Friday, May 30, 2014

The last of our Kitchen-Klatter family gone

Nearly every weekday morning far back as I can remember, my mother and thousands and thousands of other Midwest women took a break --- turned the radio on, sat down with pencil and paper poised to jot down a recipe and spent half an hour with some combination of Leanna, Lucile, Margery and Dorothy, our Kitchen-Klatter family.

I call those Driftmier women "our" family because we all listened in at one time or another and many of us read Kitchen Klatter magazine, too --- a slim and simple monthly compilation of recipies, inspiration and letters from even more of the Driftmiers, including brothers Frederick and Donald.

The past is a foreign country (thanks, L.P. Hartley, for that line) and I'm not quite sure how to explain all this now --- but Dorothy Driftmier Johnson died at 100 on Memorial Day in Tecumseh, Nebraska, where she'd lived since 2005. Graveside services were held yesterday at the Chariton Cemetery. She was the last link to that time and I think this is a big deal.


Leanna Field Driftmier belonged to one of Shenandoah's royal families. Her brother, Henry (1871-1949), founded the Henry Field Seed & Nursery Co., in its time the largest mail-order seed company in the world. A major competitor, Earl May, founder of Earl May Seed & Nursery Co., also was based in Shenandoah.

Both Henry and Earl turned to radio as a marketing tool in the 1920s. Field set up one of the nation's first radio stations, KFNF, with a home-built transmitter in 1924. Earl established KMA in 1925, and took the lead in this field by investing $100,000 in 1927 in new studios, called Mayfair, that included a 1,000-seat movie palace-like auditorium that attracted hundreds of thousands annually to Shenandoah to view live broadcasts.

When I was a kid in the early 1950s, treks to Shenandoah to view the Field and May test gardens --- and sit in on a KMA broadcast --- still were annual events.

Anyhow, in 1926 Henry Field invited his sister, Leanna, too take over a half-hour daily broadcast on KFNF that her sister, Helen, had called "The Mother's Hour." Leanna renamed it "Kitchen-Klatter" and established a format that endured for nearly 60 years --- chat about family, gardening, news of the day, the weather with always a recipe to share. The program eventually moved to KMA and in its later incarnations, was syndicated by the Driftmier Co.

There were seven Driftmier children --- Howard and Lucile by Martin Driftmier's first marriage; and five more born after the young widower married Leanna during 1913: Dorothy, Margery, Frederick, Donald and Steven.

Critically injured in a car crash in 1930, Leanna spent the remainder of her life in a wheelchair --- but never was deterred by her injury. A studio was set up in the Driftmier home and she continued to broadcast full-time until retirement in 1959 and occasionally after that --- until shortly before her death in 1976, age 90.


The Driftmier Co. was purchased by daughter Lucile and her husband, Russell Verness --- and Kitchen-Klatter rolled on, featuring Lucile, Margery and Dorothy, sometimes others --- Evelyn Birkby, for example.

Dorothy married Lucas County's Frank Johnson in 1938 and they settled down along White Breast Creek between Chariton and Lucas after returning from World War II-related work in California and the 1942 birth of their daughter, Kristin. 

At first they lived atop the wooded hills east of the creek, then moved onto the modest creek-bottom farm that all Kitchen-Klatter readers and listeners heard much about over the years as Dorothy drove over to Shenandoah to record broadcasts and wrote her monthly letters from home.


Birkby, writing about the Shenandoah-based homemaker broadcast phenomenon in 1991, called it "Neighboring on the Air." And that's difficult to explain these days when women tend to work outside the home, listen to the radio mostly while driving somewhere and, like everyone else, have many more opportunities to socialize both personally and virtually.

But the Kitchen-Klatter experience was very important to many women during its years, especially to those who lived on farms and ranches --- and many more did then. Listeners came to think of the Driftmiers as family and the Driftmiers returned the favor by treating them as such.

Lucile and her mother were savvy businesspeople, too, marketing a sometimes wild and crazy line of flavorings (all Kitchen-Klatter recipies featured Kitchen-Klatter flavorings) --- still available on the shelves at Hy-Vee under a different name. There was Kitchen-Klatter cleaner, Kitchen-Klatter bleach and a variety of other products, and countless women, including my mother, saved boxtops and lid-liners, then ordered up Kitchen-Klatter premiums, often in copper --- including the set of salt and pepper shakers now sitting atop my refrigerator.


Kitchen-Klatter ended abruptly in December of 1985 when Lucile sold the company, but not the Kitchen-Klatter name. So there are no more Kitchen-Klatter products.

Frank Johnson died in Chariton during 1990 and Lucile Verness passed that year, too --- aged 80.

Dorothy moved into Chariton after Frank's death and a bad flood along the White Breast. She lived here until 2005, when she relocated to Tecumseh to live near daughter Kristin and her family. Margery died at home in Shenandoah during August last year, age 92. Her son, Martin, featured so often on and in Kitchen-Klatter when he was growing up, died at age 60 during 2008, also in Shenandoah, something of a free spirit after a career as a United Church of Christ minister.

Dorothy's daughter, Kristin, and her family continue to live in Nebraska; and Lucile's daughter, Juliana, in New Mexico.


Years ago, when I moved to a little town way up near the Minnesota border, my neighbor, Marge, found out I was from Lucas County and immediately asked, "Now, how is Dorothy getting along --- really?"

I knew who she meant, of course. There had been hundreds if not thousands of Kitchen-Klatter listeners in that part of Iowa, too, since the program was syndicated in six states. But I had to check with my mom before giving an informed reply.

And now I'm just kind of sad that so much has gone.

You can read Dorothy's obituary here, at the Fielding Funeral Home Web site.


Anonymous said...

I came across a large stack of Kitchen Klatter magazines from 1957-1965 yesterday at a rummage sale, and purchased them all for just a dollar out of curiosity. Thank you so much for this write-up; I found it very informative and interesting!

Elaine Weirich said...

I have found numerous publications of this magazine in a house that I have recently purchased. Curious if there is anyone interested in them.

Lee Ann Samons said...

My mother listened to Kitchen-klatter and took the magazine for
several years. She still has their cookbook. Their sauerkraut
and wienie recipe with sour cream in it is a long time favorite.
Thank you for
sharing information about this interesting family who touched
many lives and homes.