Miscellaneous Musings by FunGirlDi

by Diana Mavetz Petrich

Born and raised in Ely, I have always been extremely proud of my hometown. I graduated from Ely High School in 1979. I left in October 1979 for the Twin Cities and have been living in the ever-busy metropolis since.
Nothing is better than driving to Ely, coming around that last bend to see the beautiful water tower standing tall and greeting everyone who enters. Truly, there is nothing like coming back to what will always be home.
I am a third generation, 100% Slovenian and very proud of my heritage. My parents, John and Julia Chimzar Mavetz, married later in life (Mom was pushing 34 and Dad was 37).
At that time, they were written off as an old maid and a confirmed bachelor, respectively. Most of their friends had been married for years and a few were young grandparents.
I always thought my three siblings and I were cursed with older parents as often people would refer to them as our grandparents. That was embarrassing when you were in your pre-teen and teenage years.
As I have grown older, I realized having older parents was one of the biggest hidden gifts I had in my life. They were born in the 1920s (Dad in 1921 and Mom in 1925), lived through the Great Depression, World War II, Korean Conflict, Cuban Missile Crisis, assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King and so much more. They were worldly beyond “just living in Ely.”
The lessons learned from them through their experiences taught us more than you could ever learn by formal standards.
My father quit school in the eighth grade to go to work as a painter and delivery boy for Veranth’s Lumberyard to help his family make ends meet during the Depression. He was second from the youngest of 12 children - only 10 survived to live full lives. He may not have graduated with any diploma, but he was one of the smartest people I have ever known.
I recently scanned 6,500+ pictures and slides from both my parents’ libraries. Since they married later in life, they had money and both invested in good cameras. I never realized all the things they did until I started scanning the photos.
My father worked in the roundhouse in Ely for the Duluth, Mesabi and Iron Range Railroad until 1968 when he was hired to work at Reserve Mining Company.
He was an Army medic in WWII in the European Theatre and dealt with horrific scenarios through five major battles. My mother worked various jobs starting as a cabin girl at Pipestone Falls Resort, a clerk at Veranth’s Lumberyard and decided on a secretarial career. After graduating from high school, she worked for the Oliver Mining Company until she could no longer conceal her first pregnancy with my older sister, Kay.
She could type over 100 wpm on a manual typewriter. To correct typos, one would have to flip through layers of onion skin copies with carbon paper separators. She said it was much easier to not make any typos as mistakes interrupted one’s productivity and cost the company money.
Her adopted mottos became, “Practice makes perfect” and “Do it right the first time.” She taught us that novel approach to apply to most everything in life, which in turn, we have passed onto our children and now our grandchildren.
My grandparents on both sides immigrated from Slovenia. They were never able to return to the old country to see their parents and siblings.
Grandma Mavetz would sit in her chair by the north facing window in her living room at 141 N. Central Avenue. She watched people coming and going to and from the train depot as she was parked in her front row seat and observed reunions of all sorts. She would cry knowing she would never see her mother again.
The Depression drastically changed lifestyles of most Americans as unemployment was high and good paying jobs were hard to come by. These resourceful people didn’t throw anything away until items were used until they fell apart.
If socks got a hole in them, they were put in the mending basket to be darned. Clothes were patched and repaired and handed down through family members or friends until threadbare. Zippers, snaps, hooks and eyes, loops, buttons, bows and thread (painstakingly removed) were saved to have on hand and the remaining fabric was cut up to make rugs or rags.
Shoes were worn until the soles fell off and were considered to be “good enough” when the sole was reattached courtesy of a leather lace or two.
Jury rigging was common practice to make just about anything work close to its original state. Ingenuity was a must and Ely was brimming with real life MacGyvers.
My father talked about shoes he wore that were too small so his older brother, Frank ‘Totsy’ Mavetz, cut the entire toe section off. That certainly solved the problem of his sore feet and he wore them until his feet grew too long and protruded well over the shoe base.
Grandpa Mavetz worked as an underground miner in the Pioneer Mine for only a few years when he started having health issues. His symptoms were exacerbated by the dank environment and a career change was necessary for him. He also witnessed several men die in cave-ins.
Because of those lost men and his health issues, it compelled him to be very involved in the formation of the first union to increase pay, accidental death benefits and improve unsafe working conditions.
He became a custodian during summers at Semer’s Park and the ice rink during the winter. He and Grandma ran a tavern up the street from the train depot. It was named, “The Last Chance Saloon,” the perfect name and place to grab a drink before you boarded the train.
Both he and my grandmother were literate. He was proficient with figures/numbers and revered in Ely for his intelligence, leadership and ability to work for the betterment of immigrants.
NEXT WEEK:
Stringing you along in my little town…