Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Autobiography of Agnes Panther Miller

My sister called me and said she had a box of Mom's stuff for me. I went over and found a small box of things that she thought I'd like. I thanked her and we talked about some of the papers I had recently digitized. I mentioned that if she ran across any additional paperwork or photos, she should let me know. I'd scan them in and return them to her.

She went and found a spiral notebook and handed it to me. She asked me to scan it in but she would like it back. I opened it and saw an amazing thing. It was a short autobiography, handwritten by my mother to her two oldest grandsons in about 1990. These were the only two grandchildren that had been born by that time. It appears she wrote it up for them but then stashed it in a drawer. I don't know if she forgot about it or was unhappy with the way it turned out.

I gladly took it and got it scanned in that same day, all 13 pages. Thirteen pages doesn't sound like a lot but for one person to write it out longhand, that's pretty impressive. There is no real new genealogical information and the information about her grandfather, Aloys Panther wasn't correct. She said he came through New York when he actually came through New Orleans. Regardless, it provides more detail about her early life that I didn't have.

I'm sure she'd be embarrassed to have this posted but I believe it's too important to risk losing. I believe it will help people who knew her know her even more. I'm so incredibly happy she wrote this.

Here it is. I blurred out the names and birth dates of her children to protect their privacy. I corrected misspellings but left creative word choices. I added a word or two to make a couple of sentences mean what she intended


Page 1

Dear Michael & John,

Your mom & dad requested I tape the story of my life so you have an idea of your ancestry

I'm afraid I have lived a rather ordinary mundane life. But maybe you will find something interesting in it.

I was born April 29, 1931 at 2:00am on that farm near Donnellson Iowa. It is way in the SE corner of the state. My mother and father's name (your great-grandparents Panther) were Benedict & Elizabeth. An aunt, Veronica, a sister to my father helped with the delivery. She was a midwife & served that capacity to most of the relatives. Of course there was also a doctor called to sign the birth certificate. At the time of my birth there were 3 boys & 3 girls. One brother who would have been 2 years older than I died in infancy. Later there was 2 more girls born to our family so in all, there were living 6 girls and 3 boys. I remember Aunt Veronica coming then too. Only one sister was born at the hospital, my youngest. I was baptized at St. John's Catholic Church.

Your great-grandpa Panther's father (your great-great-grandpa) sailed over the Atlantic Ocean from Germany, landing in New York. Your great-great-grandpa Menke also came over the Atlantic from Germany but by the southern route, landing in New Orleans and making his way up the Mississippi to Iowa. All these people were generally farmers.

Great-grandpa Panther came from his father's farm around Dodgeville, Iowa and was hired as a farm hand to help on a farm around West Point, Iowa. It was there he met your great-grandma Panther (then Elizabeth Menke) and eventually

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were married. They lived on a farm at first near St. Paul, then settled on a farm 5 miles north of Donnellson Iowa (back to page 1).

(Houghton) was a small Catholic community, which was about 6 miles north &west of the farm. This was the church and school most of my brothers & sisters went to. The reason this parish was selected was the fact that the roads to the small community were the first ones that were paved. My older brothers had driven a horse & buggy to St. Paul's schools (for a while but then were switched) over mud roads for a while but switched over when paving came in.

I really don't remember too much of my very early years. I remember going to family reunions at my Grandma & Grandpa Menke's farm. I remember having a dog I picked out from a cousin's dog's litter. I named him Bosco. The reason I took the dog I did was I thought my cousin picked on it too much. I had that dog til I was 13 years old. Then he was too old & too crippled he couldn't live anymore. Another pet I received when I received my First Communion was a canary. I named it Peep. It would never sing. One day the cage door was left open. You can guess what happened. The dog killed it in a second. I really wasn't sorry.

And once a year we took a trip to Dodgeville for the Panther family reunion. It was about 50 miles away but seemed like a terrible long trip when your dad drove an old Chevrolet and had to drive over

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mud roads. We started very early in the morning & got home rather late at night (for me anyway). I also remember my dad taking me to the Ringling Bros Barnum Baily show. It was the biggest circus in the world under the "big top" tent. That was a trip to Burlington, Iowa which was another long trip.

We didn't have electricity on the farm til I was in high school. If we wanted running water we had to hand pump from a cistern to the tank. That never lasted long. We had to use an "outhouse" a ways from the house for the toilet. So when I was very small we had to carry a bucket of water with a dipper into the house from an outside pump for drinking water. For a bath we heated water on a wood burning kitchen stove in the kitchen and took a bath in a round wash tub by the stove. The dining room & living room was heated by a pot bellied wood or coal burning stove. I still have a scar on my hand when I got too close to it. Needless to say, you were warm by the stoves but when one would get a little away from it, it was cold. Also the bedrooms upstairs didn't get any heat either. So we had heavy blankets to sleep under. But no one froze to death! Of course with no electricity

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there was no TV and the radios were run on large batteries. So the radios were turned on for the news and farm programs and maybe a few chosen programs to conserve the battery so it would last a long time. But as I grew up, the furnace was fixed so wood or coal could be burnt and then the house was much better heated. But it still had to be "stoked" (get the hot embers to start wood or coal burning) each morning. And every evening the ashes had to be emptied out of the stoves & furnaces then pipes were run for water and we had what was called a "monkey stove" to fire up when we wanted hot water. It wasn't that no farm had electricity until the '40s. Some did, if the power lines went by the farms. No lines went by the farm I lived on. Some farmers used a lot of ingenuity to circumfront that. I remember one farmer had a series of batteries lined up, and connected to a wind mill. So the wind would charge his batteries and he would be able to run electrical wiring from there to the house. This same principle is used in one of the power districts of California at this time! Another used a gas engine to charge his electrical carriers. So there was "alternate energies" then already.

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Eventually the old farm house was completely modernized and if you ever visit your great-uncle Urban Panther, you'll see there is nothing old fashioned about it now.

I started school at St. John's Houghton, Iowa in the first grade. There was no kindergarten or preschool at all at that time. I had nuns teaching me all the 12 years of schooling I had. At that time they were very well schooled themselves so altho it was a very small school, they didn't do too badly. One thing they loved to do was to have some sort of performance for us to put on. Of course this was also a major form of entertainment for the adults since there were no TV's. We always had a Christmas program (& when in high school we would have put on plays) and those of us lucky enough to take lessons on piano or other instruments had to give a yearly recital. Some years they would even have tap dance lessons. My folks couldn't afford that but those of my classmates who did take them, would demonstrate them during recess so then the rest of us would catch on fast. Since we lived in a farm community, the parish was a chief source of social entertainment. The church would have "card parties" ice cream socials, "feather parties", annual picnics. Most would

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participate for then they not only could visit their neighbors & friends, but also money making projects for the parish to keep the parish running. That is probably why I as an adult tried to be active in parish or school activities.

As a child I would spend a week during my vacation at my grandparents house. It was always special because I would be the only child there! I would spend a week or so with cousins of mine & they in turn would stay at my house and we did normal kid things. One of the jobs at my house or my cousins & sometimes even at my grandpas was to go get the cows up for milking. That was always a fun job to walk through the dust in the pasture lanes into the pastures & round them up. It never took any effort to get them to go to the barn. They knew when it was time to be milked. Many times, if we were late coming to get them, they would come to the barn without any assistance and wait patiently to be milked.

When I was eleven years old World War II broke out and 2 of my brothers were drafted into the army. That left just my dad & oldest brother to farm 400 acres plus care for a dairy herd & the pigs that were raised for market.

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My oldest sister was already working at Fort Madison so the rest of the girls had to pitch in driving tractors, milking cows and all that goes with it. I started early driving the tractor when we put up hay. Cut it, loaded it on tractors and hoisted it in the hay mow with the help of a huge fork on a block & tackle. I was 11 or 12 years old when I was allowed to drive the smallest tractor but someone was always there with instructions so I'd be driving the tractor & they would be loading the wagon with whatever they were doing. One time a young cow got loose on the highway and I had to drive an old pickup to head it home again. I was scared. After that my dad took me out into an open field & taught me how to drive! (last page)

By the time I was in high school, the war was over and my brothers both came home. So my dad bought another farm & rented another thinking he would have one big farm crop. But one brother didn't care for farming & went on to different government jobs. Another left for North Dakota so us girls still helped a lot with farm work. Eventually one brother bought the new farm & my dad retired to West Point, Iowa.

By the time I was 14, I was the oldest

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one in the family going to school. So I had to drive my younger sisters & some neighbor kids to school, six miles every day. I had a school permit. I believe farm kids are still allowed that. At first I drove a 36 Dodge but finally when factories started making cars again, I drove a 46 Ford til I graduated.

By the time I was in high school, there was only 5 students in my class all girls! Even at that time, some farmers thought education wasn't all that important and either when the child was 16 or when they graduated from the 8th grade, they stayed home to help on the farm. My dad thought differently &, except for the oldest, your great-uncle Urban, we all at least had high school education. (But with just 5 in the class we mostly got) So I went through the 4 years of high school, was in the choir, had piano lessons, was in plays, helped my mom & dad as I could and graduated from high school in 1949. I really hadn't any driving ambition but was considering going into nurses training. (I) did consider an airline stewardess but my dad didn't want me to go. I had to stay home & help my mom & dad for a year cause the next sister of mine wasn't old enough to get a school permit and it would take too much time for my dad to make 2 trips

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into town every day. In the meantime there was a job opening at the hospital in Fort Madison for a lab technician so I applied and was accepted. It was on the job training and I was young & unafraid so that's what I did for five years. It was 16 miles from the farm -- and I was desperately homesick the first week.

While working there I became acquainted with Cecelia Miller who was the x-ray technician. We became friends and naturally I was invited to her home quite a bit. When her brother John came home from the Navy, we were introduced. When I first saw him, I thought he was a blood donor & met him at the lab door with a vacuum bottle & big needle! We dated off & on for a while. Then started going steady & became engaged. We were married at St. John's Church August 1, 1953. The next year our first son (redacted) was born ((redacted), 1954 your uncle  (redacted)) and shortly after that my husband moved to Omaha to go to barber school. I was persuaded to stay in Fort Madison with the Millers & my little boy and worked nights at the hospital to help with the bills. It was a long year. It would have been much better to all move to Omaha & work out things together but by the time (redacted) was

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one, the barber school was over and my husband got a job in Hartington, Nebraska for his apprenticeship. So we moved into a small apartment. It's funny I was homesick 16 miles from the farm but never got homesick when we moved to Nebraska. I did have a very bad first Thanksgiving away from home but after that made up my mind, even tho it was just my little family we would celebrate the holidays. So even tho at times I really had to squeeze the budget I tried to have special holidays. I knew I had to make them myself or have nothing and I decided I wanted special holidays. After living in Hartington for almost a year we had to move somewhere that was more profitable. We eventually landed in David City, Nebraska. a lovely little town. But I myself never got too well acquainted there but for a couple of friends. While there, the second son was born, your Uncle (redacted) ((redacted), 1956). We didn't live there but a short time and moved to Columbus, Nebraska. I was pregnant with the 3rd son, your dad. Since I didn't know any doctor in Columbus right away, when it was time for your dad to be born, I went back to David City. It was a Saturday night and the doctor teasingly said we should call him Matt after

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a popular TV program, a western named Gunsmoke, Matt Dillon. I didn't go for that but we couldn't decide on (redacted) Michael or Michael (redacted). So we flipped a coin -- and (redacted) Michael it was for your dad.

During this time we lived in a very small house at 3612 18th Street. After the fourth boy was born, (redacted) ((redacted), 1960), more room was needed so we moved to (redacted) 9th Street. Of course it was still small but a little bigger than we had. (Redacted) & (redacted) started to kindergarten at Highland Park school & continued at St. Bonaventure school til (redacted) was in the 4th, (redacted) 2nd, then they all went to Williams school 3 blocks east of their home. Then the first girl of the family was born (redacted), 1964. When she was just 9 months old, her brother (redacted) (your daddy) went into her bedroom and found her "not laughing". She had sudden gotten very ill & perhaps would have died if her brother hadn't decided to sneak in & play with her that morning.

We rushed her to the hospital & got prompt medical attention.  (Redacted) was born  (redacted), 1966 and the last of the tribe  (redacted)  (redacted), 1967. All this time I was being a homemaker and mother tending to the needs of my family. I thoroughly enjoyed it & felt my life complete.

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During this time my father, your great-grandpa Panther died 1965. One of my brothers, your great-uncle Albert died in 1968 and your great-grandma Panther died in 1986 shy of her 93rd birthday.

When (redacted) was in the 3rd grade, I began full time work at Dale Products, where I have been ever since. All the children are grown starting their own lives at various positions. 3 are married & I have 2 wonderful grandsons - (that's you two, Michael & John). I live alone at (redacted) 9th Street and drive a 82 Ford Futura which I like to drive so I do get to visit my family occasionally who live away from Columbus. I'll be 60 years old next year. I live alone now because my marriage fell apart after 33 years. The only thing I have to say is that a good marriage don't just happen. Both husband & wife have to work on it 100%. I've done the best I could with my life, made mistakes I'm sure but tried to overcome them and any other adversity I've encountered. I guess my philosophy could be summed up in three old statements.

When you're dealt lemons, make lemonade.
Don't take it personal.
Most of all when you face a problem, rise above it.

So that's all dear boys. I love you very much and wish I could see you & your mom & dad more often.

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I remember a timber area where we would drive sheep so they could graze. This was about a mile or so from the house. Even when we weren't driving sheep there, we would walk there to gather wild flowers and pick up hickory nuts.

In the neighbors pasture next to ours was a very small stream. Some afternoons we would go fishing there and catch some very little fish. We kept everything and if we'd clean them our mother would fix them. Another delicacy we'd like to catch and fix were frogs legs - Deeelicious.


  1. Bottom of page 8 I think that says Airline Stewardess.

    1. You are absolutely correct. I don't know why I didn't see that. I've edited the post to include the correct words. Thank you!

  2. PS. This is wonderful. What a treasure!!