Written by Berna Lewis - February,
Sherman Austin Fleming was born June
10, 1886, the youngest of ten children in a farm family near Pepin,
Wisconsin. This is my beloved father.
A brother died in infantry. His
mother seemed to be a very compassionate lady, a good neighbor and a
good wife too (see obituary). She was French Canadian, raised in
Presquel, Michigan. She married John Fleming at fourteen. At that
time he was working in her father’s saw mill at Nelson, Wisconsin
but eventually became a successful farmer. A child died young. Nine
children survived to adulthood.
Dad went into Pepin right away to
become a telegrapher on the railroad. He started his career as a
telegrapher and ended his working years as a station master, which
included towns along the Mississippi River. In between, he managed
lumber yards and worked the Alaska Highway stationed in White Horse.
Along with these work ventures, dad helped raise 10 children.
I imagine dad worked hard growing up
being in a big family and on a big farm. I’ve been told his mother
raised pigs to send him into Pepin to high school. At that time,
there were just 3 years and he graduated with the 3-year diploma. I
can see him helping with the pigs.
I remember Dad singing at Christmas.
We had a new baby and he said “hang up the baby stocking”. Once
when we had a cow, he would take a bunch of us, including the
neighbors, to where the cow was tethered and let each of us take
turns milking her. We also owned a Shetland pony for a while and my
big brother delivered milk in our little town.
The working years were Depression
years in which there were no jobs. Sometime on the way, Dad got into
the lumber business. Right in the early part of the Depression he
helped build a big building downtown in Pepin which had in it living
quarters upstairs. There was a furniture store & office, a showroom,
also an office for the lumber yard. The lumber was stored below.
During this time Mom and Dad worked
as a team. She was the furniture store manager; he, the lumber.
Together they managed the funerals in Pepin. They did most of the
work even to furnishing the music. Mom was the pianist. They both
lost these jobs and that started the period of struggle to put food
on the table. Later, Dad managed a lumber yard at Bay City. Twice
during this period he went to Alaska to work on the Alaskan Highway.
When the war was over, he found jobs before he returned to the
Not all of us were home at the same
time. The 3 oldest of our 10 went to college for several years
before the Depression changed our financial status. During these
tough years, several of us worked for the government, including Dad.
The men worked at Civilian Conservation Corps camps. I worked on
several different projects after I got my 3rd year of high school
working as a nanny in New York City. I came home for my fourth year
of high school. Then I worked the next year for the family. We all
tried to keep together. Dad found this a better time because we had
income coming in from several sources.
Dad and mother met when he stayed at
the Saddler Rooming House in Pepin; they married in June of 1906.
She was seventeen; he was twenty-one. Mother was the quieter one.
She was the youngest of five. Dad was very gregarious. He loved
children and enjoyed the big noisy family we were.
Dad also loved the outdoors so we
went on many picnics. They were fun but not very fancy. He was a
willing worker, too. The Depression was very hard on him in several
ways. He wanted to provide but there was no work. Our government
really helped us out.
My relationship with Dad was special
in that I was needed for the second half of the ten. He rewarded me
for helping (Saturday afternoon movies). Dad always thought I was
able to control my life. We did practice being good Methodists.
Mother helped in this, frequently playing the piano or singing in
the church choir.
My father’s faith in me encouraged
and sustained me. He meant so much to me. Yes, I loved my father.
The great thing was his full acceptance of me in every way. He
encouraged me in my goals, especially in nursing and seemed to
accept my marriage as well, never doing anything to me to make me
feel inferior. Maybe that gave me confidence in myself. We liked
going home and he loved the children.
Dad tried politics by being mayor of
our small city. He ran for a county judgeship but was defeated.
His death was sudden. Not expected.
He died in the car while trying to get it going in the snow. Dad was
71 by then. He was at peace but he was missed. His death left a big
hole in my life and I still think of him often. I hope he would
approve of the way I’ve lived, too.