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Sadie Nervig


Posted By: Robert Nervig (email)
Date: 1/17/2024 at 16:46:07

Sadie Nervig

My grandmother, Sadie Nervig, lived next door to my family’s home in Eagle Grove from 1945 to 1960. She moved to this home in town following the loss of her farm in the aftermath of the Great Depression. From age 9 to 14, as she became more infirm, I would visit her daily. I would take over a meal my mother had prepared for her, help with housekeeping chores or I would walk the few blocks to downtown and pay her bills. Somedays, I just provided companionship. Looking back I can see how her worldview influenced me. She would talk about how proud she was of her older grandchildren, who were attending college. She was definitely frugal and a big proponent of disciplined saving for important things in the future. She would admonish me to avoid loans and to never buy on credit. I would take her words to heart. Working a variety of different jobs growing up, I would make regular deposits into my savings account at the Eagle Grove State Bank and by high school graduation, I had $5000 saved towards my four years of study in veterinary medicine at Iowa State University, where I graduated from with no student loans.

Sadie Serena (Nelson) Nervig was a first generation Norwegian-American, who was born near Badger, Iowa, on June 16, 1880. Her father, as a young boy, immigrated with his family, from Norway and settled in southern Story County, Iowa, near Cambridge in 1855. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he enlisted in the Union army at age 17. Andrew would return home in 1864 as a wounded veteran. In 1876, he married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Nervig, another Norwegian immigrant. He was 32 and she was 28. They moved from Story County to near Badger, Iowa, where they farmed. Five children were born to Andrew and Lizzie while they lived here:

Nels – died in infancy

Severt, a.k.a. S.A. – born in 1878

Sadie – born in 1880

Helen – born in 1882

Amos, a.k.a. Casey – born in 1883

Andrew purchased a 120 acre farm in Lake Township in Humboldt County, Iowa, about 14 miles from the Badger farm. They would re-locate in 1885. This area would attract many of the Nervig immigrants and their children. Another daughter, Nellie, was born on this farm in 1886.

Sadie graduated from Humboldt High School, completing the normal school requirements in 1898. Her father (age 54) died August 18, 1898, after a long illness related to the injuries and illnesses he endured while serving in the Civil War. Sadie taught at a country school in Lake Township.

Amos T. Nervig, a.k.a. A.T., also a first generation Norwegian-American moved from the Sheldahl / Slater, Iowa area to Lake Township in 1900 and purchased a farm here. A.T. and Sadie would marry on October 2, 1902. He was 31 and she was 22. The Humboldt Republican reported, “”Both young people are from West Lake (township) and are persons of merit and worth. The Republican extends its congratulations.” They were first cousins. Sadie’s mother, Lizzie, was a sister to A.T.’s father, Thomas. This was a common practice among the first generation Norwegian-Americans in this area. There were no state laws prohibiting first cousin marriages at this time.

Five children were born to this union:

Edythe – born 1903

Thomas – born 1906

Donald – born 1910

Irvin – born 1913

William Stanley, a.k.a. Stub – born 1916

In 1928, A.T. purchased a larger farm in Dayton Township, Wright County, Iowa northeast of Eagle Grove and moved his family to this new location. On February 2, 1929, A.T. suffered a stroke and died on February 11. He was 58 and Sadie was 48. The four sons would assist their mother in the farm operation, but the three oldest sons would soon leave to find their place in the world. Stub, who was 12 when his father died, would help his mother run the farm during the Great Depression. The farm economy collapsed. Hogs, the foundation of Iowa farmers, averaged 2 cents per pound. In 1932, farm commodity prices fell to an all-time low. The cash crops on the Nervig were hogs, butter, cream, eggs and poultry. Sadie was viewed as a successful poultry woman, raising her favorite breed, Buff Minorca, for egg production and meat. She would kill and dress hundreds of fryers from 1929 to 1941, selling them to families in town. The whites from the eggs she didn’t sell were used to make angel food cakes. Again, hundreds of angel food cakes were baked and sold to Eagle Grove townspeople who would come to the farm to purchase them. In addition, she wrote the West Dayton township news for the weekly Eagle Grove Eagle for a few dollars each month.

Life on the farm was hard work: canning, baking, ironing, washing clothes, gardening, caring for chickens and butchering hogs and cockerels plus the usual domestic chores of meal preparation, cleaning, churning butter and occasionally helping milk the 5 cows by hand. All done with the back drop of the most devastating economic disaster in American history. The Hardy Bank in Hardy, Iowa, north of Lake Township, closed in 1931, creating even more financial instability for Sadie. The bank shares A.T. had purchased in 1927 would have no value.

Sadie and her family had been active members of the Trinity Lutheran Church when they lived in Lake Township. After moving to the Eagle Grove farm she joined the Norwegian Evangelical Church or as the locals would call it, the Eastside Lutheran Church where Sunday services were conducted in English and Norwegian. Some in the church questioned if the Gospel was truly the Gospel if it weren’t preached in Norwegian. I believe what sustained her was her faith and her Norwegian stoicism. However, the times did take an emotional toll on her. Notes in her 1931-1932 diary, “feeling bum today,” probably represented an expression of her occasional depression. But, for the most part she did not complain. Family and close friends like Almira Christopher and Jennie Knutson, were there for emotional support.

Sadie was one of those who lost their farm in the Depression, not through immediate foreclosure but through an arrangement with the mortgage holder to lease the farm until 1941when she moved to Eagle Grove. For those involved, this was not just a financial failure. It was a tremendous personal failure. The legacy of land ownership initiated by her Norwegian ancestors who immigrated to America would end with the loss of the farm. However, she reacted to hardship with dignity. An auction was held at the farm on December 17, 1941, six days after the U.S. entered World War II. The sale bill listed the following:

2 horses – 1 gray gelding, 8 years old, 1600 lbs and 1 bay gelding, 8 years old, 1600 lbs

20 head of cattle, 5 shorthorn milk cows, all fresh now; 10 head of feeding cattle, wt. 600 lbs;

5 calves

Chickens – 150 hybrid Leghorn pullets, 15 White Rock pullets, White Leghorn roosters, banded

Farm Machinery:

F-12 Farmall tractor and cultivator

10 ft disc

4 section harrow

1 9 ft new John Deere spring-tooth harrow

1 New Idea manure spreader

1 Massie Harris corn binder

1 8 ft Deering binder

1 5 ft McCormick Deering mower

1 40 ft Sandwich elevator and power and jack

`1 weeder

1 hayrack and gear

1 4 wheel trailer

1 new wagon box

1 999 John Deere corn planter

Brooder house, 8’ x 14”

125 steel posts

2 rolls woven wire

Hog feeder

McCormick-Deering cream separator

1 Stover pump jack and motor

Boyd breeching harness

Hay in barn

Household Goods – small items

I am struck by the reality that our lives can come down to a list of possessions that represent a time of hope dashed by circumstances that might be beyond your control. It has been said, “It’s not what happens to you in life, it’s how you cope.” I was fortunate to have a grandmother who modelled how to cope with the trials of life.

As mentioned earlier, Sadie was frugal. This trait was likely accentuated by the tough economic times she endured. She saved everything just in case she might need it someday. In her pantry she had a big ball of scrap string and another big ball of used tin foil for future use. When the bottom of a pan was scorched, there weren’t scouring pads, I was sent to the sand pile and told to use sand to remove the burned on food. Another example of her frugality was greeting cards sent without being written on. Instead she would enclose a small piece of paper with her name, allowing the recipient to re-use the card. To save on buying more cereal, she would substitute popped popcorn leftover from the night before and pour a little milk on it. She always looked for ways to save money.
Sadie did not forget her Norwegian heritage and she passed these traditions on to her children and grandchildren. She spoke the mother tongue fluently. Especially, during the Christmas holiday, you knew you were among Norwegians, when you visited her home. Wheat lefse was made weeks in advance and stored in the pantry. The potato lefse was made so there was always some available for those who would stop in for coffee. And the true Norwegians would only put butter and sugar (white granulated) on their lefse. Dozens of kringla were made . . . uniform in size, shape and texture. There was lutefisk and kumla. Lutefisk was definitely an acquired taste, it never agreed with my palate. Kumla, potato dumplings, with ham hocks was holiday fare. There was always plenty of black coffee. The Nervigs were not aquavit drinking Norwegians. No alcohol, not even wine was served when my grandmother was living. Sadie fully embraced the Protestant work ethic that emphasized perseverance without complaint. Her life philosophy boiled down to hard work and determination. Diligence, punctuality and delayed gratification were tied closely to the work ethic. She believed you bear up under the down turns and soldier on. Detachment was essential. There were no tears.
When her health failed she entered the Madrid Home in Madrid, Iowa where she died on June 8, 1961, eight days from being 81 years. Death was due to arteriosclerotic, cardiovascular and renal disease. Her funeral was held at the Eagle Grove Evangelical Lutheran Church with burial next to her husband at the Trinity Lutheran Church cemetery south of Hardy, Iowa. She had such an influence on my life, my tears flowed freely that day, for a grandmother who surely helped set me on the path for a good life.

Source: Robert Nervig


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