Man rescued from fiery trap

Last week’s challenge from 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks was “fire”.  I am a little late in posting this time.  Today’s post is about my husband’s aunt, uncles, and cousin and the house originally owned by  his grandfather.

Early on Monday March 9, 1959 a fire started in the first-floor living room of 4916 W. 32nd Place, Cicero, Cook, Illinois and quickly spread to the rest of the house.  By the time the fireman arrived the fire was already eating away at the attic walls.  Fire equipment was called to the scene from Morton Park, Warren Park, Clyde and Hawthorne fire stations.   Bystanders alerted the firemen that a man was still in the building.  They rushed in and found Eugene Jelen, a tenant, unconscious on the second floor between the kitchen and a hallway door.  The Firemen carried him down a stairway to safety.  Eugene suffered from smoke inhalation and second and third degree burns on the left side of his body.  If the fireman had arrived a few seconds later Eugene would have died.  Leo Gorski, owner of the building, was also hurt with first and second degree burns on his hand.  It is not known if the others who lived there were home at time.  The firemen deduced that the fire started in the first floor living room by a cigarette. The damage to the 70 year old building was $8,000 and $4,000 for the contents.[1]  Leo had no insurance on the house so they were unable to rebuild.  What was left of the house was sold, torn down, and a new house built by new owners.  Leo and his brother Stanley rented an apartment across the alley.  Constance, John, and Eugene Jelen moved to another apartment in Cicero.[2]

My husband’s grandfather, Stanley Gorski, bought the house sometime during the 1920’s.[3]  Stanley emigrated from Poland to the United States in 1891 and settled in Cicero, Cook, Illinois where he and his wife Mary raised seven children.[4]  Stanley worked in a stone quarry and for a railroad during his life and somehow managed to save enough money to buy a house at 4916 W. 32nd Place in Cicero.[5] 

The building was a two flat with a ground floor basement.  In 1930 Stanley and his wife are living in one unit with four of their sons, Stanley Jr., Leo, Chester, and Felix.  Their daughter, Constance, is living in the other unit with her husband, John Jelen, and two children, Eugene and Geraldine.  Also living in the house is his married son, John, with his wife, Frances and their son, John Jr.[6]  My husband said that there were rooms in the basement so perhaps that is where John, Francis, and their son lived.  By 1951 the only ones left living in the house were Stanley Jr. and Leo living on the first floor, and Constance and her family living on the second floor.[7] 

In Cicero the houses are close together with a gangway between them, but on one side of this house is an empty space, room enough for another house.  But in 1930 – 1960 this space remained empty and was part of the property at 4916 W. 32nd Place.  The entire yard was fenced in and there was a garage in back.[8]   Mary passed away in 1933[9] and Stanley passed away in 1951[10] leaving the house to his son Leo.[11]  Too bad there was such a tragic end to this house that Stanley worked so hard to purchase back in the 1920’s.

Here is the original newspaper article:

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Copyright © 2020 Gail Grunst

[1] Berwyn Life , (Berwyn Illinois), 11 March 1959, Page 5.

[2] Person knowledge from their nephew, Bruce Grunst.

[3] Year: 1930; Census Place: Cicero, Cook, Illinois; Page: 32A; Enumeration District: 2099; FHL microfilm: 2340233.  Source Information: 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002.  Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Year: 1900; Census Place: Cicero, Cook, Illinois; Page: 22; Enumeration District: 1150; FHL microfilm: 1240292  Source Information: 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: 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.

[6] Year: 1930; Census Place: Cicero, Cook, Illinois; Page: 32A; Enumeration District: 2099; FHL microfilm: 2340233  Source 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002.  Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.

[7] Personal knowledge from their nephew, Bruce  Grunst

[8] Ibid.

[9] Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: “Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916–1947.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2010. Index entries derived from digital copies of original records.

[10] Chicago Tribune, (Chicago, Illinois), 18 December 1951, Page 45.

[11] Berwyn Life , (Berwyn Illinois), 11 March 1959, Page 5.

Water, Water Everywhere

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Bathing Beauties 1921

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge this week is “water”.  I thought about this for awhile and all of my ancestors came over to the United States on boats so there is nothing new there.  Then I thought about my mother’s family always seemed to live near water or take vacations that involved water.  I decided on more of a pictorial history of my mother’s family and water. 

My maternal grandmother was born in Ottawa, Illinois and lived there for part of her youth. “Ottawa, Illinois is situated at the junction of the Fox and Illinois rivers, nearly the geographical center of LaSalle County.  The Fox enters the Illinois from the northeast and with its rapid currents feeds the Chicago and Illinois Canal, which follows the banks of the Illinois River.” [1]    Both her mother and father were brought up in Ottawa, Illinois.  Her paternal grandparents lived on Chapel Street in Ottawa and across the street from the river. While still a child her mother moved to Chicago and they lived not far from Lake Michigan and Lincoln Park Zoo.  As adult she and my grandfather moved to Villa Park, Illinois and there is no lake or river near by.  But they did take vacations to lakes.  The one place they went most was to Fox Lake, Illinois. 

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Grandma and her best friend at Fox Lake, Illinois 

They also liked Lake Como, Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin Dells was another popular place with them.  In fact my grandparents went to the Wisconsin Dells for their honeymoon.  

Helen at Lake Como

Grandma at Lake Como, Wisconsin

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Grandparents, Mom and ? at Big Smoky Falls, Wolf River, Wisconsin 1929

Starved Rock was another favorite destination. Starved Rock was close to Ottawa, Illinois and on the bank of the Illinois River.  This was the family’s favorite picnic spot.  They still picnicked there when I was growing up.  If we didn’t picnic at Starved Rock we picnicked at Buffalo Rock across the river from Starved Rock.  My grandmother would say that there were at least 2 or 3 drownings a year in the Illinois River because of the undertow. 

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Great Grandparents at the top of Starved Rock

My grandfather liked to fish and some of their excursions involved fishing.

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Grandpa, dog Rudy and friend with 3 Pikes and a Bass at Sand Lake 1929

Copyright © 2020 Gail Grunst


  1. Ottawa Old and New: A Complete History of Ottawa Illinois 1823 – 1914 (Ottawa, Illinois: Republican – Times Ottawa, 1912 – 1914), p. 39.


Nearly forgotten Uncle Donnie

Uncle Donnie

Uncle Donnie

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge this week is “nearly forgotten”.  The first person to come to mind was my Uncle Donnie.  I wrote his story in 2013 and am re-posting it today.  I loved this man, and I am sad about all the years that were lost with him. To find out about Donnie’s nearly forgotten life read on.

My father’s brother 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 decided to put Donnie in a state mental hospital.  My father and grandfather would go visit him regularly.   After my grandfather passed away in 1955, 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.  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 now.  After many years went by,  my mom and dad quit going.  My father claimed that Donnie didn’t even know him anymore.  

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, “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 described.  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 we had five wonderful years to get to know and love him.  Uncle Donnie is now free to fly without any physical or mental limitations.  May he rest in peace.

Coopyright © Gail Grunst 2013

Naughty Great-Grandpa part 2

A while back I wrote about my great-grandfather Rudolph Kaiser who may have left a family in Germany when he came to the United States and started a another family here. For back ground to this post you might want to read my original posts about Rudolph Kaiser at Naughty Great Grandpa and Letter’s from Germany to Rudolph Kaiser.

I just had the second letter from Germany transcribed.  It is dated 13 November 1910 and is written by his son this time.

Letter Transcribed:

Page 1

Allenstein, 13 November 1910

Mr. Kaiser,

After many efforts, we were able to determine your valuable address.  We only found out from Mother this year that our father is in America.  So we decided to write a few lines.  Hopfully, they will be received with pleasure.  Things are currently very bad for us.  Mother is alone with Ida because I have been drafted into the

Page 2

Military, Infantry Regiment 146. 6  Allenstein Company.  As a result, it has not been possible for me to work as I must now serve two years.  Ida works in a factory in Berlin.  Unfortunately, her earnings are very meagre.  Mother has been sickly of late so she is no longer abler to earn any money.  I Rudolf, have decided to move to America after my service.  Dear Father, write

Page 3

To me please and tell me how you are and how it is in America.  Hopefully, it is better than in Berlin because everything is expensive here and work is hard to come by.  Therefore dear Father, we ask you kindly, please reply.

Warmest regards

From your children


From afar


Rudolf                                                                                                                   Ida

Inf. Regt. 146.                                                                                                    Berlin S.O. 33

5th Company                                                                                                       Skalitzerstr. 54a



Page 4

Musketier [private]

Rudof Pielenz

Inf. Regt. 146.

6th comp.

Room 22


I have two more letters that I want transcribed and will do as I can afford it.  I am hoping one of them contains answers to all my questions that I have about these circumstances.  I can’t say it any better than I did in my previous post about my feelings toward this woman and her children and my great-grandfather.  I can’t help wonder about my great-grandmother in all this.  Did she know?  If so what did think or do about it?  Did this cause a riff in there marriage?  Did my grandfather know?  If he did, he never told anyone.  It was kept a secret, I think, except for the buried letters.  By the time they were found there was no one around that could read, write, or speak German.  Years ago my mother asked a German neighbor to read them and tell her what they said.  The neighbor did not transcribe word for word, but just gave my mother a summary of the letters so we had an idea of the information contained in them.  

Here’s my mother’s notes:

Mom's notes about German letters

Mom's notes about the German letters 2


I have a letter dated 1914 which corresponds to the note “wounded in Russia 1914 discharged”.  Story to be continued when next letter is translated.

Copyright © 2020 Gail Grunst



Long Line at Western Electric

This weeks 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompt is long line.

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In 1905 Western Electric Company built a large factory complex in Cicero, Illinois.  It was named Hawthorne works after the original name of the town Hawthorne, later incorporated into Cicero.  Hawthorne produced telephone equipment and also some consumer products such as refrigerators and fans.  The Hawthorne plant employed 45,000 people at the height of its operation.[1]

My husband had a long line of family members that worked for Western Electric that included his father, brother, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Some of the family members working for Western Electric moved on to other jobs, but not his father and brother. 

His father, Elmer Grunst, started working for Western Electric in 1918.[2]  He started out as a draftsman and worked his way up to supervisor in the equipment engineering department at the Canal Street location in Chicago.  He was active in the science and the flower and garden clubs.  He was a member of Hawthorne Chapter, Telephone Pioneers of America.[3] Elmer retired from Western Electric in January 1962 after 43 years of service. A retirement party was held at the American Legion Hall in Riverside, Illinois, and in spite of 10 degrees below zero weather over 200 people showed up.[4] 

Elmer, Gary, Bernie Grunst 1971 (2)

Elmer’s son also named Elmer went to work for Western Electric shortly after serving in WWII.  Elmer as a newcomer in 1946 scored 11 points for the Western Electric Engineer’s basketball team.  Further down in the same article his cousin Elmer Weis is mentioned, another example of a family member working for Western Electric.[5]  Throughout his years he played on many teams for the Western Electric.  In addition to basketball, Elmer played baseball, football, boxing, golf, and bowling.  There may even be some other sport that I have forgotten.  Elmer was a very athletic person.  If my memory serves me right, Elmer retired from Western Electric shortly before it closed in 1983.[6]  Elmer retired with about 37 years of service. 

The two Elmer’s combined worked at Western Electric 70 years. 

Copyright © 2020 Gail Grunst


[2] Berwyn Life (Berwyn Illinois), W.E. To Honor 40-Year Vets, 7 December 1958, Sun, Pg.6

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brookfield Citizen (Brookfield, Illinois), 25 January 1962, Pg. 13

[5] Berwyn Life (Berwyn, Illinois), Four way tie in W. E. Cage Loop, 1 March 1946, Fri, Pg 8


2019 Year in Review

analytics blur close up commerce

Photo by Lukas on

I always like to look at the stats for my blog at the end of each year.  In 2019 I had 38 published posts and 1,655 views by 1055 visitors.  This was not my biggest year, 2018 was but I had more posts that year.  In December I had the most views 321.

Top 10 posts.

  1.  Order of Yellow Dogs
  2. Is there a Doctor in the Family?
  3. Skeletons in the closet
  4. My Mother the Reader
  5. Conflict?
  6. Cook County Illinois Vital Records Has Turned The Genealogical World Upside Down!; You Can NO LONGER SEARCH THE SITE For Ancestral Connections On Vital Records
  7. Father’s Day: A Tribute to My Dad
  8. Christmas Family Portrait 1948
  9. The Navy Years
  10. Family Pictures: Smoking

Many people from all over the world visit this blog here are the top 10 Countries

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. South Africa
  4. United Kingdom
  5. Hong Kong
  6. Australia
  7. France
  8. Romania
  9. New Zealand
  10. Germany

Plus 28 other counties.

Referrers to this blog were as follows:

  1. Google
  2. Bing
  3. Yahoo
  4. Facebook
  5. WordPress Reader
  6. Twitter

Thanks to all my readers for your support during 2019.  My New Years Resolution for this blog is to change things up a bit during 2020 and post more often.

Hope you all have a great year and keep reading!




Christmas 1960 and 1962

Everyday until Christmas, I am going to try to post a picture from a past family Christmas. 

Mom's Christmas Table

Mom’s Christmas Table

My mother’s Christmas Table in 1960.  Behind my mother is a built-in china cabinet.  On the top left she has some dishes and on the top right is my doll collection.  You can see part of an old-fashioned telephone on the right.  My grandmother is sitting on the chair against the wall and above her is the Knick-Knack shelf that went from house to house with us.  On the table is a terrarium.  The camera flash can be seen reflecting off the glass doors behind my mother.


Pictured here is my brother with our second cousin, Diana in 1962   Look at all the presents behind them.  This was the first year that we did not have a real tree and my parents went with an aluminum tree.  In the background is our Grand Aunt Helen. 

Copyright © 2019 Gail Grunst