During the Depression, the federal government employed persons
who desperately needed work and assigned them to projects in
their hometowns. This Work Progress Administration plan provided
workers to staff Columbia’s summer playgrounds. I was their
supervisor. My assistant represented the public schools and
showed little interest in recreational activities. I conducted
staff training meetings every Monday morning, and leaders were on
duty at the playgrounds from 1 p.m. until dark five days a week.
I condensed a semester’s learning into three hours of
training that first Monday and assigned two persons to each of
The most helpful leader was Mrs. Rau, a gentle, motherly widow
who operated a student boarding house except in the summer. Mrs.
George was a middle-age redhead with a mind of her own and some
workable ideas but no leadership experience. William O. Smith,
with beautiful snow-white hair, rarely spoke above a whisper and
was also low on pep and energy. A younger man wore muscle shirts
displaying tattoos not meant for children’s viewing. Another
fellow, clean-cut and friendly, was called out of the room by a
policeman during a Monday training meeting; I never saw him
again. Another Monday, a quiet, thin fellow was absent. No wonder
he committed suicide in public two nights before.
There were also others. I was poorly prepared to direct such a
staff, but to my surprise the program went quite well. We decided
that the children deserved a celebration at the end of the
summer. Recalling it now, it seems impossible, but we did it! We
had a treasure hunt in the woods on Dad’s dairy farm.
Grocers donated 16 1-pound packages of marshmallows for our
treasure. I spent the entire day before the hunt laying four
trails two short, easy ones for young kids and two
challenging ones for older kids. Four clues, in rhyme, directed
each team toward the spot where the 16 pounds of marshmallows
were to be hid.
On the morning of the hunt, I took four leaders to the farm to
check the trails, lay wood for a bonfire and hide the
marshmallows. We also hid wire coat hangers to use for
marshmallow sticks and two of Dad’s hay forks on which we
could toast a lot of marshmallows at one time. Mom was ready with
paper cups and drinking water at the house. Mrs. Rau and Mrs.
George would help the younger children, and the fellows would go
with the older ones.
Three lumber companies each sent a truck to haul my WPA
helpers and the children to the farm and back. The kids love that
five-mile ride. Ninety-six excited youngsters, eager to hunt
treasure in the woods, crowded around me to hear the rules.
"You won’t need to wade in the creek or climb a tree or
do anything dangerous. Your leader will help if you can’t
find the clues." And I added, "Of course, the winning
team will want to share the treasure with the losers. OK?"
Approved! "Go find it!"
Then the woods came alive with the yelling and laughter of
happy, sweating children. I stood in a central spot, holding a
first-aid kit. Finally, the treasure was discovered.
However, a few hundred uninvited ants had discovered the
marshmallows earlier, and some had invaded every bag! Mrs. Rau,
Mrs. George, the older girls and I blew the ants off every single
marshmallow. They were soon toasted and devoured.
I wouldn’t attempt an event like that again for love or
money! But it was actually a wonderful experience for those city
kids. And I didn’t even have to open the first-aid kit!