Houska and fossil of Christmas past

In this digital age I am thrilled to have a grandson collecting rocks, something real, tactile, weighty and usually scooped up from a gravel playground. In honor of this new interest, I mailed him a box of rocks for Christmas, providing U.S. postal workers some good laughs.

At the same age as my grandson, I discovered rocks. My Uncle Bill gave me a piece of rose quartz. Family friends presented me with this awesome fossil. Why would the Soderholm family have brought me this fossil from California? Who were the Soderholms? What was the family connection?

Waking at 3:45 the other morning, I let my memory roll around like a hamster ball in a big back yard. I recalled playing under a huge weeping willow tree with Paul Soderholm and his two sisters, possibly Kristy and Kathy. Once I was presented a box containing a glass wind chime on a winterized porch lit with multicolored lanterns. The fossil gift memory has a car pulling up in the driveway, and a hand-off being made.

Why? Who? What was the connection? It was almost, but not quite family.

Every Christmas we visited Martha Leuck at her little house at 3720 "A" Street in Lincoln bringing houska. [Houska is a Bohemian braided bread with raisins, walnuts, and mace, and I never could get it to turn out right.] Once inside, we kids sat on a large round ottoman and zoned out watching the revolving lights on her aluminum Christmas tree. Some years Martha visited our house when Auntie Em and/or Auntie Ada came from Pierce for the holidays. These were good times playing board games and being snowed in.

When I was really little we would go see Martha Leuck and Leo Soderholm at Leuck Radio Supply on L Street south of the state capital building. Back then Howie was building his own mono record player, tuner, and pre-amp with tubes and doo-higgies from Leuck.

Leo and his wife Mary Ann Soderholm were college friends of Howie and Fritz in the engineering department at the University of Nebraska after WWII. Howie and Leo were veterans. Mary Ann Marshall Soderholm was the niece of Martha Sucha Leuck, originally from Verdigre, Nebraska like my Mastalir ancestors. Martha and Louis F. Leuck did not have children, and doted on Mary Ann. My unmarried great aunts, Ada and Emma, were most likely childhood friends of Martha Sucha in Verdigre. Like Auntie Em, Martha Leuck (pronounced "like") was a primary school teacher. They would get together every year during Teachers Convention, an annual fall conference also known as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season on "O" Street in Lincoln.

I'm not sure of the connection between Mary Ann and Fritzi, but they probably had classes together and similar design aesthetics. Their first children were born about a year apart.  Paul was older than me. I was sure that the popular calypso song, "Marianne," was about the beautiful Mary Ann, whom I adored. I liked Leo, too. I remember him as very tall and skinny, prematurely balding, and laughing.

Snooping around on Google and Ancestry.com I learned that Louis F. Leuck, Martha's husband was born in Wisner, Nebraska in 1895 and went to Wayne State College. He served in WWI, and played an important part in communication technology during WWII:

During World War II the Army Signal Corps approached Louis Francis Leuck about running a laboratory to make radio transmission crystals. Leuck Crystal Labs of Lincoln was formed as a result. The entire output of the company during the war years went to the U.S. government. After the war the company became Leuck Radio Supply, which sold radios and radio repair parts, sound, communications, and recording equipment.

Crystal Clear: The Struggle for Reliable Communications Technology in World War II 

by Richard J. Thompson, Jr., 2011

Some of the defining leaps in technology in the twentieth century occurred during the Second World War, from radar to nuclear energy. Often left out of historical discussions are quartz crystals, which proved to be just as pivotal to the Allied victory-and to post-war development-as other technologies. Quartz crystals provided the U.S. military, for the first time, with reliable communication on the front lines, and then went on to become the core of some of the most basic devices of the post-war era, from watches, clocks, and color televisions, to cell phones and computers.
In Crystal Clear, Richard Thompson relates the story of the quartz crystal in World War II, from its early days as a curiosity for amateur radio enthusiasts, to its use by the United States Armed Forces. It follows the intrepid group of scientists and engineers from the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army as they raced to create an effective quartz crystal unit. They had to find a reliable supply of radio-quality quartz; devise methods to reach, mine, and transport the quartz; find a way to manufacture quartz crystal oscillators rapidly; and then solve the puzzling "aging problem" that plagued the early units. Ultimately, the development of quartz oscillators became the second largest scientific undertaking in World War II after the Manhattan Project.
Bringing to light a little-known aspect of World War II, Crystal Clear offers a glimpse inside one of the most significant efforts in the annals of engineering.

As for the long cherished fossil, I hope it will inspire a new wannabe paleontologist!

© 2013-2016 Nancy L. Ruder

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