Remarkable things were happening in Ephraim the spring of 1952. Little Genie Seiler, “he is No. four I believe” wrote Verra Sauer, “thought we should know that he had seen a live butterfly clinging to his house.” (Could Genie have been the son of the Sylvester Seilers?) Then, on Sunday, “a flock of meadow larks arrived to find that the grass all around for acres had been burned over. You never heard such scolding and fussing as they searched for their old nesting places.” She also noted that the front lawn at the Lapp’s had turned green (they opened Ephraim’s first bakery), as well as a patch at the Bill Crums (who had a tailor shop near North Shore Road).
Verra’s (pronounced Vair-a) April 3, 1952 Door County Advocate column (page 14) continued. She congratulated Mrs. Mary Olson who was celebrating her 82nd birthday, a notable achievement in 1952 when an American woman’s life span averaged 72 years. She applauded Larson’s Cities Service basketball team, managed by Norman Larson, Sr., Bert Thorp and Jim Strege. The boys had won a tournament and trophies were on display at the post office, then located in the Village Hall (one can see see the mail slot, sealed over, on the left side of the village hall door today). Bud Larson, D. Albrecht, B. Hanson, D. Olson, M. Fandrel, J. Fischer and R. Slaby, all Gibraltar seniors, had worn their Ephraim Eagle uniforms. Verra also reported that Mrs. Herman Hachmeister was recuperating in Ephraim after a two-week stay in the Door County hospital.
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Crackerjack Correspondent – Beloved Librarian
Miss Sauer, as Ephraimites knew her, in that long-ago time when addressing adults with honorific titles was considered courteous and necessary, was the village correspondent. Her detailed observations of life, whether winged or two-legged, were firmly anchored to this village. “Miss Sauer has more than pride in Ephraim. It’s an out and out love affair!” the Advocate proclaimed in 1963, the year the state forced her to retire. Age 75, infirmities were also prompting Verra to move to Fair Haven, a retirement home in Whitewater.
The Advocate’s proclamation wasn’t isolated praise. Several years earlier (1958), the Ephraim Foundation awarded Miss Sauer its first Distinguished Citizen Award, noting her steadfast efforts to enrich the lives of children by establishing a village library. “As for the children, the EHF citation read, “that is where her heart lies.” EHF members, reminiscing, agree. “She was so kind,” said Karen Ekberg. Linda Carey added, “She seemed to like children very much, even though she was not the mother of a child. She never talked down to us, accepting us as intelligent beings.” Like others, these women met Miss Sauer while visiting Ephraim’s library as children. Verra was the new voluntary librarian, appointed by Village President Ivan Thorp. She had moved to a home north of the village on Hwy 42, her black lab Bud in tow, and had just turned sixty. Those with childhood memories of her might be surprised to learn that Miss Sauer spent her first career working in the chemistry department of the Milwaukee Health Department. She had graduated from Vassar College in 1910 with a degree in chemistry. She also vacationed in Ephraim at least as early as 1929 and, in fact, her mother and grandparents lived in Sturgeon Bay.
Verra knew how to get kids reading, and loving it. An observant listener, she discovered topics that interested each individual child. “She would pick up on something we might say in conversation,” recalled Linda Carey, “and elaborate on it. That would prick our interest even more and she would say, ‘Perhaps we can find a book about it.'”
Ephraim’s first library was located in a basement room of the village hall. It was a spin-off of sorts from an outlet for books once offered by the Wisconsin Traveling Library and housed (some fifty year prior) in the Jacob Smith Store. Captain Peter Knudson (Knudson House) delivered some of the books.
By May, 1950, Verra was a paid employee. She spearheaded Ephraim’s entrance into the Door-Kewaunee Regional Library System. The County board adopted Resolution V (15 ayes and 4 nos) to allocate $15,000 for each of the next three years towards the merger. Eventually, officials established the Door County library system. In 1961, an addition was added to the hall with more library space. No longer would Miss Sauer need to pull on galoshes when the basement flooded! Officials honored her and long-time resident Dr. David Stevens, both instrumental in the project, with a plaque that is still displayed inside the Ephraim library. Have you seen it?
Around that time, Verra started a youth club, which used the village hall. She helped set up three pool and ping pong tables, and hosted roller skating parties. Meanwhile, she got involved with the group establishing the Peninsula Music Festival and supported local theater. According to one obituary, she received a wall atlas with the signature of actor Basil Rathbone (a.k.a. Sherlock Holmes) for her efforts. In addition, she was a Red Cross volunteer (1952), led discussions at Peninsula book club meetings, and knitted. At least one of EHF member received a hand-knit, Norwegian-style sweater for Christmas.
No Stranger to Door County
Verra Sauer (June 26, 1888-April 22, 1976) was no stranger to Door County. Find a Grave lists Ephraim as the birthplace of both Verra and her mother (maiden name unknown), though other sources indicate Sturgeon Bay. Verra’s parents, Adolph Frederick Sauer (1842-1933) and Minnie Feldmann (1861-1941) married in September, 1887. They met through her father’s business. Adolph Frederick Sauer (1842-1933), like Minnie’s father, immigrated from Germany. His first wife had died, leaving four children.
On September 24, 1887, the Advocate announced the nuptials: “Next Wednesday, occurs the marriage of Henry Saurs [sic] and Miss Minnie Feldmann. The groom is a traveling man from Milwaukee, and the bride is the second oldest daughter of C.N. Feldmann.” who had a general store in Sturgeon Bay. This store was reportedly the first of its kind in Sturgeon Bay, located on Cedar Street near the city hall. Years later, it became the lodge of the Odd Fellows.
Verra told the story of how her dad proposed, despite treacherous winter weather, in a letter to the editor of the Advocate: “On Saturday morning, Dad started out at 17 degrees below zero in a cutter and team of horses, stones heated to keep his feet warm, to drive from Green Bay to Sturgeon Bay to propose to my mother.” He was 45 years old, she 20 years younger. “When he died at age 91 we found among his possessions three things he would never give away, the blue flannel shirt he wore that day, the felt boots, and the warm gloves. Also to this day we have in the family the love seat he always cherished because he insisted it was the one he and mother sat on when he proposed. Now wasn’t this a romance?” When Verra left Ephraim for Whitewater, she gave away another family treasure, the chair where her lovebird parents had rocked their babies. One of our EHF members can fill you in – who can it be?
Verra’s two sisters preceded her in death, one from childbirth complications in 1917. Descendants of four half-siblings attended her memorial service on June 13, 1976, held at the Ephraim Moravian Church.
12 Below Zero
Her dad’s mad-cap proposal wasn’t the only winter adventure Miss Sauer wrote about. In her January, 1951, Advocate column, Verra described leaving the library at 5 p.m. It was a “beautiful sunshiny day … Most of the western sky was a broad strip of cerise against a contrasting blue-black after the sun went down, and later the rosy light from the west seemed to be reflected in the snow.” The next morning, Ephraim awoke to 12 below zero, according to the thermometer at Sohns Market. By 8:20 a.m. all electric clocks stopped because power went out. “It was communion Sunday at the Moravian Church and the members of the parish with oil stoves and furnaces were privileged to go to the services, for the church and parsonage are on a different circuit than the rest of us and the oil burners in both went on at 9 o’clock. [They went] off again just as the church service started. The rest of us stayed at home to watch the wood fires in the fireplaces, to keep our houses warm and to prevent pipes from freezing.” Power was out for three hours. Later that evening, just as the hullabaloo ended, the fire station’s siren sounded an alarm. A chimney fire had started in Mrs. Jensen’s home on Coffee Shop Road (today’s corner of Maple Grove and Hwy 42). Luckily, the fire was extinguished before the engine arrived.
Hi Jinks at Cornils
Ephraim seasons continued to roll round and round. Verra began her August 6, 1953 column by hoping for “decent summer resort weather with our usual blue sky, white clouds and beautiful sunsets.” The Yacht Club’s Venetian Night had already been postponed twice. She mentioned Winifred C. Boynten‘s new book Faith Builds a Chapel, and told readers that the Wiley children of Louisville, KY, were in Ephraim, staying in their great-grandparents (Moss) family home on Dane Road. Fordell Hogenson, with his parents, were in the village as well, celebrating Ephraim Moravian Church’s centennial. (Was this man named for his grandfather Fordell 1849-1927/Evergreen Beach Hotel?) Verra shared a heartfelt thank you letter from the Martin Fick family for condolences received following the “shock and grief” of losing “our Carol.” In July, Carol Fick had tragically drowned in the lower part of Eagle Bay, the day of a strong northwest wind.
Verra pivoted to news that American Home magazine’s photographer had recently taken pictures of “the hooked rug that Helen and Ida made for the stairway at the Bill Sohns home.” Helen created an Ephraim scene for each riser. She also reported that pranksters let 38 horses lose from the pasture at the Cornil riding stable. The horses “found refuge in the neighbor’s garden.” She did not mince words while masterfully demonstrating the proper use of a semi-colon when linking two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb: “There are pranks and there are pranks. Some are fun; but, when property is destroyed the prank shows stupidity and immaturity of thinking.” It seems no one, titled or not, was beyond Verra’s reach if she felt strongly about something. She was informed, civil, and polite when, a year or so before her death, she contacted Wisconsin Governor Lucey to give him constructive criticism regarding his response to the AIDs crisis.
Ephraim’s Miss Sauer had a knack for deftly handling tricky matters, including the awkward curiosity of youth. One day at the library, she overheard several children snickering about a naked figure they found in a library book. “She immediately went to the section of art books and pulled out a book that had drawings and photographs of naked people. She impressed upon us that the human form is a most beautiful work of art and that we were not to be embarrassed about it,” said an EHF member who shall remain anonymous.
Mothering in Ephraim: A Transitive Verb
Mothering, which is simply about “lifting up” children, has always happened in Ephraim. Verra Sauer never had children of her own, yet she exemplified true qualities of motherhood. At its best, wrote Marcy Cole, Ph.D. in Mother’s Day for Childless Women mothering is a transitive verb. “A transitive verb is one that expresses a doable action, with someone or something as the recipient of that action.” Mothers push and prod. They cradle and soothe. They cut to the quick with a single word, a look, a long pause, a loving hug. Mothering, unlimited by biology or gender, is an affirming energy that nurtures and gives generously. It is instinctive and patiently instructive. Always receptive, it continues even when nothing is given in return.
Three cheers for Verra Sauer, a true mother of Ephraim!
Special Thanks To
Linda Carey, Karen Ekberg, JoAnne Rankin, Valerie Clare Statham and others who researched and shared memories.