Series | Growing up in Douglas Co.

Myrna (Viebrock) Regan, right, and her cousins Skip and Susie Clemons in September of 1952. The photo was taken in the garden of the Viebrock home in Douglas. (Provided photo/Myrna Regan)

 

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

This is the third in a series of articles featuring interviews with people who grew up (or are growing up) in Douglas County. Karen Larsen plans to feature one person in each decade of life. She began with a resident in their 90s and is moving down one decade with each subsequent interview. The stories told will provide a profile of life growing up in Douglas County over the years. Larsen’s third interview is with Myrna (Viebrock) Regan, who is 70.

Myrna (Viebrock) Regan: Recalling an idyllic childhood in Douglas

The baby girl who would become Myrna (Viebrock) Regan was born in Colville on Dec. 29, 1946. Soon after birth, she was adopted by Carl and Lepha Viebrock, who lived on a wheat ranch near Douglas.

The couple did not have their own children, but had adopted a 9-year-old girl, Shirley, shortly before.

According to Regan, the Viebrocks were natural parents.

“If anyone was meant to have kids it was my folks,” Regan said.

Myrna Regan remembers a happy childhood in the town of Douglas. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

When Regan was adopted, Lepha Viebrock was already 47 and she didn’t know anything about taking care of babies. She decided to put an ad in the paper for a nurse. The woman who answered the ad was Anna Ernst, the wife of George Ernst who owned the Blue Ribbon Meat Market in Wenatchee.

Regan stayed with the Ernst family until she was about 18 months old, and the two families kept in touch throughout her childhood. In fact, Regan said she still communicates with Doug Ernst, one of the children.

The Viebrocks would go down to Wenatchee to visit Regan during this period and if Anna Ernst mentioned anything the baby needed, they always picked it up or ordered it to be delivered that same day.

In addition to the two children they had adopted, the Viebrocks took care of a number of nieces and nephews for periods of years. Skip and Susie Clemons stayed with them the longest. Skip was three years older than Regan and Susie was eight months younger. The children grew up like siblings.

The family had several gardens, raised 200 chickens each spring, and raised cattle for meat and dairy products.

Regan was a part of many of these production activities. When the chicks were new, she had the job of feeding them out of her hands. In late summer, she would use a hook to catch the chickens for her dad to butcher. In the fall, she had to help get chickens out of their roosts in the trees and into the chicken house. She also collected eggs.

One day, she was in the chicken house with a bucket full of about 150 eggs when she encountered a skunk. It sprayed her before she could turn around and run away. She didn’t drop an egg, but she smelled bad and had to soak in a milk bath. The pair of leather shoes she was wearing had to be buried.

A job that Regan and Susie Clemons did together was cutting the lawn area with scissors. The girls would work on it a little each day, and when they were done, it was time to start again. Regan remembers the year that the family bought a push mower.

Some jobs were fun. When her father wanted the floor of the Quonset building swept, he would clear it out and have the children fasten on their roller skates. Then they would skate around with large brooms to sweep it out.

In general, though, Regan feels that her parents didn’t require her to take on much of the burden of work around the farm.

“I was really pretty spoiled,” Regan said.

She remembers that after she caught the chickens to be butchered she would just sit and watch as her mother cleaned them and prepared them for freezing.

Her mother also did a large amount of canning, but Regan was never asked to help. As her mother got older, she bought fresh fruit and took it to a cannery on Old Rock Island Road to be processed and Regan would accompany her on this trip.

When the children in the house got into enough trouble, Regan’s parents would say to them, “Go down to the willow tree and get your own switch, and don’t bring a small one.” Then they were spanked on the back of their legs.

But again, Regan thought her parents were light on her. One day, during one of the years in which she was the only child living in the house, she cut up some gauze curtains. Her parents asked her who did it and she said she didn’t know. They couldn’t have believed her, but they didn’t make her get a willow switch.

While in high school, she and a friend skipped school one day and paid 50 cents to ride the “mail bus” down to Wenatchee. In a department store, they ran into Lepha Viebrock. Then they realized they didn’t have the money to ride home, and had to borrow it from her. Regan also escaped that one without punishment.

Many childhood hours were taken up with reading. In those days there was a bookmobile that came to Douglas from Wenatchee regularly. Regan loved looking through the books and picking out the ones that she wanted to borrow.

On weekend nights, Carl Viebrock would take the children to the Nifty Theatre to watch the movie that was being shown. They watched movies such as “Francis the Talking Mule” and “The Three Stooges.” In the middle of the movie, there was an intermission so that the film reel could be changed. During that time, there would be a drawing of all the ticket stubs and the winner would take home some of the proceeds of the evening. Regan said the theater was always full.

In the basement of the theater, there was a woman named Mrs. Brown who taught piano. Regan came into town every Saturday for her piano lesson.

During the winter, the town ice skating rink was in full swing and Lepha Viebrock would drop the children at the rink in the morning when school was not in session and pick them up in the evening. They would spend all day at the rink skating, playing games like “Crack the Whip” on the ice and sometimes having snowball fights.

When they got cold, they would go into the warming shack where there was a pot-bellied stove. A man named Bill Coordes, who the children called Uncle Willie, kept the fire going in there. He also made sure the ice was kept smooth.

“I remember skating all day long until I couldn’t hold my ankles up anymore,” Regan said.

In the summer, Viebrock would take the children to the town pool for swim lessons and to play. When they returned, their eyes would burn from such a long exposure to the chlorine.

Viebrock stored her meat in a rented locker in the meat market in Waterville and Regan remembers accompanying her to town to get meat out of the locker. Sometimes they would go to the mercantile store, located where the Thrift Shop is today, which was owned by Harold Badten. Badten is still a Waterville resident. They would buy tennis shoes and other items there.

Sometimes they would also buy items from the Douglas Store. Regan’s parents had accounts at many of the local stores, so all that was needed was to sign for the bill and it would be charged to the account.

Regan’s parents never restricted her charges on the accounts. She said that as a result she didn’t learn to manage money.

One of the earliest places that Regan was introduced to was St. Paul’s Church. There she was baptized, and then confirmed as a teenager after passing through two years of confirmation classes held at the Lutheran Church in Waterville.

Families took turns cleaning St. Paul’s Church, and Regan remembers dusting and waxing the pews.

There were three separate Sunday school classrooms set up in the basement of the church. Regan was sometimes responsible for playing “Hear the Pennies Dropping” on the piano for the Sunday School offering.

Every summer the church would hold Vacation Bible School. There were always lots of children and many helpers. Regan said Vacation Bible School was a fun time, with lots of outside games. When she was a teenager, Regan became one of the helpers.

Regan attended the Douglas School, which was next to the church. Her favorite teacher was Mrs. McConnell, who taught at the school for many of the seven years Regan was there. McConnell began each day by reading aloud to the children. She read through all of the Nancy Drew mystery series, among other books. McConnell had taught the children to spool knit, and they would do that while they were listening.

Their education included book work and lots of penmanship training, but it also included hands-on learning. They made large maps of the continents on butcher paper and colored them. They learned to make things in school, like lye soap and place mats out of dish rags.

The students prepared programs to be put on at the school for Christmas, Mother’s Day and other observances.

During recess, they played games and also played in some forts they had built near the school. One of these was in a large sagebrush bush that had been hollowed out. Another was in a pit that previous students had dug. They also wandered around the sagebrush and picked camas root, which they peeled and ate.

Conditions in the school were primitive compared to today. There was no running water, so the teacher would bring water in an enamel container each day. There was a ladle in the container that the students used to pour water into their drinking cups. The bathrooms were an outhouse.

When Regan was in seventh grade there were only seven students in the school, and it closed down the next year. She and the other students began taking the bus to Waterville School.

Throughout her growing up years, Regan was involved in 4-H. She learned baking and sewing and always prepared items to be entered in the fair in Waterville.

4-H meetings were once a month at various people’s homes. Each member would need to have their record book current for the meeting. The book kept track of what the member had been doing on his or her 4-H projects. The meetings would start by saying the 4-H pledge. Usually one or two students would give demonstrations during the meetings, showing how to do a particular aspect of a project.

Myrna Viebrock in a 1964 graduation photo. (Provided photo/Myrna Regan)

Regan served a dinner at the fair for a project one year. Her score was lowered because she didn’t think to clear the table before serving dessert.

One year, the girls held a fashion show at the Viebrock School. Regan showed a pair of pajamas and a corduroy bathrobe that she had made.

After her high school graduation in 1964, Regan attended Eastern Washington State College for one year. She felt lost there and was tired of school. She came home and babysat for a while. Then someone told her that Waterville Hospital needed an aide.

“That’s where I found out what I really, really liked,” Regan said.

She went to the junior college in Wenatchee and took a licensed practical nurse (LPN) course. When she finished, she returned to Waterville Hospital and worked a night shift— midnight to 8 a.m.

Because she was the only one in the hospital much of the time, she had to learn all jobs, from making the beds properly, to fixing breakfast, to drawing blood.

“I learned a lot working at a small hospital,” Regan said.

Regan savors the memories of her childhood.

“It was a wonderful childhood,” she mused.