Wednesday, June 17, 2009

95 years ago today... grandparents, Ella and Joseph Kijak, were married.

Joseph Kijak, born August 3, 1892 in Bay City, MI and Ella Emma Louise Kolberg, born August 8, 1895 in Stevensville, MI met in St. Joseph, MI when both were working at Cooper Wells Company, a hosiery manufacturing firm.

They were married at Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Joseph, MI on June 17, 1914 and began their married life in a rental home on Hoyt Street, also in St. Joseph.

Joseph & Ella Kijak
June 17, 1914
St. Joseph, MI

Four children were born during their marriage - Harris in 1915, Elden in 1918, Eloris in 1925 and Leslie in 1926.

Life was not easy for my grandparents during their marriage. Financially they struggled the entire 46 years of their married life. They began their married life in a rental home on Hoyt Street, in St. Joseph where their first two sons were born, Harris and Elden. They then moved to a rental home on Brown School Road in St. Joseph and their sons attended elementary school at the Brown School. During these early years, Joseph continued to work at Cooper Wells.

In approximately 1924, after 10 years of marriage, they were able to purchase a home, farm and property on Cleveland Avenue & Maiden Lane in St. Joseph where they worked together at farming with Ella's brother, Kurt Kolberg and his family, living and working on an adjacent farm. They lost the home, farm and property during the Depression and were forced to live in a variety of rental homes for many years following that on Court Street, Market Street and Wayne Street, all in St. Joseph, with my grandfather working as a house painter/decorator.

During their entire marriage, Joseph's father, John Kijak, lived with them. In addition, they repeatedly had renters living with them in their variety of homes. With all these extra people in the house, my grandmother did all the laundry, cooking and cleaning for not only her husband and 4 children but the borders and her father-in-law as well. During some of these years, Joseph's uncle, Stanley Rubis, also lived with them. It was definitely more than a 'full house'.

In approximately 1941 they were able to purchase a home on Pleasant Street in St. Joseph, across the street from the St. Joseph Catholic Church. This was a 2 story home where, again, John Kijak lived with them.

All 3 sons served in WWII with two of the sons going overseas and, thankfully, all came home safely. During WWII, my grandfather worked at Dachel-Carter Shipbuilding in Benton Harbor, MI where he did ship painting. During this time he developed paint poisoning and suffered the rest of his life with the effects of this poison in his system. I can remember as a child my grandfather sitting at the end of the dining room table bandaging his fingers to try to ease the pain from the poison. He could no longer work at painting and decorating so the remainder of his working life he spent working at the local S&H Green Stamp Store in Benton Harbor.

They had no automobile after 1929 (that will prove to be a most interesting future blog post and I do mean, very interesting) and both my grandparents walked everywhere that they needed to go.

Joseph & Ella Kijak
ca 1929

Despite the financially hard times and the excessive work that both of my grandparents did, they had the most stable and happy of marriages. I can safely say that my mother grew up in a true NON-dysfunctional family where there was peace, happiness, love and a feeling of everyone pitching in to do their share for the total family. Interestingly, there were issues with extended family due to the fact that my grandfather was Polish and Catholic and my grandmother was German and Lutheran but these issues did not affect their marriage. They were a true team and my grandfather took confirmation lessons to become Lutheran of his own initiative early in their marriage so that their family could worship as one family unit. My mother has told me repeatedly that she cannot ever recall her parents sharing a harsh word between them.

In 1945 at the occasion of Ella's 50th birthday they had this professional photo taken to commemorate this special event.

Ella & Joseph Kijak
August 8, 1945
St. Joseph, MI

Joseph died on October 23, 1960 at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, IN where he had been transported after becoming ill. He had had a ruptured cerebral aneurysm and died a few days later.

My grandmother continued living in their home on Pleasant Street and supplemented her small social security income by doing sewing and crafts and selling her hand made doll clothes, baby garments and decorative craft items many of which I have to this day as shown below.

In 1971, she was able to sell her home and move into the Senior Citizens high rise apartment complex along Lake Michigan and the St. Joseph River where she had a small apartment on the 14th floor. She passed away on May 29, 1973 and both she and my grandfather are buried in Stevensville Cemetery in Stevensville, MI.

I have the most wonderful and loving memories of both of my grandparents. I was only 12 when my grandfather passed away but I remember him well. Visits to my grandparent's home in St. Joseph were always occasions for great joy. My grandparents went out of their way to make our visits memorable. I was especially close to my grandmother and have many special keepsakes from her as well as wonderful memories. Even now, 36 years after her death, my memories and love for her are still as strong as ever.

Jeff Schulte, Joseph Kijak,
Cheryl Schulte, Ella Kijak

818 Pleasant Street, St. Joseph, MI

Above photos - personal collection of Cheryl Schulte

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Father...The Romantic Car Thief?

When my parents were married on June 15, 1946 my father was just returning from service in WWII. Their courtship had been unique - they had not known each other but were brought together by my paternal grandfather. My father had grown up in Detroit, Michigan and my mother lived on the opposite side of the state in St. Joseph, some 200 miles away. The families knew each other, though, through another familial connection but my parents had never met. While my father's parents, and even his brother, had traveled numerous times to St. Joseph to visit my mother's family, my father had never joined his family on these trips.

When my father went into the service he was already engaged to someone from Detroit. She was wearing his engagement ring and my father had presented her with a photo of himself in uniform with a personal inscription that he had written on the photo. During his time in Central America in the Army Air Corps, his fiance, Lillian, had 'strayed' and my grandmother had been privileged to 'catch' Lillian in this indiscretion. My grandmother, being a very controlling person, had demanded the engagement ring and photo back and Lillian was banished - never to be heard from again.

It was at this time that my grandparents traveled to St. Joseph to visit my mother and her family. During this visit my grandfather played matchmaker and asked my mother if she would like to write to his son in the service who had just broken up with a girlfriend. My mother agreed to write to the serviceman only if he were to write her first. The correspondence began and would last for about 2 years until my father was discharged in February, 1946. During this time my father decided that it would be a great idea to send his "new" girlfriend a photo of himself in uniform and this is the photo he sent her. Evidently he had been raised to "waste not, want not" though my brother and I thought this was the most hilarious thing as we were growing up and would hear this story and see this photo.

In February, 1946 my father was discharged from the service and returned to Detroit. My mother and HER mother traveled to the train depot in Detroit to greet him. This would be the first time my parents actually saw each other. Immediately my father proposed, my mother accepted and you guessed it - she was given the same engagement ring that my father's previous fiance had worn. They were married just a few months later on June 15, 1946 and I will say that on their 25th anniversary in 1971 my mother did get a new engagement and wedding ring set though she really never seemed to mind the original setting either. It was more of a humorous story that was told over the years to friends who would always marvel at the recycled photo and ring.

But there is more - and another great story which was told over the near 50 years of my parent's marriage. My parents were to be married in my mother's home town of St. Joseph. A few days prior to the wedding my father arrived in St. Joe with his new acquisition - a used car that he had just bought in Detroit. He was most proud of this car and it would be their honeymoon transportation to Niagara Falls.

On June 15th, the day of their wedding, my father decided to move the car from my mother's house because he was sure his brother and other male friends were going to be playing a prank on him with his car. So, not knowing the area of St. Joe, he simply drove his car a few blocks from my mother's home and parked it in front of a house. The wedding took place, the guests moved to the reception and the day was perfect. After the reception, my father walked back to pick up his car and drive to pick up his new bride so they could start on their honeymoon. But when he got to the place he had parked the car, the car was gone.

Thinking for sure that his brother, cousins or friends had moved the car as a joke, he simply walked around the downtown area and happened upon his car - parked in the parking lot of what he assumed to be a business of some sort. He got in the car and proceeded back to pick up my mother at her home where she had gone to change out of her wedding gown. He had just pulled up in front of my mother's home when suddenly the police came up behind him and told him that he was driving a stolen car, and despite protests that my father was the owner of the car, he was made to drive back to the police station.

My mother, so sure now that HER brothers had played some prank was so angry that she marched back to the reception hall where the party was still going on and confronted her brothers, cousins and brother-in-law and all professed innocence in the matter.

Back to the police station they all went where my father was being held as being in possession of a stolen car. Everyone attempted to convince the police that my father was the rightful owner of the car, some offered to stay in his place and my mother's uncle even offered to put his nearby hotel up as collateral if the newlyweds could leave but were told that it was a state offense and that my father would have to stay in the police station until word came from Lansing, the state capital, as to the rightful ownership of the car.

What had happened was that my father had purchased the car in Detroit from a man going through a divorce. The man's wife had not known about the sale of the car and she reported the car stolen. When my father had moved his car on the day of the wedding and parked it a few blocks away, the owner of that home had noticed the car parked there all day and reported it to the St. Joe police who ran a trace on the license plate which came up as having been stolen in Detroit. The police towed the car to the parking lot of the police station and my father, not knowing the area, simply got in the car and drove it away.

After sitting in the police station until 4 in the morning, the word finally came from Lansing that my father was indeed the rightful owner and my parents were able to finally leave on their honeymoon.

They next day they did make the front page of the St. Joseph newspaper which made for a repeat of a good story over the next 50 years. My father died in 1996 but my mother continues to have friends remind her of this tale when they get together to reminisce about old times.

Mylen & Eloris Schulte (6/16/46)
with cans from back of car from wedding day

Above photos - personal collection of Cheryl Schulte