By Nancy Price
The year 1920 ushered in a decade of firsts for Americans. The 19th amendment granted women the right to vote. The first commercial radio station hit airwaves. And the rise of speakeasies, bathtub gin and bootleggers began through the start of prohibition.
For three residents of St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove, it was also just the beginning … it was the first year of their lives.
Helen Flanary was born Feb. 8, 1920 in Floyds Knobs, Ind. She grew up on an 80-acre farm with three siblings and knew the meaning of hard work. “Back then they didn’t have the tractors they do now,” she said. “Everything had to be done with our hands.” She remembers settling up to 200 baby chicks in their coop for the night as one of her jobs on the farm. Flanary attended school through the eighth grade. “I didn’t get to high school,” she said. “My dad said girls in the country didn’t need a high school education. We had to do work on the farm, so we weren’t able to go anyplace.”
At age 20, Flanary moved to Indianapolis and started a job with Indiana Bell as a telephone operator. “I was there for 33 years,” she said. “And I loved every bit of it. It was something you did but at the same time it was fun.” Flanary married and had a son. She has been a resident of St. Paul Hermitage for about a year, enjoys playing bingo and recently celebrated a “wonderful” birthday. “Everyone was just so astounded at the big party we had,” she said. “They put everything together and we had a really good time.”
Violet Vermaulen was born Feb. 18, 1920 in Connersville, Ind., the youngest of seven children to immigrant parents who met in Grand Rapids, Mich. “My father was born in Holland right on the north sea. He was a machinist and a self-made man.” Her mother hailed from England. Vermaulen enjoyed a simple life with her siblings and neighbors. “My earliest memory was a good family life; we were always happy. Those were the good old days. We played outside all the time,” she said. “We never knew what a movie was until I was in high school.”
Vermanulen graduated from high school toward the end of the Great Depression. “It was hard to find a job, so I worked at a drugstore,” she said. Vermaulen eventually worked for an investment company while taking care of her ailing parents. She later worked with Ford Motor Company and pursued a lifelong dream to travel in Europe. Vermaulen offered advice for younger generations. “Always be considerate,” she said. “My mother said two words to always remember in your vocabulary is ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’”
Joe McDermott was born Feb. 25, 1920 in Sioux City, Iowa and raised on a farm with six brothers and two sisters. He attended a one-room schoolhouse with just one teacher who taught all eight grades. Back then, summer breaks did not offer much time for relaxation. McDermott and his siblings worked in most areas of the farm while they were growing up, whether that involved taking care of the animals or driving a tractor long before being issued a driver’s license. By the age of 18, McDermott took over the farm from his father. “I loved to farm,” he recalled. “I worked daylight to dark seven days a week. I bought all new equipment. I had a vision of something better than you had before.”
He also served in the U.S. Army during World War II as an airplane mechanic and worked his way up to eventually train pilots. McDermott married and had two children, a son and a daughter. Today, he enjoys music and danced at St. Paul Hermitage’s most recent senior prom. He celebrated his birthday last Saturday night with “a big bunch” of family.