Small Town News


Former Towner resident pubslishes autobiography

Mouse River Journal of Towner, North Dakota

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Whether to teach them a lesson, or simply to entertain them, Jerry Hale's children grew up listening to stories from their father. Most were memories of his life in Towner or with being in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Even as adults at family gatherings, they so loved hearing the stories, that he was asked to put them in a book.

"My kids were after me for endless years to tell them a story," says Jerry. "Then they kept telling me that I ought to write a book, so finally I did. I was glad they asked me to do that."

Jerry's son James said that he and his siblings never got tired of listening to their father's stories about his younger days. "Dad always had a story ready," recalls James. "Many years after we'd left home, we'd still want to hear all our old favorites whenever we'd get together."

In 1993, Jerry says he laid down on a bed in a spare room, and started thinking what to write. "I'd just write down everything that came to mind," Jerry remembers. "I thought I'd start chronologically and go from there. There's no specific chapters, just stories of my life." He then used a tape recorder to record his memories, starting out in 1926 Towner, ND. A friend typed them all out, and the first edition of Great Depression Boy Diary was published in 2011.

Gerald Allen Hales, or Jerry, was born to William Otto and Carrie M. Hales in their home a block north of the railroad tracks in Towner. Jerry had five older sisters, Dorothy, Scot-tie, Mildred, Virginia, and Francis, and an older brother, John. His father was the editor of the Mouse River Farmers Press at the time of his birth, and early childhood.

Jerry says there was a candy store across the street from his father's office. Often before school, Jerry liked to go and ask his father for a penny, and he would then go buy some candy. "After Roosevelt was elected in 1932, my dad was let go by the board of directors of the Farmers Press. The Great Depression was underway and there were no more pennies," recalls Jerry.

Times got hard for the Hales family, and Jerry remembers grumbling about having to eat so many pancakes. His father sat him and his siblings down and told them to be grateful for the pancakes as their neighbor was eating potato peels for lunch just to stay alive.

Like many others during the time of the Depression, Jerry's family had to move to where work could be found. His parents started working in a shipyards in Washington in 1942, and Jerry spent the summer of 1943 out there working as well. He saved his money and returned to Towner to attend his final year of high school.

"At first when I got to Towner I got a room in a home there, ate my meals out, then discovered that my friend Bill Chilton, who was on our basketball team, was having a hard time living himself. His parents had moved to the bay area in California and were working in the shipyards there. So Bill and I got together and decided we would batch in my parents' home," writes Jerry in his book. The boys decided to only utilize the kitchen, instead of the entire house, and even moved a bed in there to sleep on. "We'd build a big fire in the evening, then crawl under a pile of blankets and quilts so heavy it would put-near crush us.... it was always bitter cold in the morning, because the fire would be out, it was kind of a guessing game as to who was going to get up and go to school."

After graduating in 1944. Jerry joined the U.S. Navy and served during World War II. He then worked several jobs during breaks from college, including a trip back to Towner, and helping work on the underpass.

"I love the story Dad tells about leaving Towner," says James. "He and his buddy just after the war ali they sat in a tavern in Towner and decided they should go strike out for fame and fortune (well, fortune at least), and save enough money for them to buy their own tavern. Not having any "business plan" would be an understatement, so they went out Highway 2 and flipped a coin. If it was heads they go west and if tails they go east."

"It was tails so they headed east. It was only a short time after that my Father met my Mother in Iowa," continued James. "I gotta shake my head at that one. If the flip had gone the other way, I wouldn't be here writing this."

The book tells of meeting his wife Shirley, and how he always felt like he was missing something, then met her and felt things were changing. She convinced him to continue on with his schooling.

Jerry and Shirley were married on March 25, 1951. Jerry says it was the day he became the luckiest man to walk on the earth. The couple made their home in Burlington, Iowa, and had four children - John, Joni, James and Judy.

After a severe heart attack at the age of 55, Jerry retired and took disability. His wife. Shirley, took on some part time vork and says of fhe time "God took care of us, we always kept our bills paid."

Jerry and Shirley still live in Burlington, Iowa, and both stay active. They have nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

While, he wasn't able to make it back for this year's all school reunion - his 70th class reunion, Jerry has made it back to Towner several times for other class reunions. His latest trip was with his son John, and grandson Micah. Micah, who was just graduating from high school, wanted to see the place of his grandfather's youth, the place that Jerry remembered so fondly.

"Although I wasn't there myself," said James of the trip, "when they went to the Mouse River I'm certain that my 87-year-old Dad was tempted to build another raft and go floating down it for another adventure, even at the risk that fire ants would come out of the logs and force them to abandon ship, so to speak, just like the time when he was a young boy."

Jerry says it was nice being back, visiting people, seeing the old sites, and he was especially pleased that the house he was born and raised in is still standing.

Jerry keeps in contact with many family, friends and classmates from Towner, and says that he is really happy for them that they live in a state that is experiencing an economic boom. "They are extremely fortunate to live in that economy with the agriculture and oil business going on," says Jerry. "The people there came from good stuff - their ancestors were mostly Norwegians, Germans, and Swedes, who arrived with nothing, and made a life for themselves and their families."

Jerry wrote Great Depression Boy Diary as a record of his life for his family, but they have sold several hundred copies and have had to issue a couple of reprints.

Jerry says that when he signs a copy of the book for someone, he always signs it "Please enjoy reading about the luckiest guy alive, Jerry Hales". "I've been married to the best lady I've ever met in my whole life for 63 years," he says. "I am the luckiest man alive."

The book is for sale at a local bookstore in Burlington, and James has just published an ebook version, which will soon be available thru Amazon and possibly a few other online retailers. A copy of the book can also be purchased by sending $19.95 plus $5 shipping and handling to 2069 Highland Ave, Burlington, Iowa 52601.

Copyright 2014 Mouse River Journal, Towner, North Dakota. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: August 28, 2014

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