Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Value of Advice

 It is obvious by now to those of you who follow my blog that I enjoy history.  Recently I was looking at a textbook titled "The Business of Life," published in 1936 for business students.  I thought it would be interesting to share some of the advice the authors' included.  They begin:  "Life is no round-trip ticket.  This journey, according to present-day reckoning, lasts about fifty-nine years for the average person."  I did a quick check for today's life expectancy in America and found that it is about 81-years for women and 77 for men.  Obviously, life expectancy has changed significantly.  I was curious to see how much the advice of the authors has changed, and I hope you enjoy what I found. 

The authors believed that the lack of a real purpose is the cause of many peoples' failures on the journey of life.  As an example, the authors' wrote, "At a railroad or bus station we do not ask for a ticket to 'somewhere,' but rather we should ask for a specific destination."  The authors explained that just as you should know where you want to go when you buy a ticket, you should also want to know your purpose when you begin your journey into adulthood. Today's kids are unlikely to be going off to college by railroad or bus, but, more importantly, how many of today's students actually know how to answer 'Exactly what career have you chosen for the rest of your life?' when they leave for college?  The authors' 1936 advice:  "The great secret of making the journey of life successfully lies in discovering at the start the main highway and then in staying on it," would sound ridiculous to most students leaving high school today, and even if they did adhere to a chosen career path, how many would adhere to that path for their entire lives?

Today there are professors with the specific purpose of advising students about the selection of a career path, and correspondingly, the classes  they should take for that career.  In 1936, apparently students were assumed to arrive at college knowing what they wanted to do with their lives, or otherwise, they   would be unlikely to enroll without a specific goal.  That is not the case today. 

Although some of the advice included in the book is relevant, much of it is obsolete.  The authors' recognized that time changes the appropriate advice for students, and we certainly recognize that  technology has created many unimagined options.  Years ago I thought a great high school graduation gift was a nice leather bound dictionary with the recipient's name stamped in gold on the lower corner of the dictionary.  Today I'm sure kids use the dictionary on their smart phones.  Once I realized that the dictionary idea was probably not appreciated, I came up with another idea--a really nice photo album with their name on it.  But, today photographs are probably on their smart phones, not displayed in an album.  Year by year things change, and many things become obsolete.  Sometimes it seems hard to keep up!

One suggestion in the 1936 book was looking to men (notice women were not included in their advice) you admire as potential role models, with their suggested examples being Lincoln, Lindberg, and Edison.  Lincoln remains a popular president, and respect for Edison's inventions continues, but the reputation of Lindbergh was sullied by his isolationist outspokenness during the lead-up to W.W. II.  Perhaps the biggest difference between the 1936 choices and current surveys for most admired is that women are now included.  Politics, entertainment, and sports tend to dominate polls today.  Are these men and women truly appropriate role models for this young generation?  Yes and no, probably.

During my search through the 1936 The Business of Life textbook, I was surprised to come across  the illustration above.  Expanding on the caption beneath the illustration the authors wrote, "No real sportsman would think of shooting a covey of birds without first flushing them, nor would he think of firing at a rabbit except when it was on the run."  The authors admitted that even in 1936 the common ethics of sportsmanship had deteriorated, until "today there is little sport left in this country."  What would the authors of their textbook think of the weapons used by hunters today, as well as access to ownership and other issues?

Reading the 1936 book was interesting, but I cannot imagine that the advice would hold the attention of today's students.  I did find one section titled "Qualities That Make For Character" interesting, and I thought it worth quoting.  "Perhaps the best trait of character that everyone may acquire is to do the very best he can at all times, regardless of the handicap under which he may have to labor.  This is all that we should expect of anyone.  Most of the following qualities are considered necessary, and all of them are important to good character:  courage, honesty, reliability, perseverance, industry, accuracy, self-control, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, and cooperation.  Other qualities, such as leadership, judgement, and thinking ability may be necessary for great success but not necessary for a good character ."

The young man who first owned this book, perhaps a nephew of my husband's grandmother, was a  teenager in 1936.  I don't know how the book made its way from Iowa to Kansas.  All I know is that it was among the things we sorted at the time of my mother-in-law's death.  How I would love to know what young Lloyd Clapp, whose name is written neatly in the front of the book, thought of his textbook and whether the faint underlining under "Qualities That Make for Character" were made by Lloyd.   

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Legacy of the Neeland's Family


Neelands Cemetery has frequently been referenced in my blogs, so most readers are familiar with the story of how a worker at the Neelands Ranch was buried in a pasture, and the Neelands family donated the surrounding three acres to be used as a cemetery.  Those of you who have read "Prairie Bachelor" are familiar with the description of the cemetery that appeared not only in the opening pages related to Isaac's funeral, but also as the location of other funerals mentioned in the book.

In a time when air conditioning was unimagined, Neelands Grove was the closest thing to a cool place for gatherings.  Near the end of the book, I describe the Grove for two reunions, held on consecutive days--first a reunion of early settlers to the area, and the following a reunion of old soldiers.  As I have shared before, there were many Civil War soldiers who took advantage of applying their years of service during the War toward the years required to prove up a homestead claim.  I have used my great-grandfather, Aaron Beck, who served the Union for three years, as one of those settlers who applied those three years toward the five years required to prove up his homestead claim, reducing his time before applying for his land title to only two years.  In "Prairie Bachelor" I describe the "nearly eighty veterans attending the reunion" including Will Campbell, George Henn, and several other men who wore the Union Blue.

Recently, however, a friend shared a copy of a newspaper article describing the founding of Neelands Chapel located in Neeland's Grove on land donated by James Neeland.  The article was filled with names of many early settlers, including the Charles N. Waters family, who had been friends of the Neelands family in Missouri and had come to Kansas in the fall of 1877 after an invitation from James Neeland to join him in Kansas.  They had a mutual interest in building a church, and the first location considered was near the Livingston School, with a second option of Neeland's grove, which was offered without cost.  The Neeland's grove location was accepted and fundraising for the structure began.

Neeland's grove was an old timber claim, and as the trees grew, so did the popularity of the grove for gatherings, including revivals before the church had been built.  The fast-growing cottonwoods made a welcome shady location for large gatherings, recorded as being from 2,000 to 6,000 people.  Revivals, picnics, reunions, and political rallies are some of the events eager for gathering places during that time.

On November 18, 1904, the speaker was chosen to dedicate the church, upon its completion, and the choice was "Elder Beck."  None of my research reflects membership of my grandfather Royal D. Beck in that church, although he was a Methodist and in later years the family was active in the Byers Methodist Church, which was originally the Naron Church.  The actual dedication of the church in Neeland's Grove took place on December 13, 1904.

The church prospered until 1950, and it was first given to the Methodist Conference, after which the church was torn down for its lumber used in building the Iuka Methodist Church when their new brick building was framed.

Some of the ancient cotton wood trees survive, and Neelands Cemetery continues in use today.

Neeland's Stone surrounded by many of his friends
Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Memories & Discoveries

When I was a little girl, there was a particular couple that became a part of my childhood memories.  They lived just across the section from my home, our house being on the Southeast Quarter of the Section, and their home being in the Southwest Quarter.  The land they farmed belonged to a family named Kennedy, and my father and Lester Kennedy had been best buddies growing up, but the Kennedys had moved to Western Kansas, leaving the farming of their old home to a tenant farmer named Glen DeGarmo and his wife Oma.  The couple were significantly older than my parents, but our families were very close.  In fact, they are the only "babysitters" I remember from my childhood.

Looking West toward Glen & Oma's home, Credit Lyn Fenwick

I have many memories of Glen and Oma--the Thanksgiving our families spent together when a snowstorm blocked the roads and their guests could not reach their farm as planned and my family could not go to my aunt's house for the holiday as intended.  My father used the tractor and feed wagon to get us across the fields to the DeGarmo's house where we pooled what we had to make a Thanksgiving feast.  I also remember the evening Glen scooped up sand from the driveway into a box that he brought into the house so I could continue playing with my toy cars and trucks inside when it became dark outside.  There was also their upstairs mirrored wardrobe that actually held a bed.  Once, when their grandkids visited and the hinged bed had been lowered like a Murphy bed for their guests, we kids discovered that by crawling under the bed we could make faces in the mirror above us.   Another special memory is that my childhood playhouse was a repurposed henhouse moved from the Kennedy place after my father bought that land.  The only bad memory I have of visiting Glen and Oma is of the outhouse.  They had water into the kitchen, but they had no indoor bathroom, and I hatted having to use the outdoor "John."

One Sunday morning when I was ten years old, my father and I went to church alone, my brother being away at college for his first year and my mother staying home for some reason I have forgotten.  As we turned on the county line road, which Glen and Oma would also have driven to go to church, my father commented:  "Glen and Oma are late getting off to church this morning too."  There had been a light sprinkle during the night, and my father had seen that there were no tire tracks which Glen's vehicle should have made by now.  I was sitting in Bible class later that morning  when someone came in to get me, saying,  "Your father asked me to take you home today," and although it was confusing to me, I did as I was told.  In fact, news had reached the church that Glen had died, and my father had left immediately to see how he could help.    

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Isaac's stone in foreground; DeGarmo stone far right edge of picture

My father ended up buying that land from the Kennedys and he farmed it for the rest of his life.  My last memory of Oma was a visit in Western Kansas, where she had lived after Glen's death.  That visit  must have been not too long before she died in 1970.

Decades later, when I was doing the research for Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement, I was researching the settlement of Isaac's estate.  Imagine how surprised I was to discover that Isaac's farm had been purchased by a man named Jacob DeGarmo.  Jacob and his wife Adeline had a large family, and it included a son named Archie Glen DeGarmo, who was born in 1886 before the family had come to the Macksville community.  However, by May 29, 1895, I documented that Glen was 8 years old, living with his family in Albano Township, and he was still there at the turn of the century.  He married Oma in St. John, where her family lived, on January 14, 1914.  In summary, my childhood friend lived in Isaac Werner's home most of his childhood and adolescence.  

Gravestone of Glen & Oma, Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Recently, while doing some research about Neelands Cemetery, where Isaac is buried, I discovered that Glen and Oma are also buried there.  My husband and I made a visit, and I was surprised to discover that Glen and Oma are buried only a few steps away from Isaac.  Somehow, I find that comforting.    


Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Pausing to Remember the Past

Photo credit Lyn Fenwick

 When we received the message from David Werner explaining that he and his wife were hoping to drive from Wernersville, PA to South Central Kansas to visit Isaac Werner's grave and to see the Journal, as well as anything else of interest in relation to Isaac, I was pleased...and then worried.  The two things he mentioned were certainly available, but what else was there to show them?  Nearly all of the structures from Isaac's time are gone, and even the land Isaac claimed has changed.  What is there to see?

As it turned out, there was a lot to see, and this blog is not only about our visit from Isaac's cousins but is really about the things around us that we no longer give our attention--that we fail to share with our children and grandchildren.  While the things available to share are not exactly like they were when our ancestors lived, there are still things to see and stories to share.  That is what this week's blog is about.

Photo credit Larry Fenwick

The picture above of David  Werner, Isaac's 1st cousin 3 times removed, having slipped back to take one more picture of Isaac's grave, particularly touched me.  As did the light touch on the corners of Isaac's stone by each of the cousins--LaRita, David, and Cynthia--as the group gathered around for a photograph.  (Also in the picture is Deann Werner.)  The emotions for this once forgotten bachelor cousin were real.  

I walked them around the quiet country cemetery, pointing out the graves of friends of Isaac, many of whom are mentioned in Prairie Bachelor, and I directed their attention to the number of settlers whose stones displayed their military service in the Civil War.  Particularly emotional were the many stones of infants and young children.

We drove around Isaac's timber claim and homestead, although both are changed by cultivation for more than a century.  The second day we returned, first for a farewell to Isaac and then for a tour of his community.  As we drove through the community, I read brief excerpts from Prairie Bachelor, connected with the particular locations where we paused, such as the land where Isaac stayed with neighbors in his final days, the locations of the country post offices, the location of the home of the young man who visited Isaac every day until Isaac could no longer remain in his home--sharing details at each pause related to each of his neighbors in some way.  They couldn't believe how far he walked in his community for visits, jobs, and other reasons.

They discovered their own surprises--how sandy the soil was, how pretty the wild flowers were, how many animals they saw on the country roads, how the cottonwood trees had looked like a snowfall had covered the bark, and because of the blackened trees from a recent fire in our community that burned many acres, how frightening prairie fires must have been in Isaac's time.

Lyn, Dave & LaRita: Photo credit Larry Fenwick
We visited both the Lucille Hall Museum in St. John and the County Museum in Stafford, which Michael Hathaway generously interrupted his weekend to share with us.  It was a particular treat to see both where Isaac's Journal was found and to see the actual "County Capital" newspapers where I did so much of my research for Prairie Bachelor.

Although I had worried that there would be too little to show them, that was never the case.  Of course, I have written this blog to share their visit with you, but I hope that it may encourage you to consider your own family tour, whether to see sights specifically relevant to your family or just to explore the community that we sometimes take for granted.

I will close with a final photograph that perhaps best displays the joy of connection with roots from the past.  I had covered the dining room table with examples of my research, and added to the display was an incredible research collection compiled by Cynthia McClanahan Cruz, tracing the Direct Descendants of Henry and Magdalena Meyer Werner, (Isaac's grandparents), genealogy that stretched back to the generation that connected all of the guests to one another.  Among these items placed on the table to be explored was Isaac's Journal.  I will close with the picture that seems to say it all. 

Photo credit Larry Fenwick

Without Isaac Werner's daily entries in this 480 page oversized journal, there would never have been a Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement.  Many of you who had never heard of the Populist Movement in which Kansas and other states played such a significant  role, might never have known about it, its influence today, and the roots of Populism and Progressivism.  For many readers of the book, they now understand the challenges their own ancestors faced during that time.  Today, Kansas is sometimes referred to as a "flyover state," but those who know its full history know better!