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Lively performance teaches Marenisco audience about CCC

 

June 22, 2019

P.J. Glisson/Daily Globe

ENTERTAINING AN appreciative crowd on Tuesday evening at the Marenisco Township pavilion in Marenisco is William Jamerson of Ironwood, who interspersed stories about the Civilian Conservation Corps' work in this region with related, light-hearted songs. The Marenisco Historical Society sponsored the event.

MARENISCO - In a peppy Tuesday evening program in Marenisco, Bill Jamerson of Ironwood used both story and song to help local residents understand more about the Civilian Conservation Corps, which operated nearly a century ago in this region.

Jamerson, who was entertaining at the Marenisco pavilion, said the CCC was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "signature" program, as part of "the New Deal," and it ran from 1933 to 1942 during the Great Depression and the early years of World War II.

Unemployed men in their late teens and twenties were eligible to serve in the program, which was known to relieve widespread poverty among families throughout the nation.

Jamerson said the Upper Peninsula had more than a few dozen CCC camps, in which young men known as "dollar-a-day boys" worked, literally, for a dollar a day.

The boys received only $5 of the $30 they earned each month, with the remaining $25 sent directly to their families.

"If you were born in 1920, all you knew was the Depression," said Jamerson. "No work. No money."

During that era, he added, some parents asked their sons to leave home at age 14 and support themselves. They did so via such humble jobs as cutting and selling firewood, shining shoes, selling newspapers, or even selling wild horses after breaking them.

He said some boys showed up barefoot to accept CCC jobs and were issued full sets of clothes and shoes, along with the assurance of "three square meals a day" in a camp that offered running water and electricity.

Jamerson said the guys did a wide range of projects, which included building thousands of road and truck trails at a time when not many roads yet existed.

The boys also installed culverts, built wing dams, restored river gulleys, and fought forest fires. In Michigan, Jamerson added, they planted more trees than in any other state.

"It was miserable work," repeated Jamerson a few times. "Dangerous work."

In this area, he claimed, CCC boys built Ramsay's Keystone Bridge and the suspension bridge at Black River Harbor. They also created Bewabic State Park in Crystal Falls and the U.P.'s Seney National Wildlife Refuge.

Jamerson said the boys were not always welcome, as some were transferred here from urban centers and were perceived as a bad influence. One of his songs, titled "Woodtick," was a fun take on what he said was the nickname the boys most hated.

Nevertheless, Jamerson assured, the boys eventually won over their critics through the work they did and also through additional community service.

He said the boys once found a lost little boy and, on another occasion, 80 of them shoveled an egress so that a snowed-in woman who was about to give birth could get to the hospital in time.

Jamerson said that, when the boys had spare time, they formed basketball and baseball teams; engaged in boxing; and enjoyed checkers, chess, poker and horseshoes.

About 20 percent of them even studied to earn their 8th-grade diploma, which Jamerson said was the equivalent of a high school diploma at the time.

On weekends, the guys would head into town to play pool and see movies, and many of them found their wives during those outings.

Overall, Jamerson said the young men had "a tremendous impact" across the land. According to him, those who went on to fight in WWII entered already "toughened up" and with useful skills such as truck driving and engine mechanics.

Marsha Fairfield, one of the founding members of the Marenisco Historical Society, introduced Jamerson and said he wrote and produced a 1992 documentary about Michigan CCC work titled "Camp Forgotten" for public TV. He also wrote "Big Shoulders," a book published in 2007 by Pine Stump Publishing in Escanaba.

More details on Jamerson are available at billjamerson.com.

 
 

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