Posts Tagged With: possessions

A Visit with Great Aunt Nellie | Repost

Colt Foutz Nellie Johnson Fitzgerald

Colt and his great aunt Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald at her home in March 2011.

Hugs & Hospitality in the Home of Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald

Great Aunt Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald passed away Nov. 19 at age 99. This post, from March 2011, recounts a visit.

I was once a quite enterprising reporter, so I should have known better.

Presented with the chance to spend an afternoon chatting with my Great Aunt Nellie, 94 years young as of last September, I fumbled around with my laptop, spent a good half hour busying my hands consuming trail bologna and deviled eggs and macaroni salad and the like, and utterly failed to pop open a notebook and record our winding conversation with anything more reliable than my own noggin.

Which will have to suffice.

We spent the day chatting in her home, site in the summertime of many a family gathering, afternoons filled with sunshine and pickup softball games and plenty of food and lemonade. There was snow on the ground this time, and a chill in the air. But the atmosphere inside was cozy.

Nellie still lives at home, with some assistance throughout the day, and frequent visits from her son, who lives just up the road a piece. She was also kept company, during our visit, by a former daughter-in-law (I think?) and a great-grandson. So the house was filled with conversation, and I found Nellie to be as delightfully frank, and sweet, and feisty, and fun as I remembered.

Johnson Leona Miller

My great-grandfather Charles Johnson’s first wife, Leona Miller, died shortly after they were married.

The Tragic Tale of Leona Miller Johnson

Nellie has some trouble getting around these days. She greeted us from her easy chair, and moved about the house with the aid of her “horse” — her walker.

We began our visit by flipping through old photos — everything I had stored up in my Family History Master folder on my computer. She confirmed some of the old relatives I was wondering about, including some beauties of my grandma Erma (Johnson) Foutz as a young teenager (see below), and chuckled at ones of herself shortly after her wedding to DeLoyce Fitzgerald and especially at one of her as a baby, posed with older sibs Leonard and Virginia.

“Oh,” she said (of the photo at the bottom of this post), “I forgot to wear my socks that day!”

Nellie’s house is decorated with scores of old photos and mementos. She was kind enough to have copies made for me of a portrait of my grandmother as a baby, and of my great-great grandparents Palmer (which I featured in yesterday’s post).

In her current bedroom hangs a very unique portrait — that of my great-grandfather (her father) Charles Johnson’s first wife.

Leona Miller and Charles married shortly after Valentine’s Day, 1907. She was 23; he was 20.

According to family lore, and retold by Nellie during our visit, Charles, a coal miner, came home one day, perhaps as early as the week they were married, and found Leona on her hands and knees, scarlet-faced, scrubbing the floor.

As he knelt down to tend to her, Leona collapsed. She died shortly after.

Charles returned to the home of his parents (as noted in the 1910 census), and wouldn’t remarry until 1911, when he wed a girl from nearby Dennison, my great-grandmother, Viola Palmer.

“When you think about it,” I knelt down to murmur in Nellie ear, “it’s a sad story, but without Leona dying, none of us would be here.”

“Oh,” Nellie said, the whisper of a grin on her face, “I don’t know.”

There’s not a lot we know about Leona beyond her fate and the image preserved above. According to the New Philadelphia cemeteries department, she is buried in the same plot as my great-great grandparents Clement and Anna Johnson, but I found no marker to indicate such during my stop at East Avenue/Evergreen the next day.

Erma Johnson Foutz

This picture of my grandma as a very young teenager was taken in 1933, when she was not yet 13. Scribbled on the back: “Camp Birch Creek, F-60, Dillon, Montana. C. 15-1 C.R.R.,” which we’ve determined was a WPA-era camp at which her brother Joe was spending the summer. Joe’s name was also written on this picture.

A Big Sister’s Take on a Boy’s Grandma

The part of me that deeply misses my grandma Erma since she passed away in 2000, and yearns to be able to visit her again, really felt fulfilled by seeing Aunt Nellie again.

I remember the time I’d seen her before, after the funeral of my grandma’s second husband, Max, hugging Nellie felt a lot like hugging grandma. And yeah, I miss that.

This time around, I was full of questions. Things I wished I had asked Grandma, growing up. Or had paid more attention to her answers.

Nellie confirmed the many addresses in New Phila her family called home over a period of 25 years. These moves were logged in war records, censuses, and the certificates recording three of her brothers’ untimely deaths.

I also wanted to hear about how my grandmother and grandfather met, if she could fill me in. I’d read in the article detailing their marriage announcement that grandma was a secretary in the offices of the steel mill, where my great-grandfather Foutz and two of his sons worked from way back. But my grandpa only joined the mill later on, after he’d spent years as a sales agent for the local Ford dealership.

So, how, I wondered, did a girl from New Phila end up mixing with a boy from crosstown Dover, and one some seven years her senior at that?

“Oh, your grandma got around pretty good in those days,” Nellie quipped.

“Oh, your grandma was beautiful,” one of her visitors gushed. “And a very nice lady.”

How can an enterprising reporter hold up, in the face of comments both sly and complimentary?

Palmer homestead Scio Ohio

Another view of the old Palmer homestead in Scio, Ohio as it appeared in March 2011.

Tracing the Tree Back — Johnson & Palmer Roots

Nellie was keenly interested in some of the stops on my genealogy tour, asking about the state of the Palmer homestead, where her mother grew up and generations of the family farmed before that.

She was more interested, though, in how my parents were doing, and my wife and kids. “They should come and see me,” she said. And who could argue?

The visit ended much too soon. And I felt, not for the first time, that I’d already crammed way too much into three short days. And felt the weight, in leaving, of not knowing how soon my path would wind back her way again.

But in the work of honoring our ancestors, there are still volumes rich with information to mine.

Nellie had shared with her daughter, Sara (who in turn helps spread the word and get the family tree in order on and, the tale of her grandfather, Thomas Johnson, a Civil War mule skinner who died on a march through Mississippi in 1864. And there is limited info to go on past that, but a definite location to dig into — Guernsey County, where the Johnsons seemed to have first set up shop in Ohio.

Other connections of the family to the great conflict between the states include that of Anna (Burkey) Johnson’s father, Joseph Burkey, a soldier in Company B of the 126th regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Military records indicate he served from May 1864 through June 1865. I’ve visited his grave and snapped a picture there, but I’d love to hunt down a photo, and more info on his time in the war.

Meanwhile, Sara has traced the Palmer connection back through Harrison County farmfields and beyond, to the Balmers of 16th century Germany. A good, yawning gap of time to gape at, and wonder at all the ancestors — and their stories — in between.

Erma Foutz Miller Nellie Johnson Fitzgerald

Colt’s Grandma Erma and her older sister Nellie at his high school graduation, in 1994.

Johnson Leonard Virginia Nellie

A pic of the oldest Johnson kids — Leonard, Nellie and Virginia — about 1916.

Categories: Foutz, Johnson, newsletter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Good Countenance #12: Minnie (Hammersley) Ley

Irma Haines Chris Wiand Minnie Ley

Minnie (Hammersley) Ley: Vintage Visages

Greetings, family and familiars, on what would have been Grandpa Robert Earl Ley Jr.’s 97th birthday.

Been awhile, but the genealogy train keeps on chugging, with certain dedicated, extended relatives at the controls, making an unexpected stop every now and again. This is a dispatch from Mac and Brad Wilcox, distant cousins through the far-flung Ley line, and proprietors of the site Kin Connection.

Today’s treat? We finally get to pin down — or rather, gaze upon — a great-great-grandmother who remained the only ancestor of that generation for whom I hadn’t discovered a photo. And now we can see her for ourselves. Meet Great-Great-Grandma Minnie Eillene (Hammersley) Ley!

As Mac related in a recent email:

My brother Brad and I have about 3,000 photos and hundreds of documents done so far. Perhaps we are half-way.

We came across the attached photos yesterday that were in a  scrapbook maintained by my great aunt, Mary Ellen Wing (1891-1972).  She was responsible for saving many of the photos and documents that we are all now enjoying.  Mary, who wrote the identifications on these photos,  was the youngest child of Adeline Sperling, who in turn was the youngest child of Abraham and Catherine Sperling.

Unfortunately, neither photo was dated, but we have some educated guesses as to the details.

One photo is labeled “Irma- Uncle Chris -Minnie Ley”.  I am reasonably sure that the picture includes Christian Wiand (1844-1934), center; Minnie Eileen Hammersley Ley (1965-1929), at right; and Irma Haines Ley (1900-1945), daughter of Minnie Ley, at left.

I suspect this was taken in the back yard of the Wiand home at the corner of Main and High in Port Washington. The foliage indicates summer, probably mid-1920’s.

The other photo is labeled “Earl + sons + Uncle Chris”.  This photo also includes Christian Wiand and clearly was taken in the front yard of the Wiand house, since the house across the street, at the right edge of the photo, is still there, looking at Google maps.

I presume “Earl” is Robert Earl Ley (1883-1959), at left.  Robert Earl Ley Jr (1918-2008) is holding the baby, and Richard Earl Ley (1927-1933) is next to Christian Wiand. This photo looks like it was taken in spring before the trees leafed out.

One guess as to the baby, which I think is a girl, is Mary Ellen Ley (1931-2011),  daughter of Lester Ley and Daisy Nan Shively. Perhaps this was before/after her Christening, maybe in the Spring of 1932. Perhaps you can confirm this or set me right.

Earl Ley and Sons, Christian Wiand

Filling in the Family Foliage

I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear of a trove of forgotten photos, I burn to see what — more importantly, who — is in there.

Mac and brothers, remember, shared the goods on fourth great-grandparents Abraham and Catherine Sperling, as well as the crucial details and a breathtaking glimpse of third Great-Grandmother Hattie (Sperling) Hammersley Wiand. Two crucial discoveries there were the cause of death for Great-Great-Great Grandfather James Hammersley, taken during a tragic accident while working on the Erie Canal; and the story of her second husband, Christian Wiand, a successful Port Washington hardware merchant who grew into more than just a stepfather/stepgrandfather to later generations of Leys. He was truly a member of the family.

These and other photos reveal those gatherings in a way that invites you to step in.

For the first time — for me, anyway — we meet my great-grandfather Earl Ley’s sister, Irma (Ley) Haines, arm in arm with her mother and step-grandfather.

We again visit what I feel Mac has accurately pegged as the front yard of Chris’s place in Port Washington, though the criscrossing sidewalks and hard bricked corner of the place at first suggested to me a church. But maybe that’s the suggestion of the christening playing on my imagination.

I can’t say for certain, though the dates seem to line up right. My first inkling is that Grandpa Robert Earl Ley Jr., youthful in the above photo, could even have been holding his brother Dickie. For that to have been the case, though, we’d be looking at a photo from September 1927 (88 years ago!), and grandpa would be just 9. He looks older to me….

The only other photo I’ve seen of Dickie is the portrait below. So, if Mac is correct, this is another glimpse of father and sons, as well as a young relative. If the occasion is, indeed, Mary Ellen Ley’s christening in 1931 (I didn’t even have Mary Ellen in my working tree), then grandpa would be about 12-13, and Dickie around 4, which seems to fit the little boy in the photo.

So, still some gaps to fill in. But we’ve bridged a crucial gap missing from the collection of ancestral faces on our tree. Hello, dear Great-Great Grandmother Minnie Ley.

Ley Richard c. 1930

Richard “Dickie” Ley aboard a bicycle, early 1930s.

Categories: Ley, newsletter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

1931 Dover Crimsons Replica Jersey — A Christmas Story

1931 Dover Crimsons Halfback Don Foutz

Colt’s grandfather, Don Foutz, set records as starting halfback for Dover in 1931 that would stand for more than six decades.


Recreating Grandpa Foutz’s Football Jersey

It was the doldrums of summer, 2014, and I found myself in a bit of a doldrums myself.

My company of 6 years, VivaKi, had just navigated a series of reorganizations, and on a fateful August morning I learned my task for the following two months: dismantling the 45-person Creative team I’d built since 2008 and saying farewell to my dozen-strong Paid Search team as well.

Oh yeah, and to VivaKi, too.

In the midst of that final transitional slog, I was determined to draw inspiration from whatever sources I could whip up. Among the sparks: throwing myself into a daily workout regimen, mining new business connections in Sioux Falls, soaking in all that summer — and pending severance — could offer, and, in a short list I’d made of dream projects I might get to before the new job kicked off, exploring the creation of a replica jersey to honor my grandfather, Don Foutz.

Grandpa had been a source of fascination for me for nearly my entire life. We lost him far too young, in 1980, at 66. My dad was 28 then. Having benefited form his patient and loving example for nearly 39 years now, I couldn’t imagine having that light cut short as a young man and new father. And having only vague memories of Grandpa Foutz, since I was only 4 years old when he passed away, I found myself seeking to know him, and his family origins, as I grew into a young man with a family of my own.

This blog is filled with the fruits of those efforts. We know about the Foutz (then Pfouts) family’s origins in Wuerttemberg, and patriarch Michael Pfoutz making the journey to America in 1787. We’ve traced our origins through Maryland, and then Harrison County, Ohio from 1810 to 1901, and then on to Dover, which has been home base for our family for four generations.

Getting to know grandpa has meant getting to know more about an essential tradition in my hometown. High school football has formed the core of autumn Fridays since Dover’s squad first suited up in the 1890s. And though I opted for cross country, marching band and track during my years at Dover High, I counted a brother, two uncles, my dad and, of course, grandpa, as familial connections to the gridiron, and have carried my diehard fandom for the Browns and Buckeyes as my own path has wound through Pennsylvania, Illinois and on to South Dakota.

That Dover’s traditions were my own made discovering grandpa’s exploits as star halfback for some of Dover’s first great teams all the more awesome. This blog has recorded those discoveries. Three brief examples: Pictures to commemorate Don Foutz’s 100th birthday, when for a time, I didn’t have any in my possession. A series in 2010 that recounted every game of the 1931 season, culminating in grandpa’s record 220 rushing yards against arch rival New Philadelphia, a mark that stood for 64 years. And, most recently, an examination of the principal players in the 1929 rivalry game, during which grandpa threw a game-losing (for Dover) interception to distant cousin Earl Foutz — though they never knew they were related.

For Christmas, 2011, I collected my blogs and scanned each page of grandpa’s football scrapbook, bound it up and presented the book to my father and three brothers. After moving far from home to Sioux Falls in 2012, I blew up some of the glorious game shots from 1931 of grandpa in action, framed them, and hung that history in our family room, site of many a Saturday spent sweating out Ohio State drives.

This has been my way of hanging on to family history and a sport that runs through our genes. That history makes the game far more enjoyable to me than if I was just following the box scores — a quaint term, there — of today with no memory of the storied past. You could say I’m a bit of an obsessive — opting for a hacked 2008 version of Madden for PC, even as breathtaking updates for game consoles receive annual release, so I can play the 1950 Browns, even the old Buckeyes, in uniforms and stadiums rendered in all their bootleg glory. And when it comes to showing my team colors, I’m more likely to opt for a Woody Hayes cap, or a commemorative 2002 OSU Championship T-shirt (not to mention a 1960 basketball championship tee), or a classic wool 1915 Augustana College cap (nod to my wife’s alma mater) than swathing myself in today’s polyester and mesh bandage material with the names of “stars” unlikely to stick around or attain any weight to their names.

When it comes to celebrating my love of football, and saluting my hometown and family that developed that love, I could think of no better — no cooler — way to embody that history than somehow recreating my grandpa’s 1931 Dover Crimsons jersey. And sharing that celebration with my family. But how?


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Ebbets Field Flannels for the Win


Like a lot of kids, my admiration of sports uniforms — the designs, the colors, the functional cut — probably grew exponentially with the tens of thousands of football, baseball and basketball cards I collected. As a budding writer and history buff, the stats and bio snippets on the backs were equally engrossing.

Even as my bookshelves grew heavy with sports tomes and their giddy tales and even giddier glimpses at the past, nothing quite captivated me with its blend of stories, images and, as a knockout bonus, “gettable” apparel the way a certain catalog did in 1990.

That summer, my dad’s Sports Illustrated profiled a new company in Seattle that produced “vintage authentic” baseball jerseys from the old, old days. Ebbets Field Flannels took their name from founder Jerry Cohen’s hometown Brooklyn Dodgers, and paired a nose for research with a dogged commitment to authenticity to track down the old mills, the actual fabrics and the handmade processes that went into the flannel works of art of a bygone era.

That these replica jerseys and caps could be bought and worn ranked second in my fascination with the Ebbets catalog itself. I’d signed up virtually the moment I read the last word in the SI piece, and though the prices were out of reach for my 14-year-old self, I savored every page of the catalog when it arrived in the mail, poring over the old names, stadiums, leagues obscure and renowned, and pages and pages of unique, colorful apparel with history.

With a growing family and the usual list of expenses, I didn’t indulge in my Ebbets obsession beyond grabbing a Portland Lucky Beavers T-shirt in college, and snapping up that Woody’s Cap — a partnership with Homage — after moving to Sioux Falls. But this summer I took advantage of a rare $100 jersey sale and chose another team close to home, the Cleveland Buckeyes, 1945 champions of the Negro League. I was jubilant as a damn kid when the package arrived a couple days later. The outstanding, handmade quality and attention to historic detail made this instantly the favorite item in my closet.

So I had my eyes on Ebbets again when the company brought back a favorite I’d remembered from my teenage days devouring the catalog. Their hand-knit wool football jerseys set me dreaming about heading back to 1931 to produce a replica Dover Crimsons jersey.

But grandpa’s garb presented a unique challenge. “Friction strip” jerseys from the 1920s and ’30s are among the most sought after by collectors, with rare unearthed finds from teams of distinction selling for tens of thousands of dollars at auction, and examples of well-preserved uniforms from practically unknown teams still fetching hundreds and thousands.

There’s a reason why no one makes the jersey today. The canvas “friction strips” sewn into the chest and arms had long ago outlived their usefulness, dating back to when runners were only down by contact, and when the refs’ whistles blew, and the rough fabric helped players hold onto the ball. Despite the often gorgeous geometric designs in the era’s uniforms, all that material — yarn, wool, felt and hand-sewn canvas fabric — makes it an impractical, and expensive, jersey to produce.

If anyone could do it right, I figured it would be Ebbets. But their custom flannel page, itself an inspiration for jersey buffs dreaming up the perfect apparel, advertised only baseball duds. But with the release of football and hockey wear, I decided to take a chance.

I emailed them in early October, after first gut-checking my dream project with my brothers, who, to their credit, were all-in from the beginning. I got a quick, and respectful, response. But a “no” answer all the same. Or rather, a not yet. Ebbets was gearing up to roll out more football jerseys in the coming months, but had tied up their unique, era-authentic knitting machines through the early spring. Christmas was not going to be an option.

But then, a lightning bolt. A second email hit my inbox from Jerry Cohen — founder of Ebbets. Jerry offered to oversee the project if we could get a minimum wholesale order together and promised to do his best to hit our Christmas deadline. Wow!


Tracking Down a Family Gem

The dream project was now gaining footing. Instead of presenting only my dad with a replica of grandpa’s 1931 jersey, we quickly recruited cousins Whitney and Lauren, Justin and Ketter, to produce jerseys for uncles Bob and Don, and a few for ourselves as well. I had a feeling my 14-year-old self might even be impressed.

Even though we had to move quickly to get the work going for Christmas, the obsessive in me wanted to be sure to get the details right. And true to form, Ebbets wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Although I could supply dozens of pictures from all angles from my grandpa’s scrapbook and other historic accounts, and countless examples of Dover’s traditional crimson and gray, could we really be sure of the colors? A phone chat with Jerry revealed our contradictory opinions — through his long experience interpreting old black and white shots, he believed the main jersey fabric was probably gray, and the friction strips some shade of red, but thought the shoulder and cuff materials were likely darker, maybe even black. Knowing our rival New Philadelphia’s hated red and black shades, and the length of that rivalry stretching to 1896, I doubted it… but how could we be sure?

The question I needed to answer: had anyone seen a jersey from 1931 before? And what were its colors? I turned to some trusted hometown sources, and ended up being surprised beyond my wildest estimation.

At first, I came up empty. Denny Rubright, author of several books about Dover Crimsons/Tornadoes football history, thought he had once seen color pictures of legendary Doc Kelker, a 1931 teammate of grandpa, in uniform, but thought they may have been colorized after the fact. My old classmate Matt Lautzenheiser, historian and author of two books on Dover history, including on the Dover-Phila rivalry — and, coincidentally, the player who first broke grandpa’s 64-year-old single-game rushing record, in 1995 — had captured the stories from players on both sides, but details like uniform colors were lost to memory.

Newspaper accounts from that season mentioned the uniform only once, in the several-story followup to the big game against Phila. Apparently, that Thanksgiving day Dover had donned, for the first time, a special all-white getup, from painted leather helmet down to pants and shoes. This uniform wasn’t in evidence at all in any of the pictures from grandpa’s 1929-31 seasons — though it probably is the uniform depicted in coverage of Kelker’s great undefeated teams of 1932 and 1933, which makes sense, given that the uniform likely debuted in the 1931 finale.

I even checked in with classmate, now principal, Karie McIlvaine McDade, whose own family history in Dover is rich, in the hopes somehow, somewhere, a uniform had been on display or at least seen. No dice.

Finally, I followed up on a rumor I’d heard a few years back, that someone in town had closeted away a jersey from that 1931 season. Like most folks back home, the connections were deep with former superintendent Emmet Riley. He’s been a Mason for 75 years, like my late grandfather Dr. Robert Earl Ley Jr. and ancestors before him. He was superintendent while three Foutz uncles, one Ley uncle and four Ley aunts were at Dover High School. And, following a career that included stints coaching Strasburg basketball, he substitute-taught for my mom, Janet Ley, in Garaway and Dover city schools.

It was a delight talking to the 97-year-old Riley from his retirement home in Dover. And, to his recollection, the jersey had been tried and true red and gray, certainly not black. He remembered “having a jersey like that once,” and said he would try to track it down. I thought, well, good enough. That was likely the closest I’d get. Though, like Matt Lautzenheiser, as an author I’d come to view the fuzziness of memory — learned firsthand as a newspaper journalist and while researching my book on 60 years of the Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps — with a jaundiced eye.

I decided to pursue one more angle. I phoned the Dover Public Library to ask for some research legwork on any possible mention in the newspapers of 1929-31 of Dover’s uniform manufacture or colors. My next call would have been to the Reeves Home & Museum to see if they — longshot — might have a uniform in their holdings or on display. But I was lucky enough to chat with director Jim Gill.

Gill, in another (now common) coincidence, had been a roommate at Ohio State of my classmate Nate Aames, whom I’d just reconnected with at our 20th high school reunion in September. Gill knew Emmet’s son, Eric Riley, quite well, and volunteered to check with Eric to see if rumors of his father having a 1931 Dover jersey were true. Barring that, Gill would put the library’s research team to the task of scouring old papers.

They never got the chance.

To my indescribable awe, Gill phoned me back within a day or so and let me know that, yes, Eric thought he had come across an old Dover jersey while packing up his parents’ home. And in fact, he remembered intending to give that jersey to the Foutz family after conversations years ago. Why was that? Because the jersey was thought to be the actual jersey my grandpa Don Foutz wore in the 1930-31 seasons.

After some emails back and forth verifying the look of the jersey, and a couple phone calls comparing hometown bonafides — turns out, Eric had graduated with my Uncle Bob, and knew my uncle Don and dad, Fred, for years and years — Jim sent a goosebump-inducing picture of the jersey. There it was — grandpa’s #6 on the back and Emmet’s memory vindicated — though the friction strips had faded to pink, the jersey was undoubtedly the historic red and gray, through and through. Eric agreed to mail me the jersey in order that a new plan might take shape — to surprise my dad with his father’s actual gameworn jersey when we gathered in Nashville for Thanksgiving, with the replica to follow for Christmas.


History You Can Hold — Smiles, Memories, Tears

Ebbets, by now, had started knitting the jersey. Jerry indulged a couple questions from me, and set me to the enlightening task of measuring the jersey for their reference. (I wasn’t about to send it to Seattle, even though that made sense, with the big reveal scheduled for Thanksgiving.) I grew to admire even more the everyday craftsmanship back then.

I haven’t yet discovered who made the jersey — and part of me wants to imagine mothers cutting and sewing each friction strip to a stock long-sleeved sweater of the day — but the geometry, the dimensions, the design: Dad has called it a “superman suit,” and I agree, our imaginations fired, no doubt, by images of the old “Crimson Flash,” as grandpa was called that magical 1931 season, darting around end and bulling in for a touchdown.

We all decided to wait until all sons – Colt, Dan, Jake and Sam – were present after the Thanksgiving meal to sit Dad down and lay the whole ton of bricks on him. We honestly didn’t know how he’d respond. Puzzlement. Joy. Tears. I wrapped it up in tissue paper and sealed it in a designer clothes box, and rehearsed my spiel.

It had been such a story to this point, I didn’t have to do more than just note what we’d all done to make this quirky dream a reality. A bit of odd timing: the Dover football Twitter page, on Thanksgiving day, posted a throwback tweet on the 1931 Dover-Phila game with a pic from my grandpa’s scrapbook. I chuckled and traded quips with them, looking forward to sharing this whole story after it had played out.

I don’t know if Dad expected to open up a replica jersey, a placeholder coupon, or what. But his face changed, unhinged really, when he put his hands on grandpa’s actual jersey and held it up for examination. “He was kind of a little dude back then, wasn’t he?” Dad asked, gauging the long-sleeved medium or large grandpa’s then-superman frame would carry today. Tears came then. And smiles. And hugs.

Christmas was almost an anticlimax. But there were still goosebump shivers ahead. The Friday before Christmas, a call came through from Seattle. Ebbets!

They were confirming shipping addresses and I couldn’t help asking, “is it done? Can I see pictures?”

Jerry emailed his account of “one of the most challenging sewing projects we have ever undertaken”:

Because the original jersey is a different size than these, we had to make some compromises in the placement of the friction strips between the photos you sent, your measurements, and the actual dimensions on the jerseys. This is so that when it was finished it lined up proportionally as close to the original as possible. It all had to work together like a puzzle. The top “V” had to come down a little lower than in the picture so that the strips below it and to the sides could line up proportionally. If we had brought the “V” up higher, the vertical strips below and the ones on the sides would not have had the proper relative dimensions.

To our misty eyes, and to our hearts and bodies as we donned the jerseys the first time, the work was a masterpiece, and one we can all be proud of. The family spent Christmas trading selfies with each other. And I don’t know about my brothers and uncles and cousins, but I now have a new favorite in my closet. And feel closer than ever to my grandfather every time I put the “superman” Dover Crimsons suit on.

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100th Anniversary of Don Foutz’s Birth

Donald Dale Foutz

Donald Dale Foutz, March 4, 1914 to November 14, 1980

Donald Dale Foutz: 100th Birthday Slideshow

There was a time, not so many years ago, when I had no photographs to remember my Grandpa Don Foutz.

He died of lung cancer in 1980, when I was just 4. But I had glimmerings of memories, growing up.

A weekend staying with grandpa and Grandma Erma Foutz at their house at 115 Cross St. in Dover: waking up, I wandered from my dad’s old bedroom at the end of the hall to the bathroom next to their bedroom. Grandpa stood at the sink, then leaned over and helped me “wipe the sleep from (my) eyes.” It was the first time I’d heard the expression.

Their house was the province of puzzles — an old TV Cowboy one — and dominoes, the calico cats my grandma or one of her sisters made at the time, the big ugly wolf stuffed animal that was once my dad’s. And grandpa’s big sausage pillow. I remember him stretching out on the couch, propped up on it, his salt and pepper hair in the same crazy corkscrews mine resemble, most days.

I remember picnics in the backyard of our place at 1028 Dover Ave., and grilling out off the back porch of their place. It was always novel for Grandma and Grandpa Ley to join us in a cross-family, crosstown breaking of bread. The benefits of having moved back to our hometown.

Christmases, there and at our place. Mom’s sausage souffle and the tingling bells on our stockings. Grandpa’s voice calling out as he and grandma burst in — never a need for a knock — calling for my brother, “Danny. Hey, Danny!”

We visited him in Maryland near the end of his life, a trip I remember more for the wild horses on the beach at Assateague Island, and the novel elevator buttons and smell of the big NIH hospital where Grandpa was taken for experimental treatment of oat cell carcinoma.

I don’t remember his death, or funeral that November. But Dad and Mom have said he called Dan and me bedside and whispered the locations where grandma secreted her Christmas cookies. A good story.

My window on Don Foutz’s life was a brushstroke of sun, a mere sliver. Six percent of a life still far too short.

Through my family history research, I’ve been able to appreciate the full measure of his years. Discover what his family life was like, growing up. Detail his high school football exploits. Trace his work at Potschner Ford and in the Greer Steel Mill. Relive, through photographs, family gatherings.

Today, I’m blessed with countless photographs of my grandpa. A shot from his wedding day shares space atop our mantel with those of our parents and other grandparents. The picture heading this post sits next to a similarly y0uthful portrait of my grandma on a cozy bookshelf in our living room. There are photos of grandpa among other relatives in the collage by our dining table — family, gathering with my family. And downstairs, cool yellowed photos from his football scrapbook, dramatically framed and lending a bit of gravitas to the usual Technicolor nonsense blaring from the TV and surround sound speakers, most nights, all weekend.

Today would have been Don Foutz’s 100th birthday. I thought it a fitting tribute to share some of the photos I’ve collected in my research. And remember a lifetime, each in our own way.

Don Foutz: 66 Years in Photographs

(Scroll to view the gallery below, or click on any photo for a closeup slideshow.)

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Lizzie Foutz’s Lonely Life

135 N Summit St Harrisburg Pa

The home where Sherman Foutz lived out his last years, at 135 N. Summit St. in Harrisburg, Pa. His widow, Elizabeth, would relocate through a succession of residences in her final 30 years without Sherman.

Sherman Foutz Widow Stays in Harrisburg

The life of my great-great aunt Lizzie Foutz is one I’ve puzzled over for some time, and probably more than that of her well-known husband, Sherman Foutz.

Great-great Uncle Sherman’s life — and early death — after all, is more easily navigable for its documented rise and development and the decisive, tragic final chapter.

But the family left in the wake of Sherman’s losing fight with tuberculosis, at just 47, is harder to trace and understand. Cast out of the spotlight trained upon Sherman for his U.S. Treasury Department appointment, then leadership of the Knights of the Maccabees, then prominent fire insurance business in first Reading then Harrisburg, Pa., the family splits up in the decade after his death.

Earlier posts in this series, gathering new insights from a recent research binge on, have shed light on a few longstanding mysteries about Sherman’s descendants, including:

  • the business circumstances that brought Sherman Foutz from Reading to Harrisburg, Pa. about 1909, even after his family had acquired history-book status in Berks County
  • the omission in Sherman’s 1915 obituary and other circumstantial evidence that seemed to indicate his oldest child, Oscar, preceded him in death, when in fact, as revealed by Sherman’s death announcement (and other documentation we’ll get to), Oscar survived him, though he lived in faraway Arizona as one of his two sons — what happened to the other, and to Oscar’s wife? — lived for a time in Lizzie’s care.
  • the most complete tracing of what happened to Sherman’s family following his death can be found in the 1970 obituary of daughter Grace Foutz Chaney, and a 1969 feature on her life and teaching career in Ohio, though some of the facts are wrong, and mysteries still surround Grace’s childlessness, her choice to live 300 miles from her widowed mother and nieces and nephews, her sporadic but forgotten visits to my great-grandfather Vance (her uncle just 3 years her senior), and her habit of fudging her age, which ended up etched into her tombstone’s incorrect birthdate.

But it is the fate of Sherman’s widow, Elizabeth Wilson Foutz — Lizzie in census records and on personal possessions — that holds even greater intrigue than what we’ve picked through so far.

From Harrison County to Harrisburg, Pa.

According to a history of Berks County published in the first decade of the 1900s, Elizabeth Wilson was the daughter of John Wilson and grew up, like Sherman Foutz, in Harrison County, Ohio.

Born in October 1866, according to census records, Elizabeth Wilson grew up in a family of a dozen or so children. Unlike eldest child Sherman, born in September 1867 on a nearby farm to Jonathan and Rebecca Foutz, Elizabeth was second-youngest of that big brood.

Her parents, John and Mary, were Irish immigrants. They were married in Pittsburgh, Pa. about 1839, and their first children were born in Pennsylvania. By the time Jane “Jennie” Wilson was born in 1843, they were living and farming in Harrison County, Ohio.

The 1880 census is the last to catch Elizabeth Wilson and Sherman Foutz before their marriage, kids and move to Washington D.C. (The 1890 federal census was almost entirely destroyed in a fire.) At the time, Elizabeth is 16 and attending school; Sherman, at 13, also goes to school and his household includes sisters Lila, Rachel and Ida, and younger brother John. The family spells their name Pfoutz.

After graduating from the Harrison County public schools, Sherman attends New Hagerstown Academy in nearby Carroll County, an unprecedented level of education not only for the farming Foutzes as a clan, but for Sherman’s younger siblings as well.

On August 11, 1887, Sherman and Elizabeth are married. He is 19; she is two months shy of 21. Son Oscar will be born 15 months later in December 1888. Daughter Grace follows on Sept. 5, 1890, her birthday two days after her father’s. The family makes their home in Bowerston, where Sherman works in the fire insurance business. Sometime in the 1890s, he is appointed to a clerkship with the U.S. Treasury, during the second presidency of Grover Cleveland.

The 1900 census finds Sherman and Elizabeth and family sharing a house at 732 Flint St. in Washington D.C. with Jonathan, Rebecca and their youngest sons Charles and (Colt’s great-grandfather) Vance. The census catches them in June, just months before Jonathan and Rebecca would return home to Harrison County, where Jonathan would die of Bright’s Disease, a kidney ailment, in September at age 55.

According to the Berks County history, in April 1902 Sherman accepts a role as supervising deputy for the Knights of the Maccabees’ eastern Pennsylvania district. The family moves to Reading, where Sherman succeeds in growing the membership base from 92 to more than 3,500 over the course of the decade.

Property sales records show the Foutzes selling their Reading home in 1909 and moving 60-some miles west to the capital city of Harrisburg, where Sherman continues his Maccabees leadership for a few more years before taking charge of the Protective Home Circle, an insurance collective, in 1913.

About that time, the family moves into a brand new house at 135 N. Summit St. in Harrisburg. Not far from Sherman’s insurance offices on 2nd Street, the red brick home abuts North Terrace Park and boasts 4 bedrooms and 1,900 square feet, according to Trulia stats. A pretty piece of real estate at the time, the family would not stay there long during a tumultuous conclusion to the 1910s.

Foutz Lizzie Glass 1910

A ruby glass uncovered in 2013 at an Ohio auction bears the name of Great-Great Aunt Lizzie Foutz and seems to date from a Modern Woodmen of America benefit in 1910.

Rare Foutz Find: Glass an Artifact of Happier Times

In the years I’ve researched Sherman Foutz’s family and descendants, I’ve turned up numerous photos of Sherman, in portraits and official Maccabees invitations, even newspaper caricatures. Thanks to the Morelands (family of sister Ida), we’ve got a four generations portrait of Grace and her father about 1910 with grandma Rebecca Foutz and great-grandma Rachel Caldwell.

No portrait or picture of mom Lizzie B. (Wilson) Foutz exists, that I’ve found. Same for son Oscar.

We’ve got obituaries to bracket the lives and lend order to the stories of Sherman and Grace. But Oscar comes up missing ink. And until recently, Lizzie did, too. The only clues were census records, and even those were incomplete.

We know that, following Sherman’s death in 1915, Lizzie turns up in 1920 and 1930 still living in Harrisburg.

In 1920, grandson Ralph, 11, is the only carryover from her 1910 household. Sherman, Grace and Oscar are gone. A new addition is 14-year-old foster daughter Catherine, whose birthplace is listed as Pennsylvania and whose parents are listed as born in the United States. Not listed in their house in 1910, and not mentioned in Sherman’s death announcement or obituary, interestingly, Catherine was probably adopted after Lizzie was widowed, when she was as old as 9 or 10.

Never having been listed as employed before, through her 20s and 30s, Lizzie, at 45, now works as a cook in the Elks home. She also hosts two roomers at the family’s rented house at 59 N. Tenth St. — 44-year-old widow Lydia Farber, a cook at a factory restaurant, and her 14-year-old daughter Helen Farber.

By 1930, Lizzie and Catherine Foutz are the sole members of their household, renting an apartment with dozens of other families (in the building, I’m presuming) at 412 Briggs St., about where the State Museum of Pennsylvania stands today, though their address is also listed in a 1930 city directory as 910 N. Third, right around the corner. Their ages are reported, erroneously, as 52 and 20. They should be 55 and 24.

Elizabeth doesn’t work according to the 1930 census, while Catherine is employed as a stitcher in a shoe factory. (The city directory says she is a folder.)

We know from the 1940 census that Catherine is living in Lititz, Pa., about halfway between Harrisburg and Reading. She is married to John Roy Rutt, a cutter in an asbestos factory. Catherine is not employed.

Lizzie vanishes from the public record at this point. Though I have scoured census records in Harrisburg, going neighborhood by neighborhood, I can’t find her. She doesn’t live with Grace in Ohio or Catherine in Lititz, or grandson Ralph in Harrisburg; nor does she show up in the residences of her two surviving siblings. And aside from knowing her death year — 1945 — for a time, I had no inkling of where she was after 1930.

But there, in the newspaper archives of the Harrisburg Telegraph, was her obituary. I try not to take such sudden revelations as a personal judgment on all the hours I’d sunk in prior to that moment. I’ll take it as a stroke of luck instead.

From Dec. 13, 1945:

Foutz Lizzie death Harrisburg Telegraph Dec 1945

From this snippet, we learn that Lizzie was still living in Harrisburg up until her hospitalization in Lancaster (down the river from Harrisburg and south of Lititz). The place is a grassy lot today.

We learn that Oscar may be still alive — and living in Charlotte, N.C. Her obit also confirms just two grandsons  (from Oscar and Florence) — and that Ralph and Sherman are still living. The five great-grandchildren are probably all from Ralph and wife Virginia (Henson) Foutz: Nicholas, Charles, Catherine, Arthur and newborn Grace, not yet a month old when her great-grandmother Elizabeth died.

Lizzie’s body would be returned to Bowerston for burial. She is laid to rest in Longview Cemetery, across from Sherman.

And that’s her story, as much as we can piece together. Still, there are sudden connections that surprise.

Late last spring, around the time of my son Caleb’s birth (a busy time, and part of the reason for the delay in sharing), I was emailed by Nancy Dionne. She was hunting auctions in Zanesville, Ohio and came across a ruby shot glass with a crystal bottom, inscribed “Lizzie Foutz” and “M.W. of A.” with the date 1910.

The glass was thrown in as an “add-on” to a piece of pottery Nancy wanted. Curious about its origins, though, Nancy and fellow treasure hunters chatting in collectors weekly’s forums searched online and found this blog. M.W. of A, Nancy and company found out, was likely Modern Woodmen of America (one of Sherman Foutz’s many affiliations), and the 1910 event may have been a function at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1910.

Nancy was kind enough to mail the glass to me. Now this relic of my great-great aunt Lizzie Foutz’s mysterious life sits atop a bookshelf on the right side of our fireplace and mantle full of family photographs. Here’s hoping that continued piecing together of our family’s past, and sharing in this space, can lead to even more illuminating connections.

Foutz Lizzie Glass 2

Another view of the Lizzie Foutz glass uncovered by Nancy Dionne in a Zanesville, Ohio auction. M.W. of A. likely stands for Modern Woodmen of America, one of Sherman Foutz’s many affiliations.

Categories: Foutz, newsletter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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