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Plumbing work at Tribune brings up history

By Staff | May 1, 2020

When workers from Johnson’s Plumbing cut into walls in the Tribune office’s restroom to replace a sink this week, they took out more than rust and old concrete.

Stuck between the restroom baseboard and wall behind the fixtures were two canceled checks from January 1957, which had Tribune staff and the plumbers scratching their heads.

The first check, found under the old sink, was in fairly good shape for a 63-year-old document. Punched with holes from bank processing equipment, the check was made out to The Plains Caf, dated Jan.18, 1957 for $20 and signed by Jane Ellsworth.

The second check was a bit worse for wear.

“They found this one behind the toilet,” said Tribune office manager Kat Brossart. She held up a check with the same processor holes and torn edges, with faded writing on the surface.

The barely legible words read “Rugby High School.” The check, also signed by Ellsworth, had Jan. 25, 1957, as the date.

Brossart, who has lived in Rugby since 2000, studied the checks and tried to recall if she knew any Ellsworths. Both checks had been drawn on Rugby’s Merchants Bank so she walked across the street to the bank.

“They have a collection of old checks,” Brossart said. Tribune staff decided to donate them to the Merchants Bank collection.

Brossart said no one at the bank had heard of Ellsworth. “They just thought the checks were really cool.”

Brossart took to social media for clues about Jane Ellsworth.

She scanned copies of the checks and posted them to a Facebook group called, “You Know You’re From Rugby, ND When You Remember?”

After that, information came pouring in.

Friends, nieces, nephews and grandchildren of Ellsworth’s sister and cousins gave clues about Ellsworth. Retired music teacher Dave Halvorson recalled being Ellsworth’s paperboy. She was a 1957 Rugby High graduate, posters said. She had married Fred Vetsch and moved away long ago.

After more Facebook posts and a call to her cousin, Ruth Fedje, Ellsworth’s great-niece, Keighly Johnson, contacted the Tribune to say Ellsworth, now known as Jane Vetsch, would call.

Vetsch, who now lives in Sun City West, Ariz., called the Tribune with an explanation for why the checks were at the Tribune office.

“I used to work there,” Vetsch said. “I worked when Frank Hornstein owned it. When I was a senior they had a work program where you could go out in the afternoon and work in a business.”

Why the checks were in the restroom baseboard, however, Vetsch said, “I have no idea.”

Vetsch said she enjoyed working at the Tribune.

“They taught me to work the equipment where they printed the stuff. Richard Fleck taught me how to run the press,” she said, remembering people she knew growing up. “He married Irene Bickler.”

“Bicklers used to have a store up there by Clark’s Bar, you know, on the other side of the tracks? He was married to Irene,” Vetsch continued. “Then, Agnes Keller ran the front. She married Donald Bush.”

Describing more of her work, Vetsch said, “I also did want ads and checked people in at the front office when they came in and bought papers. Every Wednesday night, we used to work to get the paper out for Thursday morning.”

“We’d make little books or advertisements for people. Sometimes it was my job to glue pages together. Just whatever came up, they had me do,” Vetsch added.

“The checks, they were in the walls of the Tribune?” she asked.

“For crying out loud! What a rare thing to happen! That was 63 years ago,” Vetsch said with a laugh.

“I don’t know how they would’ve gotten there if it weren’t for me mishandling them somehow,” she added.

Vetsch recalled the Plains Caf, which she said was located next to the Lyric Theater.

Vetsch said most of her Rugby memories are from her school years and the places she worked while in high school.

“Really, I worked a lot,” she said. “I worked a couple of jobs when I was going to school so I didn’t have much time for other activities. I worked at the Ideal Caf, then I worked for Leroy Patterson out at the Corner Stop.”

“Then,” Vetsch added, “in high school I cleaned house for Dr. Keller and his wife. I worked in the theater in their concession stand. Really, most of my life I’ve spent working.”

Vetsch said she married Fred Vetsch in Rugby after she graduated high school. The couple moved to Minneapolis, Minn., in January of 1958. She worked for many years as an office manager for a family practice physician there.

“From ’58 until 2001, we lived in Minneapolis, and then in 2001, we moved to Sun City West, Arizona. That’s where I currently reside.”

Vetsch said she hasn’t been back to visit Rugby. Her sister, Loretta Schmaltz, lives in Minot, and her sister, Corinne Bakken, lives in West Fargo.

“We don’t (get out to North Dakota to visit),” she said. “My daughter lived in Minneapolis and we went back and forth there occasionally but she has since moved out here. We don’t go back. We’re 80 and 83 years old now so we don’t do a lot of traveling anymore.”

Vetsch said she has fond memories of the town where she grew up. “It was a nice community,” she said. “Rugby was, I thought, a really friendly place.”

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