Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Michael T. Sanchelli: Reluctant Recruit

Michael T. Sanchelli grew up in the Swede Hollow district of St. Paul. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he wasn't sure about the potential benefits of the C.C.C. He tells the story in the follow excerpt from his memoir, "22 No. Phalen Creek, The Depression Years."

Memoir Excerpt

It was in the fall of 1933 when Cossum Yekaldo and I heard that Swifts was going to hire some people so we got up real early and took the streetcar there. Everybody else had heard the same thing; the yard was crowded with job seekers.

While standing there I heard one man say to a teenager, "I thought you were up in the forests." The teenager replied, "I went over the hill. I wasn't going to stay up there for thirty bucks a month." Going over the hill was the term used for leaving the camp for good without authorization. That was the first time I had heard things pertaining of the new youth program, the C.C.C.'s. The way he talked it was kind of scary, army uniforms, army food and army regulation and standing revelry [sic] every morning, also hard work.

I never gave the C.C.C.s another thought again until March of 1934, my cousin John Bartone came over to my house quite excited as he blurted out, "Mike, Tony Gag, Achie and I are going to sign up for the C.C.C. Why don't you come, too? Your family will get 25 dollars a month and you keep 5 dollars for yourself."

"Boy," I thought to myself, "are these guys nuts! It's like joining the army, if war starts they have to go first!" But that 25 dollars looked better because things for our family had gotten worse. The case worker would deduct the 25 dollars from whatever help our family got but the cash my mother could work miracles with, she would by some stuff from the Good Will store.

We weren't the first to go to the C.C.C.s, but we were first in our neighborhood. After we joined up, others from Railroad Island did. Six months seemed like a long time. The work was hard but we got used to it. I even had some easy jobs like surveying.

What I missed most was home. I got a little lonesome. Some of the boys stayed one year but we four came home. I was 19 years old now, and I figured I had a better chance of landing a job. I found out nothing had changed, jobs were still scarce.

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Sanchelli, Michael T., Michael T. Sanchelli Reminiscences, 1991. Minnesota Historical Society Manuscripts Collection.