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Voyageur's Best Features of 2003

Frank Zimmerman

‘It’s still home’
Frank Zimmerman shares a bit of life history
by Cynthia Brekke  |  July 29, 2003

The year was 1919, and 6-year old Frank Zimmerman and his family were packing up to leave Cordon, Iowa. It was to be a long trip, over hundreds of miles, in a covered wagon... that’s right, a covered wagon. Frank’s parents, two brothers, and one other family packed up, moved north, living out of a covered wagon, camping and braving the elements. True Pioneers. It took the family 22 days to travel from Cordon, Iowa, to McGregor, Minn., but they made it and rebuilt their lives here.

At 90 years old this year, Frank doesn’t recall much about the trip. Being only six years old at the time, he vaguely remembers the other family that traveled along side them on their journey, but does recall the names of the three other families who left Iowa to head north. “One was Charlie Dar, another one was named John Talbot and the other was Van Fleets,” he said. “Talbots landed west of McGregor, across from where John Knaack’s live now.”

Only one who has walked the bogs in this countryside, or has camped out for weeks, can imagine what their trip must have been like. “When I tell people I came by covered wagon, they say, ‘Ah, you’re crazy. Did not’,” Frank mused. They didn’t have a camera on the trip... that was an item they obtained once they got here. “It would have been nice to have some pictures of the wagon,” he said.

What made the family pack up and move? “I have no idea,” Frank commented. “There was land for sale here and my folks, along with a few other families, decided to buy and move up.” Maybe it was cheap land... maybe it was the devastating loss of their 14-year old daughter to scarlet fever... whatever the reason, they made a bold decision and set out for a new beginning.

“My folks built this shack, and that was our house for a few years,” Frank recalled as he gazed at an aged, fuzzy, black and white photo. In it, his parents, Lloyd and Nora Zimmerman, six-year old Frank, and one of his brothers, stand by the shack. “My other brother must have taken the photo.” Frank recalls going to the first school in McGregor, before the new one was built.

The Zimmerman homestead was a farm, located a half mile west of McGregor, on land south of Hwy. 210 (and the railroad tracks), across from the present Russ Fahrendorf residence. “I lived on that farm with my parents until 1936, when I married my wife, Clotilde Golden,” Frank recalled. “We had a room at the boarding house, and I worked for Harvey Deen, sawing wood for .30 cents an hour.”
Zimmerman’s stuck it out on their farm, while the other three families that came here with them packed up and left. Frank and Tillie eventually moved from the boarding house in town to a farm of their own, in 1938. He sheared sheep in the spring, and Tillie milked cows. They also had a turkey farm for many years, and Frank drove bus for the school. “The first school bus I rode was pulled by mules,” he said. He owned his own bus, and drove for 31 years. He served on the Jevne Town Board for about 45 years, worked in the woods, on the highway two summers, and served on the Aitkin County F.H.A. board.

Frank and Tillie had six children, one boy and five girls. One summer, in 1950, Frank worked in Alaska and Tillie worked the farm. They had the turkeys and cows, and Tillie also dressed turkeys for Sears. She kept the family and farm going. “She worked hard that summer,” Frank recalled.

Frank resides in Carlton now, close to his daughters and wife, Tillie, who is in a nursing home there. They lost their son, Butch, in 1989. Over the years, Frank witnessed a lot of changes in McGregor. A couple of years ago, he was in the Wild Rice Days parade with a covered wagon, commemorating 88 years since the family’s journey north. “It was sort of like the one we came here in,” he said. “That was in 1999, I think. I’ve never missed a Wild Rice Days celebration. We moved to Carlton in 1996, but McGregor will always be my home town.”

This article first appeared in the July 29, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.