Maddy LesSard, 92, a lifelong resident of Rush City, shares what life was like in earlier times
Maddy LesSard turns 93 years old on Feb. 1, and she loves recalling the good old days of growing up in Rush City, a place she calls home to this day.
Born in 1921, LesSard was 4 or 5 years old when her family moved to town from a farmhouse a few miles out in the country.
“I remember the little dresses I had, and the smell of apples and peanut butter,” she said of the times she met her sisters after they crossed a field in their return home from school.
She lived in Rush City at a time when the community was buzzing with business and people.
“The railroad was very influential,” she presumed. “When I was a kid, we had three hardware stores, three barbershops, two jewelry stores, four grocery stores, a butcher shop and at least three automotive dealerships or garages. We had a business building with two doctors, two dentists and two lawyers, and there was a nice men’s furnishings store that sold shoes and clothing.”
She also remembered the big, wide stairway inside the Moses Daylight Store.
“It was a good-sized store,” LesSard recalled. “It was like a mercantile that sold clothing and groceries.”
At least six churches came to mind when LesSard turned to yesteryear’s faith community in Rush City. There were Methodist, Episcopal and Mission churches, yet it was the Lutheran, Presbyterian and Catholic churches that were the most popular with people, she added.
LesSard comes from a heritage with Irish and French roots from her mother, Martha, and father, Paul, respectively.
“He was so French that he didn’t start school right away because he couldn’t speak English,” she said.
And though she’s not entirely sure, she thinks her father, whose own parents hailed from France and Canada, may have been somehow related to the Pepin family that put Lake Pepin on the map after traveling down to Minnesota from Canada.
LesSard remembers her mother always worked hard at home and had a big garden that helped her keep countless quarts of various foods preserved. “I’m sure it was what we lived off of during the Depression,” she said. “I remember going blueberry picking and wild berry picking.”
LesSard’s five children and four grandchildren went through Rush City schools as she did. One of her grandsons even played the same trumpet she had made music with at a baccalaureate or graduation program.
“He still has my trumpet to this day,” she said.
A 1939 graduate of Rush City High, she revealed what life for a student was like in those days.
“I loved it,” she said while sitting up in her chair. “The teachers were wonderful. We respected them, our parents respected them. Some were friends of the family,” she explained.
LesSard’s father was the head janitor at a time when the elementary school and high school were connected by a tunnel, or annex, in the same building near where the Rush City pool sits today. And she enjoyed living just a few blocks away.
“We had to run through (the school tunnel) to get to the bathrooms and lunchroom,” she said. “You brought your own lunches or you went home to eat your lunch. But we had to hurry back and get on the giant stride.”
The giant stride, a common piece of playground equipment from the early 1900s, was a tall pole with ropes or ladders that children could grab onto and run in circles — so fast, in fact, that their feet could leave the ground. While some remain, the giant stride was mostly removed from playgrounds by the 1960s due to safety concerns.
“It was so unsafe looking back at it now; it sent one kid flying,” LesSard recalled. “But that was the entertainment. We made our own entertainment, and it was good exercise, too.”
LesSard considers herself fortunate to be sharing her story, as she’s in recovery from a near death surgery that took place at the University of Minnesota.
It was Sept. 26 of this year when her heart issue became an emergency, yet she felt no pain. Then she had the procedure that extended her life, and she is slowly getting stronger now after the scare.
“I was in intensive care for a week and then Ecumen in North Branch for four weeks,” she said, noting a lack of oxygen was most concerning. “My doctor said I shouldn’t have been living. I’ll never be afraid to die now after that experience.”
She added, “The doctor was so impressed with me; he said I was sharp for 92. I had wonderful care. They were remarkable, so caring. I’m blessed to have had the care I had.”
LesSard is also partially blind, which has kept her from reading, sewing and other hobbies she enjoyed doing. She listens to a lot of music and keeps up on the news these days, and she loves when someone special pays a visit.
“I have a precious daughter who visits me every day,” LesSard said. “She’ll do anything for me.”
LesSard and her late husband, Chester, enjoyed 46 years of marriage dating back to their 1941 wedding. She reminisced about one occasion that helped welcome them into their house on West First Street.
“When we built this home,” she said of the house she still lives in to this day, “people had a housewarming party. The guests were suppose to bring something funny.”
Her sister and her husband, who then owned the Grant House Hotel and Eatery — and did so for 35 years, brought an elegant etched glass compote bowl with matching glass cover from the hotel.
“It was kept on the counter at the Grant House with crackers in it,” LesSard noted. “It must be close to 100 years old.” She keeps the bowl, along with a similar piece that had been a wedding gift, on display in her home. “That’s close to 100 years, too,” she said of the other piece.
The LesSards built their home in 1950. “Sometimes I feel like it’s new,” she said. “I know where every scratch in the woodwork came from.”
She has many “wonderful memories” of Christmas at the house, too. “We had Santa come here,” LesSard smiled. “It was precious to see the little ones’ faces. Dennis Frandsen came here as Santa with gifts for the kids.”
While Chester worked as postmaster for many years at the Rush City Post Office, Maddy worked as a dental assistant — for 25 years, in a time when women “didn’t go to work,” she pointed out — for Dr. Olson and Dr. Guptil.
“They were two wonderful men with great integrity,” she said. “I loved it and learned something every day. Both doctors were very interested in learning. They went to study clubs, so I learned what they had learned. They suggested that I should go to dental school, but I had five children at home. I couldn’t wait to get to work again off the weekend.”
For LesSard, Rush City also was a place where people and neighbors were friendly, neighborly and giving to one another.
“I think it was a nice, safe little community,” she said, noting folks would play cards and share food including banana bread and pie. Even today, she continued, “It’s a friendly place. I’ve been a lucky, lucky person my whole life.”