Freda Maust ’55 Remembers Pigeon, Michigan

February 24, 2020 / Andrea Wenger
Freda Maust poses for a photo next to her century-old bureau that was made by her grandfather. (Rich Harp/For the Tribune)
Freda Maust poses for a photo next to her century-old bureau that was made by her grandfather. (Rich Harp/For the Tribune)

This article by Rich Harp was originally published in the Huron Daily Tribune, Huron, Michigan. Photos courtesy of Rich Harp for the Tribute

Freda Janette Maust has lived her entire life in the Pigeon area, and as one might expect, she is well-known in the community.

But there are things about her that most residents may not know. For instance she was married twice, the first time when she was 7 years old.

Freda was born on the family farm in 1937, the daughter of Jacob and Lynda Swartzendruber. Her father was a butcher and a farmer, with his butcher shop located on the family farm. There were six kids in her family, and she was the youngest. In fact, she was 23 years younger than her oldest sibling.

The Swartzendruber and Maust families were close, and they did numerous things together. In particular, she had been very close to James (Jim) Maust since they were children in the early 1940s.

“I fell in love with Jim. I knew everyone in his family and knew them all of our lives,” Freda said.

As children, she and Jim attended a wedding together. During that get-together, some of the kids who were at the wedding had Jim and Freda climb onto a farm wagon and proceeded to give them a pretend wedding. Freda was 7 years old and Jim was 9.

That was their first wedding together. Their real wedding happened in 1958. Over the course of their married life, the couple had three children, six grandchildren and five great-grandkids.

Freda’s life back in the 1940s and 50s were much like the other kids in the Pigeon area. She attended school in Pigeon until the 11th grade. Being from a Mennonite family, she had the choice to graduate from Pigeon or attend her final year at Eastern Mennonite High School in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She chose to go out of state.

“A lot of Mennonite kids went there,” she said.

In fact, she thought about 50% finished their high school education in Harrisonburg.

“It was my choice,” she said. “A couple of friends went there (EMHS) the year before and they liked it.”

This isn’t to say she didn’t enjoy going to the Pigeon High School.

“Pigeon had a good school and we enjoyed it,” she said. “The teachers were good.”

As an afterthought, Freda said Eastern Mennonite University is also located in Virginia. Her husband, Jim, attended the school for two years. At that time it was a college, not a university. Years later, each of her children attended the school for their bachelor degrees.

After high school, her life became very busy. She went to Grace Hospital in Detroit to train for a career as an RN. While there, she took classes at Wayne State University. She graduated in 1958, but not before marrying the love of her life. She hinted they would have married sooner, but the nursing program would not allow trainees to marry until they were within three months of graduating.

After Freda graduated, the couple moved to Ann Arbor. As a Mennonite, Jim was a conscientious objector. He was in the 1W program, which was an alternate to the armed forces for Mennonites. He served in Ann Arbor and Flint for a total of three years.

Afterward, the couple returned to the Pigeon area. His dad helped the couple buy a 160-acre farm. Before retiring, the size of the farm had increased dramatically. They raised large numbers of cattle and pigs. Unfortunately, Jim passed away on Sept. 8, 2016.

During her career, Freda chose to work as a geriatric nurse.

“I enjoyed it,” she said.

She pointed out her parents were old by the time she finished with school.

She quickly added, “…it just made sense.”

“I saw a lot of old people and a lot of loving people while working in geriatrics,” she said. “My first job was a half day at Scenic Convalescent Home and a half day at Rapson’s rest home.”

Over the years, she worked for several other facilities in the area. For a short time, she worked at Scheurer Hospital. She also worked at the Huron County Medical Care Facility, and at Sunny Acres.

Freda said nursing changed a lot during the time she served as an RN. Inspections and rules increased dramatically. In her early career, nurses would attend meetings to keep up on new nursing practices. Today, they need to take official classes and earn accreditations.

“The technology has increased by leaps and bounds,” she said. “We didn’t have the diseases they have today. It was a different type of world back then.”

It wasn’t long before the topic changed to her hometown. She was asked what she remembered about Pigeon when she was growing up. Thinking back, she said things have changed a lot since then. She feels the population hasn’t changed much, but businesses have increased greatly.

During those days, there was only one physician’s clinic in town. Eventually, a small hospital was built over the clinic. This was long before Scheurer Hospital came into existence. In fact, Dr. Scheurer was just a young man back then, an individual she had known since birth.

“Dr. Scheurer was just a young man when he delivered me,” she said. “He spent the night at our house waiting for me to be born.”

She went on to say he later became a founding member, helping created Scheurer Hospital of Pigeon.

Cars were much less popular than they are today. Telephones were the old style where one had to call the operator to place a call. Her Uncle Eli had an ice cream parlor in town but it’s been gone for years. Pigeon had a dime store, and the dentist office was built above the town’s small grocery store.

She remembers one small restaurant in town, and two car dealerships, although there were several gas stations. Pigeon still has one dealership, but it now has several restaurants. It brags about a very nice funeral home, which was built where a bank had previously existed.

Orr’s Drug Store was in operation when she was growing up, and it still remains today, as does a pharmacy at the hospital. There was one school (K-12), but it is long gone. The school building has been revamped and is now Rose Garden Senior Living. The Pigeon School has combined with Elkton and Bay Port to create Lakers.

As a child, she remembers there were numerous churches in town.

“There are still good churches in Pigeon,” she said. “We’re really blessed.”

Originally, her family had been members of the Michigan Avenue Mennonite Church. After marrying into the Maust family, she switched to her husband’s church, Pigeon River Mennonite. As she continued to talk, it became apparent she is very involved with Pigeon River.

She likes the fact that her church is very involved with supporting missionaries and other Christian groups. Annually, they take a Harvest Offering to support these outreaches. The Harvest Offering raises large amounts of money. These funds are split between numerous ministries; local and international. Some of the groups they help support include Mennonite Disaster Services, Bluewater Youth for Christ, R U Ready Ministries and other charities.

At one time, Freda was quite involved with the church’s Lady’s Sewing Circle. Over the years, she has held several offices in the group.

“We’re big on quilting,” she said. “We give quilts to charities to raise money for a variety of outreaches.”

She said she is no longer as involved as she once was due to some physical problems that prevent her from sewing and quilting.

“We (Freda and Jim) did a lot of traveling in our lives,” Freda said.

She went on to say she and her husband had traveled through 11 countries in Europe. They have visited many states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Plus, they had been on 15 cruises.

In the future, she plans to visit Idaho and Oklahoma. The trips won’t be to see those states as much as to visit with her out-of-state children and grandchildren.

“I can’t get around like I used to, but I do a lot of baking,” Freda said.

She said she visits shut-ins and likes to cheer them up by bringing her baked goods to them.

“As long as I can walk, I’ll continue doing these things,” she said.

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