The post war years: Coming to America

NIAGARA, Wis. — Last week we described World War II through the lens of 6-year-old Barbara Spooner, who lived with her family near Oxford, England during the war and visited her grandmother in London throughout those difficult and dangerous years. This week we will see the post-war years through her 12-year-old eyes and learn how she met and married her American husband at the age of 20.

As a child watching soldiers marching off to war, Barbara wondered if they would come home. Her family had a military history, so she knew that some never did. Her Uncle Albert was strafed and killed in action during World War I; he is buried in Flanders Field. Her father had tried to enlist in WW I at the age of 16, but was rejected as soon as his age was discovered. Her brother-in-law joined England’s Royal Air Force during WW II and was shot down in France. He spent two years in a POW camp, where he met a renowned London surgeon, also a prisoner, who was able to save his injured arm. There was no anesthesia available, so he performed the complex surgery using massive doses of whiskey. He returned home in 1945 a changed man; he had no idea where he was and did not recognize family. He never spoke of the war or of his experiences as a POW, as it was just too difficult to remember. Later, Barbara can remember seeing him washing up after work without his usual long-sleeved shirt. She was horrified at the appearance of his arm, and she ran from the room, crying. He followed to calm her and to assure her that he was just fine and that his arm no longer hurt.

Barbara remembers the excitement of her first trip after the war ended. Her uncle, Tom, and his family had moved to Southend-On-Sea, and she and her family travelled by train to see them. Barbara loved to read Enid Blyton books, and she was finally on an adventure of her own! She was thrilled to ride on a train and to view the sea for the first time. Dipping her toe in the water, she marveled at how it seemed to drop off the edge of the earth and wondered where the tide came from and where it went.

Post-war Christmas memories are wonderful ones for Barbara. Despite the continued rationing, their stockings contained chocolates, nuts, an orange and sometimes even a banana. She also remembers receiving a book, a jigsaw puzzle, socks and underwear. Her mother always made a special breakfast, complete with cocoa to drink. Her father bought her a bicycle at the age of 15 — blue with silver wheels — so she could ride it to work and save on bus fare.

American soldiers still were stationed in England at Brize Norton Air Force Base. Barbara convinced her father to complete the voluminous amount of paperwork required so she could attend the dances there with her friends. She had strict instructions from her father to “be good, don’t get too friendly with these men and don’t bring any of them home.” When Barbara first danced with an American, she can remember he hardly moved. She and her friends used to say that “the Americans danced on a sixpence — no big, sweeping waltz from them!”

I have heard many stories of how friends met their spouses, and the story of how my husband and I met is still very fresh in our minds. But I have never heard a story as unique as Barbara’s. She met Eugene Richard Spooner on July 11, 1953, when she and her friend, Doreen, went to a dance at the Air Force base. She had just refused a dance from one young man when Gene asked her. Since she was a very polite Brit, she did not feel that it was proper to accept a dance from him after just refusing one, so she politely turned him down. Barbara thought to herself that she had been an idiot because he was so good-looking. The very next dance, he asked her again, and she accepted. It just so happened it was the last dance of that evening, so it was slow and very romantic. He asked her to come again on Sunday afternoon to a tea dance, and she accepted. She wore her best blue dress, and he was dressed in dark brown trousers, a white shirt and beige jacket — so different from his uniform and very handsome. They danced once and spent the rest of the evening sitting on a couch while he talked and talked about his family, his life, and how he came to be in England. Gene asked her to meet him the following Tuesday, and she agreed. They met at the bus stop, went to a movie, he bought her a box of Cadbury chocolates, and they sat in the circle (similar to our square) and talked. They made plans to meet again and, as Barbara boarded the bus, Gene gave her a note and asked her to read it on the way home. It was his marriage proposal. They went to a wine bar for their next date, and Barbara turned him down, saying she hardly knew him. He said that he knew he loved her since the first dance, when she fit into his arms like she belonged there. She felt the same way, — it was love at first sight — but it scared her.

Now it was time to take him home. Her mother was surprised because she was expecting a girlfriend — Jean not Gene — and her father was very polite but quiet. He warned her later not to rush into anything. Two weeks later, Gene and Barbara decided to get married, but Gene had to obtain Barbara’s father’s permission. Gene and her father spent a day visiting and even went to a pub, but Gene failed to even ask for the necessary permission. They eventually sought assistance from Barbara’s older sister, who paved the way and was later instrumental in getting their father to complete the necessary paperwork for his daughter to marry an American soldier. Discussing the actual wedding came next. Gene was due to be shipped back to the states very soon, so he suggested they get married in America to speed things along, but her father was adamant that, “No daughter of mine leaves home unless she is married!”

There was a great deal of difficult discussion surrounding when they would marry, where they would live and how it was all going to work. They eventually married in London on Sept. 5, 1953. Gene returned to America in November after completing more paperwork, and Barbara followed in February. As the ship pulled away from the dock, she remembers waving goodbye to her father with tears streaming down her face and wishing she could run back to him. But, of course, she could not. It was “the end of her childhood. Life is forever, and this was part of her life.” She cried every day of the four-day journey on the boat. Gene met her in New York; the song playing on the car radio was “Stranger in Paradise” — so fitting.

Barbara became a citizen in 1957. Gene stayed in the Air Force for 20 years as a reporter and photographer; in 1967, during the Vietnam War, he was on a spotter plane photographing and reporting the location of the Viet Cong. He was awarded many service medals. They had three sons. Gene died in 1988 while visiting friends in upstate New York. He’d had heart problems for many years by that time. One of their sons married a girl from Pembine, Wis., so Barbara and Gene had relocated to this area by that time. They had been married for 35 years.

Note: My grateful appreciation goes out to Arletta Johnson Meysembourg for introducing me to Barbara, which enabled me to share her story.






Sunday: Scenes and sounds, noon; toss across, 1 p.m.; dunking donuts, 2 p.m.; church, 2:15 p.m.

Monday: Room visits, 10 a.m.; brouhaha, 11 a.m.; scenes and sounds, 11:30 a.m.; library cart, 1:30 p.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.; ice cream social, 3 p.m.

Tuesday: Knit/crochet, 10:30 a.m.; scenes and sounds, 11:30 a.m.; reminisce, 1:15 p.m.; Kentucky Derby, 2 p.m.

Wednesday: Room visits, 10 a.m.; rosary, 10:30 a.m.; scenes and sounds, 11:30 a.m.; room visits, 1 p.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.; movie and popcorn, 3 p.m.

Thursday: Reading buddy, 10:30 a.m.; scenes and sounds, 11:30 a.m.; Bible study, 1:15 p.m.; pokereno, 2 p.m.; “Lawrence Welk,” 4:30 p.m.

Friday: Catholic Mass, 11 a.m.; scenes and sounds, 11:45 a.m.; Kingsford concert choral, 1:30 p.m.; happy hour, 3 p.m.

Saturday: Meet and greet, 10:30 a.m.; daily newspaper, 11 a.m.; scenes and sounds, 11:30 a.m.; oldies but goodies, 1 p.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.; evening news, 6 p.m.

Iron County 

Medical Facility

Crystal Falls

Sunday: One-to-one church visitors, 8:30 to 11 a.m.; room visits, 9 to 11 a.m.; reminisce, 10 a.m.; afternoon matinee with popcorn, 1:30 p.m.; bingorama, 2 p.m.; Church of Christ, 3 p.m.

Monday: Crafts/facility decorating, 9 to 10:30 a.m.; exercise, 11 a.m.; room visits, 1 p.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.; Sunshine Club, 2:30 p.m.; activity council, 3 p.m.

Tuesday: Facility decorating/prayer, 10 a.m.; mystery ride, 1 p.m..; wildlife film, 1:30 p.m.; storytelling, 2 p.m.; romance movie, 6 p.m.

Wednesday: Picture day, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Coffee social/puzzle time, 10 a.m.; exercise, 11 a.m.; current events, 2 p.m.; night bingo, 6 p.m.

Thursday: Puzzler, 9:30 a.m.; bowling, 10 a.m.; Bible study, 1 p.m.; travel film, 1:30 p.m.; St. Mark’s church, 2 p.m.; happy hour, 2:30 p.m.

Friday: Crafts, 9 to 10:30 a.m.; exercise, 11 a.m.; auxiliary beer and pizza party, 2 p.m.; musical movie, 6 p.m.

Saturday: Room-to-room bingo/high rollers, 10 a.m.; geri-gym, 11 a.m.; intergenerational social hour, 2 p.m.; card club, 6 p.m.

Manor Care


Wet your whistle: 9:30 a.m. Sunday through Saturday.

Exercise: 10 a.m. Sunday through Saturday.

Popcorn Day: Every Friday

Sunday: Just jokes, 10:15 a.m.; company’s coming room visits, 1:30 p.m.; Protestant church, 3 p.m.

Monday: Did you know? 10:15 a.m.; Catholic Mass, 2 p.m.; Chips and chatter, 2:30 p.m.; pokeno, 5:45 p.m.

Tuesday: Who am I? 10:15 a.m.; Christmas tree trimming — carols, cocoa and cookies, 2 p.m.; movie and manicure, 5:45 p.m.

Wednesday: Remembering when, 10:15 a.m.; Soundz of Time, 2 p.m.; flip five, 5:45 p.m.

Thursday: Crosswords, 10:15 a.m.; good neighbor bingo, 2 p.m.; magic moments, 5:45 p.m.

Friday: All about December, 10:15 a.m.; lucky 13, 2 p.m.; movie, 3:15 p.m.

Saturday: Current events, 10:15 a.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.; movie, 3:15 p.m.

Maryhill Manor

Niagara, Wis.

Rosary, 8:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m. Friday.

Sunday: “Family Feud,” 10:15 a.m.; penny ante, 1:30 p.m.; Protestant service, 2:30 p.m.; Christian fellowship, 5:30 p.m.

Monday: Yahtzee,10:15 a.m.; Christmas cookie decorating, 2 p.m.; Baptist service, 6 p.m.

Tuesday: Current events, 10:15 a.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.

Wednesday: You be the judge, 10:15 a.m.; whammo, 2 p.m.; Bible stories, 3 p.m.; Jan and Gino, 6:30 p.m.

Thursday: Catholic Mass, 9 a.m.; Scattegories, 10:15 a.m.; prayer shawl, 2 p.m.

Friday: Catholic Mass and Adoration, 10 a.m.; ball toss, 10:15 a.m.; short stories and hot cocoa, 10:30 a.m.; happy hour with Denise S., 2 p.m.

Saturday: Christmas crafts, 10:15 a.m.; pamper and polish, 2 p.m.

Victorian Pines

Iron Mountain

Juice time, 10 a.m. Sunday through Saturday.

Exercise, 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Shopping days: 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, must sign up.

Sunday: Football: Packers vs Giants, noon; Bible study, 2:30 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m.

Monday: Bingo, 2 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m.

Tuesday: Tenant meeting, 2 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m.

Wednesday: Golden Throats, 2 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m.

Thursday: Bingo, 2 p.m.; rosary, 3 p.m.

Friday: Music with Jim Edberg, 2 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m.

Saturday: Movie and popcorn, 2 p.m.

Florence Health Services

Florence, Wis.

Morning news, 6 a.m. daily.

Beauty shop closed this week.

Sunday: Bingo, 10 a.m.; football, Packers vs. Giants, noon; football snacks, 2 p.m.

Monday: Bingo, 10 a.m.; Uno, 2 p.m.; coffee social, 3 p.m.; reminisce, 6:15 p.m.

Tuesday: Winter craft, 10 a.m.; music with Jan and Gino, 2:30 p.m.; picture look, 6:15 p.m.

Wednesday: Baking cookies, 10 a.m.; cookie party, 2 p.m.; coffee social, 3 p.m.; reading, 6:15 p.m.

Thursday: Pastor Jason, 10 a.m.; manicures, 2 p.m.; coffee social, 3 p.m.; reminisce, 6:15 p.m.

Friday: Catholic church service, 10 a.m.; coffee and chat, 11 a.m.; chair exercise, 2 p.m.; happy hour, 3 p.m.; reading, 6:15 p.m.

Saturday: Bingo, 10 a.m.; facility/family Christmas party/music by Jan and Gino/visit from Santa Claus; 12:30 p.m.;

Pinecrest Medical Care Facility


Sunday: Grace church, 10:15 a.m.; karaoke, 10:30 a.m.; cards, 2 p.m.; trivia, 3:30 p.m.

Monday: Life connections, 9:45 a.m.; busy bee, 12:45 p.m.; song service, 1:30 p.m.; rosary, 2:30 p.m.; Phase 10, 3:30 p.m.; one-to-one visits, 6 p.m.

Tuesday: Employee-of-the-month meeting, 10 a.m.; resident council, 10:30 a.m.; busy bee, 12:45 p.m.; bingo, 1:45 p.m.; reminiscing, 3:30 p.m.; room visits, 6 p.m.

Wednesday: Social circle, 10 a.m.; busy bee, 12:45 p.m.; decorating, 1:45 p.m.; one-to-one visits, 6 p.m.

Thursday: Decorating, 10:30 a.m.; busy bee, 12:45 p.m.; bingo, 1:45 p.m.; cards, 3:30 p.m.; sensory, 6 p.m.

Friday: Catholic Mass, 10:30 a.m.; busy bee, 12:45 a.m.; bunco, 2 p.m.; board game, Trouble, 3:30 p.m.; one-to-one visits, 6 p.m.

Saturday: Rummy, 10:15 a.m.; sensory, 10:30 a.m.; social circle, 2 p.m.; manicures, 3:30 p.m.


Note: All centers ask for 24-hour advanced reservations for lunch. Those who have meals delivered who will not be home should notify the center.

Alpha-Mastodon Center


Meal at noon every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Amasa Center


Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Lunch at noon.

Bingo on Tuesdays.

Free meal drawing on Thursdays.

Menu for the week:

Tuesday: Chop suey, rice, oriental vegetables, salad and Mandarin oranges.

Wednesday: Sloppy Joes, baked beans and salad.

Thursday: Pasties, mixed vegetables, coleslaw and carrots.

Breen Center


Meals Monday through Friday.

Pasty sale every third Saturday of the month, except on holidays.  

Cards and games available 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2 p.m. 

Hostess on duty Monday through Friday.   

Treats and coffee, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Center retail store is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday; volunteers and donations are welcome.

Birthdays acknowledged every day.

Evening meals are on the first and third Thursday of the month. Salad bar opens at 4 p.m., with dinner at 5 p.m. Donations are $4 for those 60 and older and $5 for 60 and younger.

Menu for the week:

Monday: Burgers, fries and baked beans.

Tuesday: Stew, and cornbread.

Wednesday: Burritos.

Thursday: Night meal: Spaghetti and meatballs, green beans and garlic toast.

Friday: Baked fish or barbecue pork sandwich, mashed potatoes and creamed peas.

Soup, salad and dessert are offered with every meal. Reservations for meals are encouraged. Walk-ins are welcomed.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen


The center is not just for seniors — bring a friend.

Suggested meal donations: $5 if older than 60; $6 if younger than 60; $1 extra for take-out.

To reserve meals, call the center by 1 p.m. with name and number of people.

All dinners include the soup and salad bar, homemade dessert, tea, coffee and milk.

Open: Monday through Wednesday, soup and salad bar at 4:30 p.m., and dinner at 5 p.m.

Mondays: Basket weaving after dinner — all are welcome for dinner and/or class. Beginners can make their first basket with materials provided.

Menu for the week:

Monday: Lasagna, garlic bread and vegetables.

Tuesday: Roast pork, potatoes and gravy, and carrots.

Wednesday: Baked chicken, buttered noodles and vegetables.

Crystal Lake Center

Christine McMahon

906-774-2256, ext. 235

The center is closed on weekends.

Monday: Woodcarvers, 10 a.m.; mahjong in dining hall, noon; Les Artistes Art Club, noon; bridge club, 12:15 p.m.

Tuesday and Thursday: Pinochle, 12:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: Billiards, 9:30 a.m.

Wednesday: Spinning Spools Quilters Guild, 1 p.m., with crafters, scrapbookers and others also welcome; knitting and crocheting class, 1 to 3 p.m.

Thursday: Happy Quilters, 1 p.m.; two-person team cribbage, 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Friday: Smear, noon.

The kitchen once again is open and serving meals. A new lunch program is offered from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. every Wednesday Meals cost $5 for those younger than 60 years old and a $4 donation for those older than 60.

Home-delivered meal menu for week:

Monday: Sloppy Joes, tater tots and corn.

Tuesday: Beef stroganoff, noodles and California blend vegetables.

Wednesday: Cabbage roll, green beans, dinner roll and cookie.

Thursday: Scalloped potatoes with ham, winter blend vegetables and biscuit.

Friday: Fish, macaroni and cheese, peas and carrots.

Center-based meal menu for week:

Wednesday: Lunch — Porketta sandwich, Reuben soup and salad bar.

Note: Beginning in January, night meals will move from Tuesdays to the second and fourth Thursday evenings of each month.

Transportation is available from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call Buzzin’ Around Town at 906-282-0492. Rides are $3 for age 60 and older, and $3.50 for younger than 60. 

Felch Center


Meals served at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Wednesday.

Bingo after lunch on the first and third Wednesday of each month.

A congregate jigsaw puzzle is done daily.

Menu for the week:

Monday: Sloppy Joe, chips and coleslaw.

Tuesday: Chicken florentine, rice pilaf and glazed carrots.

Wednesday: Egg and sausage bake, spiced pears and oven hash browns.

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.


Director: Tiffany White

Suggested donation for seniors older than 60 is $4 per meal. Residents younger than 60 must pay $7. Reservations and cancellations are needed 48 hours in advance.

The ADRC can assist area seniors and those with disabilities with transportation Monday through Friday. Transportation reservation should be made with meal reservation.

Menu for the week:

Monday: Pizza casserole, three bean salad and pears.

Tuesday: Barbecue chicken, baked potato, cauliflower, and apricots.

Wednesday: Hot beef sandwich, mashed potatoes, broccoli, applesauce, peppermint hot chocolate and Rice Crispy treats.

Thursday: Chop suey, rice, oriental vegetables and pineapple tidbits.

Friday: Tuna casserole with peas, carrots, fruit juice and cookies.

Other assistance includes information on aging, benefits specialist, and caregiver support.

Fence Center/Town Hall


For meal reservations, call 855-528-2372

Meal served Wednesday only. Reservations are requested. Cribbage and cards are available.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-528-4261

Home-delivered meals are available. Meal is served at 11:30 a.m. at this center Monday through Thursday, with the same menu as listed under ADRC of Florence County.

Tipler Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-674-2320

Serving lunch at noon on the second Thursday of the month only, with the same menu as listed under ADRC of Florence County.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora

715-589-4491 – RSVP for meals

Meal is served at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, with the same menu as listed under ADRC of Florence County. Transportation arrangements can be made to and from the meal site.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska


Meal is at noon Monday through Friday. Suggested donation is $3 for age 60 and older and $7 for those younger than 60. Morning coffee is available daily.

Fifteen games of “fun bingo” are played each Tuesday and Friday, along with a 50-50 drawing.

Tuesday: Bingo, 12:45 p.m.

Wednesday: Cards played in the afternoon. Call ahead to see if a game will be going on.

Friday: Bingo, 12:45 p.m.

Monday through Friday: Walking in the gym, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A treadmill also is available.

Enjoy friendly interaction with other crafters.

Iron River Center


Meals served 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; a $4 donation is encouraged from those 60 and older, and a $5 payment is required from those younger than 60. Thursday meal, 3:30 p.m. soup, 4 p.m. salad bar, with dinner 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Home-delivered meals are available — call 906-774-2256, ext. 235 or ext. 230.

Menu for the week:

Monday: Cheeseburger, potato wedges and cauliflower

Tuesday: Smoked sausage, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and gravy.

Wednesday: Shepherd’s pie, roll and cranberries.

Thursday: Night meal: Stuffed shells, green beans and breadstick.

Niagara Northwoods Senior Cafe and Center

Meal site manager: Corrie Maule, 715-251-1603

Senior center director: Jill Anderson, 715-251-4154

Noon meals served Monday through Thursday. Transportation is available to the meal site for those living in the Niagara, Wis., area. Any senior groups that would like to use the meal site as a meeting place are welcome — come for lunch, then stay for a meeting or social time. Wii games, cards, puzzles and board games are available to play. 

Other activities are in the works — suggestions are always welcome. 

Those who have not been at the meal site/senior center are invited to give it a try. Those who haven’t been here in a while are encouraged to come back.

Norway Center

Director: Susie Slining


Monday through Thursday: Meals served at noon, with salad bar. Soup also is available at 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Milk, juice, bread, fruit, tea and coffee served daily. Meal donation is $5. Reservation for the meal should be made in advance.

Two special-themed meals take place each month on Tuesday, with bingo, prizes and a 50-50 drawing.

Two evening meals offered at 5 p.m. on the first Monday and third Wednesday of the month, with bingo, prizes and a 50-50 drawing.

Wednesday, Dec. 4: Blood pressure clinic from 11 a.m. to noon.

Menu for the week:

Monday: Noon meal: Polish sausage, sauerkraut, peas and carrots, salad bar, fruit, juice and dessert.

Dinner at 5 p.m.: Company chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, soup and salad bar and dessert.

Tuesday: Finnish pancake, sausage, hash browns, muffin, orange juice, strawberries, soup and salad bar.

Wednesday: Spaghetti or polenta, green beans, garlic bread, salad bar, fruit, juice and dessert.

Thursday: Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, Brussel sprouts, salad bar, fruit, juice and dessert.

Cards are played daily after the noon meal.

Craft and exercise classes on Mondays and Thursdays.

Ceramic and art classes on Wednesdays.

Puzzles always in the works.

Note: File of Life packets available at the center.

Sagola Center


Meals: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 11:45 a.m.

Cards on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. A puzzle table is available to enjoy.

Commodities every other month and quarterly commodities are every three months.

Volunteers are always welcome. 

Menu for the week:

Tuesday: Chili, biscuits, carrots and Mandarin oranges.

Wednesday: Pork chops, baked potato, gravy, sauerkraut, Brussel sprouts and applesauce.

Thursday: Baked chicken, mashed potatoes, corn bread, mixed vegetables and peaches.


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