Skip to main content

Interview with Olga Riggins

:: ::


Riggins, Olga ; Caganek, Anna


Olga Riggins talks about her parents' courtship and emigration from Europe to the U.S. She talks about her father's store and the ice house he operated. She tells of her variety of jobs - the Endicott Shoe Corporation, Carlova Perfume Factory, Hotel Billingshurst as a maid, and working in her family's store. She speaks about how she occupies her time, dedication to her church, Christ the King, and the various church activities she is involved with.




This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.

Date Modified


Is Part Of

Broome County Oral History Project


27:45 Minutes


Broome County Oral History Project

Interview with: Mrs. Olga Riggins

Interviews by: Anna Caganek

Date of interview: 27 April 1978

Anna: I am Anna Caganek, the interviewer, talking to Olga Riggins. 302 Kent Ave, Endwell, New York. On April 27, 1978. Okay, so…now you could tell me about your life and your experiences.
Olga: Well, my parents were born in Europe. See, my father came from Uhersky Brod. He was born in 1884, and my mother was born in Holicek [sic], 1896. Her maiden name was Konecny. They had a 5 year courtship in Europe, before they were married. Then they settled down and had a grocery store. Two children were born in Europe and my father came to this country in 1910. And one of his first jobs was working in the Fairbanks for about 7 dollars a week. And they moved in with some relatives - I remember that. It was very reasonable - I remember that. And let’s see…after that… I don’t know his other jobs, but…oh, one boy was born in America, he lived to be about a year old. And there was a cholera epis-epidemic at the time. So he died. And then about a year later, I was born. And I was born right on Glenwood Ave. And downstairs was a grocery store and that my mother was working there, too. What else for now…? No? [foreign] Well, let’s see…where else do we go from there?
Anna: Take your time.
Olga: Well, my father had an education in Europe - a business course. So he was a businessman, even in Europe. So when he came to this country, he started up a store on Clinton St. I think the number was 186 at the time…and then I think at that address, two more brothers were born. And he had the store, and he framed pictures, and he sold religious articles, and all kind of foreign cards in all the First Ward, very popular store. And then much later, he had another store on 60 Glenwood Ave. And at that address, my sister was born; she was the last of the six children. Let’s see, after she had six children, um…yeah, my parents not only had a store - they also had an icehouse. And that was very interesting because all the children helped, including myself. I almost forgot about that…that was really good. Yeah, and everybody came with their cars and wagons, business was good. We really, really enjoyed it. It was a gold mine.
Anna: How much was the ice then?
Olga: Oh! Well, the ice? 50 cents for 100 pounds, and I think 10 cents for 25 pounds. I used to enjoy working there. That was really fun.
Anna: A time when there was no refrigerators?
Olga: Yeah, there was no refrigerators at the time, so that was good. And you, there was a nice hotel across the street from us, a, a hotel. Hutta’s Hotel. That was really nice; I remember that. And where a beautiful garden there was around there. And the people across the street would get their beer, they go with pitchers, buy their beer across the street. That was really nice. Now there’s a gas station. Let’s see, after that? I’m trying to think…well, I got married when I was living on Glenwood Ave. I met my husband in a shoe factory, and we have one son. Let’s see…I think I stayed about 3 years in E. J.’s [Endicott Johnson]. And then, um…before then or afterwards, I worked in a restaurant as a short order cook for about 2 years. And at one time, I put in a couple years at Carlova Perfume Factory. That was interesting.
Anna: What did they do there?
Olga: At Carlova’s?
Anna: Mm-hm.
Olga: Well, we were packing things. Some of them filled powder boxes, some filled the perfume bottles. I remember packing bath salts, packing bath salts and putting them in boxes. That was interesting work, but that was just part time. And I was also a maid in a Hotel Billinghurst, which is gone now. That was interesting work, too.
Anna: What were you doing?
Olga: I was a maid. I was a maid in the Hotel Billinghurst for a couple years. And I spent a lot of time working in a store. See, I enjoyed selling things; I helped a lot in the icehouse and in a store. That kept me pretty busy. And let’s see, what else? Dan? Dan, my husband, was a furnace man - he installed furnaces. That was good work. And he retired…oh, I guess he was, you know, 62. Only 62 years old, he retired.
Anna: And what does your son do?
Olga: Oh, yeah. Our son has a good job. He works in the Gas and Electric Company. He went to Broome Tech. for 2 years; that was his education. And he is doing doing very well working for the Gas and Electric Company for the last, about 11 years now. Anything else now? Um, that’s our tape, our tape. What about my sister? Well, we don’t care about her - she getting [unintelligible]
Anna: You could tell ‘em.
Olga: Well, let’s see…should I tell ‘em about my brother’s [unintelligible]? They don’t care about that. Let’s see…the second oldest brother died. He worked in Links. He died about 5 years ago, and then almost 2 years ago, a younger brother died. He worked for the printing company: Hall Printing. He died. The rest of us live.
Anna: And you could say that!
Olga: And the rest of us live. Well, only 2 died and there’s 4 out of 6, so that isn’t so bad.
Anna: How many children did your mother have?
Olga: 6 - well, one died, so that was actually 7. 7.
Anna: 7.
Olga: There was 7, so there’s 4 survivors. And my father had interesting work. when the people want to send money to Europe, he was very handy. He had a business with a bank in New York, and the people would bring their money. He was a very good, experienced man - a good writer and a businessman. So they would pay him a small fee and he would send their money to Europe. That was a good service for the people in the First Ward. They enjoyed sending a little money to Europe and he liked to do that for them. And he was one of the first people to have a car. We lived on Clinton St. Nobody else had a car. His first Ford…boy, that was, everybody liked that. They would go for a ride.
Anna: You don’t know what year, right?
Olga: Oh, I’m trying to think if it was 1923?
Anna: Mm.
Olga: About 1923 ‘cause I’m standing on the train and I was born in 1916. Let’s see…he did that, what else did he do? Of course, back to Europe again, it’s too late for that.
Anna: No.
Olga: Too late? While my mother was in Europe, her father had a good job.  He was like an overseer, sort of like a plantation, and my mother was a young girl. And she used to weed out the sugar cane. I remember her telling me that.
Anna: Mm.
Olga: She was very active and liked liked to help out, so she enjoyed weeding out the sugar cane; that was one of her jobs. And then her mother wanted her to learn how to be a good cook and learn outside things, so she was hired out to a school teacher in Europe. So she cooked for a school teacher and lived in a very nice place. They had peacocks and everything there - I remember that. And lot of these fancy dogs. So my mother was, um, learning how to cook. And she was housekeeper and cook in this nice home. And after she got married, and my father told her she can’t work there anymore, so she enjoyed that. And when the school teacher took sick, my mother took over the class. She let her take over. This must’ve been a lower grade, I guess so. Any, elementary school. So my mother was smart enough to take over when the lady couldn’t make it.
Anna: Mm-hm.
Olga: That was a good job. There’s a lady here in Binghamton that worked for the same household: Mrs. Mizule. [sic] She worked for the same household. Yeah…and I always thought I could go to Europe sometime, but I don’t know…still hoping. And I, well, they don’t have to know about that cousin that, she died. She was the one that encouraged me to come. Yeah, she encouraged me to come. My cousin, Anna Kocecny. She really wanted me to come and the poor soul, she died Easter Day. She told me if I came to Europe, she’d show me where my grandparents lived, where they’re buried, all the interesting things. And especially, I’d like to see that castle where she had been working as a hostess. Someday, maybe I’ll still get there. ‘Cause I still have a few cousins there.
Anna: About the baths?
Olga: Oh, they have these mineral baths in Europe that, a lot of the Americans go there. And I heard so many people that go to Europe tell me about those mineral baths - the Health Baths. Now, that’s one of the places I’d like to go. The Health Bath…that would really be something.
Anna: Is, is that the one that’s in Carlsbath, or…?
Olga: No, that’s, uh…the one, um…it’s near Trnava. It’s, um…who has - Trnava, and what’s that other town? Oh, oh, I’ve heard of them.
Anna: [unintelligible]
Olga: No, no, no, I’ve heard it because they’ve been there. I can’t think of it now. [unintelligible] You know, those mineral baths, and it’s…their climates are so different there, their summers come early. And Americans come to this castle to be entertained. Someday, I gotta go there, see for myself all the things I hear about. And the same cousin said if I don’t get there, that our children and her children should get together and look over our European country where our ancestors came from.
Anna: Mm.
Olga: Gee, that’s a long tape.
Anna: Yeah, it’s some [unintelligible] gonna say [unintelligible]
Olga: Goodness. What else is new?
Anna: And about your husband, what does he do?
Olga: Well, he’s retired now.
Anna: No?
Olga: Well, he’s retired, but yeah…Dan’s re-Dan’s retired.
Anna: He never worked in - oh, yeah! He worked in E. J. Johnson, right?
Olga: Oh, yeah; 20 years. Yeah, Dan worked in E.J.’s 20 years and he got no benefits at the time. There was no Social Security, nothing. No retirement. 20 years for nothing. Very, you know, cheap labor, yeah. He put in 20 years. Then he worked for the various different, um, heating companies: Glenwood Heating and Statewide Heating. He worked for all of them. So he was very well-experienced with the, all kind of heating problems.
Anna: Mm-hm.
Olga: And he was very efficient around the house ‘cause anything breaks down…yeah, he could fix everything.
Anna: And what, what did you do for entertainment?
Olga: For entertainment? Not much.
Anna: [laughs]
Olga: Watch TV. No, I’m the kind that likes to go places and do things. I do a lot of volunteer work, I go to state hospital every month…
Anna: Tell me about that.
Olga: What, the state hospital?
Anna: About when you come there and…
Olga: What we do in the state hospital?
Anna: Yeah.
Olga: Well, I enjoy it because every month, we do something different. Now, I have lot of fun there because I never bowled in my life, and now I went bowling again. That was fun. And, uh, I’ve never been to a hayride. You go to the state hospital as a volunteer, I really enjoyed doing the things that the patients do. And they get to know you after a while. Then I go to Western Broome, made a lot of friends within the year. I got lot of friends in Western Broome because we have trips, and dinner dances, cover dish. And we have a lot of good times and I met a lot of nice people there.
Anna: What ch-?
Olga: Oh, and of course - what church?
Anna: Not, no, what church did you go to?
Olga: Well, I belong to Christ the King in Endwell, and I belong to Legion of Mary, Altar Rosary, uh, Golden Age. Very busy lady.
Anna: [chuckles]
Olga: I really enjoy being with people, and helping people, and being useful. Helping out anybody that needs help. And I know the senior citizens get phone numbers for all these things, so I tell people, “You can get help here, you can get help there.”
So it’s good to be a senior citizen.
Anna: Mm-hm.
Olga: How long is the tape? [chuckles]
Anna: Oh, God.
Olga: How much longer?
Anna: We got a lot more.
Olga: I see like a, oh. I thought, I thought, oh…
Anna: 90 - 92 minutes.
Olga: Oh, I’m talking too fast. Oh, ours is only one hour, see. One hour. And you got, like, 10 minutes. This is a really, really big one. We talk a lot. Something else that won’t be blank?
Anna: No.
Olga: Let’s see…all the interesting things…well. We, we have a s-grandchild, my husband’s grandchild.
Anna: Where do they live?
Olga: Oh, the grandchild? They live in Littlestown, Pennsylvania. I married a widower who has 2 sons. The older one is a widower, and the younger one is remarried and has this, only grandchild that we have. Of course, our boy is still single, still looking. And he’s a very good boy - helps his parents any way he can.
Anna: [unintelligible]
Olga: Oh, lots of properties. Yeah, he’s a young fellow, but he likes to invest, so…he’s got investments for his old age. Let’s see…
Anna: What were some of the most interesting things you like to do?
Olga: My most interesting? Oh, nothing.
Anna: Traveling, huh? Traveling.
Olga: Traveling? Well, I enjoy going to, um, these religious - I enjoy going on these religious trips to Fatima near Canada because that’s the only way I got to Canada - by going with the church group.
Anna: How about a place where they, where the people were dressed differently?
Olga: I didn’t go there, you didn’t take me to such a town. You didn’t take me there, you didn’t take me. Now, where was I? I was talking about something…about my trips.
Anna: Yeah.
Olga: Yeah, if the churches and senior citizens didn’t have these trips, I probably wouldn’t go anyplace. My husband likes to drive, but not too far. I don’t know. He likes to go for a ride but not too far. So by going on these different excursions and bus trips, I’ve been to a lot of places like Mount Airy Lodge. I probably never would have got there if it wasn’t for the Senior Citizens - it was very reasonable. And I went to Niagara Falls, I think 2 or 3 times already. He never took me - I had to take myself to go to Niagara Falls. Let’s see, where else do I go…?
Anna: You like animals?
Olga: Oh, animals? Oh, yeah. I like animals. Yeah, we have a cat - she must be 12 or 13 years old. Florence, she’s such a nice cat kitty.
Anna: [chuckles]
Olga: She’s really a pleasure, and she’s so smart like a dog. You walk out the house, she follow you. And she’s a lot, a lot of pleasure. ‘Course, we used to have a dog, but that’s old stuff.
Anna: You ever go to the circus?
Olga: Oh, that? Yep. We care about that?
Anna: Yeah.
Olga: I thought just history - this ain’t history. Well, I enjoyed the circus, and I used to go when they had ‘em in the tents, Stow Flats.
Anna: Well, it’s history in a way.
Olga: [laughs]
Anna: ‘Cause you go there and, you know…
Olga:  Yeah. Well, they had, uh, circus in a tent. But now they have an arena, it’s so much nicer, and cleaner, and easy to get to. Buses run. We have very good, very good bus travel here - I enjoy riding the buses. And now that I’m a senior citizen, I get a discount. That’s nice, too. That discount, I enjoy that. And, let’s see..I guess they’re going to improve our Ross Park. I’ve been going there practically all my life, and it is better than it was before, but they’re making improvements all the time. That’s one of the places I love to go.
Anna: Did you ever go there on that, on a streetcar?
Olga: Yep, I went on a streetcar, but I must have been about 10 or 12 at the time. Because I remember the streetcars, vaguely. And Recreation Park, I passed it the other day. And I used to take care of my sister, and walked with a carriage, I loved Recreation Park. That hasn’t changed - that’s still nice.
Anna: Mm-hm.
Olga: Oh, I do love our parks. And I’ve been to state parks since that’s changed over. State park has changed over, and what’s nice is that senior citizens don’t even have to pay now. If you go on a weekday - not a, not a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday - you don’t even have to pay. Which is very nice.
Anna: You worked in E.J., didn’t you?
Olga: Yeah. Did I say that? 3 years. Yeah, I said 3 years E. J.’s, and 2 - yeah. I’m a dander.
Anna: Oh.
Olga: 3 years in E. J.’s and 2 years in P. J.’s. [chuckles] P. J.’s Restaurant.
Anna: Well, how much, you weren’t - how much were you making then, when you first started?
Olga: Oh, good heavens. It was a day work job, I don’t even know. I was working day work - I didn’t put in that many years to compare.
Anna: You weren’t making much income?
Olga: No, I don’t know how much, but it wasn’t much.
Anna: You wanna tell ‘em about E. J.’s? How nice they were.
Olga: How nice were they? In what way?
Anna: They held, they gave the parties, and…
Olga: Oh, E. J.’s? Well, while I worked in E. J.’s, I went - when my department, everybody went in, whoever went into service were all, they had a party, went to all the parties. That was nice.
Anna: Mm-hm. That was for a dollar, you would say…
Olga: Oh, the banquet? Well, E. J.’s was a very nice company. I will never forget ‘em because they had the E. J. banquets and I went to quite a few, and my gosh. For a dollar, you got your money’s worth. That was really something.
Anna: Mm.
Olga: Dad didn’t go, but I used to go with the other people. I really enjoyed going. And our son has a cottage - we like to go there. You know, being senior citizens, it’s a nice place to go, and it’s so quiet, it’s so nice there. And Dan’s pretty smart; he fixed up, um, a motor, and he hooked on to a car battery. And you don’t have to row the boat - it just takes you for a ride. The boat goes around the lake, and it’s so nice and so peaceful. All white birch trees - a lot of ‘em. That’s why it’s called White Birch Lake. White Birch in Windsor; nice place to visit.
Anna: [unintelligible]
Olga: Well, everybody else has been there, yeah. We haven’t been around, we go. Yep. And it’s…Joey modernized it: He has a little water bed there now. And one bedroom is all finished; the other bedroom isn’t finished yet, but it’s really nice. And when the blackberry season comes - I went once, I’d like to go again - people can pay, I forgot, not very much, and you can pick your own blackberries. So a couple years ago, I was picking blackberries there. That made it nice. Anna: Did you ever pick blackberries way back when you were a kid?
Olga: Not, not that I remember. Oh, a little bit. When Tommy was small, I took care of Tommy. He used to go picking things.
Anna: When we went to the [unintelligible] play.
Olga: Oh, that? Well, I don’t know what year, I don’t know what year that was, but a friend of mine - should I talk about this?
Anna: You could.
Olga: Well, Anne Cagenek, my friend from way back, we had a chance to be actresses on a stage. They had a Passion play, and we were Jewish ladies - Arabian or Jewish ladies. And we even had costumes, and make-up, and we played for 3 matinees. 3 matinees - that was something. Imagine being on the stage.
Anna: And you were in the Passion show?
Olga: The Passion show. Yeah, it was the Passion play, and we were on a stage. We played for 3 matinees.
Anna: [unintelligible]
Olga: Before the, just before the Capital Theatre was torn down. So we certainly miss, uh, that Capital Theatre. We miss it because that was such a show. Being on a stage, that’s once in a lifetime thing. And I enjoyed going there with my mother because they had vaudeville. Now, that was something. We don’t have vaudeville anymore - I do miss it. Wish we had the Capital Theatre, but now there’s a big parking lot for the bank. Theatre is gone. And, let’s see…oh, I used to belong to St. Cyril’s Church way back. And that was remodeled and torn down. Now, there’s a brand new church there. I went there all my life. And of course, now I go to Christ the King on Davis St. It’s a very small church, but very friendly - you get to know half the church. And, uh, we have Monsignor Frieze [sic] there and Father Walsh. So, it’s…oh, and our church, uh, once a month, we have this Golden Age which is very nice. It only started a few years ago, and I’m one of the members. Also, my husband is a member. We all bring a cover dish, and, um…first, we have our mass. And then we go downstairs and have our dinner. And then we have entertainment. Sometimes musicians come in and play for us, sometimes we have bingo, and they do give door prizes. And it’s, it’s very nice for the older people to get to. And we didn’t have that too long, so…we like that. And Dan isn’t a church member, but this, he does go with me. It’s one way to get him to church. He really likes that. group it’s very nice I belong there, I started a few years ago I belong there, I’m one of the members also my husband is a member.
Anna: You’re, you’re a young senior citizen.
Olga: I am?
Anna: Aren’t you?
Olga: Well, the bus driver says, “Senior citizen?”
I says, “Yeah, I’m not ashamed to say I’m young senior citizen - 62.” I said, “Being a senior citizen, you do have a lot of nice breaks that I didn’t have before. I’m gonna go to Phase then, I understand that if you, lot of card, you can get a discount on any Phase products. I didn’t know that. You go to Kent’s? You don’t get a discount - only on the prescription - because anybody that walks in says that it’s already marked down.” No, you can only get a discount only on the prescription. With Phase, you can get a discount on anything in the store has the Phase label. You know, there’s washing supplies and cleaning things, or whatever you wanna buy at Phase, you do get a discount - you look into that. And what else?
I was smart enough to get some of my mother’s receipts, I have a whole book of my her recipes. So [clears throat] a lot of the things she cooked and baked, I could read the book and do it just like my mother did. That’s something. Yep.
Anna: How long did you live in Binghamton?
Olga: How long have I lived in Binghamton? Well, all my life; I’ve never lived anyplace else. Binghamton’s my hometown. Born in Binghamton and probably die here [chuckles].
Anna: And where do you go?
Olga: Yeah, well, I go on little visits - not big ones. But, yeah. Binghamton is my hometown. And I’m watching it change. Some of the things are pretty good. ‘Course, the old-fashioned things we miss, but [clears throat] we’re having a lot of little, nice improvements. Walking through Court Street, I see all the buildings get a new front. I see the work - oh, they’re cleaning up Binghamton. It’s really nice. I like the little park they have around by by the river: Benches and trees. They’re really improving Binghamton - I could see it change in all these years. Well, we’ve been here 62 years, that’s quite a while. I don’t think I’d like to live anyplace else…yep. I really care about Binghamton.
Anna: [unintelligible]
Olga: About our cemetery? Well, we have a nice cemetery. It’s, uh, Saint Cyril’s Cemetery. Saint Cyril’s.
Anna: And is that where your family…?
Olga: Yeah, your family. Don’t I know…Well, I’m looking forward to May 18. I’m going to Rochester. I hope the lilacs are open by then. In Rochester…I did do go there a couple years ago. We went to the Kodak Mansion, where the first cameras and the first pictures were made. That was really, really interesting. And then we went to a conservatory, saw all kinds of Oriental plants. And, uh, Hawaiian plants that we don’t even see around here - hope I go there again. And of course, we always stop at some nice restaurant. Those trips are really - I’m looking forward, I expect to go. Spring is here, but I’m gonna be traveling all summer: Every chance I get. So May 18 is my first trip. And maybe I’ll go to Canada again…I like that, too. And Niagara Falls, you never get tired of that. They don’t care that I went to [unintelligible]
Anna: What?
Olga: That I went to [unintelligible]. That I’m very lucky. You gonna put all that in the book?
Anna: Well, there’s something worth saying there. You can tell ‘em.
Olga: Well, they call me lu- they call me lucky. I don’t know why because I win this and that. Not everything, but almost.
Anna: Almost.
Olga: Even at the Senior Citizen, we have bingo. And I won yesterday, and I won last week. And when I went to the dinner dance, I won a door prize there. It won two fancy handkerchiefs.
Anna: Oooh.
Olga: It was 300 people, or not…was it 300? 125 people and only 6 people won. It was 125, and I was one of the 6. [chuckles] They see me walking to the thing. [clears throat]
Anna: You went to the WMBF?
Olga: Oh, WMBF? Let’s see, they didn’t give me a television. WMBF?
Anna: But you won a lot of things.
Olga: Well, I won that AM/FM radio I won on WMBF, and WNBR, a black and white television. And when the Oakdale Mall opened, I was lucky I won a television in the Citizens’ Savings Bank. And then a long time ago…we won - or actually, Dan - the BB store had a grand opening, so that actually, that was Dan’s television. Hm, they call me lucky. I wonder why? I must live right. That’s what they tell me. Every time I turn around, something nice happens. Yeah, I guess there is something to it: If you live right, it really pays off to live right.
Anna: [unintelligible]
Olga: [chuckles] God bless America. [laughs]
Anna: And that’s it. Thank you, Olga, for the interview.
Olga: You’re welcome, Anne.

Streaming Audio

Date of Interview



Caganek, Anna


Riggins, Olga


27:45 Minutes

Date of Digitization



Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Riggins, Olga -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Children of immigrants -- Interviews; Endicott Johnson Corporation -- Employees; Hotels -- Employees

Carlova Perfume Factory; Hotel Billingshurst; Christ the King Church



Item Information

About this Collection

Collection Description

The Broome County Oral History Project was conceived and administered by the Senior Services Unit of the Office for the Aging. Funding for this project was provided by the Broome County Office of Employment and Training (C.E.T.A.), with additional funding from the Senior Service Unit of the National Council on Aging and Broome… More

Link to Collection Overview

Link to Browse Collection Items


“Interview with Olga Riggins,” Digital Collections, accessed June 17, 2024,