When Lydia Parks tells a story, her eyes twinkle. A spry, active lady, her mind is a treasure trove of Lovell area history, and during an hour spent in her immaculately kept apartment she delights a visitor with tales of early Lovell and of her own very interesting life.
Lydia has a lot of history to tell. After all, she’s 98.
Lydia came to Lovell in 1917 when her mother and father moved from Park City, Mont., to work in the sugar beet fields. She was around 3 years old.
Her father, Christian Wagner, came to America in 1911, Lydia said, from Susannenthal in the Volga River area of Russia, where Germans had immigrated in the 18th century. With him was his oldest son, also named Christian, or Chris.
His wife, Elizabeth Rembe Wagner, joined him later (1913), with six more children in tow. Lydia was the only child in the family born in the United States, born Oct. 8, 1914, in Park City.
Lydia’s siblings were Christian, Alvina, John, Katie, Alex, Sophie and Fritz. Carl died at the age of 5 just before the family left Russia, and four others had died shortly after birth: Henry, Elizabeth, Amelia and William.
With the construction of the Great Western Sugar Factory in 1916, many German families moved to the Lovell area, including the Wagners, who arrived in 1917.
“They were all Lutherans just like we are here,” Lydia said. “They all spoke German.”
Lydia spoke both English and German growing up, she said, adding, “I spoke German to my mother and father until they died. I can still understand and speak German.
The Wagners moved to the Lovell area with families like the Doerrs, Winterhollers, Finks, Schneiders, Scheelers, Spomers, Lohrenzes, Korells and others, Lydia recalled.
At that time, the growing population of Lutherans attended the church on Shoshone Avenue near the school, and later a new church building was constructed on Montana Avenue.
Although she at times lived away from Lovell, Lydia always remained loyal to St. John’s Lutheran Church, though it is now hard to attend in person.
“The pastor (Christopher Brandt) is so nice to me,” she said. “He comes and does things for me. He would loan his car to me if I needed it.”
As the youngest child, Lydia worked with the older kids on the farm, and her mother kept the family together while allowing the kids to become their own persons.
“My mother managed it very well,” she said. “We all grew up and did our own stuff so we had a life after we left home.”
Lydia doesn’t recall having to do a lot of chores, but she did work in the beet fields.
“Hebe (Heber) Tippetts said I’ll put Lydia up against any (worker in the field) and she’ll beat them,” she recalled with pride. “I could chop beets better than they could.”
When they first moved to Wyoming, the Wagners lived in Great Western Sugar farm housing west of town, Lydia said, near the river and the Burlington Northern railroad bridge. Her father was a laborer and worked for a man named Bill Heagney, she said. After a year or two there, the family moved to a house just to the east, a house north of what is now the Lovell Community Center.
One of Lydia’s earliest memories is when “the law” came to investigate her father for making sugar beet whiskey. Somehow, her father got word and sent Sophie, Fritz and Lydia to the woods with suitcases full of bottles so that there was nothing to discover in the house.
“They took us kids into the bedroom and piled all of the whiskey in suitcases and we drug it down into the trees,” she said. “Us kids were down there guarding it.”
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by David Peck