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Interview with Frank Chavez

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Frank Chavez was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1928. He moved to Minnesota in 1934 and worked in the beet fields with his parents. After high school he joined the Navy, and in 1960 he went into the printing business in St. Paul. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: His family - business - and the Navy.

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TRANSCRIPT OF AN ORAL HISTORY INTERVIE\'l WITH FRAN K CHAVEZ INTERVIEHER: GRANT A. MOOSBRUGGER

This interview was conducted as part of a series on the Mexican American in Minnesota. Frank Chavez, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on February 4, 1928. with his parents when he was four years old. He came to t-linnesota

Mr. Chavez owns his own printing shop.

He is very active in the Hamline Post #418 of
J11r. Chavez is also a

the American Legion as manager of their Legion Baseball Club. member of the Knibhts of Columbus.

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview edited to aid in clarity and ease of comprehension for the reader. The original tape recording is available in tne

Audio-Visual Library of the IHnnesota Historical Society.

INTERVIEW WITH FRANK CHAVEZ JULY 7, 1975 INTERVIEWER: GRANT A. MOOSBRUGGER

Moosbrugger:

I'm interviewing Mr. Frank Chavez for the Mexican American History Project, under the auspices of the Minnesota Historical Society. Do I have your permission to record this interview, Mr. Chavez?

Chavez: Moosbrugger:

Yes, you do. This interview, then, will belong to the Minnesota Historical Society. Could you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself, your brothers, sisters, and parents?

Chavez:

I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1928, February 4th. a chilly morning as I remember.

It was kind of

My father came over from what I still So did my mother. There are It's kind of

refer to as the old country, Mexico.

thirteen kids in the family; seven boys and six girls.

interesting in that I have three older brothers, three older sisters and three younger brolhers and three younger sisters. referred to as the odd one in the family. Moosbrugger: Chavez: The one right in the middle? Exactly in the middle, there's no give or take. From what I can remember I'm always

my father came from Guadalajara and my mother was from a little outlying village of it. I don't recall specifically what village it was, but it My parents moved to Texas and were From Texas they moved to Omaha, and my dad worked as a section

was right outside of Guadalajara. there for a half dozen years or so. Nebraska.

They became residents there,

man for the railroad for a number of years.

-2Chavez: Very early in my youth, I can recall the family moving to Southern Minnesota for the summer. Moosbrugger: Chavez: We would work in the beet fields.

Do you know about what year it was that your parents moved out of Mexico? I would have to say it was in the real early 20's, 1919 or 1920, because as you've notice, I have a plaque hanging on my wall. It says he won

this in 1926, and I know that my sisters were fairly small at the time. All the kids were born in this country. I know that my oldest sister

is like fifty-five, so they would have had to C:cDme in early 1919 or 1920.
Moo~brugger:

So at least by 1919 they moved to this country? Right. As I remember, they continued moving back and forth from I can

Chavez:

Nebraska to Minnesota every summer until I was four years old. remember starting grade school in a little country school around Beauford, Minnesota, which is between Mankato and Mapleton. in the country.

We lived

I can recall spending our first winter here in Minnesota

which was kind of, well, interesting, I suppose would be the word. Moosbrugger: Chavez: Did you do that in the winter? We lived on a farm that first winter, and started school in District 194. I think it was in Blue Earth County. I can vaguely remember when we

started school that the teacher was an old maid school teacher, the epitome of an old maid school teacher. my name with a "Z". I still do. At the time everybody spelled She

But most of the kids never did.

told us that we should spell the name with an "s" because it was more Americanized. To this day some of my brothers still spell it with an "s"

so since then I have used a "Z".

-3Moosbrugger: Chavez: C-h-a-v-e-z? Chavez. I can remember going to grade school; there were 17 students in You know, if we had

the grade school and nine of us from one family. wanted, we could have taken over the school. of a problem. Moosbrugger: Chavez:

It wouldn't have been much

But that wasn't really what we were raised to do.

You probably weren't too interested in taking over a school. Compared to what it is today.
"~y,

at that time, I don't think it

would've occurred to too many people. Moosbrugger: Chavez: Right. If you read any of the Mexican history books, or you think of the patriarchal family where the father was the head, there was no question about it in our family. To the extent that if we were in school, and

anyone of the brothers got in some kind of mischief, which is normal, the teacher would write a note home saying: it was, did such and such. would get it. Pete, Rudy, Amador, or whoever

When we got home he would linf' us up and we
should'v~

This is because we

been watching each other

and making sure that everyone behaved.

Not only that, if you pleaded

innocent, he would say, this is for the time that I didn't catch you. So it all worked out fairly good. to raise thirteen kids. Dad for that. I remember now, it had to be trying We all respect There are many

There had to be some philosophy.

To this day we think very highly of him.

times when I can think of him as being completely fair in his justice, the way he was, in that he treated everybody equally and there was no favoritism. Unless of course where the girls were concerned, because

he was from the school that under no circumstances were you to strike a woman. No matter what the girls did. I mean, if there was a girl with

-4Chavez: a hot poker jabbing you in the leg with it, why, you would say, "please don't do that because it hurts." But it would never pay for you to

strike her back, unless you were darn sure you weren't going to get caught at it. If she decided to squeal on you, why, then you got it So it's kind of an interesting way of life. To

worse than she did.

this day I feel very strongly about striking a woman. that just turned eight years old. him every now and then.

I have a son now

His cousins come over to play with

One of them is about a year younger than he is, I still catch myself saying,

and she likes to pick on him all the time. "Billy, you don't strike a woman." Moosbrugger: Chavez: Moosbrugger: Your up-bringing? The old up-bringing, the background.

I think that comes from the old ••.

Could you tell us about your brothers and sisters? sister who's 55.

Starting with your

Could you mention their names, or their married names,

and where they are living? Chavez: Well, her':. name is Delores. one boy, Loren. She is married to George Smith. They have

They are living in Fridley.

Her husband is a sales The

manager for a mobile home company on Highway 65 towards Cambridge. next younger sister is Jan, she lives in Detroit Lakes. to Everett Garner, who is from Mapleton.

She is married

They have lived there for They have two

about twenty-eight years, and are getting ready to retire.

boys, Dick who is 25 years old and Joey who, I think, is 18 years old. Mel is the next one, Manuela, she is married to Harlem Dooden, a good German name. girls. They live in Burkhart, Wisconsin. She has a boy and two

Next is Pete, he lives in White Bear, and he has four boys, Gary, Arnie Amador is the next oldest and

Paul, and the twins David and Danny.

-5Chavez: he lives in Blakely, Minnesota. construction company in Blakely. He is a Gravel Contractor. He runs a

Rudy is the next youngest, he lives He does excavating

in Bayport and runs the C & PX Excavating Company.

work; digging basements, sewers, this type of thing, for the local construction industry in and around Stillwater and Bayport. Rudy has

five children; Steve is the oldest, Elizabeth, she's my godchild, Denise, Nick, the last two I can't remember, because it starts to become quite a project. old. I am the middle one. I am the seventh one and I'm 45 years
l7~,

I have two children, a daughter , Deborah, who is

will be

18 in December, and Billy who was just eight years old July 5th of this year. I own and operate my own printing business, as You can tell, and

incidentally, I was the first one who went to high school in our family. Having spent what I figured was my share of time in the beet fields, my father gave me the choice of staying on the farm and working. We had

changed from beet working to running a farm, so he gave me a choice of staying on the farm and working, or going to school. high school. I decided to go to

Then he threw in a clincher, he said, "Well, if you go to

schuol you will have to work your own way through, because there is no way in heck that I can support twelve other kids and pay your way through school also." years old. M-osbrugger: Chavez: Moosbrugger: Chavez: Where did you go to hich school?
t

So I can say that I have been on my own since I was thirteen

Mapleton Hior School. You were living at home then, near Mapleton? No, we lived seven miles out of Mapleton. I rode my bicycle, the bicycle

-6-

Chavez:

that all the brothers had accumulated from here and there, parts that we'd put together and made our own bicycle. I rode that into Mapleton I used to go to

on a Saturday morning and I found a place to stay. my sister-in-1aw's, which was no big deal.

I got a job lined up the

same afternoon, went back home packed my things and moved into town on Sunday. job. Moosbrugger: ChavezL Moosbrugger: Chavez: I started school on Monday morning and started my part time

It's been kind of like that ever since.

What year did you finish high school?

1945.
Maybe we should finish up naming your brothers and sisters. Joe has his own business as a heavy construction repairman, in Lakeland, Minnesota. Coon Rapids. large family. Next is Mary, she is married to Jerry Roth. They live in

Mary was the only one who carried out the tradition of the She has something like e1evn children. I'm not about to

start to remember all their names.
~arried

After Mary we have Connie, who is They have two children,

to Melvin Matt1er.

They live in Mankato.

Patty and Terry.

After Connie is Raymond.

He lives in Lino Lakes, and

works as a mechanic at St. Paul Cement. and he is a sheetmeta1 worker.

Benny lives in St. Croix Beach, Then Beatrice, She is married

Benny has six children.

she is the youngest, and lives in Hammond, Wisconsin. to Warren Wolfe, and they have four children. Moosbrugger: Chavez: Yes, that's a big family to keep track of. At the last count, I had fifty-nine nieces and nephews. a survey recently, within the last month or so. is any more yet. Moosbrugger:

That's the whole family.

I haven\t taken

But I don't think there

It would be pretty rough to give tham a hundred dollar Christmas present

-7Moosbrugger: Chavez: Moosbrugger: every year, wouldn't it? It would be rather rough! Could we go back to 1945 after you finished high school? little bit about after your school years. Chavez: Well, I finished high school just at the time that World War II was tapering off.
16~

Tell us a

Starting school at a very early age, I was just barely So, I was contemplating joining My brother Pete,

when I' graduated from high school.

the Navy when I was 17, and getting under the GI Bill.

was just returning from the service at that time; he convinced my father that the service wasn't any place for a kid. My father said, "You can

go into the service when you're eighteen years old, because then you can go in without my signature, but until that time I just don't feel that I can do that." So I waited until I was 18, then I went into the Navy. three and a-half years in the Navy. that I would be under the GI Bill. I spent about

I enlisted with the thought in mind Three months after I went in, they I spent the better I learned a

passed a law that I had missed it by about two weeks.

part of three years in the Navy, which I enjoyed through1y. lot.

It's helped me, probably as much as the GI Bill would have, or I Before I enlisted in the Navy, I took

wouldn't have the formal eduction. an Electronic Technicians Test.

I passed the test, so I spent at that Each one would be like a Of the thirty-two

time a thirty-two week course in Electronics.

first class or third class Electronic Technician. weeks, I went about 23 or 24 weeks.

Then they had an opening for machine record installation, IBM punch card accounting, which is the rage now. duced. At that time it was just being introWe went down to

Two other fellows and I took the opportunity.

-8Chavez: Pensicola, Florida, to take training in the machine records installation, as it was called than. Now it's quite sophisticated. The computers and At that

programmers are a far cry from what thery were in those days!

time they made mechanically run machines that processed about 150 cards a minute, that was consider really going to beat blazes. that in a fraction of a secondl Now they do

In fact, they don't even play with

them if it's less than 150 thousand. After getting out of the Navy, I stayed with the machine record installation or punch card accounting. I went to work for Industrial Credit Company, In fact, I remember I started to work for I set up the

that was in the fall of 1949.

Industrial Credit Company the day after Christmas in 1949. IBM Installation for the Industrial Credit Company. for 10 years, 1949 through 1959. printing company for one year. American Easy On Labels.

I worked for them

I left there in 1959 and worked for a Then in the fall of 1960 we purchased

The fellow that worked over here took care of

it the better part of the year, then in 1961, I came over and took over the operation. Moosbrugger: Chavez: I have been here ever since.

When you say "we" .•• There were four of us at the time; two brothers, myself, and another gentleman started with the corporation. About five years after that, I bought

off the other tkree participants, and then took it over wholly myself. Moosbrugger: You took a jump from working with IBM type cards for Industrial Credit to a print shop. Chavez: Was there anything that got you moving in that direction?

Well, I was setting up the punch card installation, getting it operating good, being kind of nervous, energetic, and full of the old malarky, I started looking for other areas to get interested in. We opened up what

-9Chavez: they call the Office Services Department. This included the IBM instal-

lations, purchases, printing, records, retention, performance procedures, and time study. ment. This was all placed in what we call the Services Depart-

I headed that department and I was in charge of setting up the

printing installation, purchasing the equipment, evaluating the timing, whether or not it was economically feasable to put in a printing plant in the company. Through studies we would determine if we could save

money by putting in our own printing equipment and processing most of our own forms. Subsequently we would have had to purchase the equipment. So when

That's how I got involved with .the printing end of the industry.

I left Industrial Credit Company, a good friend of mine, in fact, one of the owners of this company at that time, was looking for some help. was ill and his pressman had just left him. He

So even though I wasn't an

expert pressmen, I had enough knowledge of the equipment to be able to run it effectively. about six months. I started working for him. I worked for him for

I figured after that, that there wasn't any reason

why I couldn't run my own shop. Moosbrugger: Chavez: What organizations have you been active in, Frank? The American Legion for one, being a vetern from the Navy. Through the

friends I accumulated through the years, they convinced me to join the American Legion. My friends thought that it would be beneficial for me I think it was beneficial to them, not necessarily I became quite I have

to join the Legion.

to me, in that they needed somebody to do the work.

active in the Legion, Hamline Post #418 of the American Legion.

gone through the office from Chaplin, Sgt. at Arms, to Commander of the Post. After serving my term as Commander of the Legion Post, I offered Hamline Post has

to get involved in Legion Baseball for Ramline Post.

been sponsoring Legion Baseball since the early 1940's and is quite

-10Chavez: active, which is a very good basis for Americanism and for the Legion programs. So becoming involved in that, I started managing the Legion I have been doing that for about six or seven years now. I get a lot of personal

Baseball Team.

I find it quite interesting and rewarding. satisfaction from it.

I have had to cut down on my golf, fishing, and I

that type of thing during the summer time for two or three months.

think the personal reward I get from it more than pays for the sacrifice that might be involved, if any. I mean if you really evaluate what you

put into it and what you get out of it in personal satisfaction, I don't think you could call it a sacrifice. call it a sacrifice. Moosbrugger: Chavez: Have you been active in any other organizations? I just belong to the Legion and the Knights of Columbus. have been really active in. These two I At least I don't think I can honestly

I might have belonged to others momentarily,

or for a short period of time, but I wasn't really active in them. Moosbrugger: Going back to your early days, your childhood, did your folks speak Spanish in your home? Chavez: No, my father and mother spoke it between themselves. They were of the

opinion that as long as we live in this country, we should speak English. Although they did not discourage or forbid us from speaking Spanish, they did encourage us to speak English more than Spanish. Now, I kind of wish

it would have been the other way around, because now, if I would have had more use of the language, I would have retained more than I have at the present time. Not affiliating myself with many Spanish speaking people

to any large degree, I have maybe a half a dozen friends that speak Spanish and speak it well. But I'm not in that much contact with them,

so that I can't keep up my use of it.

-11-

Moosbrugger:

Is that pretty much the situation with your brothers and sisters, both older and younger?

Chavez:

I think so, yes.

The majority of them speak very little Spanish.

I I

think there is only one other brother and myself that speak well. wouldn't say that we speak it that well. Moosbrugger: Chavez: Moosbrugger:
:1
j

Do YO'Ui',know how many of your sisters married other Mexican Americans? None. So then I suppose if any of their children speak Spanish, it would be by virtue of taking it in school? In school, yes. When you were in the Navy, most of your family was living around southern Minnesota in Blue Earth County. Cities? Did your parents ever move to the Twin

,
,

Chavez: Moosbrugger:

How did so many of you end up living around the Twin Cities and

it's suburbs? Chavez: The oldest sister, Delores, and her husband had moved to Anoka. When I

got out of the service, the type of work that I was interested in was not found around Mankato or Mapleton. back to farm work. I wasn't really that keen about going Even to

I don't mind the work, and I can work hard.

this day I have a big garden, just about an acre. Blue Earth.

I still go back to

I can recall after getting out of the serviee I spent maybe I was looking for a job

a week or two living in Anoka with my sister. in the Twin Cities.

Once they were located up here, the other brothers They started looking for work. The work

came up when they grew older.

on the farm wasn't that colorful, so they got into other areas of work. This is what I think made them come to the Twin City area.

-12Moosbrugger: Chavez: Did your folks then stay for the rest of their lives? They stayed. away. My father stayed in and around Mankato, until he passed I was ten years old at the time,

My mother passed away in 1940.

so that's some thirty years ago. Moosbrugger: Chavez: Moosbrugger: Chavez: What year did your father pass away? He passed away in 1957. And left a wonderful legacy of children and grandchildren. It was interesting. I think when my father passed away his total assets He didn't leave a big farm, I think all the As a matter of The funeral

were probably what he had in his billfold.

or a big house, or a lot of money to the children. children got together and paid the funeral expenses.

record, he had one of the longest funerals in the area.

procession went from Mankato to Mapleton where my mother had been buried. They figured the funeral procession was between three and a-half to four miles long. That had to be all the neighbors and just about everybody It was very impressive. I

in the large area that came to the funeral. have thought about it on occasions. that. Moosbrugger: There are a lot of ways of measuring wealth.

Some day I'd like to be buried like

Perhaps he was a very

wealthy man when he died, he left a lot of friends behind him. Thank you very much Mr. Chavez.