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El Centro, California 1976
An Oral History
El Centro, California 1976
Yesterday Libby came to see me and asked me to write a story covering the history of our family. This I do not feel capable of doing, but I will try to write a sort of chronicle giving facts as they were told to me and as I remember them.
Jennie Cecilia James Dessert
When Queen Elizabeth of England
A member of the Scotch Highlanders fitted up a ship to move to Canada. They were Catholic families named Chisholm, McDonald, Duthie and Fyfe, etc. These Scotch Highlanders were centered Inverness, Scotland.
They sailed to Canada landing in Nova Scotia. The first winter there was so severe they decided to go further inland a sailed up the St. Lawrence River to take up land in Ontario. They landed at Cornwall, and the last I know there were still a few relatives there. Dad and I visited some second cousins of his in Cornwall.
However, a good many of these Scotch settlers went on a bit north and east of Cornwall and took up land and formed Glengarry County, bordering on the Province of Quebec. The city that eventually grew up there is called Alexandria. Cousin Arch inherited his father’s farm and townhouse in Alexandria. He gave the farm to the Sisters of the Precious Blood and built a hockey rink on the lot his father’s house had been on and gave them to the city.
Cousin Archibald Chisholm’s mother was Katherine Chisholm, who was the sister of your Grandmother Anne Chisholm Dessert. Katherine was married to a distant cousin named Chisholm. When she was old, cousin Archie brought her down to Macon to live in the Dessert home. She was called Aunt Kate. When Aunt Kate died, Cousin Archie had her remains taken up for burial in a tomb he had built in St. Raphael’s, which was the first Catholic Church built in Glengarry County. It was built by the farmers in the area. They took days off, and would go to the quarries and dig up rock until they had enough to proceed with construction of the church. First they built a rock wall all around the church with windows in it here and there, but the windows were not directly opposite those of the church itself; this was to protect the church from attacks by Indians. About six feet inside this wall the church was erected. Grandpa (Raymond B. Dessert) and I, Frank, Archie and Anne all attended Mass in this church. Bunny and Winnie too, may have visited this church when they made their trip to Canada with Frank and Archie. Cousin Archie years later had a furnace and steam pipes put into this church so it could be heated. Cousin Arch’s parents and Cousin Arch and his wife are buried in a tomb they had built there.
Cousin Arch’s father had a farm on the outskirts of Alexandria, as well as a house in the town of Alexandria. The town of Alexandria was very divided, part French and part Scotch. When we lived in Canada it had two Cathedrals and two Bishops, one French and one Scotch. Cousin Margaret McDonald, who was Arch’s sister, was very upset because her two daughters married Frenchmen. We all met them but I have forgotten their names. Margaret called them “French devils”; in spite of the fact both couples were very happy.
Your grandmother Anne Chisholm and her sister Ella went to Kansas City to visit their brothers. In Kansas City they met two brothers, Francis Adnus Dessert and William Dessert. Your grandmother Anne Chisholm married Francis Adnus Dessert and her sister Ella Chisholm married William Dessert.
Frank, as Francis was called, and Anne moved to Macon, Missouri, and Ella and William moved to Moberly, Missouri. Each couple had large families. Frank and Anne’s children were Jennie, Valmere, William, Frank, Louis (who was killed crossing a railroad track between two cars when he was 13 years old), Anne, Mae, and Rose (who died when very your) and your father Raymond Bernardene Dessert.
Your grandfather Frank Dessert was a successful man. He owned a saloon in Macon, which his brother-in-law Dan Chisholm managed. He traded in cattle, mules and horse. He was a postmaster and owned the controlling interest in the “Black Queen” gold mine in Colorado.
William Dessert also was a good businessman. He had a lovely large home in Moberly, which I visited several times, and he owned considerable other property. He also owned and managed a large harness and leather goods business.
Frank Dessert died very young, while he was still postmaster in Macon. His daughter Jennie finished out his term as postmaster and later was appointed postmistress on her own.
During the Spanish-American War, Jack McDonald of Tauton, Minnesota, with a train load of other soldiers, stopped in Macon. He met your aunt Jennie and a romance began. Later they were married and lived in Hopkins, Minnesota. Their children are your cousins, Jane McDonald Palrang, and Jack and Hugh McDonald. Aunt Jennie lived in Hopkins where her husband worked for the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company. Your father, Raymond Dessert, came up from Macon, Missouri, and lived with them for a while and he also worked for a short time for the machine company. Later he went to work as Paymaster for the Minneapolis General Electric Company.
In the winter of 1910 I went to work as a private secretary to Mr. McGrath, the assistant manager of the Minneapolis General Electric Company, and this is where Raymond and I met. We were married on your father’s 20th birthday, on May 20, 1912. Aunt Mae Aherne and Jane Palrang are the only Desserts who were at that wedding who are still living today. My half sister, Aunt Vera Muhrlin, is the only one left still living from my side of the family who attended our wedding. We were married on a beautiful spring day in the Church of The Incarnation. Tabetha Peterson and Aunt Mae had breakfast in my mother’s dining room. Later my mother had a reception for some sixty people in the large room upstairs. We did not take a wedding trip, but were driven out to Cedar Lake where we had rented a summer cottage together with Jessie and Olive Naugle. We each had bought half to the furniture for this cottage. However, this arrangement did not work out too well, so after a month we moved our things into anther cottage at Cedar Lake and loved there until September, when we moved into an apartment on Grant and Nicclet Avenues in Minneapolis. Dad worked at the electric company until January 1, 1913. He could walk to work from our apartment. January 1, 1913, Grandpa went to work for Albert Declar(?) and was in the seed business for the rest of his life.
In the spring of 1913 we built a beautiful new home way on the other side of town. I drew up the house plans and it was too wide to go on the usual 33 1/3 foot lot in Minneapolis. Miss Cobban, a good friend of mine, had bought a 60 foot wide lot about a half bock from Minnehaha Creek and five blocks from Lake Harriet. She had held this lot for some years and sold it to me for $1,000.00. There was only one other house built in the long block to the creek. We built our home at 5024 Colfax Avenue South, at a cost of $6,400.00 and a few years later we sold it for $35,000.00 because so many and much more elegant homes were being built on the street.
During our marriage we were blessed with seven children: Raymond B. Jr, born March 27, 1913; Richard James, born June 24, 1914; Anne Chisholm, born April 8, 1920; Francis Anthony, born august 14, 125; Archibald Mark, born August 3, 1926; Alice Mary, born September 7, 1932; and Valmere Irene, born March 9, 1936.
We lived in Minneapolis until January 1919 when Dad went to work for the A.E. McKenzie Company of Brandon, Manitoba, Canada. The climate was very cold and hard on Raymond who had developed tuberculosis following the flu epidemic of 1919. Anne was born in Brandon. However, we registered here birth in Minneapolis so she was an American citizen. When Dad’s two year contract was up we moved to Grand Junction, Colorado. Alvin c. Ward and Dad had purchased the Grand Junction Seed Company from the estate of Harold Burgess’s father, and we spent a very happy 13 years there. Grand Junction is in a beautiful part of the Rocky Mountains. However, while in Grand Junction, on January 14, 1924, we had the great misfortune of losing our second son Dickie (Richard James). He is buried in Grand Junction. Frank, Archie, and Alice were all born in Grand Junction.
Mr. Ward died and Mrs. Ward wanted to sell her part of the company. The depression had hit and made things very hard. Mr. A.E. McKenzie, owner of the seed company Dad had been with in Brandon, Manitoba, called Dad and wanted him to go to Easter Canada to open up Eastern Canada for his company. So Dad and Mrs. Ward sold out to Truman Parks and we moved to Toronto in 1934.
Dad went on ahead and I stayed behind to sell our home and furniture. Freight was still high and prices in stores were down because of the depression, so we decided to sell our furniture and buy new furniture in Toronto. Of course, we moved all our books, dishes, pictures and personal things. WE lived in a suburb of Toronto, East York, Ontario, in a furnished house for a while but a year later took over the mortgage on a very lovely large home in a suburb on the west side of Toronto. The house was at 6 Palisades, Swansea. All of you children have seen it in recent years. Alice and Joe stopped there on their honeymoon. It was a beautiful location. From the front part of the house we could look down the hill and across Granadier Pond to the ski slope and to six hundred acre High Park beyond. From the dining room, upstairs hall and Anne’s bedroom, we could look down on Ellis Avenue and Lake Ontario.
In the meantime, World War II came on, and because we had sons and thought Toronto was to be our permanent home, we took out our Canadian citizenship papers. The war made a great difference in the price of seed because at that time most vegetable seeds were grown in Europe. Prices jumped so that cauliflower seed, which had always sold at 48 cents a pound, went to $12.00 a pound and other seeds comparatively.
When Dad was in Grand Junction he experimented in raising a great many vegetable seeds. The United States Department of Agriculture knew about this and they sent two men up to Toronto to try to talk Dad into returning to the United States to raise vegetable seeds for the lend-lease program. It had to be in an irrigated area so water could be put on and kept off the crops at the proper times.
Raymond had left Toronto and returned to the United States. His first job was with an undertaker in Phoenix. He had to sleep in the undertakers building. When he was first there on a Saturday night there was a big wreck and six dead men were brought in and left in the parlor where Raymond slept; so he promptly found another job! He was fortunate enough to be hired by the Whitman Seed Company of Yuma, Arizona. While in Yuma he met Libby Peach and they later had a lovely wedding. A year later their daughter, Marie Annette was born. They had only Marie for six years. Then on March 27, 1944, which is Raymond’s birthday, Raymond b. Dessert III, was born. We all call him “Spike”. On January 3, 1947 Richard John was born. On February 9, 1953 Michael James arrived, and on August 22, 1956 Timothy Allen was born. When I called Libby in the hospital to ask about the baby she said, “He is a nice baby, but he is a boy”, and she started to cry. She had wanted another daughter and four straight boys were too much!
Libby and Raymond now have four granddaughters and four grandsons. Marie married Hiram Thomas Hinkley and their children are Tommy, Peter, Annette, Kara, and a baby boy they recently adopted named Nathan David. Spike married Kae Bradford from Brawley, and they have two daughters, Elizabeth and Libusca. In 1973 they moved to the company farm in Australia and lived there for two years. The area is very primitive and they had many interesting experiences. Kae helped the sisters at a Catholic school which was comprised of 95% Aborigine students. Michael and Timmy are unmarried. Mike has been attending Davis University and will work for his doctorate degree in plant breeding. Timmy is attending college in San Diego. Dick married Gloria DeNechochea and has one son, Richard. Dick spent the summer of 1976 backpacking in Europe, and new works at Dessert Flowers.
Now back to the seed business. Mr. Whitman’s brother was running a seed store for him in El Centro, California. Things were not going well so Mr. Whitman let his brother go and sent Raymond over to run this seed store. Raymond later bought it from Mr. Whitman and it was then called Dessert Seed Company.
Dad could not leave Toronto until his contract with A.E. McKenzie Company was up. Raymond, Libby and Marie came up and visited us in Toronto. Ray and Dad talked things our and made plans. Raymond returned to El Centro and started signing up growers to grow these vegetable seeds which were so urgently needed. We did not have much money, so a long time friend of Dad’s from Buffalo, New York, was taken in as a stock holder of Dessert Seed Company. He financed the start of things. His name was Elmer Townsend, and he was a great friend and a fine man. He died a year ago. Since Dessert Seed has done very well, he made a great deal of money from his initial investment.
Dad left for El Centro while I stayed behind to sell our house and belongings. I shall now relate an “outlaw” incident in my life when I became a smuggler! The law in Canada during the war years was that no person could leave the country with more than $1,000.00 in cash. What money we had in the bank Dad used to purchase equipment and supplies to be shipped to El Centro. When we sold the home we also received some equity but this would show up so it was deposited also. But when I sold the furnishings, paintings, etc. (We sold almost everything). I accepted only cash and this I hid in the house. Then I formed a plan to get the money into the United States and with the assistance of Elmer Townsend I accomplished it. You see, we did need some cash for a house and furnishings in El Centro. I bought a ticket on an excursion boat for sightseers to Niagara Falls, and Elmer and his wife drove over from buffalo and parked and waited in the Canadian side of the falls. I had about $5,000.00 in cash in a paper sack, which looked like my lunch. When I disembarked I appeared to be taking a stroll and I walked past Townsend’s car without ever looking at them or speaking, and I tossed the sack into the back seat. Then as American citizens they crossed back across the border without arousing suspicion. Thus, my on escapade at lawlessness was successful!
I followed Dad to Imperial Valley, and I arrived in Niland on the Southern Pacific train in the middle of July. Imagine arriving in the Valley from Canada in the middle of summer! I was totally unprepared and descended the train steps wearing even a hat and gloves; when the heat hit my face I truly thought the train tracks were on fire and I was really frightened!
The Dessert Seed Company bought a big building on Commercial Avenue which they occupied for a number of years. But the company continued to grow so they bought land on the edge of town and built a much larger, more complete plant. They turned the little original Dessert Seed Company at 618 Main Street into “Dessert Flowers” and are still there. Many members of the family have worked there. It is now managed by Eddie Vega. El Centro has been very good to the Dessert Seed Company, and all the Desserts.
Dad, of course, was an invalid for a number of years before his death on December 18, 1969. Raymond and Archie have very ably carried on and advanced the growth of the company. One of Dessert Seed Company interests now is the 3,000 acres of land they bought in Northern Australia, near Kununurra. Spike, David, Derek, and Timmy went over there to develop the land, but all have returned, and an Australian is now managing it. The boys had some fascinating experiences, and really should write a book about it.
Anne, our next eldest child, worked for Dessert Seed Company for a short time. Then during the war she joined the WASPS and became a Woman’s Army Service Pilot. She became a squadron leader and was in charge of twenty girls. She and her “girls” flew planes with targets attached to them for anti-aircraft men to shoot at. In this way she met Colonel Joe Oliver, and they were married on May 20, 1944. They have four children: Joseph Frederick, Jr. who is married to Susan Mack of La Jolla, and he is in the real estate business; Valmere Anne, who is unmarried and lives in Marysville; Jennie who is married to Bob Munger and lives here in El Centro. Bob works for Dessert Seed and they have a two year old son, Christopher, and a baby girl named Samantha Anne. Anne and Joe’s son Keith Duncan was born on March 10, 1952. He is married to Nancy Linville, and they have a baby girl, Amanda, born October 19, 1975. Keith and Nancy live in Marysville. Anne has acquired her brokers license and successful in the real estate business. Joe works for Dessert Seed contracting and raising crops there. They have lived in Marysville for many years and are very happy there.
Frank managed Dessert Flowers for a short time after we came down to El Centro from Toronto. When he graduated from high school he went to the University of Southern California and then joined the Navy during World War II. However, his only trip on the ocean was when he went up from San Diego to Los Angeles to be discharged from the Navy! Frank worked for Dessert Seed Company for a while but went into business for himself and has done very well in farming and gas and oil interests. However, he still is a major stockholder and serves on the board of directors of the seed company. Frank married Mary Margaret Casey of Brawley. We all call her Bunny. They were married on April 21, 1945 on her parent’s wedding anniversary. They were married for several years before the arrival of Charles Cecil, on November 25, 1949. He is named for Bunny’s father. Charles graduated from the University of Southern California, and then toured Europe for six months. He now has an interest in Anza Packing Company. On November 29, 1951, David Michael was born. He attended New Mexico State University, and then went to Australia with Spike to develop the farm there. He spent several months living in a seed sack tent with no modern facilities; it was quite an experience. He now is learning the road construction business. On July 29, 1955 Bunny and frank welcomed a lovely baby girl, Frances Ann. On Saturday, July 3, 1976, Bunny gave a luncheon announcing the engagement of Frances to Clifford Strahm. Frances graduated with an Associate of Science degree in Registered Nursing, and pass her State Boards the top of her class. On Saturday, November 6, 1976, Frances was married to Clifford Strahm in a beautiful garden wedding. A dinner dance reception for 600 guests was held at the Swiss Club following the ceremony. Cliff and Frances have purchased a lovely home in Holtville.
Archie joined the Navy as soon as he was out of High School. However, he saw heavy sea duty. This was at the time the Navy was so hard hit, so Archie was sent to sea on the Alabama battleship even before he had finished his basic training. He was a gunner and had some close calls during the “kamikaze” suicide plane attacks launched by the Japanese. Archie received a medal for being among the first Americans to step on Japanese soil at the end of the war. Archie had been a good athlete in high school and was given a four year scholarship to St. Mary’s College to play football. At the time, St. Mary’s had a very good team. He was named All-Far-West Center his second year. He then attended Davis College for a degree in agriculture. On August 7, 1948 Archie married Winifred Alderson. They have four children. Mark, named for his father, was born November 2, 1952. He married Rhonda Vedder on May 14, 1976 in St. Mary’s Church. I attended the practice dinner at Archie and Winnie’s home, which I enjoyed very much. Rhonda’s seven sisters were attendants at the wedding; a dinner dance reception for 400 people was held at the Swiss club after the wedding. Mark graduated from Davis and is now farming. Derek Stephen was born September 8, 1954, and he is farming with Mark. A lovely daughter, Judith Anne was born March 23, 1958, and she is attending University of San Diego. Their son, Matthew Aaron was born February 3, 1962. He has made some interesting trips as a member of a group of gifted students, and Winnie has acted as chaperone.
On September 7, 1932, our sixth child was born in Grand Junction, Colo. We named her Alice Mary after my mother. During her early childhood she developed asthma and was very ill until we gave her allergy tests to help alleviate these problems. She attended a Catholic high school in San Diego and for a while studied to become a nun. However, she changed her mind and later she met Joe Colace and they were married on October 18, 1952. they have five children; Toni Anne, Joseph Jr., Marla Marie, William, and Katherine Jude. Alice had difficulties bearing children because of a blood incompatibility. Some of her babies had to have complete blood transfusions; so they are fortunate to have five fine children. Toni graduated from San Diego State University and is recreational therapist at a local rest home. She is very dedicated in her work, and well loved by the patients. Joseph, Jr. attended Arizona State University. He now works for his father’s produce company. On October 16, 1976 he married Sally Meier of Phoenix. They had a large church wedding and garden reception at Meier’s home. They purchased a nice home in El Centro. Marla is attending college in Los Angeles. Billy is going to tour Europe this summer with a group of students. Alice and Joe bought our old home when Dad and I moved into an apartment, and they did extensive remodeling. I am now living with them, sleeping in my old bedroom and I enjoy all the happy family activities.
Our seventh child, Valmere Irene was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on March 9, 1936. We named her after Dad’s sister and my sister. Val graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and was a fine student. She also studied for a semester in Austria, and while there she toured many countries including France, England, and Czechoslovakia. After graduation she went to Japan to visit a friend, Gina Rodee. Gina’s father was an admiral in the Navy in charge of occupation; so their residence was very grand, the Emperor’s summer palace! The girls even had their own Japanese maid to wait on them. Gina’s brother told a good friend of his about Val, and arranged a date. Thus, Val met Jack Frager, a Navy lieutenant, and in three days they were engaged! They were married November 30, 1957, and lived in Colorado for a while where Jack finished college. They moved to El Centro, and while living here Val taught English at Central High School. They have four children; John Donald, Jr.; Michael Raymond; Gina; and James. John is now a student at University of Southern California on a Navy ROTC scholarship. Jack is a stock broker and they live in a lovely home in the beautiful city of La Jolla.
Now I shall return to some historical facts.
The Dessert part of the family came from Alsace-Lorraine. Three brothers moved over to Somerset, Ohio. There Joseph Dessert married Sophia Roth (Rioth). They later moved to Mt. Sterling, Illinois, where your grandfather Francis Adnus Dessert was born. The other children of the family were Joseph, Anthony, Nicholas, William and Louis, and five daughters, Mary, Cecilia, Theresa, Emma and Rosetta.
Nicholas moved to Kansas City. On a visit to see Nicholas, Francis (known as Frank) and William met Anne and Ella Chisholm from Canada, and this meeting ended in the two marriages mentioned previously.
The James side of your family came from England, where Richard James married Sarah Ashworth, and gave birth to your great grandfather John James. John James married Mary Anne Cody, whose father was a tenant farmer on the James estate. She was also a Catholic and the James family was Church of England members. So this marriage was frowned upon and they left for the United States. They lived for a few years in Waterloo, Iowa and your great grandfather worked in the shops of the Illinois Central Railway. Later John James was sent to Farley, Iowa and put in charge of the round house and railway shop. He supervised these until his final illness and death. Their children were my father Richard Edwin James, Thomas, William, Walter and Louis. They had three daughters, Sarah, Jennie and Ellen.
Your great grandfather John James died of tuberculosis as did my father Richard Edwin James, and my Uncle Thomas and Uncle William. My Uncle Walter died when he was a young boy. My Uncle Louis, who was a railway conductor, died when two cars of the train he was running were dropped into the Mississippi River when a bridge collapsed.
My Aunt Nell was a widow and had no children. She lived to be 70 years old and I visited her often and loved her very much.
Louis, who was greatly loved “Uncle Lou”, married my mother’s first cousin Marie Sullivan. They had one son born shortly after his father’s death. Marie Sullivan James was a nurse. Her son Louis became a doctor and the last I knew he was living in Texas. He had two sons who also are doctors.
On the O’Conner side of the family, my great grandfather Florence O’Conner was a schoolmaster in Cork, Ireland at a time in history when England was in power and very repressive to Ireland. It was against the law to speak the Gaelic language. Florence O’Conner’s family lived out of town a few miles. They had one son, my grandfather, James J. named Hogan, one a man named Rowan, and Ellen married a man named Leahy. The daughters died before I knew them, one from appendicitis, and several in child birth, except Aunt Ellen Leahy, who I visited often.
One day my great great grandmother, who lived with the family, took my grandfather into Cork. He was only nine years old and became excited about all he was seeing and started speaking in Gaelic. An English soldier heard him and flogged him with a leather whip. This so incensed my great grandfather Florence O’Conner that he wrote a friend in the United States and secured a school to teach in at Cleveland, Ohio, and he moved his family there. He taught in Cleveland a few years but when the war started between the North and the South, Florence O’Conner went to fight on the side of the North.
When the war ended, the soldiers were given a chance to take up land. Florence O’Conner was given a chance to take up 640 acres in Iowa and moved his family there. Iowa was, and still is, a very fertile state. The farm did very well, and he built a beautiful home on it. The farm was known as the Maple Lane Farm. In his later years, after his wife died, Florence turned the farm over to his only son, my grandfather, James J. O’Connor. Florence moved up to Fairbanks, Iowa to live with his only living daughter, my great Aunt Ellen Leahy. They had my mother Alice Mary O’Connor, another daughter Anne, and two sons Clement and John (and two younger children.)
My grandfather raised high bred cattle. An outbreak of “Glanders” disease struck the cattle so my grandmother joined grandpa and the hired man in putting poultices on the sides of the cow’s throats trying to save them. My grandmother contracted the disease, and in turn, gave it to her two youngest children, and all three died shortly thereafter. The daughter Anne had also died previously. Well, between the great financial loss and the unhappiness of losing his wife and two youngest children, grandpa gave up hope and eventually lost his farm.
In the meantime, my mother had married and was living in Farley where my father had a store. After my father’s death, Grandpa, Uncle Clem and Uncle Johnny moved in with my mother.
My grandfather, James J. O’Connor became an auctioneer. He had a powerful voice and a wonderful memory. As a young girl I attended many of his sales where he would sell the farm and home, the furniture, livestock, etc. I still have the little ivory gavel he used at these sales, and can shut my eyes and imagine grandpa saying “going, going, gone, sold to so and so”.
Grandpa lived with my mother until his death when he was 84 years old. I cannot tell you how many thousands of poems he knew by heart. At Fourth of July picnics, he would recite the Declaration of Independence by memory from the speakers stand.
Uncle Johnny married my father’s second cousin Anne Sauce. They lived in Waterloo, Iowa, and had two sons Marvin and Louis. I had many wonderful visits at their home when I was a girl. Aunt Anne died of tuberculosis when her sons were 10 and 12 years old. Uncle Johnny, who was a railroad conductor, hired a housekeeper and kept a home for them until they were grown men. He was a telegraph operator.
Marvin married and had one daughter. He was yard master of the Illinois Railway yard in Chicago, Illinois. He and his wife had just returned from a visit to their daughter’s home, when he suddenly died of a heart attack. This was only a few years ago, he lived past 70.
Uncle Johnny lived until 1935. He came out to Vallejo, to attend my mother’s funeral and had a heart attack on the train on his way back home. He was taken from the train to a hospital, where he died.
So I had only three first cousins, and Marvin and Louis O’Connor are both gone. My only other first cousin is a good deal younger than I am and he is the Dr. Louis James mentioned previously. Louis O’Connor died of tuberculosis and Marvin died of a heart attack as stated earlier.
I mentioned that my mother’s Aunt Ellen Leahy lived in Fairbanks, Iowa. I attended her funeral a great many years ago, but I just want to mention that her son, Maurice Leahy, who was a mining lawyer, was the lawyer who drew up the incorporation papers for Fairbanks, Alaska and Emmett and his wife Alice have visited them there.
My father Dick James operated a store in Farley, but died of tuberculosis when I was three months old. He was only 27 years old when he died. My mother later married Alexander Maximillian La Belle, and they had four children. Leo, who died in his twenties, Vera Monica who married Floyd Muhrlin and lives in Vallejo, California. Uncle Floyd died several years ago. They had three daughters and two sons, and all live in Vallejo.
My sister Marie LaBelle married Al Gnotta and they had four children, two daughters and two sons, all married and living in Vallejo. Marie died several years ago from a heart attack.
My half brother, Emmett, who is only seven months older than my son Raymond, lives in Vallejo also. His oldest son, Father Leo, is president of St. Albert’s Seminary in Oakland. His daughter Claire I have mentioned previously. His son Bob is a football coach at Agoura High School near Los Angeles.
My stepfather was very good to Mom and to me. He was a carver. While we lived in farley he had a monument shop. He was an excellent carver of marble and stone. How we came to move from Farley to Minneapolis was because he was hired and worked on pillars for the new State Capital building being built in St. Paul. Later he carved caps for two different buildings at the University of Minnesota.
Just prior to Papa Labelle’s death, he had been working on the famous carvings of the four faces on Mt. Rushmore. These were designed by Gutzon Rogham and Papa LaBelle worked under his supervision. An early fall storm came along and papa developed a bad cold. He would not go to the hospital in Rapid city, South Dakota, but took the train back to Minneapolis. He wanted to be near Mamma. But he was already gravely ill, and died two days later.
My mother came to live with us in the winter of 1942. She died in June, 1943 at the age of 72. She was then living with Vera and Floyd Muhelin. The Muhelins and Gnottas together bought an eight grave plot and both my mother and sister Marie Gnotta are buried in it
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