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North Dakota sisters celebrate the 1950s through YouTube channel, book and proposed film

Jackie Pfeiffer McGregor and Janine Pfeiffer Knop live in other parts of the U.S. now, but are committed to promoting their favorite decade while honoring their parents and Menoken, North Dakota.

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Janine Pfeiffer Knop (left) and Jackie Pfeiffer McGregor are receiving accolades for their homespun way of remembering rural life in the 1950s.
Submitted photo
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MENOKEN, N.D. — For many of us, the 1950s conjures up flashes of Elvis Presley, sock hops and Dwight D. Eisenhower. But a couple of sisters originally from Menoken might soon change our minds.

The Pfeiffer sisters are less "Great Balls of Fire" and more old-fashioned date balls as they share homespun memories of their favorite decade in a 21st century way.

Jackie Pfeiffer McGregor and Janine Pfeiffer Knop are the authors of the book “While the Windmill Watched: A Slice of Rural America in the 1950s," while hosting their own YouTube show and preparing to hit the big screen with tales of the postwar era.

The project started with older sister Jackie, now living in Colville, Wash., jotting down stories just for the family. But in January 2020, Janine, who lives in Atlantic, Iowa, suggested they work on a book together.

“The total goal in writing our book was to honor our dad and mom, Jack and Eudora Pfeiffer, and the farming community of Menoken, N.D., in which we grew up,” Janine says.

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Main Street, Menoken, ND., in the 1950s.
Contributed / Special to The Forum

The sisters wanted to share stories of an idyllic time to be little girls in the tiny town southwest of Bismarck.

“It was a decade in history when small farming communities thrived, not just because they had their own schools. They had their own gathering places,” Janine said. “It was a time when neighbor helped neighbor, we worked together, we played together. It was just a time of community.”

That's what made the 1950s, for us, growing up in our particular spot in North Dakota on the Great Plains, so heartwarming and so memorable.
Janine Pfeiffer Knop, on the community feel of growing up in rural North Dakota in the 1950s.

The book is called “While the Windmill Watched” because the sisters chose the windmill as “the sage observer of time,” watching over the girls during their many adventures with 4-H (where “the expectation was always to do our best”) to wearing dresses made out of chicken feed sacks and the time a fighter plane crashed into their farm field.

“We could have been under attack for all we knew,” Janine recalls.

Actually, according to the Bismarck Tribune on June 12, 1954, the F-86D jet fighter from Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D., crashed in the Pfeiffers' field after suffering mechanical failure. The pilot got out safely. But it caused quite a stir for the Pfeiffers, who were just finishing up their noon meal.

“I remember seeing something go in front of the sun, then it was dark,” Jackie says.

“I do remember the sound of that plane and thinking that, in my own little girl mind, that this is different and the plane sounds really low. But never did we expect this crash. This boom,” Janine adds.

"Mom and Dad were running out in the field and we were left behind which was totally very frightening,” Jackie says.

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But the plane crash is definitely an anomaly in the book. Most of the stories are sweet, pleasant walks down memory lane. They even include a few of their mom’s favorite recipes, including the above-mentioned Old Fashioned Date Balls along with Velvet Fudge and Baked Potato Candy.

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Janine Pfeiffer Knop (left) and Jackie Pfeiffer McGregor cherish their memories of growing up together in rural America in the 1950s.
Contributed / Special to The Forum

The book was the recipient of the 2022 Independent Press Award Regional Favorite. However, the sisters aren't resting on their laurels. They’ve launched a YouTube channel called The 1950s Fun Chat where they visit with guests about life in the decade.

“We had people saying ‘You brought so many memories to my mind of the life that I lived.’ And then they start talking and they start sharing their memories. And so Jackie and I said we need to have a platform in which baby boomers can share their stories,” Janine says.

And the stories might also soon be on the big screen. The Pfeiffers are working with Canticle Productions to turn their book into a movie.

They’re currently in the process of raising funds for development. If you’re interested in learning more, visit their website at whilethewindmillwatched.com . The sisters say right now they are not benefiting from this financially. Their goal has been to promote the ‘50s, their parents and their hometown. And they hope others might want to join in.

“In the 1950s, so much good happened in the country, and especially for rural America and the Great Plains. It might just be a story they want to hear again."

Tracy Briggs is a News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 30 years of experience.
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