Library 1950 – 1999

I was born Ronald Lee Knauss (1951 to ?, author), on April 17, 1951.  The 50s were happening all around me but I was too young to remember much of the first part of the decade.

Ronald Lee Knauss 1951 – place of birth

In 1950 a year before I was born, Communist and non-Communist forces begin a Cold war on the Korean Peninsula.  North Korea sent 75,000 of its troops beyond the 38th parallel the border between North and South Korea.  The North was trying to impose communism on its neighbor to the south.  When I was two years old in 1953 the fighting ended but after 60 years the Korean War has never been declared officially over.

Korean War (1950 – 1953)

The 1950s was a time that saw the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement when the American conscience became aware of discrimination and the inequality of African Americans.  American Rock and Roll music was just taking off inspiring a new youth movement.  The song I hear playing the most in my 50s memories is Bill Haley’s “Rock round the clock.”  Although I still can hear that Bob Merrill song recorded by Pattie Page, “how much is that doggie in the window.”

Bill Haley & The Comets

Commercial businesses like Pepsi rode the new consumer market wave of the youth seeking their buying power and giving James Dean his first big break by using him in their Pepsi commercials.  I personally liked Ionia Grape and Orange Soda Pop that was made right here in Michigan.


1950 Pepsi and Ionia soda pop

at home in Montcalm county

My memories of my mother and father are few.  The earlies memory I have is when my dad Raymond was building his house in Greenville.  My mother Caroline would catch me putting nails down thru knot holes in the floor boards.  Even today I can still see my mother in the kitchen area listening to my dad down in the basement complain that he is being hit by nails dropping from the ceiling.


Raymond’s house Greenville

When he came up from the basement my dad said, “hay you, what ya doing young man with all my nails, and dropping them on my head like that.”  I can still smell the sawdust on his clothes when he gave me a hug and I can see my mother’s face as we both got her smile of approval.

Raymond Lee Knauss and Caroline June Ostrander 1948

Another early memory is of being at my great-grandfather Edward’s farm in Blanchard.  He lived on a dirt road in a big two-story Dutch stile house with the steep roof.  A tall windmill stood next to the house and it was used to pump water.

Edward and Ronald Knauss 1951 – Blanchard

There was a small tool shed and garage behind the house that was overgrown in grape vines on one side and purple, white, and blue lilacs on the other.  Great-grandpa had planted different color lilacs bushes together that grew up to be a big three-color bush.  There was a big two-story barn with a hay loft in the top and the animals were kept in the bottom.

Ronnie setting on great grandpa’s front door steps 1952

I remember being in their front yard with my family.  My grandmother Viva Knauss wanted to take a picture of the men in the family.  She wanted a picture of what she called the, “4 generations of the Knauss family.”  This was, 1st my great-grandfather, 2nd my grandfather, 3rd my father, and 4th me.  I loved my grandmother very much.  I can still hear her pleading with me to stand still at the end of the line so she could take a picture.  It was during my terrible-twos and I did not behave that day, I don’t know why, I was always such a good boy.  So, my dad had to chase me down, tackle me, and he put me between his legs so I would stand still.   Then grandma took the picture.  This picture was taken on the last day my parents were together.


Edward, Forest, Raymond, and Ronald Knauss 1953

I also enjoyed going to the Ostrander family farm because my cousins were sometimes there for me to play with.  I did not have much interaction with other children on a daily basis so I always took advantage of any opportunity to play with them.  My favorite thing to do was playing in the hay loft in the barn.  A rope hung down from the roof that was used to lift bails of hay and I used it as a Tarzan swing, always landing in a soft pile of alfalfa and straw.  All my cousins, aunts, and uncles were older that me, I was the youngest of my generation.


the Ostrander family farm – the seven cousins

I still choke today on the memory of my first time getting the wind knocked out of me.  I fell off the loft in the barn many times always with a soft landing and never got hurt.  The chain came off my bike once and I crashed but I did not get knock out.  One day I was being entertained by my mother’s brother, my uncle Charley.  His idea of having some fun with me was to put boxing gloves on the both of us and have it out.   The combat was just fine for a few pictures then my grandma Ostrander had to put the camera down and try to revive me when I was hit too hard right in the chest.  Boy!  That was very scary!  I went completely out and woke up not knowing what happened choking and gasping for air.  He was hitting me like I was a big kid.  And later in life uncle Charley would hit me again when I was an adult, acting like a big kid, and was glad he did.

boxing with uncle Charley

The next early memory happened at my aunt and uncles farm in Six Lakes.  I stayed there for two years and only found out why when my mother came one day to pick me up.  I was 4 years old and getting ready to start school for the first time.  She pulled into the yard of my uncle’s home and got out of the car with a stranger, Gerald J. “Pat” Patten (1922 to 2003, stepfather).  When I asked, “where is my dad?”


Pat and Ronnie 1954

Caroline said, “this is your dad you just don’t remember what he looks like.”  From then on, I knew my mother would lie to me.  It was hard to tell what hurt me more, not seeing my dad with her, or knowing that she would lie to me.  This has stuck with me throughout my adult life, why would she lie to me?


Caroline and Pat

My mother had dropped me off with one of her brothers and his wife and daughter while going thru her divorce with my dad.  My aunt and uncle only had one child, a girl, and they lived on a farm raising horses.  I was an only child also and I loved staying there. I had so much fun playing with my cousin.  She was older than me and more mature, but I always had fun enjoying her company.


Vicky and Ronnie

Besides being a full time farmer my uncle Willard also worked at the local slaughterhouse and sometimes he would take us with him to work.  It was an, “eye and nose opening experience,” visiting the slaughterhouse. The smell of blood will stay with you for a long time.

the local slaughterhouse

I was not old enough to do any farm chores and too short to saddle a horse.  I must have been a little burden on the family but each one treated me as one of their own.  And boy was it fun ridding the horses.  They had a large farm and the neighbors did not mind us riding across there farms, so we had a large section of Michigan land to roam.   Uncle Willard was very proud of his matched pare of horses Prince and Tippy.

Willard Ostrander with Prince and Tippy matched team of horses

There was an apple orchard on their farm beyond the pig pen next to where the horses grazed.  We could ride thru the trees, pick off an apple, without even getting off the horse.  I remember saying back then, “someday I will plant me some apple trees so I can walk right out in my yard, pick an apple off the tree, and eat it.”  Much later in life I did just that and I thank the Lord each time I eat one of my Michigan Red Delicious apples off the trees I planted years ago, Amen.

Willard. Freda, and Vicky Ostrander

My cousin was also very interested in horses and she was a barrel rider.  She and her mother traveled all over the state to compete in horse shows and they brought home many trophies and blue ribbons.  My aunt loved anything to do with horses.  She did all her own leather working in the Michigan basement under their house.  This was a hole under a building and the walls were made of field stone or sometimes just dirt.   They always smelled musty, but they kept food from spoiling, and it was a cool place to go in the hot summer time.

1950s-barrel riding

One afternoon my aunt and uncle went some place and left us kids alone at the farm.  My uncle gave me stern orders to be good and mind my cousin while they were gone.  All was well until we found ½ of an Almond Joy candy bar that was left in the refrigerator.   We both wanted some and we knew that it had to be cut in half.  But, neither one of us liked using a sharp knife.

1951 Peter Paul candy bar ad

Well, I lost the argument about which one does the cutting and she handed the knife to me.  Only one big problem, she held the candy bar between two fingers when I did the cutting.  Yup, she got cut pretty bad on the thumb and it seemed like a long time before the adults got home.  My joy to see them arrive was short lived when I got scolded about cutting my cousin.  I said, “I just did what she told me to do.”

Ronald Lee Knauss Kindergarten age 5

Before school started at the age of 5, I went back to live with my mother.  Just after I left the Ostrander farm a tornado hit their house, car and barn.  The high winds destroyed the walls of the barn and plucked off some of the feathers from the chickens.  But all the people that came to see the damage were amazed that the bales of hay and the loose stuff on the floor was left untouched.


Ostrander farm tornado

Pat my stepfather was born Gerald J. Patten August 25th, 1922 to his parents William and Rose Patten in Millbrook Township, Mecosta.  Three years later his younger brother died at birth.

William and Rose Patten

From his youth he was called Pat and throughout his 44 years working at the Gibson Refrigerator Company in Greenville that’s what they called him.  But they called him something else too.

Pat and his mother Rose



When I was a student at Greenville High School and during the summer months when school out, I worked at Gibson’s but at the Belding factory that made air conditioners.  The welding department they assigned me to, got higher pay and I found out right away why.  It was a hot nasty dangerous job.  All the welding was done by a big and very heavy spot-welding gun that hung from the ceiling on a spring.


1969 Gibson ID badge

At that time, I was on the wrestling team at school in the 95lb weight class.  The welding guns weighed much more than that.  If I ever missed the mark and did a bad weld the gun would kick back picking me right up off the floor.  It sent sparks in every direction that would burn their way thru you clothes and into your skin.  Later in life I would still have to deal with little sparks of metal that work their way out to the surface of my skin like a pimple.

a spot-welding gun

When I started school, Caroline and Pat gave me piano lesions.  Years later when I was a teenager, I started playing for school dances and sometimes in a bar.  They both said, “giving you piano lesions was the worst thing we ever did for you.”  I always wished that they would come and see me play just once before they died, but they never did.

my original Hanon book of scales

I went to high school from 1966 to 1969 during the hippie movement of peace and love not war.  I started playing in a rock band my freshmen year when long hair was in for both sexes.  When I first started working at Gibson’s the men I worked with used to ride me a lot about my long hair.


Ronald Lee Knauss age 14 – 9th, 15 – 10th, 16 – 11th, 17 – 12th

But within a short time, they told me, “hay you got to slow down, you are making everyone else work too hard.”  What they meant was that when you are working on a manufacturing production line all workers must work at the same pace.  I was just trying to do my best, the men knew that, and took me under their wing and in their confidence.

Once during lunch hour when we were all sitting around resting and talking, I mentioned that my dad worked at Gibson’s in Greenville.  One of the men asked, “Oh ya, what department does your dad work in?”

Gibson Refrigerator Company in Greenville

I answered him, “the tool crib.”

Two men at the same time responded, “you don’t mean Grumpy, do you?”

I said, ‘no my dad’s name is Gerald, but they call him Pat.”

The conversation went a little quite then and after a short pause one of the men said, “we would have never known that you were Grump’s son because you are nothing like him.”  He went on saying, “we can talk to you and you listen, and you sound like you have an adventurous life with your little musical orchestra.”   They knew I played in a band that was their way of poking a little jealousy at me, but all in good fun.

The Gibson children went to the same public school as I did. I can still see them getting dropped off at school by a chauffeur driven black car.  One of the boys in the Gibson family played in a band from my high school called “The Blues Reaction”.  They had all the best guitars, keyboard, and Super Beatles amplifiers.  I played in a band from Lakeview, The Soul Generation, and I did not always have enough musical equipment to play live.

The Soul Generation 1966 – 1969

The Blues Reaction used to loan me an amplifier and keyboard so I could perform.  The generosity of these boys to a completive band allowed me to further my musical career.  When I first started playing in a band, I would have never been able to play in public without their help.  I have always been very grateful to them.

The Blues Reaction

Pat never spoke much about his family but, I did meet his mother Rose and his uncle Earl and aunt Lovrsa “Vicy”.  He lived with his aunt and uncle when he was younger.  Pat had some siblings, but he never talked about them or his father.  Rose was a gentle woman with a sweet personality.  I remember eating stale cookies at her house.  Shortly after I turned my heart over to the Lord as a child, I had an opportunity to witness to her.  She always seemed uncomfortable around me.  She did not have the excitement in her face when she saw me like my grandmother did.  She was very kind and tried to make me comfortable in her home.


Uncle Earl and aunt Lovrsa

Pat was involved in a high-speed automobile crash that killed the driver.  Pat spent several months in the hospital recovering with a steel rod in his leg.  He stayed with his aunt and uncle after he got out of the hospital.  As a child whenever I bumped him, he would flinch in pain, but he never complained or talked about the accident.


Pat survived the crash and sent this card

One afternoon while visiting Rose at her home in Millbrook I told her about my personal experience with the Lord.  I asked her if she wanted to give her heart to Him and I talked her thru  with the words I learned in Sunday School.


Pat at his mother Rose’s house

Years later when she was in the hospital during her last days, a preacher asked her the same question.  He led her in prayer to the Lord before she passed.  I always felt sad that she did not remember her conversation with me.  Why didn’t she just tell the preacher she was led to the Lord already by a child.  The feeling that I messed up my first real chance to witness stayed with me for years.

Millbrook Mills trout fishing

Pat’s uncle Earl taught me how to trout fish in the stream that ran past his house in Millbrook.  He was a kind man that was always smiling showing some missing teeth.  He was a master Michigan angler and he had a special way to bate your hook.  Two worms hooked thru the middle made a nice little “wiggly” thing to tempt fish to bite.  But when he wanted to pull a big one out of a hole or from under the bank uncle Earl would make a mass using 5 worms on his hook.  I still use his two worm, five worm secret he shared with me that afternoon.

Uncle Earl and Pat

As a teenager I made a serious decision on what path I would follow.  I looked for professional musicians that were already successful at what I wanted to do.  I always tried to play with musicians that were better than me so I could learn something new.  Whatever you choose to be successful at, learn all you can from people that already are.  Their experiences can shine a light on which path you choose to take.  Later in life I called the big fish in my lake that I could never catch, old Uncle Earl.


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The return to Gettysburg – part 2




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