Ilona Simonson and Ken Wahl had a fateful meeting on Grand Avenue the summer of 1956. Ilona recalls the first time she laid eyes upon her husband. “I was 16 years old, cleaning the Community Room at Beulah’s Home Demonstration Club (now the Beulah Valley Baptist Church), and there was a procession of six cars headed to Beulah Inn.” Everyone knew the Kansas State geologists were coming–the program had been in place the year prior. “For some reason my eyes were just drawn to him, he was in the second car, he stepped out of the rear seat, on the other side of the car.” Ilona has the enviable ability to recall minute details and dates; perfectly suited for her role as the keeper of generations of family records, scrapbooks, photo albums, calendars and memorabilia from her big family tree.
Growing Up In Beulah
Helen Ilona Simonson arrived from the hospital to a little home located beside her grandparent’s white bungalow surrounded by porches at 8937 Grand Avenue in 1939. Ilona parents were Roy and Ruth (Asher) Simonson, one of Beulah’s hardworking power couple, sister Janet was born in 1945, making the family of four complete.
Roy’s parents John and Kristina Simonson immigrated from Sweden in the 1890’s, and married in Denver. After leasing the 3-R Ranch from 1895 to 1898 from Carlisle and Weitbrec, the Simonson family purchased 840 acres just north of the 3-R, between the north and south St. Charles River. In 1912 the family purchased the north parcel of their mountain pasture, known as Simonson Meadow. In 1936, they purchased the southern half with the parcel now totaling 640 acres. The family used the property to pasture their Hereford beef cattle in the summer. In 1930, the family purchased the Fox Lane property, which included had a prominent barn, of which they enlarged over the years.
The three generations wore a path from their home on Grand Ave. to their barn on Fox Lane. Chores included milking cows, feeding chickens, and caring for two sows named Floretta and Susie—at times their large litters meant some would be brought into the kitchen, where they luxuriated near the kitchen stove in a cardboard box from Traeber’s store while they gained weight.
Ruth and Roy bought the Fox Lane property from John in 1951, and started building the lower level of their home on Fox Lane, just west of the barn in 1953, finishing the upper floor in 1956. Ruth’s only stipulation was a living room large enough to hold ten card tables for hosting her beloved Beulah Home Demonstration Club.
As a young girl, Ilona and her sister Janet had an easy walk to Beulah School, once located at the top of Pennsylvania Avenue across from the Beulah Methodist Church, where their parking lot now sits. “They didn’t close school for anything!” Unlike today, there was no easy way to send notice of a closure, so school was always in session. She recalls the layout of the old school, “There was a coatroom when you first walked in. The girl’s bathroom was next, through the middle of the building, then a kitchenette and stairs that lead to the basement, where the boys’ bathroom, and the coal ‘stoker’ was located. The lower grades were on the south side of the first floor, and the other classes were on the north side. They had a stage, with a really nice painted backdrop.”
She recalls the children were well-behaved and discipline was rarely an issue; however, there was one occasion that still makes her laugh. She recalled one incident when her teacher doled out an impressionable punishment “Mary Alice Barnhart said a bad word, and the teacher heard it. So the teacher had her sit up in front of the class and lick a bar of Palmolive soap! We didn’t dare laugh, or we knew we’d be up there with her!”
The Simonsons did not have water in their home until 1956, “our stove had a reservoir on it so we always had water heating.” Indoor plumbing was not available, so “if it snowed, you shoveled a path to the outhouse located a distance from the home.” Recalling the task like it was yesterday, she noted matter of factly, “It was not pleasant.”
A rounded galvanized tub about 4’ long was hung up on a nail in the kitchen. When it was bath time, the basin was set in the kitchen, near the wood stove. Baths were given in order of cleanest to dirtiest, “Daddy would always be the last, because he was usually the dirtiest!”
It was not unusual for the family to can 6-7 bushels of peaches, 10 bushels of tomatoes to put in their cellars. They also canned meat (i.e., chicken, turkey, pork), as they had no refrigerator. Meats were also kept in brines, or smoked for best preservation. The family had a smokehouse, and an old ice house that the girls turned into a playhouse. Ilona recalls at that time, everyone had a milk cow that would freely graze around the valley, and kept the lawns nicely mowed.
The Young Man From Kansas
Kenneth Dean Wahl found his way to Beulah in 1956 as a graduate of Kansas State, looking to strengthen his geology background with field work prior to heading out to his new job as a hydrologist in Kentucky for the U.S.G.S. The son of William and Clara Wahl, Ken grew up in Elmo, Kansas learning the practical ways of a farm boy; he learned to drive a 1933 Massey Harris tractor when he was just 10 years old.
A couple of weeks after Ilona first laid eyes on Ken in front of the Beulah Inn, she asked her parents to borrow the family car to drive to the Gay Way– a mere three blocks away–to attend a dance. Ken had indeed noticed Ilona, would the young lady come to the dance? Ilona recalls, “He came up to me, and held out his hand to dance.” Later that evening, Ken asked Ilona if she might give him a ride home to where he was staying at the old Beulah County Club (remarkably, just a few yards across South Creek from where they live today). She immediately got into the car, drove home, and asked her mother for permission.
Shortly thereafter, she drove back to the Gay Way, picked Ken up, and quickly delivered him to his dorm.
A few days prior leaving Beulah that summer, Ken came calling when her parents were away doing chores, to her horror she realized she was only wearing shorts, and worried her parents would walk through the door, and see her ‘half naked’ with a boy in their house. “When the folks came back home, my dad sat down with Ken and asked him all sorts of questions.” Soon, Ken left for a job in Louisville, Kentucky, but traded a man for a job in Kansas, which allowed him to come back to visit Ilona three weeks later. They made plans for her to meet his parents over the Christmas break.
Ilona was in her junior year in high school when she traveled to Kansas to get to know Ken’s family. A week later, she arrived back at Central High School direct from the train depot, recalling that she put her suitcase in her locker. She received her high school diploma in 1957, and after turning 18 consented to marry Ken.
Ken and Ilona were married at the Beulah Methodist Church in November 1957 by a pastor who had to stand on a box to perform the vows for the statuesque pair; she remembers her mother made her dress, and her father was grumbling at all the fuss.
The newlyweds immediately moved to Lawrence, Kansas with Ilona’s dowry filled with useful equipment for the kitchen, pillowcases, tea towels, blankets, etc… The first two years of married life found them in several locations in Kansas before moving to Sacramento, CA.
They welcomed sons Edward Dean in 1959, and Jerry Robert in 1960. In 1962, Ken’s job would take them to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for almost seven years, but where racial tensions were high, and they witnessed tremendous discord with the Selma marches, and the nearby Birmingham bombs. “It was hard to see how people were treated, it was unfair. They had two separate High Schools, it was easy to see the huge discrepancy in resources between the two.”
After moving to Iowa City, Iowa in 1968, and restoring a 100 year old farm house, they made the decision to retire and move back to Beulah in 1981. “We were really glad to move back, we came with a Ryder truck, a cat, a dog and a squirrel named Skippy!”
The couple settled into their new Middle Creek home, once the location of the Alta Vista hotel. Ilona enjoyed pursuing her passions around the home–sewing, crafting, weaving, gardening, and canning. Like her mother, she became a member of the Beulah Home Demonstration Club.
Ken found more time to devote to tractors and machinery. Ilona proudly explains, “We rarely had to pay for repairs, Ken was handy as a mechanic, as an electrician, and as a plumber.” Ken specifically enjoyed working on Case tractors, his success measured by the shelves in their home that are overrun with trophies and ribbons from tractor pulling contests. As well, Ken worked for both water districts from 1982 - 2001, and is currently serving on the E.L. Hanson Foundation.
After Ruth passed away in 1993, Ilona and Ken moved into the Fox Lane home to care for her father, who had developed dementia, becoming his fulltime caregiver for two years prior to his passing away in 1996.
Today, they both agree what they love best about Beulah is the quiet, the scenery; and space to do their projects. Ilona cooks all their meals, shovels snow in the winter, and mows the lawn in the summer. Ken stays active in his shop, and over the winter has been scanning family photos for preservation.
Sixty-two years later, Ilona and Ken marvel that they were the only ‘Beulah Girl’ and ‘Kansas Geologist’ to wed. Turns out that following your intuition, and your heart, can yield tremendous dividends in life.
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