Sunday, December 27, 2009

James T. Greer, A Year-round Santa

“Jim started playing Santa Claus when we first got to Aurora, just for the neighbors. He kept on doing it more and more all his life. He played Santie Claus almost every year that I can remember.” —Myrtle GreerJames T. Greer as Santa holding his granddaughter Carrie. This photo was taken in 1971, six years after the Aurora Branch became Fox Valley Ward.

Myrtle continues: “I made him a suit and a cap and he bought a beard. He loved any chance to be with people and do things with people, or to please people. Every year he went from door to door around here in his Santa Claus suit, to every child on this whole street and give them something for Christmas. Jim saw that everybody in the branch had something for Christmas too. There wasn’t very many of us then.

“He had his presents in his car and his Santa Claus suit on going over to take a present to the Wendts. On the way he stopped at a stop sign and somebody run into him. Two or three cops come, and they were marching up and down, and the man was cussing and said Jim stopped and caused him to have a wreck and all. It was really a mess. Of course, Santie Claus was out there a dancing around with his suit on too.

"The policeman said, 'What’s the matter, Santa Claus? What did happen?' Jim said, 'Well, I just stopped for that stop sign and they run into me.' They said, 'Well, he shouldn’t have done that.' They was for Jim because he was Santa Claus. People from all over town come to see that. They didn’t fine Jim or anything. They just said, 'Well, Santa Claus, good luck to you! Come by and see me next year!'" (From The Story of Jim and Myrtle Greer: Family and Church, an oral history by Myrtle Greer, pages 115-117)

In later years Jim was hired by the Weiss Department store at Northgate Shopping Center. They bought him the luxurious beard pictured above. His Christmas adventures were also written up in the Beacon-News in 1965. Here is the article by Charles S. Ward:
"A Year-round Santa Claus"
If you live in the neighborhood of Foran Lane, you may hear a knock on your door.
When you answer it, it won’t be a door-to-door salesman for a commercial product. It may be a door-to-door salesman of kindness and the Christmas spirit.
It my not be December; it may be June or January.
There’s a 70-year-old gentleman who symbolizes for many Aurorans the spirit of giving and peace on earth all year round.
Children love James T. Greer, a year-round Santa Claus, even if he’s dressed in around-home casual clothes.
They call him grandpa. Adults are proud to call him friend.
Each year at harvest time, his front yard is like a farmer’s market; the children are in his corn cart, pulled by Greer’s tractor.
Prior to last Christmas he turned 70. That doesn’t mean leisure. It means more time to devote to “the one thing that interests me most—the welfare of people.”
His hobby is making lamps. He makes them out of anything at hand.
During the holiday season, he dons a Santa Claus suit.
He goes around the neighborhood, knocking on doors, and residents are given an unsolicited gift.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Aurora Branch

The December 1950 newsletter was a rare, full-color edition. Or perhaps we should say “hand-colored” edition because each page was individually painted by Louise Erekson, who was the newsletter editor, reporter and staff artist rolled into one. Both pages sport her signature holly leaves and berries. A Christmas candle and Santa appear on page two.

The news of the moment was the pending visit of stake president John K. Edmunds who was expected to call a new second counselor in the branch presidency replacing H. Ward McCarty who had moved with his family back to Salt Lake.

Brother McCarty was one in a long line of second counselors. Although John Wendt served as first counselor for the entire time that Jim Greer was branch president, it seemed that everyone who was called as second counselor soon moved from the branch.

Perhaps thinking he would have someone permanently in place, he called James H. Greer as second counselor. Ten months later, Jimmie left to serve in the Texas-Louisiana Mission.

Meanwhile, however, Jimmie did double duty, as he was never released from his calling as branch clerk. In fact, he was not released even when he left for the mission field. His mother filled in for him as clerk while he was gone, and he picked up the reins again when he returned.

Louise’s design of Santa next to greetings from the branch presidency was appropriate because Jim Greer loved to play Santa Claus. (More adventures of Santa Claus in the next post.)


Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Christmas Parade

Lenore Deans shared this photo with me last summer, and I’ve been saving it for the right season. In 1955 the Aurora Branch participated in a downtown parade organized by Aurora churches to “Put Christ Back into Christmas.”Riding on the Aurora Branch entry, “Away in a Manger,” the angels holding the banner are Ed Kettley and Ginger Erekson [Hamer]. The other angels are John Resch, Erek Erekson, and Earl “Bucky” Spahr Jr.).

Many churches were invited to enter floats and the Aurora Branch felt they had arrived as a congregation when they were asked to participate.

Branch members spent many hours working on the float because they were eager to make a good impression. This photo shows that it was built at the home of Jim and Myrtle Greer (724 Foran Lane). Grandpa Greer’s hay wagon formed the base. The men added a high wooden platform with steps and the whole thing was covered with the obligatory chicken wire stuffed with Kleenexes. Cardboard letters on both sides spelled out “The cattle were lowing.” The name of the Church was displayed in similar letters on the back of the high platform. No one I’ve asked can remember how the float was pulled—Grandpa Greer’s tractor, a car, or pick-up truck.

Lenore Deans made the cow, donkey and sheep from paper mache over wooden frameworks. When the float was dismantled, she kept the animals and displayed them in her living room at Christmastime for several years.

We believe a photographer from the Aurora Beacon-News took this photo and it probably appeared in the paper, but more research is needed to find the exact date of the parade. We believe, of course, that it took place in December, even though the weather in the photo seems to be quite mild.

If anyone has something to add about the float and the parade and/or corrections to the memories we’ve cobbled together here, please add a comment or email me.

Merry Christmas!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Autograph Quilt: Two more friends, Mary Kramer and Ruth Larsen

One last entry about two more of the 24 women whose names are embroidered on the autograph quilt that was presented to Myrtle Greer. Those not mentioned here or in previous posts will be introduced in the general history of the branch in which they played prominent roles.

Mary Kramer
Mary Kramer and her husband August founded the Kramer and Earle families who figured prominently in the growth of the Aurora and Ottawa branches. They joined the Church in September 1917 after August heard missionaries preaching on a street corner in La Salle, Illinois. He believed what they said was true, and reading the Book of Mormon settled the matter. But then, it appears that August was a person who made up his mind quickly and stuck with his decisions. The first day he saw Mary he knew she was the girl he was going to marry. Married in 1905 when he was 25 and she was 18, they were together 44 years. They brought eight children into the world, four boys and four girls, including the first and the last babies who died in infancy.

In 1930 they were living near Decatur, about 160 miles south of Aurora, where he was a coal miner. They later moved Somonauk, Illinois, a farming community about 15 miles west of Aurora. It was there in her later years that Mary was plagued with health problems related to diabetes. Her daughter Leona Earle would go over to clean the house and care for her. Mary was 62 when she passed away on September 23, 1949. (The date of her death is one of the factors in dating the age of the quilt.)

Both of Mary and August were both immigrants from East Prussia. She came with her parents at age 3; he arrived as a young man. His accent was stronger than hers and difficult for a young child (me!) to understand, but there was no mistaking the fervor of his testimony.

Ruth Larsen
Melvin and Ruth Larsen visiting Myrtle and Jim Greer. Jimmie and Louise (and the front of the car) are cut off in this torn photo, taken about 1933.

Ruth Larsen and her husband Melvin frequently attended the Aurora Branch in the 1930s and 1940s, but they were not permanent members because Melvin worked for the railroad and they moved from place to place as his work demanded. To make these constant moves easier, the Larsens lived in a converted passenger train car. No one now alive can remember now whether they also loaded their automobile on the train or whether they drove separately while their “apartment” was moved to its new location, usually between Galesburg and Chicago, Illinois.

Railroads were central to commerce and transportation at that time, and almost everyone then would have known exactly what Melvin did if they heard he welded frogs on the tracks. Today this essential work needs some explanation. Frogs are small metal pieces that bridge the small gaps where long rails intersect, providing a continuous surface for the train wheels at intersections and switches. Even the strongest frogs wear out in less than a year because they bear so much weight under the heavy traffic of passing trains. Depending on the application, there are many kinds of frogs, such as spring frogs that are used where moveable curved rails switch trains from the main track to a siding, so Melvin’s job was highly skilled and quite valuable.

The Larsens were both from large Mormon families in Idaho and they returned to live in Montpelier after Melvin retired. Born in 1897 and 1899, they were almost exactly the same age as Jim and Myrtle Greer and were married the same year, 1916. While Jim and Myrtle waited nine years before their first child came along, Melvin and Ruth waited eleven. Then to their lasting sorrow, their little girl, Melva, was born and died on the same day, July 7, 1927. They had no other children. Their daughter was sealed to them in 1949 when they visited the Salt Lake Temple for the first time. Melvin passed away in 1964 and Ruth in 1969.

Postscript: Reconsidering the date of the quilt

Two of the quilt squares are different from all the others because little red flowers are embroidered next to the names, which are printed in block letters. (That is, these names are not signatures like the others.) It also happens that these squares are for the two women who passed away close to the time period of the quilt—Mary Kramer in 1949 and Cora Hall in 1951. Here's Cora's quilt block again:

Previously I had thought that the quilt must have been done before their passing, but now I’m thinking that these sisters’ names were included in memoriam with the flowers to indicate that they had died. If this is true, the quilt dates from late 1951 to 1952. Because we understand that the quilt was a gift to Myrtle Greer for her service as Relief Society president, finding out her dates of service in that calling will help us reach a final conclusion.


Monday, October 26, 2009

The Autograph Quilt: Alodia Schleifer & a Miraculous Healing

We’ve already met Alodia Howard Schleifer, one of the women who signed the quilt, in connection with her husband Fred’s purchase of a Hudson Terraplane from a car dealership on South LaSalle Street, next door to the Odd Fellows Hall. (See the posting for July 16, 2009.) Since July I have found this photo of the happy couple standing in front of the car in question.
FYI: The crease on the front left fender is a flaw in the photo, not the car.

But the car did not figure in my childhood memories of Alodia Schleifer. Actually, I don’t remember knowing her because she moved to Utah when I was only three or four years old. My memory consists of the oft-repeated story of how she was healed from terrible burns when my grandfather Greer administered to her in the late 1930s.

You see, Grandpa James T. Greer was blessed with the gift of healing. In her book The Story of Jim and Myrtle Greer: Family and Church, Grandma Myrtle Greer says this about it: “Jim had to get up many times in the middle of the night and go and administer to somebody, but he never hesitated, and he never complained. He’d come back and sleep what time he could, and then he’d get up at the regular time. He never missed work on account of it. Sometimes they’d ask him to go all the way to Rochelle, Elgin, or even as far as Iowa. There wasn’t much priesthood then, and a lot of times he had to go alone because he couldn’t get nobody to go with him. He administered to a lot of people. He didn’t have much education and wasn’t up like some of them are now, but he sure used what he did have.” (p. 120)

Recounting that terrible night when Alodia Schleifer needed a blessing, Jim said: “Fred Schleifer worked at Lyon Metal in the same department with me, and I introduced him to his [second] wife. She was making jelly, and she had a big stew pan full of jelly. It was just about ready to jell and she poured a little bit out into a glass of cold water to see if it was hard enough to ball up. She spilled some on the floor and she didn’t take the time to wipe it off the floor. When she stepped in this jelly, she hit the stew pan and it turned on her in the face and on her left shoulder. [It burned her so badly that her] head didn’t look like a woman’s head at all. It was almost half as big as a nail keg. Big water blisters with great big bags of water were all over her. She didn’t look human.

“I had a big, old Roadmaster Buick. Myrtle and me started for Kaneville, and a big storm and wind set that big old Buick back and forth. Myrtle said, ‘Let’s don’t go. Let’s turn back.’ I says, ‘No, something’s telling me to go.’ When we got there, I went to the door and old Fred come to the door and he says, ‘How did you ever get here?’ I said, ‘I don’t know but something kept telling me to.’

“I administered to her, and I don’t know how, but I found myself asking for her face not to be scarred. She told me later that she thought of what I said in the prayer. She always wondered why I didn’t mention about her arm and shoulder. I says, ‘Sister Schleifer, ain’t you satisfied?’ I says, ‘There’s not a scar on your face, and your clothes cover the scar on your shoulder.’ She says, ‘Yes, I’m satisfied.’

“I couldn’t doubt in my mind but what there is power in administering to the sick. I’ve never seen anything like it.” (pp. 121-122)

Alodia’s children were still living at Mooseheart and learned about the accident the next time they saw their mother. Georgia agrees with the Greers’ version of the incident.

The Quilt Connection

Alodia and her daughter Georgia H. Lang both signed the quilt, although they must have sent their signatures back from Utah to be included. I have spoken with Georgia and she does not remember ever seeing the quilt. Since her signature shows her married name, it dates the quilt after June 1948.

More about the Howard/ Schleifer/ Lang Family

Georgia was named for her father, George Howard. He worked in the coalmines in Carbon County, Utah, and was a superintendent when he passed away on March 16, 1936. He did not die in a mine explosion as we had erroneously thought, but caught a “cold,” that turned out to be spinal meningitis.

Within a year Alodia moved with her children to Moose-heart, a children’s home for orphans of members of the Moose lodge, located north of Aurora, and it wasn’t long until Jim Greer introduced his co-worker Fred to a 49-year-old widow. The family stayed in Illinois until Georgia graduated from high school in 1947 and then Alodia, her son Wallie, and Georgia moved back to Utah. (Her older son, Lynn Howard, married a girl from Kaneville and stayed in Illinois.)

Fred Schleifer went west with them but Utah didn’t exactly suit him. Before long he moved back home where he married “the lady who ran the grocery store.” Meanwhile, Georgia met Ray Lang at the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City and they were married on her nineteenth birthday, June 8, 1948. Alodia passed away on September 13, 1956.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Signature Quilt: Cora Hall, "More Than a Friend"

Cora Hall’s long-time friendship with Myrtle Greer is attested in this note she wrote in Myrtle’s autograph book in 1933.
Although it would be interesting to know more about the “cottage meeting”/birthday party, we can see at least that being a member of the Aurora Branch brought Cora friendship and good times.

She appears in many early photos of the branch, and she is the center of this happy scene in 1932. L to r: Myrtle Greer, Mable Stemple, Cora Hall, Elder S. Lawrence Moss, Elder Walker, [2 unidentified children], Louise Greer, Jimmie Greer.

Cora Hall had lived near Jim and Myrtle Greer in the small farming community of Tadpole, near Cypress, Illinois, in the mid-1920s. Jim often recounted working at the sawmill owned by Cora’s first husband, George Benard, because that was where he worked side-by-side with Oscar Johnson, who was a member of the Mormon Church. Jim watched to see if Johnson lived his religion and was impressed to see that he did.

Cora herself had joined the Mormon Church about seven years earlier, in 1919, possibly because of the influence of the Johnson family or maybe as a result of contact with the missionaries who came through the area each summer doing what was called “country tracting.”

In 1927 George Benard was tragically killed in an explosion at his sawmill, leaving Cora with four small children and no insurance on his life or the mill. Within a year or so, Cora married Charlie Hall who lived in the area, but the marriage did not last. By 1930 she had moved to Anna, Illinois, as a personal companion and housekeeper to an elderly woman. Her children stayed in Cypress with their grandparents, Logan and Marietta Benard, who raised them.

By October 1931 Cora was in Aurora. Eventually she found work as a cook and housekeeper for the Hollister family who lived at 564 Garfield Avenue. When first hired, she earned a dollar a day plus room and board. The Hollisters had a summer home in Wisconsin and, when they went there for two weeks every summer, Cora went along to take care of them.

An active member of the Aurora Branch, Cora Hall attended regularly, paid her tithing, and, although much of the work was done by missionaries in those days, she fulfilled callings in the Sunday School and Mutual. Of course Cora Hall was among those friends who signed Myrtle’s quilt in 1948-49.

A couple of years later, the Aurora Branch newsletter noted that Cora Hall was ill and would love to receive cards and letters. Her son, who lived in Aurora, cared for her for a time, and then she went to live with a daughter in Batavia. She died of cancer in November 1951.


Monday, October 12, 2009

The Signature Quilt: Friends and Neighbors

Myrtle Greer, shown here in the late 1940s about the time she received the signature quilt, was involved with neighbors as well as church members. Mary Donnell and Ada Dolittle were two neighbors who signed the quilt in addition to Patsy Ward (already mentioned) who lived across the street. We know little about Mary and Ada, but hope to learn more as resources become available.

We know more about Mae Lenox who lived in a tiny house next door to the Greer’s little house on North Harrison Avenue. She was almost 20 years older than Myrtle, making her 71 in 1949. Her husband Fred had been a streetcar operator, and they lived a simple life. They moved to Harrison in the 1930s. At one time, when they lived on Woodlawn Avenue, Mae had taken in boarders to make ends meet. She had been married before and had one son, Edward, born about 1898, but he was grown and moved away.

Two of the 24 women who signed the quilt were Louise Greer’s art teachers, Bessie M. Erway and Nina Head.

In 1937 when Louise was about 13, Jim and Myrtle Greer arranged for her to take oil painting lessons from Mrs. Erway, a talented artist from Red Cloud, Nebraska. From Fitly Framed Together, Louise reminisces about this experience: “I would go to her house on Montgomery road every Saturday afternoon. Most of my old pictures are ones that I did when she was teaching me.

“Because of the Depression, Mrs. Erway could not make a living selling her paintings, and she worked for years for a company in Chicago making fur coats, sewing the pelts together by hand. It was such hard work that it ruined her hands and caused them to shake most of the time. When she wanted to show me a painting technique, she had to steady one hand with the other.

“I enjoyed Mrs. Erway. She would take me into Chicago to deliver the fur coats. We would ride on the “L” [elevated train] to places like Chinatown. Then we would eat somewhere and buy a treat. It was usually coconut cream pie. One time I didn’t go with her, and she brought me home a coconut cream pie!"

Louise, who is known for her watercolor roses, tells how she learned to paint them: “I don’t remember when I started taking art lessons from Miss Nina Head. She taught art at Aurora College and supplemented her income by giving art lessons. She had turned her dining room into a studio. She would set easels up in there and, when the lessons were over, the students helped put the easels back in a closet. There would be four or five people in a class.

“I paid for the art lessons by helping clean her house. One of her legs was stiff from having had polio as a child, and she had a hard time walking. She would make a little lunch while I mopped the kitchen floor and vacuumed and did other things to help her….

“She used to paint roses on stationery to earn money on the side, and she taught me how to paint them. All these years I have painted roses." (This rose was painted by Nina Head.)


Friday, October 9, 2009

The Signature Quilt: Lizzie Sutton

Continuing the mini-biographies of the women who signed the quilt, here are some things we know about Lizzie Sutton, sister of Mae McHugh, who grew up in Tunnel Hill, living just over the hill from the Lowery family. Myrtle recalled: “There was just one house east of us and then the next house was in another district. Three girls lived in this house, Gracie, Mae, and Lizzie Alexander and they went to school when we did.” (Myrtle and Grace were the same age.)

To get to the schoolhouse, they had to cross the creek that ran through the Lowery farm. As Myrtle remembered it: “At the bottom of the hill was a big crick. When it rained a lot, the crick would get up and we’d have to walk across on a foot log. You see, they put a tree across the crick and then they put a thing along to hold to, and you would walk across on that, and the water just a rolling down below, just roaring. It’s a wonder we hadn’t fallen down in it. Sometimes my dad would bring a horse down for us to ride across.” Shared memories like that foster life-long friendships.

Lizzie Alexander grew up and married Rex Sutton, a Tunnel Hill boy, in 1923. He had been raised by his grandparents William and Rhoda Webb Sutton. Sometime during the Depression, like many other people from southern Illinois, they moved north to get work. It was logical that they would move to Aurora where they had several friends, including Jim and Myrtle Greer. Rex found work on the assembly line at Barber-Greene, a company that manufactured heavy machinery. In their later years Rex and Lizzie lived in a small house on Walnut Avenue. They did not have children.
In this photo, Lizzie and Rex Sutton are standing by Myrtle’s weeping willow tree in the front yard. The occasion is Jim and Myrtle’s 50th wedding anniversary, July 1966.

Although she was always known by her nickname, Lizzie signed "Lizabeth Sutton" on the quilt. This leaves us to wonder if her name was really "Elizabeth A." as shown on the census and other records, or this shortened, friendlier form.

P.S. To set the record straight, I don’t use the quilt on my bed as pictured in the previous post. I store this treasure as carefully as a person can store a quilt in a home. My mother gave it to me in August 2006.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Blue and White Signature Quilt

According to Louise Erekson, this quilt was given to her mother, Myrtle Greer, by the Relief Society in appreciation for her having served as Relief Society president. Embroidered on the squares are the names of 24 women who were members or former members of the Aurora Branch and/or friends and neighbors of Myrtle Greer.

When was it made? The current best guess is between June 1948 and December 1951. June 1948 because that’s when Georgia Howard married Raymond Lang, and her married name is included. And 1951 because Cora Hall passed away that year, and we believe would not have been included after she died. Living in Aurora was not, however, a requirement. Several women named on the quilt had moved away. We assume that someone wrote and asked them to send their signatures.

Who are these women? Mini-biographies to come! As a preview, here are their names, beginning in the top left corner:
Row 1: Nancy McCarty, Shirley Phillips, Patsy Ward, Mae McHugh
Row 2: Cora Hall, Anne Cannon, Irma Wienecke, Mable Wendt
Row 3: Bessie Erway, Lizbeth Sutton, Mary Kramer, Alodia H. Schleifer
Row 4: Evelyn Kettley, Clara McElone, Georgia H. Lang, Mary Donnell
Row 5: Nina Head, Mable C. Stemple, Gladys Sullivan, Ruth Larsen
Row 6: Ada Dolittle, Ardis McCarty, Louise Erekson, Mae Lenox

Row One
1. Nancy McCarty, daughter of Ward and Ardis Young McCarty who moved to Aurora from Utah in the 1940s. Her father was the manager of the Montgomery Ward store on Broadway and served as second counselor in the branch.
2. Shirley Phillips and her husband Walt moved to Aurora from Shelley, Idaho, in the spring of 1946 to have an eye specialist in Chicago operate on their 4-year-old daughter, Mauna. She had been born with glaucoma and was already blind in one eye. They parked their large 35-foot travel trailer near Bob and Louise’s trailer on their lots on Hoyt Avenue. Walt and Shirley returned to Idaho in October 1947. (She probably sent her signature for the quilt.)
3. Patsy Ward was the daughter of Ilda Fuller who lived across the street from the Greers on Harrison Avenue. Pat later married and had three sons. Her husband passed away after 50 years of marriage. Remarried now, Pat and her husband divide their time between her home in Indiana and his in Georgia. Pat Ward Smith is the sister of Jack and Gladys Sullivan.
4. Mae McHugh was the sister of Lizzie Sutton, who was Myrtle Greer’s childhood friend. They went to school together in Tunnel Hill, Illinois. Mae was not a member of the branch.

If you know when the quilt was made or can share any information about it, please let us know.


Thanks for your patience

The past two months have been quite overwhelming for me with family, travel, and work. I appreciate those of you who have kept faithfully checking for new postings. Since gathering the history of the Aurora Branch really is my number one project right now, I hope to get back to regular updates on this blog. Keep checking!

Also, please send me scans of photos which I can share on the blog. I'd appreciate receiving the names and addresses of former members of the Aurora Branch so I can ask them to share their memories with all of us.

Thanks again.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Two-and-a-half-minute Talks

Once upon a time Sunday School was a stand-alone meeting with its own opening exercises. Actually, the truth is that Sunday School was the meeting of choice for many members, and lest they should miss partaking of the sacrament (because they did not attend the sacrament meeting that was held on Sunday evenings), the sacrament was administered and passed both morning and evening.

Of course many members today won’t remember any of this because the consolidated meeting schedule (the three-hour-block of meetings instituted in 1980) spelled the demise of the Sunday School opening exercises. Too bad, because with opening exercises went a unique Mormon icon—the two-and-a-half minute talk.

You read that right. Not three minutes, not five minutes, but two-and-a-half minutes. Why this prescribed length? Well, remember that Sunday School talks were the Lord’s own training ground for public speaking, and all members of the branch were given their turn, child, new convert, and life-long member alike. Who could be intimidated by speaking such a short time, and to such a small audience?

And, on the rare occasions when the two speakers actually managed to speak for 2½ minutes each, the talks neatly added up to five minutes, just the right amount of time for a few brief thoughts before the practice hymn and dismissal to class. (The practice hymn is another casualty of the consolidated schedule.) The exact time was rarely achieved, however. The speakers either sat down after thirty seconds or rambled on for fifteen minutes, and it didn’t matter anyway.

Beginning in September 1949, the assignments for 2½ minute talks were published in the Aurora Branch newsletter. It would be interesting to know if the people were asked ahead of time, or if they learned about the assignment when they read the newsletter—echoes of mission calls issued from the pulpit at General Conference.

Here are some of the assignments as published. It appears that a male and a female member were assigned each time, but otherwise there were no age and experience requirements.
The McCarty family had moved from Utah to Aurora where H. Ward McCarty was the manager of the Montgomery Ward store in downtown Aurora and second counselor in the branch. Nancy was his teenage daughter. Jackie Owens was a non-member friend and neighbor of the Greer family. Ginger (that’s me) was not quite six years old. Cora Hall was a woman who had joined the Church in Southern Illinois, and of course, James T. Greer was branch president. (September 4 was stake conference in Chicago.)

In the above list from December 1950, Craig Tatton, Vera Ruth and Jimmy Resch were children under 10. Mary Jane Greer was almost 14, and the others were adults.
In the next extant copy of the newsletter, July 1951, we already see familiar names. At least seven are repeats. Oh, the blessings and bothers of a tiny branch. (Sister Murri was a missionary working in the Branch at that time.)

Since I was thinking about Sunday School, I asked my father to help me remember how the program went each week. Here’s what he came up with, and I’ll take his word for it as he was the Sunday School superintendent for more years than anyone can imagine.

Greeting and announcements
Opening Hymn
Opening Prayer
(No official Branch business was conducted in Sunday School)
Sacrament Hymn
Sacrament Gem
Administration of the Sacrament
Two 2½ minute talks
Practice Hymn
Separation for Classes
Reassembly and reminder of announcements
Closing Hymn
Closing Prayer

Did you catch that “Sacrament Gem”? Yet another tradition lost to the consolidated schedule, but more about that another time.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Soybeans and Missions

The Lord blessed the Aurora Branch soybean fields for welfare and building fund assessments. He was also generous when money was needed to send Jimmie Greer on a mission.

James T. Greer prided himself on having “clean” fields, not a weed in sight. His grandchildren, Tom, Erek, and Ginger Erekson, caught up with him one day in 1952 while he was cultivating his soybeans.

Here’s the story of that very field, as Jim Greer recalled it: “When Jimmie went on his mission, I’d just got out of that hospital. [He had a heart attack in 1951.] I didn’t have no money, no nothing, and an $800 hospital bill.

“I had a little Avery tractor and a one-bottom plow. I rented 11 acres [in the spring of 1952]. I was 11 days putting that out, cultivating it, and raising beans. While I first started cultivating, the mail carrier, who lived across the street, come over and says, ‘Partner, I don’t know you from anybody else, but you might just as well be out fishing or hunting.’ He says, ‘This ground’s wore out. You’ll not make your salt to put on your bread.' I says, ‘I’ve got a son on a mission, and I expect this to help keep him out.’

That fall I got over there, and the bean crop was harvested and gone. I went up to the place where I had it registered, and they said, ‘Well, a fellow come in with a big red truck, and combined your beans.’ I didn’t know about it, but I figured it was old Bill Vaughn. I goes to Bill’s place, and his wife says, ‘He’s gone to Oswego with your beans. If you go down there, you can catch him.’

“I went down and walked in. Old Bill turned around and says, ‘Here’s the fellow.’ He said, ‘We just put down 11 acres of beans.’ I said, ‘How much did I make?’ It was $958 and some off cents—that for 11 days of work.

“I took that check (which was after the combining cost was out) over to that mail carrier and handed it to him. He called his wife out and said, ‘I want you to look at this check.’ He says, ‘We’ve said many a time that you planned on those beans helping to pay for your son’s mission. We’ve never seen such beans in our lives as there were in that field.’ I didn’t either. They was just as thick with beans all the way up and down.

“When Jimmie was released, I rented that field again. We didn’t break even. It didn’t make nothing. Now the good Lord was just in it for one year, and turned me down on another year.” (From The Story of Jim and Myrtle Greer: Family and Church, pp. 74-75)

Jimmie (James H.) Greer sent this photo to his sister, Louise Erekson, from the Texas-Louisiana Mission in 1952.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Saints and Soybeans

The Aurora Branch was renown among the other units of the Chicago Stake for paying its stake building fund and stake welfare assessments in full and on time. How did a handful of members do what wealthier, more populous wards could not manage? They knew how to raise soybeans!
Men out standing in their field (of soybeans), in the early 1950s: John Earle, Rueben Earle, James T. Greer, August Kramer, Edmund Kramer holding Auggie, Robert L. Erekson.

The Kramers and the Earles had their own farms south and west of Aurora. Bob was raised on a farm. They all knew what they were doing. Beyond that, James T. Greer was a farmer at heart, and he was determined to make it happen.

Myrtle recalled: “Jim was branch president, and if the members wouldn’t pay it, we felt we had to. All the members was like us. They didn’t have no money. That’s why Jim got two tractors and a cultivator. He raised all these crops, and sold them to pay these assessments.”

And the amounts of the annual assessments were staggering. In July 1951 the branch newsletter reported that the Chicago Stake set a goal of raising $100,000 to build the stake center in Wilmette.

We don’t know how much Aurora Branch had to raise, but it was, thankfully, less than $50,000. And everyone pitched in with pie socials, watermelon busts, and long days hoeing soybeans.

The members cleaned out the weeds that grew too close to the beans for Jim Greer’s cultivator to take out. Here, hoes in hand, are Bob Erekson, Ginger Erekson, Rosalie Resch, Vera Resch, Rose Marie Resch, Erek Erekson (front), Myrtle Greer, Jim Greer.

The entire branch felt ownership in these soybeans that grew so tall. Gathered at the field (early 1950s) are Myrtle Greer, Iris Dombrow holding Mark, Louise Erekson (in back), Grace W. Erekson holding Erek Erekson, James T. Greer holding Tom Erekson, Mary Jane Greer, Dorothy Kramer (in back), Reuben Earle, Ginger Erekson and Donny Earle (in front), August Kramer, Phyllis Earle, John Earle, Edmund Kramer holding Auggie Kramer.

Donny Earle, Tommy and Erek Erekson, measuring themselves by the height of the soybeans, ca. 1952-1953.

In her book The Story of Jim and Myrtle Greer: Family and Church, Myrtle Greer continues: “Jim would come into Chicago Stake meetings, and President Edmunds would ask who all’s got your assessment paid. Of all those people, none of them had their assessment, but when it come to Jim Greer, Jim just handed him a check, paid in full. Jim done it all from farming” (63-64).

The soybean success story was repeated throughout the 1950s. In 1957, Myrtle noted that the soybean profit that year was $444.43.

Simply put: “We worked hard. Soybeans is what we raised and sold for the church” (64).


Monday, July 27, 2009

Odd Fellows Hall, Part 5: Auto Row

Car stories keep popping up in anecdotes people tell about the early days when the Aurora Branch met in the Odd Fellows Hall. And with good reason! That block of South LaSalle Street was “an early automobile commercial center in Aurora” and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

When you take a close look at the buildings that flank the Odd Fellows Hall, you see that they were originally designed as automobile dealerships.
Coats Garage, Odd Fellows Hall, Berthold-Hanson Cadillac Dealership, Theiss’ Central Garage, Finch and McCullouch block (printing and book binding)

Also amazing to note—this block of LaSalle Street, between Benton and Fox, was once on the original Lincoln Highway route through Aurora. No wonder they were selling cars there. This map is from a reprint of A Complete Official Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway, Fifth Edition, 1924, page 319.

Nowadays car dealerships consist of a showroom, offices, and service garage, surrounded by a massive parking lot with rows and rows of new and used cars. Not so in the early 1900s. Quoting the brochure “Aurora, An Architectural Portrait,” p. 43: “Automobile sales and service buildings developed as a distinctive building type in the early 1900s. They were designed to blend in with other commercial buildings and were generally located on the fringes of the central business districts.”

Immediately north (left) of the Odd Fellows Hall is the Coats Garage. Coats Garage “was the first automobile sales and service building built in the LaSalle Street Auto Row Historic District specifically for this use. Constructed in 1907, it still features the original elevator that transports cars to the second and third floors for storage and servicing. Coat’s line of cars in 1912 [the year the Odd Fellows Hall was built] included Chalmers, E.M.F., Hudson, and Flanders. It was constructed with large “I” beams that span the width of the building, providing a large open space without columns for the display of automobiles. The current owner indicated that 30 modern cars can be stored on each floor.” This is probably the dealership where Fred Schleifer bought his Hudson Terraplane.

On the south side (right) of the Odd Fellows Hall, a Cadillac dealer occupied a one-story building. Recalling her experiences as a child in the early 1940s, my aunt Jane wrote in 1993: “Once in a while Jim and I would go out of the door at the back of the large kitchen and crawl over the metal fire escape and climb onto the roof of the building next to the Odd Fellows Hall. This building had skylight windows where we could look down onto the floor below. It was a Cadillac sales building—beautiful cars to see.” (The skylights are still there.)

Berthold-Hanson Cadillac was an enduring business. Here is their advertisement from the 1964 Aurora City Directory.
Continuing south we come to the Theiss’ Central Garage Building. This off-center photo does not do justice to the pleasing symmetry of the matching, two-story bay windows. Again quoting the architectural tour brochure: “Another automobile sales and service building, the Theiss building was constructed around 1912 in the Commercial Style. It also has the original elevator; however, unlike the Coats Garaged, this building utilized the new technique of fire-proof reinforced concrete slabs for the floors. A 1912 advertisement indicated that the Buick Maxwell, Apperson and Baker Electric cars were sold at the Central Garage.”

Completing the block was the Finch & McCullouch building, erected in 1907. At the time it was one of the most complete printers and binderies in Illinois, and the company remained at that location for more than 70 years. The other side of the block is also interesting for its fine examples of Victorian era commercial buildings. That side of the street was used as the set for the movie, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story. Davis was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. LaSalle Street was used to represent his hometown in Pennsylvania. (We rented the movie hoping to catch a glimpse of the Odd Fellows Hall, but only the opposite side of the street was shown. All was not lost, however, because it’s a really good movie.)


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Odd Fellows Hall, Part 4: Car Buying on S. LaSalle

A phone call from my uncle Jim Greer started me on a surprising journey through Odd Fellows Hall history.

He told me a story about Fred Schleifer who used to bring his wife Alodia to church in the late 1930s. Since Fred was not a member of the Aurora Branch, he was more interested in the car dealers on South LaSalle Street than in church meetings. Jimmy recalls that one Sunday Fred bought a Hudson Terraplane.

We don’t know when Fred Schleifer bought his new car, but we can guess. The Aurora Branch moved to the Odd Fellows Hall sometime in 1935, and Terraplanes were manufactured only from 1934 to 1936. As for which model he bought, Uncle Jim recalls the car’s “suicide doors,” that is, doors that open from the front, like those shown on the above Terraplane advertisement. This model is a 1935 Terraplane Deluxe coach that sold for $645 and weighed 2665 pounds. According to ads, “all Terraplanes used a 212-cid straight six that put out 88 bhp and could accelerate from 0 to 50 mph in 14.05 seconds.”

Possibly a better candidate for Fred’s car is this 1936 Terraplane Custom touring sedan This car weighed 2,875 pounds and cost $740.

Fred needed a good car because he had to drive to work from his home in Kaneville to Montgomery, Illinois, a roundtrip of 30 miles. He worked at Lyon Metal with James T. Greer, and it was because of that connection that he met his second wife, Alodia Howard, which took him to LaSalle Street and the car dealerships.

Jim Greer’s first job at Lyon Metal was making shipping crates. A look at the 1930 census shows Fred Schleifer doing exactly the same thing. Obviously they struck up a friendship because Jim Greer never met a stranger. Fred was 48 years old, to Jim’s 34. He was born in Pennsylvania and he had a wife and three children living at home. Sometime in the next five years his wife passed away.

Meanwhile, Alodia Howard moved to Illinois from southeastern Idaho after her husband was killed in a mine explosion. He had belonged to the Moose Fraternity, and so his widow and three children (Lynn, Wallace, and Georgia) were eligible to live at Mooseheart, the “Child City,” a few miles north of Aurora along Route 25. From the Mooseheart website, we learn that it is “a home for children and teens in need, from infancy through high school. Dedicated in July 1913 by the Moose fraternal organization, MOOSEHEART cares for youth whose families are unable, for a wide variety of reasons, to care for them. Some have lost one or both parents; others are living in environments that are simply not conducive to healthy growth and development.” Alodia Howard found employment at Mooseheart and the children lived in the cottages.

It wasn’t long before James T. Greer decided to introduce Fred and Alodia to each other, and the rest is history.

As I said at the beginning, the story of the Terraplane started me on a journey that uncovered some unusual facts about South LaSalle Street and the automobile businesses that grew up next to the Odd Fellows Hall. Keep checking back. There’s more to this story.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Who Are the Odd Fellows Anyway?

A couple of people recently told me they’d never heard of the “Odd Fellows.” They wanted to know who or what they were. Here's what I found out:

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F) is a fraternal organization, similar to the Elks or Moose. It was organized in England in the late 1700s and began in America in 1819. They got their name because at that time “it was deemed odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need without recognition and pursuing projects for the benefits of all mankind.” (from I.O.O.F. webpage)

Lodges also provided lodge members with a social community that would help in times of need. This support was especially important because, in those days, there were no governmental safety nets and very little insurance of any kind.

The worldwide emblem of the Odd Fellows is a three-link chain with the letters that stand for friendship, love, and truth and symbolizes the fraternity of the members.
I am familiar with this chain because it was emblazoned on a banner that hung in the large room on the second floor where the Aurora Branch met. I don't remember much else about this gold-fringed banner, except that the all-seeing eye of God was embroidered above the chain and seemed to be watching all our proceedings.

The group that built the Odd Fellows Hall on South LaSalle Street in 1912 was organized on January 3, 1849, “by virtue of a dispensation granted by the grand master of the grand lodge of Illinois.” One of the officers who conducted the ceremony to institute the Wabonsie Lodge 45 was E.L. Howard of the St. Charles lodge “who walked from St. Charles to Aurora thru 14 inches of snow to attend, there being no trains running between the two towns because of the heavy snow.”

The Wabonsie Lodge 45 united with the Ben Hur Lodge 870, the Aurora Encampment, and the Minnehahah Rebekah Lodge 77 and Tirzah Rebekah lodge 488 (“Rebekahs” are the affiliated women’s organizations) to build the hall. These names are familiar to me because they were listed on a wooden plaque in the club room on the south side of the second floor, the one that held the pool table, poker table, leather sofa and chairs, and in the 1950s, a television set.

As also reported in the centennial edition of the Aurora Beacon News, September 5, 1937, the Odd Fellows were true to their fraternal duties: “the Odd Fellow fraternity maintains two homes in Illinois, the I.O.O.F. Old Folks home at Mattoon where there are about 200 aged Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, also the I.O.O. F. orphans home at Lincoln, with about the same number of orphans of members of the order. Each of these places is a small community in itself with its own school, hospital, chapel, gymnasium, laundry, power plant and farm produce.”

Although I’ve known about the Odd Fellows all my life, I was surprised to learn that the organization is still alive and well. Check out their webpage.

Here’s an excerpt:
“We are the family of Oddfellowship, composed of Men, Women, and Youth, believing in a supreme being, the creator and preserver of the universe, who have come together in our local communities having the same beliefs and values as others, that; Friendship, Love and Truth are the basic guidelines that we need to follow in our daily lives. Through working in our local Communities, States, Provinces, or Nationally we understand that we can make a difference in the lives of people in our World….

“Our deep history began in North America, with the United States and Canada in 1819, and is continually expanding throughout the World where we are a worldwide fraternity in 26 countries. The Odd Fellows and Rebekahs are striving to make the world a better place in which to live, seeking To Improve and Elevate the Character of Mankind.

“The members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows are sometimes referred to "Odd Fellows" or "Rebekahs." Odd Fellows have also become known in many areas as "The Three Link Fraternity" which is evidenced by our world wide "Three Link Emblem" which stands for Friendship, Love and Truth. These three links symbolize the chain that binds our members together and illustrates that our Communities, States, Provinces and Nations are strongest when joined together.”

As it turns out, small branches of the LDS church often met in Odd Fellows Halls in the early to mid 20th century. Perhaps odd fellows and peculiar people just naturally go together.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Odd Fellows Hall, Part 3: For Sale

You can own a piece of history. The Odd Fellows Hall is for sale—yes, right now! Buy it today for a cool $575,000, and that’s a bargain because it has been appraised at $1 million (in better economic times). Here’s the link. (Click on “Commercial Property” search. Type in the number of the MLS listing “07120675” and set the pull-down menu to “Mixed Use.”)

The real estate blurb states: “An Exceptional Historic Building In The Downtown Of Aurora. Building Is Awaiting The Discerning Investor Interested In Turning The Building Into Multiple Income Generating Opportunities. Owner Financing And City Grant Money Available.”
We took this photo when we were in Aurora a couple of weeks ago. Although we didn’t connect with a realtor and therefore did not tour the inside, we learned that the building has 17,000 square feet in all (plus a full basement), with 5,000 square feet on each of the first two floors and 7,000 square feet on the third floor. The storefront on the lower right still has the original tin ceiling. The building has new windows and, presumably, an HVAC system. In the “olden days” the windows were double-hung and both the lower and upper sashes could be opened. The air conditioning consisted of a couple of ceiling fans. (For a photo of the building in 1937, see blog post “The Odd Fellows Hall, Part 1” from May 19, 2009.)

The cornerstone plaque on the front shows that the Odd Fellows Hall was built in 1912. An article published on September 5, 1937, in the centennial edition of the Aurora Beacon News gives more information:

“Members of the various branches of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows have played an important part in the development of Aurora. It is one of the oldest fraternal societies in the city, the first lodge being organized by pioneers 88 years ago [January 1849]… The lodge now has a fine home in the Odd Fellows Hall temple. A fine three story building, the first floor of which is occupied by one of the city’s pioneer hardware merchants, the second floor comprises a well equipped club room and the third floor is given over to a large, well furnished meeting hall, a banquet room and a well equipped kitchen.”

The newspaper wasn’t exactly right (hence its well-earned nickname “The Be-Confused”), because the kitchen was on the second floor. The “large, well furnished meeting hall” on the third floor was designed for lodge ceremonies and meetings. As children, we were not supposed to go in there—so of course, we did. Because it was forbidden, it seemed dark and mysterious (and we didn’t dare turn on the lights). It had a raised platform around three sides of the room (about six inches high and 4 feet deep), with three (or so) impressive chairs in the center along each wall.

When my aunt Jane was a child, she refused to go there and in 1993 she explained her reasons: “[My big brother] Jim would tell me about what was on the third floor of the Odd Fellows Hall, and it was enough to keep me from ever wanting to go up there. He said there were black cloths draped over large black boxes and that was where the Odd Fellows stayed whenever there was church on Sunday. Well, being five or six years old at the time, I believed him and never went up to the third floor.…

“Before [the branch began meeting in the Seventh Day Adventist Church] I finally did have courage enough to go and see what was on the third floor. Jim was right, at least for two out of three things–there were big black boxes and they were covered with black cloths, but I never saw any Odd Fellows.”

(A mystery solved is quite mundane. It was the practice in those days to cover the grand piano and other pieces of furniture with heavy cloths to keep the dust off.)

Because we couldn’t contact the realtor for a tour when we were recently in Aurora, we did the next best thing. We climbed up a fire escape to the third floor and looked in the window. (Only the landing and a few stairs show in this photo. The rest is hidden behind a trash container.)

The building is built into a hill, so the back stairway to the third floor is only one flight. Of course, we had to cross the parking lot of the adjoining property to reach the fire escape, and it was exceedingly rusty and wobbly (1912 vintage?). Undaunted, I put my camera up to the window and snapped this photo.

Hmmm, the room doesn’t seem mysterious at all. The hardwood floors, woodwork, and lighting fixtures are all original, as is the riser along the wall on the right. I believe what looks like blue wainscoting is a protective covering to protect the wood from paint overspray while the building is prepared for sale.

So, are you that discerning investor the listing agent has in mind?

My husband thinks the LDS Church should buy it and turn it into a visitor center, honoring the early Church in the Midwest where small branches often met in rented halls. What do you think?


Friday, June 26, 2009

Beginnings of the Branch, Part 3: Finding Missing Members Update

Here’s some insight on that first encounter between Myrtle Greer and Mable Stemple. Although the Greers arrived in Aurora in June 1929, it was early winter before they found Sister Stemple, as attested in this note written by her daughter Evelyn Kiesel in Myrtle Greer’s autograph book in 1933.“We are indeed grateful to you for coming to our home on a snowy afternoon to find another ‘Mormon’ family,” she said.

It’s no wonder that it took Myrtle a few months to find them—for all the obvious reasons, of course, but also because of a major financial reversal that the Greers suffered that summer. Remember, they had experienced three crop failures in a row, and they were already destitute. This is the house and barn that they owned near Cypress, Illinois. This photo was taken about 1910 and we see James T. Greer’s parents and siblings here. Jim is the boy standing on the far right. Jim and Myrtle bought the house and 40 acres from his father, Albert Jackson Greer, for $1,000 in about 1925. They had been so full of hopes and dreams. “We felt sure we were going to get rich there,” Myrtle recalled. As we’ve already seen, it didn’t work out that way.

But Jim had managed to get a job at Lyon Metal in Aurora and had rented a small house on Howard Avenue, and Myrtle had joined him there. It was when she went back to the home place get their furniture that they realized disaster had struck. This is how she told the story:

“Jim decided we’d have to go home and get the furniture. We got another payday, and I went down there, taking the kids too. I went down to the house and opened the door, and everything was gone. Not one solitary thing was there. Jim’s harness, his saddle, all of our bedding, all of our books, and everything we had was gone. (We had some nice furniture, we really did.) I never cried so hard in my whole life. That about killed me. And there it was—nothing!

“I didn’t know what I was going to do. What could I do, with two children and these people that used to be such good friends to us that wouldn’t even look at us now? I decided to ask a few people if they knew where our furniture was. Jim Boss didn’t know a thing about it. Nobody knew nothing about it, so I said, ‘Take me to the train.’ We got to the train and come back to Chicago. Jim met us and took us home. I tell you, we were grieved. Not a thing in the world. We lost everything completely. I said to Jim, ‘What are you going to do?’ He says, ‘Well, I don’t know, but we’ll have to do something.’

“We thought about it and prayed about it and decided to stay in Aurora and buy some furniture. We expected we could easily. We picked out the biggest bank in Aurora and we went to the head man, the president of it. We told him we needed $300, and we’d pay him back $10 a month. He thought that was the funniest thing he had ever heard. He says, ‘What have you got for security?’ Oh, we didn’t have anything for security, but Jim had a job. ‘Well, that isn’t enough,’ he said. No, that couldn’t do at all.

“‘But,’ he said, ‘there’s a man upstairs that might listen to you. Go up and see him.’ He told us who he was, Mr. Elder. So we went up and told him the same story. He says, ‘You know, I’ve got a warehouse down there that’s full of furniture that belonged to people who have moved from Aurora. They left and haven’t even paid the rent on it. I don’t want it,’ he says. ‘I’ll get a truck and I’ll move it out to your house, and you keep what you want and what you don’t want, you sell it and use the money.’ But, he says, ‘You pay me $10 a month till you pay me $300.’ So he give us the furniture and loaned us $300 on it. I have some of that furniture yet [1970s], and we sold quite a bit of it. Then we really could have cottage meetings.”
This rocking chair, given to Ginger Hamer by her grandparents in 1972, is believed to be the only piece left in the family from the furniture that was so miraculously obtained in 1929. It has been tentatively identified as a “Northwind” style, a kind of furniture made in the late 19th century and distinguished by carvings of mythological faces. A carved curlicue on the upper left side of the back was broken off, perhaps even before the Greers received the rocking chair. In 1976 Ginger hired a furniture restorer in Mendham, New Jersey, to carve and install a replacement part. He also reglued the rocker to strengthen it and prevent further damage.A close-up of the unusual carving

In her life story, Louise Greer Erekson recalled living on Howard Avenue. “I can remember eating hominy out of glasses. We would just reach in and pick up a piece. Apparently we didn’t have any bowls and very little silverware, because they had all been stolen. (I have always loved hominy.)”

She also remembers how quickly the friendship developed between Sister Stemple and her parents: “The first Christmas in Aurora must have been very bleak. But with help, it was all right. Sister Mable Stemple and her daughter, Evelyn Kiesel, brought us a little artificial tree with ornaments on it. I can remember that spindly tree, probably 3 or 4 feet tall, with just a few ornaments. We had those ornaments for several years. I’d like to have some of them now.”

The Greers later sold their farm in southern Illinois by placing an ad in the Aurora Beacon News. By coincidence, a neighbor, Mr. Fuller, who lived two doors north of them on Harrison answered the ad and bought the farm. “That let us out of the contract, and we took what money we got and put it on our house [710 North Harrison], and that was during the Depression,” Myrtle said.

I believe that with her comment—“Then we really could have cottage meetings”—she acknowledges the hand of the Lord in their lives and affirms their determination to serve the best they knew how.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Building Fund, Part 1: Building Houses

For years the terms “Aurora Branch” and “building fund” were synonymous. The members of the branch devised every possible scheme to add to the fund that would someday enable them to build a chapel. Meanwhile, they met in rented halls and schools for 30 years.

One of the more successful money-raising projects was building and selling houses on speculation. Bob Erekson was a carpenter and building contractor, so he was able to lay out the foundation and direct the work. Most of the men in the branch were handy with tools.
Here some members of the branch building crew pose in front of the house they were building in 1958: Jimmy Greer, Bob Erekson, Louise Erekson holding Jay, Kenneth Ottinger with Marion and John Ottinger in front, Tillie Ottinger, James T. Greer, Myrtle Greer, Barry Woolcott, James Ottinger, Fred Woolcott, Ronald Deans, Mike Woolcott.

This house is located on the northwest corner of the intersection of New Haven Avenue and Elmwood Drive. Here’s what it looks like now (2009).
A tree has been growing in the front yard for many years, but the stonework and dark-stained wood around the windows and door are the same.

Bob Erekson recalls that the branch built at least three houses: this one, one on Prairie Avenue, and one on Solfisburg Avenue. When we wondered how he had time to run his own construction business and be the general contractor on the church project houses, he replied, “Well, if you read that book, Louise says we were broke all the time.”

In a brief hand-written history Myrtle Greer notes that the house was started on October 18, 1957. It sold for $15,800 with a profit of $4,250. She also notes that shortly thereafter the branch built a garage for Dr. Hanson [the Greers’ family doctor] with a profit of $425. While today these may seem like small amounts, they’re impressive when put in perspective. A successful pie supper in 1951 raised $22 and a bake sale in 1962 raised $42.50 (as reported in extant copies of Aurora Branch bulletins).

Men, women, and children worked on the houses, evenings and Saturdays. While the men and teenage boys did most of the heavy work, there was always some sweeping up or painting that women could handle. Meanwhile, the women were responsible for other fund-raising projects, as you can see in this clipping from the Aurora Branch Bulletin, October 6, 1963:

Indeed, it does take "a lot of nail driving to build a house……a lot of brick laying too,” but Jimmy Greer remembers this as “a wonderful project.”