A Daughter of Yankee Doodle Dandy Takes a Roadtrip

One stop on our road trip–little Miss CB

A Chinese proverb states:  A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

I made that first step over two weeks ago, and I am finally home.  I started writing my blog before my husband and I left for a few days of vacation in northern Minnesota to stay with friends and visit relatives over the 4th.  Once I got home, I slept in my own bed for one night, and after repacking, I hopped in my sister’s car for another rode trip the next morning.   I had a nice time from north to south, and was surprisingly blessed with new information for the article I have been researching and writing about my  minister, Mary MacNicholl.  I have been excited to learn about her, her family, and her climb to become the first woman ordained Methodist minister in Minnesota.  This work has taken me on a journey that I never realized I’d take.  Now home, I decided I would finally finish this blog before July ends so I can get back to my other writing.

I love the 4th of July. It’s a time of celebration with friends and family.  This year, our newest baby celebrated with us–her first 4th and probably her first parade.  Even though my husband and I have travelled a lot, we’ve never been anywhere famous to take in parades and fireworks, we have seen some wonderful exhibitions across the United States.

For the last  years, we have gone to Ely, MN, my husband’s hometown.  Ely is proud of its heritage.  Definitely a city like many on the Iron Range built from the backs of the miners or foresters who were immigrants from Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, and Finland, and other countries, the generations that followed were proud of their heritage in America.  Everyone gets into the act to make this day special.  The parade begins at 1:00.  Many of the town people place lawn chairs at the same place each year in front of Zup’s, (the Slovenian grocery store,) up and down Harvey  or Sheridan streets to watch the lawn chair ladies, the Klown Band, and lots of floats with kids spraying guns of water on the over-heated watchers.  After some tour around the beautiful countryside where hills and trees rise up and circle the crystal lakes before gathering for picnics of traditional American of Zup’s own Polish sausage, hot dogs and hamburgers, and maybe some homemade walnut or apple Poteca. Once darkness comes, the sky blossoms with the most amazing colors as fireworks, private and public, ending the day’s celebrations.

A number of times as my husband and I headed home from Ely to South Dakota (we lived there for thirty years) because we had to go to work the next morning, we could see north, east, west, and south as the sky blasted on fire.   We could only imagine and mimic the universal “oohs” and “aahs” being shouted and car horns being honked during and after these night sky displays. Just like James Cagney’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” we feel patriotic on this day; we love to kick up our heels.

After I returned home, my sister and I headed to Iowa where my mother’s family came from at the turn of the century.  After we left Minnesota, we took 218, the Avenue of the Saints, and came to Clear Lake, Iowa, where Buddy Holly’s airplane went down in a field in 1959 after appearing at the famous Surf Ballroom.  We drove by corn fields that relatives once planted from Rockford to Floyd and  down to Nashua where our Grandma Ina played organ in the Little Brown Church.  She followed her parents to St. Cloud, Minnesota, after finishing her teachers’ training.  Her parents had moved because they had lost everything in a terrible tornado, including a record player given to Great Great Grandpa George Potter by Thomas Edison.  (The two knew each other in Port Huron, Michigan when and where Grandpa was the postmaster on the Grand Truck Railway and young Tom was selling his goods and newspapers to make money for his experiments. I have a bit more to say about George Potter in a few lines.)

Eight hours later, we pulled into Anamosa, where our aunt lives–our sole reason to go to Iowa. We visited, we laughed, she told us stories, we ate with the cousins, children of cousins and their children.  Of course,  before we left, we did some antiquing and viewing Grant Wood landscapes.  “American Gothic” and his other works are part of the culture in this small town where he lived.  As we headed north, we could see how rural scenes of neatly plowed fields and rolling hills captured Wood’s imagination.

We stopped for the night in Spring Valley, Minnesota.  Of course, no trip is complete for me without fodder for more writing.  Now what is so spectacular about Spring Valley?  Ah, Almanzo Wilder’s parents, Laura Inglalls Wilder’s in-laws, settled here and the United Methodist Church in Clearwater, Minnesota, received their woman minister from the Methodist church there. From childhood on, I have been a Laura followers, and  I used Laura’s life for part of my master’s thesis.  Now, I said I’d get back to Gr Gr Grandfather George Potter.  He was born in Franklin County, New York, just a few miles from where Almanzo was born.  It gets to be such a small world, even if  we  don’t know if the families knew each other back in New York. Spring Valley’s museum is in the old Methodist church where Reverend Mary MacNicholl preached.

The United Methodist Church Museum in Spring Valley.

Wilder mementos as well as other notable citizens fill the building top and bottom.  The historian told my sister and I that they have so much as far as historical objects that the history society has filled barns, sheds, houses, and of course, the church. From the theaters cameras invented by the Conley brothers to watches bought by Richard Sears for his mail-order catalog (the one in who is the Sears in Sears and Robuck) and who was Almanzo Wilder’s boyhood friend. The Spring Valley historical society is proud of its heritage and attempts to house anything and everything given to them.

As far as Miss Mary goes, she preached in this now museum-church with its beautiful Italian stained-glass windows, dating back to the 1700s.  The story goes that way back in Italy, a church in England commissioned the glass company to make and design these windows.  For some reason, they backed out of using them.  They were stored somewhere in England and forgotten for nearly 100 years.  From the church’s inception, the windows have shone light on the parishioners in this Spring Valley Methodist Church for 100 years and still graces the sanctuary.  Miss Mary received her ordination here before transitioning  to Clearwater where I grew up and where I and others appreciated her spiritual guidance.  I stood at the altar and tried to imagine Mary singing in front of her congregation, blessing and serving communion, or baptizing babies.  I received a wonderful gift from the historian.  She gave me pictures of the church, the rectory before it was torn down, and Mary and her mother Mary who had come to Minnesota to be her housekeeper. Here is a community that loves its history and is proud to display it!!!

A small detour before we finally headed home was to Wykoff, Minnesota, just ten miles away from Spring Valley. This was Mary’s first church, along with two others in Fillmore County.  This was Sunday about one o’clock.  I didn’t expect to see anyone come from the church so my sister took pictures of me standing on the steps.  It was a warm day so she went back into the ac of the  car while I wiggled the door handle.  Finding it unlocked, I slipped into the entryway.  Little rooms off to the side were carpeted and there were steps to the basement.  The sanctuary doors were open. I walked to the front pew.

As I sat down, I thought about all I had learned about Mary MacNicholl since I had started this process. She received her divinity degree in the late 40s and left her home in New Jersey. She became the minister she wanted to be from childhood.  This was the first church she served along with Fillmore and Fountain –a three-point charge.  Brown paneling and red carpeting welcomed me.  I could imagine this peaceful sanctuary welcoming her as well. I remembered the first day of my teaching career, and I could imagine the preparation she put in for her first sermon.  I sat for awhile, and then it was time to move on.  I closed the door behind me, but I didn’t lock up.  I left the building as I found it. As we drove away, heading home, I was impressed with how Mary faced many challenges to become a minister in a man’s world.

I refrain from breaking out into song about our country’s freedoms and opportunities that are available to men and women alike. (I am sure you are thankful for this.)  My hope is that we can feel the fourth of July every day so we can put behind our differences and celebrate our Americanism.















“My Dad”

Paul Peterson sang “My Dad” during an episode of The Donna Reed Show.   Although sung from Jeff Stone‘s teenage, male point of view, (he was the son of Donna and Dr. Alex Stone), he speaks for many of us females as well and our adoration toward our fathers. As the lyrics go, my dad, Harold Frank, may not have been, “. . .much in the eyes of the world; He’ll never make history…But he [was] the world to me.

He had a rough beginning, but he seldom dwelt on it.  Maybe I’ve blogged about Dad before.  He was born and raised on a farm north of Yankton, South Dakota, to Fred and Anna (Hauck) Frank, children of immigrants from Russia. Both of his parents’ had strong family ties with lots of friends and relatives in the Yankton, Scotland, and Menno areas.

An article in the February 14, 1920 Scotland Journal announced that the area had been free of the flu so far that winter.  Less  week later, my dad’s family all came down with the dreaded virus.  Grandma and Grandpa Frank died on the same day, February 21, 1920,  with Dad’s little brother Eddie dying on the day of his folks’ funeral.

The three living Frank children went to live with Uncle Chris Hauck in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Aunt Leona was nine, Dad was seven, and Aunt Ramona was two.  Later, the children were split up and fostered by different families. The picture below on the left was taken after Aunt Leona’s confirmation and the last day the three siblings would be together for many years. Aunt Leona’s family moved to Idaho.  In fact, even though Dad and Aunt Leona corresponded, they didn’t see each other for forty-five years.

Dad stayed with his foster parents near Scotland until he was twenty-one when he moved back to the St. Cloud area and eventually met and married Mom, Winnie Johnson. (The picture of him on the right was taken when he still lived in South Dakota. Handsome devil, wasn’t he?)

Harold Frank about twenty – five years old.

As the song goes . . .Dad may not have “been much in the world,” but he was the world to me and my siblings.    He went to work  every morning clean as a fresh-washed copper penny, and after working hard in a hot iron foundry, he  came home every night covered in black dust.  He taught us right from wrong, taught us about his love of  God and the Bible, guided us in faith, and he modeled a life to be followed.  He was a quiet man with few wishes or needs except for a good chair to hang his leg over while he read his newspaper, a transistor radio to listen to his Minnesota Twins, a good hamburger anytime, and a beer to quench his thirst after mowing the lawn.

He also told us about our German-Russian heritage, which had been taught to him by his parents and later by his foster parents who were his first cousins.  So important to him that it was important for my sister to begin researching our lineage.  I took over when I moved to South Dakota.  I eventually found that our Frank, Engel, Jasmann, Mueller and other relatives were the first German Russians to come to Dakota Territory in 1872 and settle in Odessa Township, Yankton County.  I wrote Steppes to Neu-Odessa: Germans from Russia Who Settled in Odessa Township, Dakota Territory, 1872-1876, a biographical dictionary of these first settlers.

A bit of the orphan came out at times–like when Dad remarked that he never thought he would be so lucky to have a family.  But I can say we, his children, were the lucky ones to have such a good father.


The Tin Can
My child, do not forget my teaching,
                                       but let your heart keep my commandments . . .
                                       It will be a healing for your flesh
                                       and a refreshment for your body
                                                                       Proverbs 3: 1, 8

Round, red, black, and gold container,
bottom rusted, lid twisted askew,
the Watkins carbolic salve
rested on the shelf above the basement steps–
next to Dad’s pint.
He self-medicated:
Burning swigs for sore throats,
Vicks rubs for coughs,
Hilex baths for itch and ground-in dirt.
The old man had cures for all our family’s ailments.
But for me as a small child,
the tin that held the brown muck,
stinking of gasoline and spruce, contained a mystery.
Whether I had a knee scrape, bee sting, or poison ivy,
and while I wept in pain, Dad performed his magic.
Bowing as if in prayer, he carefully wrapped
my wounds with a Band-Aid, gauze, or clean rag.
Before long, I was out playing again,
paying little attention to God’s healing power
delivered through my father’s hands.


Cynthia Frank-Stupnik’s mother Winnie Frank in November 2002.



As an author, I mostly focus on women’s studies and women’s history. I especially enjoying writing  about strong women who have made an impact in the world. Did you know a woman named Anna Jarvis, as well as many others, lay claim to founding Mothers’ Day?

My family and I had a nice Mothers’ Day hosted by my oldest son and daughter-in-law.  Good fun, lots of good chatter,  grandchildren, and May birthday celebrations with a BIG cake  were the order of this day.  On top of all that, good weather! What could get any better?

When I returned home, I turned on TCM and saw that one of my favorite old movies, I Remember Mama with one of my favorite actresses, Irene Dunn, was playing.   This mother was the heart of the family as my mother and my grandmother were.  Honored once a year, these women represented the models most of us appreciate.     I have many happy memories of long-ago Mothers’ Days when my own “Mama” and grandma were still around, yet my own Mother’s Day,  the ones I share now with my daughters-in-law and granddaughters,  is even more special.

This day that was devoted to my mother and everyone I knew began in Sunday School.  In the musty church basement, I created the same things for a number of years.  From the pail of broken color crayons, I with others  crafted our card of love on construction paper.  From scribbles that the teacher addressed “To Mommy” from “Cindy” to more ornate three-dimensional pictures I designed when I was older, my greeting accompanied a paper cup of petunias or marigolds.   Right after the last stanza of “This Little Light of Mine,” I ran up the steep steps and out the door to the waiting car where my mother sat.  I offered her my precious gifts by dumping them in her lap before hopping into the back seat so Dad could drive us to visit Grandma and Grandpa for a family get-together.  Grandma welcomed us along with our other aunts, uncles, and cousins.  My mother and her sisters gave their mother flats of pansies, her favorite flowers. If it was warm, we ate outside and always, always, the center of the table held glass bowls heaping with glistening olives, green and black, as if they were the most precious gems in the world.  Anyone passing the table grabbed a few from the bowls which Grandma or aunts filled as fast as they were emptied.  When dinner was over, as the men sat around yakking in the lawn chairs, Grandma’s daughters, my aunts,  cleaned up the table, scraped plates, packaged up leftovers and washed, wiped, and put away the dishes.  Then they all knelt in her rock garden and planted the flowers for her.

Not much changed in Sunday School over the years, and when it was my turn for my sons to share the same gifts with me, the hosting batons were handed down to others.  I remember the joy I felt when the boys were little and presented me with their teacher-planted petunias and their special handiwork on their cards.  Their etchings were usually flowers and rainbows, and I showed them off on  the bookshelf until I put them in my drawer of memories. Their flowers seldom survived.  They were replanted and often drenched with loving care. For years, especially after Grandma could no longer throw big parties, my mother’s baton became  the potato masher as she became hostess for this special day.  I don’t remember planting flowers in her garden because my dad and sister pretty much handled that, but I remember big family hugs, lots of laughing and talking, a few hands of 500 around the dining room table, a Twins game  blasting on the TV in the living room, lots of food–all garnished with the same center pieces–green and black olives, and the dishes–stacks of plates, platters, and serving bowls, and silverware that usually my sister and I tackled with our batons, a wash cloth and drying towel.

I can still handle the cooking if I have to, but life and traditions change.  Daughters-in-law and sons usually alternate the holidays and activities with us.  Other things have changed as well.   Although we often have olives, they aren’t the  center pieces. Sometimes a baby sits in the middle of the table.   We have other tastes as well.  I ‘m not sure what my grandparents or parents would have eaten without turkey or ham.  Now we often have pulled pork sandwiches or someone’s fired up the b-b-q.  We eat salads of all kinds. This time, because I was hungry for it, I brought tomatoes and mozzarella that my daughter-in-law garnished with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  I doubt my grandmother or mother would have had these in their pantries.  Holidays like Mothers’ Day are still traditional, a time for love, a game of Old Maid, and giggles with the grand kids.

As far as I am concerned, anytime I can see my family, it is Mothers’ Day.  Thank you sister for such great photos.  They bring a smile to my face, and I ache to see them as soon as possible.

Mothers’ Day 2017 with daughters-in-law and granddaughters




Don’t turn your back on what inspires you

The Mississippi River flowing by Clearwater, Minnesota
A couple weeks ago, I heard second-hand that St. Cloud is thinking of developing a walkway from around downtown to the hospital. When I heard this I thought of San Antonio’s River Walk.  Restaurants, boutique shops, boat rides, this city’s “underworld” is alive with charm.
Until train and car took over, the Mississippi piggy-backed its drifters  north and south, it sent the prized white pine down the river to sell and fill the lumbering industry’s pockets, but  it was a carry-all for so much trash and waste  it became polluted. Then some turned their backs on this great waterway. Thank goodness, laws exist now to protect its health.
It is good to think that St. Cloud will honor The Old Man who has been its loyal friend for so long. The other day, I sat at a boat landing watching the river side-stroke around a few curves as it rolled toward Sartell where it eventually blathers in foam as it spills over the dam. It is alive.

I love the Atlantic Ocean,  and it too inspires me. Sometimes, the waves play at my feet.  At other times they nearly push me over as they romp toward shore with more vigor. I can’t help but visualize my German, English, Welsh, and Scandanavian ancestors sailing away from oppression, tyranny, and near-starvation to start all over again in America. The waters rush at me as if deep  calleth unto deep.

I wrote Steppes to Neu-Odessa: Germans from Russia  Who Settled in Odessa Township, Dakota Territory, 1872-1876 (Heritage Books 1996, 2002) after I moved to the South Dakota.  The Yankton hills draw me in as they bulge from the James River, sloping and angling their way through rich, black farm land.  Here my German-Russian ancestors gathered to begin their lives in earthen huts. So moved by their strength and determination, I wrote:

  The “Rooshuns”

In quest of home, they roamed Dakota’s range.
From Yankton to Pembina, wagon wheels
dug furrows these tenacious nomads trekked
to claim near-similes of Ukraine’s steppes.

They settled. Waist-high grasses waved and clapped
an encore: soddies, shanties, rammed-earth shacks
cropped up. The husbandmen corralled the land
like bronco busters broke the untamed west.

Grooms planted rows of barley, wheat, and corn.
Their wives nursed fragile sprigs of cottownwoods.
Stacks of mischt, the twists of tight-wound hay
became crude symbols of their brutal lives.

These pacifists fought wars against the snows,
against the droughts and fires, the storms of ice.
Once former subjects, nouveau czars of plains,
in black knee boots, stood firm on humble realms.

I see them in gray photos: faces grave,
babushkas, sheepskin coats, beside their squats.
I read church records, letters, homestead deeds,
a diary, our Bible’s family tree.

On page, I transcribe lowly family myths,
then fantasize I enter their domains.
Like Russian thistles tangled in my thoughts,
dwell pioneers whose blood thins in my veins.

While living in South Dakota, I was lonesome at times for the river’s watery presence, I wrote:

Garland writes about my earthy grandmothers
who left eastern hamlets
to follow their wander-lusting husbands
across Dakota prairies.
These petticoat farmers produced the manna,
feeding the men who grappled with the land.
But their own hunger was harder to stave off
without churches, schools, and McClure’s.
North of Yankton, my youthful father tired of treeless plains,
left the rise and fall of the coteau.
Hankering after richer pastures,
he drifted east, sinking his spade in Minnesota’s fields.
Years later, I, like my grandmothers,
trekked to Dakota to work alongside my spouse.
We tilled the land in a different way,
reclaiming their inheritance of Canaan’s blessings.
While home for now may be inside this Harvey Dunn landscape
of azure skies, green-gold desert, and pasque flowers-
I feel Twain’s anchor, Old Man River,
tugging at my veins.
(c) 2002 Stupnik

After a thirty year stint in South Dakota, I returned home to Minnesota to live and write about my first love, where I was born and raised.  Most of my novel/book writing  right now  is about my homeland, Clearwater, Minnesota, the landscapes near the Mighty River, the friends I have/hahttps://tonybennett.com/d, and the history and Main Street Women that inspires me.
What landscape inspires you and leaves you longing to return? Is it Colorado like John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High?”  Is it the hilly and foggy city that  Tony Bennett sings about in “I Left My Heart in San Francisco?” Or is it the powerful soundtrack of “Legends of the Fall” that beckons you back to the mountains and icy streams of Montana?
All of these places impel me to write, but for me, the Mississippi flows in my veins, mobilizing my imagination.
 I welcome you to my new blog site and my new webpage.  Remember, I am available to read and talk for book clubs, poetry readings, panel discussions, and almost all book and craft events.  AND don’t forget to let me know what inspires YOU.