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CLAYTON AND AUDEY EBERT: RECALLING THE EARLY YEARS

CLAYTON AND AUDEY EBERT:  RECALLING THE EARLY YEARSClayton and Audrey Ebert: Recalling The Early Years

The Seymour Community Historical Society continues to archive pictures and interviews with Seymour area people. Recently, long time residents Clayton and Audrey Ebert shared some memories of their early years. Clayton became a cheese maker, served in Japan in the post World War Two era, spent time in the theater business, worked as a banker, and started a very successful insurance agency.
Audrey fondly recalls attending a rural one room school, enjoying the commercial classes at Seymour High, working in the insurance business, influencing Clayton to come to Seymour, and enjoying life as a mother and homemaker.
Clayton and Audrey are lifetime members of the Seymour Community Historical Society and avid supporters of the Seymour Museum.

(Clayton) "I was born in 1927, Jan 19, in Lena, Wisconsin. My father was a cheese maker one mile east of Lena and three miles north. I arrived in a blinding snowstorm, but the doctor managed to make it to the house. At age five my parents moved to a cheese factory outside of Oconto Falls. The factory in Lena was called Sunnybrook factory, in Oconto Falls it was called Golden Corners even though my father said it never was golden. I went to grade school in a one room school called North Morgan, about a mile from the cheese factory, and graduated from Oconto Falls High School in 1944.

The Merchant Marine

After I completed high school I wasn't sure what I was going to do. A friend of mine said, 'With this war on let's join the merchant marine.' I was 17 when I graduated and turned 18 in January. We were worried about being drafted and my friend worked on the freighters as a cook while he was going to high school. He made good money and felt we could do the same in the merchant marine. We took a train down to Milwaukee and passed our physicals. The merchant marine said, 'we will call you.' We waited, but they never called. My friend decided he wouldn't wait any longer and decided to enlist in the navy. That wasn't for me because I realized if a torpedo hit a ship you were a goner. Then in 1945 I got drafted into the army."

(Audrey) "I was born in the town of Osborn in April 2, 1928. My mother had all the intentions of going to the hospital but the doctor ended up coming to the house. I went to a one room school house about two miles from our home. As far as one room schoolhouses go, it was large, had its own library, and a beautiful stage for our productions. We walked to school every day. In the winter when it got very cold with lots of snow, the neighbor had a bobsled that he built a box on and used bales of straw for all the children to sit on. He had a team of horses that he hooked up to the sleigh and he would take us those two miles to school. It varied between six and eight kids in the sled. We had blanket to cover up with along with fur pelts. We thought it was great fun!

One Room School

Amazingly our teacher always got to school. Seldom was it ever cancelled. I attended the one room school for the first eight grades. My parents were farmers and my dad was on the school board. The potential teachers would come to our house to apply for the position and be interviewed. We were always out of the room. but it was exciting to see who the teacher might be. We had one teacher for all eight grades. It was a large school, we must have had about 35 students. We had some wonderful teachers. I used to sit at my desk and hurry to get my work done so I could listen to the lessons for the classes above me. I enjoyed all the subjects, but math was probably the most difficult for me.

We always carried our lunch to school and on the cold days in the winter by the time we got to school it would freeze. We had two cloak rooms, One for the girls and one for the boys, and of course those rooms weren't heated like the classroom. You would think the lunch would thaw out by noon, but no, many a day we had frozen sandwiches. I went to the high school on Robbins Street in Seymour. By that time they had busses to transport the rural kids. I loved school and really enjoyed my high school years. I liked the commercial area and classes like bookkeeping. I graduated in 1946.

In the Army

(Clayton) I was drafted in the army at age 18 and had 26 weeks of training at Fort McClellan, Alabama. Then I came home for seven or eight days. The war was on and when I was home I got orders to report to Fort Sheridan, Illinois near Chicago. I took a train there and then was sent on a troop train to Adair, Oregon. I was stationed there for four to five weeks with the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion. We were preparing for the invasion of Japan. Their homeland was heavily defended and it was estimated it would cost 250,000 to 300,000 American lives. The war was still on and then President Truman ordered the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and a week or so later dropped the second on Nagasaki. Shortly after that Japan surrendered on the battleship Missouri.

Preparing to Invade Japan

At that time I was still in Camp Adair so I said, 'That's great, I'm going home,' but that didn't happen, instead I boarded a troop ship along with about 3,000 other soldiers and we headed to Japan. We were on a 420 foot liberty ship called the Fairchild. I had been on the water many times fishing on Lake Michigan and I never got seasick, but for the first two days on the Fairchild I was sick and so was everyone else. That was quite a mess. It took us 26 days and we came into Tokyo, Japan. One night we were in a raging storm and I mean a raging storm where the waves were coming over the ship. The captain announced over the loudspeaker that we were 800 miles due north of the Hawaiian Islands. Nobody could go above, we had to stay below the deck. I thought if this thing sinks there is not enough lifeboats to take care of everybody and we wouldn't have much of a chance in the storm anyway.

Life in Japan

When we came into Tokyo Bay, we could see that the B-29s had done quite a number on that city. We then went down to Yokohama and that city was pretty much destroyed also. Then I got on a train and traveled to Sasebo, Japan and that is where I was stationed for about a year. That was when I realized how strong the Japanese defense was. Both sides of the harbor were lined with large artillery ready for an invasion. I had a cushy job so to speak. I had learned typing and I ended up being a company clerk. I was in an office and my captain's name was Pierce and my master sergeant was Norman Bush. My job was to take roll call to make sure everyone reported and to keep company records. I didn't have a lot of problems, and because of my duties I didn't have to stand revelry and all that.

Travel to Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Of course the captain had a jeep and my master sergeant and I took off one day and went to Hiroshima, it was devastating, the heat from the atomic bomb melted all the glass in the buildings and with the sun shining everything just glistened. The only building still standing was a concrete structure. Sometime later we traveled to Nagasaki. There the destruction was different. It took layers out of the buildings and the roof would collapse. I was extremely fortunate, there were Japanese who didn't want to admit the war was over and they tried to attack American soldiers, but I never had to deal with that. After about a year, I was able to ship back home. My captain called me in one day and said, 'Ebert, I have enough points to go home, (the points were allocated on the amount of time you were in service), and so does your master sergeant. If you reenlist for another four years I will make you a master sergeant.

Going Home

At that time I was a TEC4 (Technician Fourth Grade) which wasn't a bad rank. But to go from a TEC4 to a master sergeant was a great promotion. I went back to the barracks and thought it over and eventually I went back to Captain Pierce and told him that I was looking forward to going home and I decided not to enlist. It was fortunate that I made that decision because about four years later the Korean War broke out. Of course I was single and would have been on the front line and very likely wouldn't be talking to you today.

When I got back to Seymour a number of my friends belonged to the Army Reserves and they encouraged me to join. At that time the pay was $15.00 a month. I went to a couple meetings and thought it over and decided that I just wasn't interested in that kind of life anymore. When the Korean War did break out they were the first to go. A number of my friends were single and they were sent to the front lines."

Audrey in the Insurance Business

(Audrey ) "I graduated from high school and intended to go to Madison to college, but after a couple days the secretary at a local insurance company called and asked if I would be interested in working in the office for the summer months. I took the job with the intent of going to school in the fall. The next day I started working for what at time was called Hartland-Cicero and Cicero Mutual Fire Insurance, two companies. By the time school started I was enjoying getting a paycheck and being independent and I decided not to go to school. I stayed and worked for Hartland-Cicero for about fifteen years. When I started working the office was in Emil Gosse's home on Washington Street. He was the head of the operation. The office moved from his home to the lobby of the hotel and then to the old Seymour State Bank building on Main Street. That is when I decided to stay at home with our two girls. Shortly after I left they moved their office to the old Maass Motors Garage on Highway 54. They completely remodeled the building."

The Seymour Theater

(Clayton) "When I got home from Japan my uncle and aunt owned the theater in Seymour. They had three daughters and my parents had three sons and the two brothers and two sisters were married on the same day. So throughout the years they were extremely close. After I was home a few weeks I visited Seymour to see my Uncle Frank Ebert and Aunt Mildred and spend some time with my cousins. After I returned home Uncle Frank called me and said he is looking for someone to work in the theater. My father talked to me about working in the cheese factory, but I told him I wasn't interested in working seven days a week. So at age twenty I came to Seymour and worked for Uncle Frank as a movie projectionist. I did that for about two years.

Uncle Frank had purchased the theater from Arvin Otto in 1944. He remodeled it inside and it was absolutely gorgeous. The theater had movies every night and on Sunday afternoons they had a matinee. Two nights a week the theater had double features and that was extremely popular. When Gone With The Wind was released Uncle Frank and I previewed it at the old Bay Theater in Green Bay. Because of the demand for the movie Uncle Frank couldn't book it right away, it was too expensive. All the theaters that had a lot of money wanted it. Eventually we booked it for several days and it was very popular. After seeing it a number of times I noticed that the burning of Atlanta looked fake. Other than that it was a great movie.

The theater capacity was about 250 to 300 people. On a double feature night Uncle Frank would open up the south balcony even though there wasn't a good fire exit and it wasn't supposed to be used. But Uncle Frank would open it up for a large crowd. The western double features with stars like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were most popular. The north balcony was where the young couples would go. If they got too friendly Uncle Frank would shine a flashlight in their face. Since Uncle Frank was considerably overweight, he didn't like to go up the stairs to the north balcony so that is where the kids would congregate. Even though he was a big man, he could really dance! He was so light on his feet it was amazing, but he didn't want to go tromping up those steps. So the young couples took advantage of that."

(Audrey) "The theater was the place to go when we were little kids. We would beg mother and dad whenever a good western was coming. My favorite was Gene Autry." (For more information about the Seemore Theater go to: seymourhistory.org and click on REMINISCES OF THE SEE-MORE THEATER By DUANE F. EBERT).

Working for Uncle Frank

(Clayton) "I got out of the cheese making business because I didn't want to work seven days a week. Then I came to Seymour and started working seven nights a week for Uncle Frank. Being a young man I wanted more freedom and eventually Uncle Frank gave me a night off. The movies came in on the train and one of my jobs was to go to the depot and pick up the film. The movies came in odd shaped tin containers, usually two or three per movie, but Gone With The Wind had four. The theater had two projectors and a cue would come up at the end of the first reel and part of my job was to start the second projector on time. The projectors had carbon arc rods and I had to watch so they were about a quarter inch apart and that they threw proper light on to the screen."

One reel would usually last about 20 minutes and a little round circle would appear on the upper right hand corner of the screen. When I saw that I would start the other projector. When the second circle appeared I would shut off the first projector and the second projector would take over. And then of course I had to change the reels. Periodically the film would break or a splice would come apart and we had a splicing machine that I would use to put the film together. Uncle Frank would get upset when that happened because the people wanted to watch the movie. It did give them the opportunity to go out in the lobby and buy popcorn or candy. And believe me, popcorn was a big profit item. So Uncle Frank made big money on the concessions. In the early 1950s Uncle Frank had an opportunity to sell the theater to Otto and Sophie Settele. They didn't have a family and so they bought the theater."

Clayton and Audrey Meet

(Audrey) "I met Clayton when I went to a basketball game out of town and I came home with a group of friends. We stopped at what used to be McBain's restaurant. After Clayton was finished at the theater he came in the restaurant to get something to eat. He came over to where I was sitting and asked, 'Who won the game?' That started it all and now we have been married for 66 years."

Moving On

(Clayton) "After about a year at the theater I spoke with Uncle Frank and said, 'Something has to change here. By the time I'm finished working there aren't any girls around and that is not a good situation.' Then he gave me either Friday or Saturday night off. After another year I talked with him about a raise in pay. At the time I was making twenty dollars a week including room and board. I was staying with Uncle Frank and Aunt Mildred. He wasn't receptive to my request so I quit the job and went back home. I didn't know exactly what I was going to do, but I was a licensed cheese maker and I thought maybe I will go into that business.

Seymour State Bank

It wasn't long after that and I got a call from Audrey, and she said they are looking to hire a man at the Seymour State Bank. I thought, 'I don't know anything about banking, but I will go down and interview.' Ted Nicodem interviewed me and then said, 'You have to talk with Harvey Muehl,' he was the president of the bank. He hired me primarily because I knew how to type. So I became a bank teller. Compared to working at the theater the job was pretty cushy. I didn't have to report in until about 9:00 AM, and if my window balanced I could leave by 4:00 PM or so. I had quite a bit of free time so I worked at the gas station on weekends to make extra money and I even did some painting.

Looking into the Insurance Business

Audrey and I were dating and she got me interested in the insurance business. She would go with me and we would write some insurance. Back then the companies were separate, Hartland Cicero would write the extended coverage that was windstorm, hail and that type thing. Cicero Mutual wrote fire and lightning. At that time I believe I received a $3.00 fee for every policy. So Audrey actually got me into the insurance business.

Time for a Change

I continued working at the bank and one day two fellows came in. They were dressed extremely well and they talked to Smiley Nicodem who was the assistant cashier. They waited until I balanced my window and then they approached me and said they were from the Old Line Life Insurance Company. Years ago my father had purchased a life insurance policy for me from Old Line Life. Audrey and I had recently gotten married and they asked if I had changed the beneficiary and of course I had. Then they went on to say that they were looking for an agent in Seymour. So I started writing Old Line Life Insurance. Then people would ask, 'Do you write automobile insurance?' Forest Huth had a general insurance agency in Seymour and I asked him if I could write automobile insurance through his agency. He said, 'I'm not interested in that, but I am looking for someone to buy my business. I would like to retire.' So as of April 1, 1958 I was full time in the insurance business. Then I wrote all lines of insurance. I worked at the bank seven or eight years. On February 1, 1967 i purchased the old Seymour State Bank Building for my insurance agency. It was the same building I worked in a number of years ago.

Unusual Clients

I wrote a wide variety of insurance including some policies that were quite unusual. I insured some seeing eye dogs, not for natural death, but for fire, theft, vandalism, etc. One time I got a call from a client in Green Bay who had a daughter who wanted me to write insurance for twelve black panthers. She had married a circus performer and she performed in the ring with her husband. Then she mentioned that she purchased a tractor and trailer to transport the animals to different circus performances and she wanted insurance for that also. The trailer was outfitted with 12 cages and a cooler for raw meat. I had 23 insurance companies that I utilized including some that were excess line agencies and I did find one to insure the animals. They were my clients for about two years and then they established permanent residency in Florida and I lost them. Overall I was in the insurance business for 33 years.

Ebert-Truyman Insurance

Ebert-Truyman Insurance came about as a result of me buying up small insurance agencies. Years ago the local banks sold insurance and it was difficult to compete with them so when Ted Nicodem retired, I purchased his insurance agency. The business got so large that I couldn't handle it all so I took in Ben Truyman and then eventually his son Mark joined us."

Family Life

(Audrey) "When the two girls came along (Nancy and Sherry) I felt they needed me and I decided to be a full time mother and housewife. I didn't help him with the business. We felt if I was working with him it would not be as good for our family life. Clayton appreciated talking things over with me and he knew that there was always stability at home. If we were both working in the business it wouldn't have been that way."

Formula for Success

(Clayton) "In responding to your question why I was successful in the insurance business I can attribute it to three reasons. First of all, for at least ten years I worked 55 to 60 hours a week. Secondly, I always did my best to be friendly. I felt my customers were always very important and I cared about them. The third reason is, I had some great office help and established many excellent relationships throughout the years. I had three full time office help and three part time. They were all outstanding. We developed many friendships over the years and enjoyed being in business and raising our family in Seymour.

On May 8, 2014 Clayton, accompanied by his daughter Nancy, participated in an honor flight to the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. commemorating the end of WWII in Europe on May 8, 1945. He had the honor of carrying one of the wreaths representing all branches of service and place it in front of the memorial. Susan Eisenhower, President Eisenhower's granddaughter shook his hand and thanked him for his service. he remembers it as, "One of the most outstanding events in my life."




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