by Cori Hilsgen
Imagine learning that you had gone to the College of St. Benedict when you were a mere infant.
Drake Dierkhising recently learned he had been an honorary member of the CSB class of 1942. He was the home-management department’s baby and served as a practice baby for the seniors who took the class.
Dierkhising, now 72, was a virtual guinea-pig baby in 1941-42.
As the home-management baby, he was the object of each senior’s undivided attention for one week at a time. That included feeding, dressing and changing him. Dierkhising spent his days in the home-management house and his nights in the infirmary.
The class of 1942 had 47 members, but only about 12-15 seniors took the home-management class. Each class lasted for several months.
The class including caring for baby Drake, cooking, cleaning, doing household laundry, managing household accounts and sewing to decorate the rooms of the house. The household family operated under set income levels each week, ranging from 25 to 40 cents each day.
Other babies also served as the “home-management” baby, including some from the St. Cloud Orphanage.
Dierkhising’s mother, Katherine Lodermeier Dierkhising, was not very happy about this arrangement. He was her first-born child and was not even a year old, but Katherine’s mother, Sophie Lodermeier, couldn’t say “no” to the nuns. The family had many connections at CSB and St. John’s University.
Katherine was living with her parents at the time because Drake’s father O.C. (Dirk) Dierkhising was at sea with the Pacific Fleet in the United States Navy from 1941 to 1943.
Dierkhising was born in June 1941 and by September his father was in the Pacific. Dirk was at sea when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred and then he immediately went to Australia. Dierkhising’s mother came back home to live with her parents, Mike and Sophie Lodermeier of St. Joseph. He is the oldest of eight children – five boys and three girls.
Dierkhising said he grew up as a U.S. Navy “brat.” After the war, his father was transferred to Great Lakes, Ill. From 1947-49, he attended Great Lakes School in north Chicago.
His father was then transferred to Egypt for three years while he worked in medical research. Derkhising was the only American student in a school by the airport. He said he enjoyed going to school in Egypt.
“Most of my friends were pilots’ children,” Dierkhising said. “I never worried about anything. As kids, we rode the trolley about a mile to a sporting club.”
Dierkhising returned to Egypt in 1998. He was able to locate the school very easily, walking the five blocks right to it, but he was shocked to see the school complex had 10 foot walls around it.
After living in Egypt, Dierkhising’s family returned to Great Lakes and then his father retired from the U.S. Navy. His parents moved the family to St. Joseph where the Dierkhising family owned Kay’s Kitchen and LaPlayette Bar in St. Joseph.
All of Dierkhising’s family members went into the restaurant business, some of them becoming accomplished chefs and culinary experts. He and all of his brothers and sisters started out in the food business in the “bottle chute” at LaPlayette. In the middle of the bar there was a hole in the floor (bottle chute) that his father had built, so they could drop the beer bottles down.
“It was like a wood(en) structure the bottles would roll down and the kids would have to put them in the boxes,” Dierkhising said. “That was everyone’s initiation in the food business and after that they became dishwashers, cooks and servers.”
Dierkhising attended SJU for high school and college. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1963 and spent three years at Norfolk, Va. on ships and then three years in the north of Spain in communications.
Dierkhising met his Navy roommate’s sister, Madeline, and married her. They have two sons, Adam and Justin.
After leaving the navy, he co-owned LaPlayette and the Silverado Restaurant and Tavern with other family members for short periods of time. He also worked at a winery.
“The LaPlayette was probably one of the 10 best restaurants in the state of Minnesota,” Dierkhising said. ” The Minnesota Symphony used to stop when they passed through. Everyone in the family basically started at the La. First it was just the bar, then we added the back room and then the other room was added and we started serving food in 1962.”
Dierkhising has lived in California since 1973. He and his wife own the Cafe Sarafornia in the Napa Valley.
“We’ve had the place since 1979,” Dierkhising said. “The space itself, I claim, is the oldest continuous restaurant in the Napa Valley. It’s been there at least since 1900. We’ve got pictures back from 1906 and we know there were two fires before that. It has been rebuilt.”
The Cafe serves breakfast and lunch. The Dierkhisings have 16 employees, including four waitresses who have been with the Cafe for 20 years.
Dierkhising likes to see people leave the Cafe happy so he offers discounts. He said they especially offer discounts to sailors, Johnnies and Bennies.
“You’d be surprised how many I have had to give,” Dierkhising said. “In fact I had a man from St. Joe, a Reber from St. Joe last week. When I asked him where he was from. He said I’m from Minneapolis. I said, well, I’m from St. Joe and he said I’m from St. Joe. He knew the family and I knew his family.”
Dierkhising said they have many people who return to visit for anniversaries, repeat vacations and other occasions. The Cafe is located in the spa town of Calistoga. Many women’s groups come for weekend spa treatments.
Dierkhising’s son, Adam, works in commercial real estate in San Francisco. Dierkhising doesn’t believe Adam will go into the food business. His youngest son, Justin, is currently in construction management. He has his own company, but Dierkhising said he will eventually take over the Cafe Sarafornia.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.
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