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Christmas in Cornell, memories from the golden age

By Bonnie Welmer

Christmas in Cornell, in 1940 and 1950, was quite an event. The tree in the city park, much smaller then, was lighted, except during World War II, when many things were curtailed, one of them having lights on during what was called a blackout.

The Cornell Grade School was the focal point for the fire truck bearing Santa Claus and his many bags of candy. Hundreds of people crammed the front doors of the building, holding small children aloft so they could see the beloved idol.

The celebrity in question would get out of the truck, a mask covering his face, wearing a red suit and black boots. His white hair came down over his ears and he would laugh a hearty ho, ho, ho. Children would scream – some in horror – or hide their faces in their parents’ coats, while others reached out for the little paper bags filled with goodies.

Santa would stay until the last bag was gone and the last child fed.

The school was not alone with its decorations, as classroom Christmas trees and a party took place in each room, before school closed down for the Christmas season. Businesses decorated, as well, including Prentice Bothers Hardware on Main Street (now a childcare center), which was fully prepared for the holidays.

Bill Prentice, and his young sons, Jerry and Lee, worked tirelessly in December, to meet the needs of the population. They also provided heating fuel and gas tanks for people, with Jack McMahon as the delivery person.

Santa used to show up at the Prentice store on Friday nights, a big shopping night back then, up in a decorated area on the second floor, where children could go tell Santa what they wanted him to put under their trees on Christmas Eve. For some reason, reindeer were never seen, but the children didn’t seem to mind.

At Marky’s Market (where Dylan’s Dairy is now), Marcus Simonson, husband of Hazel, who worked in the store, and the father of Robert and Marilyn, also decorated and had Christmas food items. Other stores following the trend, were Lubach’s Grocery Store, across from the grade school; Babbit’s Grocery Store, where KJ’s Fresh Market is now; and of course, Olger Selmer’s Grocery, located where Sam’s Place is now.

There was another store on Main Street, known as the Red and White Store, or the Big Store, owned by Ole and Josephine Thorsen, that also sold groceries for a while, but, eventually, opted for household items. Two stores that opened on Main Street during the ’50s, were the Federated Store and the Ben Franklin, which did not sell groceries.

Ole’s Toggery, which sold men’s clothing, is where the floral shop (Flamingo Rho’s) is now.

The village hall, as it was known then, shared space with the library on Third Street. The library was much the same then as it is now, except when a person walked in the door, the village had a small space to the right, with windows and a private door. Verona Smith, wife of Walt, who worked at the mill, was the mother of Sandra (now Robarge), and waited on residents who went there to pay bills and make requests.

Ida Hansen had a hat store behind the bank and her husband, Ted, took care of the Norwegian Church, among other jobs. The Variety Store, located next to the theatre, was owned by the Wilsons, and operated by Pearl and Veda.

The Gem Theatre, as it was known then, was owned and operated by Carl Hulbert, who always dressed in a suit while working. He was also very crabby.

And on that note, it’s the hope that Cornell has a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, as it did in days gone by.