ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
LEON HENRY CLAUS, O.A.C. 1922
Ontario Agricultural College, 1922
Interviewed by Harvey Pettit
June 23, 1990
HP This is an interview with Leon Henry Claus by Harvey Pettit, on Saturday, June the 23rd, 1990 for the University of Guelph, Alumni Association, Alumni-in-Action Group. Leon, more familiarly known as Hank by his friends, is being interviewed Alumni Weekend at Guelph, at the residence of Harvey Pettit, located behind Macdonald Institute. Hank celebrated his ninetieth birthday this year. It is my pleasure to interview Hank and to record those eventful ninety years. Hank is now living at Canton, New York State and regularly attends University Alumni Weekend in Guelph. Now Hank let’s get back to your boyhood days and tell us a little bit about where you lived and what you did where you were. Can you tell me where you lived.
LC My boyhood days, I lived in Ridgeway or on the lakeshore of Lake Erie. I was one of six children and (chuckle) I was almost drowned one time. I went out - there was a sandbar out a little ways from shore and a storm came up and the lake was deeper between the sandbar and the shore. And a neighbour man who was camper there came out with a boat and rescued me. A big wave hit me and pushed me right up to the boat and I climbed aboard, and he took me to shore. (Chuckle)
HP Well , you lived on a farm.
HP What kind of activities did you carry on that farm?
LC Well, we sold eggs and milk at the house and then my father had a little summer route of milk. In the winter time we made butter, and we had quite a family. We managed to get along - with what income we had with the farm. We always grew pigs that we killed and smoked. We had a smoke house. I don’t know that we - with six children we all got along. That’s about all I can say. (Chuckle)
HP You really worked on the farm when you were growing up
LC Yes, but I didn’t graduate with my matriculation. I went and passed an examination at Easter-time and went over back of Fonthill and worked on a fruit farm for four months. I only had to work for three and I got my matriculation that way. But that fall I came to Guelph.
HP Well where did you go to High School?
HP Then you came to Guelph from Ridgeway?
HP What made you decide you wanted to come to Guelph?
LC Well - I got acquainted with the District Representative and I kind of liked the type of job that he had - helping farmers - make decisions to use the right kind of fertilizers and the like. And, well, I don’t know, my brother said I was a pretty good student. I would have been the highest in the class, but I didn’t do one question. It was on the back of the sheet -and there was twelve and a half marks to it. When I got out of the examination room, one of the students said to me, “Hank, what d’you get for that eighth question?” I said, “Oh, god, I didn’t do it.”
LC I should have gone right back and told them about it, but I’d - you know I’d handed in my paper, and I wasn’t going to fool around about it. But, when the marks came out, I only had about eight marks from the highest man in the class. And I was recognized as a fairly good student in Guelph. I don’t say that bragging
HP No, I know
LC Yes, yeah
HP So when did you came to Guelph? In uh what year?
LC 1918, I think it was
LC Graduated in ‘22
HP Yes, in ‘22 you graduated, yes. How did you get up to Guelph in those days? Did
you come by train or...?
LC Went by train. There were more trains. The tracks are taken up in Ridgeway, now, you know. But I’d take a train to Stratford. At Stratford you got on the main line and went back to Guelph.
HP It’s a long way that way.
LC Yes, that’s the way I got to Guelph
LC I have a grand-daughter going to Guelph, now. She’s got her own car. (Chuckling) and she drives to Guelph. There’s a lot of difference from when I sat on the old “Grand Trunk”.
HP Yeah. And you were with the class of ‘22. How many were in your class?
LC How many were in the class?
HP Yeah, approximately - would there be at that time?
LC Well, there was around a hundred - a hundred fifteen.
LC It was a good class. I had two pictures, the freshmen and I guess it’s the third year. There’s over a hundred in one - the freshman one and ninety something in the other.
LC They were good classes. What year were you?
HP I was ‘32.
LC ‘23 was a big year.
LC A lot of fellows came back from the war. And we had a very cosmopolitan group. We had a Jap that was year ‘16. He shoulda graduated in ‘16 - graduated in ‘22.
LC And year ‘19 - a lot of guys in ‘19 were in the war and came back and finished up in Guelph in ‘22.
HP You’d have a lot of people in your class from the war?
LC Yes. Yes. Very cosmopolitan group. They were there from - the Jap was year’16. Gord Clary was ‘17. My name Claus was next. Clark Cline was year ‘19. That’s where we sat.
LC Clary, Claus, Cline. He was ‘17, and he should have graduated in ‘19, but graduated in ‘22.
LC Those ‘23 fellows had quite a few - that was a big year ‘23
HP Well, who would be President then? When you were here?
LC Creelman was the President
HP He took over in 1904, I think it was
HP And yes he was 1904 to1920, yes. And was he a good President, did you think?
LC Yes. I kinda liked Creelman. He - of course we had several Presidents, but he - I think he took quite a lot of interest in the students.
HP Well, were there any important things took place when you were a student? In the school?
LC Oh, I don’t know - I guess they were all pretty much the same, the years you know. A lot of ‘em were farm boys, the students. And we had three girls, one of whom was the daughter of the Professor of Poultry.
HP Oh, yes, Graham
LC Catherine Graham. There was a Miss Hemming, and I can’t think of the other girl’s name anymore, but those three girls - I have two pictures at home and they’re always in, and
until that time they never had any girls in the Agricultural School, you see.
HP They were the first girls
LC They were the first girls - those three. Now I understand they have more graduating up here. But Catherine Graham, I always had a feeling that, she - she kinda started the thing, ‘cause her father was Professor of Poultry. I suppose, I don’t know. She was an awful
nice girl. I enquired here - some of these days - somebody tried to tell me since I’ve been up here that - they thought she had died.
HP I think she has Yes. And did you take part in any activities other than in the classroom activities?
LC Oh, the first two years, I came in late in the first place. We started in October, because I helped my father harvest corn in the first year
LC And after that then the other years begin to come back. Year ‘23 was a tremendously big year and well, it took some time before it kinda weeds out a lot of people who didn’t continue in the class. I have two pictures and a lot of those fellows never graduated of the freshman year and then the third year- and it dropped from over a hundred down to around eighty to ninety - students in those pictures. I never regretted that I went to Guelph
HP What made your decision to go to Guelph? Why’d you want to go?
LC Well, there was a county agent or a District Representative was what they called it in those areas -
LC E. K. Hanson - and he ran a short course in Ridgeway for farm boys and I got a
little acquainted with him, then I worked for a farmer over in Fonthill - that’s the place I
was thinking about. I got acquainted with the County Agent over there.
They kinda got me interested in - in more or less professional agriculture. And then I came to Guelph. And I didn’t know if I was going to make it. My father said, “You can’t go”, and then he (chuckle) went out the barn and when he came home, he said, “If Leon wants to go to Guelph, we are going to send him there. Pack his bag.” Or something like about what he said. I came to Guelph. I enjoyed it. And I got to be quite the strong boy. I played football. I was heavyweight boxing champion. And I really enjoyed my college life - you know what I mean
LC Yes, what I got. And I had a girl at Mac Hall. She married another guy, but I enjoyed her company. (Chuckle) And uh, my life at Guelph, couldn’t have been any better - you know what I mean. I got along with people. I think I had quite a few great friends – “Big Ted” Wildman - who was a good friend of mine - Horn Coon quarterback on our team, he was a McGill - or a Queen’s graduate. He came and took agriculture and he married Harriet Kennedy. And he has since died. The last I heard, Harriet Kennedy was still living.
LC Well I’m telling you a lot of stuff that you don’t
HP No I don’t - I didn’t know it at that time - no - no. It’s interesting to me to hear this. And what about other activities? Where there any other activities that you took part in - in athletics. You were in football
LC And boxing. I got to be the - they gave me a thing - I’ve going to come back to Guelph in September, you know
LC I got the letter in my bag. It’s more or less an honour - in an athletic way, you know what I mean it
HP Yeah, you’ve been chosen for the Athletic Hall of Fame.
LC Yes. Well - I’m going to enjoy that very much
LC My wife’s sister’s son - Jack Watts, who lives in Quebec, south of Montreal, he’s going to drive me up. I came up by myself this time, but he wants to come up and see this recognition.
LC And here’s my name in with four or five other fellows, but they’re in their- eighties, maybe seventies, but my gown is year- year ‘22. (Chuckle) I get a big kick out of that.
HP It seems a long while, but it’s nice to get recognized when you’re alive.
HP Did you take part in the plays or anything like that during the time you were there.?
LC No. I never got into that too much. The one thing I did do - my senior year, I got acquainted with a girl here - Gertrude McKelvey in Mac Hall. And I really enjoyed - my life at - Guelph after I met her. There were dances at Mac Hall, and she was always on the job to be with me and I liked to dance. She liked to dance, too. And I enjoyed the girl from Mac Hall.
But she married somebody else, and I married a girl from Toronto eventually.
HP Well now, did you take part in College Royal when you were in Guelph?
LC No the only thing I did - is - played football. And there used to be a bunch of fellows from - see we had a farm right on Lake Erie just east of Crystal Beach. And they had three tents on my father’s farm. We always used to call them the tent dwellers - and they had a set of boxing gloves. And I’d go down there with those guys. I learned something about boxing from them. Then I came up here, and ABig Ted” Wildman was a wrestler and I was a boxer . I said, “Ted, are you going to participate?” He says, “Well, who in hell would wrestle me?” And uh (chuckle) - I said, “I will”. “I’ll wrestle you, if you’ll box me.” And he knew all the holds
LC And he pinned me
LC And when it came to boxing, - I knew a little more about boxing than he did. And Chas. Whitelaw, he told me afterwards - he says AHank, if Ted Wildman ever hit you with some of those wild swings that he made at you - you were pretty clever with your feet - he’d have knocked you into the next county.” It’s about the words that he said to me. Of course Ted was one of the best friends I had. ‘Cause Ted - well among Horn Coon - uh George Lindala. I did kinda liked Scotty MacMillan ‘til he stole my shirt.
HP Well, what about when you were on campus - how were the meals?
LC Oh, - the meals that I had - were very good to me. There were some people that crabbed about it , but it was good food
LC Plenty of milk. I was at a training table quite a lot
HP Yes, yes
LC And there was nothing that I would say - that I could say about the meals. They were good to me.
LC Now I was brought up in a family of six children. Maybe I didn’t have the best at home. Most everything we had, we grew on the farm. You see. We didn’t spend an awful lot. About the only thing we had - we had plenty of milk and butter. We bought coffee - we
killed pigs. We had a smoke house. We smoked hams and bacon.
HP Yes, I know, you had everything you needed to eat.
LC Yes, yes we had enough to eat
HP Yeah. Well, now you graduated in 1918 - 1922
LC ‘Twas ‘22
HP Yes, you started in 1918
HP Yes. And after you graduated, where did you go?
LC Well, I went home. I did some work for the county agent - the District Representative
HP Yes, the District Representative, yes.
LC And I went over to see the county agent in Erie County, in Buffalo. I got talking to him - and he talked to me about my course at O.A.C.
HP Yes, yes
LC He said to me, “Hank, why don’t you put in an application. You have some pretty good training. You’d make a good County Agent.” So I put a thing into Cornell, that I might be interested in County Agent work. And within a month I was Assistant County Agent in Allegheny County. And then, within a year I had the County Agent’s job. They fired him and I got his job. Then I went to St. Lawrence County - as County Agricultural Agent. And then I went to the A.S.C.S.. That’s the other part of the Agricultural Programme in Washington. I was a Field Man. I had - well, from Canton to Albany like at one time. But I ended up with nine counties - and I was a supervisor - called a Field Man. And I had to see that they hired the right kind of people and met with the county committees - that they did the right work. I was a supervisor in the A.S.C.S. - Programme. And I kept that up until I retired. And I have a fairly decent retirement now. I have a good income - like you. You got more money than you ever made in your life.
HP I guess that’s right - now. Yeah
LC Yes. That’s the way it is with me
LC I talked to my wife’s sister’s son. He’s going to bring me up here. He said to me one day, “Hank, is that the amount of money you get every month?” And I said” Yeah”. AYou damn lucky bugger”, he says (Chuckle) to me. And I am lucky. I got good health., - and a lot of friends. Is this being recorded now? What are you going to do with it?
HP This is going to be put in the Library - and it’ll be there for time to come. People’ll be able to go to the Library and say, AI wanta hear that tape - I wanta hear this tape in here, on Hank Claus.
HP - And I’d like to know a little bit about Hank Claus and see what happened back when he was here.” They’ll get that tape out that day and they’ll sit down and they’ll hear it.
HP Now, this is what you’re going to hear. This is what we’ve been talking about
LC You better turn it off before I say too much. (laughing)
HP No- no I’m interested in knowing that - now you went to - you said St Lawrence District. Is that where - is Canton in St. Lawrence District?
LC Yes. It’s St. Lawrence County.
HP County. Yes, County. Yeah. How long did you work here in Ontario, before you went down there to the States?
LC Well, about all I ever did in Canada, was some School Fair work.
LC And I ran a short course in Agriculture – with young farmers this side of Kingston
LC Went down there for - I ran the whole school . The County Agent got them to come in. I - I had about ten to twelve young men, - farmers’ sons, you know. They came in every day.
(Chuckle) And I lived with an old maiden lady - she took boarders. And they apparently wanted to have some fun with her, so the guy that ran the hotel - this is what she told me, now, and I hope that this is not being recorded - she told me that this man came and told that he saw a young man go into her house at night (chuckle) And I was boarder - she wasn’t going to keep me any more. Well I laughed myself sick. I said, (Chuckle)” Well
you just say you’re glad you got that young man to come here, and he loves coming here to live with you.” That’s all there was to it you know. But this guy that ran the hotel wanted to have some fun with them and - with the poor old girl, and I just laughed myself sick to think that somebody was saying she saw me going in to see the old girl
HP (Laughing) Tell me - what’s the size of Canton?
HP What’s the size of Canton, in New York? How big is it?
LC Oh - course there’s two schools there. There’s St. Lawrence University and then there’s the Ag School - State school of Agriculture. When the students are on - it’s probably all of ten thousand people there
LC Residents, probably it’s three to five thousand - five thousand
HP Oh yeah, I see, yes.
LC It’s a very nice little village
HP And that’s how close to the Canadian border ? How close is that?
LC It’s about eighteen miles from Ogdensburg. That’s on the river
HP Well, what kind of agriculture do they have in that area?
LC Well, it’s mostly dairy now, you know and of course the seaway went through, and they thought they were going to get an awful lot of big business there. But, the biggest thing that went there well the Aluminium Company of America was there. Then there’s another company that came in, and it was about the same thing. Aluminium. And a lot of people thought it was going to be just oodles of money from the thing, but it - it was mostly all in Massena.
HP That’s another place.
LC On the river there
LC And I think farming’s gone down. That is the total farming’s gone down. The small farms’ve given up, the big farms’ve got bigger. There’s a lot of farms there now, that
milk sixty to a hundred cows - you know. It’s more than there were small farms.
HP Would they be holstein cattle, they have?
LC Mostly. There’s some ayrshires, and there’s some jerseys. There’s ayrshires around Gouverneur and Massena, a few around Canton, but holstein’s the big cow.
HP What year did you start down at Canton? When you went over to the States?
LC 1924 - I guess it was
HP Yes. I see and you’ve been there ever since
LC I’ve been there ever since. I have a nice home there and I raised a very nice daughter. She was a step-daughter, and then my grand-daughter
LC And this Jack Watts is my wife’s sister’s son. He comes over about every third week or so. I had to call him to tell him I was coming over here so he wouldn’t go there.
HP You only had one job. You really were working for the same people all your life?
LC Well - I was in Allegany County - County Agent there, then I moved to St. Lawrence County where I went from County Agent to supervising work in - in the A.S.C.S. Programme - the Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Programme out of Washington, you see - and I was a Field Man. There were about four or five of us in the State.
HP That were supervisors?
LC Yes, we saw to it that they hired the right kind of people and that they were trained and I did most of the training, myself.
LC Once in a while you got a guy out from the State office, but not very often. Well you know this has been a pleasure - you come out and see me, but I didn’t know I was going to be put on tape.
( End of tape)