COKATO: MY HOMETOWN
by Philip Tideman

Our nation has countless home towns and an abundance of farms, ranches, forests, and lakes ‘in between. For my family, however, Cokato was, for a quarter of a century our home town. What follows are just some reflections on those years.

The year was 1919. The “War To End All Wars” had come to a close late in the preceding year. My mother Esther Lundsten, had spent several of those war years teaching in a rural school in South Dakota: My father, Carl Tideman, who, because of a hearing impairment, had spent only a very brief time in an army camp before being released from military service. He thus spent those war years in his seminary studies.

So it was that in June of 1919 these two were married on Esther’s farm near Waconia. Within the next month or so the newlyweds had moved to Cokato, where Carl was to become the pastor of the Swedish Baptist Church. In those days some of the services were held in Swedish, some in English. Carl had been brought as a young child from Sweden in the 1880s by his parents and spent his childhood in Worcester, Massachusetts. His ability to speak and preach sermons in Swedish, however, came as a result of studying that language in college.

For Carl and Esther, the period of 1919 to 1926 was a busy time. Their activities centered upon the church and the duties of pastor and pastor’s wife. At intervals of two years, 1920, 1922, 1924, and 1926 there came additions to the family: Marion (Peggy), Carl Jr., Corrine, then myself as the youngest and last arrival.

In addition to church work and children rearing, both parents became involved in civic activities. Esther was a prolific reader of books and soon became involved in, a literary group made up of Cokato women. Carl became the first scoutmaster and indeed helped form that first Cokato scout troop. Many a Cokato boy, growing up in town during these years, became involved in scouting.

It must be said that not all members of his own congregation agreed that this was a proper activity for their minister. To make things even a bit more controversial, the troop met—in the early years—in the Baptist church. Looking at photos of scout activities it can be noted that youth from the Cokato Lutheran Church were far and away most likely to be found in scouting. v This troop was really a pioneer effort. There were no established scout camps at that time, but through an agreement with a farmer landowner, the large troop each summer camped on the shores of Lake Frances, northwest of Cokato.

In the late 1920s, the troop became less active. Through the efforts of several community men, including dad, a new teacher was persuaded to become scoutmaster. Under the dedicated leadership of Milton Krueger, the troop once again flourished. Krueger was scoutmaster in the 1930s and 40s, and under his leadership a large number of Cokato boys became active in scouting and many of them achieved the Eagle Scout award.

Being the youngest in our family I know very little as to the “why” and '“wherefore” of the decision of my parents to embark on another vocation. Our family left Cokato shortly after I was born for a little over a year. During that year we lived in Grove City where dad was the pastor of the Baptist church while attending the University of Minnesota to acquire necessary teaching credentials. During that time he commuted weekly on the Great Northern to the university, back on weekends to Grove City to family and church. Following Grove City, we moved back to Cokato where dad assumed the role of high school history teacher.

I think it safe to say that it was in the role of teacher and high school principal that dad made a major contribution to the town and its students. Today, some fifty-eight years after his death, he is remembered by “old-timers” as a teacher and/ or public speaker who made an impact on their lives. In his monumental book, A Religious History of the American People, Yale University historian, the late Sydney Ahlstrom, cites in the book’s preface his Cokato High School history teacher, Carl Tideman, as one who early influenced his scholarly career. Seldom is a high school teacher accorded this type of recognition.

With four children in various classes at the Cokato schools, and a father who was the principal and history teacher, those years were filled with school life in all its aspects. Sports, plays, and musical programs kept us walking back and forth to school from Mission Hill with increasing frequency. In many ways it was a pleasant time. Mission Hill was on the edge of town. Pastures and open land (now housing developments) bordered us on three sides. Sucker Creek was at the bottom of the hill.

Money was scarce, but so it was for many folks during those depression years. As I recall it now, on one or more Saturdays a month there was a food distribution for those in need. Times were hard for almost everyone. Banks shut their doors, savings evaporated, farm income dipped to historic lows. The nation was in turmoil and trouble. But for me in those years, Cokato was my universe. I could not imagine living any place else. Only later did other parts of the world beckon.

During the decade of the 1930s, our family was absent from Cokato during much of the summer months. With no summer employment at the school, dad would work on farms in the Waconia area as he also served a very small country church as a part-time minister. Mother's sister had purchased thirty acres on Lake Mille Lacs and told my parents to build a summer cabin. They did just that and so after

Memorial Day we would load up our 1926 Chevy and head north; Memorial Day in Cokato usually included some WWI veterans in their old and tighter uniforms and a band of some sort. Always the barber, Sam Redmond, would ride a horse and wear his army uniform, impressing the youngsters. Up at the cabin we had no car, no electricity, no water system, and no plumbing. But we did have lots of good times One of the negatives of the cabin stays was that We would miss much of the “golden years” of the Cokato town team baseball which Gordon Nelson recently wrote about (In The Midst Of, V. 18, No. 2). We of course knew all these local heroes of the diamond, but seldom got to see them play.

As the nation moved towards economic recovery and World War II, these annual treks to Mille Lacs came to an end. We kids had summer jobs and usually we could count on the canning factories for a month or so in late summer. We children, like most of our friends, found various summer jobs. Newspaper routes, creamery, golf courses, and in my own case, grocery store work.

A vivid memory of the late 1930s is that of the arson attempts (three of them) aimed at the high school. One of them occurred during a special Christmas program held in the evening at the school auditorium. The announcement of the fire threat by janitor William Kreinbring, resulted in a fairly orderly evacuation of the building, and of course, cancellation of the balance of the program. None of the three attempts resulted in serious damage and the person responsible was apprehended shortly thereafter. Dad, along with all the teachers, were very relieved when the case was solved.

During the 1930s there were at least two serious downtown tires. Most vivid are the memories of the Christmas Eve fire which destroyed the First National Bank. Anotherfire destroyed one of the town’s drug stores.

During the 1936 political campaign, Cokato was a whistle stop for the Republican vice presidential candidate, Frank Knox. Out on Mission Hill, about as far as your could get from the tracks, we neighborhood kids set up our lemonade stand to serve the expected throngs of on- lookers and party faithful. There were no throngs of people, nor party faithful, and no sales. None!

With the close of the school year in 1942 came profound changes. That spring my sister Corinne graduated from high school with plans to attend St. Cloud State Teachers College that fall. My brother Carl was soon to enlist in the Army. My older sister, Peggy, had just completed her medical tech program at the university. We had been living for the past three years near Brooks Lake, where both parents enjoyed the opportunity to have ample garden space --flowers for mother, vegetables for father.

On a Sunday morning in June 1942, dad experienced a coronary and on Thursday passed away at Cokato Hospital. Ever the historian, patriot, and avid follower of world events, he asked me whether or not Tobruk had fallen to Nazi forces in North Africa.

Within minutes he slipped away from us, leaving a void in my family, the school, and the community. For me, at age sixteen, just about to enter my junior year at Cokato High School, it was a devastating time. According to the Cokato Enterprise, the funeral was one of the larger ones held in Cokato. Within the next two years all of our family had moved from Cokato and our connections to our hometown were severed. Memories remain of faces, names, friends, places, and events of that quarter century when Cokato was “my hometown.”

Philip Tideman graduated from Cokato High School in 1944 and entered the U.S. Navy. He received his PhD in Geography from the University of Nebraska and has retired from a thirty year teaching career. He and his wife of forty-five years live on the land at Mille Lacs, where the family spent so many happy summers.

This article first appeared in the Winter 1999 edition of In The Midst Of. (c)1999, Cokato Historical Society