Spruce’s Forever Home





It seems I am always writing my ancestor’s stories, but I think there are some other stories that need to be told.  I would like to tell the story of one beloved pet.  I am a dog lover!  I have always had a dog from the day of my birth.  I have only been without a dog for a couple of months at a time in between the death of one dog and getting another one.  I’d like to tell the story of our dog Spruce.  Spruce was the name she got at the shelter and we just kept it.  I sometimes referred to her as the “throw away dog”.  When I get a dog, it is for keeps, I do not get rid of them no matter what.  Once Spruce came to us, she found her forever home.  According to her records, she was picked up by animal control and taken to the county shelter.  No one came to claim her.  If my dog ran away, I would be calling the police, animal control, and every shelter in the county to see if I could find her.  I think that if her owners had looked, they would have found her.  I wonder if they turned her loose or dumped her off near where she was found.  Then she was adopted by a couple and brought back within the week.  They claimed that she was too wild.  Then my son and daughter-in-law adopted her for my granddaughter.  She was estimated to be around three years old at the time.  They had her for a year when they divorced and moved.  Neither one could keep her because they were having a hard time finding a place to rent that would take pets. Two months prior, we just lost our Golden Retriever, Susie.  We had Susie since she was six weeks old, and Susie lived to ripe old age of 15 ½.  I planned on getting another Golden Retriever, when my son called begging me to take Spruce.  He asked me to take her for my granddaughter so she would not have to lose her dog.  I should mention that Spruce was a Beagle or as my husband would say a Bagel.  Anyway, we did take Spruce.

My husband’s name is Bruce so you can imagine the confusion when I called Spruce or Bruce.  Within a couple of weeks of having Spruce she had a seizure.  We took her to the vet and she told us to keep track of the seizures.  If she had them often, we would need medications.  But as it turned out she would have them a few times a year.  I wondered if this was the reason she was not wanted by previous owners.  She was a spirited dog and yes she could get wild.  She would run around in circles when she got excited.  When someone would come over she would run around in circles, jumping from sofa to chair, and back to sofa.  She came with a football that she loved.  It was her favorite toy up to the day she died.  We took her into our lives, and she became part of our family.  We would go camping a lot in those days with our trailer, and Spruce always went along.  She enjoyed the long walks with me while camping.  She did not like the camp fires; and wanted to go in the trailer as soon as we lit the fire.  When the grandchildren came over, they would take her outside to play.  My brother spoiled her too.  Every time he came over, he would take her for a walk.  She would sit and stare at him with her expressive eyes until he gave in and walked her.  She liked to go for rides in the car.  All we had to do was think about taking her for a ride and she seemed to know it.  She would start running to where her leash was hung and then look at us.  She seemed to be able to read our minds.  My granddaughter taught how to sit up, give paw, and a high five.  Over the years, Spruce had several urinary tract infections, and we had to put her on a special diet that she was on for the rest of her life.  She also had bad teeth and had to have several of them extracted.  She developed a heart murmur and had a bad heart valve.  In spite of all her problems, she was our little girl and we loved her.  Last January she started coughing, I thought it was probably her heart.  She was now 12 years old.  We took her to the vet and as it turned out it wasn’t her heart, it was lung cancer.  They said she had a few weeks to a couple of months to live.  We took her home with medicine for the cough, pain medication, steroids, and medication to open up her bronchial tubes. She did well on the medication.  There were times we almost forget she was sick.

In September she was having difficulty breathing, and we thought it was the end.  We took her to vet with the idea that we were going to have her put down.  But the vet told us that it could be pneumonia caused by the cancer.  She would need to take a chest x-ray to confirm the pneumonia.  So we had the chest x-ray done and the vet seemed to think she could treat the pneumonia and give her a couple of more months.  We opted to do that and took her home again with antibiotics.  She responded well to the antibiotics, but she needed to be on them longer than the usual 10 days and was on them for three weeks.  She recovered from the pneumonia and seemed to do well once again.  Of course, she had slowed down and no longer ran in circles and jumped on furniture.  She had her favorite spot on the sofa and did a lot of sleeping.  She still loved to eat especially table food.  We no longer followed the strict diet for her bladder problems.  We figured let her have what she wants.  She had her routine, when it was time for bed we would say, “It’s time for bed”, and she would get off the couch; go to the kitchen door to go outside.  She would go out and do her thing, come right in, and wait for her treat by the kitchen counter.  We would then go to our bedroom, and she would lie down on her bed, which was next to our bed.  She was set for the night.  Sometimes in the morning, we had to wake her up during the last year.  She would go outside and come right in as soon as she finished. She would wait by the kitchen counter for her medicine which I wrapped in meat.  Whenever she would not eat her dog food, I would make her scrambled eggs, or cook ground beef mixed with rice and hard-boiled eggs.  She seemed to know when I was frying up ground beef for her dinner as opposed to cooking it for our dinner.  Once again she seemed to be able to read my mind.

Over the Christmas Holiday she stopped eating or drinking, and I knew it was the end.  The vet was closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so I just tried to make her as comfortable as possible.  I called the vet on Monday, but they were still closed for Christmas.  I called the emergency vet because I didn’t want her to suffer another day.  They told us to bring her in.  My husband and I then got dressed to take her to the vet.  After I dressed, I went back to check on her and she was gone.  I called to my husband that she had passed.  My son and grandson were here and they came into the room too.  I cleaned her up and sat down next to her and cried.  I felt bad that I was not sitting with her when she passed.  I’m glad that we were the ones she finally ended up with.  She was a good dog, and she deserved a forever home with people who loved her.  We had her body cremated and the urn now sits on my fireplace mantle, and at the other end is our Golden Retriever, Susie.  I still have not been able to throw out her bed or toys.  Spruce, Sprucie, Sweet Pea, Honey Bun, Big Girl, you are loved, and we will never forget you.  Glad the others didn’t want you so God sent you to me.  Some day we shall meet again.  Until then, we will think of you and all the good times we had with you.  Daddy and I love you, RIP.


Dear Grandma


Grandma Manfroid

Helen Desens

I never knew my paternal Grandmother because she died six months before I was born.  For some reason, I have always felt a connection to her even as a little girl.  I thought I would write her a letter to let her know my feelings for her, and the questions I would ask her if I could talk to her.

Dear Grandma,

We have never met, but I hope you know me.  You died six months before I was born.  I wish that I could have known you the way I knew my other Grandmother.  All I have are a few scant stories of you.  My dad said you had a great sense of humor and that you could be sarcastic.  I might have inherited the sarcasm from you.  I wonder how much we are alike.   Do I look like you, is my personality like you?  If we could sit down to lunch and talk, I would ask you so many questions.  What was your childhood like?  How did you meet my grandfather?  How did you feel when my father was born?  Were you happy?  What was it like to have a mentally challenged son?  What were your favorite subjects in school?  How far did you go in school?  Did you work and if so where did you work?  Were you a good cook?  Did you sew, crochet, knit?  You could tell me about your sisters and brothers and your parents.  You could tell me family stories.  What was it like to live though the depression, WWI and WWII? You went to Lutheran School and Church so I guess you would believe in God and Jesus Christ.  Maybe we talk about religion and our beliefs.  I would ask you about your health.  When you were sick were you afraid?  Were you afraid of dying?  Since my dad and his brother are 14 years apart, did you have a hard time conceiving?  Did you want more children, did you lose any children?  I wish I had better pictures of you.  So that I could close my eyes see what you looked like.  I wish I had a recording of your voice so I would know what your voice sounded like. When I was a little kid I would envision you looking down at me from heaven, and I would have conversations with you.  I always felt like my father’s side of the family was missing.  We had so little contact with any of them.  As I do my research, I find that my father had a lot of cousins and they had children, yet I only knew a few.   I wish I had some recipes that you handed down to me.  You could have taught me to cook your favorites or my father’s favorites.  There are so many things I do not know about you.  I would hope that you would like me and be proud of me.  I could introduce you to my husband and your great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.  How can I miss someone I never knew, yet I miss you and have missed you my entire life.  Some day we shall meet.  Until then I love you.  Rest in Peace, Grandma.

Love from your Granddaughter,


A short biography of Helen Desens

Helen Desens was born on March 23, 1901 at home to Carl Desens and Augusta Gabbei in Forest Park, Illinois.[1]  She was the youngest of eight children (5 sisters and 2 brothers).[2]  She was baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Forest Park, Illinois.[3]  She grew up in Forest Park and attended St. John Lutheran School and Church.[4]  She was confirmed at St. John Lutheran Church.[5]  On March 22, 1919 she married George Manfroid in Wheaton, Illinois.[6]  They made their home in Forest Park and later moved to Elmhurst, Illinois.[7]  They had two sons, George and Donald.[8] Helen suffered for 4 years from Chronic Parenchymatous Nephritis.[9] Helen died of Uremia on September 4, 1946 in Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in Elmhurst, Illinois at the young age of 45.[10] Helen is buried at Chapel Hill Gardens, West in Elmhurst, Illinois alongside her husband, George.[11]

Copyright ©2017 Gail Grunst



[1] Ancestry.com. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Records, 1875-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. ELCA, Birth, Marriage, Deaths. Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Chicago, Illinois.

[2] Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.  Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.

[3] Ancestry.com. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Records, 1875-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. ELCA, Birth, Marriage, Deaths. Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Chicago, Illinois

[4] Told to the author by Helen’s Son, George

[5] St. John’s Congregational book 1908 – 1926, Page 227.

[6] Marriage license and return.  Illinois, Dupage, Wheaton, Illinois State Board of Health,  County Clerks Office.

[7] Told to Author by Helen’s son George.

[8] Personal knowledge of Author.

[9] Certificate of Death, Registration Dist. 231, No. # 22743, State of Illinois, County of DuPage, City of Elmhurst, County Clerks Office.

[10] Certificate of Death, Registration Dist. 231, No. # 22743, State of Illinois, County of DuPage, City of Elmhurst, County Clerks Office.

[11] Cemetery Records, Chapel Hill Gardens, West, Roosevelt Rd. at Route 83, Elmhurst, Illinois.

Old Christmas Ornaments



I have mentioned the old Christmas Ornaments from my grandmother and mother that I put on our tree every year.  Friends and coworkers have asked me to post pictures of them. I have finally gotten around to taking pictures of them this year.  I wanted to post this during the Christmas season, but ran out of time.  So now that things have slowed down a bit, here they are below. The first picture came from Germany with my Great Grandmother when she came to the U.S.  It hung on my Great-Grandmother’s tree, my grandmother’s tree, my mother’s tree, and now mine.  I am amazed that in all these years it is still in one piece.  I was warned when I was young not to touch, and my kids and grandchildren were warned.  Who knows what will happen to it once I am gone.  I hope it stays in the family.  I hope my kids will take care of it and pass it on to their kids someday.  The rest were ordinary ornaments at the time they hung on my grandmother or mother’s trees.  I have other favorite ones that were given to me or I bought over the years, but those are for another time. Pictures really do not do them justice.

Copyright ©2017 Gail Grunst

Thinking of Uncle Ralph




Ralph C. Bowers was born 18 June 1897 to Eva Reinhardt and Robert Bowers in Chicago, Illinois[1].  He was my grandmother’s brother and my great uncle.  I remember Uncle Ralph as kind and reserved with a great sense of humor.  I can still hear his laugh even after all these years without him.

I was told by grandma that when he was young he contacted TB and was in a sanitarium for a while.  He had a hard time keeping jobs until he got a job at R. R. Donnelly in Chicago working the night shift.  The night shift was what he needed.  Apparently, he was not a morning person and the night shift worked for him.  For as long as I knew Uncle Ralph he worked at Donnelly.

Uncle Ralph married for the first time to Helen Treppa when he was forty six years old.[2]  He and his wife (Aunt Helen) would come to my Grandmother’s house for holidays and some Sundays in between the holidays.  Sometimes they would come to my parent’s house too.  I always liked going to their house in Chicago.  Sometimes we would just decide at the last moment to go visit Uncle Ralph and Aunt Helen.  We would go there unexpected and always got a warm welcome.  Aunt Helen would put out a spread of lunch meats and breads.  It always amazed me that she had all this food on hand.  It never failed they had plenty of food for unexpected company.

We would sit around the kitchen table and there was always great conversation.  Even though I was young, I loved to listen to the adults talk.  I always found it interesting.  Of course I always enjoyed the food too.  Their house was very warm and welcoming.  Aunt Helen’s sister, Martha (Marty) lived with them.  I loved Aunt Helen and Marty as well as Uncle Ralph.  Because Ralph and Helen married so late in life, they never had any children.

My mother loved her Uncle Ralph very much and after he passed away, she would say that he was her guardian angel looking after her.

Uncle Ralph passed away on 5 January 1964 from a stroke[3] and was buried on 7 January 1964 in the Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Cook County, Illinois[4]

If he knew I was writing about him, I can hear him say, “Oh, for the love of Mike.”

Copyright©2016 Gail Grunst


[1] Registration State: Illinois; Registration County:  Cook; Roll 1613573; Draft board: 53

Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. {database on-line}.  Provo, UT, USA; Ancestry.com  Operation  Inc, 2005.  Original Data:  United States, Selective Service System World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cares, 1917-1918.  Washington,  D. C. :  National Archives and Record  Administration.  M1509, 4,582 rolls.  Imaged from Family  History  Library Microfilm.

[2] Ancestry.com. Cook County, Illinois Marriage Index, 1930-1960 [database on-line].  Provo, Ut, USA: Ancestry.ocm  Operations Inc, 2008.  Original data:  Cook County Clerk, comp. Cook County Clerk Genealogy Records.  Cook County Clerk’s office, Chicago, IL: Cook County Clerk, 2008.

[3] From  his sister Helen Bowers Kaiser’s datebook.

[4] Ancestry.com U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600’s – Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2012.  Original data: Find A Grave. Find A Grave.  http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi.

Memories of Aunt Fran


frances-bowers-beckLaVon Frances Bowers was born on 19 February 1900[1] to Eva Fredricka Reinhardt and Robert Bowers in Ottawa, LaSalle, Illinois.[2]  Frances married William Beck on 27 June 1925.[3]  They had one child LaVon Patricia born 20 November 1932.[4]  LaVon used hermiddle name and was better known as Frances.  I knew her as Aunt Fran.  She was my grandmother, Helen Bowers Kaiser‘s sister.   She also had a brother, Ralph Bowers. I never knew Aunt Fran’s husband as she divorced before I was born.

Although she was born in Ottawa, LaSalle, Illinois she lived most of her life in Chicago.  Aunt Fran loved the city.  She was a city girl, but also a tom boy.  She would go fishing and camping.  My grandmother said that she (my grandmother) would stay at the campsite and do the cooking and washing the dishes.  Fran would be with the guys fishing.  When I was a little girl around 5 or 6 we took a trip with Aunt Fran and her daughter Pat to Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.  Somewhere I have a picture of Aunt Fran cleaning fish.  I remember that she got jigger bites from sitting in the weeds.

Aunt Fran loved to shop and she would find the most unusual things.  She would bring us frog legs, rattlesnake meat, and all kinds of weird things.  I would never eat any of it.  She also gave great parties.  She would come to our house and decorate for my birthday parties and she would find all kinds of neat things for party favors and prizes.  When I was a little older around 12 – 14 years old, I started having Halloween Parties.  Aunt Fran and her daughter would come out to our house and decorate, run the games, and they would be in costume too.  Aunt Fran loved to play the witch.  One little boy told her that she made the best witch.  She loved the compliment.

Aunt Fran loved to sew and she did it for living.  She made all my clothes until I went to school.  I got my first store bought dress when I went to Kindergarten.  At first she worked in the sweat shops sewing, but later she worked in bridal shops and made wedding dresses and formals.  She would bring me formals but I had never had any place to wear them.  My girl friends and I would dress up in them and pretend we were going somewhere fancy.   She would take me shopping at the beginning of every school year and buy me two or three dresses.

I would stay with her and her daughter for a week every summer and they would take me all over Chicago.  I had a lot of fun and looked forward to it.  They would come out to my grandmother’s house almost every weekend.  They would arrive by train early Saturday morning and leave late Sunday afternoon or early evening.  They always brought me something so I looked forward to their visits.  Aunt Fran’s daughter Pat is14 years older than me and my Godmother.

Aunt Fran died 17 July 1971 in Chicago, Cook, Illinois of a massive cerebral vascular accident.  She had her body donated to science.[5]



[1] Death Certificate, State of Illinois, County of Cook, City of Chicago, Registration No. 620423

[2] Told to Author Abigail Grunst by Francis Bowers Beck

[3] From Helen Bowers Kaiser’s (Frances Bowers Beck’s sister) date book.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Death Certificate, State of Illinois, County of Cook, City of Chicago, Registration No. 620423

Remembering Grandma


Grandma KaiserI’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot the last few days.  Maybe it is because her birthday was the other day.  Also with just having Thanksgiving, and Christmas fast approaching is a time I reflect on past holidays.  If you have read my past posts about the Bowers Family going back to 1757, then you have read about my Grandmother’s paternal side.  Grandma was born Helen Dorothy Bowers to Robert Bowers and Eva Reinhardt on December 3, 1898 in Ottawa, Illinois. Grandma was the middle child of three.  She had an older brother Ralph born in 1896 and a younger sister Frances born in 1900.  Her mother and father divorced shortly after Frances was born.  My grandmother told stories that her father had nothing to with them after the divorce.   One time her mother saw him walking down the street and pointed him out to her.  Grandma ran up to him and told him she was his daughter.  He said, “Get away from me kid, I have no children.”  His parents would not acknowledge that their son married and had children.  Grandma grew up without ever knowing her father or his family.  She was raised by a single mother back when it was frowned upon. Her mother worked as a maid and a milliner.  They stayed living in Ottawa for a while and then moved to Chicago.  Grandma’s maternal grandparents and aunts lived in Ottawa so she would stay with them for weeks at a time.  I don’t know if it was for financial reasons or not, but Grandma’s mother let her sister Frances go live with a couple in Wisconsin for a couple of years.  When she went to retrieve her, the couple didn’t want to give her back.  There was a big fight over it, but she did manage to get Frances back.

Somehow, my Grandmother grew up to be a great lady.  She married Fred Kaiser on July 16, 1923 in Chicago, Illinois. They had two children Dorothy and Russell.  They lived in Chicago until about 1936 when they bought a house and moved to Villa Park, Illinois.  Grandma and Grandpa lived in that house until 1979.  Grandma and Grandpa’s house was my second home.  We lived only a few blocks away.  Whenever I felt like it, I would just up and go to Grandma’s house.  I could easily ride my bike or walk over there.  I was always welcome and I loved her house.

I loved the smell of Grandma’s cooking and it seemed like she was always cooking.  She canned vegetables from their garden, and made jelly from the fruit that grew on their trees or grape barber.  She had a cherry tree, apple trees, and a crabapple tree.  I liked to climb the cherry tree and they hung a swing on it for me.  She had a flower bed that ran alongside her house and around the perimeter of her yard.  Grandpa helped in the garden as he loved to garden too. She loved to feed the birds and squirrels.  One squirrel that would climb up the side of the house to her kitchen window, and Grandma would open the window to hand feed peanuts to the squirrel.  Grandma had a big pantry stocked with dishes and food.  In the basement she had what she called a “fruit cellar” she had all the food she canned, plus cans of food she bought at the grocery store.

Grandma liked to sew and taught me to sew.  She had one of those old peddle sewing machines.  It took coordination to run one of those, and I never really got the hang of it.  Grandma made quilts out of old clothes.  I had one and everytime I looked at it, I would see squares that were one time my dresses or my mother’s dresses.  Grandma’s sister also sewed.  Aunt Fran did it for a living.  I never had a store bought dress until first grade.  Between Grandma and Aunt Fran I was well dressed.  Grandma also liked to crochet and her hands were always busy when she was just sitting talking or watching TV.

Grandma and Grandpa had a screened front porch where we gathered on hot summer nights.  They had no central air conditioning.  So it was the porch and a fan.  We would sit out there and talk, no TV, no radio, no phone.  Of course it was before the days of cell phones, tablets, and computers.  We actually talked to each other, and I don’t remember running out of things to talk about.  That’s when I heard many family stories that have helped me with my genealogy.  I wish I could remember more of her stories and more details about the ones I do remember.

Holidays were the best!  On Thanksgiving, Grandma would make a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.  She had a big dining room with a big table.  Grandpa would sit at one end and Grandma at the other end, along one side would be her sister (known to me as Aunt Fran) and Fran’s daughter, Pat, Grandma’s brother and wife (known to me as Uncle Ralph and Aunt Helen) and Aunt Helen’s sister, Martha; along the other side was Uncle Russ, Mom, Dad, me.  In later years my brother and Uncle Russ’ wife were added to our holiday dinners.  The women would be busy preparing the food, setting table, while the men sat and talked or watched TV.  After dinner the men would retire to the living room and usually fall asleep while the women cleaned up and did the dishes.  Then the adults would play cards until it was time for dessert.  On Christmas we would again go to Grandma’s for dinner.  For Christmas, Grandma would make a turkey and a goose, plus all the trimmings, and it was a repeat of Thanksgiving Day.  I can remember walking into Grandma’s house and smell that Turkey cooking.  For some reason, it never smells as good when I cook it now.  Eventually, Grandma got too old to cook and my mom took over and then I took over from my mom.  But by the time Grandma quit cooking holiday meals, her sister, and brother had passed on, so our family dinners became smaller until I married and had children.

I loved Grandma’s Christmas tree with all the old ornaments.  I still have some of them and put them on my Christmas tree every year.  I threatened my kids and grandchildren with their lives if they broke them.  Miraculously, they have lasted through the generations.  One ornament was my great-grandmother’s ornament she brought with her when she came to the U.S. from Germany.  After my kids were born, I would take them to Grandma’s house to visit.   Sometimes we would take Grandma shopping.  Whenever my kids needed something, Grandma would buy it for them.  I am glad she lived long enough to know her great-grandchildren.  She was full of love, and I could feel her love. I still feel her love to this day!  We didn’t need to say anything, but we did tell each other, “I love you” many times. It is not just the holidays that I remember, but all the other days in between that I spent with Grandma.  Grandma passed away on February 9, 1981.  And as Grandma would say, “Come good home.”


Copyright©2016 Gail Grunst