Recollections of Columbia, Wisconsin

by Mabel Schlender Jonkel

Contributed by Sarah Poertner

transcribed by Crystal Wendt & Michelle Harder.


There were many blueberries which were the source of revenue to pay off grocer debts incurred during the winter. Our store handled many hundreds of quarts at five and six cents a quart.

A first for Columbia and also for Libby, McNeil and Libby Company was the pickle factory which brought many visitors to study the process.


Dad promoted the pickle factory. Libby, McNeil and Libby of Chicago built it as their first pickle factory. During the experimental stage many of the Libby officials stayed in our home and watched the processing.

There had to be 200 acreage, Dad and a Libby representative traveled many miles with horse and buggy to get this. A railroad spur had to be put in so Dad donated the land and paid for the right way. Several Columbia men helped to prepare the bed and ties. The factory was in operation for ten or twelve years. It brought in five to six thousand dollars a season - - - cash to the farmers. It employed several men during a season and was a busy place.


The first manager was Louie Goebel of Michigan. Harry Hendricks and Leslie Sherman of Merrillan were among the first managers. Acreage finally dwindled and the building was torn down in 1928.



About four miles northeast of Columbia a cranberry marsh was opened in 1932. Forest Calaway, an attorney from Neillsville, financed and projected the enterprise. He bought the land and acquired the water rights. Frank Hnetkovsky of Columbia did the pioneering, clearing the land, making beds and ditches, and putting in the water system.

For several years Frank operated the water system to have water over the berries when frost came or to release it. Some times he would go out in the middle of the night or early mornings, according to the thermometer. The water had to be managed quickly when the need arose.

At the time Mr. Calaways death in 1942, there were then acres of bed in bearing.

The marsh was then sold to Edward and Lenard Rodighier of Wisconsin Rapids and was named "Edlen Marsh." By 1954 eighteen beds were in operation. During the season there were several employed to harvest the crop. For several years the berries were taken to Humbird to be screened, sorted and prepared for retail trade and canners. As the industry enlarged, this was discontinued and it is now done at the site.



In Dells Dam Dad Schlender had a third store during the three years the dam was being built there. My half brother, Erwin Simonds, operated the store. A load of goods had to be taken down from the main store daily.

On June 26, 1913 was Dad and Mother Schlender’s silver wedding anniversary. On that morning their daughter, Mabel; Emma Moser who was clerking in the store; and Anna Larson Moser, who was helping in the home, decided they should have a surprise celebration that evening.

In haste, the girls solicited the help of the mail man so he could tell his patrons close to town. The teacher sent notes home with school children. The girls baked cakes all after noon. They evened phoned for flowers from the Marshfield nursery. Frank Varney took the one o’clock train to Neillsville. He bought a gift of silver crumb tray - - from the neighbors. It was intialed and dated 1888-1913.

By the end of the afternoon the girls rushed everything upstairs, plus the flowers which came in on the five o’clock train. The folks returned 5:30 P.M. Mother discovered the last cake baking and remarked about it. Anna said, ‘Oh, it’s your anniversary, I thought I’d bake a cake. After supper I will frost it and we can have it later in the evening." Several other things had to be lied about fast!



Their friends met at the school house and all marched in together. The house was full and running over. It was a real surprise, even with gifts in so short a notice. When the gals started to carry the supply from upstairs, everyone was amazed.

All seemed to have a good time and really showed the good fellowship and neighborliness of the community.



As this is being written in 1971, Columbia is just a memory, but down through the years there have been many expressions of tender and happy memories of the old town. Each agrees, we were like one family if another were in trouble.

Memories are still active in our annual old timers’ picnic given each year. One meets friends he has not seen in forty or fifty years and reminisces the good times.

In conclusion I quote from a little lady who was born in Columbia, married a Columbia boy, and then went on to build a successful business in another state. She said, "I resent sarcasm leveled at Columbia but I am loyal daughter. My Columbia friends are as gold in my memory. Maybe it was a poor country but we all lived well and had a happy time. We did not live on relief and there was no juvenile delinquency."

In memory a low sweet prelude finds it way, in the heart of love, tenderness and gratitude for all the fine folks that once resided in Columbia. God bless each one wherever they may be in this world or in the experience we all will have in the next realm of life.


Mabel (Sally) Schlender Jonkel






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