Defining a depression
An economic depression generally involves a sustained decline in the economy resulting in major increases in unemployment, credit restrictions and deflation.
Economists use the "gross domestic product" to measure the size of the economy. GDP is the sum of all the money that people, businesses and governments spend on products in a country. Two quarters of negative GDP growth is generally considered a recession; there is no one definition of a depression, but it is much more severe and prolonged than a recession.
The 1929 stock market crash is considered the start of the Great Depression. The nation did not recover until the government started spending and creating jobs to fight World War II.
Now they are in their 80s and 90s, and as they follow the news about the nation's current economic crisis they are having flashbacks from their childhood. They worry that another depression is coming.
"I never thought I'd live to see two depressions. It brings tears to my eyes because I know what is going to happen," Lawrence resident Julia Galas, 89, said.
Galas grew up in Chicago, where her family lost their house because her parents couldn't make the mortgage payments.
"My father was very sad about it. We had a nice bungalow," she said. "There was nobody bailing us out."
Galas' father also lost his job at the Armour meat company and the family moved into an apartment.
Jean Umholtz's father also lost his job during the Depression. He was a bridge builder in Arkansas. Her family moved to her grandparents' farm near Topeka.
"They were dairy farmers and they did fine," Umholtz, 78, of McLouth, said. "They delivered milk in a wagon."
Americans just made do with what they had, what they could make and what little they could earn.
Instead of buying coal to heat his home, Chuck Benedict's father used corn. Corn was cheaper, said Benedict, 82, of Lawrence. His father owned a gas station in McLean, Ill. He was able to keep the business going.
Nobody asked for handouts, those who were interviewed said. The landlord who owned the apartment building Galas lived in accepted partial rent payments, she said.
"Everybody paid something," she said. "Nobody got evicted because everybody was in the same shape."
Galas' family also was lucky because even though her father lost his job at Armour, the company still supplied its former employees with free meat, bread and canned fruit for a year, she said.
"That was a chance for a man to get back on his feet," she said.
A different attitude
Some families weathered the Depression better than others. That's how it was with Scottie Lingelbach's Topeka household. Her father had just started a mortgage business when the economy went bad.
"He never in his career had a foreclosure, but he never made a loan for less than 20 percent down," Lingelbach, 86, of Lawrence, said.
Lingelbach remembers that Americans had a different attitude toward money and material in the 1930s than many have today.
"I just think there was not the entitlement mentality that we have developed in recent years," she said.
Many who lived through the Depression have continued the conservative habits they developed then.
"Everything I have in my house but the mattress came from a thrift store," Umholtz said.
But Umholtz worries about the younger generation and how they would handle a depression. She has a son who has been without a job for a year.
The current economic crisis will improve, but it will take years, Lingelbach said. She is irked that the country's leaders, especially Congress, let the economy and financial executives get out of control.
"I have great faith in America," she said. "I think we will weather this, too. Unfortunately it may be after I'm dead and broke."