is quite a trial and Fern has been visiting there and she [Mother] is very much shocked to learn of her [Fern] smoking cigarettes. I guess she is very collegiate.

Ann Jean believes that Richard had been a tobacco smoker since before her parents were married. He may have started smoking in his early youth, as he later spoke of smoking corn silk with his friends. In later life he often said, “It’s not difficult to quit smoking, I’ve done it several times.” It’s hard for the family to understand his difficulty with mathematics, as he was a rapid calculator when it came to computations, and he had a good memory for figures, as well as being much at ease with the lower mathematics of algebra and trigonometry.

The Great Depression had its roots in the passage of a law that raised tariffs, which in turn disastrously restricted trade. The speculators reacted in a panic, and in October of 1929 the stock market crashed. A poor economy translates to lower incomes and lower tax revenues at all levels. This is especially true for school districts, which are at the bottom of the tax ladder. Richard left his family with the Augustines in West Chester and went back to Chicago. Howard offered his help. Richard couldn’t room with him as Howard already had a roommate, but Howard took Richard to the elevated so he could look for work. Howard would later say that he “got him a job, but he couldn’t keep it.”

The job was with William M. Welch Manufacturing Company, 1515 North Sedgwick Street, Chicago, makers of laboratory instruments and other scientific equipment. A good friend, Ernie Sprow, who also worked at Welch’s, remembered Dick’s job “included what might be called quality control, research and development, cost control, etc. Welch was so deeply in debt to Harris Trust at that time that Harris Trust had a comptroller in his [Welch’s] office there to monitor every aspect of the business to work themselves out of debt. So there was very little money being spent on anything except that to insure survival.” On undated Welch Company paper, Dick wrote, “I got my paper back and she gave me 71, pretty good for me?” On later occasions he wrote:

When I saw the Chemistry classes it made me feel as though I had given up something in my teaching. Sort of felt as though I should be in there telling them about it all. It may be that someday I shall go back to teaching. I hope I won’t have to but one never knows.

I enjoy my work very much.

Quiet at the factory today. They are good to allow me to put in my time at this season. Shows that they respect me more than the common workers.

Richard soon found accommodations for Wilda and Ann Jean in a beautiful neighborhood of brick homes with a family named Hildebrandts. The family spent Christmas in West Chester. In 1931, Worstells moved to Ewarts on Laurel Avenue. Whatever the accommodations were, the living room looked very nice, and the exterior was beautiful and upscale. The Worstells had two very good bachelor friends, Reinhold (Smitty) Schmit (Schmidt), and Bert Sprow (Bert was short for Albert after his father, but he later used his birth name, Earnest, and became known as Earnie.). The two men roomed with the Worstells. In 1997, Bert’s wife, Alice, was using the computer to find addresses of friends and relatives. When she saw Cameron Worstell’s name she gave the address to Bert, who wrote to him; Richard Cameron is Richard Worstell’s son. A few months later, Bert and Ann Jean were in communication. Bert wanted to share some of his memories of the Chicago days and “tell you how much I appreciated the friendship of Dick and your mother.” He wrote in a letter:

I was a co-op student at Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio. There we students were helped to find jobs at which we worked for a period of time then attended college for an equal period of time. After my first ten weeks at college, fall of 1930, I was offered a job at W. M. Welch... I was warned that the two students previously assigned to this job had quit soon after starting there and that I must promise not to quit because cooperative employers were hard to find. So I promised but after being there I could understand why predecessors had quit. I was paid thirty-two cents per hour, forty hours per week. Welch held out three cents per hour which they paid me at the end of the ten week period to help me pay for getting back to Yellow Springs. My first few weeks at Welch I lived in a YMCA but I could not afford their very reasonable $7.00 per week room rent so I found cheaper, somewhere.

I do not remember when I first was invited to live with your parents, but it was surely more out of pity for me than to increase their income. Your parents were very good to me by renting me a room for very little weekly cost. I will never forget that your father and mother were very kind and helped me as much as they could when we were all living with very low income.

I believe I ate at restaurants on working days but ate with them on week ends. And as for Smitty, I must have met him at your house, so we both must have roomed there at the same time. Reinhold was a clerk and waiter at a German restaurant and delicatessen on Belmont Avenue and Paulina Street one block west of Ashland. The name of the restaurant was Zornows, owned by Gus and Kia Zornow.

I can remember fox squirrels in the neighborhood that would come take peanuts out of my hand and then they would run out into the lawn and bury it and come back for another.

Smitty and Bert joined the Worstells on little outings around Chicago, for meals at the apartment, and games at Soldiers Field. “I do not think your parents had a car, but I could be wrong about that,” wrote Bert. “Yes, we remember Howard Augustine, your uncle. I probably met him several times while living with your parents.” The Sprows kept in touch with both the Worstells and Augustines in later years.

Wilda and Ann Jean were in West Chester in the spring of 1931 when Ann Jean got sick. It may be that Gaylord made a diagnosis by mail and said it was possibly whooping cough. Ann Jean remembers she was told she had diphtheria at this age, and possibly whooping cough at age five. Later Richard wrote Wilda:

I know you are ready to come back to our little home. Chicago isn’t so bad is it, Hon? I will be glad so glad to have you back and be with me.

We are getting a great deal of stock in these days. 600 cases of glass ware came in yesterday. It looks good to think of a busy season once more. I hope our firm will prosper so that I won’t be uneasy about my position.

About whether Wilda liked Chicago or not, Ann Jean remembers Wilda loved to go shopping there. She liked to ride the elevated and shop at Marshall Field. She drove in downtown Chicago when necessary, but it was a strain for her. Wilda never made long lasting lady friends in Chicago; her friends were in West Chester, as well as Mamma and Pop. When in West Chester she could relax, but she could not expect to be released from the responsibilities of motherhood. Adda made it a point from the start that she did not baby sit. “I raised my own, now you raise yours,” she said.

Other visits to West Chester would include one in the fall around Halloween. The West Chester column in the newspaper carried this item about a party:

Little Miss Ann Jean Worstell who is visiting her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Augustine here gave a Hallowe’en party Tuesday P.M. for all the little boys and girls of pre-school age.... Anyway the children had a wonderful party with everything included that makes a party a success. They all came home wearing masks and decorative headgear and toys of various kinds and all wearing that good time smile and reported ice cream, cake and everything. We expect grandma and grandpa Augustine enjoyed it all.

Ann Jean would always remember one or two aspects of that party, in particular, the papier-mâché jack-o-lanterns. No plastic lanterns ever measured up to those. In the spring of 2001, a visit to an antique store revealed a collection of eight or ten of the papier-mâché lanterns with prices up to $150.

Dick received news that Gaylord was alone again in Big Sandy. Everett, who had spent most of the past seven years living with Gaylord, died while in a Great Falls hospital, September 22, 1931; he is buried in Big Sandy. Dick felt the loss of an uncle who had spent so much of his time in Big Sandy and with whom he had gone fishing. (Fishing was not an activity that was much associated with Dick.) Gaylord’s brother Addison died in Valparaiso just the year before, in June 1930.

Richard was not mentally stagnating while working at Welch. He submitted an article, “On Ozone,” which was published in the journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 9, No. 2. February 1932. He says in his opening statement:

Historical background, preparation, physical and chemical properties, and uses of ozone are discussed at some length. This article is not an exhaustive treatise by any means but is intended to cover the field in a general manner. The question of ozone, O4, is also mentioned.

It is the author’s opinion that far too little is mentioned in our chemistry courses about ozone. No doubt more emphasis should be placed on it, since it is such a powerful oxidizing agent, easy to prepare in the form of ozonized air, and takes part in such a large number of simple chemical reactions that can easily be carried out in any classroom to show its interesting behavior.

In May Richard was looking for better employment. Wilda was visiting her parents in West Chester and Richard wrote the following letter on the 25th:

Dearest Wilda —

Received your note and everything O.K. I guess I will have the milk man start the delivery again Monday morning. I told Mrs. F. that she could get some ice either tomorrow or next day.

No mail today. I hope Robb calls me about the Maywood opening. In talking with Mr. Day the head of the science department he never mentioned a thing about me having a masters degree. I told him everything. I have much more than the equivalent you know and I think they are satisfied as to that. Of course if they want me and also want me to go to school this summer they will ask me about the matter. I should think they would be perfectly contented to have me go the next summer however after I have been there one year.

Mrs. F. cashed the check and just brought the money up. I am taking a chance and sending $10.00 in this letter. Hope it reaches you O.K.

I only worked 2 1/2 hours and then they sent us home. I and Fred got a ride part way. He is pretty discouraged. There is talk of a lay off. I don’t know what to think.

Have a good time and don’t worry about things here. Give Ann Jean a hug and kiss for me.

Love, Richard

The family moved to Austin Boulevard in the summer of 1932. They attended the North Austin M. E. Church, and in June Ann Jean was promoted from the Cradle Roll to the Beginners Department. This summer was a time of happy children playing outdoors and often in a swimming pool. Trips were taken to Garfield Park and Garfield Park Conservatory, Lincoln Park, the Field Museum, to the country, and sight seeing in Mundelein. Ann Jean had a large doll and a “really big tricycle.” She and her mother had matching Chinese paper parasols. One summer outfit included a pair of large print pants, or pantaloons, and double strap sandals, a style that Ann Jean would prefer for as long as they were available in her size.

The economy didn’t improve. If people were “waiting for the second shoe to fall,” it did. Richard had noted that the company “only worked four days a week.” Eventually he was laid off. Nothing came of the Maywood opening. Prospects for finding a job were dim, gloomy, and then non-existent. Bert Sprow tells what happened to him:

After two years of this co-op college schedule I gave up but continued working at Welch when they needed me, which was only in their busy periods, spring and summer. In the fall of 1933 when Welch had only part time work, four days or less a week, I hitch hiked down into Texas to get away from the cold winters in Chicago. I spent the winter, ‘33 – ‘34 in a transient camp near Austin, then a brief period in a new camp at Three Rivers south of San Antonio and then was called up to San Antonio to help plan a more adequate facility to accommodate up to 600 transients. It will be difficult for you to visualize or imagine the conditions at that time. Homeless men wandering. 25% unemployment. Not counting part time employment.

In August of ‘34 R. E. Welch let me know that he had a full time job for me if I wished to come back to Chicago. They had let their purchasing agent go and I became the secretary for their machine shop foreman, who became acting purchaser. My salary was $16.00 per week.... I went to night school and was offered a job by this teacher designing tooling and cams for automatic screw machines.... All this time I had been writing to Alice... wishing that we could afford marriage.

The owner of the restaurant where Reinhold worked offered to rent a room in their apartment to Ernie and Alice at a “price we could afford,” so they were married. Ernie’s pay went up from $24 to $26 per week. Their first daughter was born in July 1939. Rheinhold Schmit died the following week in the same Chicago hospital where the Sprow baby was born.

The Sprows moved from Chicago to Cleveland, then to Detroit, where their next two girls were born. In 1945 they moved to Spokane, Washington, where a daughter and son were born. Earnest was self-employed. The Cloonans paid them a visit in 1998. Their daughter Sylvia and her husband dropped by during the evening meal. Sylvia had been a debate team partner of a young man who later became one of President Clinton’s roommates in Oxford. All were dodging the draft, she said. According to the daughter, the young man from Spokane finally decided to return home and settle things with the draft board. He met a young woman and became engaged. Things were looking up, when he was found dead, by his own hand, said the authorities. Neither Sylvia nor her parents, nor the parents and friends of the young man, believed he committed suicide. The FBI paid them a visit but in deference to the parents who didn’t want any publicity, none spoke about their concerns.

At the end of the summer season at Welch, 1932, Richard packed up his family and went back to Big Sandy, Montana.