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Legacies Project Oral History: Wanda Capps

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 9:24am

When: 2020

Wanda Capps was born in 1926 in Chicago, Illinois to Polish immigrant parents. As a young woman, Capps worked as a bank clerk and saved money to go to Illinois College, where she met her husband. After stints in Nebraska, Alabama, and Detroit, they settled in Ann Arbor with their three children. Her husband worked in a pharmaceutical laboratory. The family enjoyed traveling and spent summers in Grand Traverse Bay. She enjoys quilting and volunteering in the library at Glacier Hills Senior Living Community.

Wanda Capps was interviewed as part of an internship at Applied Safety and Ergonomics in Ann Arbor in 2008 as part of the Legacies Project.


  • [00:00:09.26] JERRY FRANCE: This is Jerry France interviewing--
  • [00:00:13.61] [BACKGROUND VOICES]
  • [00:00:19.43] This is Jerry France interviewing Wanda Capps. It is July the 17th, 2008. We're going to start off with some demographic questions that will help us sort the information we get from you. So can you please say and spell your name.
  • [00:00:36.63] WANDA CAPPS: My name is Wanda Capps. W-A-N-D-A C-A-P-P-S.
  • [00:00:43.73] JERRY FRANCE: What is your birthdate, including the year?
  • [00:00:46.55] WANDA CAPPS: March 14, 1926.
  • [00:00:50.09] JERRY FRANCE: How would you describe your race or ethnicity?
  • [00:00:56.81] WANDA CAPPS: My ethnicity--
  • [00:00:58.65] JERRY FRANCE: Race or ethnicity.
  • [00:01:00.29] WANDA CAPPS: I'm a first generation American.
  • [00:01:04.11] JERRY FRANCE: What is your religious affiliation, if any?
  • [00:01:07.14] WANDA CAPPS: None.
  • [00:01:08.72] JERRY FRANCE: What is the highest level of formal education that you have completed?
  • [00:01:13.36] WANDA CAPPS: Four years of college, bachelors degree.
  • [00:01:16.19] JERRY FRANCE: Did you attend any additional school beyond what you completed?
  • [00:01:19.40] WANDA CAPPS: No, I did not.
  • [00:01:20.93] JERRY FRANCE: What is your marital status?
  • [00:01:23.33] WANDA CAPPS: Widow.
  • [00:01:25.39] JERRY FRANCE: How many children do you have?
  • [00:01:26.77] WANDA CAPPS: Three.
  • [00:01:27.97] JERRY FRANCE: How many siblings do you have?
  • [00:01:32.01] WANDA CAPPS: Only one now. I had five. Four are deceased.
  • [00:01:40.98] JERRY FRANCE: What would you consider your primary occupation to have been?
  • [00:01:46.06] WANDA CAPPS: My primary occupation now?
  • [00:01:47.98] JERRY FRANCE: No, through your life.
  • [00:01:49.33] WANDA CAPPS: Oh, through my life. I was-- in general I was a mother and housewife. And then in my later years I was an administrator at the University. Office administrator.
  • [00:02:05.35] JERRY FRANCE: Were you paid to work there? Were you paid to work there?
  • [00:02:09.68] WANDA CAPPS: Oh, yes.
  • [00:02:10.10] JERRY FRANCE: OK. OK. We're going to begin the interview now. There are three sections. One covers your childhood and school years. The next adulthood. And then the third part will be post retirement.
  • [00:02:35.78] Where did you grow up, and what are your strongest memories of that place?
  • [00:02:40.61] WANDA CAPPS: I grew up in Chicago, Illinois. My strongest memories are that I had a very happy carefree childhood.
  • [00:02:50.00] JERRY FRANCE: How did your family come to live there?
  • [00:02:53.33] WANDA CAPPS: My family are both immigrants from Poland, and they settled on the north west side of Chicago. And hence that's why they were there.
  • [00:03:04.67] JERRY FRANCE: What was your house like?
  • [00:03:06.89] WANDA CAPPS: House was very small. Like a six room house, but small rooms. And how we all fit in there with six children and two adults, I don't know, but we did.
  • [00:03:25.50] JERRY FRANCE: Did anyone else live in the house with you other than your siblings and your parents while you were there?
  • [00:03:30.90] WANDA CAPPS: Well, that's an interesting question. Because during the Depression, my family took in another family.
  • [00:03:38.10] JERRY FRANCE: Really?
  • [00:03:38.88] WANDA CAPPS: Yes. It was a couple with two children, because they were thrown out of their house. They felt sorry for them so they lived there with us for a short time. But there we were.
  • [00:03:50.79] JERRY FRANCE: 12 people in the house?
  • [00:03:52.55] WANDA CAPPS: Mm-hm.
  • [00:03:53.87] JERRY FRANCE: Wow. OK. What was your family like then? What do you remember about them?
  • [00:04:01.50] WANDA CAPPS: Well, my father was a tool and die maker. A hardworking man. My mother was a housewife. Was a wonderful gardener. I had four older brothers and a younger sister.
  • [00:04:19.54] JERRY FRANCE: You mentioned your father worked as a--
  • [00:04:22.55] WANDA CAPPS: Tool and die maker.
  • [00:04:23.36] JERRY FRANCE: Tool and die maker. Did he do anything else?
  • [00:04:27.11] WANDA CAPPS: Well, he did all the work around the house, the repair work and painting and anything that needed repair. And interestingly enough, at that time-- remember this is in the 20's and 30's-- you had to be pretty self-sufficient. He even soled our shoes. I don't mean sold on the market, but put new soles on them and new heels of them.
  • [00:04:50.38] I remember I was intrigued with the, I guess you call them "lasts". They were shaped like a shoe. You had to put it on the stand and fit the shoe on it. He would tap the new sole on there.
  • [00:05:04.90] JERRY FRANCE: Did your mother work outside of the home?
  • [00:05:08.14] WANDA CAPPS: She did for a while when times got tough. I think she did some factory work someplace. I was very small and I don't remember exactly. But it was just a very temporary thing.
  • [00:05:24.82] JERRY FRANCE: How would you describe your relationship with other family members? So, extended family.
  • [00:05:32.71] WANDA CAPPS: Family members-- extended. I had an aunt, my mother's sister, who was very dear to me, and we'd go visit her. She lived in another part of Chicago. And I remember her. And she was very good and kind to me. She's my godmother actually. She had a very-- she felt the responsibility seriously.
  • [00:05:55.87] My brothers were kind of remote. They were older than I and they had their own thing. They were caddying or something, fixing bicycles and things of that sort.
  • [00:06:07.63] JERRY FRANCE: What was a typical day like for you when you were growing up?
  • [00:06:14.06] WANDA CAPPS: Well, of course it varies according to age. But I just got up and had breakfast and went out and played. I don't know what else there could be. Then I started school and that was-- and I walked to school. The school was two, three blocks away. And then we came home for lunch, and then went back to school in the afternoon, then back again home.
  • [00:06:50.18] JERRY FRANCE: This period of time covers from when you were born until you completed high school.
  • [00:06:55.33] WANDA CAPPS: Oh, I see. OK.
  • [00:06:58.00] JERRY FRANCE: Can you describe the chores or duties that you had at that time?
  • [00:07:06.57] WANDA CAPPS: When I was very little, they weren't-- I had to take care of myself as I got older. We didn't have any-- just help around the house when we were asked to help. I'm trying to think of what-- I never felt overwhelmed with chores. It was just part of life. You just-- if something needed to be done, you helped doing it. Carry things.
  • [00:07:36.02] Oh. Oh, wait, I did. Yes, I do-- and I don't know if this was a chore or if it was just to include me in the activities. My father in his repairing of one thing or another needed light in a special place. And he had an extension cord with the bulb with a cage around it. And I would hold that for him whenever he needed the light. And I remember he had to work in the attic or in the basement where the lighting wasn't so good. And he says, come on, Wanda, hold the extension for me.
  • [00:08:05.21] And I don't know if I was really that much help, or if he just wanted to include me in the activities.
  • [00:08:14.99] JERRY FRANCE: What were your favorite things to do for fun?
  • [00:08:21.86] WANDA CAPPS: Play around with the neighborhood kids. Go to the local park, which wasn't too far away. There was a swimming pool there, we were playing in the pool in the summer. Playing school, I remember when I was little. And one Christmas I got a slate with chalk as a Christmas present, and I played school with that. Pretended that I was a teacher, and put the lessons on the slate and erased it. That sort of thing.
  • [00:08:54.96] Played office a lot. We would turn the chairs around, I remember, and sort of look through the-- they were slotted in the back. And it looked like a teller's cage at a bank. And we would do some transactions and played that way. We didn't have a lot of toys, but seems to me we somehow created our fun stuff.
  • [00:09:20.42] And we also played sort of a sidewalk ping pong. And where the sidewalk is scored, and then there are two large blocks, you know, dividing that. That would be like the net. And we would have a tennis ball, and we would hit it back and forth, one and the other that way. So simple fun.
  • [00:09:46.12] JERRY FRANCE: This is kind of a tough question-- can you remember any interesting fads or slang at the time? So trendy clothes, or what kind of clothes did you wear? Or funny words you said? Or things you look back and say, why did I do that?
  • [00:10:06.22] WANDA CAPPS: We weren't trendy, I'll tell you that. We were not rich enough to be trendy, whatever trendy was. I had a lot of hand-me-down clothes. Not which was-- not much was talked about as far as clothes were concerned.
  • [00:10:24.78] Until we got to high school. Then that got to be a little bit trickier. And then it was the sort of sweaters that were popular, and I didn't have one. But some of the other girls whose families were a little better off had those. What else did we-- we did not wear slacks to school at that time, of course. You had to wear skirts. I can't think of what else was trendy. Sorry, I can't come up with anything.
  • [00:11:00.31] JERRY FRANCE: That's fine. Were there any special days, events, or family traditions that you especially enjoyed when you were growing up?
  • [00:11:12.67] WANDA CAPPS: Oh, yes. There was always a May Day parade in my aunt's neighborhood. My aunt's neighborhood was in another part of town. I have a Polish background-- maybe I should mention that. That's where my parents came from. And on a May Day they would hear the Polish Independence Day parade. And we would go there every year at that time. And my cousins and I would sit on the curb as this parade went by. And it was glorious. It had horses. And it had wonderful bands, and it had flag-- what did you call them? Flag gymnastics or something of that sort.
  • [00:12:00.81] And I remember that was a lot of fun. And then they would come in their regional Polish costumes, so it was very colorful, very pretty. And it was just so wonderful. It was just a fun time for us kids.
  • [00:12:16.55] And another thing when I visit my aunt-- and this is a little different. I'd visit my aunt, who lived in what I would call a Polish ghetto, because it was predominately Polish people in the area. And stay for the weekend. And I took the street car there. I must tell you more about street cars. I would stay for the week. Go on a Friday, and stay Saturday and Sunday.
  • [00:12:40.95] And in the neighborhood they would organize a picnic. And somebody who had a big truck, who was either the ice delivery man or coal delivery man, would get the word around they were going to go to such and such a park and have a picnic. Well, people would pack a lunch. And my cousins and I, with my aunt, would get on the truck. We would all get on this truck, and they would cart us over to a park, which were called Forest Preserves in the Chicago area.
  • [00:13:12.63] And we'd have a picnic and run around and play. And go around and interfere with other people's picnics, you know, as kids will. And the older people would just sit around and enjoy the outdoors and the fresh air and the grass. Because the ghetto part was really ghetto-ish. Which means they didn't have yards, and it was just sidewalks and street. Flats, they called them.
  • [00:13:41.13] And I remember that was a lot of fun. It was just-- again, it was the carefree-ness of being a kid. Nothing was structured. It was just wonderful.
  • [00:13:52.29] The other part was I mentioned streetcars. Chicago it was streetcar transportation. You got places on the streetcar and buses. And at an early age my mother would teach me what streetcar to take. You were told, because they had a destination, a little window they would show what streetcar it was. [INAUDIBLE] to that certain place. And even I think-- we were young. 10, 11, 12. We were on the streetcars-- I say "we"-- it was my cousins and I-- boy cousins and I-- by ourselves. Went all over. Went all over downtown Chicago. It was a great experience. It was great. No fear of everything. If we did anything wrong, people would tell us. But it was just great.
  • [00:14:52.47] But that's how I got to my aunt's house, who lived-- it was about an hour, 45 minutes to an hour streetcar ride to get to her house. So that was fun.
  • [00:15:01.87] And the other thing that I experienced-- I'm maybe jumping from topic or topic. But I remember being with my mother one November, and all of a sudden the streetcar stopped and everything was very quiet. And she put her finger to her lips and told me to be very quiet. And I sat there as a little kid. And after it was all over she told me, well, this is the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. And we always stop to think and honor those who died in the World War. And it was that-- we didn't need a number for the war at that point. It was just The World War. And it was just honoring those who died.
  • [00:15:49.54] I remember thinking as a little kid that everything in this big city just stopped. The cars stopped. No traffic. Just some bells rang. I was impressed. That was impressive. I still remember.
  • [00:16:08.59] JERRY FRANCE: If you think back across your childhood and school years-- so when you were born until you completed high school-- what important social or historical events took place? And how did it personally affect you and your family?
  • [00:16:28.24] WANDA CAPPS: I guess the most historical and most dramatic would be the beginning of World War II with the invasion of Poland. That would be particularly important to us because of my parents' Polish background. And I remember my mother talking about it when it happened in September 1939. And although I was pretty young, it was still a topic of conversation. And she said, we won't hear from my family now I'm sure. And it was a worrisome thing.
  • [00:17:06.22] The other thing-- and although I wasn't particularly-- no, I won't say interested, but aware of it. I remember my parents talking about the sit down strikes in Michigan. There I was in Chicago. This was so far removed from me. But my father was very aware and talked about it, and about the labor movement. I think he was on the border of it, but he wasn't totally involved. But those were, I think, two of national significance that I remember from my youth.
  • [00:17:41.46] JERRY FRANCE: Sit down strikes?
  • [00:17:42.66] WANDA CAPPS: Sit down strikes.
  • [00:17:43.83] JERRY FRANCE: What does that mean?
  • [00:17:45.34] WANDA CAPPS: These strikers would just sit down and not work. They'd get to work, but then they wouldn't do any work. These were famous. I think it was in Flint, maybe? They were called sit down strikes. Those would be in the '30s?
  • [00:18:04.71] Those two events, I guess. The invasion of Poland and starting the war, and my parents talking about the sit down strikes.
  • [00:18:16.81] JERRY FRANCE: Moving into the adulthood section, which is the largest section. It covers from after you graduated from high school until either you or your husband retired. So whichever you want to do, that's fine.
  • [00:18:41.00] After you finished school, where did you live?
  • [00:18:44.50] WANDA CAPPS: After I finished high school? Well, I lived at home. Three of my brothers were in the service. These were war years, remember. In the '40s. And one of them had been in college, which was unusual for a first generation family to have kids going to college. But he won a scholarship to a little school in central Illinois. Absolutely loved it. Did very well, worked hard. Had to leave to go to the army. So he did not finish his-- he was in his senior year, and he was called to serve.
  • [00:19:30.54] And all the time he was there he said, you're going to go-- talking to me. Well, this was really unusual. First of all, I'm a girl. First of all, I'm again of immigrant parents. This was not done. What was traditional for a girl like me was to pretty much finish high school-- well, finishing high school in some instances was even unusual. Work for a little while. Just live at home. Marry, and move right in pretty much in the same neighborhood, so you were right close by. So the whole family was close by.
  • [00:20:15.45] I kind of was a little out of step, because with my brother's urging he said, you're going to go. So when it came time, I told my mother I would like to go to college. And she said, that's fine. You can go. I mean, I think that's nice. She said, I can't help you. There just wasn't money for this sort of thing. She said, if you can do it, that's fine. The only way I can help you is that I won't charge you for living here.
  • [00:20:46.44] I tell this to my daughters and children. It was the normal thing that if an adult child lived at home, they went to work. They donated-- they gave, not donated. But they gave some money to the family for their upkeep, so to speak. For room and board output. And she said she could help me by not asking me for that.
  • [00:21:13.62] So I worked. I graduated from high school in January, and I worked from January to September in a bank, in the First National Bank of Chicago, clerking. Saved every penny, and started school in September of '44. And I worked for my room and board in college, living with a private family. And then I got a scholarship and loved it.
  • [00:21:45.02] JERRY FRANCE: Where did you move from there?
  • [00:21:48.29] WANDA CAPPS: I met my husband in college. He was a service man who came back under the GI Bill. And he wanted go to grad-- oh. This was another unusual thing. We married in our senior year, which was a bit of a jolt to his family because they don't think you should get married until you had your degree and had a job. But we married in our senior year. And as my husband explained it, funnily, he said, well there was spring break and we didn't have anything else to do, so we got married.
  • [00:22:27.45] But the reason we did that was because we knew he was going to go to graduate school. So instead of at the end of the graduation taking any time off, he would just go right from graduation on to graduate school. Which he did to Nebraska. University of Nebraska, in chemistry. And that's where we lived for the next four years.
  • [00:22:51.47] I worked in the dean's office at the University of Nebraska, because we needed the money. And we lived in student housing out there in the wheat fields. Hottest hot and the coldest cold in the world is in the state of Nebraska. And we experienced it. He got his master's degree and then his doctoral degree.
  • [00:23:16.15] Two of our children were born there. Two of our three children were born there. And it worked. We didn't have much of anything, but we managed.
  • [00:23:29.88] JERRY FRANCE: Let's hear more about how you and your husband found each other. Where and when did you meet specifically?
  • [00:23:40.41] WANDA CAPPS: Well, the school we went to, called Illinois College in central Illinois, is a small school. It was one of these that you just knew everybody. And also this-- I had the added help that he was my brother's roommate. So I had that little extra leg up. Because my brother then came back to finish his senior year. The one that he missed because he had to go to the service. And my husband was his roommate. So you know, it was a little closer relationship.
  • [00:24:13.54] And you know, that was our-- college was our kind of social life. There's enough going on there that we were together. I don't know how else I could explain it. It just happened. It was an unusual combination, because he comes from an academic family in Kentucky. Small town in Kentucky. And I am a first generation person from a big city. So it was an interesting combination.
  • [00:24:47.49] JERRY FRANCE: Tell me what it was like when you were dating.
  • [00:24:51.52] WANDA CAPPS: Well, a lot of it was activities within the college. You know, there were dances. There were movies that you go to. There was-- oh this is kind of cute. My brother and he and another guy-- I lived off campus, because I worked for my room and board in another family. They would stop by and serenade me. That was kind of nice. All three of them outside my window, on their way to the Tommy store, which was the local beer parlor. And then sometimes they would stop and have me, and I would go with them. It was just fun.
  • [00:25:42.88] It was just congregating with the other kids. A lot of it involved our other friends, our many friends in college. It was sort of inevitable, because it was so small. There were a lot of group things, I'll put it that way. There were sports, you know. We went to the football games and baseball games. We didn't eat out, so to speak, the way some people do. We just couldn't afford to do that. was That wasn't the kind of dating it was. It was mostly group and mostly college themed, so to speak. That's the best I can tell you.
  • [00:26:31.26] JERRY FRANCE: Tell me about your engagement and wedding.
  • [00:26:34.03] WANDA CAPPS: Oh. Well engagement wasn't very formal. I never had an engagement ring, so to speak. We just agreed to get married. Told our parents. My parents were pleased. Everything was fine. His parents were not so pleased. Because as I indicated before, they felt that he should have-- that getting married would thwart his way to getting his doctorate, which was what they were aiming for him. So that was a little hard to take. There was a little strain there.
  • [00:27:15.47] We were married in his hometown, because I had no church affiliation and he did in the small town. And I think it was kind of to pacify his parents a little, too. So we went there and we were married in Kentucky. It was a very simple wedding. My close family came down-- parents and brothers and sister. Sister-in-law, I believe. Yes. And he had his brothers. And that was it.
  • [00:27:55.32] I'll tell you kind of a funny story about it, though. I was-- there I am, a 21-year-old naive kid. Oh, I shouldn't say that. And I was making arrangements with the local hotel man where we were going to have-- it was a simple little town, but he was going to make the arrangements. He was kind of a prissy guy. I don't know what you'd call him. And he said, what would you like? And we were trying to arrange the meals and all that stuff. And he said, and I think I could get some Forsythia, which is a yellow bloom. I don't know if you know that. But Forsythia is bright yellow. For the tables. I'll get Forsythia. It was spring.
  • [00:28:49.36] I said, oh, that's fine. That's lovely. And he said, and what should we have for an appetizer? I said, well, tomato juice would be all right. And he said, with Forsythia? The color scheme just didn't-- wasn't right for him. So that's my little story of how I started out my unsophisticated life planning. But I proved, as the years went by.
  • [00:29:21.36] JERRY FRANCE: Tell me about your children and what life was like when they were young and living in the house?
  • [00:29:28.05] WANDA CAPPS: I had three children, three girls, all very close together. I had three children in 4 and 1/2 years, which is fine. I was young and energetic. It was just great. I loved being a stay at home mom. As a matter of fact, I look back at it as a-- I don't know. I was just lucky to be able to do it. Times were good. My husband had his degree. He got a job, so we had an income coming in. I liked being home.
  • [00:30:11.29] The time with the children went fast. As I look back at it now, those years just went so fast. I enjoyed it. I don't know what else I can say. I like cooking. They like eating. My husband was great about eating everything and complimenting my food, so that encouraged me. I sewed for the children. Read to them. I loved going to the library with them. I loved doing creative things with them. And they enjoyed it. I don't know what else I could say about staying with them. I liked being home. It was just a pleasure.
  • [00:31:03.79] I forgot to mention that after my husband finished his graduate work and got his doctorate in chemistry, he got his first job in Alabama. It was in fiber chemistry. And that was a big move. It was different. It was a different life. I remember-- this is again in the '50s-- to move from the north to Alabama, it took a little getting used to. Took a little getting used to. I'm not revolutionary enough to have taken part in anything that was going on in the South at that time. But it was bothersome. And it was a different life.
  • [00:31:55.02] And the women our age, who were Southern women, led different lives. They very often had two helpers in the house-- one that they called the nurse, who took care of the children, and then they had the cook, who helped with the housework and the cooking and the cleaning. Well, this was a whole new world to us. You know, us, I mean we Northern women who came down there. I didn't have anything like that. I did it all myself.
  • [00:32:32.96] And another thing is they play bridge a lot. And to this day, I do not play bridge because down there, those young-- by young women, I mean our age women, which were in our 20s-- would go off and play bridge in the morning. Have lunch where ever they were playing bridge. And play bridge in the afternoon. And they tried to get us to get in there and play bridge with them. And I said I would not get roped into that kind of life. I did not like it. To me it was a waste of time. Which I know it isn't. It's a good game. People enjoy it. It takes brains. But I would rather have been home baking a cake. To this day I don't play bridge.
  • [00:33:18.01] JERRY FRANCE: You mentioned that you did work outside the home at one point. Can you tell me about what you did and what life was like when you were working?
  • [00:33:32.22] WANDA CAPPS: OK. After Alabama, we moved to Detroit, where my husband decided to change jobs and went into pharmaceuticals. And we live in the Detroit. After Detroit, we moved to Ann Arbor. The laboratories, which were in Ann Arbor. The children were in school and I was still involved with all the children activities-- the scouts and the homeroom mother and everything that it took.
  • [00:33:57.25] When my youngest daughter was in junior high school, I decided that I know that I'm going to be bored to death when they're all gone or something. And they'll move on to something. I decided to look for a job. So I got a part time job at the University of Michigan, working in the conference department. Working when they had conventions or something like that at the registration desk. And that was just spotty work-- two days a week, maybe three days a week. And then a job opened up where I could work half time, so I took that. And then when the youngest girl was off to school, a full time job came up and I did that. And it was office work.
  • [00:34:44.29] And then I changed from that job to the graduate school dissertation office, which was an office administration job. And I took it. I had to learn a lot with that one, because it was a different kind of work. Enjoyed it and stayed with it for about 10 years. And that's it. Stayed with that job, and then retired.
  • [00:35:16.09] JERRY FRANCE: What did your family enjoy doing together when your kids were still at home?
  • [00:35:20.50] WANDA CAPPS: Oh. We would go-- my husband's family had a property up on Grand Traverse Bay. And every summer we would go the entire both of August up there when they were young. And we all loved it. It was kind of rustic living, but it was pleasant. And the kids had the beach, and they had rocks, and they had snakes, and they had the woods. And they could go pick cherries, and they could go walk around and pretend whatever they wanted to pretend to do. And we had the fireplace. And even back then we didn't have electricity in that cabin. We had lanterns, so they got used to managing lanterns. And that was pleasant. That was fun. A nice family memory thing. And that was every year, we'd go up for the entire month of August for long time. Until they started their jobs or were off to school, that was decreased.
  • [00:36:27.64] We did some traveling with them. Not a lot. Mostly it was just that going up north. We took one camping trip with a trailer up to the Northern Peninsula. We did that. I took them once, without my husband, just the three girls and I, we went to Washington DC. They still talk about it to this day, how we did it all on our own. And we did some camping and some motel. And we went to Washington DC, and we climbed the Washington Monument-- every single step. All four of us-- the three girls and I. Which they don't allow anymore I don't think.
  • [00:37:05.44] But they remember that very fondly. And I'm so glad I did that, because it was a little-- just mom and the girls, having fun. What else did we do? They liked to cook with me. I taught them sewing. They can all do that. That's it.
  • [00:37:34.55] JERRY FRANCE: What were your personal favorite things to do for fun?
  • [00:37:38.81] WANDA CAPPS: Personal favorite things? Oh, my. I don't know. I guess it was being up north and exploring things and learning how to make jam. And personal favorite-- good grief. Just being with the family, I guess. Fun. Going to museums. Ah!
  • [00:38:18.98] And I would try to go every year, at least once. Pack the children in the car and go to Chicago to visit my mother. By that time she was a widow. And go visit her, so the children would visit their grandmother. Yes. And when we were there, we would go to various things in Chicago, the various museums. And they bring that up once in a while. The great Field Museum, Museum of Natural History, I think. And the art museum. And we did a lot of that sort of thing. That's right. I remember that.
  • [00:38:56.02] SPEAKER 1: Jerry, we've got two minutes left.
  • [00:38:57.34] JERRY FRANCE: Two minutes? OK. I'll ask one more and then we'll switch out.
  • [00:39:04.70] Can you remember any interesting fads or slang at the time? Perhaps what funny things your kids did, or how their clothes changed?
  • [00:39:15.10] WANDA CAPPS: Oh, with the children. Oh, yes. Oh dear, everything was "boss". Is that a term? Yeah.
  • [00:39:24.56] SPEAKER 1: I've heard that before.
  • [00:39:25.85] WANDA CAPPS: "Boss." Yeah. Other thing is shirts used to have this little loop in the back, and the thing was to tear those off of people's shirts and collect them to see how many of the little loops you had. They did that. What other slang expression? Of course "cool" was a long-- that's an old expression.
  • [00:39:53.28] Of course mini skirts were popular somewhere in there. Real short skirts. And it was only during their grade school, maybe, where girls were permitted to wear slacks to school. Because it was just skirts during all that time. So they started wearing slacks. Gee, I can't remember any. I'd have to ask them. Remember what's in style. No. Nothing that comes to mind. I'm sorry, I wish I could be a little more culturally adept here.
  • [00:40:43.84] JERRY FRANCE: All right. Were there any special days, events, or family traditions that you especially enjoyed during your adulthood?
  • [00:40:53.91] WANDA CAPPS: During adulthood? Adulthood, meaning after I graduated from high school on?
  • [00:41:05.76] JERRY FRANCE: Until retirement.
  • [00:41:06.90] WANDA CAPPS: Oh. That sort of thing. Well, when we moved here to Ann Arbor, we had a wonderful circle of friends. And I enjoyed them. We would get together for events-- meals and that sort of thing. We had a interesting little group of-- how many couples were there? Four, five couples. Called the Musical Group. All of us enjoyed different kinds of music-- some classical, some jazz, some folk. And we would share. You know, get together and listen. And it started out being quite serious-- sit down and we'd listen to each other's records. They were records at that time. Remember records? You don't know records.
  • [00:41:56.78] And then we decided, well, we ought to have a little snack with that. So afterwards we would have coffee and a little snack. And then we said, well, why don't we have potluck? And it ended up being not so much music as it was eating. Getting together and socializing and eating. So it was great fun. They were very close and dear friends for years and years and years. And we got together once a month. So that's nice.
  • [00:42:24.44] One of the things I've discovered as I get to this age is the importance of friendship. Friends. I don't mean just acquaintances that you know people. But really close friends that you could share things with. And we were lucky-- I was lucky-- to have that in my adult life. And actually even in my college life. And I also had the benefit that my husband and I both went to the same school, so we had the same friends, the same memories. So we had those close friends. Friendship is almost more important sometimes than relatives, you know? Than being related to siblings and that sort of thing. There's something different about that kind of association.
  • [00:43:23.59] I'm straying from your question, which was what were the events--
  • [00:43:28.88] JERRY FRANCE: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions that you especially enjoyed during your adult life?
  • [00:43:35.15] WANDA CAPPS: Yes. I like Thanksgiving. Wherever it was, whether it was at our house or we went someplace. Sometimes we'd join my husband's family, sometimes my family in Chicago. Sometimes just we would have people in. There's something about that particular holiday that I liked the best.
  • [00:43:55.48] JERRY FRANCE: When thinking back across your adult life from high school to retirement, what important social or historical events were taking place, how did they personally affect you and your family?
  • [00:44:12.83] WANDA CAPPS: The war ended, of course, when we were in college. That was a big one. Trying to think of what else. Oh, my. Historical events. I remember sharing the excitement of the rockets going up into space with the children. First of all, the Russian one, the Sputnik. And I remember they did a lot of drawings on that. For some reason that was-- well, it was because it first. And the kids enjoyed that. The girls enjoyed that, because we talked about it a lot. My husband talked about it a lot.
  • [00:45:09.30] Trying to think of what other events. I'm sorry.
  • [00:45:19.49] JERRY FRANCE: That's fine. Here we go. This is the later life section, so beginning from when your husband retired-ish and when the children left the house kind of time. So you can explore those if you want.
  • [00:45:41.02] Tell me about any moves you made from the beginning of this section until your decision to move to Glacier Hills.
  • [00:45:51.34] WANDA CAPPS: Well, we lived in the same house-- all three girls went to college and it was just the two of us. And it was at that point where we did a lot of traveling. We had no more tuition payments to come up with. So we did a lot of traveling. It was wonderful. Eye-opener. Just some of the best years we've had together were at that time when we traveled together.
  • [00:46:19.81] And my husband was very interested in photography and got very good at it. And not just taking pictures, but really had a good artistic eye. But we traveled in many, many places. And-- oh, yes! This was kind of fun. I got back to the farm in Poland where my mother came from.
  • [00:46:44.21] SPEAKER 1: Oh, wow.
  • [00:46:45.16] JERRY FRANCE: Wow.
  • [00:46:46.00] WANDA CAPPS: Yes. I thought it out, and she still has relatives there. A brother who is using that farm. And I got there.
  • [00:46:57.13] JERRY FRANCE: So you saw your uncle?
  • [00:46:59.03] WANDA CAPPS: I saw my uncle.
  • [00:46:59.74] JERRY FRANCE: For the first time?
  • [00:47:01.06] WANDA CAPPS: First time. Oh, yes. And a bunch of cousins and everything. And they were just wonderful to us, because it was an honor to have an American visitor. They were just splendid. They were out there on the farm, can and I saw all those things that my mother told me about-- the valleys, because it's down in the Carpathian Mountains. It's a beautiful area. And she talked about going into the forest to pick mushrooms when she was little, and the valleys. And at Christmas time they'd go to midnight mass, and people would come from different directions. Singing. And all these voices and songs blending in the valleys.
  • [00:47:41.68] And it was wonderful. Yeah, that was a great trip. And it was-- my Polish isn't it as good as-- Polish is my first language, actually. It used to be. But I'm not good at it anymore. But I had to translate for my husband, because he of course didn't speak any. It was exhausting to translate his English into Polish, And their Polish into English so he would understand it. All he had to do was sit there and just kind of smile while they put the glass of vodka in front of him. And I had to do all this work. But it was wonderful.
  • [00:48:14.29] But we also did a lot of traveling in various parts of the world. And one of the trips was fun, because my daughter-- this was when she was still in college, actually. Her junior semester in Greece, one of them. And we met her there. And she knew just enough Greek to get around and do things. So we traveled with her for a week, and it was fun. It was a nice experience. So that was great.
  • [00:48:44.24] And then my husband became ill, and I was occupied with him. He was still in the house. And after he died, I had to make a decision about whether I could stay in a good size house, which was hard on me, or figure out something else. And Glacier Hills was the answer.
  • [00:49:10.69] JERRY FRANCE: Do you hope to live here for the remainder of your life?
  • [00:49:14.90] WANDA CAPPS: Do I hope that I live--
  • [00:49:17.61] JERRY FRANCE: Do you want--
  • [00:49:18.77] WANDA CAPPS: Oh, yes. Yes. Except I realize that it is an inconvenience for my children. Two of them are in Arizona and one is in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is a little bit closer. So if there are any major decisions that would maybe have to be reached if I get very ill or can't answer for myself, it's hard for them to do this long distance. And I know that this is not fair to them. So maybe if I get to the point where I need more attention, or I'm incapacitated in some way, I would have to move. And I would just have to accept that reality.
  • [00:50:03.78] I wouldn't like that, because part of the reason that it's nice to be here is that I've been able to maintain my Ann Arbor friends. And again, see, friendship. I'm bringing that up all the time. And make new ones here. It's just a nice combination for me now. But as I say, I've got to be real about it. It may be that I may have to go somewhere else.
  • [00:50:30.34] JERRY FRANCE: How did family life change for you when your husband stopped working and all the children left home? You mentioned you traveled. But day to day, how did it change?
  • [00:50:46.49] WANDA CAPPS: It didn't change much. You sort of ease into it. The children, they leave when they're going to school. They come back for a while, so it's kind of a gradual thing when they leave. During that time, two of them-- all three married at various stages. So when they married they definitely left. They were completely gone. I don't think it changed. How did it change? There were two of us. That was OK. Not much.
  • [00:51:33.71] JERRY FRANCE: How has your life changed since your husband passed away?
  • [00:51:39.47] WANDA CAPPS: Oh, considerably. Considerably. I've had to make all the decisions myself. There's nobody to bounce some of these thoughts and ideas against. Even like the triumphs, you know? When the grandchildren do something great, or when one of them graduates from college Phi Beta Kappa, you know? It would be wonderful to share that with somebody close by. You don't want to brag about it to your friends and neighbors. That's not cool. That sort of thing. Sharing these kind of triumphs, or even some of the sad things with somebody. That's the one thing you miss the most.
  • [00:52:37.57] Making all the decisions on my own. Although I feel pretty good about that. That's given me kind of a strength that I can do it, you know? I've had to sell a house and empty a four story house-- basement, two stories, attic-- full of things. And I've accomplished that. I've been stricken with this MS late in life, so I've had to cope with that on my own. But again, I still have that circle of friends that help me and support me.
  • [00:53:19.85] I sometimes think that I'm not as-- I'm not as included in social circles because I don't have a spouse. There are some social circles where it's couples, and I'm not a couple. So I realize that I'm excluded there. But that's OK. That's all right. I have friends and I have plenty to do. And I don't need all that much social life.
  • [00:53:50.35] I think the hardest thing is that sharing. That's the toughest.
  • [00:53:58.05] JERRY FRANCE: What is a typical day like here at Glacier Hills?
  • [00:54:02.10] WANDA CAPPS: Typical day. Typical day is getting up. And I do everything slowly, everything takes me a little longer than it used to. And I have to accept that. And I can do any number-- I go to an exercise class twice a week, and then I go to the swimming pool on Fridays. I will get up and fix my own breakfast. I prepare my own meals. Here they do it differently. Because I live alone. Then I'll sit down and I'll do some sewing, because I'm a quilter. So I quilt. Do you know what quilts are?
  • [00:54:46.29] JERRY FRANCE: Yeah.
  • [00:54:46.59] WANDA CAPPS: OK. Maybe I'll sit down and pick up the crossword puzzle and see how much more I can do about it, whether my brain-- if you look at the crossword puzzle and you can't get the answers, you put it down and then you pick it up an hour later and there the answer is. It's like your brain's computing it independently. I'll plan to see what needs to be done. I don't know. Can't think of it.
  • [00:55:18.10] One day I work in the library here for about an hour and a half to shelve the books and that sort of thing. Then there's lunch. And then I read-- I'll read something. And then I nap. All my friends know 2:00 to 4:00 is my downtime. That's when I'm quiet. I don't always sleep. It isn't a matter of sleeping, it's a matter of just being quiet. Just of having a meditating time and quiet time. And I find that restorative. It's helpful.
  • [00:55:58.69] And then I read the newspaper. Maybe scooter down and visit somebody. That's it. Just body maintenance, doctor appointments. That sort of thing.
  • [00:56:19.08] JERRY FRANCE: What are your favorite things to do for fun?
  • [00:56:27.45] WANDA CAPPS: Personal things to do for fun? Visit with my friends. I have a group of women friends from Ann Arbor who are all quilters. And we all get together, and that's fun. That's fun because there's a nice exchange of everything. Not only quilting ideas, but other ideas, too. I like that. That's a nice social contact for me.
  • [00:57:03.64] I love to read. Always have something reading. I wouldn't call it fun-- I don't know. Being interviewed is fun.
  • [00:57:16.23] JERRY FRANCE: Gotcha. Are there any slang terms or unique social customs here at Glacier Hills?
  • [00:57:24.77] WANDA CAPPS: Slang terms?
  • [00:57:25.99] JERRY FRANCE: Or social customs.
  • [00:57:32.37] WANDA CAPPS: That's a hard one. I can't answer that. I don't have an answer to that.
  • [00:57:41.75] JERRY FRANCE: Are there any special days, events, or family traditions that you especially enjoy at this time in your life?
  • [00:57:50.66] WANDA CAPPS: Yes. I enjoy grandchildren weddings. Because when I go to a grandkids' wedding, I am the queen dowager, and I love it. I'm taken care of, and it's just something special. And the fact that I've lived long enough to see that. And I must tell you something, which I will share with you, I am awaiting any moment now to be a great grandmother of twins.
  • [00:58:22.84] JERRY FRANCE: Oh wow. Congratulations.
  • [00:58:24.41] WANDA CAPPS: Thank you. So that's the sort of thing that's fun for me. To see life go on and things happen. There is something, yes. When you say what brings me pleasure, the achievements and the activities of the grandchildren I think are the things that bring me pleasure and are enjoyable. They're all doing interesting things. And it is just great. You know, I've got one in the Peace Corps, a granddaughter in the Peace Corps in Panama. That sort of thing. I've got a grandson who just finished college and he's in France working with a camp with English immersion kids. Another one who's a paralegal.
  • [00:59:10.36] That's the kind of thing that I think is fun for me. I kind of live vicariously almost with those experiences. And they're so interesting. I have very bright grandchildren.
  • [00:59:25.38] JERRY FRANCE: When thinking back across your later life, what important social or historical events were taking place, and how did they personally affect you?
  • [00:59:48.47] WANDA CAPPS: All I can say is the ending a World War II probably affected me the most. Because it meant that my husband, then, was out of the service. He was in school when I met him. So that unfolded a lot. It was at that time where the country was in good shape, you know? So it was beneficial for us who were just starting. I think that's all I can say about an historical event.
  • [01:00:23.88] JERRY FRANCE: When thinking back across your entire life, what are you most proud of?
  • [01:00:33.78] WANDA CAPPS: My children I think that they've done well. They're productive, interesting, fine women. And I think I could take some credit for it, dog-gone-it.
  • [01:00:58.38] JERRY FRANCE: What would you say has changed the most from the time you were our age-- so high school-ish-- until now?
  • [01:01:08.79] WANDA CAPPS: Has changed in the world?
  • [01:01:12.27] JERRY FRANCE: Yeah. Just what has changed?
  • [01:01:16.92] WANDA CAPPS: I think the opportunities and the freedom for young people. I think in our case, it was pretty much a standard scripted role that you finish, you go to school, you get married. You know, it was just a way it was done. I think the freedom that the younger people have now is enviable. The things that a person can do. The fact that even when you get jobs, you don't stay with that. You move around more. That mobility I think is enviable. Because it opens up so much for your life.
  • [01:01:57.38] We were pretty much locked into certain things. Not that it was bad. It was OK. We had a good life. It was fun. But it just makes life more interesting, I think. I think that's the biggest change that I see. That is wonderful for kids, for young people.
  • [01:02:18.49] JERRY FRANCE: What advice would you give to our generation?
  • [01:02:27.60] WANDA CAPPS: Spend some time with your parents and grandparents. Do exactly what you're doing, listening to their stories. Because that's the only place you're going to learn about those things. Keep doing what you're doing. I think young people are absolutely terrific. I love being around them.
  • [01:02:53.53] One of the things that I envy-- why I say listen to your grandparents-- is that I regret that I didn't spend more time with my parents and listening to their story. Because it was unique. Well, I won't say it was unique. It was-- a lot of people like them who had emigrated and came here to try to do well and educate themselves. But I didn't really learn a lot. I know what they did, but I wish I talked to them more about how they felt about things. Knowing step by step facts is different from, how did you feel when something happened? How did you react? I wish I had talked with them more that way. And I regret that.
  • [01:03:40.02] So when you're talking with your parents and grandparents, it's nice to get the facts, yes, you were here at a certain time. How did you feel? What did it make you do? Did it change your mind about anything?
  • [01:03:58.59] JERRY FRANCE: Is there anything else you'd like to add that we haven't talked about?
  • [01:04:07.38] WANDA CAPPS: I don't think so.
  • [01:04:09.96] JERRY FRANCE: All right. I would like to hear if you could share a little bit more about Alabama. When you were down there in the '50s, how did that go?
  • [01:04:23.28] WANDA CAPPS: We were there in the '50s. There was some stirring of racial problems, but it didn't affect us. Again, that's sad. Because we were comfortable in what we were and what we were doing. There wasn't anything horrible going on at that time. And especially in the Decatur-- it was in north Alabama.
  • [01:04:59.11] I had a woman who worked for me-- oh, that was something. Yes, we Northerners who came-- when I say Northerners, we came down because there was a new chemical plant that set up. There were a number of people from the North who had finished college and were employed there. So there were a bunch of us. And we raised the daily salary of the cleaning ladies and were criticized for it. Because they were earning something like $2.50 a day, I don't know, and we gave them $10.00. I don't remember. But it was just-- for the Southern people there, we were ruining the economy, they thought, because we had raised the salaries.
  • [01:05:59.96] We were not in touch with anything that was going on. And I regret that. I regret that we didn't-- it was OK. No. It was segregated.
  • [01:06:24.49] Oh, I do remember going into a store and they had colored and white fountains. And it bothered me, but I didn't do anything about it. Because that was it. That was the culture. I didn't say-- I wasn't that socially strong enough to say anything about anything. Although I thought to my mind, this is ridiculous. You know, it's the same water. Why do this? It didn't make any sense.
  • [01:07:00.76] Go to the movies-- that's right. You're bringing back memories. We'd go to the movies-- white people on the first floor, colored people in the balcony. I realized there was something goofy about this, but obviously didn't do anything. But what could I do? There was no movement there. There was no organized push to make any changes. Not in that community at least. So that's all I can say about what it was like.
  • [01:07:41.91] JERRY FRANCE: Is there anything you want to add? Any questions?
  • [01:07:45.14] SPEAKER 1: I'd like to hear about your childhood as a first generation American. How did having immigrant parents affect your life?
  • [01:07:57.26] WANDA CAPPS: It did. It's interesting you brought that up. I did feel, when growing up in grade school and some in high school, a little bit inferior. My parents didn't speak English properly. They spoke with an accent. We ate this funny food, which is now gourmet.
  • [01:08:27.57] Yes. There were enough people who were Americans, you know-- to me their life was different and better, and everything was better than we. We were a little bit inferior. We weren't quite right. We were quite funny. Yeah. And that's too bad. That's too bad. Because I think back and I think back, gee, that really enriched my life. I had an opening to something different than anybody else did. But I didn't see it. You don't see that as a kid. As a kid you want to blend in. You want to be-- yeah. Yeah. It took me a long time to get that out. A really, really long time.
  • [01:09:16.81] But you're right. You bring up an interesting point. I did have that feeling of not being quite like the other kids.
  • [01:09:26.72] SPEAKER 1: How were you different? What differences did you notice?
  • [01:09:33.89] WANDA CAPPS: Well, the speech-- not mine, but my parents' speech. And you'd go to a girlfriend's house and her parents spoke English properly. Oh, and here's a story. Gosh, you really bring up the memories. When my mother cooked and prepared, she prepared proper meals. And I was at my girlfriend's house one day-- they were all American. And she said, you can stay for supper. And they had waffles for supper. Waffles! I thought this was wonderful. See, this is the way Americans eat, not the way we ate. We had probably pork chop and potatoes and cabbage or something. That sort of thing.
  • [01:10:26.04] So it was-- yeah, there was that feeling, again, I say that slight inferiority. Not quite right. Not quite right.
  • [01:10:37.18] SPEAKER 1: Were there any special traditions or anything that you guys had that were uniquely from your country?
  • [01:10:47.71] WANDA CAPPS: Yes. My mother tried to carry out some traditions. We were not a religious family, but she did like the traditions, the cultural traditions, usually associated with religious holidays. So she would carry those on. You know, like going to a midnight mass at Christmas time. And that was really kind of pleasant, because we got to stay up late. And if it snowed, it was fun to walk in the snow to go to church. And that was nice. That was a nice tradition.
  • [01:11:25.15] Certain foods, and the way she cooked. She'd make-- do you know what perogies are, which are dumplings?
  • [01:11:35.45] SPEAKER 1: Yes. I'm Polish, too.
  • [01:11:37.42] WANDA CAPPS: Oh, OK. She'd make those. And she'd roll this dough out on the table. I mean, big on the kitchen table, like this. And put the things in there and fold it over, make those up. And give me a little bit of dough to play with. And she'd cook that up. And that was fun.
  • [01:11:56.70] And she sang. She sang some of her Polish folk songs and that sort of thing while she worked with me. What other traditions? Weddings, always. When there was a wedding, those are great. Those are fun. Those are happy memories. And we went to those, because there was a lot of eating and dancing. And when we were kids they would sprinkle soap flakes-- not grimy things, but flakes-- on the ballroom floor to make it slippery. And we kids would slide on the floor. Just go run and slide and run back.
  • [01:12:41.11] And the wonderful part of how children were accepted and included in social events in the Polish community. In weddings, you didn't just invite the couple. The family was invited and the kids went, and we went. Any parties, any celebrations, we were included and accepted. And we were part of it. And you miss that when you're growing up. It changes. It changes. That was fun.
  • [01:13:22.50] SPEAKER 1: Well, I think--
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Immigrants & Immigration
Polish Food
Great Depression
Flint Sit-Down Strike
World War II
Illinois College
Carpathian Mountains
Glacier Hills Retirement Center
Oral Histories
Legacies Project
Wanda Capps
Chicago IL
Lincoln NE
Grand Traverse Bay