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They remember it like yesterday

By Staff | Dec 12, 2010

December 7 is a day many people remember for one reason.

It is the day Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, and the U.S. entered World War II.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt even called it “a day which will live in infamy.”

Those folks who were alive at that time will never forget it. Even those of us who were born later still know this date as Pearl Harbor day.

For one Blue Earth couple, December 7 has another memory, almost as much a personal disaster as Pearl Harbor was a national disaster.

It was exactly fifty years ago that Howard and Susan Smith had their farm home near Frost burn to the ground. It was Dec. 7, 1960.

Susan Smith remembers it as though it were yesterday.

“I can still smell the smoke,” she says. “It was awful.”

Their dog, Rex, started barking, at 2:30 in the morning. That woke up the Smith’s to find their main floor bedroom filled with thick, dense smoke.

Upstairs their two children, Cynthia, 7, and Robin, 5, were asleep in their beds.

Howard raced upstairs to grab the kids. Luckily, there was a door on the stairway, and it was shut, keeping the smoke out of the upstairs, enabling Howard to be able to see and find his two young children.

But downstairs it was already impossible to see or breathe. The fire had started on the front porch, probably an electrical malfunction, and the Smiths had to escape out the back.

With the kids safely outside, Howard went back in to see what he could save. The smoke was so thick he couldn’t see much, but he opened the closet in the master bedroom and threw a bunch of his and Susan’s clothing out the window.

Then, he grabbed the alarm clock off the night stand and pitched it out the window as well.

His reasoning? He was a dairy farmer and he knew he would have to still get up very early in the morning and milk the cows. So he would need the alarm clock.

Meanwhile, he forgot to grab Susan’s engagement and wedding rings, which she had removed while baking earlier in the day.

The rings were lost in the fire. But, Susan says with more than a hint of sarcasm, the alarm clock was saved.

By the time the Frost Fire Department arrived, the whole house was engulfed in flames, and all the firefighters could do was soak the nearby buildings to keep them from igniting as well.

When it was all over, the whole house had burned and fallen into the basement, with just the chimney left standing.

Leaving the Smiths homeless – in December and winter in Minnesota.

Before the fire struck, they had already decided to quit renting the dairy farm, and move to another rented farm place near Guckeen and raise hogs and crops.

But, that farm place was not available for another few months.

Which brings us to the point of why the Smith’s are suddenly doing a lot of reminiscing about the fire, fifty years later.

After the fire, a neighbor couple, Phillip and Sonia Monson, invited the homeless family to come and live with them for three months, despite having two children of their own.

Phillip Monson died last week, bringing back many memories to the Smith’s of his kindness so many years ago.

Eventually the Monson’s moved from the Dell area to Blue Earth, and in 1989, the Smith’s retired from their Guckeen farm and they also moved to Blue Earth.

While they may have once again lived in the same town, the Smith’s say Phillip Monson was probably happy they weren’t sharing the same house.

But, they are sure grateful they were able to do so fifty years ago.

The Smith’s say the Monsons proved what being a good neighbor is all about.

We couldn’t agree more.