Bertha Louise (Wolfkill) Merrill
Bertha Louise Merrill was born near Westmoreland, Kan., on May 4, 1918, and was the daughter of Mearl 0. and Florence (Huckstadt) Wolfkill. In November 1920, they moved to a farm eight miles northwest of Garden City. She attended Roxanna School until the sixth grade, when she enrolled in the Holcomb Consolidated School. She graduated from Holcomb High School in 1935. In her senior year she wrote a riveting account of her experience during the dust bowl days, “When Dust Gets in Your Eyes,” which was published in Scholastic Magazine.
She first worked part time for the Clerk of the Court and Probate Judge, then for Finney County Agricultural agent H.W. Clutter, under President Roosevelt’s Agricultural Program until 1941. At the time she was the highest paid office foreman in the state of Kansas because Finney County was the largest county in the state, but getting the approval was difficult since she was a woman.
In 1939 she was married to Peter Merrill and two years later they moved to San Diego, Calif., where Pete worked at Consolidated Aircraft. Their daughter, Diane, was born in 1943 and in 1946 they returned to Garden City. Later, they bought a machinery business, Merrill, Inc., which he operated for 20 years.
During this time, Louise worked as a bookkeeper for Shallow Water Refining Company, and then for Maynard Knief, doing accounting and income taxes. In 1981 she started her own business, Louise Merrill Accounting and Tax Service, which she closed in 1986 after Pete suffered a heart attack and stroke.
Following Pete’s death in 1991, she remained in their home at 1010 Evans until January 2013, when she moved to a retirement community in Colorado Springs, Colo., to be closer to her daughter and her family.
Louise died peacefully in Colorado Springs on July 15, 2013. She was preceded in death by her husband, an infant sister and her parents.
She is survived by one daughter, Diane Merrill; a son-in-law, Alan Isaacson; and a grandson, David Isaacson.
Memorials are suggested to the Community Congregational Church Music Fund.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Garnand Funeral Home in Garden City. Graveside services will be held Monday, July 22, at 10 a.m. at Valley View Cemetery. A reception will follow at the Community Congregational Church, 710 N. Third.
When Dust Gets In Your Eyes
I am looking out of the window across the prairie land of the southwest. It is barren and drought-stricken. Many months have passed since we’ve had a soaking rainfall. Rolling brown clouds of dust in the northern horizon catch my eye and my thoughts are drawn to the severity of the oncoming storm. How warm and still it has become. Not a leaf moves. I watch, fascinated.
As the wind approaches, it tears up the soft plowed soil, whipping it with lashing fury across the plains; churning it into a fine powdered dust. On it comes, soon forming a huge wall above which I see sunny skies.
There goes Mr. Smith, rushing his car to the nearest garage. He’s remembering that battery of his which was burned out by the last dust storm. Mrs. Clark runs out to gather her washing off the line. Here and there window shades are quickly drawn and children scurry to the nearest shelter. It becomes darker.
Dirt is now sifting in through every conceivable crevice and it is hard to breathe. Outside it has blanketed every building, tree, and piece of machinery with a thick gray cloak. Cattle, horses and sheep shrink from the suffocating menace and huddle together in fence corners for protection. Their hides fill with the smudge, their nostrils clog with dirt, and the scattered blades of grass — their only food, are peppered with a distasteful layer of grime. How thankful I am for shelter. Tomorrow’s paper will tell of some unfortunate man or child who was caught in the clutches of this black giant.
I feel my way across the room and turn on the light but it is dim and I am surrounded by a solid fog of dust. Every deep breath brings a cough. It chokes me, it stifles me and I feel it grit between my teeth. It clogs my windpipe and lungs but I must go on breathing.
My eyes are heavily filled. Knowing not what else to do, I turn to the dirt-covered bed with a handkerchief tied around my nose and mouth to strain the dirt from the air. I wonder if I shall ever, ever sleep---.
Bertha Louise Wolfkill
Holcomb (Kansas) Consolidated H.S.
Scholastic — May 18, 1935