Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened July, 1981
Oral History Interview with
December 2, 1980
by Niel Johnson
JOHNSON: I'm going to start, Miss Vanatta, by asking you for some of your own background. Could you tell us when you were born and where you were born, and your parents' names?
VANATTA: I was born near Winterset, Iowa, January 22, 1900. I'm 80 years old. And mother's name was Nora Vanatta; she died in 1949. Dad's name was David Wilmot Vanatta, and he died in '43.
I have lived in this house since 1918. Dad built it in 1916 and then mother and dad bought it in 1918, and I've lived here since then.
JOHNSON: When did you move from Winterset? Did you move from Winterset to Grandview, or did you…
VANATTA: The folks went to Pleasanton, Kansas, when I was just a baby. Then they moved to Fulton, Kansas, after which they moved to Kansas City for a short time and then to Grandview.
JOHNSON: What was the year that you moved to Grandview?
VANATTA: We moved to Grandview in 1911.
JOHNSON: At that time, of course, the Truman family was living out here at their home approximately a mile north of where we are right now.
JOHNSON: Could you tell us what you and your family did after they moved here to Grandview?
VANATTA: We bought a restaurant in 1911. It burned out in 1914; we moved across the street and
opened up another restaurant. I went to school here all the time. We sold the restaurant and bought a grocery store in 1923, and then we sold that in 1938. I went to work for Associated Grocers in Kansas City and worked there for 25 years. I went to work there in '38 or '39, and I retired in '64.
JOHNSON: So you were in the restaurant business from 1911 to 1923, and then you were in the grocery business from 1923 to 1938.
You were eleven years old when you moved here to Grandview. Do you recall the first time that you met the Trumans, any of the Truman family?
VANATTA: Not necessarily. I know that Harry Truman came to the restaurant a lot. In those days the restaurant was the loafing place and the place where people gathered.
JOHNSON: A "Ma and Pa Cafe," so to speak?
VANATTA: Yes, that's right. And he, with all the others, was there. It was during that time that Grandview was incorporated and a lot of the work was done there in the restaurant.
JOHNSON: You say that Harry Truman did come to your restaurant?
VANATTA: Oh yes, he came to the restaurant quite a lot. Also, of course, he and Uncle Nute Steele were interested in the Masonic Lodge. Mr. Truman was there, at the restaurant, just like any other young man would be, just in and out.
JOHNSON: Nute Steele was your uncle, and he was well acquainted with Harry Truman?
JOHNSON: I guess since we have mentioned it we might as well pursue that; both of them were involved in the…
VANATTA: Masonic organization.
JOHNSON: In organizing it here in Grandview?
VANATTA: Yes. Harry was the first Worshipful Master when they organized, and then Uncle Nute in about a couple of years became the Worshipful Master. Also he and Harry were primarily the ones that organized the Eastern Star; that's the ladies' portion of the Masonic order.
JOHNSON: That's something that we don't have too much information on, that is, the early years.
VANATTA: Harry was the first Patron and my mother was the first Matron; that's the two head offices in the Eastern Star.
JOHNSON: Your mother was well-acquainted with Harry Truman?
VANATTA: Oh yes, definitely. Of course, Mary [Truman] was one of the charter members also in the Eastern Star. And she held the office of Worthy Matron
of the chapter in the early years. I've been well-acquainted with her, of course, all this time. I went with her a lot to Eastern Star because naturally I went into Eastern Star as soon as I could. I'm one of the oldest members here in the Grandview chapter now.
JOHNSON: After you moved to Grandview it was only three years later that John Anderson Truman, that's Harry Truman's father, died.
VANATTA: Yes. I never knew him. I don't ever remember him, but I do remember Mrs. Truman very well.
JOHNSON: Did your father remember John Anderson Truman?
VANATTA: I imagine he would have.
JOHNSON: You never heard him talk about him?
JOHNSON: So probably it wasn't long after you moved here that the Trumans were customers…
VANATTA: Yes, they were there, yes.
JOHNSON: …of the restaurant. What were your hours up there?
VANATTA: Oh, dad opened it up early in the morning and we were there late at night. I don't remember. Of course, we lived right there and we were just there all the time.
JOHNSON: Probably 6 or 7 in the morning until 6, 7 at night, I suppose?
VANATTA: That's right.
JOHNSON: Sure didn't give you much leisure time.
VANATTA: Well, you didn't want it. I washed dishes and things like that in the restaurant. Just lived there, that's all.
JOHNSON: What was your job?
VANATTA: Anything there was to be done.
JOHNSON: You were also going to school in the very early years.
VANATTA: Yes. I went to school here. I think I was in fourth or fifth grade when we came out here in 1911, and I finished up grade school. Then I was in high school. The first year I was ready to go to high school they organized -- that was the first year they had high school here. I was one of the first graduates out of the four-year high school. I graduated in 1918 and there were just two of us, another girl who is deceased and myself. We were the first two graduates out of the four-year high school, in 1918.
JOHNSON: So you were a waitress at times, so to speak. You waited tables, and you probably waited tables for Harry Truman and Vivian and some of the others?
VANATTA: Anything. Possibly, yes.
JOHNSON: They had a rather large farm out here. I guess that was not typical.
VANATTA: No, the farms around here at that time were pretty good-sized. They owned land on both sides of what is 71 Highway now.
JOHNSON: Before we get into a more modern period, do you have any recollections from what your parents might have told you, or from other sources, any recollections about Solomon Young or the forebears?
VANATTA: No, I don't. No, I really don't.
JOHNSON: No stories that you've heard about Solomon Young?
VANATTA: No, I really don't.
JOHNSON: And the farm house up here -- it still looks the same now as it did back as far as you can remember?
VANATTA: That's right, yes.
JOHNSON: How about Truman as a farmer. Have you heard anything about how he did as a farmer?
VANATTA: I don't remember, but I don't imagine he did too much farming, actual farming. He might have done some, but to be just a regular farmer, he wasn't.
JOHNSON: Because he was what?
VANATTA: He was too active in other organizations. He was active in politics, I think possibly always. I don't remember.
JOHNSON: He was one of the first members of the Farm Bureau here. Do you recall anything about Farm Bureau and his involvement with that or the 4-H Clubs?
VANATTA: No, I don't remember anything about that,
JOHNSON: I guess he was on the school board at one point.
VANATTA: He could have been, I don't remember. He was Postmaster here, I know, for quite some time.
JOHNSON: Actually I think Ella Hall did the work and got the pay.
VANATTA: And got the pay and he was…
JOHNSON: Formally he was Postmaster. And he was road overseer for awhile after his father died.
VANATTA: I expect he was. He was in politics, and you know politics in those days. They could do most anything.
JOHNSON: Did you ever hear anything about him being an investor in an oil exploration firm?
VANATTA: No, I don't believe I ever did. I remember him when he was in that clothing business in Kansas City.
JOHNSON: Do you recall any incidents or events at all involving Truman, let's say before that
time, before he got into the haberdashery business?
VANATTA: I don't remember.
JOHNSON: But you do remember they were patrons and did visit your restaurant.
Was Saturday night the big night in town?
VANATTA: That was the big night, yes. Everybody came to town on Saturday nights.
JOHNSON: The Trumans were probably in town on Saturday nights.
VANATTA: Well, I'd say Harry and Mary. I doubt very much whether Mr. and Mrs. Truman would, but I'm sure the kids did.
JOHNSON: Was that a busy time for th