Interview with LaVerne Sloppy
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Northwest Public Television | Sloppy_LaVerne
Camera man: Whenever you are ready.
Robert Bauman: All right. Okay, looks like we're ready to start.
LaVerne Sloppy: Okay.
Bauman: So if we could start by just having you say your name and then spell it for us.
Sloppy: LaVerne Sloppy--known by Verne. [LAUGHTER] L-A-capital V-E-R-N-E L. Sloppy--just like it sounds.
Bauman: Okay. All right, my name is Bob Bauman, and today's date is November 18, 2013. And we're this interview on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. So I wonder if we could start by having you tell us a little bit about your family when they originally came to this area, where they came from, and that sort of thing.
Sloppy: Okay. My mother came to this area in 1909 at the age of four--Nebraska.
Bauman: And do you know why your family came out here?
Sloppy: Well, my grandfather went to work for the irrigation district. And he later ran the irrigation district. So she moved here with her family.
Bauman: Okay, and what was his name?
Sloppy: Gus Long. Augustus Long.
Bauman: And then how about your father's family?
Sloppy: My father's family came to Washington State much earlier, but they didn't really live in Washington at that time. In fact, my dad was born in Prosser. And he came--and may have lived briefly here when my mother was in the eighth grade ‘cause they--my parents went to eighth grade at the same time.
Bauman: Okay, and then when did he move here sort of permanently here?
Sloppy: He was working for Grosscup Ranch. And then they started going together, I think. And they was married here. That would have been in the late '20s, I guess because they was married in 1930.
Bauman: And then, so were you born in Richland then?
Sloppy: I was born in Kennewick.
Bauman: In Kennewick.
Sloppy: They were living in the county outside of Richland I guess at that time.
Bauman: And so did your family have a farm?
Sloppy: They were, I guess, leasing different things. There were a couple spots in here, and then they moved up east of Corfu in the mid-'30s sometime. And then they came back probably 1938 from up there.
Bauman: Okay. And when they came back in '38, where did they live?
Sloppy: They lived two--I guess it would be west Richland area when they first moved back, and we moved just to side of the Yakima River off where Van Giesen is today. And then we moved to--still in Richland, but it was the south of the Yakima--it would be south Richland now, in there, I guess.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Sloppy: And then they moved off Van Giesen. The house and barn are still there off Van Giesen as you go towards west Richland, you cross a railroad. There's a concrete block house that's got a business in there now. That was the last place we lived in Richland.
Bauman: Oh, really?
Sloppy: For a while. And yeah, the barn and the house are still there. There's something of a business in the house right now. And the barn is still there, too.
Bauman: So on these different places you lived, were these farms for most part?
Sloppy: Yeah, they were all farms.
Bauman: Mm-hm. And what sort of what's of crops did you grow on those farms?
Sloppy: Dad had dairy cows and, of course, alfalfa and then potatoes, starting an asparagus place there on that last place I mentioned. He was actually buying that house. It belonged to the bank and him when they took those places over.
Bauman: Oh, okay. And this was the one on Van Giesen?
Bauman: So you were born in what year?
Bauman: Barely? [LAUGHTER]
Sloppy: It was almost '33.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Sloppy: I do have one brother. My oldest brother, who is younger than I am, was born in Richland in '34.
Bauman: So what do you remember growing up in this area? What was the area like at the time?
Sloppy: Well, it was all mostly farms, and of course, the small town of Richland. And my mother, she had mentioned, after high school worked at the--for John Dam in the store that he had until my parents married.
Bauman: Mm-hm. Do you remember in this small town of Richland when you were growing up, do you remember any of the specific businesses, the John Dam store, but anything else that you remember?
Sloppy: George Gress's butcher shop. Frozen--that's where all the meat was frozen and stuff. And of course we didn't have any electricity on the farms at that time.
Bauman: Did you ever get electricity before '43?
Sloppy: Not before we moved, because we moved to Kennewick--or to the Finley area, actually after we left here.
Bauman: How about a telephone?
Sloppy: Not when we was living in Richland.
Bauman: When you were growing up on these farms, did you have certain chores or jobs?
Sloppy: Oh, yeah.
Bauman: What sorts of things did you do? Were you supposed to do?
Sloppy: Well, I started out milking one cow when I was about, oh, I guess it was six or seven. And I turned a hammer—the separator for the cream, separating the milk and the cream. And being one of the older ones of some of the chores in the house. And I was carrying water for my mother to wash clothes. Because we didn't have house—water in the house. It was an outside pump, like that--pump the water and carry it for doing the washing and stuff and the house water and stuff. And things like that and all kinds of chores around the farm. He had cows and pigs and chickens. My mother took care of chickens.
Bauman: What about school? Where did you attend school?
Sloppy: I actually started what should have been my kindergarten year. But I started first grade here on that place east of Othello up there. And then I went through Richland Elementary School until the fifth grade, and that's when we moved to Finley. I attended the Kennewick schools then.
Bauman: Okay. And how did you get to school? Did you walk? Did you take a bus?
Sloppy: We took buses. They had school buses. It was too far to walk, most of us farmers.
Bauman: Mm-hm. Do you have any particular memories about your time at school in Richland? Any teachers or any events that you remember?
Sloppy: Not really. I can't remember much. My older sister might remember some of them. But I don't remember. I think it was a Mrs. Bell at one time. That probably had been the first grade because my parents put me back with my peers. Because I actually started first grade up there in a little bitty school that they had out there. Then we had four students in the whole thing, and two of them belonged to the school teacher, and the other one was my older sister. So my parents, I didn't really learn anything in kindergarten. And so they put me back with the students which was real my age--the first grade. And I stayed with them.
Bauman: What sorts of things do you remember doing for fun when you were growing up?
Sloppy: Well, mostly around the farm and we done a lot of playing outside and stuff--my younger brothers. It was mostly chores. It wasn't a lot of fun things and playing with neighbors’ kids because it was a distance away. Though some of my cousins were fairly close, and my grandfather was living very close. And I remember a lot of things about him and my mother's family here, but I had been told—not that I remember it. Because my grandmother died '33, and my grandfather raised--at the time of her death, it was eight, but one of my uncles died shortly after my grandmother did, and he raised as a single parent, and it was seven children—five girls and two boys, all of which had died in their 80s. And he was actually the one that turned the irrigation water off for the Richland Irrigation District at the time that they took all these places. He retired, but he ran the irrigation district for years as well as farmed.
Bauman: So you mean, in 1943 when they turned--
Sloppy: Yeah. He had retired then. He probably retired very late, '39, '40.
Bauman: And how long did he work for irrigation district, do you know?
Sloppy: 1909 until then.
Bauman: Okay, right. That's a long time.
Sloppy: Yeah. And also my great-grandmother and grandfather Long were here before him, but they left here and went to western Washington after that. One of my--his younger brother was I think the first graduate in the class from Richland High. It was a book put out here some years ago, I no longer have a copy of it, that has listing him as one of the graduating class.
Bauman: Did your mother ever talk about what the area was like when she was growing up? Did she ever have stories to tell?
Sloppy: Mainly about her father and her mother and that sort of thing. She always thought that Long Avenue was named after my grandfather. I never saw it in writing or anything, but that was her opinion.
Bauman: Do you remember any community events or activities, special occasion things in the area?
Sloppy: Grange was quite big then, and they all belonged to the grange and stuff, and was active in that. Social things were more like that, and then even to just to go to town was a big event for the kids. [LAUGHTER] Of course there wasn't all of the whole family at one time. It was usually my father and maybe one or two of the kids. I remember going to George Gress's. He always would give us sausage. He'd hang one of those sausages around the kid's neck and stuff.
Bauman: How about churches? Churches in the area? Were there--
Sloppy: They wasn’'t real big in church. They were real moral people. I remember at my grandfather's funeral the minister that gave it said he had known him for something like 40 years and never seen him inside his church or any other church. But he never smoked, drank, or cussed or--was an extremely honest, moral person. However, they did practice it, I mean by their moral standards and stuff.
Bauman: So, 1943, when the federal government decides to build the Hanford site, how did your family find out? What memories do you have of that time?
Sloppy: Well, I'm not sure. I guess they came to the different locations, which my grandfather was on the shore water property lines also. I told them--but I would have been--in '43, let’s see--4th, 5th grade. I don't remember them coming to the house in particular or anything.
Bauman: Did you remember how you found out? Did your parents tell you?
Sloppy: My parents told me.
Bauman: And do you remember what you thought at the time? Or did your parents have anything--what they said about it?
Sloppy: Well, they were just getting started in buying the place, and I'm not sure they were upset about it. But as I remember, the bank owned the majority of the properties, and they were in the process of buying it. I think my parents, if I remember correctly, probably got $1,000 with that--got everything else. My grandfather actually sued the government along with some other people and got slightly more. But he owned his place outright, of course. But how he got told--probably them contacting him to find out where the property lines was and everything. And I had one aunt that had a place too, which no longer exists. It was off Van Giesen too.
Bauman: Do you remember how long you were--when you actually moved off your place?
Sloppy: It was in '43, I'm sure because my youngest brother was born in '42, and he was a baby.
Bauman: Mm-hm. Do you have any idea, like, how long you were there after you found out that you had to move?
Sloppy: It was a matter of months, but I can't--
Bauman: Right. You mentioned earlier that this is mostly farms and so forth. Who were your closest neighbors in that last place?
Sloppy: Well, let's see. It was a man—by the name of, I guess his last name was Townsend--had a gas station closer to the Yakima there. And then my aunt and uncle—it was kind of kitty-corner place. Their name was Johnson. But the closest ones—I am trying to remember the name, of course, would now be Van Giesen from that house. I can't remember his name. He was a bachelor. I think it was Thornton, but I can't be--I'm not sure on that name.
Bauman: Mm. And going back to the property you lived on, what sort of irrigation system did they have? How did that work?
Sloppy: It was quite similar to what the Kennewick and Columbia Irrigation Districts are. It was an irrigation ditch, and they piped to the irrigation ditches into it--to the different farms.
Bauman: Are there any memories from your years growing up in Richland really stand out to you, or you remember well, or have a special place in your memory?
Sloppy: I’m trying to think of something, I can't think of anything off hand.
Bauman: Mm-hm. Did you do a lot of fishing and hunting or that sort of thing?
Sloppy: Well, I can remember my dad [LAUGHTER] doing some bird hunting and stuff. I can remember killing pheasants in a hay field with a pitchfork, too, out of season. [LAUGHTER] At that place. And we did fish. And, actually, at that place, at that time, when the irrigation system went in, and there were a couple of lakes west of the house that ways. And I'd fish in them. And we did fish in them then. It was out in the pasture and in there--the bullhead and stuff like that.
Bauman: Mm-hm. You talked about occasionally going into the town of Richland. Did you ever go to any of the other neighboring towns, White Bluffs, Hanford, Pasco, Kennewick, any of those?
Sloppy: No, the only thing I can remember about White Bluffs and Hanford is that my dad when he moved from that place east of Corfu. It's called Corfu by the way--he crossed cows at the ferry there probably on horseback. He brought his cows down from there to wherever we lived in Richland at the time. That book listed a schoolteacher at, I guess it was White Bluffs or a Hanford High School, or a school there as Edith Long, which was my mother's name. But it wasn't my mother. [LAUGHTER] She was not a school teacher. I am trying to remember the name of that book, but it was—
Woman, off-screen: Probably "Tales of Hanford, White Bluffs, and Richland" by Martha Berry Parker.
Sloppy: By whom?
Woman: Martha Berry Parker?
Sloppy: Yes, that was probably it. But it did show a woman of that name, and I don't think it was probably two women. So I think that was probably a mistake. To be named Edith M. Long. ‘Cause mom had graduated from Richland High, of course, along with most of her siblings.
Bauman: Were there a lot of sports activities with the schools around here?
Sloppy: No, they had athletic teams and stuff, which some of my aunts were on the teams. They are mentioned in that book also. As is Uncle Jay, my mother's Uncle Jay, was the one I told you graduated from high school. I don't have my copy anymore. I gave it to one of my brothers, and I never got it back. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: So if someone was to ask you what the community of Richland was like, what this area was like in the 1930s and early 1940s, what would you tell them?
Sloppy: This was just a small farming community. They all shopped at John Dam and Vick Nielson's--his partner, by the way, store. Most of them had running tabs there and storing their meat that they had butchered and George Gress's freezing place--or his meat store. I think his building is still there. It used to be a tavern and stuff in there or something. And I don't know if any of my other relatives—their other farms remain. He tried to point them out with me, but they are difficult now today.
Bauman: And so then after 1943, where did your family go then?
Sloppy: My parents moved in to the Finley area, which with all the mail stuff we did with the Kennewick routes, rural routes. That's still known as Sloppy's Corner out there in Finley, informally. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: [LAUGHTER] And so did you sorta then spend the rest of your youth there in that area?
Sloppy: Until I was in junior high. And then we moved to what was called the Richland Y. The address was Kennewick, but it's now in the city limits of Richland. The house that my mother and father had there is still there. My sister actually lives there and a brother. At that time it was a Kennewick address, and now it's a Richland address.
Bauman: And so then after that, where did you go?
Sloppy: Well, I went into the--was drafted into the Army, and my parents and younger siblings were there and my older sister some. And then when I got out of the Army the first time, I came back there, and I lived there for a couple years also. Until I went back into the Army. I worked for General Electric for a couple of years. And I got hit by a reduction in force type thing. And my last day was a Friday in November of '57. I don't know the exact date. Tuesday I went down and reenlisted in the Army. [LAUGHTER] It was wintertime, and construction work was scarce, and I was young and single. So I left Finley then.
Bauman: So this was in the 1950s, you said?
Sloppy: That would have been 1957, November of '57.
Bauman: November of '57.
Sloppy: I went back in the Army.
Bauman: And so what sort of work was it at Hanford, construction?
Sloppy: No, it was for General Electric. I think it was 100H I worked at, from late '54, early '55 to '57.
Bauman: And what sort of work at 100H, was it?
Sloppy: It was labor truck driving, I think, for General Electric.
Bauman: And how was that experience? What did you think of working at Hanford?
Sloppy: It was a good job for me at the time being single, like I said, living at home.
Bauman: And then you said you went back into the Army.
Bauman: And at some point came back here?
Sloppy: Well, I didn't actually--I came back to Kennewick, but that wasn’t ‘til 1986. [LAUGHTER] Because I spent 30 years in the Army.
Bauman: Is there anything about your time growing up in this area that you haven't talked about yet or you think would be important to share or important for the people to know about?
Sloppy: Well, no, like I said, I attended Kennewick schools, even though the addresses at that time was a Kennewick address, even though it's currently a Richland address. No, it was a normal growing up with a bunch of brothers and sisters, only two sisters, but a bunch of brothers. And it was a typical [INAUDIBLE] for them.
Bauman: I just want to go back to 1943. Did your parents ever talk about having to give up their land afterwards, later?
Sloppy: They naturally had some heartburn, and I don't think anybody that lived during that time, if they were adults anyway, ever voted Democrat again--boy that--since Roosevelt was the one that did it. And they probably felt that even though in my case, it would have been maybe the bank giving your land back, especially since they never did anything with that land. Now my grandpa's is probably all residential or even business because that would have been probably closer to where the hospital is now in that area. So that was all used for something. But my father's and the bank's area wasn't. My uncle's and aunt's area is still all weeds and things back against the sand hill there where the irrigation ditch ran down, where the irrigation ran down. One of my cousin's--or a couple of my cousins was here a couple of years ago, and I was able to take him real close to where it was, but there's no houses or anything. There's one house back in there now. It’d be off to the right. And most people felt that way about it. Like I say, my grandfather sued them. And it don't take a long if there’s a lawsuit. But it did get them a little bit more for the land area.
Bauman: Well, I want to thank you for coming in today and sharing your memories and stories. I appreciate it.
Sloppy: Well, now, I don't know how much this helps you, but--
Bauman: It’s great. All right. Thanks very much.
Sloppy: You wouldn't know where I'd get a copy of that book, do you? [LAUGHTER]
Woman off-screen: You know, it's really hard to find. I've seen it at used books.