Phyllis June Grant Peterson – A Brief Autobiography

My Mom was a member of the St. Augustine Altrusa Club. Yesterday, in going through my old files, I came across the January 1978 issue of “The St. Augustine Altrusan.” My Mom was the Member of the Month and had posted a short autobiography, which can be read below, with additional notes on the content at the bottom.

I was born on April 30, 1925, Phyllis June Grant, in the small Italian community of Shawville, Wisconsin, the fourth of five children, three sisters and one brother. My dad was a stonecutter and my mom midwife for all the neighbors. My dad was born in a log cabin and he was one of the first settlers of Waushara County, Wisconsin. My mom’s family was descendants of early  colonists in America. My early life was during the tail end of prohibition, so I can remember the house parties and hip flasks. I remember my grandfather, a large man, he’d set me on his knee and have me sing for him. He died when I was about three. Later, I remember the depression. We were very poor but no one left our door hungry. My mom was a good manager and we had many young people that came and stayed, sometimes for days. We’d gather in the evening and play instruments like the accordion, guitar, violin, and organ, and we’d all sing, especially Ma. Later, when I was older, my younger sister and I sang at many community and church functions, mostly hymn and early 1900’s tunes.

I started school at the age of five in a small one room school. In third grade we move to a small community called Spring Lake, Wisconsin, which was just that – a beautiful spring-fed lake surrounded by hills covered in towering pines. I attended school there in a two room school and went the rest of my grade school years the only student in my class, except for a short portion of each year an Indian girl was in my class. I remember her because she was blonde. We graduated from eighth grade at the county seat in a formal ceremony with white dresses and the boys in suits.

I spent the summers in the woods, many days going out at daylight and not coming back until dark. My dad, being a sportsman, also spend a lot of time hunting, fishing, and picking wild fruits and berries which my mother prepared for winter. Being a dairy state most of the neighbors and my friends were farmers, and when I was older we worked out for the neighboring farms, helping with the harvest as all the farm work then was done by hand. I attended high school in Wautoma, Wisconsin, riding with a neighbor about fifteen miles to and from school each day. High school was fun. I was in the acapella choir and worked for the teachers to help pay for my books and stuff. My principal was Mr. Dafoe, brother of the doctor who delivered the Dionne quintuplets. On weekends I attended many house parties and dances. At one of the dances I met my future husband. We were married November 22, 1942. The following spring he went into the service as a radio gunner in the Army Air Corps and saw duty in Italy flying missions in Austria and Germany. Our first daughter was born while he was gone and she was nine months old before he saw her for the first time. Later I was able to join him for short periods of time in Tampa, Florida and again in Savannah, Georgia. I guess that’s when we fell in love with Florida. When he was discharged we moved to Wautoma, Wisconsin. We bought a large old home which we remodeled ourselves. My husband worked as a baker’s assistant for several years in his uncle’s bakery. When his uncle died we packed up our by now large family of six children, sold our home, and after being told by various relatives that we were insane, moved south in 1956. We settled in Savannah, Georgia where I had a sister. There my husband and I both work in a bakery, my husband as manager and I as a clerk. There my seventh child was born. In 1960 we moved to Daytona Beach, Florida where my husband worked as a manager for the Federal Bake shops and I, after the birth of my eighth child, worked as a clerk for the W.T. Grant company, which I enjoyed very much. I even earned a free trip for the two of us to Nassau. Knowing the district manager of federal bake shops I was able to get the time off for my husband, paid for as well. Not bad, huh? Where we really wanted to be, though, was St Augustine. We knew a small bakery here was soon to be up for sale as the owners were planning to retire. We waited and then moved to St Augustine in 1966. We bought Nordan’s Bakery, which was located on Cordova Street. Having a large family we’ve all worked in the bakery at one time or another. We have a beautiful old home on St George Street. We have been very happy here and mainly have made many good friends.

Notes: Shawville is a small crossroads, located amidst the various stone quarries of Waushara County. Many of the stone cutters were from the families of Italian immigrants. While her Dad, my grandfather George Spencer Grant, may have been born in a log cabin, he was born in 1898 and was very far from the being one of the settlers in Waushara County. His father Remus Romanzo Grant was born in Ohio in 1849 and his father before him, John F. Grant, did move to Waushara County shortly thereafter. Possibly they were early settlers of Marion township in Waushara County. There are many generations of Grants buried in Marion Cemetery.

In actuality, Mom’s grandfather Remus Romanzo Grant died just before she turned eight.

Mom’s high school principal was not the brother of the doctor who delivered the famous Dionne quintuplets. They do appear to have been cousins, and knew each other. What Mom did not realize at the time of her writing was that her high school prinicpal was the grandfather of actor Willem Dafoe.

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