Okabena’s  Second Half-Century

The start of Okabena’s second half-century coincided with the panic of ’29, which presaged the “depression” to follow.  The flurry of business growth of the 1920’s was at the end; a period of retrenchment was to follow.  The two fifty year periods seem to have a similar pattern – each started with hard times, then recovery, war and finally better times. There is one difference, however, a gradual development of a runaway inflation that was not so evident before.

In the 1930’s sugar beets were an important crop and Mexican migrant labor a new phenomenon. This industry was short lived here, eventually becoming almost entirely a crop for the Red River Valley.

In 1930 a devastating fire destroyed the creamery and but for the hard working firemen, could have taken a large portion of the village. It is a tribute to the farmers that they rallied and a new brick building took the place of the old frame structure. That this was important business is seen in its’ continuation for another thirty years and only a change in the pattern of farming eventually brought an end to the business.

The age of the Tin Lizzie brought the automobile within the range of the average person. With it came the modern filling station. Wm. Lietz built a fine new block and brick station on the property later the site of Ray Ahrens Implement Company.  An unexpected luxury of having an air hose with built in tire pressure gauge seems insignificant today, but illustrates the host of “little things” called progress.

An attempt at local manufacturing occurred when John Alberts and Meents started the “New Way Garden, Hoe and Rake Company” and was manufactured by the Ruthenbeck Blacksmith Shop. Due to a number of reasons the enterprise was not successful. The coming importance of the auto is evidenced by J. E. Ulferts building a WNAX station on the county highway. Irvin Bayerkohler added a garage next door. In 1931 the diagonal road to the railroad was built, cutting the mileage to Lakefield by some three miles.

A second major road change came when the Heron Lake road was straightened out. Formerly the road turned east at the Okabena Cemetery, curved around the Aden place and crossed the creek just south of the Hartman lane. The bridge crossing, being at an angle, caused innumerable accidents in winter and bad weather. The straightened road, with a high grade was a vast improvement, though some grumbled that the type of bridge installed kept out the moving of houses into town from the north.

A business change occurred in 1936 when L. C. Pietz purchased the Dannatt building and started his “Red and White” store. Guy Paulson moved next door to the Christy building and for a time there were three grocery stores in town.

In 1937 the one block of main street received a coating of tarvia; quite a change from the early 20’s when an editor complained of dust, dirt and mud on main street.

The big news in 1938 was the incorporation of the village. There had been an editorial proposing this twenty years before and it had been discussed and supported by business groups for years. What had deterred action for all that time is not clear. Perhaps people were afraid taxes would rise astronomically if incorporation came. Relationships with the township were always congenial. Farmers actively supported various town projects. Hindsight indicates that no real progress could have been made with incorporation.

Since the repeal of the 18th Amendment had come some time before, it is not known what effect this had on the vote. Certainly the expectation of a Municipal Liquor store as a main means of funding improvements must have influenced some voters. Anyway, the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of incorporation. An election picked the city council and some other officers.

In 1938 two new businesses were established. Walter and Schulz started a trucking concern, providing fast delivery of stock purchased by the Hormel Company. In 1938 Leo Snyder opened a Luncheonette next to the Liquor store. There had been attempts before to start a restaurant, but these had been of short duration.

In 1941 property was purchased from George Van Dam for a village park.

In 1951 Schulz Bros. built their Mobil Service Station on the highway. In the same year the city water system was started.

Another long time businessman retired in 1952, August Atz having sold his hardware store to Lloyd Ruthenbeck.

The following businesses were built after 1952:
1952 – Water system in Okabena.
1954 – Our Redeemer Lutheran Church.
1956 – School Auditorium addition.
1958 – Addition to First State Bank and Parker’s Cafe.
1959 – A. F. Scheppmann Company and Okabena Farm Supply.
1960 – Post Office and Farmer’s Co-op Oil Station.
1963 – Central Telephone Exchange
1972 – Hardware Landmark torn down – second bank addition.
1973 – Sandy Point County Park.
1974 – New Municipal Liquor Store and St. John’s Educational Wing.
1978 – Dwayne Jansma Implement Building; retirement of Ray Ahrens; Press building razed.
1979 – Hacker Plumbing and Rients Back-Hoe Business.  Village is presently involved in construction of sanitary sewer.           

To provide building sites, two additions to the Village of Okabena were platted:  Aden’s addition, consisting of two blocks east of highway by Water and Freda Aden.  Sherwood Acres addition located in southwest part of Okabena, platted by August R. Scheppmann and Ardis Scheppmann.

(Okabena’s history was provided courtesy of the Okabena Centennial Edition of
The Okabena Press, Jackson County History Books,
Jackson County Historical Museum
and Tri-County News.)