Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Christmas Party in 1957

On the evening of December 21, 1957, the Primary children presented a play at the Aurora Branch Christmas party.Back row: Erek Erekson, Cathy Sullivan, [unidentified], [unidentified], John Ottinger, [unidentified], Julia Woolcott, Rose Marie Resch (behind curtain). Front row: [unidenified, possibly Tommy Spahr, [unidentified], Bucky Spahr (Earl Spahr Jr.), Billy Spahr, John Swords, Sandy Hill. Front right: Cris Erekson.

As recorded in the Primary History scrapbook, the skit depicted "sharing with those less fortunate" and was followed by the younger classes who "sang songs and said poems."
New in this photo are: Paul Doty, [unidentified], Cris Erekson, [unidentified, possibly Margie Reynolds], Margaret Sullivan. David Swords in standing in the center. The backdrop had been painted on the basement wall by Mary Jane Greer.

To the delight of all the children, Santa Claus visited the party later and distributed gifts and stockings. Jim Greer may have been the one to play Santa that evening because playing Santa was one of his favorite holiday activities. (For more about this go to the posts for December 2009.) But by this time most people expected him to be the one in costume, so as a joke he sometimes asked other men play the part. One of the funniest Santas was the very tall, very thin Bill Kettley.

The M.I.A. served refreshments that evening and the adults exchanged grab bag gifts. (That means they brought small gifts in decorated paper bags, put the bags in a pile and grabbed.)

Two other Christmas parties are also recorded in the Aurora Branch Primary History scrapbook. They seem to follow a pattern:

December 17, 1955:
"The Primary, along with other groups of the Church held a Christmas party on this date. Games were played which everyone enjoyed. Christmas tree ornaments made by the group that attended were hung on the tree. Santa Claus made his appearance with gifts for all the children and parents. Refreshments were served later in the evening."

December 4, 1956:
"The Primary held a Bake Sale on this day. The money was used to buy Christmas gifts and candy for the Christmas party. The Christmas party was held at the Greer home. All groups of the Church held a combined party."


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Ghost of Sundays Past: The Odd Fellows Hall Revisited

When I was in Aurora to attend my high school reunion last July, Ed and Sharon Kettley took me to see the Odd Fellows Hall. It’s still for sale, and the price is now only $449,000 (Price reduced by $126,000—aren’t you glad you didn’t buy it two years ago?). Ed, who is the owner of the successful Kettley Realty in Aurora, arranged with the listing agent to let us walk through the old building. What a trip down memory lane!

So, is anything the same after fifty-one years?

The stairs are still there! Now nicely carpeted, they still lead forever upward. I counted fourteen stairs to the landing and then another twelve to arrive at the second floor where the branch met during most of the 1950s. (There are so many steps because of the high ceilings of the commercial spaces on the ground floor.)

This picture of Louise Erekson, standing in front of the open door of the Odd Fellows Hall, ca. 1955, reveals the wooden—uncarpeted—steps and the dimly lit stairway. (Disclaimer: I'm not responsible for the 'artsy' angle of this photo.)

The long, steep steps provided a weekly trial for older folks who sometimes had to use the handrail to pull themselves up hand-over-hand. The original handrails are still in place, as are some of the paneled oak doors and hardware.

Throughout the 1950s the branch held Sunday school, sacrament meeting, and potluck dinners in the large second-floor hall on the north side of the building. We measured the room and found it to be 75 feet long and 20 to 23 feet wide. The photo below, taken during a 1959 Primary program, looks toward the windows on the west side of the room.Taken on the same occasion in 1959, the photo below clearly shows the length of the room.
Still as long as ever, here's what the room looks like today (2011). The desks are left from a tutoring service that recently rented this second floor space.
Going up to the third floor means climbing another twenty-three steps. The branch met on this level before moving down to the second floor. In the late 1950s, however, the children of the Junior Sunday School climbed the second set of stairs to meet in the third-floor room at the front of the building. We were told that in recent years the rooms on the third floor were rented by a “Swingles Club.” (Don’t ask what that is!)

The large ceremonial room at the back of the building was off limits to children when the branch met at the Odd Fellows Hall. The doors still have the peep holes and covers used by lodge members to gain entrance to restricted meetings.

For twenty-five years (from about 1935 to 1960) members of the Aurora Branch crossed this threshold into the Odd Fellows Hall. The original tiles are still in place. “I.O.O.F” stands for “Independent Order of Odd Fellows.”

It was exciting to enter this amazing place after so many years. Again I express my appreciation to Ed and Sharon Kettley for arranging the visit to the Odd Fellows Hall.Ed and Sharon Kettley at the main office of Kettley Realty, Aurora, Illinois

The Odd Fellows Hall will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2012. The past fifty-one years have not been especially kind to the building, but it deserves to be memorialized for its role as home to the Aurora Branch.

For the next post, I will try to recreate a floor plan.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The First Seminary in Aurora Branch

By the fall of 1963 Aurora Branch had enough high school students to establish an early-morning seminary class. Deanna Lyman Greer, who held a teaching degree, was called to be the first seminary teacher. She converted a small bedroom in her home on Elmwood Drive into a classroom, and students gathered there at 6:00 a.m. each morning.

For the next school year, seminary moved to the home of Fred and Jean Smith. This photo was taken on their porch in the fall of 1964.
Front: Deanna Greer (teacher), Bethine Mindar, Rose Marie Resch, Linda Hill, Julia Woolcott. Back: Erek Erekson, Ren Smith, Jerry Rod, Earl Spahr Jr., Tom Erekson.

Recalling seminary, Deanna Greer said, “I really enjoyed teaching seminary. The first year it was Old Testament and I learned so much. I was impressed at how faithful the kids were.

“When we were meeting at my house, my son Tom would crawl in and sit under the roll-around blackboard we had placed in the room. My first daughter, Janeen, was born in May 1964, on the day of seminary graduation. They called her the seminary baby.”

The second year course of study was the New Testament. Deanna continued to teach until March of 1965 when she was released due to complications of pregnancy. Bob Erekson, recently released as branch president, was called to finish out the year as seminary teacher.

Seminary was established in September 1963 because the Chicago South Stake was moving forward on a stake level to set up seminary classes in all wards and branches. Deanna Greer worked under a stake CES (Church Education System) director, with Bob Erekson as branch president.


Monday, April 4, 2011

1933 Was a Very Good Year

Myrtle Greer kept a diary for part of 1933. Although the entries are fragmentary, they provide a clear snapshot of her life three and a half years after the family settled in Aurora. By this time they were living in the house at 710 North Harrison where they would stay for almost eighteen years. Her husband, Jim Greer, was starting to fix it up. Her diary records that on June 24 he “raised home to put basement in.” No one knows where he found the time to hand-dig the basement, but he did—and poured his own concrete blocks for the walls too. He was working full time at Lyon Metal, and sometimes half-days on Saturday, as well as gardening and milking the cow, and taking care of the branch.

The Greers' lives already revolved around their work in the branch. More than half of the 101 diary entries mention missionaries and Church activities. Adding in the entries that mention members’ names without a specific reference to a Church activity increases the percentage. Jim had been ordained an elder in 1932 and was set apart as the Sunday School superintendent. Much of the time Jim and Myrtle were feeding missionaries, driving them to meetings, and keeping them overnight.

In her autobiography, Myrtle recalls: “If the missionaries were hungry, they could always come here and get a meal. Just like that Elder said, it was a depression. Everybody was out of food, but when he came to the Greers’, they always had something on the table to eat, and the missionaries was always invited. We used to keep the missionaries so much” (The Story of Jim and Myrtle Greer: Family and Church, 45).

How did they do it? Myrtle goes on to say: “We generally had some canned stuff that I’d canned the summer before, and we’d open some of that. We bought day-old bread and brought it home and shared it with the missionaries and the neighbors. If it was summertime, we just took out of the garden. Later on, we had a strawberry patch. We had lettuce, radishes, onions, all that stuff in the garden. We also had an apple tree and a cherry tree” (The Story of Jim and Myrtle Greer: Family and Church, 45-46). She was also raising chickens.

One of the elders who visited several times in early 1933 was President S. Laurance Moss. Like more than 160 other missionaries, he left his photograph printed on a postcard. The Greers kept all of the portrait cards, as well as the Articles of Faith calling cards, and these now form part of the Aurora Branch History Project collection. In the 1930s the missionaries usually took the time to write a note of gratitude and friendship on the back.

In an interview in July 2009, Jimmie Greer recalled this story: “Elder Moss was the district president. He would come and visit the branch from time to time. My dad always had a cow and one time it was about to calve. Dad would say, ‘I wish Elder Moss could come by and sing to my old cow so she’ll have her calf.’

“They tell me when Elder Moss came and he was sitting up in front, that right during the meeting, I went up to him, sat on his lap, and put my hands on his cheeks and said, ‘Elder Moss, will you come out to our house and sing to our cow so she’ll have her calf.’"

In her story, Myrtle says, “We got Jimmie back as quick as we could, got him on his chair, and sit him down. So Elder Moss come out, but the old cow had already had her calf. He didn’t have to sing” (55).

Myrtle's diary records the birth of a calf. It might be the one in question: “Tuesday, May 30, 1933: Little Jimmie Birthday [6 years old] / had picnic at park / Old Rose had a calf / name it Esther Mae / we make ice cream.”

Elder Moss was from Woods Cross, Utah. The family visited him and had dinner with his family in 1941 when they were in Utah. He was later the livestock and grain commodities announcer on KSL in Salt Lake City.

The blog is going to continue our look at the contributions of missionaries who served in Aurora.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Bob Erekson's Beginnings in Aurora Branch

When cleaning my father's office after his passing, I found among his papers a typescript of his life story from 1935 to June 22, 1942. The excerpt included below contains references to the Aurora Branch after meeting the Greer family in May 1941. These stories show how different the Aurora Branch was from his church-related experiences in what he calls "the valley of the mountains."

The photo on the right shows a young, green Bob Erekson in June 1940 on the day he left Utah to enlist in the Army Air Corps at Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois. About a year later, he decided to look up the Church. On the weekend of May 17, 1941, he hitched a ride to Chicago and found out to his surprise that quarterly stake conference was being held. He was introduced to the Greer family and promised to visit them the next weekend. He paid some friends fifty cents to take him to Aurora. Here is Bob's story:

"Sunday morning I got up and went to Sunday School with the Greers. It was very nice to be back in Church once again, helping with the Sacrament and all the rest of the work I could do. Mr. Greer was having some trouble with his back, and Louise had to work that afternoon, so we took her to work but found that she didn’t have to go to work until 3:00 p.m. So Mr. Greer went to the doctor and I took Louise for a drive in Mr. Greer’s ’36 Buick...After that I went back to the doctor’s office.

"That night I went to Sacrament Meeting. It was a very wonderful meeting and after it was over I helped a Mr. [John E.] Whowell from Chicago and Mr. [John] Wendt of Aurora administer to Mr. Greer so his back would bet well. It was the first time I ever did anything like that since I had been made an Elder nearly a year ago, just before I joined the Air Corps.
"After the meeting was over I went back to the Greers, changed back to my uniform, after which Mr. Greer drove me out of Aurora about seven miles and I began hitch-hiking...

As you see, the new experiences began immediately: administering to the sick, bearing his testimony, giving talks, sightseeing in Nauvoo, and attending General Conference. He was needed in Aurora. Best of all, he found that he loved his new-found Church activity.Knowing that Louise was there kept his enthusiasm high. This photo was taken on his first weekend in Aurora.

"[Four days later] Thursday afternoon at three p.m. I took off for Aurora on my thumb. I got there at seven p.m. Central Daylight Time.
"I took my coveralls and as soon as I got there I changed to them and helped Jimmy mow the lawn…Sunday I went to Sunday School and Testimony meeting. One thing about testimony meetings in Aurora different from those back home, is that every person in Aurora got up and bore his or her testimony. So I bore my first testimony. That evening was conjoint or mutual night, and so the young people took care of the program. I gave a talk and all of the others did something...

"[The next week] Louise had to take care of some children so she brought them to Sunday School and in the afternoon while Mr. and Mrs. Greer went to Chicago, Louise, Jimmy, Mary Jane, the Kids, and I went on a picnic in Philips Park, Aurora…At 6:00 p.m. Mr. and Mrs. Greer came for us and later we went to church. The speaker from Chicago didn’t show up, so they asked me to talk. After that I drove the Greers home and then Mr. and Mrs. Schleifer took me out to the junction from where I hitched back to the field....

"During the month of June I bought myself a 1936 Buick four door sedan. On the fourth of July the Greer family went to Nauvoo and Carthage. They took me along and it was a trip that I will never forget.
"Sunday July 6, 1941 I had to talk in church and because of the lack of speakers Louise and I sang “Truth Reflects Upon Our Senses.”...

"[September] Among other things was Quarterly Conference for the Chicago stake at Milwaukee. From the General Board there was Harold B. Lee of the Twelve. I never really enjoyed a conference until I heard him talk. It seemed to me that he was talking just to me, almost as if he knew my every question and thought...

[A trip to General Conference] "So I left the Field at about noon Tuesday September 30, 1941 and drove to Aurora where I picked [up] the entire Greer family and we started into the setting sun which was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen since I came East...
"Later I drove to McCraney’s where the Greers were to stay during their visit in the valley of the mountains. After going to a session of General Conference I went home to Payson, Utah, a drive of about sixty-five miles. …The next day I took Mother to S.L. where we attended the afternoon session of the General Conference for that day. This was the first time I had ever been in the Tabernacle. It is really a thrill to be on the inside of such a beautiful building...
"The next day Saturday October 3, 1941 I picked up the Greer Family and took them to Spanish Fork a small town about six miles from Payson. There I left the Greers with one of the Missionaries, who had visited them when he was on a mission in the Northern States Mission..."


Sunday, January 23, 2011

In Memorium, Robert L. Erekson 1921-2010

Bob Erekson, Aurora Branch president from 1961 to 1965, passed away at his home in Billings, Montana, on the morning of December 27, 2010. He was 89 years old. He is survived by his wife, Louise G. Erekson; and their ten children, Ginger (Bill) Hamer, Tom (Terry), Erek (Lenore), Cris, Douglas, Randall, Jay (Susana), Matt, Jon (Jennifer), and Jared; 36 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren.

In August 1961 Bob Erekson was called by Chicago Stake President John K. Edmunds to replace his father-in-law James T. Greer, who had served as branch president for some twenty-eight years. His new counselors were Robert H. Ross and Donald A. Mindar with William E. Kettley as branch clerk, as shown below in this clipping from the Aurora Beacon-News. After a year and a half Bob Ross moved back to Pennsylvania, Bill Kettley became a counselor, and Dean Meyer was called as the branch clerk. Later, Dale Fisher replaced Donald Mindar as a counselor.

The branch had been meeting in the Seventh Day Adventist church on Plum Street for about a year and a half, but on the day of his call, Erekson was informed that the branch had to find a new place to meet. "After much prayer," he later wrote, "I received that answer that we were to rent the old Christian Science chapel. We had complete use of the building for more than a year until it was sold." The branch next met for a brief time at Lincoln Elementary School on South River Street in Aurora and later moved to Allen School on the east side.

Erekson relished one of the blessings of being branch president—the opportunity to attend General Conference twice a year, with travel expenses paid for by the Church. Here he is shown in 1962 on the BYU campus where he was visiting his daughter on his semi-annual trip to Utah.

Under Erekson's leadership the branch continued to grow. By November 1962 there were 242 members. In February 1963 the branch became part of the Chicago South Stake, with Lysle R. Cahoon as president, and John Sonnenberg and Dallin H. Oaks as counselors. The members kept working feverishly to raise money for the building fund, but the dream of having a chapel in Aurora was postponed when President Cahoon invited the Aurora Branch to be one of the units to occupy the new stake center that was to be built in Naperville. At that time, local wards and branches has to raise forty percent of the funds for construction, and so members of the Aurora Branch were assessed large sums of money. They built additional building fund houses and completed many other fund-raising projects.

Unfortunately, the three and a half years that Bob Erekson served as branch president were marked by contention and division among the members. A strong faction remained loyal to President Greer, and he did nothing to discourage their dissension. President Cahoon, shown above on the left, was supportive of Erekson and was understanding of the difficulties involved.

Upon his release on February 21, 1965, Bob Erekson wrote: "I am very happy with life and am well satisfied with the knowledge and blessing Father in Heaven has given me. I have had several spiritual experiences that have helped me to know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true."

In 1968 the Ereksons moved to Billings, Montana, where Bob changed from building homes to building custom-designed slip-in campers and toppers for pickup trucks. When he retired in 1989, he devoted much of his time to genealogy and published several family histories, the largest being a record of the Choate family in southern Illinois. In order to do this he became expert at using genealogy programs on the computer. He was also active in the Yellowstone Genealogy Forum and taught numerous classes in how to use the computer for genealogy.

Bob Erekson served actively in the Church for the rest of his life. From 1973 to 1985 he was a counselor in the Billings Montana Mission. He worked in the Billings Temple for eight years and for the past twelve or more years served as the membership clerk for his ward, updating the records one last time a few days before his death. He will be missed by friends and family.

Please add your memories of Bob Erekson as comments to this post or email me, his daughter, and I will post them for you.