History: Thorp Family History article
Contact: Valerie Wattier
Email: valeriewattier@sio.midco.net

Business news: John Oncken: Family's history worthy of a good book (captimes.com)

John Oncken: Family's history worthy of a good book By John Oncken January 31, 2002 Recently I was reading Garrison Keillor's book "Lake Wobegon Days" and ran into the section where he related Wally Krebsbach's description of the famed Wally "Old Hard Hands" Bunsen, who had a brief fling with the Chicago Cubs. "He had wings on his feet and a whip for an arm, he ran, he threw, he came to bat, and it was all play for him. "His trouble with the Cubs lay in his glove. Growing up in Lake Wobegon, being poor, he learned to play without one ... surely a man so talented could learn to wear a glove on his left hand and learn to catch with it ... it didn't feel right to him, it took the fun out of the game ... he dropped a couple and that made him ashamed and then he came home. It wasn't worth it to him." At the same time I was reading another, much different type of book, and came upon this description of a local baseball player on the Thorp, Wis., baseball team. "Boo John Harycki was a good country boy left-handed pitcher, but as far as batting went he couldn't hit his way out of a wet paper bag. One Sunday afternoon he had a dismal day at the plate - 12 big pitches and he struck out four times. Disgusted, dismayed, and mad, he jumped into his car, threw it in reverse and backed into a tree. Boo John jumped out of his car, found no damage and said: 'Well, at least that's something. That's the first thing I've hit all day.' " Both passages relate to small town baseball players during an era when amateur baseball was the big event in rural towns. Both make us chuckle because we probably knew of similar people in the long ago past. But there's a big difference. The first was fiction out of the mind of a professional writer and came from a "Book of the Month" selection that millions of people have read. The second was a true incident lived by a Thorp man who wrote it for a family book of memories and stories and has been read by maybe a few dozen people. Pat Soderberg was the writer from Thorp. The 95-page book is titled "Our Family Stories Over The Years." The baseball story is but one of a host of memories ranging from family members emigrating from Ireland, Bohemia (Czech Republic) and Sweden to America and the about 150 years since. You may remember Pat Soderberg. In the spring of 1998 I wrote about a half day we spent together touring the Thorp area and seeing the large Mennonite farming community that has been established there. Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about visiting Pat at his home in Thorp in Clark County and how he was battling leukemia. He, his wife Eileen, sons Bill and Don, longtime friend Elaine Baldeschwieler and I spent a couple of great hours talking. When I was leaving, the Soderbergs presented me with a copy of their memory book, which was really intended as a bit of history for the growing Soderberg family. I suspect we all realize that when we leave this world lots of family history and memories go with us. The Soderbergs made an effort to put some of the family memories into a book. Bill, a philosophy professor at Montgomery College in Rockville, Md., took on the responsibility of producing such a book and to base it on the lives of his parents, Pat and Eileen. The book, crammed with stories and pictures, was published in 1998. It contains chapters on Eileen, Pat, sports and entertainment, people and stories, verses and tributes, birthdays, relatives, friends and an afterthought. I found it even more interesting than Keillor's Lake Wobegon book because my first real job was Clark County agent. I had met many of the people portrayed and knew the places talked about. What a wonderful present to the whole Soderberg family. The little grandchildren who are being raised a thousand miles away will have reason to revisit Thorp and the house and farm where their grandparents lived. They can look at the photos of their grandmother's grandparents Elizabeth and Edward Hayes and know that their parents came from Ireland. They can see a photo of August Soderberg, who at 15 came to America in the early 1860s, married a young German woman (Bertha), who as a youngster survived the great Peshtigo fire by seeking refuge in the river. She moved to Thorp in 1882. August and Bertha bought a farm in 1884 that was originally patented to Ezra Cornell, founder of Cornell University at Ithaca, N.Y. Generations yet to be born can see the aerial photo of the Soderberg Edge O Town Farm before it became part of the city of Thorp. They can wonder at the floppy wool uniforms worn by the Thorp baseball team when they played in the Wisconsin Semi-Pro Tournament at old Borchardt Field in Milwaukee. (Pat Soderberg was the manager.) And they can marvel at the barnstorming biplane owned by the Larson brothers from Larson, Wis., in which July 4 celebrants could ride for $5 back in the 1930s. The book tells of Pat Soderberg's 19 years at Thorp Dairy and Blue Moon cheese and butter factory. And it relates how he took over the family farm in 1952 and went to work for Thorp Finance in 1966 and eventually bought the old Farmers Exchange Bank building (it was also the first home of Thorp Finance) and became a realtor. One of the stories in the Soderberg family book touches on the beginnings of Thorp Finance - a name that means little to young farmers nowadays. But at one time in the 1950s and '60s, Thorp Finance was a major factor in consumer lending and on the farm auction scene. Eileen Soderberg was a typist there and Pat joined the company as an auction clerk. The company was ultimately sold to International Telephone and Telegraph and the name is no more. The stories flow on and the photos old and new will bring back memories and give insight into the family for decades. Every family should have a memory book. A ballpoint pen, typewriter, computer or tape recorder is a start. Go through the old photos in the basement, figure out who is who. Put it together. But we never have the time. Or do we? On Jan. 25, just 10 days after my visit, Pat Soderberg died at age 86. He took the time and his stories are in the memory book and are forever. John Oncken operates Oncken Communications, his Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company He can be reached at 222-0624, fax 222-7774, email jfodairy@chorus.net. Published: 9:30 AM 1/31/02



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