By Joann M. Ringelstetter
“Hey, you know, everybody’s talkin’ about the good old days, right?
Everybody! The good old days, the good old days,
Well, let’s talk about the good old days…
Come to think of it as, as bad as we think they are,
These will become the good old days for our children.”
(Spoken lyrics from The Way We Were/Try to Remember by Gladys Knight & the Pips)
Last Sunday, we celebrated our father’s 90th birthday. It was an absolutely beautiful day with blue skies and puffy white clouds. Roughly 80 members of our immediate and extended family attended.
In preparation for this party, my sister Phyllis and I decided to put together a slide show that chronicled our dad’s entire life. Knowing that this would be a huge job, we got together about nine months ago and pulled out the oversized box of family photographs, of which Phyllis is the keeper. Looking through this window to our past and the past of our father and his family was rather overwhelming due to the sheer volume of memories contained within that box. I must admit that we weren’t very productive that day, but it was probably a necessary start to the process.
In January of this year, Phyllis and I visited our dad and stepmom for a day to go through some of the photographs we found in the box and ask Dad some questions. He, of course, was told that we were beginning to organize the family photographs and that’s why we were asking questions. In reality, it was because there were parts of his life for which we didn’t have the facts for our slide show.
In March, Phyllis and I began the arduous task of chronicling our father’s life, starting with the marriage of his parents, Herman Joseph Ringelstetter and Mary Barbara Lehner, in 1919. Shortly before their marriage, Herman had purchased a farm in Section 27 in Spring Green Township, Sauk County, Wisconsin. This area is known as Wilson Creek, and it is located halfway between Spring Green and Plain.
In putting together the slides for this part of our family history, we were fortunate to have the help of our dad’s twin sisters, Beatrice Blau and Bernice Ringelstetter. They gave us some wonderful old photos of the farm as it looked in the 1920s, along with a hired man driving a three-horse hitch pulling a grain binder. The old farm buildings are in the background.
They also gave us a photo of the Wilson Creek farmhouse, in which 11 of the 12 Ringelstetter children were born. We visited the old farm in 1996 and I shot a couple rolls of film there. In May of this year, I and my four sisters spent a day with Dad in the Wilson Creek area. It was a beautiful spring day and we had a great time visiting all the places Dad frequented when he was growing up. We were saddened, though, to find that the barn and most of the outbuildings on the old farm are now gone.
The good news, however, is that the old one-room schoolhouse that was attended by Dad and most of his siblings is still standing and is being well cared for. It’s called the Upper Wilson Creek School and the old water pump in the photo below still stands next to the school.
On the day of the party, after lunch and birthday cake were served, we started our slide show, projecting it on a large wall above the fireplace so that everyone could see it well. After the slides about our grandparents and their farm, there were many slides of our father, Lawrence Aloysius Ringelstetter, and his siblings as children growing up in Wilson Creek.
These were followed by slides of his cars; his jobs; meeting and marrying our mother, Dorothy Rose (Barman) Ringelstetter; their seven children being born; the two houses they built; the two farms they bought to make a living; the auction of the second farm; the beginning of their retirement; the early death of our mother; meeting and marrying our stepmother, Mary Jane (Franke) Ringelstetter; and the combining of her family with his.
After the chronicle of Dad’s life, there were 90 memory slides to match the 90 years of his life, which started with the Gladys Knight tune mentioned above. The entire slide show ran a full 35 minutes, but no one was bored – quite the opposite, in fact. Everyone laughed often, some cried a bit, and many said it was the best slide show they had ever seen. Later that afternoon, many watched it for a second time.
It took the two of us, Phyllis and I, much of our spare time throughout the spring and summer to complete this huge project. But it was worth it. It was a labor of love for our Dad’s 90th birthday, but it was also for the entire family to reminisce and remember the good old days and those who have already left us.
On our trip to the Wilson Creek farm in 1996, while Ruth and I were exploring the barn, we discovered our father’s initials carved on the inside of the barn door. We ended our slide show with this photo saying that, over the past 90 years, our dad has certainly left his mark in time.
Happy 90th Birthday, Dad, and Happy Shunpiking!