Saturday, August 8, 2009

From Whence I Came...Ella Emma Louise Kolberg

My maternal grandmother, Ella Emma Louise Kolberg, was born August 8, 1895 in Stevensville, MI to August Kolberg and Bertha Kramp. I believe that she was probably named in part for her Aunt Ella Kramp and her Uncle Louis Kramp with her uncle being one of her godparents at the time of her baptism. Ella was the last of the children of August and Bertha Kramp and had 5 older siblings still living. There was such a disparity in age between herself and her eldest sister that in later years they were mistaken for mother and daughter rather than sisters which did not please her sister at all.

The August Kolberg family had a small farm in Stevensville during the early years of my grandmother's life. She was baptized at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Stevensville and attended school there as well. When she was confirmed, it was also at St. Paul's Lutheran Church.

Ella Kolberg-confirmation

Family life was not easy in my grandmother's household. The farming her parents did was not enough to produce income to live comfortably. As a child, my grandmother often accompanied her mother to the neighboring farms of other Kolberg family members, where they were allowed to pick berries which they then brought home to their farm to sell. In addition, her father, August Kolberg, had a propensity for drinking and life was not pleasant. I must say, though, that I never heard any of this from my grandmother but rather from elder cousins of hers when I began genealogy research in earnest and after my grandmother was already deceased.

Over the years, my grandmother had some interesting experiences. While I could write about the dates of importance to her life, her marriage, raising her own family, etc much has already been written in my post on my grandfather, Joseph Kijak, and my grandmother's mother, Bertha Kramp. Instead I am going to list some of the experiences that my grandmother had in her life.

1. As a 14 year old she was sent from the farm to the city of St. Joseph to live with a wealthy family where she worked as a maid and lived in their home. When I think of that - 14 years old - I am amazed. While today a trip from Stevensville to St. Joe might take 15 minutes tops, in those days it was necessary for my grandmother to "live in" at her employer's home. She told the story about how one time the home was robbed and when the police came out to investigate they had to go through everything in the home. In the closet of my grandmother's bedroom she had a cardboard box in which she stored those 'delicate' items that women of the day had to use during those once/month occurrences. These items had to be hand washed and dried to be used over and over and the police had quite an eye full when they dumped out my grandmother's stash of female products. She liked to laugh about that in later years but said she was mortified at the time.

2. As a 16 year old young lady she was dating a particular young man who she never identified to me but she did tell the story of going on his motorcycle for a ride through the countryside, something she said her father would have been livid about. On this ride, she recounted that she fell, down a long hill and never was inclined to get on a motorcycle again. Gosh, she was a daredevil.

3. She went to work at Cooper-Wells Hosiery Mill prior to her marriage in 1914. When she actually began that job, I don't know but it was at that job that she met my grandfather and their marriage took place on June 17, 1914 at the parsonage at Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Joseph.

4. On August 8, 1914, she received a poignant letter from her mother, Bertha Kramp Kolberg, written to Ella on "your first birthday as a married woman". I have this letter today and it is amazing to see how it has been preserved for 96 years. I can see my great-grandmother writing that letter to her youngest daughter.

5. On February 26, 1915, while pregnant with her first baby, Ella lost HER mother when Bertha Kolberg passed away in Kalamazoo, MI. This was probably a very hard time for her to lose her mother at the time she would have needed her the most.

6. In April, 1918, while pregnant with her second baby, Ella lost her mother-in-law when Mary Kijak passed away in Detroit, MI. I have often thought how both my grandmother's pregnancies must have been fraught with grief and loss.

7. Ella and Joseph moved many times from home to home before settling on a farm on Cleveland Avenue in St. Joseph where my mother was born in 1925 and my mother's brother in 1926. This was their first purchase of a home and my grandparents worked the farm together. However, the depression came and in 1929, they lost their home and their farm. They moved their family into the City of St. Joe proper and for years moved from rental home to rental home.

8. During the years from 1929-1940, Ella ran her home, raised her 4 children, added to the family with the addition of her father-in-law and uncle-in-law who lived with them as well. In addition, my grandparents took in boarders and my grandmother fed and did all the laundry for this large group of people. In addition to her work at home, she also took employment at the Manley Resort on Langley Avenue in St. Joe as kitchen help, washing dishes. While this resort is now gone, there is a Manley Street at this location. She later worked during these years as a maid at the Whitcomb Hotel in St. Joseph. She certainly knew the meaning of hard work but did so at all times with a sunny disposition. While working at the Whitcomb she cut her finger on something she was cleaning and developed a deep infection which would not heal. She later visited the house doctor at the Whitcomb for an exam. He asked her if "she played the piano" and she replied "no" and his response was "then you won't care if I cut the finger off at the first joint". Needless to say, she didn't let him near her and went to another physician in town who was able to save her finger.

Ella with Eloris & Leslie Kijak
USS Theodore Roosevelt
on a voyage from St. Joe to Chicago, IL
ca 1934

Joseph & Ella Kijak family
ca 1943
St. Joseph, MI

9. Ella was also very active in her church during these years and made sure that her children and husband attended as well. All 4 of her children were confirmed in the Lutheran faith, her husband converted from his Catholic faith at the beginning of their marriage and her two youngest children attended the Lutheran grade school as well. Ella took part in many activities at the church including Ladies Aid, where she held offices, Lutheran Women's Missionary League, sewing projects and the making of cancer dressings. She also sewed at home and began a sideline of making craft items and doll clothes some of which I have to this day. I can remember one room in her home filled with supplies for her craft projects and she always had a project or ten going on at one time.

10. During WWII, all three of Ella's sons served in the Armed Forces and she proudly displayed their photos in uniform on her living room wall along with a photo of my mother. Her six grandchildren's photos were displayed in another area of the living room as well.

11. One story she told about her years renting rooms in her home involved the time one of her renters was found to be involved in counterfeiting. After the man vacated the room, my grandmother found supplies left behind that indicated the counterfeiting of coin. The man was later apprehended and my grandmother had to go to federal court in Kalamazoo to testify against him.

12. After the death of her husband in 1960, Ella continued her activities. She continued, as well, to have renters in her home; fortunately the entrance to the second floor was separate from the entrance to her home itself so there was safety but there were several renters that she had to evict and she did so with gumption.

My grandmother stayed in her own home, alone, for over 10 years after my grandfather died and then was able to secure an apartment in a newly built senior citizens complex. She moved into her little "doll house" as she called her 14th floor apartment and lived there for the rest of her life until she passed away on May 29, 1973.

Ella & Joseph Kijak

My memories of my grandmother are many. She was the sweetest and kindest person ever and I was extremely close to her. While she had very little finances, she was happy and positive her entire life. I am pleased, even at this time, when I see people here in St. Joseph who tell me they remember my grandmother and recount wonderful stories about her. She was truly the best grandmother that any person could ask for.

Above photos-personal collection of Cheryl Schulte


T.K. said...

Aw, Cheryl, I am so glad to see that you have some time now for Two Sides. This was a great post to come back with, too. I really enjoyed reading your stories about your grandmother, and as always, I am amazed at your ability to let the words flow. You're so good at that!

Cheryl said...

Thanks, TK, for the comments.