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Tea with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

Republicans portrayed her as a threat to the free enterprise system and our American way of life. A high profile Democrat, with her husband a president, the First Lady was a lightning rod for Republican ridicule, sarcasm and spite.

Republicans portrayed her as a threat to the free enterprise system and our American way of life. A high profile Democrat, with her husband a president, the First Lady was a lightning rod for Republican ridicule, sarcasm and spite.

Hillary Clinton, 1992 to 2000?

No.

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1932 to 1946.

"She was such a homely woman. The newspapers would publish pictures of her, and I always felt sorry for her," recalled Perham's Kathie Guck. Her opinion of Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt quickly changed in 1942, when she and a few dozen college girls met the First Lady.

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"When she shook my hand, she was transformed into the loveliest woman on earth," recalled Guck, of her encounter with the president's wife. "She had a way of making you feel like you knew her all your life."

From that moment on, Kathie Guck, a Bluffton college kid with Republican parents, began her transformation from right to left, into a Democrat--which she remains today.

"Beauty comes from inside," said Kathie, as she recounted the story of her "tea with Mrs. Roosevelt" with a group of friends recently.

It was a special occasion that brought Kathie and four women together Oct. 6 in the "Tea Room" of the Whistle Stop Bed and Breakfast in New York Mills.

Dear friend Nancy Carlson, Perham, had helped Kathie organize a huge rummage sale, and Kathie was determined to repay her.

"What can I ever do to thank you?" asked Kathie.

"I'd like a tea," said Carlson. "I wanted her to recount her experience, as a college lass, and regale us with the story of her tea with Eleanor Roosevelt."

The date was set.

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On an autumn Saturday afternoon, Kathie; Nancy; Alicia Vareberg and Michelle Marotz, both of Frazee; and Kathie's daughter-in-law Jeanne Guck, gathered at the Whistle Stop. The "Tea Room" is decorated with hundreds of antiques. With several of them dressed in "period" costume, the afternoon was also a visual journey back in time.

"Never in my life have I met somebody like Kathie," said Nancy. "I never stop learning about her, and all the things this Minnesota girl has done in her life."

Kathie was an 18-year-old student at St. Cloud Teacher's College in 1942, just as the United States joined the global conflagration of World War II.

The college girls were booted out of the women's dormitory to make room for the men of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

"Whatever the military needed came first at that time," recalled Kathie, a spry lady of 84 years, who remains active as an American Legion and VFW Auxiliary member, an officer with her weight loss club, and an employee at Ma's Little Red Barn in Perham.

One of St. Cloud's "high society," a woman living on the Mississippi near the St. Cloud campus, who lived in what the girls considered a "mansion," invited several dozen of the college girls to a tea. The occasion: Eleanor Roosevelt was coming to St. Cloud as part of a "whistle stop" tour of the Midwest, building support for the war effort. Eleanor thanked the students for their sacrifice, by giving up their dorm and living off-campus to free up lodging for the Army Airmen.

War bond sales and promoting rationing were Eleanor Roosevelt's causes at that time. Historically, she was the first presidential wife to take such an active, public leadership role in support of the president's programs.

Details of the discussions at the tea are few--not because Kathie has lost her mental edge due to her 83 years. She is intelligent, witty and active in the community.

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When you're 18 and history is unfolding all around you, the full context of the events doesn't always sink in. "I wish I would have taken notes when we had tea with Mrs. Roosevelt...But you just don't fully grasp the historic importance until there is a passage of time," said Kathie.

She recalls Eleanor wearing a green-gray dress, with buttons down the front, and long sleeves. She clearly remembers that, "when Eleanor spoke her first word, her looks changed immediately," from what many called "homely" to an intelligent, charming and attractive woman.

The college girls who had tea with Mrs. Roosevelt were all children of the Great Depression. For Kathie (Wasche), the Depression was not greatly impacting--even though her banker father was thrown out of work when the Bluffton bank failed in 1932.

"My father sold gas stoves after the bank closed...But it was interesting, because we could never afford a gas stove ourselves--we heated with wood," recalled Kathie. "But really, my parents shielded us from the Depression...We were never seriously deprived of anything."

"My family was Republican, and they had some very strong words about Roosevelt and the Democrats," recalled Kathie.

But after her introduction to Eleanor--and later marriage to the late Art Guck, from a family of traditional, salt-of-the-earth down-on-the-farm, Democrats--she became a "full-fledged Democrat."

It is here where friend Nancy Carlson's political philosophies diverge. "I've always been a Republican; I always will be a Republican," said Nancy, adding with a laugh, "but I hang pretty good with Democrats...opposites attract."

Kathie taught business classes in Morton, Minnesota, for three years after graduating at St. Cloud Teacher's College.

Art and Kathie Guck were farmers in Rush Lake Township. But Kathie worked out of the home, for a wholesaler and also for the Perham Enterprise Bulletin. Kathie lives in a home on the family's farm, where son Kenneth and daughter-in-law Jeanne, who also attended the tea, still farm.

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