Growing Up at Hanford
Herb Depke remembers his first day of third grade at the Richland school.
Narrator: There was a lot to be learned in Hanford, for even its youngest new residents, as Herb Depke remembers:
Herb Depke: In the fall of 1943, I began the third grade in Richland, Washington. The plan was to have some children go in the morning and some go in the afternoon. I was assigned the morning classes. I do not know how early it was, but it was dark when I got up and dark when I got on the school bus.
The school bus took us to a building. The building was not like a school building. It was probably temporary. The room we were was almost industrial. There were a series of folding tables, two and a half, three feet wide by six feet long. We just sat around the table.
The first day when I was returned home, they apparently knew where to stop for me. I got off the school bus, and all of the houses were the same. I had no idea which one was mine. It scared me to death. Apparently I found my way home. I do not know how.
Missy Keeney-Baker was glad to be picked up by the Richland police when she was lost and very frightened.
Narrator: There was very little variety in Hanford housing. When houses looked so much alike, getting lost was a common and frightening experience for many children, as Missy Keeney-Baker remembers.
Missy Keeney-Baker: I got kept after school a bunch because I talked when I should be listening. And then I left the school to walk to the people’s house where I was staying. I ended up down by the hospital, the corner by the hospital at Swift. Just crying because I didn’t know where I was. I was just this little kid and I was lost.
The Richland police stopped and picked me up and drove around until I found the house that I knew I lived in, which is really nice. It goes back to that—all the houses looked alike. You didn’t know where you were.
Herb Depke got off the school bus and couldn’t figure out which of the rows and rows of identical “Alphabet houses” was his.
Narrator: The village of Richland consisted of row after row of alphabet houses. Each of the limited number of designs was named after a letter of the alphabet: A, B, C and so on. Herb Depke remembers his “B” house.
Herb Depke: The house itself was called, in the Richland vernacular, a B house, which is a one-story duplex. I can remember when you went into the front door of the house, straight ahead was the dining room. To the right was the living room. To the right of that were two bedrooms. It was a two-bedroom house with one bath. There was a small kitchen. From the back door you could go straight into the basement.
The basement was for some reason interesting to me. I can still see that basement. It had a concrete floor. There was a place where they piled kindling wood to start the fire in the coal-fired furnace.
No trees and no grass. I do not believe in 1943 there were even street signs. The streets were quite straight, north, south, east and west like I was used to in the Midwest. It was not that difficult to get around.
As a five year old, Burt Pierard sometimes walked by himself across the town of Richland to the movie theater on Saturdays.
Narrator: Though there was a war being waged over there, here in Washington State life felt pretty safe to young residents like Burt Pierard.
Burt Pierard: At the Village Theater, the Saturday matinee, and it cost twelve cents, you would get two cartoons, two main features, a newsreel, and a serial, like Superman or Rocket Man, Flash Gordon, stuff like that.
The indication to me of how safe it was to live in Richland is, I can remember as a five-year-old walking all the way across town with my dime and two pennies in my pocket. Sometimes we would have some of the older kids with us, some our own age, sometimes alone.
But we would troop across religiously every Saturday. And parents knew other people’s parents would look out for you and stuff like that. If you ever got in trouble, you could go up to anybody’s house and ask for help. The whole thing was symbolic of what the atmosphere was to live in Richland in the ‘40s.
Missy Keeney-Baker describes how the people of Hanford quickly forged a tight-knit community.
Narrator: People came from all over the country to work at Hanford. Far from friends and relatives, they created communities beyond the security fences and forged long-lasting friendships.
Missy Keeney-Baker: Neighborhoods kind of became our families, because no one had grandparents or cousins or anything. We had all come here from somewhere else. We had neighborhood groups. We all kind of had these experiences within our neighborhoods, where we were outside all the time. The weather was great.
We played Red Rover, Red Rover and all of these games until it was dark and you had to go inside. That was happening all over Richland in all these little neighborhoods, where people just became families. On holidays, we kind of celebrated within our neighborhoods because that was our family once we got here.
We never locked our houses even when we went away for a vacation. The neighbors were there kind of keeping. It was just something you didn’t do and think about doing. And we walked everywhere, no matter how far it was. We always walked to school. It was an amazing place to grow up. It really was.