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

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