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Catalog Number 2015.031.001
Object Name Recording
Scope & Content Oral history interview of Gordon Von Bergen.

Interviewed by Sandy Denninger and Michael Stachnik, of the Schuette-Biermann Farmhouse Museum, and Cliff Schultz, member of the Elk Grove Historical Society on December 11, 2008. The interview was conducted at the School House Museum 355 Biesterfield Road in Elk Grove. Interview length 112 m 9 sec. Collection includes audio recording, transcript, and digital image.

Digital Image: 2015.031.003
Collection Elk Grove Historical Museum
Notes .Gordon Von Bergen Interview, December 11, 2008 Part I

00:00:05 Beginning of introduction with Cliff Schultz, Sandy Denninger and Michael Stachnik

00:00:39 Farm Location: Southwest corner of Arlington Heights and Biesterfield. Gordon was born and raised on a farm at Harlem & Foster in Chicago. In 1947 his father purchased the Elk Grove farm. His dad's brother John Von Bergen already had a farm in Elk Grove on Tonne Road. Gordon's father sold seed to farmers out here during WWII. Gordon was about 6 years old at the time of the move to Elk Grove.

00:05:15 The move to Elk Grove. Move in March. Very muddy. Gordon was oldest and he and brother Melvin helped their father the most around the farm. He had 5 siblings. Raised only vegetables. This farm was 40 acres. They owned other property but sold it as it was a little too far away.

00:06:42 Wesley Luehring. Ever since grade school Gordon wanted to rent a farm. Wesley, realtor, had a commanding presence. Wesley was a nephew of Henry Schuette. Dealt with a lot of DuPage Co. property. The neighbor Gehrke was running the Schuette farm.

00:07:43 Henry Schuette. Henry Schuette was elderly (about 80) but raised pigeons. He gave Gordon a mating pair. Henry sold squabs. Henry always had Hershey bars. Ed Tegtmeier lived just south of the Von Behrens and was a hunting buddy of Gordon's. Ed is the one who suggested Gordon go over to Schuette's about pigeons. Pigeon coop on second floor of the barn. Blackbirds ate the pigeon feed.

00:12:58 Gehrke family. Owned farm on north side of Schuette. Gehrkes were dairy farmers. Used to put milk cans up at corner at Biesterfield in a semi-box every morning to be picked up by the milkman. Later they put in bulk tank to replace the milk cans. Two brothers-Otto and Ernst Gehrke.

00:16:44 Back to Schuette. Only paid for taking care of pigeons with a gun, ammunition and candy bars. Gordon was junior high age at this time. Gordon went to St Luke's school in Itasca and then to Arlington Heights High School in fall 1954. During teen years he didn't see Henry Schuette much. Henry was probably about 5'10" and pretty nimble. Hearing was an issue. His mind was very good. Good head of hair-white. He could walk. Didn't like climbing ladders. He was more serious than humorous. Always interested in what neighbors were doing. Very interested in how the farmers were doing. Henry talked to Gordon about the tremendous change in farm machinery over the years. He liked that you could do so much more with the machines than with horses and that the machines didn't have to be rubbed down at night or fed.

00:24:40 Gathman farm. Al and Bob Gathman at end of Biesterfield Rd. They were big John Deere people. When they got their tractors their father came out to middle of the field and told them to pull the tractors under the shade trees at noon to cool off.

00:25:35 Parents' names. Bernard Otto Von Bergen and Esther (nee Sass) Von Bergen.

00:26:33 Landmarks. Deike Store. Time off during rains so they'd ride their bikes to the store at the end of Biesterfield Rd. South on Rohlwing on west side of road was a big grocery store. There was a store on Higgins Rd just before York Rd. Nice groceries. Tavern on Rt 72 across from the Elk. He would go to Rudy's for soup and sandwich for lunch when helping his dad and uncle. Mostly a tavern but did have sandwiches. Another place on Higgins just east of Beisner. There was a tavern by Salt Creek. Shayne's Dance Hall on southwest corner of Higgins and Arlington Hgts. Rd. It burned down.

00:33:39 John Von Behren's family pretty straight and narrow. By 6:00 to 8:00 in the morning the girls would have 8-10 loaves of bread baked. Cleaned the house every day. Never hired any help. Family did everything. One of the girls would babysit for Gordon and his siblings and she was like a drill sergeant. But a good work ethic.

00:35:11 School. Got to together with Heimsoths, Clarks, and Tonnes and carpooled to St Luke's Lutheran School in Itasca. Everyone took their week to drive. He told of stories of the Tonne's big old car and the bad roads.

00:37:03 Pals at the time. From 4-H: Schultz, Landmeier, Oehlerking, and another name. Grimm, Behrens, Busse. Had one set of friends from Itasca area for grade school but another group from high school because that was in Arlington Heights. Devon was dividing line for Bensenville high school and Arlington Heights high school. The family moved to a farm in Hebron in fall 1962.

00:38:52 Charlie Rasim. (He built the house at Leicester and Biesterfield-SW corner). He bought a farm out in Hebron. Gordon's brother Melvin still runs it today. Charlie's daughter owns it today. Charlie's family was very frugal. Describes storing root vegetables in the ground during winter.

00:42:24 Arnold Gehrke's grandfather with living with Arnold in the 1920s. The grandfather was cleaning a pen and a rat jumped at him and bit him. Two days later the grandfather was dead. Gordon a coon jump at him once in Hebron but he caught him with a pitchfork.

00:44:00 End of disk one

Part II

00:00:00 Do you remember Harry and Martha Zender? They might have had an acre because they rest was owned by Louis Zirko. His son Bill Zirko would take a load of vegetables to market on Water Street in Chicago. After Bill married he didn't live on the farm but his unmarried sister continued to live there. She died there. Gordon's father and Louis were good friends. Gordon and Louis would go ice fishing up at Lake Geneva. Louis had the first TV around and loved watching boxing. Gordon would go down there to watch TV. When Louis died the hearse came down from Arlington Heights and passed their farm. They got up from what they were doing and took off their hats as it passed by.

00:03:19 Visiting Henry. Condition of the buildings at the time were all right but did have deferred maintenance. The house was pretty good-could have used some paint. Structures were well-built. Discussed various buildings and locations on the farm.

00:05:59 Von Bergen homestead. Gordon's dad built all of the out buildings. There was no house. His dad was eventually going to build a house but they bought and moved an old schoolhouse to use as their house. They put up blocks, dug a basement and remodeled it for 3 bedrooms.

00:07:26 Recap of moving. Lived on a farm in Norwood Park, moved to a farm in Elk Grove and then to a farm in Hebron. Gordon married in 1967. Good loamy soil in this area.

00:08:31 His father. They married in 1933. Struggled first couple of years with a drought, then windstorms another year. They also lost their firstborn. His father had a Bolens tractor which greatly improved cultivation. Previously everything was by hand.

00:09:46 In Norwood Park. Gordon would go with his father to the end of the streetcar line where there would Polish women who would be waiting there to be picked up to do hand work on the farms. 4:00 am. Day laborers. Only the women, men would be in the factories. Very good workers. Sometimes they would get 8 or 9 women to come out to harvest onions, all by hand.

00:10:54 Prisoners of War. Germans from the barracks in DesPlaines would serve as day laborers. MPs would come out to guard. POWs would rather work than chance going back to Germany under Hitler. Feed them good at noon and they'd work twice as hard in the afternoon.

00:14:26 Entertainment as a child. Went to various theaters in DesPlaines, Arliington Heights, Mt Prospect, Pickwick in Park Ridge and also Bensenville. Got popcorn and got to see a movie cheap. Palatine and Barrignton theaters, also.

00:15:33 Chores. They didn't have animals since they raised vegetables. So no specific chores. They did have sheep. But generally just fieldwork. Follow his dad and do what he asked at the time. Weeding was a big thing. "Tough row to hoe!" All weeding by hand, no chemicals then. Early 1950s they began to get Mexican migrant workers.

00:17:38 Purchase meat. Mensching's store in Itasca was a source. Could get some local meat from farmers. Farmers would raise beef, quarter it and take it to Mensching who would cut it and keep it in a cooler.

00:18:18 Back to Henry. Never saw a lot of food in his house. Often wondered if he ate more than Hershey bars. He always had warm pop available. Loved to talk, Hydrox Root Beer in bottles. He had a dog and then some cats to catch the rats that might eat his pigeon food. Henry bought cracked corn from Roselle for pigeon feed. No homing pigeons. Just pigeons for market.

00:20:51 In Elk Grove from 1947-1962. His dad sold a corner parcel to a Shell station probably before any development came. Gordon was working for the gas company then and they put in a lot of the gas mains. The family just considered the development "progress" and it was nothing to be stopped. With the development taxes would go up due to the surrounding improved land. If you didn't sell you'd get taxed to death. Most of the Centex development was done when they moved to Hebron.

00:22:51 Local leadership. He knew of Hodlmair buying up the land. He was always in the news. Henry Schuette, Jr. thought this was happening too quickly. Said he wouldn't sell but that Wesley probably would when he got the property.

00:24:19 Finished high school. Was still working out of home helping his dad before they moved. Then he worked for Northern Illinois Gas but still farming here. But then traffic was getting pretty bad so they sold the place and moved to Hebron. Then Gordon decided to go farming full-time. His brother followed suit. They had a partnership for a number of years and then split up and each went his own way. There was a lot of traffic going east out of Elk Grove Village. Saw tremendous growth in traffic and building as a teenager. Also the building of the tollway.

00:25:50 Accidental shooting. Parents were up in Wisconsin. He was shooting half dollars in the air. His thumb slipped off the hammer. One of the supervisors of building the tollway lived in a trailer on the Von Bergen farm. His wife helped take Gordon to the doctor.

00:28:25 Did lots of hunting on the old Danzer farm. There was a slough. Zirkos had a big marsh for a lot of pheasant hunting. It was tradition to hunt on Armistice Day (November 11). Hunted with sons of Klehm of Klehm Nursery.

00:33:22 Tollway construction. He watched the whole construction. It went through both of his grandfathers' farms and those of 5 or 6 other relatives. If land wasn't sold it would be condemned. Most sold because it was progress. Lots of ponds created by digging out dirt for the tollway. Everything was happening here in the fifties.

00:36:20 Feeling about moving out of Elk Grove. He missed some of his old friends but they had moved out, too. Just about anyone involved in farming was gone. George Hohneman was still there. Gordon really considered moving out an opportunity. It was fun living in Elk Grove.

00:38:21 Childhood memories. Had a pony. Did a lot of riding, went into the forest preserve. Rode down to Henry Schuette's a couple of times. Thought of himself as the Lone Ranger's sidekick. Blackjack and Cloves gum. PK gum. Henry and Sophie Boye-his aunt and uncle. Stopped by to see the elk. Salt Creek would flood in the spring in Itasca and come up almost to St Luke School in Itasca.

00:43:39 Rifle. Henry traded his rifle for Gordon's single shot. Gordon would shoot critters that causing problems for Henry. The trade was within a year of Gordon going down there. Gordon "protected" the pigeons for about 4 or 5 years.

00:44:49 End of Part II

Part III

00:00:00 Henry Shuette. No other neighborhood kids helped them. They were afraid of him. Bernice Schiller lived right across the street from Henry (bought a piece of Tegtmeier farm). They built a brick ranch home. Berneice would go over to look after Henry. Henry loved company. He didn't get a lot of visitors. He never talked about any siblings. Always looking for someone to talk to.

00:03:18 Recollection of the interior of the house. They would sit in the kitchen. Bedrooms were off the kitchen. Had a wood stove. Had old furniture. Antiques were hanging on the wall. At first Henry would go outside with Gordon-later he'd just give Gordon bullets to go out and shoot critters. After shooting he'd go back in the house and have some Hershey and a bottle of pop and then be on his way. Busiest time on Arlington Heights Road was Saturday morning when people would be heading to the Itasca Country Club. Henry had this "love seat" in the kitchen that he'd lie on and listen to the radio. Had piles of things all over.

00:08:11 Characters in Elk Grove. "Wild Bill" Swaitek, had the farm on the corner. Did everything fast or crazy.

00:10:14 Religion. Attended church at St. Luke's in Itasca. The pastor was very strict. With the carpool they would often arrive at school early. In winter he would be nominated to go over to the parsonage to get the key so they wouldn't have to wait outside. "Old Man Block" was the school principal. Milk would be delivered to the school but not always refrigerated and would sometimes sour. Talked about the mimeograph (actually spirit duplicator).

00:15:32 Interest in real estate. Went from full-time to part-time farming in the eighties and wanted to go in a new direction. Liked dealing with people. Wesley Luehring might have inspired him. Gordon deals mostly with farmland.

00:18:54 Meeting his wife Pat. Pat's family were homesteaders in Hebron. Gordon's family bought their farm about 2 miles away. Wherever they would go in the Hebron area Gordon would know someone because they had moved out that way from Elk Grove.

00:20:40 Any recommendations of people to talk to. Arnold Gehrke. Razim house-built on 10-15 acres. It was never farmed. May have been rented out to Lump. Ray Lump. Most are deceased that he can think of.

00:23:24 End of interview.

Source Elk Grove Historical Museum