DescriptionRodney Madsen (60) is interviewed by his son Nathan Rogers-Madsen (31) about his parents, Theodore and Elvira Madsen.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Rodney Madsen
- Nathan Rogers-Madsen
Recording LocationsStoryCorps Lower Manhattan Booth
- anecdotes (humorous but true stories)
- army recruiting
- cake decorating
- Danish ancestry
- Dennis Madsen
- Elvira Gladys Madsen
- family expressions
- family in-jokes
- Family Traditions
- Financial crisis
- Lake Preston, South Dakota
- Lakewood, California
- Long Beach, California
- memories of growing up
- personal experiences
- political party donations
- priming the pump
- Republican Party
- school day memories
- Sherry Madsen
- solitaire (card game)
- The American Dream
- Theodore Madsen
- Yankton, South Dakota
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00:00 You ready?
00:06 Alright, I'm Nathan Rogers Madsen. I'm 31 years old today is November 28th 2008. Where in New York City on the Lower East Side and I am here at the interviewer of my father will introduce himself.
00:24 My name is Rodney a Matson. I'm 60 years old today is November 28th 2008. I am in New York City at the present time and I'm a father of the interviewee interviewer site.
00:46 So, you know, the reason I brought you here is just to talk about your parents and growing up to.
00:57 It just sort of get a record of that. I mean obviously knew both of your parents my grandmother and grandfather but you know just to just to get it down on paper. So maybe you can talk start by talking about, you know, first off during their names and where they grow up grew up and just some basic history about the grandma and grandpa. Your grandfather was Theodore Madison middle name was Joseph. My mother's name was Alvaro Gladys Madsen her maiden name was wacker.
01:29 My dad was born in Hurley South Dakota. My mother was born in.
01:36 Pink Lake, Preston, South Dakota. Sure
01:40 Okay, and you were born in Long Beach, California? Okay. So like what happened in the interim they were born there and then what you want to know about the family. Yeah. I'm going to go back a little farther cannabis and the family my dad.
02:00 Are there family came from Denmark on a sandwich from course in Denmark?
02:06 They landed and them.
02:10 Olive Danish. It went to the same place so they may lay went to Yankton South Dakota because a lot of friends were there. That's why you have a lot of Scandinavian people there.
02:20 And ultimately that was my great-grandfather and they eventually settled in Hurley South Dakota. And that's where my dad was born and grew up and he heads six brothers and one sister.
02:41 And my mother her family, I don't know where my on my father's side. Where am I?
02:50 I knew my great my grandmother. She came from Denmark. She wasn't born in the United States. I don't know much about her family. So they both died early, so I didn't know them.
03:05 On my mother's side.
03:07 On her side, they came from Iowa and that was the hashes and in my grandfather's and my mother side grandfather. He was a wacker and he was born in, Iowa.
03:25 He bought the land in Lake, Preston, South Dakota.
03:29 And I want to see
03:32 Not all of it, even by all that cuz some of it came from my mother's the Hashi side.
03:40 Because my the Hashi side, they don't know he was a Speculator and he was very successful and they own a lot of land. So people in the family were given Land South Dakota. So my grandfather work that
03:58 My mother is
04:01 Mother she died a very young age and my mother had a sister Arlo.
04:09 And they grew up together and in Lake Preston South Dakota in the farm there.
04:14 I was going to say about it.
04:17 Do you know how they met how Grandma and Grandpa met?
04:23 I don't know. I just know that they were born married in Iowa birth certificate.
04:29 I think is Rocko.
04:32 I'm at Summit Rock something, Iowa. Okay.
04:37 Anyway the way my mother met my father.
04:44 My mother was working the farm and my father was the handyman.
04:50 So he wanted a Niner that was happening.
04:57 And then he was on the farm, but eventually they went to the Long Beach California first. My sister was born and Sherry and she was born in Lake Preston. My brother was born
05:15 In Long Beach, California, and I was born in Long Beach, California. I was born at Community Hospital.
05:23 That's what I
05:27 What brought them out? It seems like quite a long way to go from South Dakota to Long Beach.
05:36 It was the Great Depression and my dad's help it had thyroid problem and it couldn't take the cold so they moved out to that's where most people in Midwest for moving to California. Especially Long Beach by the sea.
05:58 What did he do? Do you know what he did when he got there or how he established himself? Cuz this would be around the time and World War II. Yeah, he was a welder.
06:11 They work in the shipyards.
06:15 Okay, it worked he worked as a welder for a while. During the sugar before that work for Knutson. I'm involved in making wheels. I forgot how it was.
06:28 And for some reason they went back to South Dakota.
06:32 Mampilly work farm with my grandfather. Okay, and at that point where you born yet, or
06:40 No, I was I was I was born when they came back. I was born in Long Beach and I'm about my baby and they took me to South Dakota. I know there's something better if it's a farm had no indoor plumbing and we had a pump outside. They had to pump the water for the outside. So we the people talk about priming the pump. You always had to pour water in it.
07:10 And I can remember the outdoor.
07:14 Loud house a lot. Like remember I could get very cold as is no insulation in those old houses.
07:23 And I remember that my my parents were very strongly influenced by the Great Depression. So used to tell me about the Great Depression and how them.
07:33 For them South Dakota the dust storms and all that. The dust was so bad that used to have two inside the house used to have to hang blankets to keep the dust out of the house. I had to separate the rooms in the head have blankets for the best was that bad crops were bad.
07:52 So they did that they picked a farm for a while. They went through the Great Depression. And then at the end of the Great Depression during the start of World War II they moved to Long Beach became a welder and then move back in with back and then they live there until I was in the third grade. I was in 56 we moved back to Long Beach, My mother always wanted to live in back in Long Beach. She didn't really want to go back to South Dakota. Don't ask me why they went back soda. So what why did what did your grandma like about Long Beach? The weather in Orlando?
08:31 I mean, you know other than the you version know if you know -30 degree Winters, I was wondering if there was maybe something else that no drove her to it. Funny thing is when they bought the house she will need ly want to buy the house and they have to finish buying the house and couldn't find the house because it was very hard house to find the street names changed. So what was laughing about that? So so tell me more about that.
08:59 Think they found out where it was and everything but still it's funny cuz it's very hard to house to find cuz of street names change. So the so they literally put down the cash for the house on you at the at the place where they purchased it and then they said you live on such-and-such street and in the afternoon trying to find a house.
09:21 Okay. I'm at the house I grew up in and was this the house that I'm familiar with from them in liquid on to this. Was it over to 3921 monogram? Okay for a two-bedroom one-bath, okay.
09:37 What was it like growing up with them? I mean you you view talked a little about their depression and maybe some of those values other very good parents complaints and they treated the thin on my brother my sister very, well, you know, we all were very proud of them great parents.
09:54 And and then you went to obviously school and and you at the high school. We were talking a little bit last night and maybe you could talk a little bit about you know how to do you're the teacher to influence to you and how that influenced your life cuz it is kind of interesting that you know, the grandma and grandpa were particularly. Well educated were hard workers and then you kind of took a very different path.
10:24 Whether you believe in education, so my brother was always the Pathfinder cuz he was older four years older. So he was a great role model and he and I get along very well. He's a great brother. We do a lot of things together. I am in high school. I took economics. I wasn't really you don't find a great teacher Hannaford who became a senator. I mean a congressman from California, Lakewood was married for like right now, so he's very good teacher.
10:52 And then when I went to Long Beach City College, I was going to be a chemistry major, but then I took economically at Littlefield. It was very good. And so I went and economics.
11:02 I went to UCLA and I went to Arizona.
11:05 And what is it that you you liked about economics that you know really drove you in that direction, I'd we were talking about how that relates to Grandma and Grandpa and their values.
11:19 Well the big thing and influence me, I've always passed away about the way the economy goes up and down and the other great depressions always fascinated me. And right now we're going through a financial crisis and I was expecting it and we're not going to be as bad as the Great Depression but a lot of problems were created that should not have happened.
11:41 What lessons are there that maybe Grandma and Grandpa told you about about the Great Depression that we should probably heat in today's world and stays financial crisis, really that they just it was more than value is not that much more important. My dad had a good sense of humor as you know, why is that important?
12:04 You have to be able to take life.
12:09 You have to be able to handle it and you don't have a perspective. Please some of us get too serious about it. That's something that I feel that you really passed on to me. You know, I really as far as humor goes. I really think that there are two types of people in the world are the funny in the unfunny and that's the Great Divide, you know, cuz I think it really is that great spark of life. So I got some nice Definitely, you know, I'm very indebted to your parents for as well.
12:38 I'm waiting to talk to my grandmother about grandmother strong woman.
12:46 Since her mother died head raise a family and
12:54 In those days have crashing Cruise so she had to cook for all these people.
12:59 Those days that we have a lot of men working Harvest and she was a great cook but she's very hard woman very, very strong when I should say heart and strong like she was very artistic to
13:18 Finish music and arts and what yeah, that's something I remembered in the house. So I'm familiar with which is in Lakewood next to Long Beach when it when they eventually moved and I remember her always playing on the piano. That was enough something very big. She had a spare moment in the day. She would just go and your total it out and know she was she was a good player but I don't think that was what was most important it was it was the playing and it was the time with it, you know when working things out that way.
13:51 Yeah, she was in the choir and dumb she painted and all that never was an outstanding but she enjoyed it but which was known for decorating cakes. Yes. She I remember those cakes. She she really decorated them funny enough now my girlfriend she's very into like all things wedding and one of the things that she loves cake decoration.
14:15 Well, we have enough books to show all the diagrams. Cuz today is for my mother to make those cakes making the roses in the swans and everything out of sugar. What do you think the importance of that is?
14:32 It was a lot of lovin when she did it.
14:39 Yeah, and she did a lot of them. I'll see she was always doing them.
14:46 You know one thing I recognize you don't want maybe you could talk a little bit about Grandma and Grandpa's relationship before they we go there like what was that? Like, how did they relate? How did they stay strong? They were married for many years. How many?
14:59 Too many long. I don't remember how many years over 50.
15:08 No, my dad was easy going and my mother is more than domineering time.
15:13 They got along real. Well man, and values that hold. Can you like what we're common values and how did they play themselves out in the household if they both came from the Midwest in that they had West values.
15:28 You know what? That is something that I could have reckoned remember from Grandma and Grandpa that Grandpa was really much more easy-going and then grandmother was, you know very much on the go. She was involved with the Rebecca's those sorority Social Service organization that she that was basically boundless full of energy and Grandpa was much more mellow. He was he was perfectly happy playing a game of Solitaire on the couch, you know, when watching the football game and I I was telling a little bit about it, you know, the thing that impressed me about that is just the sitting down in the the doing the taking time, you know, that's let you know. I'm trying to elicit from you a little bit of like, what is that value look like yours Midwestern values
16:19 But I think that's that's part of it and maybe you can talk a little bit about you know, what it means to take time and what grandma and grandpa taught you about that while they were they enjoyed people's company so they could take time to talk to people on Fortune today people rush around any kind act like they're very important, but they don't take the time to enjoy life.
16:42 So they would sit down and talk with people.
16:45 Yeah. That's something that you know, I really I saw a lot of you know to to I think people of my generation today. We really we look like
16:59 We need a sitting there playing a game of Solitaire by hand doesn't seem to mean much, you know, but there was something there there was something in the doing in the living in the not worrying about whatever it was your mom. My dad loved kids. Yeah. I know he loved sharing with me. I mean, that's something that I still do today either on computer forward or also in person you were saying, you know, he had a good turn of phrase for a for a solitaire and instead of cheating. What was it for Wii mods?
17:39 That's right. You can turn over a few more cards in Solitaire and just improve your odds to listen. That's not cheating. That's improving the odds.
17:47 Were there any other like phrases or why things that they would say my brother remembers them all but I don't remember the one I remember his menu. Hannah is a labor-saving device. Meaning what you can't do everything at one day.
18:07 Yeah, exactly took till till next morning. That's the labor-saving device and you can delay it longer and longer don't worry about it. And when he came back from from South Dakota that second time and move back. I think I remember and please correct me if I'm wrong. He worked as a janitor and schools or first he was a janitor than a gardener cuz you always like to work outside. My dad always like work outside. What school did he work at Long Beach Unified School District, and then they split off and so then he work for Long Beach City College. Okay, you like to be a saint man. Yeah.
18:45 And that that's pretty much what he did as you were growing up for the most part. We always like to be outside.
18:53 If we could meet us stay inside if you never have a I don't have his job.
19:00 And I could relate to that I did I definitely get that from him being a teacher, you know being on your feet rather than being an office. I'd I feel that cluster phobia of paranoia. I can definitely see a little bit of South Dakota and me even though I didn't grow up there at all.
19:20 Do you have any Traditions or anyways, or remembering your father or either, you know either grandma or Grandpa?
19:30 Well, you know that philosophically that my brother and I are completely opposite of my mother especially in politics.
19:41 But joy said wondered where she went wrong. Maybe you can tell me know when she passed on that's a story that I always thought was really great when she passed on you were going through her things you found this the suitcase. Oh, yeah. Yeah. What was that all about a big donor the Republican party. She had a lot of things sign for Ronald Reagan and
20:08 Oh my God, I love them. But I opened it wasn't just a lot of things. I mean, these were like high-level profile don't donating. Yes. I get wasn't just the I'm sending you a picture. You know, I'm sending you a picture that he may have signed. You may have set down real resume of signed three thousand of them, but grandma got one and only owner and that's kind of interesting. I think that is part of their value in the sense that
20:38 They didn't make a lot of money throughout their lives, but they say very well. That's it.
20:45 They weren't they were Savers and that's something that I think you learned certainly and not as much as them. As much as the sword. Is there anything you do like to honor them throughout the year? Like when you think about either grandma or Grandpa? Well when I teach a lot of things I teach as my father.
21:11 Modify ideas for my father
21:16 Tell me more about that.
21:23 He was more for the ordinary man.
21:27 I guess that's why I lean towards the Democratic party my brother did to those two. So that's why she said she always went wrong, but she never understood that she was from the country and you don't really need government for what you're in the city Guinea government. So in the sense that was sort of a holdover from for lack of a better term the old country. No. No, I think there's a need if you're in a ruler are you you don't need government cuz on the farm we don't need anyting.
21:59 I'm in a city. You do need government. What was your first memory that you can remember of either Grandpa and Grandma?
22:10 Kroger well, I could remember a lot of things is because of the Family Feud on my mother ice took a lot of pictures. So I saw a lot of pictures and I remember chasing the pig, you know, there was a lot of pigs in the farm. So
22:27 A picture of me chasing the baby pigs. Oh, yeah, wait wait and talk about my grandfather. Let's talk about him. Here's an interesting character.
22:38 I love being a farmer.
22:40 It's amazing that he used to cuss all the time and didn't matter if it was a minister who used to these words and everyone is stuck at the way it was.
22:51 But that he loved being a farmer so when he retired and he gave the farm to the my parents he moved into the town and he had a huge Garden huge guard Toyota Sienna car was a character have the funniest thing. We made a lot of rocks in the farm league Bowlers and he would have blown up with dynamite.
23:16 And the birds are black birds.
23:21 Someone wondered what my leg press and why someone put Dynamite on a tree and blew it up?
23:28 Well, the Blackbird settled there at night. Can you put Dynamite all throughout the tree and they blew up all the Blackbirds and was wondering why someone blew up the tree and Lake Preston South Dakota cuz there weren't many trees. I mean this was so another tree. So that's why they roasted there is no houses around anything else, but they're wondering who was the nut who blew up a tree in the middle of the night.
23:51 Yeah that I mean that is something I also see you from Grandpa to he he he he like me I think is a little looser with the with the tug at times with his brothers in that they were well known for being doing some wild things at Hurley South Dakota. He was inspired by us.
24:13 A brother Uncle Sam Sam was crazy. And I did a lot of crazy things and my father did a lot of crazy things. He got suspended and the classic one was if there's any problems that always call for Theodore because invariably was might leave my father.
24:31 It's one of the worst things that you done what has that? He and another guy gave the Xbox to the girls. But before he died that he put itchy powder on the toilet seats.
24:48 Wow, this is fetid for it. I can't save Way by principal.
24:54 Some of that translated into you. I remember you telling stories with UCLA and My Momma Crazy, no, nothing like that. But but we're there any stories that you remember things that maybe you you got from your grandfather in that way. We have some good times to use saline and I remember the time when the pressure is on so much pressure every night with serenade a 7-story building in our underwear singing.
25:26 Everyone was waiting with water balloons water balloons coming from a 7-story and really quite quite a splash. Nice nice of you you you were the one being pelted we were on a bunch of us. If our was a little crazy and what we used to do in those days work different floors. So we have the gang showers. So we used to take the doors off of them toilets and I take the towels and that put him sideways and fill it up and we'd have a big swimming pool.
26:07 A little informal backyard above ground pool. How big one
26:17 That's amazing that we had to eat a lot of stunts. But academically we were always the highest in the
26:22 In the school, so we have to break people.
26:27 I think that shows the importance of humor, you know, only this Wild Things backed up academically. You did very well surprisingly.
26:35 Is it that makes you smile when you think about either Grandpa or Grandma?
26:42 Are they were good people?
26:46 Still dying off the basic values.
26:50 That that money is not everything even though I teach about money and investing I try and tell us even though I emphasized they have to plan for retirement. However,
27:00 The main thing is you want to go your goal is for happiness and cheaper calls.
27:06 It's right that we we don't always succeed for all our goals, but we should try that if you don't thin your failure.
27:15 Yeah, I know. I think that I think that's very much. I think that's what you're talking about. When you talk about Midwestern values that the never-say-die spirit, you know.
27:31 What were their hopes and dreams for the Future 2 they have their typical of most Americans how you want to pass on the Next Generation you want to make it better? So that's why they pushed for education.
27:44 And besides my brother and I graduating just look at the kids how successful. The kids are Leslie has a Ph.D.
27:53 You have a 2 Masters and
27:57 Stacy has what she she's wife. She doesn't have her master's she will have it hard enough and she's very competitive and I in them run rowing and everything else running a competitive and you know that the grant great-grandchildren very successful and that's the American dream.
28:19 We always wait want to make the Next Generation better.
28:22 I try and tell my students there's a covenant between generation each generation supposed to help another generation. I benefited from other Generations. I'm to pass it on.
28:35 That's why I don't like the people who only think about themselves.
28:40 We've all benefited from the past. That's why we come to America.
28:47 So what do what do what is it that you see that you are doing that's passing it on to the next Generation on my dad.
28:57 I'm trying to.
29:00 At my student wanted to let you know they have to think higher I try and encourage them to shoot high. It's better to shoot High than low. I hate people winter estimate their abilities cuz we all have different abilities. They just have to find them. I say so really provoking and going and keep moving and don't get discouraged cuz we all have failures and that's one thing I always learned.
29:24 Y'all have setbacks.
29:26 The one thing that I think is kind of interesting to is the truth throughout the years through one way or another. Well, you know, I grew up is quite a pacifist but we the madsen's didn't necessarily go to war at various times. We did of course help War efforts in some ways, but maybe you can talk about 1 Grandpa Dead with a with the ships and white white perhaps he wasn't over in the trenches and who's to old is too old. Now I say so then he worked work down in the shipyards that helped out there. And then and then with you you you had respite interesting story at the end of the Vietnam War know during the Vietnam war wall. Yes during the Vietnam War was happening there.
30:19 What we actually have a pacifistic history that's on my mother's side reason. A lot of came over was the franco-prussian war try to come over.
30:34 Size of opportunity for the land in the land
30:38 Okay. Yeah, I know. I was just thinking, you know recently gave Army recruiter called me in and of course I asked me to to join up and there was very interesting trying to explain Beyond very polite language. Unfortunately, you know, I was a Buddhist and this was against my religious beliefs and but I buy wish him well and I appreciate his offer but I think that that sort of that patients that kindness that ability to relate to a lot of different people including those who may be pulled opposed to use Billy's to me. That's something I think that I got a lot from Grandma and Grandpa, you know, yeah, that's one thing. I have learned even though politically you disagree to titrate parents. I can look at the other side and let's see him as a person I can appreciate.
31:34 But they had they are people too and they have values and that you have to go in the personal level. I don't not get in the political level you you're relating to me that I have to preface this by saying that times were very different back in Grandma and Grandpa's day, but they weren't maybe the most tolerant as a general idea of people that they loved all people including those that you know during the time maybe it was okay to to think less of her whatever they didn't with their neighbors. They didn't adhere to that or no a very good. So maybe you can tell me a little bit about that. I didn't matter who they were. They always got along with people.
32:23 The read the person who was in front of them.
32:31 Even though you don't political I disagreed with my mother especially yeah, right and politically they they make might not have been at the time in favor of such Swift integration with society. That was that wasn't that my mother was just
32:54 Just typical conservative, you know.
32:59 You know they if they have this Ideal World.
33:04 But the reality was she could relate to people. Yeah, I'm one one. Yeah. No, I think that's very much it, you know, and that she really could relate across a lot of people, you know, which was necessary growing up and in Long Beach.
33:21 Like what?
33:31 What lessons you. Have you learned from your life suck just about like your life. Now. What important lessons are there from your life and values?
33:48 And I hope you know if you're trying to pass on you. Try to make the world better.
33:55 That's up the main thing.
34:00 You have to stick up for your rights and protect the country and make sure it doesn't go the wrong way.
34:08 Democracy and that's why people come to America.
34:14 Okay, and then what what lessons do you think were there for your parents life? Where there any that were were were different or if they were the same maybe how how did they play themselves out a little differently?
34:31 I don't think so. No only thing isn't political that's by basically at cuz if you look at it there so much difference between me and my parents.
34:42 I don't think you say that to you. So much. You know, I mean, I see it as a different sets of opportunities that mean you had the opportunity for Education. They didn't have him that that's going to make a pretty substantial difference. But in terms of like you said the idea of hard work that you have better men as you say, I think that's a great word. You choose the Covenant with the generations. So in the last five minutes, I'm wondering, you know, I've been interviewing you now, are there any questions that you have for me about your grandma and grandpa my relationship to them or just in general? I'm glad you were able to see your grandparents and be with your grandparents. Like I was working with my one grandparent to the other ones to hide but now that everyone's living longer.
35:35 And people have more grandparents sometimes too many of sometimes wonder but that's nice that you're able to see that.
35:46 Get the benefit of it.
35:48 Yeah, we had them your grandparents. My mother is Grandparents. I saw one of them. Also, of course, you're now your new my stepmother. Your wife's grandparents knew both of those at also on the other side. My mother's step by step father essentially his grandparents. I did I had a lot of different people looking after me. That's for sure. That's nice. Very nice.
36:33 Oh my God was about what?
36:36 511 51059 my mother was always thin. My dad was always then.
36:46 My mother was always conscious about weight.
36:52 What I remember near the way that I remember him. Of course, they're much older now. I really remember Grandpa's wrinkle that came from being outside only on more than just being a little cold weather then in the I really that thin texture of his skin, you know that just happens as a result of that. I remember sort of the tuft of hair. He had he had the the mail system of having baldness in the back but a little in front and it always sort of his gray hair up at the top of his head was always going this way and that and he always was running his hand through the hair.
37:27 But my mother was very good. Looking woman. Everyone always said that yes.
37:32 I remember from Grandma. She always had her hair very like tightly permed and and that was you know in some ways. I guess we're talking about politics that there was some sort of relationship there with me, but I also remember her glasses that are eyes and warmth that her eyes would like to dress a lot. She made a lot of her own dresses, but she also bought a life. She had a lot of clothes. Yes. She did. She did like that very much.
38:10 Some examples of your your childhood are growing up for things that your father had passed along to you on those principles and values by that. I mean, I think part of it is they're doing doing what you think is right and what I mean by that is you know why I chose to do initially art history, which is something you know. Not the most practical application, but I really followed it sort of to the the nth degree in terms of where I was going to take it manager Gallery curating really exploring that human side. And I think if you didn't have persistence that grandma and grandpa had that you have you know, I certainly wouldn't have gone there. I would have become an investment banker or something, which I guess now wouldn't have been me up there a different butt.
39:07 Educating. I mean you're an educator you teach economics at Long Beach City College. I teach special education here in New York, you know that idea of really needing to teaches. Is it really that that is something that I've been great debt for all of you have a long line of teachers. Yeah, we do.
39:32 Yeah, I think that's that's it in sometimes you know.
39:38 I think being your own person and yet still having a community side. You need you need that. If you're in the midwest in your farming you need to drive with the community. They can't be a follower Sara Lee that you have to be able to straddle both sides of the coin and realize that they're not in opposition that you need to be yourself think yourself but realize that you can reach into other people and they can reach into you to create something much bigger.