MARILYN HAGERTY: A long way from the beet fieldGrandchildren of former migrants never learned to hoe sugar beets
By: Marilyn Hagerty, Grand Forks Herald
Their hoes moved along, almost in rhythm.
Three Flores boys were working on the R. Jackson Brown farm near Bathgate, N.D., when I first visited with them in the summer of 1969. They told me 44 years ago they didn’t mind hoeing sugar beets. But they said they wouldn’t mind doing something else.
As they worked in the beet fields, they thought about the money they would set aside for college in the fall. Sometimes they would stop and rest. Their father often said, “It’s up to you, boys. Do you want to hoe sugar beets for the rest or your life, or do you want to get an education?”
The Flores “boys” are in their 60s now. They did work their way through college and became educators and successful businessmen in the area of Dilley, Texas. One of them has a ranch. Another has an oil well on his land. One of their granddaughters, Victoria Flores, was Miss Fiesta this year at the University of Texas.
This I know from an update just recently from Barb and Bob Pohl, formerly of Bathgate, who visited the Flores family in Texas. Bob Pohl, was a neighbor years ago in Bathgate. He used to play baseball in the evenings with the Flores boys.
The days of the migrants coming in droves to work in the beet fields are long gone. But the memories of those who came here linger on. The Flores brothers look back on their days in the sugar beet fields. They remember how the number of jobs dwindled down to nothing as electronic thinners and sophisticated machinery took over the work once done by hand in the beet fields.
Today, the Flores brothers are proud of the successes they have had because they earned money to get through college. Their own children have never seen a beet field, but they have been to college. The family has fared well. For them, life is good.
After their years of hoeing beets, the Flores brothers came back summers to work in migrant schools around the Red River Valley. They were good athletes and they were ambitious. They knew they hoed so that their children wouldn’t have to hoe.
As they earned money in the summertime, the Flores brothers put money in a family treasury. They would take what they needed to go to college in the fall at Sul Ross University in Alpine, Texas.
The Flores family started coming to North Dakota in 1961. At first they would hoe beets for six or seven weeks and then move on to pick cucumbers in Wisconsin and tomatoes in Indiana.
Eventually their parents decided to come only to North Dakota and since they so valued education they wanted the boys to be back in Texas in time for the start of college classes.
In many ways, the Flores family was typical of 4,000 workers who were estimated to be in the area fields in 1969. Others still migrate to northern areas to help with harvest of other crops.
For them, hoeing beets is just a memory. They did it so their children and grandchildren wouldn’t have to labor under the hot sun. Still, they look back with nostalgia on their days in North Dakota.
They treasure the memories of playing baseball around Neche and Bathgate. They remember the friends they made up north. And to this day, they remember the mosquitoes.
Reach Hagerty at email@example.com or (701) 772-1055.