Conrad Reinhardt

Conrad J. Reinhardt

Conrad Reinhardt 

Konrad Johann Reinhardt was born on 18 February, 1852 in Nusselock, Heidelberg, Baden, Germany to Johann Friedrich Reinhardt and Philippina Schuh.[1]  He married Anna Marie Schwebler on 26 April, 1877 in Evangelisch, Baiertal, Heidelberg, Baden[2].

On 14 February, 1878 they had their first child Eva Born in Germany.[3]  Their son Johann Konrad was born next in August of 1879 in Germany.[4]  Later in 1879 Konrad, Anna, and the children left their home in Germany for the United States.  My grandmother always said that Konrad left Germany because he deserted the German Army.  I have been unable to verify that story.  They boarded the ship Bergenland at the Port of Antwerp in Belgium and arrived in New York on 5 December 1879.[5]  .  From New York they traveled to Amana, Iowa arriving on 22 December 1879.[6] They settled in the South Amana village.[7]  In 1880, they had another daughter, Elizabeth, born in South Amana.[8]

In 1714 in Southwestern Germany two men started a religious movement which later became known as the Community of True Inspiration.  A group of people from this movement came to the United States in 1842 settling in the vicinity of Buffalo, New York.  They built four villages known as Middle Ebenezer, Upper Ebenezer, Lower Ebenezer, and New Ebenezer in New York State.  They also built two villages in Canada.  The Buffalo area was becoming quickly urbanized so the group sought land to west, and in 1854 purchased the sight of the present day Amana Colonies in Iowa.[9]

“After arrival in this county, the group adopted a religious-communal way of life, with all property held in common and with all church and secular decisions being made by the same leadership.”  The communal way of life lasted nearly a century until the people voted separation of church and state in 1932 adopting the free enterprise way of life that surrounded them.”[10]

There are six villages that make up the Amana Colonies –Amana, West Amana, South  Amana, High Amana, East Amana, Homestead,  Middle Amana.[11]

“Churches were unpretentious and were indistinguishable in appearance from homes and other buildings..  Inside they were white-washed walls, bare floors, and unpainted benches.   Regular church services were held 11 times each week – morning services Wednesday,  Saturdays and Sundays; afternoon services on  Sundays, and evening prayer meetings each day.  There were special services during Holy Week, and other special services for Ascension Day, Pentecost and the day after Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Easter. Women wearing black shawls and bonnets sat on one side of the church, men on the other. There were no musical instruments.  Hymns were sung and messages of the elders were from the Bible and from the testimonies of the founders and leaders of the church.  They urged peaceful, brotherly way of living in simple dignity and humility, faith in Christ, and belief in the word of God.”[12]

“Mother and baby stayed home until the child was two and went to Kinderschule.  The child would be in school from 8AM to 11AM and then would be home for lunch with the mother, not the communal kitchen. After lunch Children went back to Kinderschule. The Children went to Kinderschule until age seven.”[13]

“Children went to school from 7 to 14 or 15.  School was held 5½ days a week the year round.  There were breaks for weeding in the garden and harvesting, apples, potatoes, onions, etc.    School opened with prayer and Bible reading.  The three R’s were taught, reading, writing and arithmetic.  Instruction was in German except that geography was in English because all the names on the maps were in English.”[14]

“There was no cooking in the homes.  Families ate in groups of 30 to 60 at the communal kitchens.  There were a number of these in each village, and each kitchen had its own large garden.  The day began at 4:30AM when the hearth was lit with one match.  Water was heated for coffee, potatoes were fried, bread was slice, and butter and milk prepared for serving.  In the dining room the tables had been set the night before.  The bell rang for breakfast at 6AM.  The mid-day meal was at 11:30 and the evening meal at 6:30PM.  There were coffee breaks at 9AM and 3PM.  There were separate tables for men and women. Grace was said before and after meals and there was no talking during the meals.  Families with small children, the ill, or elderly carried food home in hinged or willow baskets.  The long tables were filled with food.  Meals included soup, meats, potatoes, and other vegetables, salads, sauerkraut and bread.  When men came from the factories for coffee break there was bread and cheese, and often radishes with the coffee.  The day ended with the girls and women doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen and setting the table for the days breakfast, all tasks being completed efficiently so as not to be late for evening prayer meeting.”[15]

The Amana colonies appeared to be very self-sufficient.  They made or grew everything they needed.    “Some of the occupations for men were:  Barber, basket-making, beekeeper, blacksmith, brewery, broom-maker, butcher, cabinet-maker, carpenter, cooper (maker of barrels), calico factory, flour mills, harness maker,  lumber yard, lampshade maker,  locksmith, mason, stone/brick layer, whitewash man, machine shop, mail service (inter-village), molasses-sorghum mill, shoemaker,  saw mill, soap factory, store keeper (general stores), main and local office staffs, tailor shops, tanneries, umbrella repair, wagon-maker, watch-maker,  medical doctor, dentist, pharmacist, teacher, postmaster, railroad depot agent, farming.   For women:  Kitchens, communal gardens, kindergarten, (day care centers), after school supervisor, knitting, laundry, seamstress, woolen mills.  For boys:  Harvest apples, picking cherries, helping with harvest, etc.  For girls: Help in the communal kitchen such as shelling peas, pitting cherries, coring apples, etc.”[16]

“For individuals there was no cash income.  The Amana society gave you a house to live in, plus certain necessary items of furniture.  There were shops for every necessity of life, and there was a drawing account or allowance, not in cash but in credit established for you at these shops and general stores.”[17]

This will give you some idea what Konrad and Anna Marie’s life was like while they lived in Amana.  They left Amana in April of 1883 because they found no basis in the community.[18]

My grandmother said that her grandfather’s sister started the Amana Colonies.  We have visited Amana and went to the museum there.  Amana Colonies in Iowa were settled in 1854 just two a year after Conrad was born.  If his sister had anything to do with the settling of Amana, she would be way older than Conrad.  I do not think this story is true.  However, it is likely that they knew someone there, perhaps a relative.   I enjoyed seeing items in the museum that were similar to things my grandmother had in her home.  We had quilts my great-grandmother made with the same pattern as the quilts on display in the museum.  We ate at a German restaurant and it was just like eating my Grandmother’s cooking.  Grandma probably learned it from her mother (Eva) who learned it from her mother (Anna Marie).  The art of German cooking was lost on my mother and me.

In 1910 when Anna Marie passed away her obituary stated that she was a resident of Ottawa, Illinois for the past 25 years.[19]  This would mean that they came to Ottawa in 1885.  I do not know where they lived between 1883 and 1885.   In 1886 they have a daughter, Emma, born in Ottawa Illinois.[20] Next, Frederick, a son, is born in 1887 in Ottawa[21], followed by Anna born in 1889 in Ottawa,[22] and Agnes in 1891 in Ottawa.  In 1888 they start to appear in the Ottawa, Illinois City Directories.[23] Conrad was a shoemaker and had his own shop in Ottawa, Illinois.[24]

There are not many family stories about Conrad and Anna.  My grandmother visited and stayed with them sometimes when she was child.  She talked about them with love.  My cousin, Pat, told me that Anna had a nervous breakdown at one time.  Their daughter, Annie, was mentally challenged and died at the young age of 30 from Chronic Gastroenteritis.[25]

During their life in Ottawa, Illinois, they lived at 311 W. Main Street, 1251 Phelps, 1415 Kansas, 802 Lafayette, and 1011 Pine Street[26]

Anna Marie passed away on 11 June 1910.[27]  She was a member of the Zion Evangelical Church.[28]  Anna is buried in the Ottawa Avenue Cemetery, Ottawa, Illinois.[29]

Conrad died in Chicago at his daughter, Elizabeth’s apartment[30] on 6 July 1922 of Myocarditis and Chronic Intestinal Nephritis.[31]  His body was shipped from Chicago to Ottawa by train for the funeral at the Gladfelter Undertaker establishment.[32]  Conrad is buried at the Ottawa Avenue Cemetery, Ottawa, Illinois alongside his wife Anna.[33]

*Note:  Conrad Americanized his name from Konrad to Conrad.

Copyright © 2017 Gail Grunst


[1] Germany Birth and Baptisms, 1558 – 1898,  LDS Library, Salt Lake City, Utah,  microfilm # 1183248 Page 377 #2.

[2] Germany Marriages, 1558 – 1929,  LDS Library, Salt Lake City, Utah, microfilm # 1272787.

[3]  Baden Germany Lutheran Baptism, 1502 – 1985[database on-line]. Operations, Inc., 2016.  Original data:  Mikrofilm Sammlung.

[4] Year: 1880; Census Place: Amana, Iowa, Iowa; Roll: 345; Family History Film: 1254345; Page: 146D; Enumeration District: 201

[5] Germans to America(Vol. 34). (1993). Wilmington, DE, DE: Scholarly Resources.

[6] Amana Church Membership Records, in archive collection of the Amana Heritage Museum, Amana, Iowa.

[7] Year: 1880; Census Place: Amana, Iowa, Iowa; Roll: 345; Family History Film: 1254345; Page: 146D; Enumeration District: 201

[8] Birth record for Elizabeth Reinhardt, Iowa County Births 1880 – 1835Index (

[9] Bourret, Joan Liffring-Zub and John Zug, Amanas yesterday: a religious communal society: a story of seven villages in Iowa: historic photographs 1900 – 1932. IA City, IA: Penfield Press, 2003


[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] August Koch manuscript, Archives Collection, Amana Heritage Museum, Amana, Iowa.

[19] Daily Republican Times, Ottawa, Illinois, 13 June 1910, Vol XXXII no. 291. Pg 4.

[20] “Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994,” database, FamilySearch( : 17 May 2016), Emma L Mataway, 18 Aug 1956; citing Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States, source reference , record number , Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm .

[21] “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch( : 12 December 2014), Fred Reinhardt, 1917-1918; citing La Salle County no 1, Illinois, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,614,034.

[22] Illinois Births and Christenings, 1824-1940,” database, FamilySearch( : 12 December 2014), Anna Reinhardt, 28 Apr 1889; Birth, citing Ottawa, La Salle, Illinois; FHL microfilm 1,710,998.

[23] Ottawa Illinois City Directories, Ottawa, Illinois 1888, 1891, 1894,1895,1898, 1901, 1902, 1904, 1905, 1906,1907, 1908, 1909, 1911, 1912, at LaSalle County Genealogy Guild, 115 W. Glover Street, Ottawa, Illinois 61350

[24] Year: 1920; Census Place: Ottawa Ward 5, La Salle, Illinois; Roll: T625_379; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 141.  Source Information: 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.Original data: Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. (NARA microfilm publication T625, 2076 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C. For details on the contents of the film numbers, visit the following NARA web page: NARA. Note: Enumeration Districts 819-839 are on roll 323 (Chicago City).

[25] Certificate of Death, State of Illinois, LaSalle County,  Ottawa City, Registration District 513, Primary Dist No,. 3361, Registration No 44, LaSalle County Clerk, LaSalle County Courthouse, Ottawa, Illinois.

[26] Ottawa Illinois City Directories, Ottawa, Illinois 1888, 1891, 1894,1895,1898, 1901, 1902, 1904, 1905, 1906,1907, 1908, 1909, 1911, 1912, at LaSalle County Genealogy Guild, 115 W. Glover Street, Ottawa, Illinois 61350.

[27] Ottawa Avenue Cemetery, Ottawa, LaSallle, Illinois cemetery records, Cemetery card CCY-TS, Burial Location BU, 47C (N ½) Record # 5856.

[28] Daily Republican Times, Ottawa, Illinois,Vol XXXII no. 291, 13 June 1910, Pg 4.

[29] Ottawa Avenue Cemetery, Ottawa, LaSallle, Illinois cemetery records, Cemetery card CCY-TS, Burial Location BU, 47C (N ½) Record # 5856.

[30] Daily Republican Times, Ottawa, IL, Vol XLVI, no 5, Friday Evening 7 July 1922 (front page).

[31] Certificate of Death, State of Illinois,Cook County, City of Chicago, Registration # 17200.  Illinois State Archive, Springfield, Illinois.

[32] Daily Republican Times, Ottawa, IL, Vol XLVI, no 5, Friday Evening 7 July 1922 (front page).

[33] Ottawa Avenue Cemetery, Ottawa, LaSallle, Illinois cemetery records, Cemetery card CCY-TS, Burial Location BU, 47C (N ½) Record # 5855.


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

[2] 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.

[3] U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Records, 1875-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: 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 U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. {database on-line}.  Provo, UT, USA;  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] 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] U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600’s – Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2012.  Original data: Find A Grave. Find A Grave.

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