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Ken Kremer: History of My Polio – 1945

Author: Follow the Eyes

April 16, 2020

My whole life changed on July 4, 1945. I was 10 years, 2 months and 5 days old. That morning I sat on a board over the tractor hitch that Uncle Paul had made for me to ride, on Grandpa August Kremer’s “1940 John Deere B”. Whenever Dad or Uncle Paul would cover some corn, with the mounted cultivators, they would stop and tell me to uncover the corn plant. At noon, we went home for dinner. Since it was the 4th of July, Dad would always buy ice cream for a special treat. I rode with Dad to Chickasaw, to Tony Heitkamp’s Store to get the ice cream. After dinner and ice cream, I must have felt very bad because I went upstairs to bed, instead of going back out to the corn field, which I loved doing.

I must have been very sick, because Mom and Dad called our family doctor, Dr. Edgar Willke, M.D. to come to our house. Dr. Willke told Mom and Dad that I had “Spinal Meningitis and he was going to use a new drug on me called ‘Penicillin’, and he was going to prescribe a Penicillin shot every three hours, around the clock.” Doc gave a couple of shots, but he said that he could not come to the house every three hours. Dad called his sister, my Aunt Edith Kremer, who was a registered nurse who worked at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, to come to our house. Aunt Edie came out by bus to Minster, where Dad picked her up.

Aunt Edie slept upstairs in the girls’ room. My two sisters and my brother slept downstairs, so that they were not near me, so that they would not catch the illness that I had. After a day or two, Hogenkamp’s Funeral Home, with Aunt Edie with me, in their ambulance, took me to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. At that time, only Funeral Homes had ambulances. Marilyn (8), Ernest (6), and Irene (4), were sent outside, while I was loaded into the ambulance on the east side of the house, which was the dining room. My two sisters and brother, sat on the steps of the outhouse and woodshed, which was about 50 feet southwest of the kitchen and watched the ambulance take me to Dayton, where I lived for the next nine months. The only other bed that I ever slept in was at Grandpa and Grandma Kremer’s house. The same day my sisters and brother remember that two men came over to our house and nailed a quarantine sign on the house, which was a very large red sign.

After I got to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, they said, I also had Polio. I was at St. Elizabeth’s for two weeks, before being moved to Barney’s Community Center. While at the hospital, they used the Sister Kennedy Treatment on me, which I called a doghouse, over my body, from my chest on down. It was full of light bulbs, to keep my body warm. They also had a plywood sheet at the bottom of my bed, which they made sure that my feet were up against so that my feet would not curl up. They had a sheet over the plywood and the doghouse. The bright lights shined through the sheet. Sister Kennedy was a Nun in Australia, who invented this treatment. After I was home, Mom and Dad went to Celina, to hear a story about Sister Kennedy.

While at St. Elizabeth’s, I kept getting Penicillin shots every three hours, day and night. The shots were given at four different places, my two arms and two hips. I wanted the shots rotated, so each time a shot was due, I would tell the nurse where the next shot should go. A night nurse, would not listen to me and always gave me a shot in my left arm, that was the closest to her, and by morning, that arm was hurting real bad. I later found out, that many nurses were scared to death to come close to Polio patients, because they had no idea how polio spread. Mrs. Josephine Bruns of Yorkshire, Ohio told me that she worked in a Polio Hospital as a Registered Nurse and was paid time and a half for her 40-hour week, at a Washington D.C. Hospital.
After two weeks, I was moved from St. Elizabeth’s, to Barney’s Community Center, which today is Dayton Children’s Hospital. After moving to Barney’s, my Penicillin shots stopped. I heard Dad telling people several times, that I got these shots every three hours for 19 days (over 150 shots). Barney’s in 1945 was two old big brick houses connected on each floor with small hallways. Across the street was another old brick house, which was the office. Marilyn also remembers a brace shop near Barney’s. Today, all these buildings are gone and replaced by the Dayton Children’s Hospital.

While at St. Elizabeth’s, Mom and Dad visited me several times, but they had to stand in the hallway to see me. I had an office partition around me with an upper part being glass. They could not touch me or hold me. I was happy to see them, because now I knew, they knew where I was at. Polio only struck young people from babies to age 21 or 22. Many hospitals at that time, allowed no visitors. I read a story about a new bride, whose husband was not allowed to visit her, so at night, after it got dark, he took an extension ladder to the hospital and went to the second floor to throw her kisses.

While at Barney’s, Mom and Dad visited me every Sunday. In 1945, the World War II era, there was rationing of gasoline, coffee, sugar, shoes, tires, and etc. My sugar coupon book went to Barney’s. Because of the gasoline rationing, I am sure Dad had to use his farm rationing of gasoline to visit me. At that time, there was no I-75, and Dad rotated his trips to Dayton on State Route 48 and State Route 25 to visit me with their 1938 Ford 60. In the trunk, Dad would have a quart of oil, a jug of water for the radiator, and two bald spare tires. Mom also packed food for this two hour drive one way. I remember a sticker on the dash of the car, saying do not drive over 40 mph and save gasoline. There were no Saturday night masses, so each Sunday, Dad and Marilyn would go to St. Charles Seminary for 5:30am mass and Mom and Ernie would go to the first mass or to the Maria Stein Convent, which I believe, was a 7:00am mass.

Mom and Dad visited me every Sunday, but one time. It was the Sunday after my brother Carl was born on December 28th, 1945. Uncle Bill and Rose Budde visited me that Sunday and brought my five Christmas presents, which each of us kids got. Most kids at that time did not get five presents. One time my Mom and several of her brothers, went to Dayton for a cousin’s funeral during the week. I remember the nurses took me to the kitchen, where Mom and her brothers stood in the entrance to see me. Apparently, they did not want the other kids to see that I got visitors during the week. Mom was upset for a long time, that I never got a visit from our parish priest.

Most Sundays, my brother and sisters went along with Mom and Dad, but had to stay in the car, because there was no lobby for them to sit in. On some Sundays, Marilyn said that there was a small black girl, who would play around their car. Marilyn told me that Dad would stop at the airport for the kids to watch the airplanes, coming and going out. I believe the main reason was, for them to go to the bathroom. Some Sundays, my brother and sisters would stay at Grandpa Kremers or with Uncle Henry and Aunt Julie, or Uncle Lawrence and Aunt Mary or with Uncle Julius. I am sure when it was very cold or very hot, they stayed at someone’s house. Since it was gasoline rationing time, I did not have any visitors, but my parents. And also everyone was so scared of getting Polio. Today, the whole town would set up a schedule to keep a ten year old busy with visitors.

While I was gone for nine months, I only cried once. A nurse would move my arms and legs for therapy. Once she put her hand under my neck to make a quick bend of my body. I screamed and cried and she promised me that she would never do this again. She got her purse and laid down two fifty cent coins and promised that she would never do this again. These two coins would be the same as two five dollar bills today.

Every Tuesday, Mom would write me a letter telling me what was going on at home. When Carl was born, Dad wrote the letter for several weeks. The students in school also wrote me several letters as English assignments. I will always know St. John started football in 1945 because it was in almost every letter. In 1995, fifty years after I had Polio, I made copies of these letters and sent the original to my schoolmates. I got many cards and letters back saying they really loved getting them, and it brought back many memories of those days. I also copied the letters from Mom and Dad and made one for each of my brothers and sisters. I still have those letters, and today when I read them it is almost like hearing Mom talk.

After I got home from the hospital, Mom’s cousin from Michigan gave me a baseball glove for my birthday. It was a nice glove, and I could not play ball, but the other boys would all ask to borrow my glove. It made me feel like I was part of the team in some way. I still have that baseball glove. He also sent me a five dollar bill one time, which I did not spend until I was out of school.

I went back to school in April of 1946. I only went for about one month. While in the hospital, there was a lady who volunteered to come and teach us. She would ask me what I wanted to study and I loved Geography so that is what she would teach me. When I went back to school, we had a Geography test and I was about the only one who passed it. At the end of the year, the kids were all saying what kind of grades they all got, and if they passed or not. They looked at my card and asked the teacher, ‘What about Kenny?’ My card did not have any grades on it. The teacher said it was up to me, if I wanted to repeat the grade or move on. I chose to move on to stay with my classmates. Today, I don’t think that I would probably have been my choice to make, with all the regulations they have about attending so many days of school each year.

I graduated from high school in 1953. I went to work at the Celina Insurance Group. In 1954, Henry Leugers asked me if I was interested in a position at Leugers Insurance. I will always be grateful for Hank offering me that job. I have always had a love for farming, but know I could never do that physical work. I semi-retired in 1995 but still go to the Leugers office every day. I take care of Crop Insurance and continue to do about 350 income tax returns each year.

In 1957, I met Lou Ann Brunswick. We were married in 1959 and moved into our home on State Route 716. We still live in the same house today. Our three children all grew up in this house. I have been fortunate to see them move on to successful careers and lives. We also have six grandchildren. They range in age from High School Junior to college graduate and working. All seems to be going well for them as they find the path they want to follow.

My Great Grandather and my Mother’s Grandfather were born in Garrel, Germany on April 5th, 1835. His name was John Henrick Fred Budde. He drove a team of mules, pulling canal boats on the Erie-Miami Canal. When he got married, he farmed a farm between Maria Stein and Minster. His daughter died on October 15th, 1877 (age 17), his wife died March 11th, 1878, and he died September 7th, 1878 (age 43). He left three sons: Theodore (age 16), Joseph (age 9), and my grandfather (age 13). What did they all die of in a period of 11 months?

In 1945, I never got homesick, because for 4 years, all the talk was where their uncles and brothers were at in service. In 1945, nobody had a cell phone to put under my pillow. Hospitals had one phone per floor. Plastic was not made yet.

Ken Kremer

Note: I wrote this for my family in 2010, then my fingers went back and I could not type anymore.