Today, I would like to blog about a hard working northeast Iowa couple who worked together during the depression to build a business and help others in the process. Northeast Iowan Laura Westendorf, 96 next month, of Spillville sits beside two of her three daughters, Lana Ott and Jo Stange as they recall their life living in Alpha. Daughter Frances Johansen called from Florida during the interview also.
Laura and the late Irwin Westendorf, fondly known as Spark, owned the Alpha Garage from 1939-1983 until they retired. Spark was a progressive thinker and that led him to be one of the first to be a certified AAA Motor Club of Iowa garage owner. The family became members as well as many in the community. Lana and Jo remembered being junior members also, with their very own membership card. Jo enjoyed the excitement of getting the travel kits that came all mapped out for their annual vacation. “It was important for the family to get away, as dad would be called up at all hours of the day or night with his work. He was proud to be part of the triple A Motor Club and was always very accommodating even when supper was on the table,” explained Lana.
Laura remembers one New Year’s Eve when they decided to stay home for a quiet evening celebration by themselves instead of going out to the annual festivities which was very unusual for this social couple. It might have been an unhappy choice for the couple after all, it was not a quiet night. Spark worked all day as usual and just got home for supper when the phone began to ring that someone was stuck in the ditch and as the evening went on he would just get home and have to go back out again to tow someone else out and on and on. Laura met the midnight hour alone, after a long time of waiting for her husband she had her celebration toast by herself and went to bed. Sometime in the night after all had made it safely home, Spark managed to get a little shuteye before heading back to work early the next day. It wasn’t a “nine to five job”, but Spark enjoyed the hard work—some days more than others. And the community was thankful for his mechanical ability. Hard work, simple life and helping others was a way of life back then and continues to this day in northeast Iowa.
When World War II began, even as a married man with children, Spark’s name was on the list to possibly serve. The small farm community of Alpha signed a petition that may or may not have sidelined the only mechanic in the community who ended up miraculously not having to go to war. Though Spark gladly would have served his country, he did not have to. Another theory is that since many others enlisted to join the war efforts his name never got to the top of the list. Not that it was easy during that time at home running the Standard Station, as many fell on hard times and finding items like decent tires was a serious problem with many going toward the war effort.
Laura ran the hardware store, while Spark ran the gas station where he was also the mechanic and sold LP gas as well in Alpha—though Laura was in charge of the bookkeeping for both businesses. They started the gas station in one building and later moved to another building. The daughters enjoyed growing up in the small community of Alpha with their hard working parents always close by. Spark was ready to retire by age 70, but Laura only 65 at the time would have preferred to keep working because with her outgoing and social personality she enjoyed her work immensely.
Spark and Laura Westendorf instilled in their three daughters a good work ethic, involvement in their community, and kindness to the less fortunate by being role models themselves and those roots were planted deep because they are still apparent generations later as the tradition continues here in northeast Iowa.