Evanson Jensen carries on through the war

The second 25 years of what was to become Evanson Jensen seems more difficult to extract and compose.

Harold Crow, Eldon, Dick and Sadie in the buggy, Ollie, Evie and their daughter, Darlene are observing the 50th Anniversary of the firm. – Courtesy photo

Posted August 3. 2013


Special to the Leader

The second 25 years of what was to become Evanson Jensen seems more difficult to extract and compose. Perhaps the reason is, one is told more about the earliest start up days by one’s forefathers, than the mid-history when fully in operation. One has to reflect back to the first 25 years to get the full picture of the life of R.S. “Dick” and Sadie Evanson.

They were raising a family, operating a furniture store and funeral parlour, and the 25th year (1937) was monumental for them. They moved the funeral home from the back and second story of the 401 Main St. location to 303 4th Ave. W., next to their residence and their oldest, Vernon “Evie” graduated from Lemmon High School. His younger sisters, Delores and Dorothy would soon follow him through the hallowed halls of LHS.

It seemed in our visits with Dick and Sadie, that theirs was a normal child raising, business operation, “send them off to school” experience.

In spite of the bank failures in Lemmon of the late 20s, and the “dirty thirties” there were few negatives expounded. They lived in that time, satisfied and busy, because there was no choice but to stay the course.

It is told the original horse drawn hearse went the way of being mounted on the back of a Model T truck, and later was sold to Mr. Anderson, a local plumber who put it to use for several years. The first custom “funeral coach” arrived in 1929.

It was a Ford and served as the local ambulance as well, with a single cotton mattress laid in back for the comfort of the patient. One local resident said it had to be a 1926, as that was when his grandfather died and was the “honored” first passenger. For years thereafter, when a new funeral coach was purchased, it had to be a ‘combination’ model, with a folding seat inside the right rear passenger door and a compartment for oxygen in reach.

Otherwise, it definitely looked like any other funeral coach.

The ambulance service was provided until June of 1973 and a note in the back of the Ambulance Record showed the prices of Bismarck, $40, Local $5 Rapid City, Miles City or Aberdeen $50 Minneapolis $150, Rochester $180 and Hettinger $9. There was much relief to the firm when this service was taken over by the present Lemmon and Bison EMTs.

So the second 25 years begins as World War II approaches, a son who is off in college and daughters soon to do the same. Evie began helping his father at a young age and attended St. Olaf College for one year and then transferred to the University of Minnesota.

He returned to the business, married, and in 1942 was inducted into the U.S. Army. While in the final stages of basic training and in formation, the Platoon Sergeant asks for volunteers for Graves Registration….those who will care for the fallen in combat.

Vernon, to say the least, having some experience in this type of work, raised his hand. The Sergeant then chose the man on the left and right of him and Evie became a foot Soldier.

Three shocked men looked at each other and remembered “there is the right way and then there is the Army way” as they parted.”

During these years a toll was taken on the life of the “undertaker” and family in Lemmon, as it did so many others across this land. Dick and Sadie had two daughters in college, their daughter-in-law, Ollie and an infant granddaughter, Darlene with them in Lemmon. Their only son was tromping the battlefields in France.

I’m sure with the fatalities reported and some from West River Country brought home, the Evansons like many other families, waited with great concern. It seems each generation has gone through this anguish over the years. The opposite can happen to our military personnel as well.

As Robert Sampson was serving on the USS Enterprise, his mother passed away. The Red Cross was notified but failed in their attempt. The Lemmon newspaper arrived early for some reason that week and on the front page was his mother’s obituary.

In January of 1943 a gruesome stabbing took place five miles east of Lemmon, leaving 20 children (yes, twenty) motherless and a father heading to the state penitentiary. That had to be a terribly troubling time for everyone in the area, let alone a country undertaker.

Also during this time of rationing, the furniture business was a having a hard time keeping inventory on hand. Dick told of having to “recycle” those old bed springs as new ones were not being manufactured. You know, those steel springs that had cable running back and forth between smaller springs attached to the steel framework?

Anyway he could send them into Minneapolis on the railroad and they would be reconditioned for resale. I never heard what they did with the old cotton mattresses that lay on top of the springs.

Everything came in and left by the C.M.St.P.&P. Railroad. What furniture could be found and caskets from Fergus Falls, Minn. (Fergus Casket Co.), Northwestern Casket in Minneaplis and the F.H.Hill Co. from Chicago.

Many area soldiers left the Lemmon station and returned home via Fort Snelling, Minn. Also in those days, many seeking further medical treatment traveled by the railroad to Aberdeen, S.D. or on to Minneapolis…and returned the same way. Evanson’s were good customers of the railroad for many years.

After the War when the “boys” came home, things rapidly began to change.

In 1945 Evie was discharged and the firm became R. S. Evanson and Son. The picture of Dick and Evie standing by the old furniture store can testify to the relief felt by them.

Both went back to work happily as partners and active members in the community. Instead of single item shipments, boxcar loads of furniture and burial vaults started rolling in on the C.M.St.P.&P. This continued into the 1960s when both the furniture wholesalers and casket manufacturers began delivering with their own trucks.

Dick evidently operated the furniture business ‘loosely’.

A lady had linoleum installed by Dick and she soon went to the store to settle her bill. He proceeded to look through his account books and couldn’t come up with the bill. He told her to come back later and settle up another day. Never receiving a bill, she returned after a month or so and Dick reminded her that she had already paid it.

She insisted that she had never settled the bill, and Dick insisted that she had already paid! She remained upset with him for 40 years and he with her for questioning his integrity and knowledge of his accounts. I found out about this from the lady when we ended up in the hospital at the same time. I had to have hernia repair from unloading those boxcars and she was getting up there in years. One night when visiting hours were over she told me of the episode. We never mentioned this in her obituary, of course, but hope they are finally in agreement that their accounts are settled.

In 1959 Dick retired abruptly (if such is the case in this work), after a longtime furniture salesman got his goat by reporting that one certain style of chair had been discontinued. Dick had ordered and sold this particular style of easy chair for years and was quite upset.

He got up from the furniture purchasing discussion, turned to Evie, announced his retirement and went out the door. But he was always there when needed, as I found out upon my arrival in 1961.

Dick would stop by to check on things while I was doing my work. He was a great visitor and could always make a story last for quite a while, many times ending by saying, “now to make a long story short” and then he would continue.

The ‘semi-retirement’ did give him more time for travel, fishing for trout and working with his trees and yard.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of four installments celebrating 100 years in business by Evenson Jenson Funeral Home.