For some, the Great Depression seems like yesterday

— -- Willie Lee Harris was just a little girl when the Depression hit her town of Yazoo City, Miss., in the 1930s.

If not for their farm, her family would have had little to eat.

In the midst of one of the worst economic crises since the Depression, Harris finds herself in a similar predicament. The retired nurse's aide has turned to public assistance to buy food and heat her house.

"It's all about survival," says Harris, 78, now living in Detroit.

Joe Clark, of Asheville, N.C., a first-grader in 1932, remembers many a meal of just beans and potatoes back then. He says he doesn't think today's turmoil is "anything comparable at this point to what happened in 1929."

The Great Depression was a worldwide economic downturn that began in 1929 and lingered until about 1939. For Americans who lived through those times, the current economic crisis recalls memories of consumer panic, bread lines, banks going belly up and record unemployment.

Gertrude Leck, 91, of Chadds Ford, Pa., remembers hearing radio reports of men jumping from buildings because they had lost everything in the stock market crash. Her experience then taught her to "make the best of what you have," she says. The Depression was a watershed moment that shaped how people earned and saved money, always aware that it could happen again.

'I was a drifter'

Ernest Popyk of Detroit learned the lessons of the Depression well.

A Ukrainian immigrant, Popyk lost his steel plant job after the market crashed in October 1929. He lived frugally, a practice he continues today.

"If I have a 20 in my pocket, I can live like a millionaire," says Popyk, 98.

Tears fill his eyes when he talks about what he did to survive the Depression. His parents and siblings returned to Ukraine as things worsened; he stayed in Michigan.

He worked for Western Union, delivering telegrams to people receiving news of the downturn. He made 10 cents for the first telegram and a half-penny for each one after that.

He found a slightly better job delivering milk. It was during that time, he met his future wife, Ann Brychitko, who is now deceased. She supported them with a $10-a-week job at a dime store, until he landed a job with the fledgling Dodge auto company. He gets about $2,000 a month in Social Security and pension payments and says he's tightfisted.

When he and his girlfriend took a recent trip to Florida, Popyk insisted they sleep in the car instead of a hotel.

'Lost every penny'

At 89, Rich Schade of Apache Junction, Ariz., has vivid memories of the Depression and how it played out in Bartlett, Iowa, a tiny farming hamlet along the Nebraska border.

There was the day when the local banker fled town in fear for his life. "There was talk of a lynching," Schade explains. "He didn't even bring his suitcases."

Schade's family came to the USA from Germany just before World War I. His parents were leery of banks and paper money.

They ran a 120-acre farm, a blacksmith shop and a general store, but they did not accept cash, only gold and silver. His family refrained from depositing their money in the bank.

"Everybody lost every penny, except what they had in their pockets. We didn't lose anything," he says.

Schade does have bank accounts now. "FDIC. FDIC," he says, pulling out a recent deposit slip as proof.

'Too many loans'

Joe Clark was only in the first grade in 1932, but he remembers his family just barely having enough to live on.

"It was pretty much a hand-to-mouth existence," he says.

As an adult, Clark went to work for the only bank that had stayed in business during the Depression, Wachovia.

He was a vice president and regional manager before retiring and moving from Charlotte back to Asheville with his wife, Zunita.

Clark, 83, has watched the nation's fourth-largest bank be scooped up by Wells Fargo. His stock in the company is "down the tube in a big way."

The events have borne out his concerns, the former lender says. "Too many loans have been made to too many people," he says.

'Age of overspending'

For a year after graduating high school, John Cunningham played baseball. It was 1932. There were no jobs.

He applied at Sears, Roebuck and Co., but says he didn't stand a chance with 200 others applying.

Cunningham's parents and six siblings lived on a farm in Brookside, N.J., and they grew most of what they ate.

"The Depression didn't hurt us; we were poor to start with," says Cunningham, 93, of Florham Park, N.J.

He covered sports for a local newspaper making 8 cents per inch of copy he wrote. Now a historian and author of 50 books, Cunningham says Franklin Roosevelt became a lifetime hero of his.

There is little comparison between today's crisis and the Depression, he says.

"These days are amazingly good. … There is a great deal of prosperity," he says.

'Luxuries collapsed'

Joe Labovsky, 96, of Wilmington, Del., watches the turmoil on Wall Street and, flashes back to the year he graduated from high school.

The Depression was underway.

"I thought to myself: I may be living through the same thing," he says. "But I'm blessed with old age."

Labovsky's father, a tailor for the wealthy du Pont family, was wiped out financially. His parents cried in the kitchen. There was no money for Labovsky to go to college.

"All the prosperity, all the luxuries suddenly collapsed," he says.

There were soup kitchens and bread lines along Market Street in Wilmington.

He recalls a married man with children telling him he had lost his job. "He was crying," Labovsky says. "It made me cry, too."

'It takes every penny'

Millie Rott remembers her uncle "hollering about the stock market" when she was a teenager in 1929. "I didn't know what it was."

Rott, now 94, worries about the current financial crisis because she knows firsthand how tough it was in the past.

Her mother would take in people to live in the rooming house she ran in Fort Worth.

Today, Rott worries that her limited income is in jeopardy.

She lives in an assisted-living facility in Louisville on $997 a month from Social Security. She shares the cost of the $20-a-month newspaper subscription with a neighbor.

"If I didn't have Social Security, I don't know what I'd do," she says. "It takes every penny of it to live."

Contributing: Dennis Wagner, The Arizona Republic, Phoenix; Maureen Milford, The News Journal, Wilmington, Del.; Laura Ruane, The News-Press, Fort Myers, Fla.; Chris Joyner, The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss.; Laura Bruno, Daily Record, Morristown, N.J.; Matthew Daneman, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle; David Unze, St. Cloud (Minn.) Times; Jennie Coughlin, The News Leader, Staunton, Va.; Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press; Jeff Martin, Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, S.D.; Jordan Schrader, Asheville (N.C.) Citizen- Times; Jessie Halladay, The Courier-Journal, Louisville