Children of Joseph and Olive Wenk
As remembered by Carol Wenk Morgan
Joseph and "Olive" Wenk were my great grandparents on my father's father's side of the family. I have no direct memory of them as they were both deceased well before I was born. They were founders of a large family of nine children who survived to adulthood.
Of those nine children I remember knowing only five: Albert, Emil, Clara, Ida and my grandfather Edwin.
I was lucky enough to be born late in my parents' lives and to have relatives who enjoyed long lives. Thus I was able to benefit from spending significant time with them. My grandfather, Edwin, was the favorite of my childhood. I suppose that was because everyone expected I would be a brother to Dean Wenk (who is 12 years older than I am).
From an early age I remember visiting and staying with my Wenk grandparents. They lived at 1503 Granger Ave. in Ann Arbor, Mi. I loved my visits with them. Grandpa Wenk was indulgent, allowing me to do almost anything I wanted. One of my earliest memories is feeding the Snap Dragons. Grandpa told me to collect several sprigs of grass because the Snap Dragons he grew by the back door were hungry. Once we had picked the grass, I was instructed to pinch the "jaw" of the flower and feed it the grass. Of course, I wasn't about to buy into that idea without seeing proof. So the next day grandpa would stand patiently by as I inspected the flowers only to discover that the grass was gone! They did eat it! Today with an adult mind I understand that I just didn't find the same individual blooms and thus was fooled into thinking that they really did eat grass...well then again, maybe they do.
The Granger house was located with the back yard adjacent to the city park called Burns Park. Since the park was also the playground for Burns Elementary School, there were great swings, slides and rings to play on only a short walk from Grandpa's house. He used to take me there often. He pushed me in the swings, guided me down the slides and supported me on the rings when I was too little to do it alone. Later he would swing in the swing next to mine enjoying the outing as much as any kid.
Once I was old enough to learn to skate, about seven, he would took me to the city skating rink they made on the grass of the ball fields in the winter. I remember the many times he waited patiently while I wobbled around the rink on my figure skates trying to be graceful and looking anything but that. However, since that became a favorite winter activity, I eventually did learn to skate well.
Another of my early memories of Grandpa Wenk is that he rigged a booster seat (stool) so that I could ride next to him in the front seat of his 1950's Studebaker. He sometimes took me to visit Ida in the country on the farm so that I could see the animals. I always loved horses, and naturally he would arrange for a short ride on one of Ida's working horses. I wish I could remember more of the old farm house, but alas the horse made the biggest impact.
I must have spent most of my visits with grandpa as I have few memories of grandma Wenk, Emma. Unfortunately what I do remember isn't very complimentary. She seemed to be ill with asthma much of the time, needing to travel "up north" to escape the pollen of the summer time in Ann Arbor. They went to Traverse City and of course, our W-W Club near Alpena. She also seemed to nag about such things as smoking cigars and chewing tobacco in the house. Those activities were two of grandpa's favorites and so he spent considerable time in the garage tinkering around and enjoying his vices.
I don't remember doing anything with grandma Wenk. She made wonderful sugar cookies and kept a very clean house. We joked about her need to varnish furniture every year and her compulsion to paint anything that was going to be kept. She painted glass vases if they were cracked so that they could be kept and used for everyday. Many of the "treasures" from that household had to be stripped of paint. I am thankful for the varnishing as some of the pieces I found covered in scratches were actually only marred in the varnish. Once some of the layers of varnish were removed, they were like new!
Grandma Wenk suffered a long, difficult illness before dying when I was in junior high school. I was shielded from all of the long hours of care and pain. My mother used to stay with her during the days. I rode the school bus to school (Tappan Jr. High) and then walked to grandpa's house from school in the afternoon. Shortly afterwards we were picked up by my dad, and we returned to our home on Plymouth Rd. The next day this routine was repeated again.
After Grandma's death, Grandpa Wenk and I enjoyed many visits. I was allowed to do things that were taboo at home like stay up till after the 11:00 pm news, drink coffee and cook. Our favorite activities were watching boxing on the TV and then after the news, we would go to the kitchen. The kitchen table was a drop down that was usually stored hooked to the wall to allow easy passage to the basement door. I was little enough that Grandpa would use the piano stool as a high stool for me to sit at that table. I remember swinging back and forth while eating those magnificent "long johns" from Quality. We washed away the sweets with a large cup of coffee. I always had cream and sugar with my coffee like grandpa did. Now I'm guessing that the coffee was actually more milk than coffee. Grandpa would always cool his by pouring the coffee into his large, deep saucer and then drinking it from the saucer.
I remember that Grandpa had false teeth. His sweet tooth was responsible for that I'm sure. He used to put at least a 1⁄4 inch of sugar along the entire length of a slice of muskmelon before eating it. At least two and sometimes three spoonfuls were necessary to make coffee drinkable. The long johns were cream filled and sugar cookies were for dunking in coffee. The sugar bowl Grandpa used was a large silver plated cup. He said that he had given it to Emma as a present one night when he came home later than he planned.
Activities at Grandpa's house included coloring in a new book with new crayons I usually found on visits, cutting out paper dolls and playing with them after all that work, and counting the coins he saved for me in a cobalt blue glass jar. He usually waited until the jar was nearly full before giving it to me. I still have the jar and remember the joy of finding up to $3.00 in coins there. The last time he gave it to me, it held a check. It was after I had lost nearly everything in a trailer fire and was trying to finish my BA and put my life back together after a divorce.
Sometimes I would tease to go to the movie matinee on campus. Grandpa drove me there and picked me up afterwards. (How times have changed!) I saw the Gigget movies there and sometimes I would visit the toy department of the dime store on N. University and State street where I could buy new doll clothes, colors, paper dolls, paints and, of course, candy before I went back to Grandpa's.
Grandpa almost always had something special to share with me. Often it was Black Jack gum. A few years ago it was reproduced and available again. What a nostalgia trip! I still love it!
In the summer time, one of my favorite activities was the croquet game. Grandpa usually set the game up in the back yard and then we invited a neighbor who was a friend of Grandpa to play with us. Mr Dawson, grandpa and I played many a game there, and I learned how to go around the course in one turn with careful croqueting of an opponent's ball.
I also enjoyed watching the squirrels that grandpa fed. He enjoyed taming them so that they ate from his hand or came right up to the window and begged. Tina, my dog, used to go nuts when they came that close.
When I was in eighth grade I got Cassia. The Siamese cat was a true novelty at that time. I used to visit Grandpa's with the cat. He would pick us up at home and put up with the yowling cat on the trip into town. Once there, the cat and I would set up house in the living room. I slept on a sofa bed where I could watch as much TV as I wanted. Cassia always slept with me. Of course as a kitten he was a terror, climbing everything and jumping from one piece of furniture to another at break neck speed. Grandpa just laughed at the antics and allowed us full access.
IDA WENK-SCHMIDT AND CLARA WENK-GRAY: Aunt Ida lived on Olivia Street by then, only three blocks away. When Aunt Clara came to visit, I would ride my bike over there in the afternoons to visit with them. Uncle Emil was also living there since his wife Sofia had died. Emil was blind and therefore unable to play cards with us, but we all enjoyed the card games. They were experts and I won only rarely. We played Hearts and Canasta mostly. Sometimes Euchre was the game of the day. Occasionally Grandpa would also play. The game usually ended before supper, and we never stayed to eat. (The family always joked about Ida's cooking. She made instant coffee with warm tap water. We always requested a certain cranberry gelatin at holiday meals cause that was good.) Both Clara and Ida were jolly. Eventually Clara stayed there full time as Ida suffered from Alzheimer's. When Ida passed away, Clara was thoughtful enough to invite me to take a couple of things to remember them by. Sadly, a lot of the things were destroyed as old junk. Ida had some grand old paper dolls and Valentines from her childhood that were either sold to a dealer or burned. .
Uncle Emil, Grandpa Wenk's older brother, was ordained as a minister in the Lutheran Church. One of his first parishes was in Marion Springs, MI. Grandpa recalled that he visited Emil shortly after he began his ministry there. It was a half a day's train ride from Ann Arbor to Saginaw. In Saginaw Grandpa had to take a ride with a farmer west to Marion Springs. At that time the territory around Saginaw was just starting to be cleared for farming. Pioneers found that the Saginaw valley was some of the best land in Michigan. Unfortunately that was not the case for the area farther west. The farmers who tried around Marion Springs found lake sand and not much else. They were very poor. Emil was given a small cabin in the woods to live in. He heated the un-insulated shack with a pot belly stove that was either too hot or not warm enough. His pay was what ever the parishioners could share: chickens, home preserved fruit, vegetables and the like. Venison was hunted and shared as well. Grandpa recalled that the place was so rough that they just heaved the garbage from meal prep out the window and let the animals clean it up. He said he was so glad he hadn't chosen that career if it meant living like that!
Later, Emil married Sofie. I don't know when Emil went blind or what caused the blindness. I do know that it was something that happened fairly early in his life. Grandpa used to tell how Emil would drive a car even though he couldn't see anything. Of course, in those days in Saginaw cars were not common and speeds were very slow compared to today. Emil would man the wheel and manage the driving while Sofie sat beside him directing him to steer right or left, stop or slow. They never got into trouble that I know of. Sofie certainly didn't limit Emil because of his disability.
One of the stories that Grandpa shared with me about his childhood was how he began his working career. At the age of 13 he was hired as a farm hand on a neighboring farm. He worked there all year and slept in the loft of the main barn. His wages were about .50 cents a month which he sent home to help out. I asked him how he managed the cold of the winters. He said that they always wore woolen long johns and that they would burrow into the straw at night to keep warm. The hours were very long and the work arduous. Grandpa never gave up the habit of wearing long woolen undergarments. Even on the hottest of summer days, he always wore them. I never understood how he could stand it.
Entertainment in those days was a kind of ho-down in a barn or tavern. Grandpa said he used to play the violin. He and Fred Stabler would supply the music for the dancing. Fred played the piano. I was fascinated with this idea and wanted to play with Grandpa. I was taking piano lessons at the time, but could never get the idea of "just chording along with him". Emma played the piano although I never heard her. She had a lot of sheet music in the piano bench as self made music was a form of entertainment before radio and TV. Some of the music was undoubtedly my dad's. I remember how well he played "Dark Town Strutter's Ball" and "The Rosery".
Grandpa belonged to a bicycle club between 1910 and 1920. He is pictured with the club and by himself on his bike. Bicycles were a relatively new thing and everyone who was anybody had one.
After Grandpa and Grandma were married they lived on Felch St in Ann Arbor. That street runs east and west off of Main St a little ways west of the depot. There was a good size hill and valley in the terrain. My dad told me that in his childhood, the hill was a wonderful source of entertainment in the winter. He and his buddies made an iced sled track down the hill, across the RR tracks and up the other side. If they got a good push on the one side, it was possible to fly down, shoot across the tracks and coast up the other side. That way they never had to climb the hill. It is remarkable that they never got into trouble with traffic or trains as both the street and tracks were busy although there were a few close calls.
At this time, Grandpa Wenk and his brother Albert owned a small machine shop: Precision Tool. Grandpa recalled that they also had a small dog at the shop. He said that during lunch one of the favorite pastimes as to give the dog a beer to drink. The dog apparently loved the beer. He often drank enough to get drunk and then staggered around, ran into things and eventually slept it off. Listening to Grandpa tell this was a little disturbing to me because I thought it was cruel to do that to the dog. Grandpa just thought it funny. Now I guess it would have been funny and quite harmless to the dog.
Grandpa Wenk was responsible for pushing my dad to pursue a career as a mechanical engineer. He believed that Norman should be educated (grandpa didn't get that opportunity). My dad, Norman, however, probably would have preferred to go into electrical engineering. There was always a competition between Grandpa and my dad. I can remember all too well the battles and delays because of their rivalry. Once when we were building a fence at the cabin in Alpena, it got so bad that I resigned from helping until they could settle their argument. Since I was the main "doer" on that project, supplying the pull for dragging the wire through the woods, they settled, but there was a kind of eerie, strained silence for a while afterward.
One of the problems when they worked together was that my dad designed projects as if they were for a machine. Grandpa was more of a "cut and try" man. He used to often finish a project with "It's good enough for who its for". That attitude used to drive my dad nuts! The porch they built on the cabin almost caused a world war between them before it was done. There was hardly enough scrap lumber left to make a decent wood stove fire that, of course, meant that there was no room for "cut and try" measuring. Some of the time I was sent off to play in the woods while they worked out their disagreements. I suppose it was because the air was a little blue around the new project.
At the cabin, Grandpa and I had wonderful times. He made a live trap and would tell me tales of the wild animals in the woods there. His bear stories were frightening, but the tales of raccoons were funny and enjoyable. We used to use cat food as bait. At dusk great care was taken to place the trap in a good spot, bait it and set the trip mechanism. Then we had to wait for morning. Such long nights those were! In the morning before breakfast, we had to check the trap to see what we'd got. I always dreaded that maybe we caught a skunk, but I guess coons were a lot more common because we never got a stinky visitor.
My pet dog, Tina, usually accompanied us everywhere. She was a dashound-terrier mix. Her head was a black and tan terrier set on a dashound body with about tree inch long legs. Of course, the coon trap was big adventure for this little, feisty dog. She used to raise her hair and bark fiercely. This terrified the poor coons, but they didn't get hurt. We then brought them back to the cabin and often Grandpa constructed a sort of pen from plywood so that we could all get a good look before the coon treed itself for the day. Once, the coon treed itself on a multi-trunk tree. Tina wasn't about to let that coon get away, and she started to climb the tree by putting two legs on one trunk and the other two on the other trunk. She made it to about four feet from the ground before the trunks separated too much to allow her to go on.
In the 1950s, the trip to Alpena took about eight hours. There were no E-ways so the trip was divided into sections. We packed for at least a day before and left early in the morning. My dad packed so that there wasn't a crack unfilled. The first leg was from Ann Arbor to Fenton. There we stopped to see Bender and Aunt Anna. Aunt Anna was a sister to Emma. We stopped there for a light lunch and then pushed on to Saginaw where we had to stop to see Emil and Sofie, Grandpa Wenk's brother and sister-in-law. We again had refreshments, visited a little and then continued to Standish. This was a long awaited milestone because it marked the beginning of the "sticks" (woodland). Grandpa said that he could take out his teeth and chew tobacco now. I remember pestering him for hours asking when we would get to the "big" sticks. He usually answered that these were just "little" sticks and that I would see the difference when we got to the "big sticks". I really did see a difference, because we were driving through woods on a dirt road, and the big sticks were right next to the road. At long last we arrived at the gate to the cabin. Grandpa got out, opened the gate and then walked ahead to be sure that there were no trees fallen in the road. By now it was very dark outside.
The cabin was totally dark because they used to cover the windows with wooden blinds to keep out thieves and protect the glass from breaking if a bird should fly into it. My first memories of the cabin call to mind dark gray walls, wood stoves, musty smells, sometimes encountering evidence of squirrels inside, and cold bedding. It was quite a job to set up housekeeping there. We had to open the blinds, plug in the main electric, sweep all rooms, prime the hand pump, and build a wood stove fire to dry out the damp, and clear the musty smells. Tina was always very happy to help sniff out the mice. Grandpa usually picked up the traps before we entered.
It was quiet there because M-65 was gravel and narrow. There wasn't much traffic. The cabin was shielded from the road by trees. I learned to be a woods-smart person from Grandpa there. We used to take long walks and he shared what he knew about animals, plants and the trees. He was always cautioning me about rattle snakes, but I never saw any. I was too noisy. When we built the fence through the swamp though, we took all the snake fighting tools along. That's the time when my mom met a Messaga rattler right by the cabin and had to kill it. Mom was a very gentle person who usually didn't hurt a flea. She would often caress a yellow jacket in a facial tissue and just put it outside to dispose of it. The snake, however, represented a danger to her family so she found an old shovel and managed to cut off its head. She said she thought she would never get that shovel through the body of that snake. Poor dear, it must have haunted her for weeks as she respected all living things.
My entertainment at the cabin was whatever my imagination could devise. I built huts in the woods. Grandpa often helped by cutting small Poplar trees for the supports. I loved the tire swing and the primitive wooden farm implement toys he made for playing in the sandy soil. In the evenings we played Euchre and had popcorn as a treat. What fun to do a lone hand and watch Grandpa approve of our winning over Norman and Helen! We often worked puzzles and I loved to make drawings using the natural charcoal from the old burned stumps in the woods.
During hunting season, Grandpa and I used to go hunting together. He was an avid hunter, always wanting to take the big bucks. I used to accompany him in the blind. I desperately hoped we would not see anything because I definitely didn't want to see him shoot a deer. He used a half dug out as a blind. We sat with our feet in a pit and that put our bodies on ground level. There was a roof overhead that kept the rain and snow from landing on us, but did nothing to keep the wind from whistling through. We had to get there before dawn and wait. At about 10:00 AM, we returned to the cabin for coffee and hot chocolate. Then we returned to the blind at 4:00 PM and sat there till dark. I tried to be quiet, but I imagine that it was a lost cause for hunting as I surely talked or wiggled to stay warm. Maybe that was OK with Grandpa too; dressing a deer is a lot of work.
One of the crazy memories about hunting seasons and Grandpa Wenk was that he always wanted to bring a Christmas tree home from "up north". This meant that he went to the swamp and cut a spruce, strapped it onto the outside of the car and drove it back to Ann Arbor. Hunting seasons ended after Thanksgiving and so we had a cut spruce to try to hold til Christmas. Several years our Christmas tree was decorated on Christmas eve and removed on Dec. 26th because all of its needles had fallen off. One year it was so bad that the ornaments slid down the branches and dropped to the floor with that sickening little crash of exploding blown glass if anyone just walked by the tree.
My birthday is Christmas Eve. My mother was a saint because she always tried to celebrate the birthday as a special occasion and then the next day Christmas would magically appear -- brought by Santa. We never had Christmas decorations up in the house before Dec. 25th. My folks must have stayed up all night to get the tree up and decorated as well as setting up the gifts and the like. I do remember a few Christmases when I visited Grandpa Wenk's house just after the birthday meal. Grandpa's tree was usually a table size with only red and blue lights. There were a few ornaments but mostly it was about the lights and tinsel. He didn't use the lights for too long at a time because he feared a fire. They were hot little devils. The tree was placed on a square table inside a miniature fence. He had a few animals there too.
Of the five children of Joseph and Olive I remember Albert, but sadly, not very well. We visited Uncle Al and his last wife, Marion, about once or twice a summer. I remember playing with Uncle Al's kids. Karen and I were about the same age; Roger was kind of a nuisance. He liked to play with us, but we didn't want to be tied to a five year old.
Al, Bender and Grandpa used to go hunting together at the cabin. At one time I believe Al owned part of the cabin property. They always dressed in red and black plaid woolen hunting suits and each had their own "stump" to hunt from. I remember that Marion also had a stump.
Uncle Al apparently was quite the ladies' man. He had several wives and I remember the family gossip too. When Al and Marion married, the family was taken back cause he was nearly twice her age. As far as we know, Marion was a good wife and mother to the kids. Roger could tell more about this.
Uncle Al and Grandpa owned Precision Tool together. My brother recalled this about the shop:
My grandfather, Edwin O. Wenk, and a good friend of his, Fred Root, both of Ann Arbor, Michigan went into the machine shop business sometime between 1910 and 1911. Grandfather's brother Albert was also involved but I am not sure if he was a partner at this time since he does not appear in the photographs.
The story goes that one noon Albert Wenk had gone up town to make a bank deposit and noticed a man speaking on the courthouse steps. He went over and listened for a while and then came back to work laughing about the NUT that was trying to sell shares in his company that way. They did eventually become acquainted with Mr. Ford and the Ford Motor Company for which they did work in the shop in Ann Arbor.
In the photo Grandfather (seated) and Fred Root are in the office. The other photo is of the machine shop area where you will notice the raw castings of the rear axel housings on the floor. These were finish machined by Machine Specialties.
Later as the Ford Motor Car Company became more successful, the company would receive an entire automobile from the Ford Dearborn plant. Grandfather's men removed all of the brass parts from the car and triple nickel plated them, put them back on the car, and reshipped the car to the dealer that had ordered the job. Brass headlights, horns, and the like were hard to maintain and many of Ford's customers selected this nickel plate option. The charge for this was $11.00.
The photos were taken in 1914. As of February 2001, the triangular building still exists just east of the Ann Arbor City Market in Keritown.
--By Dean Wenk
Family reunions were always a big deal in my childhood days. We took a dish to pass and I remember that I kind of dreaded the day. I hated meeting all those folks I was supposed to know and couldn't remember. The food then as today was delicious. The special treat in the late afternoon was a square of vanilla ice cream. After the meal the kids usually were gathered together for games. Once I was a teen, I had to take my turn running the games. Some years there were even prizes for the winners. Games like "Duck, duck, goose"; relay races, sack races, and three legged races were common. Sometimes there was some equipment like a basketball hoop or a badminton game. It was usually hot on the late June Sunday afternoon so the trip home often lulled me into a nap.
TOP PHOTO (right to left): Albert, Clara, Emil, Ida and Edwin