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Russell's Stories

Russell remembers meeting a young man destined to become a World War 2 Hero


As a grateful American on Memorial Day, it dawned on me that I met one of our heroes of World War II that fought and died in the Pacific Theater of combat.    


I was born on October 2, 1938, a bit too young to enlist after Pearl Harbor. ‘Gub’ Larson was not too young, and the battle of Guadalcanal did take him along with far too many others from Spring Valley and America.    


I was four years old.  Gub and my father Rex Pence were friends.  We lived at the time in the house that I was born in on the west hill of Spring Valley.  


 I was ready for bed, but mother and dad kept me up to meet someone.  There was a knock on the door and when dad opened it a man and a woman came in.  It was Gub Larson and his girlfriend who had dropped by to visit and to meet me.  They came in and after introductions and small talk (I was pretty small at the time) I was put to bed.   


In later times I found out that Gub was on his way to serve in the Pacific theater of war.  He lost his life to a sniper in the Guadalcanal campaign, killed (as I understand it) while retrieving water for his unit at a watering hole.   


I was of course too young to understand then, but it leaves me with a hollow place in my heart.  My life would go on as I grew up, but any future that he and his girlfriend might have planned was never to be for this young man.   


That is the experience as I recall it.  It is factual within the framework of my seven plus decades of remembrance.  It is written as a memorial, however inadequate, to reach out across the decades to Gub and those that gave so much.   


There is a memorial at the Spring Valley convalescing home out by the village park on highway 29.  Grub's name along with way too many others is carved in the monument.  


Note: Any information on ‘Gub’ would be appreciated.  For instance, his full name, his unit, was he army or marine, and so on. I would like to hear from anyone that has information in order know more, especially his full name which as a child I never knew.  I have researched it a little bit, but …   My email address is

Russell Pence, Class of '56 has written a number of stories to post on our Web Site. His most recent: The Spring Valley Line which tells about the Spring Valley Depot, ramp, and replacement of the venerable steam engine.

The Spring Valley Line

by Russell Pence

Posted December 16, 2020


I grew up on the hillside. The building is the depot. My grandfather Pence was the depot agent there for the first two decades of the twentieth century. He built his house on that hillside with cement steps leading down to his ‘office’. My father Rex Pence was born and raised in that house, which he inherited. I spent my teen years there also until I graduated HS at seventeen and enlisted in the USN.

Check out this link for additional info:

While I served my enlistment the Puffer Bellies were replaced with diesel engines. That diminished the magic of the whistle way up the valley at Madison’s flooring mill railroad crossing that let us know a steam engine would be chugging around the corner shortly.

Ah yes. All aboard.

Posted September 28, 2017

The Golden Years

by Russell Pence


Ahh yes – the golden years.  Let me tell you about my golden years. 


I finally had to have my left knee replaced.  I have been richly blessed with a long and healthy life and am not complaining mind you.  It’s just that my left knee decided some time ago that if I was going to retire, so was it. 


OK.  I got a lot of good mileage out of my left knee.  And my right knee too.  But now that surgery is schedule on its twin, my right knee is complaining about how it wants to retire as well.  The handwriting is on the knee, er, wall. 


An unrelated manifestation of the golden years in my case is a loss of balance.  I tend to tip over more as time goes by.  My dad had that gift as well, but it was much later in life and not as pronounced.  Because it seems that it might be an inherited blessing I shared it with my little brother who is at the threshold of his very own golden age.  I expected a remark such as “Old news.   You were always slightly unbalanced”.  Much to my surprise he said he was experiencing some of that as well, but he could still target where he fell when he tipped over.  Cracked me up.  There is hope for that boy yet by golly.  Wish he was not so far away – I would give him a good old fashioned knuckle rub!


Of course there are the standard selections from the menu of aging, and I share some of those with you.  I would guess some of you may have been introduced to my buddy Arthur Ritus.  But that is too mundane to write about, so I won’t even mention it.  Oh, wait … silly me – I just did.  Didn’t I??


That reminds me.  My short term memory is not what it used to be either.  Increasingly I will walk from one room to another and have to stand there to recall exactly why I made the trip.  Sometimes I have to threaten myself with a trip back to the other room to trigger my memory.  It is getting to be more of a problem, and I suppose eventually I will not remember that I came from that other room.  Did I mention my buddy Arthur Ritus??  Just wondering.


When I have the occasional bout of memory fogginess I tell those that I am conversing with that I have a good memory, but it’s short!  I used to say that I have a photographic memory, but I am out of film. People my age get it, but the younger set will give me a courtesy laugh out of respect for the elderly, then ask me “What is film?”  Seems they only know digital cell phone memory. 


My wife takes good care of me.  She is coming along a few years behind me and is really sharp.  But we have noticed on occasion that she does the “forget what I came in here for” trick.  That’s scary.  She is my retirement and has to stay sharp while I drift towards the Golden Sunset.


One of the rich blessings bestowed upon me has been 20/20 vision for over half of my life.  Mid life I started noticing eye strain when reading for an extended period of time.  That has advanced over the years of course.  I still have eagle eyes, but now need my glasses for reading and such.  Squinting is now to no avail.  That’s not funny and I don’t know why I included it. 


Actually I am enjoying the new bright moments in my golden years.  There is much to laugh about, and laughter is the elixir of life.  I particularly enjoy a good laugh about myself, and believe me there is much good material there for comedy.  Praise the Lord and be thankful for all gifts.  


Did I mention my buddy Arthur Ritus?? 


Sincerely from the land of Scorpions

Scorpion Rancher Russ Pence



   I was born in Spring Valley WI in 1938, and I have memories of Winter Wisconsin from around age two through around age ten. My father fished and hunted deer around Winter and the family stayed with my Uncle Earl Fitch and Aunt Joyce, Golda’s sister, and later their daughter Gail.

Al Capone Introduced Big Tips to Winter Wisconsin
Letter to the editor of the Sawyer County Gazette, July 21, 2010

Here is a story my mother told of the time she spent in Winter, Wisconsin:

   During her high school years Golda Coddington attended school and lived with her older sister Joyce in Winter Wisconsin. Joyce had married Earl Fitch. Earl owned and ran a gas station at the intersection of the highway and Main Street in Winter.
    I remember Golda, my mother, telling of how she met Al Capone. As an eighteen year old she worked as an operator at the local telephone exchange in Winter.
    Al‘s son “Sonny” liked baseball. Al, who had a fortified compound some distance outside of Winter, would bring Sonny into town for the local baseball games. Golda said they would roll into town in several cars, and drop Sonny off at the game complete with several body guards.
    While sonny and his entourage with suspiciously bulging suit coats watched the game, big Al and his contingent of musclemen came to the telephone exchange where my mother worked to place calls back to Chicago. She put the calls through, and when big Al was done, he tipped her and the others in the exchange with a dollar bill each. That was unique. A buck was a lot of money in northern Wisconsin during the depression, and tips were unheard of.
    She said the girls were always treated with the utmost respect and that big Al was a nice guy in her experience. I asked her if she ever heard anything interesting in his conversations, but she said no, she didn’t listen in. Probably a prudent woman. Nice guy aside, had she eavesdropped, I might not be here to write this story.

Flashbacks from Arizona
July 2, 2010

Howdy folks,

    We’ve had a nice spring here in the Sonoran Desert. Yesterday was a balmy 113°F, but it did plummet to 100°F by 7:00 pm. There was a nice breeze, and the wind chill factor was 127°F. Not a record, but it should hold us until summer gets here.

    Oh… wait! Summer has arrived. I guess I didn’t notice because the last few weeks have been triple-digit balmy too. I’m disappointed. Oh well, maybe it will warm up for a good old 4th of July celebration this weekend.

    But this does remind me of camping in January in Wisconsin with Tim “Gort” Sandvig and my black Cocker Spaniel “Shadow”.

    It was a Friday and we had had a January thaw. There were puddles from the melted snow, and we decided that it would be a good idea to get away from the rigors of school for the weekend.

    We threw our gear together after school and my mother Golda drove us north along the Eau Galle River. We had her drop us off at the bridge by the Longseth place and we backpacked into the frozen but thawing wilderness about a mile or so up river.

    We found a nice location on the river plain and proceeded to try to pound our tent stakes into the granite-like frozen ground. I seem to remember that that was our first unplanned hurdle, but somehow we got the tent set up before the arctic sun disappeared.

    Then it started raining.

    We were laying in the tent trying to keep from getting soaked as a steady light rain froze to our tent when we saw what appeared to be flashlights downstream coming in our direction. We were happy to see some of our class mates materialize. I think Vic Langer, Bob’s older brother, was one of them, and maybe Bob was along as well. (Please feel free to correct my account if you were there – I’ve got a good memory but it's short.)

    They helped us get the tent in better shape and weather proofed. I think back on that now and wonder at them looking for us in that rainy and cold January night, but it was really good to see them.

    Well, we survived the night, and woke up to a much colder morning. The rain had stopped and the temperature had dropped to more normal levels for that time and place. We decided to move our encampment to an accessible hollow (could call it a cave, but that would give the wrong impression) in the bluffs skirting the river plain. It was dry and sandy, and there were dry leaves that had been blown into it and were trapped in a pile in the back of the cave. The cave (OK, “cave”) was not too big, not too small, not too hot, not to cold … it seemed to be a goldilocks location for survival Saturday night.

    Well… looks can be deceiving. That night we crawled into our sleeping bags as far back as we could. Shadow was probably the smartest one in the cave – he burrowed into the leaves under our sleeping bags and had pleasant dreams. I remember I left my boots on thinking that would keep my feet from freezing solid – bad idea. When I got up in the morning, I crawled to the embers in our fire pit at the mouth of the cave and stood up in the coals. No, I didn’t stand there long enough to set fire to my boots, and I didn’t stand there long enough for it to help noticeably. Somehow my feet thawed out enough for the long trek home that day.

    But back to the cave. I remember dreaming about being home in my warm bed. Gort dreamed that he was home in a nice warm bed too, but there was more to it, which he shared with me the next morning. He said he was dreaming about being in his warm bed at his Grandmother Bailey’s house, and she called to him to jump out of bed to get ready for school. He said he translated that into action and threw his sleeping bag covers back to comply, and that is when the wind came down along the back of the depression I am calling a cave. “Whooooooeeeeee” Tim said the wind went as it came in from the Arctic Circle and whistled between him and the wall on its way out again. It was a real wakeup call and it didn’t take long to realize that his warm bed was several miles down river.

    It still cracks me up as I write about it. It is probably the most memorable event in the saga of the two boys from the valley that got suckered by Mother Nature into going camping in a Wisconsin January.

    Well folks, those are the highlights of our historic trek. We trekked out of the wilderness under a frozen January sun that Sunday morning, two intrepid (you might have another name for it) frontiersmen and a little black Cocker Spaniel named Shadow.

Sage of the Sonaran Desert

Disclaimer: I have a photographic memory, but I’ve run out of film, so I would appreciate any comments, especially corrections and/or additions by those that were there. The account above occurred well over a half-century ago.

Contact me at with your thoughts/corrections/additions and Karen and I can work them in or add them.


by Russell Pence

Posted on: July 9, 2009

   Molly is just six months old. She is smart. She basically house trained herself by observing our older Schnauzer. She is eager to learn and knows many commands already. I would have to say her vocabulary is thirty words and growing.

    Her favorite sentence is "Would you like to go for a ride in the truck?" I have gotten her to the point that I can say it in a conversational way (w/o emphasis of any kind) and she picks "ride" and "truck" out of the surrounding verbiage. She races to the door to the garage and waits expectantly.

    She is exceptionally interested in her surroundings. We have built the back seat of our four door Crew Cab truck up about 10 inches so that she and our older Schnauzer have a balcony seat. She likes to stick her head out of the windows and watch with great interest what is passing by. She is very visual, an interesting thing to watch. She will sit and look out the side window for miles when we are travelling too fast for her to have her head out the window. She watches the scenery, cars, people and world go by as if it were a moving picture.
    Most dogs are very nose-to-the wind olfactory. She does not display that behavior very much, although I am sure she can smell a pin drop a mile away. We live on a lake, so she has a view with birds and ducks and such. She watches birds and airplanes fly overhead, and she follows their flight out of sight – something I have not witnessed in the many other doggy companions I have had.

    So, what’s my point? I’ve watched her grow and soak up the Creator’s handiwork with a quite attentiveness that is mind boggling. It is a source of continuous wonder and entertainment to me. But beyond that, it is miraculous. She has accompanied us only half way around the sun, and she is in some ways more capable than a 6 month old baby human.

    Now I know that speed of maturation and limits to the level of achievement is not comparable, and that Molly can expect to live no more than about 13 years. That is the limit for the breed, and she has to get out of the gate fast. But still, it amazes me when I think that I have circled the sun [REDACTED] times, coming up shortly on, oh let us say something of an achievement on my next birthday. I have circled the sun several decades more that she can expect to in her full lifespan. And she is smarter at half an orbit than I was at half an orbit.

    She is an amazing individual. All of our beloved canine companions have been individuals with their own set of emotions, fears, likes and dislikes, and ways of showing their intelligence.

    Molly is exceptionally high on the intelligence scale, and it is a gift that fascinates me more than I can express.

Corny Corner Arizona

by Russell Pence

It occurred to me that folks visiting the class reunion site might find this interesting.

Itsa different world down here fur shur fur shur!

  We took these pictures Sunday June 21, 2009. I call the series AZ Children of the Corn.

Corny Corner Arizona

Knee High by the Fourth - of May

Corn is tossling here in AZ. These fields are not too far from our house.

Old Guy Disappears into the Corn!

   We pulled over in three lanes of traffic for this old fellow to get outa the truck and thrash his way to the forest of cobs to provide some perspective.

    He didn’t realize that he would be struggling through wet caliche (a layer of cement-like soil in which the soil particles have been cemented together by lime) in few more steps. Be that as it may. Anything for der cause!

He made it - but now he is a stick in the mud!

   Apache Corn. These farms and fields are actually surrounded by huge high tech presences such as Intel and Motorola. It is a strange sight to see them co-existing side-by-side.

    The Corn is losing though. When we came here in 1991 this was all open dairy farm and cropland. Most of it has long since been swollowed up by shopping centers (on almost every corner), a sea of red-tile roofs and commercial interest.

   You may be surprised to know that the Apache People in fact grew corn as a substantial part of their food source. They still do grow amazing maize on the reservations not distant from here.

Children of the Corn

Or ... corny old guy waving at passing motorist slowing down to gawk at the old guy in the corn.

Most of the corn in the Cob Forest is at least twice my height. You should see the corn pickers …

A wider perspective

   Here you can get a better feel for the height of the corn. Your host and MC is stretching his arm as high as he can to add to the effect. Ya know, I think that corn is actually three times his height. Whadaya think??