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My dad's name is Albert White, actually Alpha Albert White, and he was the branch manager for a lumber supply company that had a yard in the town. My dad came from Audubon, Iowa. His parents died when he was very small, and he soon went out West to look around. He went back home to marry my mother, and they moved out to Pueblo for a while, then to Fort Collins and then to Wellington, where they bought a little house in the town.
The big crop in that part of the country was sugar beets, so the prosperity of the people depended largely on irrigation and the federal policy toward sugar. In the late '20s and the early '30s the farmers weren't making much money. There was very little money around Wellington, and I suppose you could say that by the normal standards of today we were all quite poor, although we didn't necessarily feel poor because everyone was more or less the same. Everybody worked for a living. Everybody. Everybody.
You started working early. A friend of mine who lived across the street and I went to work in the beet fields when we were 7 or 8. In the spring you did a thing called blocking and thinning, which was clearing out all but one beet every few inches along the row. They didn't have any machinery for that sort of thing in those days, so you had to do everything by hand. Then twice in the summer you did the handhoeing of the weeds, and in the fall you helped with the harvest. School always let out early in May so the kids could get out and work. Then we had what was called the "beet holiday" in the fall when school would let out for two weeks while we harvested the beets.
We might make a dollar a day or maybe even $2. When we got a little older we might even work for ourselves. My brother Sam, who was four and a half years older than me, used to contract with the farmers to do the work for so much an acre and then hire other kids to help. You bought your own clothes or whatever you needed with what you earned. It was hard work, but you would grind it out. The Colorado and Southern Railroad, a part of the Burlington, went through Wellington and 14 or 15 of us would work on the section crew at times.
My folks had never gone through high school, but they always put going to school first, ahead of everything. I can't remember when I first thought of going to college. My brother Sam was always going to go to college, and as far as I can remember I was, too.
It was a lot of fun in the days when we were going through school. Wellington was like all those towns around that part of Colorado where there was a big interest in sports. There was a baseball team, a town basketball team, horse racing at the fairs. Lots of sports.
I particularly remember a fellow named John V. Bernard, who was a graduate of the Colorado Aggies, what they now call Colorado State, where he had played football. He came to teach in the high school and coach the football team, and he was looking around for a place to live, so my folks rented him a room in our house. He lived with us for several years, and it was largely through Bernard that I got so interested in high school sports. He was a very bright fellow, and he always saw to it that first you got your schoolwork done.
We had good teams in basketball and football in high school, and once we got into the state tournament in basketball and won a couple of games, so through athletics you got to see a new town and get tested a little. Colorado was also a great softball state, and we had this fellow in town who managed a team for the Elks Club. During the summer we would work in the fields in the daytime and play Softball two or three times a week at night.
As a high school freshman I weighed only a little over 100 pounds, so I was too small for football, but I did some other sports. We all used to swim in the irrigation ditches, and I'd get out in the mountains and go fishing with my dad, who loved to fish. My dad and mother both played a lot of tennis. We had very good track meets around Wellington. I ran, did the hurdles and put the shot and threw the discus. By the time I was a junior or senior in high school I broke my shoulder and couldn't play or practice football for that entire season, but later I was able to play basketball and baseball and track.
When the Depression came along it got harder and harder to make money. I remember one time my brother and I rented some land—20 acres or so—and planted our own crop of beets. One year a fellow named Shorty Scherer and I contracted to harvest some beets for a man who had a farm about three miles out of town. I remember our walking into town on Saturday for the football game, walking along the railroad tracks. We hadn't practiced for a week or so on account of the beet holiday, but everybody showed up and we still played the game on Saturday.