Former DeKalb resident writes memoir about life in the 1930s

The house at 336 College Ave. once belonged to the grandparents of Clifford J. Hunt and was used as a student house by the couple.

By Dave Gong

DeKALB | Clifford J. Hunt grew up in DeKalb during the Great Depression, living in a small-farm house less than a mile from the DeKalb city limits.

He reflected on his experiences 78 years later with his memoir, “Too Tough For Knickers: Growing Up Poor in the 1930’s”.

Born on August 16, 1932 to Horace and Dorothy Hunt, Hunt had three half-siblings from his mother’s previous marriage, as well as three younger siblings.

His memoir is made up of pages of notes, letters, facts and stories. Hunt said much of his inspiration for the book came from his great-grandmother, Priscilla Dewey, but that the story is to be more of a social history, rather than a catalog of his personal experiences.

“My great-grandmother had written a 50 to 60-page memoir,” Hunt said. “It was a different time than when I was raised.”

In his book, Hunt said the differences between his grandmother’s childhood and his own was not as drastic as the differences between his childhood and his grandchildren’s. He said it struck him how differently his grandchildren live as compared to his own childhood.

“I wanted to give my grandchildren a taste of what life was like,” Hunt said.

Life on a farm during the Great Depression was not that different from the previous century, Hunt said.

“Time sort of stood still between 1936 to 1948,” Hunt said.

Much of Hunt’s early schooling took place in a one-room schoolhouse near the family farm. Hunt then graduated from DeKalb Township High School in 1949. Hunt said his life was not much different from other children growing up on farms in the same time period, but farming technology was advancing and the cost of farming had risen.

“By 1949, it was almost impossible for me to farm,” Hunt said.

Aside from his parents and siblings, Hunt had a number of family members living in DeKalb.

Hunt’s grandparents, Jane Eliza Hunt and Clifford Simonds Hunt, lived at 336 College Ave. His Aunt Agnes lived in a house at 1116 E. Lincoln Highway. After Jane Hunt’s death in February 1939, Hunt’s grandfather moved in at 1116 E. Lincoln Highway. Hunt had other relatives in DeKalb, such as Hunt’s Aunt Harriet, who lived on Augusta Avenue.

“That whole part of town is very familiar to me,” Hunt said.

Hunt’s mother lived on College Avenue while she attended school at Northern Illinois State Teaching College in 1926. Hunt said the house was student housing even back then.

In the 1950s, while Hunt was serving in the military, his mother and father built a home at 511 S. 10th St. in DeKalb. Hunt served in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1953.

Although Hunt said he has fond memories of growing up in DeKalb, he likes how technology and society have progressed throughout the years. 

“I think it’s wonderful,” Hunt said. “We’re healthier, live longer, more productive.”

Hunt and his wife, Sarah, now live in Oak Park. They have been there for 13 years. His son, Donald, still lives in DeKalb.

“The last 13 to 14 years have been the best years of my life,” Hunt said. “I do miss DeKalb, but I’ve made friends here.”

Hunt’s book is available on, and Hunt can be reached via email at [email protected].