Depression's impact significant for 105-year-old

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With the Great Depression solidly entrenched by 1933, unemployment had reached 25 percent in America.

Dust Bowl conditions were prevalent during most of that dark era, which lasted from 1929 until the U.S. entered World War II in 1941.

Many farmers devastated by the long drought defaulted on their bank loans, which helped lead to widespread bank failure.

It was dire straits, but Walla Wallan Verna Reisinger, who is 105 today, said her father-in-law saw the bad times coming.

No doubt as the poor economic times in the 1920s were leading to catastrophe and so he sold his home and bought a farm in Cora, Ill.

After the stock market crash in 1929, it took 27 years to reach pre-crash levels, according to www.thegreatdepressioncauses.com/.

Considered the worst year, 1933 saw more than 11 million people unemployed. These starving, homeless Americans sought soup kitchens and shantytown “Hooverville” accommodations, improvising shacks with scraps, abandoned cars and packing crates.

Verna said eventually all five of her father-in-law’s children and their families moved to his farm after they lost their jobs and homes. Verna and husband Winfred Reisinger were among them.

Together the family survived the Depression because they grew their own food.

Verna also remembers looking through the Montgomery Ward catalog with her sister-in-law. They bought all their clothes and shoes from what they called the “Wish Book.”

Born Sept. 23, 1907, in Norwood, Mo., Verna grew up in Granite City and St. Lewis, Ill.

She and Winfred married in 1927 and moved to Walla Walla in 1944. She was a cook at McCaw Army Hospital, which is now Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The Reisingers moved to Shoshone, Idaho, in 1949. They lived on a sheep ranch and she cooked for the ranch hands.

Returning to Walla Walla in 1959, Verna was a cook for 26 years at Whitman College. She retired in 1985.

Verna and Winfred’s only son, Morris Reisinger, graduated in 1946 from Walla Walla High School and in 1951 from the U.S. Naval Academy. A member of the U.S. Marine Corps, he was killed in action in Korea in 1952.

Verna lived on her own until, at 100, a fall necessitated her move to a care facility. With friends and family she is celebrating her birthday today.

“When someone asks her the best thing about being her age, she replies ‘I got to live history and you had to learn it,’” said her niece, Bonnie Roberson.

A bus driver serving mostly elementary-age children with the Walla Walla School District for two years, Jerry McBride was alarmed by the number of close calls the kids faced on a daily basis, said wife Linda in a release.

“In December 2009, a 6-year-old girl came 2 feet from being hit by an oncoming, ‘distracted’ driver. Even with the flashing red lights, the stop paddle out, the car kept coming! The loud horn on the bus finally got the driver’s attention.”

Witnessing this close call, Jerry decided something needed to be done to protect the children.

A few days later, he turned in his bus keys and began researching the Buster Student Safety Program, sponsored by the National Association of Pupil Transportation.

Sold on the program, through Crossroad Services started in 2010 the McBrides present it with Buster, an animated, robotic talking school bus.

The McBrides give their presentations at elementary schools, including Davis in College Place Dayton, Columbia in Burbank, Prescott, Starbuck, Touchet and Waitsburg; and R-KIDZ in Walla Walla.

Sponsors for the program include Community Bank, State Farm Insurance with Bette Lou Crothers, Boise Inc., Inland Telephone Co., Columbia REA, Mike Harvey Plumbing Services, Waitsburg Grocery with Dan and Trina Cole and Judy Robinson.

Children are quite drawn to the bright-yellow rig with the rolling eyes and smiley front end that teaches them how to stay safe, get to the bus stop, board and behave, cross streets, watch for strangers and be aware of the bus’ 10-foot danger zone.

“Children adore Buster and they do remember his safety messages,” Linda said. They raise their hands after each class. When invited to come forward to meet Buster, they tell him their names and talk to him.

“The questions that they ask, tells us how deeply concerned they are with their safety. We were all surprised that they worry so. Buster assures the children that if they follow the safety rules and always obey the bus driver, then they will be just fine and need not worry,” Linda said.

One kindergarten class wrote notes to Buster, thanking him for coming and their teacher said they look forward to seeing him next year.

“This year we plan on giving every kindergarten student a Buster Safety Rules coloring book as a welcome to school and also to reinforce the safety rules.”

“The idea of having sponsors adopt a school came from some of the principals we had the pleasure to meet. They are concerned with year-to-year budget cuts and that there are those in the community who would be interested in sponsoring the safety program,” Linda said.

The couple’s mentors told them, “If we just save one life, it makes it worth the effort.” Add the McBrides, “we feel student safety is of prime importance.”

For more details, contact the McBrides at 315 W. Pine St., 509-525-0617 or 509-956-8570 or weebuster@q.com

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.

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