Distant Memories

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ALEEN RATZLAFF
Memories cultivated over decades form links between the past and the present.

For Freda Schaeffler Sass, who has lived on the East Coast for years, memories of growing up in Hillsboro include time spent at her grandfather’s house some 90 years ago.

“It is a very fine example of good Victorian architecture,” Freda said as she reminisced about the historic Schaeffler house, located at Grand and Jefferson.

“I enjoyed it very much. It was something from the outside world. I was learning-just growing up. I didn’t realize how true to Victorian architecture it actually was. I didn’t know anything about it.”

Freda, 92, and her husband, Sam, live in Pittsfield, Mass. She is the eldest surviving relative of one of early Hillsboro’s prominent business families, William F. and Ida Gerstenkorn Schaeffler.

“I think of him as austere, sort of a little man who was at times very helpful,” Freda said about her grandfather. “He an able sort of person, stopping a number of people from having fights.”

When she was a teenager in the late 1920s, Freda said a debate raged among members at Zion Lutheran Church.

“We wanted English services,” she said. “I grew up with German services, you see. There were a lot of old duffers around there. They thought it was going to stay that way. My grandfather was instrumental in telling them they would have to get along.”

She said one fight over that issue erupted at Durham when those supporting German services prevented those wanting to speak English from entering the church.

“They locked it up so they couldn’t have the service,” she said.

Freda and younger sister Ellen grew up down the street from Grandfather Schaeffler’s stately house.

“Yes, we were right there in the shadow of the church tower,” she said about her family’s house at 115 N. Jefferson, located east of Zion Lutheran.

Her home was near the public school, too.

“I would get (to school) in five minutes,” Freda said.

“I would run sometimes because I would get up late. My mother would wake me, so I would have to quickly get ready and run all the way.”

Freda said her family home was built some time after her father and mother had married in 1910.

“My mother was sort of artistic and she enjoyed the idea of having a house,” Freda said. “She was creative. She had gotten some plans-architectural plans-from some place in California. We had a cousin-also an architect-who lived in Kansas City at the time.”

The cousin, Adolf Roessel, collaborated with Freda’s mother about how the house would be built.

Freda’s father, Adolf W. Schaeffler, was the eldest child of William F. and Ida Gerstenkorn Schaeffler.

Born in Lehigh, Adolf Schaeffler moved to Hillsboro in 1887 as an infant with his parents. His siblings were brothers Robert and Theodore and sister Louise.

In 1910 Adolf married Ida Schepel of Ellinwood. Freda was born in 1913 and Ellen four years later.

According to one newspaper account, Adolf joined the family business in 1903 and became a member of the Schaeffler Mercantile Co. in 1908, initially managing the grocery department.

After William Schaeffler retired in 1929, Adolf became president of the corporation until his death in 1950.

Freda’s father was an organist at Zion Lutheran for 50 years. Like her father, Freda also played the organ.

“I would fill in for him or my Aunt Louise-his sister,” she said about playing when the two weren’t available.

Freda said she didn’t take formal organ lessons.

“We had a very fine reed organ in that little school building,” she said. “I just worked at it-you had to know what to do and I probably got a few words of prompting from my father and my aunt.

“But I played the big organ. It was only a one manual pipe organ. The other one was this little organ that we used to take outdoors when they had outdoor services in the summer.”

In those days, the warmth of summer weather prompted the congregation to hold services outside.

“(Services) were held under the trees on the church property,” she said about the trees planted by her grandfather. “He had planted many trees. They made a good shade. We didn’t need anything else.”

As a high school student, Freda enjoyed music. She said she took private voice lessons from several instructors at Tabor College.

As an adult, her interest in singing continued. For six years, Freda performed with the chorus of the Boston Symphony at its summer home at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass.

“I was very lucky that I was able to develop that kind of a hobby,” she said.

The Sasses celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary last October. The couple met as students in a class at the University of Kansas, where he graduated in 1934 and she completed her studies in 1936.

“We were in the same journalism class,” Freda said about their initial acquaintance. “We both thought we would make that our major profession.”

At KU, Sam studied physical science.

“Actually, my field is science technology information,” said Sam, who was born in Tamoruda, Ukraine, and immigrated as an 11-year-old to the United States. He attended high school in New York City and worked in the New York City Public Library.

“My field is librarianship,” he said. “That’s what my master’s is in from the University of Michigan.”

While in Michigan, Sam oversaw the physics and astronomy libraries. Then for more than 30 years, Sam was librarian of the Stanley Library at the General Electric’s transformer division.

He retired from GE in 1976 and today is a frequent contributor to the local newspaper, the Berkshire Eagle.

Freda studied sociology at KU and took graduate classes at the University of Michigan. After moving to Massachusetts in 1945, she taught sociology at Windsor Mountain School, a college preparatory private school in Lenox, not far from Pittsfield.

Over the years, the Sasses traveled from the East Coast to Hillsboro to visit family.

“We had more fun,” Freda said about their trips to Hillsboro.

“I want to know, if there is still a kudzu vine on that house,” said Sam, remembering the plant that grew on the west side of Grandfather Schaeffler’s house to protect it from the sun.

“They were brought in and became pests back then.”

Kudzu, a fast-growing vine, was introduced into the United States from Japan in the 1880s. The vines initially were used for ornamental purposes, according to a University of Alabama Web site. Today the plant flourishes especially in the southeastern states.

“We were vacationing there one year,” Sam said. “I was helping Freda’s grandfather out on the yard. So he said, ‘While you’re here, let’s see if we can cut the kudzu.’ I was hoping it was still there.”

The kudzu vine, though, no longer shades the house.

Even though some of her early Hillsboro memories are clouded, Freda can still recall the names of streets that marked the boundaries of her family’s estate-Grand Avenue and Jefferson Street.

“Aren’t they grand names?”

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