20 Interviews, With 80 to Go

Two of my interview subjects, Fred Blumenthal, born in 1946; and Dorothy Hunter, born in 1907. By coincidence, Fred Blumenthal was in a grade school class taught by Dorothy Hunter in the Kirkwood School District.

When you’re trying to find out how people in St. Louis grew up, you encounter all kinds of people. That’s what’s happened in my first 20 interviews for my upcoming book Growing Up in St. Louis.

In one case, I came across another Jim Merkel. My publisher at Reedy Press will tell you that there’s only one Jim Merkel, but there are others, including James Patrick Merkel of Affton. I encountered him while selling books at the recent Cherokee History Walk and decided he was a perfect interview subject.

Jim Merkel’s on the left and the right. The Jim Merkel on the right is me. The one on the left is from Affton.

The oldest person I interviewed is Dorothy Hunter, who was born on July 31, 1907. She grew up south of Tower Grove Park and remembers seeing her uncle go off to fight in World War I. She grew up and taught at the George R. Robinson Elementary School in the Kirkwood School District. In the early 1950s, she had a student named Fred Blumenthal, who grew up to make his living as a music teacher and choir director at synagogues and churches. By coincidence, I interviewed him, too. It shows, once again, that St. Louis is one big small town.

One special person I interviewed was Ralph Naslund. He was getting ready to graduate from Roosevelt High School when he was drafted to serve in the Pacific at the end of World War II. He never got his degree, but recently received an honorary one.

The common link is that everybody I interviewed has a story to tell. White, black, rich, poor, they made St. Louis what it is. I can’t wait to talk to the next 80 people to learn what they have to say.

If you want to be an interview subject, or you know somebody who oughta be an interview subject, e-mail me at southsidemerkel@gmail.com. I’m especially looking for those in their late 90s or who are 100 or older. Watch for updates from time to time, and get ready to read Growing Up in St. Louis in the fall of 2018.

Ralph Naslund and me

Published by Jim Merkel

Reedy Press published four of my books, Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2010; Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans, 2012; The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch; and the Second Edition of Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2014. They're available in bookstores and online. For an autographed copy, send a check for $21.50 made out to Jim Merkel, to Jim Merkel, 4216 Osceola St., St. Louis, MO 63116.

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