Woman revisits the Great Depression
Ryan Summerlin March 6, 2009
RIFLE, Colorado ” Irene Burgoon of Rifle was 11 years old when the Great Depression hit in 1929 and lasted for about 10 years.
Now at 90, Burgoon says she thinks the current recession ” which some say is turning into a depression ” is just getting started and will probably get worse and take a long time to recover from.
Growing up on a farm in Indiana, Burgoon was one of five children and says that when the Great Depression hit, they were lucky because the family had food, raising chickens, pigs and cattle and growing their own vegetables.
“I was only a girl, but I remember that things happened gradually and eventually people moved out from the cities to farms just to have a garden because they didn’t have anything to eat,” Burgoon recalled. “If you had a yard and you had a garden, you were OK.”
People grew their own fruits and vegetables and then canned them to stock their pantries.
“We made our own sauerkraut, tomatoes, chili and ketchup,” she said. “We only went to the grocery store to get things like sugar and flour ” the bare necessities. We lived a lot like the Amish do now.”
Along with food, people also made their own clothes.
“We used to take chicken feed sacks and make dresses, pillow cases and bed sheets,” Burgoon said. “(The sacks) had writing on them so we’d soak ’em and put them in the sun to bleach out.”
Jobs were scarce and Burgoon recalls picking and topping off 100 crates of onions in the fall for 5-cents per day.
“You took any kind of job you could get ” you weren’t picky,” Burgoon said. “At one time, I got a waitress job for $1 per day.”
But even though times were tough, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
“On the weekends, the boys would be playing ball, we went ice skating, square dancing, had picnics on the weekends and went to church,” Burgoon remembered. “There was more for the kids to do. We didn’t get into mischief ” we didn’t have time.”
In 1935, the Work Projects Administration (WPA) was implemented under order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a job program that put millions of people back to work. And after World War II started in 1939, the economy started to pick up ” very gradually ” as people got jobs working in factories.
In the later years of the war, Burgoon moved to Sacramento, Calif., where she ended up working as a bookkeeper for 27 years and got married.
She opened up a store called “Irene’s Fashions At Large” in 1976 – a store for larger-sized ladies. She sold the store in 1986 and it is still in business to this day.
In 2004, she moved to Colorado after her husband passed away to be near her son, Joe Carpenter, who is vice president of American National Bank in Rifle.
Since 2005, Burgoon has worked as a volunteer dispatcher at the Rifle Senior Center, where she keeps track of those needing rides on The Traveler through Senior Programs and who needs to be picked up and when, along with who wants to go on the weekly shopping trips.
“And sometimes I fill in at lunch times for the senior meals taking the money,” she added.
She credits keeping busy as the key to keeping her mentally sharp and healthy.
“If you stop working, you stop functioning,” she said. “You always should have a hobby and something you can do even after you retire ” not just something you do when you’re young. If you keep busy, you don’t have time to worry about this ache or pain.”
As far as today’s economy, Burgoon said she thinks the hard times “haven’t even got started” and that they may not be over for a while.
She blames a lot of the hardship on people who overextend themselves with credit card debt and those who are just plain lazy.
“People have gotten themselves so in debt with credits cards because they’re so in the habit of spending,” she pointed out. “In my day, we didn’t buy anything unless we had the money to pay for it.”
And during the Great Depression of the 1930’s and 40’s, there was no help through welfare or unemployment insurance.
“We also have a lot of technology now and if used right it could help,” Burgoon said. “But I think people today are spoiled.”