Monthly Archives: January 2013

Meeting Uncle Donnie

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Uncle DonnieMy father had a brother who was mentally challenged.  Back when my father was growing up the term used was mentally retarded.  His brother, Donnie, was 14 years younger than him.  I don’t know if Donnie was born that way or if something happened after birth.  This was in the 1930’s, and they did not know as much as they do today on how to treat people with mental retardation.  He lived at home with my grandparents, and my grandmother did the best she knew how.  My grandmother died the year before I was born so I never knew her.  When she died, my grandfather had to make a tough decision of what to do with Donnie.  He had to go to work and could not leave him at home alone.  He could not afford to have someone come in and take care of him.  He had Donnie put into a state mental hospital.  My father and grandfather would go visit him regularly.  Then in 1955 my grandfather died.  After that my mother and father would go see Donnie and send him clothes and things.  As a little girl, I would ask to go along.  My parents always refused to take me.  My father said “You never know what these people are going to do”, and he didn’t think it was safe to take me.   He told some horror stories of what he saw when he went there.  After many years went by, my mom and dad quit going.  My father claimed that Donnie didn’t even know him anymore.  I asked why he couldn’t live with us.  My dad explained that Donnie couldn’t be left alone.  You never knew what he was going to do. He could set the house on fire, or hurt my brother or me.  He could not use the washroom on his own. There were more reasons, but now I can’t remember all of them.

In 1984 my dad passed away and my mother followed in 1987.  My brother and I had never met Donnie, and by this time it had been so long since my parents had visited that we didn’t even know where he was at.  We didn’t know how to go about finding him.  For ten years after my mother’s death, we didn’t try to find him.  Then one day my brother was going through some papers of my mothers, and he found some information that told what state hospital Donnie was in.  He contacted the hospital and Donnie was no longer there, but they were able to tell my brother that Donnie was still alive and where he was now residing.  My brother then called the hospital where Donnie resided, and he was told that Donnie was doing OK.  They invited us to come see him.  They seemed thrilled to find out that this man had a family.

In April of 1997 my brother and I made a day trip to see Donnie, and I met my uncle for the first time.  He looked at us with curiosity.  His nurse told him we were his family.  He shook our hands, and we sat on a porch.  He had a hard time communicating.  But you could see he was taking in everything.  I think he knew way more that he was able to communicate.  I asked him questions which he couldn’t answer, and told him that I was his Brother George’s daughter.  He repeated, “George”.  I told him George was in heaven with his mother and father.  He seemed to understand.  I asked him if he watched baseball and did he like the Cubs.  He said, “The Cubs suck.”  He would make hand motions when he wanted something.  He started pulling on his shirt and trying to unbutton it.  I asked him if he was uncomfortable and he said, “The shirt sucks.”  He also said a few swear words that came out clear.  Other than that most of what he said, I could not understand.  But I felt we made a connection with him.  I asked him if he could give me a hug and he did.  When he was given commands he obeyed them.  He knew what was being said to him.  He was able to go to the bathroom by himself and keep himself clean.  They told us if we came back to bring pictures of my dad and grandparents.  He resembled my father and was a kind man.  He was not as bad off as my father had told us.  Maybe it was because they knew more in recent years on how to help people with mental disabilities.  The administrator showed us his records going back to when he was admitted in 1946.  We did go back many times after that day, and brought my husband and children.  We went there for special events like Christmas parties, picnics, etc. We brought pictures of my dad and grandparents.  He ran his fingers over the picture of my dad and said, “George”.   I brought a picture of his mother and he said, “Ma”.  Another time he told me that his mother was with God.  He made me tear up many, many times.   Donnie would tear up when he saw us.  So I believe he knew we were his family.  My brother brought him a video of trains because we remembered my father saying he liked trains, and my father would take him to the train yards to look at the trains. I looked forward to each visit.  I had fallen in love with my Uncle Donnie.  Unfortunately, Donnie had a heart attack and died in 2002 at 68 years old.  The hospital had a memorial service for him.  I was unable to attend because I had Pneumonia at the time, but my brother went to it.  I am happy that I was able to know him and have five wonderful years with my Uncle Donnie.  I loved him so much!

Coopyright © Gail Grunst 2013

Honoring Ancestors who died too young: Milton Reinhardt

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Milton Reinhardt was the illegitimate son of my great-great Aunt Elizabeth Reinhardt[1].  Milton was born on December 5, 1900[2], and to Elizabeth’s credit she kept him and raised him.  I haven’t found a birth certificate for Milton.  His death certificate lists a William Reinhardt as the father[3], however I doubt there was ever a William Reinhardt that fathered this child.  It was well known among family that Milton was the “illegitimate” son of Elizabeth.  Illegitimate was a term used then to describe a child born to an unwed mother. On the 1910 census Milton is listed as living in the same household as his mother and grandparents, but is listed as the son of the grandparents not the grandson.[4]  Perhaps the truth was known among family members, but not to the outside world.  I think if neighbors and acquaintances knew this it might have been the talk of the town in 1900.  So perhaps it was kept quiet.  I found a letter that Milton wrote his mother on July 8, 1917 from Chicago.[5]  His mother was living in Ottawa, Illinois at that time.[6]  I am attaching a copy of the letter in this post.  I don’t know how easy it will be to read. So I will transcribe it here.

Chicago, Ill

July 8, 1917

 Dear Ma,

 Received the letter with the two boxes.  I was at Municipal Pier today with Doc and Ralph and had a fine time.  I’ve got a $3 Brownie Camera it’s a good one and took 12 pictures.  I was in the big music hall listening to a concert and I met Charlie Rude.  I took his picture a couple of times.  Ralph and I are going over to Charlie’s Tuesday eve.  I was at Madison, Wisc. working with Al.  I didn’t take anything because he paid my expenses and had a good time.  Agnes wants me to stay awhile and take a ride with her and Charles.  Did not here from Brownie yet.  Are all the bunch working .  I suppose I’ll have to loaf around again when I get back.  I don’t know for sure yet what day I’ll be back.  Ralph is coming down in a few weeks and try to get a job.  I hate to go back to Ottawa.  That pier certainly is great.  There’s about 2000 soldiers on the pier camping.  Charlie Rude says would do better if I worked up here this summer.  I wish I had more money to get films.  I haven’t got much left to spend.  Will write soon and keep Kaiser tied up.  Don’t borrow the wheel.  Tell Tom to answer that letter.  Well I guess that’s all I can say.  Ralph comes over nearly every night so it’s not dull.  Write soon.

 

                                                                           With Love,

                                                                           Milton

Letter from Milton Reinhart to his mother part1

Letter from Milton Reinhardt to his mother part 2

 Envelope to Elizabeth Reinhardt 1917

I tried to transcribe it as written with mistakes and all.  Every time I tried to write this story I would get sidetracked tracing the people in the letter.  Agnes is Elizabeth’s sister[7] and I wonder if he was staying with her, it sounds that way.  Ralph is Milton’s cousin[8].  My grandmother, her brother Ralph, and her sister were all near or the same age as Milton.  My grandmother loved Milton.  She thought the world of him and described him as a “wonderful boy”.  I do not recognize the other names in the letter.

The family story goes that Milton returned to Ottawa, Illinois and fell doing some kind of work.  He told his mother he didn’t feel well and soon after that died.  However, his death certificate tells a different story.  Apparently, he died from Pulmonary Tuberculosis with contributory cause of Pneumonia on March 28, 1918 at 17 years old.  Much too young to die. [9].  His mother married in 1920 at age 39.  Aunt Liz as I knew her lived to be old and died when I was 19 years old.[10]  She had quite a colorful and secret life.  Someday I will write about her life before and after Milton.


[1] Family story told to author many times from 1960 – 1981 by Helen Bowers Kaiser (niece of Elizabeth Reinhardt).

[2] “ Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths 1916 – 1947,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/N3ZX-9YT): Milton Reinhardt 28 Mar 1918: citing reference FHL microfilm 1544185

[3] “ Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths 1916 – 1947,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/N3ZX-9YT): Milton Reinhardt 28 Mar 1918: citing reference FHL microfilm 1544185

[4]  Year: 1910; Census Place: Ottawa Ward 5, LaSalle, Illinois; Roll T624_301; Page: 11 A; Enumeration District: 0129; Image: ; FHL microfilm 1374314.

[5] Letter written to Elizabeth Reinhardt, 630 Washington Street, Ottawa, IL from Milton Reinhardt, Chicago, IL, dated July 8, 1917.  In possession of author since 1980 to present 2013.  Originally found in the home of Helen Bowers Kaiser niece of Elizabeth Reinhardt 1980.

[6] [6] Letter written to Elizabeth Reinhardt, 630 Washington Street, Ottawa, IL from Milton Reinhardt, Chicago, IL, dated July 8, 1917.  In possession of author since 1980.  Originally found in the home of Helen Bowers Kaiser niece of Elizabeth Reinhardt 1980

[7] Year: 1910; Census Place: Ottawa Ward 5, LaSalle, Illinois; Roll T624_301; Page: 11 A; Enumeration District: 0129; Image: ; FHL microfilm 1374314.

[8] First hand knowledge of the relationship of Milton to Ralph by Helen Bowers Kaiser and told author many times from 1960 – 1981.

[9] “ Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths 1916 – 1947,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/N3ZX-9YT): Milton Reinhardt 28 Mar 1918: citing reference FHL microfilm 1544185

[10] Elizabeth Farrell died 5 August 1966 from date book of Helen Bowers Kaiser.  Now in possession of author 2013.

Copyright © 2013 Gail Grunst