Monday, August 3, 2009

From Whence I Came...Joseph Kijak

To continue my series of posts on my grandparents and great-grandparents, this is a week in which three of my four grandparents had birthdays. As a child, I can remember the pure joy of having three birthday celebrations in a week for three of my special grandparents.

Joseph Kijak was born August 3, 1892 in Bay City, Michigan to John Kijak and Mary Anna Rubisz. He was their first child and only son and his birth was followed by the births of three sisters, Anna, Martha and Rose. Joseph Kijak would be my maternal grandfather and was a very special grandparent though I was only 12 when he passed away.

While I do remember my grandfather, I have very little information regarding his childhood. I don't have any photos of him from childhood but I know that he was baptized in the Catholic faith as an infant and that he lived in Bay City with his parents and sisters as evidenced by the 1900 Bay City Census.

From what I have learned over the years, and most recently confirmed after finding a relative in the family of Mary Rubisz Kijak, the marriage of my grandfather, Joseph's parents, was not a pleasant one. His mother had been only 14 when she was married to his father, who himself was 30. This no doubt was an arranged marriage after both families had arrived in the US from Poland and how this marriage was allowed is evidently laws of the time in the 1890's.

Somewhere during the period from 1900 (when the Bay City census shows the family still together) to 1903, when Joseph Kijak's step sister, Emma, was born in South Bend, IN, mother, Mary Kijak left Bay City with her 4 children Joseph, Anna, Martha and Rose and settled in South Bend, IN with a gentleman named Frank Banner. Father, John Kijak, remained in Bay City.

My grandfather, Joseph, spent his youth living in South Bend with his mother, sisters, step sister and step brothers and his mother's companion, Frank Banner, and this is the only photo I have of him during his youth.

The 1910 South Bend, IN census shows this family though the 4 Kijak children are listed with the surname "Banner" which was incorrect. It is amazing the steps a genealogist has to go through to find hidden data. For years I could not put my finger on a 1910 census for my grandfather and never thought to look under the surname Banner. We must always be alert to all the possibilities.

While living in South Bend, my grandfather found a job in St. Joseph, MI working for Cooper Wells, a hosiery manufacturing company. This was only a 30 mile drive from South Bend and it was here, at work, that he met my grandmother, Ella Kolberg. How long they dated, I don't know, but on June 17, 1914 they were married.

They began their married life in St. Joe where Joseph continued to work at Cooper Wells. In 1915, son Harris was born and in 1918, son Elden was born. The 1920 census shows this family then living on Court Street in St. Joe.

In 1925, their daughter (my mother) Eloris, was born, followed in 1926 by their 3rd son, Leslie. With these 4 children, their family was complete. At this time, Joseph and Ella had a fruit farm on Cleveland Avenue in St. Joseph and the work and toil was their income.

In addition, at this time, my grandfather had a unique experience with a member of the Al Capone gang which led to his discontinuation of driving.

The Depression came in 1929 and with it the loss of their home and farm though the 1930 census does still show them living on Cleveland Avenue.

The family lived in a variety of rental homes over the next 10+ years until Joseph & Ella were able to purchase a home at 818 Pleasant Street in St. Joseph in approximately 1940. During these years, Joseph worked as a painter and decorator and in later years for the S&H Green Stamp store.

In 1945, my grandparents had a professional photo taken of themselves on the occasion of my grandmother's 50th birthday. This is a favorite photo of mine.

Though photos with my grandfather in them are few and far between, this one of myself and my brother with my grandmother as well is one that I remember.

My memories of my grandfather are many - his coming to Detroit to help my parents with construction work when my parents bought their first home, building shelves in the basement to hold all of our toys, planting a maple tree in the back yard and planning the placement of the tree so as not to obstruct a future garage, getting paint poisoning and having to bandage his fingers for the rest of his life, living in extreme pain. He was a gentle man, never raised his voice and was a loving husband to my grandmother and a good father to his four children.

My grandfather became ill in October, 1960 and was diagnosed with a cerebral aneurysm. The hospital in St. Joseph could not treat this condition at that time and he was transported to a hospital in South Bend where he passed away on October 23, 1960. I was only 12 at the time but have vivid memories of our drive from Detroit to South Bend, having an accident on the way, getting lost trying to find the hospital in South Bend and my mother arriving to see her father just before he passed away.

He was a wonderful grandfather and I have always remembered him. He and my grandmother are buried in Stevensville Cemetery in Stevensville, MI and his memory lives forever in my heart.

Above photos & documents - personal collection of Cheryl Schulte

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