Eva Belle Gerstenberger (photo by Eudorareporter.com reporter Diane Chrislip)
Eudora News and Information – www.eudorareporter.com
Today Eudora is a bustling town of over 6,000 residents that sprawls south past K-10. There are housing developments on the east and west edges of Eudora that were farmland just a few years ago. The town has a great education system, a recreation center that is buzzing with activity and a swimming pool with all the amenities.
I’ve lived in Eudora for over 35 years, and it’s a much different, larger town than when I first moved here. But I’ve often wondered what it was like 50 or 100 years ago. I decided to visit with some long-time Eudora residents who now reside at Medicalodges. I chatted with two women in their early 90’s, Eva Bell Gerstenberger and Dessie Williams, as well as 75-year-old Marvin Schehrer.
Eva Bell and Marvin were both born and raised in Eudora while Dessie moved here as a young married woman in 1951. Eva Belle and Dessie are widows while Marvin has always been single. They were each able to provide a glimpse of Eudora in days gone by.
Eva Belle’s early life was spent in Weaver Bottoms, a tiny community just a mile east and a mile north of Eudora. Flooding has long since wiped out the community. Even though Eva Belle’s home was in Weaver Bottoms, her family was very involved in the Eudora community and she attended EHS in her teen years.
She remembers Eudora as being a wonderful place to grow up. “It was clean and safe, and people kept their places up,” recalled Mrs. Gerstenberger. “People always helped each other out. My dad would help anyone who needed it.”
While businesses often struggle to keep going in downtown Eudora today, when she was young there were a variety of stores, restaurants, businesses and lots of activity. Families gathered downtown on Saturdays to buys supplies and to socialize.
“Going to town was a big deal to us country kids,” said Eva Belle. “Daddy gave us kids each a dime to spend when we’d go to town.”
What did a dime buy back in the 1920’s? “We could buy several things with ten cents, and we spent it all on junk food—candy, ice cream and soda,” laughed Eva Belle.
A lot of her family’s life revolved around events at the United Methodist Church, a church that is still active today. She remembers potluck dinners and fun times with friends at church.
“Eudora was a wonderful place to live,” Eva Belle reiterated. “Life is what you make out of it,” she added. “We tried to make the best of everything.”
Marvin Schehrer, born in 1938, grew up on a farm south of Eudora. He remembers simpler times when kids spent more time outdoors. For fun, he and his siblings would ride horses, swim in the creek, and hunt squirrels and rabbits. When asked if his family ate the game he hunted, he assured me that his dad cleaned them and his mom cooked everything he brought home. Occasionally he’d get to go to a movie at the theater in Eudora (Yes, Eudora did have a theater long ago!), which he thinks cost about a quarter to get in. That’s a far cry from the ten dollars or more it costs now.
Marvin’s family attended Holy Family Catholic Church when it met in the beautiful stone building that still stands on Church St. Holy Family is now located on Birch St., and a brand new building is in the works.
As it was for Mrs. Gerstenburger, going into town was a highlight for Marvin, and he looked forward to the Saturday trips when he could see his friends and have some fun.
“My folks gave me a quarter every Saturday and I’d spend it on ice cream,” Marvin remembered with a laugh. (Apparently kids have always loved junk food!)
What does Mr. Schehrer think is the biggest difference in Eudora now than when he was a kid in the 1940’s? “Everybody knew everybody back then,” he said.
Dessie Williams came on the Eudora scene a bit later. She and her husband Clint moved to Eudora in 1951 and later built a house at 1120 Elm.
“It seemed like we were on the very edge of town because Highway 10 hadn’t gone in yet and there wasn’t much development to the south,” recalled Dessie.
Like the others, Dessie remembers a time when Eudora’s downtown was more bustling. There were two grocery stores in the 1960’s, one owned by Howard Wilson and the other by his cousin Glen Wilson. She worked at one of them, and enjoyed seeing many people local people each day. People tended to do all their grocery shopping right in Eudora in those days.
She thinks that as Eudora has grown it’s lost a little of the friendliness that she enjoyed so much. She said that years ago people tended to be more social, enjoying coffee or meals together regularly.
“We didn’t have much TV back then,” said Mrs. Williams. “People did more together instead of staying home and watching TV. People were more neighborly.”
She and her husband raised two boys in Eudora, and she thinks it was a great place to raise kids. All the neighborhood kids played in the Williams’ yard because they had a basketball goal. Some of the neighbors wondered how she could stand the sound of basketballs bouncing all day long, but she said she enjoyed all the kids and their noise, and she always knew where her boys were!
Dessie and her family were very involved in the Southern Baptist Church (now Eudora Baptist). She taught Sunday School for over 62 years, first to young married women and then to couples. Like Eva Belle’s and Marvin’s families, church played an important role in the Williams’ life.
I appreciate these three seniors giving us a little taste of life in Eudora’s history. While I’m grateful for all the things Eudora has to offer now, I would love to see a vibrant downtown that not only provides shopping opportunities but a place to hobnob with friends and neighbors. My hope is that Eudora will continue to attract business,`and that the community will support them so that even in these modern times we can be a bit more like “old Eudora.”