Family History >
My Mother's Ancestors >
Swang's youngest daughter, Helga, was my grandmother.
Helga was born in Webster, South Dakota in 1897 and, at the age of four,
moved to Fessenden with her parents. Her father, Nels, was an engineer on
the Sault Ste. Marie ("Soo") Railroad and her mother, Anna, raised their five children. A few
years after moving to Fessenden, Nels and Anna divorced and Anna worked
out of their house as a laundress to support her family. Each of the five
children, including Helga, took odd jobs and did what they could to pitch in.
graduated from Fessenden High School in 1915 and, with the career
opportunities for single women limited at that time to teaching, nursing, or
being a secretary, Helga took a job teaching in a one-room house on the bleak
plains of North Dakota. After a few years, she attended Teacher’s College at Minot,
North Dakota, graduating in May of 1921. That fall, Helga got a
better-paying teaching position at the newly-built
Canfield Consolidated School near the small town of Regan, North Dakota.
Above: My grandmother Helga
in 1922 at the Canfield School.
teaching at the Canfield School, Helga met my grandfather, Edward Reinhard, a
local farmer, and they married in 1923.
My mother was born the next year, the first of three girls, and Helga
gave up her teaching career to become a housewife while Edward farmed a 160-acre
quarter-section a few miles east of Regan.
The family endured a lot of hardships that for most of us today, including
myself, are quite unimaginable: bitterly cold winters, drought, dust storms,
hail storms, grasshopper plagues... and all of this during the late 1920s when
grain prices were plummeting. After farming for several years, the family
finally gave up during the depths of the Depression and moved to Bismarck, where
Edward worked in carpentry and construction.
Edward died in
a car accident in 1937 and Helga went back to work to support her three daughters.
Though not earning
much money, she was able to provide a stable and loving household for my mother
and her two younger sisters. The
three girls each
married shortly after graduating from Bismarck High School and moved away as did
Helga, moving to Sturgis, South Dakota where she worked as a stenographer for
many years, barely scratching out an existence and living in a tiny house.
1960, Helga at age 62 moved to Capistrano Beach, California to be with her
middle daughter, Betty, where she lived in a small guesthouse adjacent to
Helga died of a heart attack four years later.
I have what is probably the last letter she ever wrote, which she sent to
my Mom two days before she passed away.
was only 3 years old the last time that I saw my grandmother Helga, and I have
only dim memories of her.
Everyone, though, including my Dad has told me what a wonderful and
thoughtful person she was. She
worked incessantly her entire life to provide
for her family, as did Helga's mother, Anna, and Anna's mother, Randine.