2007 Old Timer's Celebration

Old Timer's is always held on the last Saturday of July.  This is a time to put the work aside for the day and come together with our friends and neighbors.  The celebration starts with a community carry-in picnic, with the roast beef and coffee provided by the Old Timer's Association.  Membership ribbons are available for purchase to defray the cost of the beef and everyone is proud to sport a ribbon proclaiming they are an official Old Timer---even if they're only 4 years old!  Longtime residents are honored and there is usually some local entertainment.  The day comes to a close with dancing under the stars.  
The following was written by Lori Newman for the Basin paper on August 2, 2007. 
In years gone by, hundreds of people attended the annual Old Timer's Day celebrations at Hyattville.  This, year, the crowd numbered fewer than 50, but all were glad to gather for a potluck and lots of visiting with old friends and new at the picnic grounds at Medicine Lodge State Archeological Site north of town. 
"We're going to do it for two more years, at least," said Linda Hamilton, one of the event's organizers.  "That will be our 100th year.  Then we'll think about whether to continue it or not."
Marylou Doyle, who taught at the Hyattville School until it was closed down four years ago for lack of students, also remembers when Old Timer's Day was a "huge event every summer"  most of the small group of children and teenagers at this year's picnic were her grandchildren:  Hermans, Redlands, and Doyles.
It used to be the whole families--several generation--would come for the day or the weekend," Doyle said.  "you'd have lots and lots of kids running around. . .and everyone had a great time. . . We're losing more and more people every year.  Some move away and just can't make it back here, and other, well, it's just not such a big deal anymore."
That's why the Hyattville History Project is so important.  Its purpose is to preserve the photos, newspaper articles, letters and oral memories of the old timers in the area.  Work continues on the project at the community center, and photos and other information are posted on the group's Web site at www.hyattville.org 
Each year, a kind and queen are chosen to be honored at Old Timer's Day.  Royalty are selected on the basis of which man and woman came to Wyoming--not necessarily the Big Horn Basin--the greatest number of years ago.
For this year's kind, it was a no-brainer.  One family patriarch, Chet Mercer, was born to pioneer parents in the Hyattville area in 1913.  He has lived in the area ever since.
This year's queen is only a few years younger.  Irene Fritz arrived in Worland as a 5-year-old child, in the spring of 1923.  That's when her family migrated from South Dakota, so her parents could work in the sugar beet and bean fields.  She's lived in Worland ever since.
QUEEN FOR A DAY:  Worland woman reigns over Old Timer's Day
(By Lori Newman as written for the Basin Republican Rustler)
Irene Fritz of Worland has been around a while.  She has now spent 84 years in Wyoming--ever since coming here as a 5-year-old child in the spring of 1923.
Irene Lundgren was born on a farm near Fruitdale, S.D., on Oct. 27, 1917, to Elizabeth (Meyer) and Adam Lundgren.  She was the first of what would become a family of eight children.
"I was born in a granary on a straw mattress. . .because my parents were poor and we didn't have a house to live in," she said.
Still sharp as a tack at 89 years, Irene recalls the birthdates of all her siblings:  Molly, born Feb. 2, 1919; Elvina on Nov. 20, 1920; and then Reuben, on Nov. 24, 1922.
"We were all born in South Dakota," Irene said.  "Then in the spring of 1923 we moved to Worland.  We worked three years for L.E. Laird, and then on March 18, 1925, my brother Lloyd Lundgren was born.  I was about 7 years old then, so I had to take care of the children while Mother was working in the (sugar) beet fields.  I had to do some of the cooking, and then I started school.   I couldn't speak English at that time.  We all spoke German in our home.  Needless to say, school was very hard for me because I didn't have anyone to help me read.  Mother couldn't read or write, and my father could only read and write a little bit at that time."
Irene attended school when she wasn't needed at home or in the fields, which wasn't much time at all."I had to repeat second grade because I couldn't read.  Bernice Laird helped me learn to read," Irene said.  "My folks saw then that it was wrong for us to speak German in our home.  Mother learned to read along with me.  Bernice taught us both to read."
In 1927, she recalls, the family moved to the Arthur Alcott farm as beet laborers and farm helpers.  On Sept. 27, 1927, Dorothy was born, followed by Bernice on June 25, 1930, and Irma Lee (who married Gerald Geis) in 1935.  All the while, Irene was helping to raise her five sisters and two brothers, learned English and labored in the fields.
"We thinned the beets, and pulled the weeds out by hand, and then in the fall they took a term of horses to pull the beets up out of the ground," she said, "we would come behind them and lift them up and knock them together to get the dirt off of them.  And then you topped the beets with a top knife . . . We'd throw the beets into piles on a row.  The wagon would come along and load the wagon with beets and haul them to the sugar factory in Worland.  We also had to help weed the bean fields.  A man from Kansas came out and hired us to pull the weeds out from the beans."
Irene attended school, off and on, through eighth grade.  She still recalls the name of the school superintendent, "Mr. Watson," who allowed her to graduate with her class from the eighth grade.
"I didn't really earn it," she said about the certificate of graduation she was given. "I don't think I was in school enough to learn everything I should have."
Before she was 20, Irene married Otto Bihr, who died in 1962, and the couple had two son:  Darrel Bihr, born in 1939, lives in Brentwood, Calif. and Jerry Bihr, born in 1942, and died in 1991.
Iene married Marvin fritz on Sept. 3, 1963.  He died June 13, 2007.  The couple ran Worland's Fritz Electric until 1980, before retiring to travel all over the U.S. and Mexico, and finally settled on spending their wingers in Yuma, Ariz., and the other six months of the year in Worland--until 2006, when they decided to move back to their home on South Eighth Street in Worland year-round.
Although Irene said she hasn't attended many Old Timer's celebrations--"We were pretty busy with the store for so many years"--she's glad she was there this year.  "Gerry (Geis, her brother-in-law) talked me into it," Irene said.
She said she was "really very surprised" to be named this year's queen, but when she thought a bit more about it, she admitted that, "1922 was a very long time ago."  And no other woman at Saturday's celebration could claim longer residency in Wyoming.  That was enough to make her queen for a day.