Anamoose, N.D. – It was long overdue and then too soon over – that short-but-sweet girl cousin retreat of mine.
Of course we’ve had family reunions, but this was the first ever all-girl get-together for Gloria Bethke, Idamae Hauf, Carole Borchers, Lois Niewoehner and me. Dearly missed was my late sister Lori.
Organizer Idamae, Max, N.D. had been trying to make this happen for quite some time. It finally came to pass last week when the rest of us drove from Fargo, Moorhead, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, to meet her at Sage Hill Bed and Breakfast east of Anamoose.
Sage Hill is owned and operated by Jackie and Brad Fix. Its rural setting is smack dab in the heart of North Dakota. From 1926 to 1968, this building was a country school called White School. It’s been beautifully renovated into a B and B. I’ll tell you more about the former school and the B and B in a minute.
Gloria, Carole and Lois are sisters whose dad was Idamae’s and my uncle. Idamae and I are double cousins as our mothers were sisters who married brothers. The fact that three of us were named Idamae Naomi, Naomi Ruth and Carole Ruth only adds to our cohesiveness.
When we were mere teen-agers. Idamae gave me the best advice I’ve ever received. We were double dating with two boys from her school. It was my very first date and I was mighty nervous. “I don’t know how to act,” I said. Her response: “Just be yourself.”
Such wise words from someone only five months older than me!
All raised on farms near Newburg, Upham and Deering, N.D., we are the mothers of 12 adult children and grandmas to another 16. We graduated from different high schools but attended the same country church. Idamae, Carole and I were confirmed together.
During our coming up years, most every Sunday after church, our families gathered at Grandma and Grandpa Niewoehner’s for a literal feast of roast beef, turkey or ham and many trimmings. As children, our bonds were set in stone around a huge dining room table. When our food had settled, we jumped the rope Uncle Walt swung after tying one end to a corral post.
Before Sunday afternoons together ended, the entire clan gathered around the old upright piano with Uncle Walt on the ivories. “Whispering Hope,” is among the many songs we can still sing from memory. We come from a large extended singing family and boy could we belt it out. We still can!
Those are among the things we will talk about until our dying days because cousins are a big part of your childhood that can never be lost.
We girls arrived at Sage Hill late in the afternoon, providing our own hors d’oeuvres evening meal with dessert. We spent the entire evening in the B and B’s spacious dining room.
We brought not only many old photos to pour over, but for show and tell such things as little dresses we once wore. We shared memory after memory, chuckles, sighs and yes, some tears, until after 1 a.m.
We slept wonderfully and at 9 the next morning returned to the dining room for breakfast served by the B and B. The spread of quiche, homemade sausage from a meat market in Harvey, N.D., juice, muffins and fruit was almost too pretty to eat. But we did and it was scrumptious.
B and B owners, Jackie and Brad, said there was no need to honor the 11 a.m. check out time so we lingered, taking pictures in the former school library.
We also shared a Bible study titled, “Joy in the Journey.”
We five started our life journeys together as little tots and what a joy it is to be related. To this day our bond is solid. Cousin to cousin we’ll always be, and not only that – we are dear friends from the same family tree.
Built in 1928 and located between Anamoose and Martin, N.D., White School was one of the first rural consolidated primary schools in North Dakota. Its namesake was Colonel Samuel White, a Pierce County native, who led a battalion in the Spanish American War.
The school was very progressive for the times utilizing a wind generator for power, having a hot lunch program and hot showers for both boys and girls when most homes didn’t yet have indoor plumbing.
The 10,000 square foot building consisted of two large classrooms, a library, two teacherages and the traveling superintendent’s office on the second floor. The lower level consisted of the gym, stage, kitchen, showers and a bus driver’s room. The third story was left unfinished in hopes of adding a high school. In its prime, about 100 children attended school here. There also were two barns to house six horse drawn school buses.
White School functioned as a “model school,” as professors from Minot Normal School (now Minot State University), used it as a gathering place to share new teaching methods with rural teachers. Sadly, due to a declining rural population, the school closed in 1968.
A private home before Sage Hill B and B
Sometime after its closing, the school was purchased by people who renovated it into a private home, living there for 20 years. In 1995, Jackie and Brad Fix heard it was up for sale, came to look at it and made a list of pros and cons. The pros won and they purchased it in 1996 to fulfill their dream of operating a B and B.
Jackie grew up in Harvey, N.D., and Brad was originally from Upstate New York. The couple had lived in Vermont for many years and were ready for a change.
They got to work taking one room at a time down to the studs. They removed carpet and paneling and added 35 windows, some coming from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Balfour, N.D. They added six bathrooms and built a spacious kitchen near their private quarters on the second floor.
Besides the large dining room, the B and B sports three comfortable guest rooms each with its own bathroom. There’s a little alcove sitting area above the second floor and a cozy living room area outside the guest rooms.
Over the past 21 years, guests have come from every state in the U.S., as well as 27 foreign countries.
An adventure from the get-go
Gloria and I traveled together to Sage Hill, driving most of the way in the rain. At one point, a Google map told us to turn off the blacktop onto a gravel road to reach Sage Hill. We did, driving on muddy gravel for several miles. Suddenly before us was a sign stating: ROAD CLOSED.
I was behind the wheel and being an adventurous soul, I said, “Let’s go see why the road is closed. Maybe it really isn’t and someone just forgot to take the sign down.”
So, we ventured forth soon to discover the road ahead was completely under water for as far as we could see. Oops! We got safely turned around and returned to the blacktop.
One last thing
On our homeward journey, we spotted this house as we drove north of Anamoose on Highway 14. Oh dear goodness it so tugged at my heart that I had to stop on the road to take a photo. I had all I could do to keep from running across the field and bursting through its front door. Wonder if a once-upon-a-time clan of cousins gathered here every Sunday afternoon to jump rope and sing “Whispering Hope?”