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A WAVE from Cottonwood – A

This year the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. We are participating by remembering contributions of persons from our region, most of whom are no longer with us.

I interviewed Tyler’s Ardith (Aamodt) Sween in June 2008. Ardith was born in Cottonwood in 1913 and grew up in town, attending the Cottonwood Public Schools.

Her father worked as bookkeeper at the Anderson Elevator Company in town and then later operated a grocery store with a friend and business partner. She described Cottonwood during her growing up and early work years.

“Well, I think we had 3 grocery stores. Our office (Northstar Insurance) was in a former Post Office business on Main Street. The Empire State Bank was on the corner next door to us. We thought it was a pretty good district at that time. Many years ago we had 2 banks in Cottonwood. We had a theater. We had the Great Northern going through. In fact, at the time I joined the service, the railroad passenger service was still operating. It was a busy railroad at that time.”

Ardith reflected back on the social scene of Cottonwood’s young people at the time.

“Well, I think the church took up a lot of our time. I attended what is now Christ Lutheran. At that time it was Singold Lutheran, across the street from the school. We had our young people’s organizations. We had choir and that took up most of our time, probably. We didn’t have cars to go around. [O]ne young man in the group might have a car and we couldn’t all join together and go out of town to Marshall to a show or something like that,” Ardith recalled, laughing.

Ardith graduated with the Cottonwood High School class of 1931 into a community that was following the nation into an ever-deepening, economic depression. But she was not deterred from charting a course for her future.

“Well, you know as a young person we didn’t think much of that. At that time, after graduation, there weren’t that many professions for girls. There was nursing, bookkeeping, and teaching. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go to college, [m]y father didn’t have enough money, so I enrolled in Nettleton Commercial College in Sioux Falls. I attended school there until February of 1932. The banks closed and I had no more money to continue the education, so I returned home.”

Despite the worsening depression, Ardith landed on her feet in Cottonwood.

“I hadn’t been home very long when I was approached to come and help out at the Northstar Insurance Company. That was a temporary job for the spring months, but that temporary job turned into 11 years. So I worked there until 1943.”

Ardith worked right through the years of the Great Depression, which also coincided with some terrible drought years in Southwest Minnesota. Ardith described one of the drought’s dramatic effects on Cottonwood.

“I remember when the lake went dry and they farmed the bottom – the bottom of the lake.”

The world plunged into war in East Asia between Japan and China in the late 1930s and then Nazi Germany triggered a general war in Europe in August 1939 with its invasion of Poland. Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany joined their causes in a mutual defense treaty in September 1940, well before the Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii pulled the US into the Second World War.

Ardith had not followed the war news closely, but was looking for a life change and the U.S. involvement in WWII provided that opportunity.

“Well, in 1942 Congress passed a bill, I think you’d call it, establishing the Women’s Auxiliary Voluntary Emergency Services, which became the WAVES. After that many years in the insurance business, I thought I’d look into something else to do and this sounded kind of interesting to me. So, in the fall of that year I was in Minneapolis with Northstar Insurance Company. They held their annual meeting. I went over to Minneapolis to the recruiting office to find out information about it. They gave me information and what I should do. When I came home, I followed their instruction and sent an application picture and applied for entrance to the WAVES.”

The Navy contacted her soon thereafter.

“They asked me to come in for an interview. I went to the recruiting office in Minneapolis. They interviewed me and gave me some tests — a hearing test, an eyesight test. They took my weight and I wasn’t quite up to par on the weight. I told the doctor, ‘Well, if you can tell me how to gain weight, I’ll certainly try.’ (Ardith laughed) But eventually they accepted me and I was inducted into the WAVES in January of 1943.”

Ardith took her oath of induction at the recruiting office in Minneapolis.

“Then they told me to go home and wait for my orders because right at that time they had just begun enlisting women for the WAVES and I think the first battalion was at Hunter College at that time. I could resume my job. So, when my orders came in March or the last part of February, I was to report at Hunter College on March 3rd of 1943. They had previously sent me information on what I should have. So, I was already packed and ready to go when the orders came.”

Ardith was about to enter military service during WWII.

I welcome your participation in and ideas about this exploration of prairie lives. You may reach me at prairieviewpressllc @gmail.com.

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