Coffee Klatsch, Memories, Stearns

Glanville Wynkoop Smith

Few published authors of bestselling novels, organ music, or articles in The Atlantic lived on my street in St Cloud, let me tell you.

Glanville was an artist, author, architect, musician, journalist, poet, naturalist, medieval calligrapher, granite artisan, and historian. His friends called him Glanny.

I encourage you to read about him in St Cloud State University professor emeritus Bill Morgan’s excellent article.

I missed my chance to meet Glanville Smith. But I think about him.

What an inspiring person to hail from Cold Spring with its small rural population.

Al Weber, our neighbor across the street, knew Glanville well.

Al had lost a leg during WWII and was retired.

He often sat in his screen porch reading Louis L’Amour westerns and could be counted on for a lively chat.

He told me all about Glanny and offered to introduce me. I moved away before it could happen. Bugger, as they say in New Zealand.

Not meeting Glanville Smith is a lifelong regret.

The only books in our house were encyclopedias and the Bible, comics, magazines, and catalogs from JC Penney and Sears.

I’d always enjoyed reading (thank you Mrs Petersen at St Anthony’s) so had a natural bond with Al.

We discussed authors whose work we favored and what we thought made a good story.

His encouragement and stories about Glanville ignited a flicker of self-belief that maybe I could write too. Indeed, I have made a living from writing since.

Unlike Glanville, I can’t carve granite into gothic letters, whorls, and curlicues, nor have I mastered medieval calligraphy.

I don’t know the botanical names of exotic plants or grow any in the four pots on my inner city apartment balcony.

But I’m not dead yet.

Maybe there’s still time.

In our extended family, wanting to be an artist, writer or musician was considered fanciful.

After the loss of crops and farms and the Great Depression, Hilsgens, Imholtes, Pothoffs and Zwacks were motivated by solvency, food on the table, and roofs over the heads of their big families.

Creativity for its own sake was unheard of except for my aunt Sally, who liked to paint, and my godmother Elaine (Zwack) Lodermeier, who wrote a children’s book.

Hilsgens were musical and Grandpa Pete was a renowned fiddler and square dance caller, but only after the farm work was done.

Grandma Lena Zwack played the piano as a girl but didn’t own one in her adult years. Tiny and proper, Lena also played the harmonica. I have her old harmonica but none of the stories about why or how well she played this unlikely instrument.

Artistic leanings in our world were channeled into practical crafts.

Sewing. Baking. Gardening. Preserving.

Needlework. Beer and wine making. Flower arranging. Woodwork.

Even mending was artful in the deft hands of Stearns County women.

Grandma Mina enjoyed making appliqué quilt patches, but had little time for pleasurable creativity in her younger years; babies, laundry and cooking were waiting.

I once mooted the idea of a quilt kit business to my mother. I was 16 or 17 and thought kits for simple tied quilts might appeal to busy women who lacked time to cut quilt pieces themselves.

Self-employment was deemed fanciful too.

“That’s silly. Who do you think you are?” Mom said.

Years later, when such kits sold in their millions, she expressed regret that she hadn’t taken me more seriously.

It’s okay, Ma. If I’d wanted that dream enough I’d have made it come true.

I wanted to write.

Glanville Smith was born in 1901 and died in 1987. He is buried in St Cloud’s North Star Cemetery.

After thinking about Glanville for so many years, I’ll be paying him a visit.

The flowers I leave for him, and for Al and Mrs Petersen, will be the prettiest ones I can find.

They spurred me to be more than I thought I could be.

Glanville’s flowers will be yellow.

When someone stole rare plants from his garden, Glanville ran a notice in the Cold Spring Record: “Will the person who dug the trollius (yellow globe-flower) from my place at Pleasant Lake please see that it is planted in a partial shade. It will not do well in full sun. In the winter it needs only light protection. Since this is perhaps the oldest specimen of a flower not yet common in local gardens, it deserves well of its new ‘owner’.”

Glanville Wynkoop Smith was born in St. Cloud. After college he lived in New York and was one of the architects who worked on the Ziegfield Follies Theatre. In 1930 he returned to Stearns County and began designing for the Cold Spring Granite Company (now Coldspring). Smith composed organ music for churches, was an active environmentalist, and president of the Stearns County Historical Society. Publications  Historic Ornament for the Tombstone Trade, 1926; Many A Green Isle, 1941; The Adventures of Sir Ignatius Tippitolio, better known to the world as Tippy, 1945; articles and plays in The Atlantic, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic, Minnesota Quarterly, Players Magazine.

Book photo Bill Morgan

7 thoughts on “Glanville Wynkoop Smith”

  1. Lois Thielen says:

    An interesting man and another piece of Stearns County history. There were those of us who challenged the predictable and traditional occupations; I told my mother at 11 that I was going to become a writer and I did, but not before hearing “You’re never going to make a living at that.”. But I did become a writer. I only wish more people of my parents’ generation had had my opportunities.

    1. Editor says:

      And you were and are a great photographer Lois, and a wonderful historian and winner of umpteen baking ribbons at a county and state level. Bravo.

  2. Editor says:

    OMG that was the refrain Lois. You’re never going to make a living at that. In high school my mother made me learn to type. I was resentful at the time: aspirations for a female child were to be a nun, to get married, or to be a secretary. However I’ve been grateful so often that I know how to type fast. Thanks Mom. If only you’d made me learn shorthand too.

  3. Lois Thielen says:

    I learned how to type on dad’s typewriter because after all I was going to be a writer. Then I took half a year of typing in high school and that made it so much easier to type papers and in college I made some money typing everybody else’s papers. It was a very practical skill.

  4. Lois Thielen says:

    By the way, being a nun was never a female career goal in our household. It was be a teacher or nurse, neither of which I ever wanted to be.

  5. 6 of 7 says:

    I remember you popping across the street to talk to Al Weber, and you coming back later all abuzz about Glanville Smith. Al and Nita were great, weren’t they?

    1. Editor says:

      Yes they were.

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