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The way Life was: In Search of the Truth of Children

Hand, Gail Stewart. "The way Life was: In Search of the Truth of Children." Grand Forks Herald, 15 September 1991, sec. 1B.


"The first settlement generation, at least in the Upper Plains states, was primarily interested in economic improvement, and they were passionate about owning land. Prosperity and land, the one to be realized through the other, became so fused with ideals of freedom and opportunity that they defined the mythology of American history. Yet, single-mindedness about wealth and land could mean paying less attention to the values inherent in education, art and the theater, the publication of fiction and poetry, medicine, conservation of natural resources, even religion. These came later. Later also, attention turned to those not primarily engaged in acquiring land and wealth. Children, most women, and aging and infirm people had to wait." - Elizabeth Hampsten in Settlers' Children.

MINTO, N.D. - Stephanie Prepiora left North Dakota as a youth, seeking education to make her independent. She found both and - decades later - returned to a dignified and active retirement in her hometown.

Writer and scholar Elizabeth Hampsten admires people such as Prepiora, those with the grit and imagination to create a life different from their peers. In her latest book, Hampsten looks at selected childhoods and what settlement in this harsh land meant for those it was supposed to help most: the children.

Prepiora, who curates Minto's museum, had long felt such a tribute to pioneers was due. "They put up such a struggle that I felt they deserved some recognition."

Inside the Minto Cafe, typical of places over the years where Hampsten would give presentations on pioneer history, the two women talk. "My father went back to Poland once, and he laughed at their farming methods, at everything else." For this family, success followed working the soil. It was a hard life, but not unmitigated misery. She tells stories of playing baseball in the cow pasture, taking men their "lunch" in the evening so they could keep working in the fields until darkness drove them home.

In many ways, Prepiora's story is typical, except in one major feature: education was really valued in her home. If her parents had more money, they would have sent the other children to school, too. But her brother, "being the oldest was naturally picked to help on the farm."

Hampsten takes over. "Stephanie had the determination to strike out and try things. And if they didn't work out, to turn the corner and try something new."

"I didn't ever want to be poor," Prepiora explained. "I never wanted to have the community take care of me." She took classes in Minnesota and later moved to Illinois to work because "I couldn't have made a living in North Dakota."

Her nursing salary was $45. "And I don't mean a day or a week - I mean $45 a month!" She worked in rough neighborhoods in Chicago - "We went to the homes of gangsters. But we were not reformers. We were in the medical field and that was that...I was never afraid of
anything."

Printed with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.



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