It all started over a case of 30 dozen eggs.
Somehow, the proprietor of the Black Steer restaurant in Yankton, Ted Vlahakis, learned we raised chickens and sold eggs. He wanted a case of 30 dozen delivered to the back door of the store. The hens produced and we collected, washed and crated the 30 dozen.
Our dad, J. Lyle Van Osdel, popped the trunk of the car and deposited the case of eggs on the delivery doorstep. We were expecting to use the money to buy groceries and some ice cream from Drier’s, the Dairy Queen of the day, located on the west side of Broadway, between Third and Fourth Streets, where the Upper Deck is now. Mr. Vlahakis said that was great, he would pay us next week when we brought another case of eggs. Dad said, “No. I want the money for the eggs now.”
We brought the eggs home with us. Our mom, Frannie, had scrounged and saved a dozen egg containers from family and friends, so she put the eggs into the dozen containers and delivered farm-fresh eggs door to door in Yankton for 25 cents a dozen.
To make amends, apparently, Mrs. Ted (Vickie) Vlahakis, called our farm and wanted to know if she could bring their daughters to the farm to ride ponies. So, my brother, Larry, and I saddled the ponies and gave the Vlahakis girls rides. One Saturday, there was another woman with Vickie who she introduced as her husband’s sister, Helen Vlahakis, “the movie star.”
Larry and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes and saddled the ponies. When we retrieved our mail Monday at 10:30 a.m., there was the Saturday P&D which included a special section in color of entertainment news and, on the cover, was the picture of a movie star, Joan Valarie, the lady who visited our farm two days before.
Time flies by. Having read the Press and Dakotan faithfully for over 75 years, ever since I “broke the code” and learned to read at age seven in country school, I now peruse the “ancient history” on Page Two of the P&D, the news gleaned from P&D issues of 100, 75, 50 and 25 years ago.
On Page two of the Friday, Aug. 27, P&D, in the 50-years-ago column: “Friday, August 27, 1971: Helen Vlahakis, known on stage and screen as Joan Valarie, and now gaining some attention in the field of art, will have an exhibit of her oils, water colors, portraits, landscapes and still life in Yankton soon. This will be Miss Valarie’s first exhibit in South Dakota.”
What’s that? You say you do not know her?
When Turner Classic Movies (TCM) presents the “old” movie with Gary Cooper starring as the Medal of Honor winner Alvin York of Tennessee, do not miss it. When York is drafted, he says goodbye to his mother and girlfriend. When he returns to Tennessee as a hero of World War I for corralling more than 150 of the German foe with help from only six buddies, he is seen walking over a little bridge toward a picturesque farm cottage on a hill.
He looks away from her and tells his girlfriend wistfully, “I been fixing to buy this piece of ‘propity’ and ask you to marry me but we will have to wait a few years, I guess.” His beautiful girlfriend, with sparkling eyes and toothy smile, clings to his arm and says, “Oh, Alvin. We don’t hafta wait. The folks from Tennessee done bought this farm for you.”
His beautiful girlfriend is played by Joan Valarie.
Watch TCM for the movie about the life and times of James M. Cohan, Broadway song and dance man portrayed by Jimmy Cagney. The girl who is Cagney’s girlfriend and wife throughout the movie is played by Joan Valarie.
Several times, I have spoken of this story with longtime lawman/friend, now Yankton County Sheriff Jim Vlahakis, nephew of Helen Vlahakis, aka Joan Valarie. He has told me that the beautiful aunt, actress and person he knew was as beautiful in person as she portrayed on the screen. Unfortunately, as a pedestrian, she was struck and killed by a speeding car in Hollywood.
Please watch for these movies and remember Helen Vlahakis, or Joan Valarie.
Auctioneers Chet Stewart and Dick Payne raised and sold ponies for several years. They sold ponies to a couple we knew who had children. For a time, the family bought baled hay for the ponies from our farm.
We met the family in Yankton one day while shopping and our dad asked why they had not bought any hay lately. The mother replied she “had found some.”
She explained she found some hay rolled up in the ditch. She and her daughters loaded it into her new 1959 Chevy convertible and took it home to feed the horses.
Now, back at the ranch, imagine if you will the farmer who has watched all summer a ditch full of brome grass sprout and grow, seed heads mature, fall to the ground to ensure a crop next year and the farmer decides it is time to bring a tractor and sickle mower to cut the grass. After a couple days of drying in the sun, the farmer brings out a new-fangled side-delivery rake which rolls the grass into a long braid so it can continue to dry.
Imagine, if you will, the farmer’s frustration when he returns to bale hay that ain’t there.
As my predecessor, P&D City Editor Marvin Scott, would say, “People are more fun than anybody.”