NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Wednesday August 23rd 2017

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Remembering Dad

By Janet Gillespie

Editor’s note: The Alley posed a couple dozen questions (omitted to save space) to Carl’s daughter Janet. Her personal anecdotal and illustrative answers have been arranged into this narrative by Sue Hunter Weir. We invite readers to enjoy this insight of Carl and Helen and to also use it as an example of writing about the loved ones in your families.

My dad was a second-generation American because his dad’s dad was born in Donovan, Illinois to Swedish immigrant parents. My dad’s mom was born in Sweden. She came to America just to visit and met my Grandpa at the Swedish Mission Tabernacle in Chicago (my grandpa was working as a motorman on the streetcars in Chicago at the time). Grandma was planning to return to Sweden and her sister was coming to visit. My Grandpa gave her an engagement ring before she returned to Sweden to tell her family she was going back to marry him. Her sister never came to America.

My grandpa had heard about Braham, Minnesota, a very Swedish community and he found out there was a farm for sale there. He purchased the farm for about $500.00 in 1911.

Dad was the oldest of six siblings born to Alfred Theodore (always known as A.T.and Bertha Marie Peterson. Dad grew up in a Swedish speaking home and knew no English when he started in school. He graduated from Braham High School in 1931 and farmed for a little while with his dad and brothers but farming wasn’t really his thing. He always liked to tinker and make things so he came to Minneapolis in the early 30’s to attend Dunwoody where he studied sheet metal.

My dad’s first job was at Shafers. I don’t know how long he worked there but the nature of the business was that you worked while they had jobs and then you were laid off. So he was laid off by some of the shops he worked in but was rehired later. He worked for some time at Cronstroms as well as several smaller shops. During World War II he received an exemption because most sheet metal shops turned to munitions plants during the war. In 1955 after being laid off he got hired at the University of Minnesota in Plant Services. He worked there until 1963 when he left and started his own business. While working there he was setting up his own shop and buying equipment and beginning to make cake pans.

Dad officially started Domestic Sheet Metal in 1963. He had an exclusive non-competitive contract with Maid of Scandinavian catalog to supply with cake pans.*

His two main employees to start with were his son, Dennis Lee, and daughter (me). We both worked in his shop as did some of my brother’s friends and many of my cousins. My dad gave many kids (teens) their first job. We had the chance to earn spending money and college tuition. We earned more than the going minimum wage. Maybe more importantly, my dad taught a lot of kids responsibility and a good work ethic.

When my mom was 11, her family moved from Ayr N.D. to Braham (My dad was 18 at the time.) As the story goes my dad was playing volleyball with friends across the street from Helen’s house. My mother was in her yard when an errant ball flew by. She picked it up and threw it back. My dad noticed her and said to a friend “She’s going to be a real “looker” when she grows up.” Several years later dad ran into her sister in Minneapolis. He inquired after Helen and she helped him set up a date. Two years later, in 1940, he married that “looker.” They were married 74 years.

They lived in the Phillips Community for 73 years. When they were first married they lived at 1815 Park, where my The dad had been living as a bachelor. Then they moved to 807 E. 21st Street to a basement apartment (that apartment building was torn down a few years ago). While they were living there my dad stopped to talk to the people on the corner of 22nd and Elliot and found out the house was going to go up for sale. He made some inquiries and he and my mom purchased the house before it went on the market. There were renters in the house at the time they purchased it in the late fall of 1945. They told the renters they could stay until spring, so my parents moved in in the spring of 1946.

When dad first came to the city he attended First Covenant Church in downtown Minneapolis. Around 1938, a group from First left and started Park Avenue Covenant on the corner of Park and Franklin (now The Straitgate Church). I grew up at Park Avenue Covenant. In 1987 with declining enrollment, Park Avenue merged with Elim Covenant, changing the name to Crosstown Covenant.

My brother and I attended all three neighborhood schools; Horace Greeley Elementary, Wendell Phillips Junior High and South High School (the original South where the western portion of Little Earth of United Tribes is now. My mother was very involved in the PTA, my dad to a lesser degree. They both came to every play and event at school or helped with it. Usually my dad was taking pictures.

Dad’s picture taking is a story in itself now contained within scores of boxes, albums and slide carousels. They await a thorough cataloging as archival organization was not Dad’s strong suit. His fascination with recording people and events has accomplished a wonderful record o family and neighborhood.

Both mom and dad were active in PNIA (Phillips Neighborhood Improvement Association) and Ventura Village. After Phillips Jr. High was demolished, Dad was on the Phillips Pool and Gym Committee. He was also instrumental in starting the Friends of the Grass Lake Church to restore and preserve the childhood church he attended once a month when the service was held in Swedish.

My dad’s outstanding characteristics were his faith, his love for his family and his concern for his neighbors and neighborhood. My dad was interested in everything and he could talk to anyone (and did.) He was curious about everything and had to find out how things worked. If he wasn’t inventing something, he was trying to improve someone else’s invention. As my mom says, “Carl was always trying to build a better mousetrap.”

He was fond of saying things like “I wonder if a guy could make that out of metal?” and “I like that, can you get it in red?” When someone would ask him how he was doing he would jokingly say, “Well, I’m better than I was, but I’m not so good as I used to be before I got to be so bad as I am now!”

Dad stopped driving (and driving to Braham) in 2008 at the age of 96. Fortunately for me, he came to the decision himself.

A hospitalization and nursing home stay brought my mother to live with me in April 2013. Dad believed in his heart for many months that she would be well enough to return home one more time. He finally agreed to come and live with me in November of 2013. They had 11 good months back together at my home as they had been together for 74 years.

*The concrete block building behind the house Carl and Helen bought had been the blacksmith shop servicing the 50 horses within the barn next door (later demolished) that delivered bread door-to-door by the Bamby Bakery of the Excelsior Baking Company which at one time had offices in the house at 22nd and Elliot Ave.  BAMBY was an acronym for Best American Made Bread Yet.  A curious twist of history is that Carl turned that livery stable into a metal shop to practice his artistry making what may have been The Best American Made Breadpans Yet. …Editor.

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