Port Washington to France and BackBy Marilyn Gardner of the Journal Staff
The Milwaukee Journal, Wisconsin
Wednesday, July 7, 1976
Caption (above): "As I went by, they waved and called 'ooh la la' at me." Evelyn Smith, a member of Port Washington's well known Smith Family.
Port Washington, Wis. - In her 83 years, Evelyn Smith has successfully worked in two very different professions: as a registered nurse and as a restaurant manager.
And, in the process, she has had a busy, interesting and productive life.
Miss Smith is a member of this city’s well known Smith family, which has operated a commercial fishing business here since 1848 and, since 1924, a restaurant that specializes in fish dishes.
In 1919 Miss Smith came home from France where she had served as an Army nurse during World War I. She then took a job as public health nurse for Sheboygan County, working mainly with people who had tuberculosis.
Had to Get OutBut, by the latter part of 1924, “I found myself getting kind of woozy in my chest. I thought, ‘I better get out of all of this TB business.” So she retired. She didn’t get tuberculosis, but she still suffers from bronchitis and now spends winters at her home in California. After leaving her nursing job, Miss Smith worked in her family’s fishery. “I just couldn’t understand why my people had to work so hard and then ship the fish to Chicago and get whatever money they could for them,” she said.
“So I got a notion. I set up three tables and a counter in a building we had and began to sell hot fish sandwiches. I had a helper and we flipped a coin to see who would be the waitress and who would be the cook. I waited tables and she cooked.”
Immediate SuccessTheir business was an immediate success. It expanded steadily and eventually turned into the present, nationally known Smith Bros. Fish Shanty.
Later, Miss Smith established two similar restaurants in California — one in Los Angeles, the other in Redondo Beach. The Redondo Beach restaurant has been sold “but the, one in Los Angeles is going full steam ahead,” she said. “In those days I didn’t think anything of flying off to California two or three times a month.”
Nephews now run the two restaurants, she added, “but I’m still on the board of directors and I go down and pound on the table now and then.” She paused and smiled. “And I mean pound.”
Recalls ChildhoodMiss Smith grew up and went to school in this picturesque small town on the shores of Lake Michigan. She remembers how, as children, she and her brother, Lester, scraped and cleaned fish in the kitchen sink, “put them into woven’ baskets and went door to door selling them.” Their price? “Twenty-five cents, basket and all.”
Both Lester and another brother, Oliver, have died but Miss Smith has a sister, Mrs. Hope Huwatschek, who lives in Port Washington, and lots of nieces and nephews here and in California.
She graduated from high school on a Friday night in 1911 “and on Saturday night I was in Columbia Hospital starting nurses’ training. I had decided to become a nurse many years before that and my family always encouraged me.”
Worked in KitchenAs a beginning nursing student, she was assigned to work in the hospital kitchen, “preparing meals and special diets if there were such things in those days.” Students worked in the hospital from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and classes were held a couple of nights a week. “Sometimes we’d all be sound asleep.”
There were seven women in her class, one of the first to be graduated from Columbia.
Its superintendent was Miss Carol Martin, a handsome woman who dressed immaculately in stiffly starched dresses and petticoats. “Was she starched! We could hear her coming,” Miss Smith remembered. “And was she strict! There was no deviation from any of her assignments.”
Needed a NurseJust before her graduation in 1914, Fred Sivyer, the owner of Northwestern Malleable Iron Co. and chairman of the board of trustees of Columbia Hospital, asked to see her. “He wanted me to work as a nurse at his company. There were so many accidents there, mostly burns from the molten metal.”
She, accepted his offer and became Milwaukee’s first industrial nurse.
“I set up a first aid department and had an office — the whole thing.”
After a few years, Sivyer asked her to organize a food service for the 36 foremen in the plant. “He told me I could buy any equipment I ‘needed and that I should hire a cook. And, oh, was that cook good! She could produce the best pies you ever ate.”
Expands OperationLater Miss Smith decided to expand. She thought that the factory workers should have something hot to eat with the lunches they brought from home, “so I established a soup kitchen. It was just a shed down in the factory but we served good soup. We sold it at 5 cents a quart.”
By then World War I had begun. On June 2, 1918, Miss Smith left New York City to go to France as an Army nurse.
“Twelve crafts were submarined that day but we sailed anyway,” she said. They docked in Liverpool, England, and crossed the English Channel to France at night on a ship that had been torpedoed earlier. It had been repaired, “but the English needed it so badly that they didn’t bother to repaint it.”
After a couple of months, she was transferred to another hospital in central France. There she was on night duty, tending as many as 150 wounded soldiers~ “It was really terrible — men with their chests shot away, their arms gone. But we just didn’t have time for sorrow.”
The nurses lived in barracks, she remembered, and slept on narrow canvas cots topped with straws mattresses. The straw, unfortunately, was home for some other creatures. “We all developed body lice and ticks. We didn’t know what was happening — they’d itch and bite.”
Eventually the problem was diagnosed, ointment prescribed and the straw in the mattresses burned and replaced.
Because of the fear of bombing, it was lights out at the hospital each night. “We carried lanterns to change dressings and take care of the men. And, oh, the bandages and the pus. Every morning there would be six or eight caskets outside.”
Painkillers were scarce, Miss Smith continued, and “we filled our sweater pockets with cigarets and aspirin. We’d ask the men, ‘Which would you like a cig or a pill?’ And, invariably, they wanted a cigaret.”
Back to BordeauxLate in 1918, she was transferred back to Bordeaux. The armistice was signed on Nov. 11 and she remembers the Thanksgiving feast that year. “We used bed sheets as tablecloths.”
Miss Smith’s third fling with serving food on a large scale came in 1919 when she was told to set up a food service at a nearby hospital where 150 ambulatory patients were being treated. She walked there the first morning, ready to start work, and found there was no kitchen, just a brick floor in the process of being laid.
“I asked the workmen, ‘Where’s the kitchen?’ And they answered,. ‘Here.’ It was just being built.” Prepared food — “the damnedest beef stew I ever ate. Was it tough!” — was brought in, heated in huge cauldrons and served for the first few days until the kitchen was completed.
As she was making her way back to the other hospital, she passed by some troop trains that were ready to unload. They were filled with soldiers waiting to be admitted to the hospital.
“As I went by, they waved and called ‘Ooh la la’ at me. I just waved back and then they called that I should bring some other nurses with me and we could play cards.”
She did just that — and she and her roommate, Elizabeth Iserman of Kenosha, and another nurse, Edna Coughlin (“one of those real outgoing girls who loved to have a good time”) went back to the train. They played penny ante poker and, mysteiously, several bottles of wine and paper cups made an appearance.
Curfew TimePretty soon it was 10:30 p.m., past their hospital’s curfew time. What would they tell the sentry? Miss Coughlin brushed away their fears. “Oh, if they ask me who I am, I’ll just tell them I’m Florence Nightingale,” she announced.
Sure enough, they were asked for their names. “And, by george, if that dumb fool of an orderly didn’t write ‘Florence Nightingale’ down in his book.”
By the next morning, her “kitchen” had a roof and, within a few days, equipment had been brought in and she was in business.
She was discharged and returned to Port Washington about four months later, was trained in public health nursing at the Wisconsin Anti-Tuberculosis Association and went to work for Sheboygan County.
Her EffortsAmong her accomplishments during those 4˝ years was the establishment of Rocky Knolls Sanitarium, starting a camp for children who had tuberculosis, getting the first nurse in the schools in Plymouth and setting up monthly clinics for tuberculosis testing.
Miss Smith now lives a considerably quieter life, taking care of her home here, visiting with friends and relatives, cooking and baking.
“Oh, and I belong to the DARs and the Eastern Stars,” she added. “I try to keep active. But, my friends are disappearing fast and that’s very sad.”