Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Hedi Icenhour … from growing up in The Alps to a new life in the Appalachians

Life often takes people in directions they never dreamed possible. Hedi Icenhour, who lives in Mountain City, thought she would never have any use for the English language that she was required to take in her native Austria. To this day, 63 years later, you can still hear the Germanic accent mingled with her acquired northeastern Tennessee dialect.
Icenhour was born in Salzburg, Austria in 1927. Austria, a country about the size of Maine, is surrounded by several European countries. Salzburg itself sits on the northern edge of The Alps. With its beautiful surroundings, Salzburg served as the site for the filming of the movie, “The Sound of Music.”
Icenhour recently shared memories of her life in Austria during World War II. Austria was annexed into the German Third Reich in 1938. Icenhour was 11 years old at the time. She remembers the bomb shelters and air raids during war. When the Allies entered Salzburg, their first action was to destroy the railroad tracks to cut off transportation. Icenhour recalled that a bomb fell into their front yard, ripping their house open. Luckily, no one was home at the time. “Mom lost everything in the first bomb attack,” said Icenhour, “People here don’t know what folks had to go through. I wouldn’t want to relive that again.”
The unexpected attack left many in the city of Salzburg injured. Students were taken out of school to help render first aid to the wounded. Since many of the country’s employable workers had left to fight in the war, help for the farmers was difficult to find. Groups of students would be sent out to the farms for several weeks at a time to help the farmers with their crops. According to Icenhour, the students enjoyed participating in this endeavor.
The school system in Austria during this time period was set up differently from the schools in the United States. The minimum requirement for the students was to complete the eighth grade. After that, they could choose to finish school or continue their education. Icenhour furthered her education by going on to what she described as similar to high school here in the United States. Students would be taught a foreign language, typing and shorthand, along with other studies. From there, Icenhour went onto college to become a teacher. She was finished with her studies at 18. Icenhour taught for one year, working with students from three separate grades in one classroom.
Hedi met Raymond Icenhour while he served in the United States Army during World War II. While Raymond was sent back to the States after the war ended, they continued their relationship through writing letters to each other. Hedi’s parents were very much against her leaving Austria and moving to the United States. “My parents didn’t want me to come to the United States, period,” Icenhour emphatically said. An only child, Icenhour informed her mother, “Well, in two to three months I’ll be 21 and then I can go without your permission.” Reluctantly, her parents signed for Icenhour to leave Austria and head to America for a new life. Raymond Icenhour not only paid for Hedi’s ticket, but was required to have the money set aside for her return should she not be happy with her life in the States. The money would be returned to them once they could show proof of their marriage.
Icenhour suddenly found herself in a new and different world. Coming from a large city, she had never lived out in the country before. Electricity, running water and indoor plumbing was something she had taken for granted. The Icenhours did not yet have those luxuries. Although Icenhour had to adjust to many changes in her life, she found the people of Johnson County very friendly and accepting. “Everyone was so nice and friendly to me,” said Icenhour. As language was a barrier, Hedi worked hard to learn English, trying hard to pronounce words just like the people here in Johnson County.
Hedi and Raymond Icenhour walked to the home of a local preacher on the spur of the moment. Icenhour recalled that the preacher was in the process of churning butter. After the preacher suggested that he needed to go and change his clothes, Raymond quickly told him that wasn’t necessary. They were married that day by the preacher, dressed in his butter-churning attire.
Hedi and Raymond Icenhour lived in Mountain City, but also relocated to both West Virginia and Ohio for Raymond’s work. In West Virginia, Raymond worked as a coal miner. After moving back to Mountain City for awhile, they headed to Cleveland, Ohio, where Raymond was employed at General Motors. While the Icenhours were living in Cleveland, Hedi’s mother was able to come for a visit. This was her first and only visit to see her daughter. Hedi traveled back to Austria to visit her parents one time in 1967. While she wasn’t homesick, she missed her family. To this day, Icenhour holds onto a coat that she brought with her from Austria in 1947. “I just can’t part with it, ” shared Icenhour.
Hedi and Raymond Icenhour had six boys. Two of her sons live in Johnson County, with one living just across the street from her home. Two of her sons live out-of-state, in South Carolina and Louisiana with a third in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. Sadly, one of Hedi and Raymond’s sons died in a drowning accident. In the late 1980’s, their son, Larry had decided to go fishing in Watauga Lake. Falling off the boat, Larry Icenhour went under. Hedi shared that a diver who was looking for her son also lost his life. At that point, Icenhour recalled that she called off the search. “Larry wouldn’t want me to jeopardize someone else’s life,” said Icenhour. While Larry’s body was never recovered, a memorial service was held a year later to give the family closure.
Raymond Icenhour passed away in 1991. Hedi had worked for many years at the shoe plant in Mountain City until it closed in 1995. During that time, “I got to know a lot of people,“ she added.
Now retired and 82 years old, Hedi fills her days with family, volunteering and crocheting. She has five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren and is a member of Calvary Baptist Church where is very active working with the children. Every Wednesday evening the students meet in a group called Awana. This is a Christian-based program involving children from the age of three through high school. Icenhour currently works with second graders, teaching them Bible stories and helping them learn Bible verses. The students are rewarded with Awana dollars for learning new verses and for attendance. These dollars can be spent at the store set up in the fellowship hall of the church. Children can spend their dollars on toys, jewelry and other small items. “They love it,” shared Icenhour. Her eyes light up when she talks about her students. “I really enjoy working with them,” she said.
Icenhour is not one to sit idle. While watching television, she has her crocheting needles and yarn right there, working on project after project. She crochets afghans, doilies and stuffed animals. “I just can’t sit there and stare at the TV,” said Icenhour. Children in Austria are taught as young as second grade how to crotchet. She also enjoys reading.
Although moving from Austria across the ocean to the United States, Hedi Icenhour is at home. She is surrounded by her family and friends. She was pleased that the people of Johnson County so readily accepted her into their community so long ago. Icenhour says there is no other place she would rather be than right here in Johnson County.