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Former Silver Lake resident reminisces

By Paul Radtke
Nothing impresses the mind with deeper feeling than a review of the streets and scenes of the place you once called home. I experienced this emotional and nostalgic feeling a while ago when I visited Silver Lake after being away for a long, long time. I realized that not only did I change, but the town (Silver Lake) had changed even more.
When I first set foot in this small sleepy hollow of a town in 1933, there were certain buildings along Main Street that made it the center of activity.
Now they're all gone, altered, restored or reoccupied. Places like St. Adalbert’s Church and School, the Silver Lake Leader, Danek’s Hardware Store, Jack Horejsi's White Owl Inn, John Pohanka's Shoe Repair, Horejsi's Meat Market, Navratil's Red Owl, Dudek's Tailor Shop, Nuwash's Funeral Home, Jagodzinski's and later Phil Pilarski's Barber Shop, the telephone building, and many more.
I missed the elder statesmen and artisans who helped shape Silver Lake in its embryonic stage, people like Wilbur Merrill (post office and Silver Lake Leader), Frank Bren (builder), Ed. Nuwash (funeral home), Jack Horejsi (White Owl Inn), G. Chalupsky (farm, liquor store, dance hall, etc), Art and Gerdi Picha and later Joe and Earl Micka (Log Cabin), Jagodzinski and later Phil Pilarski (Barber Shop), Frank Vlcek (blacksmith), A.J. Domagolski (general merchandise), Frank Slanga and John Svanda (hardware stores), Al Danek (hardware and hotel), John Navratil and Joe Lowy (grocery stores), Damas Rivers (feed mill), Dewey Born (farmers’ produce), John Pohanka (shoe repair), Johnny Chermak and Joe Hakel (auto repair), Elsie Horejsi (meat market). They’re all gone now. But they left their indelible mark on the community's cornerstone. I knew all of them and had a close relationship with many of them.
I remember the lake when its water level was very low, and was quite polluted. Its low spots were filled with pussy willows, muskrat houses and grassy bogs. We got to use it for sledding, ice skating and muskrat trapping.

Wildlife everywhere
I couldn't count the number of times I walked around its perimeter enjoying the sights of birds, ducks, geese, deer and other wild animals. Every once in a while, a mother partridge would strut across my path with her little ones not far behind, acting as if she owned the place. Jerry Dostal later moved the Swan Lake Dance Pavilion to the lake's south shore, restored it and called it the PLAYMOR Ballroom. It became one of the most popular dance halls in the state.
Dance bands came from all over Minnesota to play their renditions of waltzes, polkas and schottisches. Dick Dale played clarinet and saxophone for the Six Fat Dutchmen later joined the Lawrence Welk Show. Every time I watched it on national T.V. it made me think of good-old Silver Lake.
We didn't have the facilities, ball parks, swimming pools and recreational parks the town now has to offer. We played football on an open field behind St. Joseph's Church, baseball on a grassy flat area behind the new auditorium and used Village Park for other outdoor activities and social events.
There was something else I remember about Silver Lake that was rather odd. Old-man Chalupsky as I called him had a farm right in the center of town on Main Street. It was all fenced in behind his house. There were chickens, pigs and cows. Every morning, like clockwork, he would march his six or seven cows down Main Street to pasture them about a half-mile east of town. And every evening, he would march them back to their barn for milking.
They strutted down the street like they owned it. Cars avoided them. I can't remember any accident or incident they may have caused. This only lasted for a few years and then was stopped for whatever reason and the cows no longer came marching home.
I'm proud to have grown up in Silver Lake. I got to be friends with lots of local kids. We played ball, went fishing and hunting, drank 10 cent beers, ate turtle soup, attended concerts and participated in many good, clean community functions and activities. What a great place. I'll never forget it.
A few years ago, I wrote a book, "My Town" which gives an insight to my life growing up in Silver Lake in the 1930s and ‘40s. If you're interested, a copy of it can be found in the McLeod County Historical Society Museum in Hutchinson.

(Paul Radtke grew up in Silver Lake in the 1930s and ‘40s and graduated from Silver Lake High School in 1949. He captained its varsity football, basketball and baseball teams in his senior year, then volunteered and spent four years as a radarman petty officer in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. After graduating from Bost College with a bachelor’s degree and Merrimack University with a master’s degree, he worked for Engineering Program Management and GTE for 31 years. He and his wife, Barbara D'Ambrosio, live in Dennisport, Mass. on Cape Cod.)