Current Economy Nothing Like Great Depression, Seniors Say

Indiana seniors in their 80s and 90s who've heard comparisons of the nation's current financial woes to the Great Depression say today's crisis can't compare to the hardship that followed the 1929 stock market crash.

Joseph A. Furman, a 93-year-old from Cedar Lake, said he's fed up with people calling today's economic troubles a depression. He said the current troubles are a few cry from the mass layoffs, hunger and hard times that followed the stock market crash.

"I don't think it will ever get to that point. Life was just unbearable," Furman told The Times of Munster for a story published Sunday.

Like other Hoosiers from that era, he recalls people struggling to scrape together enough money to get food for their families to survive. Furman remembers people selling apples to earn a little money, and the days when he and his relatives shared and borrowed clothing.

Other Hoosiers who lived through the decade-long Great Depression recall collecting coal that fell from passing trains to heat their homes and stuffing cardboard in their shoes when the soles wore out because they couldn't afford a new pair.

The hard times affected everything, and people had to search to find simple pleasures during that bleak period, said Richard Gonzalez, an 82-year-old who lives in East Chicago.

In the summer, he and his friends would wait for the ice man's truck to come down the street. As it passed, one of them would jump on the back of the truck with a pick and chip off a chunk of ice.

"That was our Popsicle," he said.

Candy and treats were a luxury few could afford and Gonzalez recalls gobbling down a teaspoon of sugar from the kitchen when his parents weren't looking.

He said neighbors would sometimes pool their limited food ingredients and split the final product, such as bread or cake.

Gonzalez said he tells his grandchildren about the hardships of his childhood but he also wants to make sure they don't want for anything.

"I spoil them, because I give them what I didn't have," he said.

Eighty-eight-year-old Dharathula "Dolly" H. Millender of Gary said that before the Depression hit her family lived comfortably because her father owned the only radio service shop in Terre Haute.

But then the Depression hit and the service shop was relocated to the family's house.

"I was young, but I knew something was wrong," Millender said. "We survived because my mother knew how to pinch pennies, and we had a garden and chickens."

For many rural families having land to plant a large garden and cropland and space to raise a few animals made all the difference. It provided a steady harvest of vegetables, eggs and meat.

Arthur Ailes, a 91-year-old who lives in rural Porter County, spent his childhood at a nearby farm, waking up at 4:30 a.m. to harness teams of horses for his father that would be used during the day's work.

Ailes, who also became a farmer, recalls his family living off the land, raising cattle and maintaining a dairy. While others waited in bread lines, he and his family gathered eggs, made their own butter and grew buckwheat that his mother made into buckwheat pancakes.

"They scratched out a living and did the best they could," Ailes said.