Memories of Northeast Minneapolis

Steve Scheaffer and Caroline Scheaffer Arnold; photo of Les Scheaffer, Executive Director of ESNS 1948-1966

The following is my speech at the East Side Neighborhood Services Gala, September 24, 2015, at the Nicollet Island Pavilion, Minneapolis, Minnesota, in celebration of the ESNS 100th anniversary.

I am honored to be here tonight as a representative of the Scheaffer family and my father, Lester Scheaffer, who was the executive director of ESNS for 18 years, and to join with you in this gala celebration of its 100th anniversary. My brother Steve is also here and it is wonderful to see friends, renew memories, and see how the agency has grown.
For me, ESNS and the Northeast Neighborhood House are at the core of my personal history and key to the person I am today. My family arrived in Minneapolis in 1948 when I was four years old and Steve was 10 months. Our brothers Pete and Tom were born in 1949 and 1950. For six years our family lived in the third floor apartment of the NENH. From our windows we watched the streetcars clang by on Second Street below, and on the other side of Bottineau Park trains chugged back and forth past Gluek’s Brewery. My mother, Kay Scheaffer, was also a social worker. Her role at the NENH was supervising the nursery school and residence program.
The Neighborhood House had as many as 18 residents at any one time. Many were university students who worked part-time leading clubs and other activities. Meals were served at a big round table in the dining room on the third floor. I liked to hang out in the kitchen with the cooks, Hulda and Ceil. They taught me how to crimp the edge of a pie crust and use the leftover dough to make cinnamon rolypolys. The residence program was eventually discontinued but in the early years I remember it as one large extended family.

Something was always going on at the NENH. Besides the nursery school, where I and all of my brothers were enrolled at one time, there were meetings, sports, activities for kids and teens, as well as special events such as the Mothers and Daughters Banquet--usually held the weekend before Mother’s Day, and the annual Yule Tide Tea, when neighbors gathered in the auditorium to celebrate Christmas together. We would all sing carols in English and then various people would lead carols in Polish, Czech, Russian and more. One year, I remember, part of the entertainment was the Balalaika Band!
Our family moved from the NENH to South Minneapolis in 1954 but from kindergarten to fourth grade I attended the old Holland Elementary School on Washington Avenue. After school each day I had fun in the clubs and gym classes at the NENH; I learned how to make muffins in cooking class and put on a play with the puppet club; in winter I went ice skating at Bottineau Park; and every summer I went to Camp Bovey, first as a camper and later as a counselor. Joe Holewa was the Camp Director.
One of my father’s goals when we first came to Minneapolis was to establish a camping program where kids from Northeast could have fun in the out of doors. In 1949, NENH purchased Camp Hodag in northern Wisconsin, later renamed Camp Bovey. It is still a place where kids are “rowing, fishing, swimming in the sun”. Most likely some of you who are here tonight were once campers at Camp Bovey just like I was and remember sitting around the campfire at night and listening to tales of the Hodag–a creature with the head of an ox, feet of a bear, back of a dinosaur and tail of an alligator.  After I grew up and became a children’s book writer I wrote down some of the Hodag stories and they are among my few fiction books. Mostly, though, I am a nonfiction writer. My love of the out-of-doors and watching wildlife that began at Camp Bovey many years ago continues today and is one of the main reasons that so many of my books are about animals and the environment.
       Recently, I have been going through boxes of family letters and pictures from our years in Minneapolis and I found a newspaper article from the Minneapolis Argus published in November 1962 called “A Day in the Life of Les Scheaffer.” The newspaper had sent a photographer to spend a day at work with my father to find out and document just exactly what the job of a settlement director entailed. It begins with a photo of my father dressed in his top coat and hat on the steps of NENH arriving at work. The next photos show him on the phone in his office, at a staff meeting, on a visit to Holland School to meet the principal, then back at NENH with Joe Holewa looking at a chart of a recent successful United Fund campaign, a visit to Nicollet Island to check on a playground project, and finally with Joe Holewa and a group of boys in an after school program at Waite Park.

Two years later, in 1963, the NENH became ESNS when it merged with Margaret Barry House. That year, in our family Christmas letter, my father wrote: “Everything has more or less doubled in size–staff, program, budget, and problems. It’s fun and challenging, but it’s a pretty fast pace from morning till night.” Today, I’m sure that if you ask Bill Laden, he will tell you that the job of executive director of ESNS is much the same but with even more programs to supervise.
In 1966, after 18 full and productive years in Minneapolis, our family moved when my father took a job directing a group of settlement houses in San Francisco. I have spent most of my adult life in California, but still, whenever anyone asks me where I am from, I always say Minnesota.
A few years ago, when ESNS moved to the beautiful and very functional modern building where it is today, I felt a twinge of regret. The old brick building at 1929 Second Street where I lived and played as a child is linked with so many memories. But I am thrilled to see how ESNS has grown, expanded, and evolved to meet the changing needs of people on the entire east side of Minneapolis. After 100 years it is still going strong. I am proud that my family is part of its history.

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