Do you remember: Fred and Esther Karns

By Richard Karns

Special to the Herald Review

Lucius Wesley Karns (known as L.W.), was born in 1896 in Hastings. Sophia Marie Rapp was born in 1873 in Grand Rapids. They were married on Nov. 14, 1894, in Grand Rapids, and started housekeeping in Hastings. They had five children: Franky (1896-1963), Frederick (1899-1971), Lavette (first name was Milford, but always went by his middle name), Mildred and Laura.

My father was Frederick Parmer Karns, born on Jan. 3, 1899. When my dad was 4 years old, the family moved from Hastings to LeRoy on an 180-acre farm on Beaver Creek. In the rest of this article I will refer to L.W. and Sophia Karns as grandpa and grandma — it sounds strange not to.

Grandpa was a salesman that sold commodities and other household items to Michigan and the surrounding states, so he was gone from the farm quite a bit of the time. Grandma and the three older children ran the farm. There wasn't a lot of time to both work the farm and complete a formal education; the two youngest girls were the only ones who graduated from high school.

At the age of 14, my dad was sent to find work in Reed City to help support the farm. Dad worked in the lumber mills and earned $1 a day. He paid $14 a month for room and board and the rest of the money went to the needs of the farm and family. Soon after, Aunt Franky, being three years younger than dad, married James Chrysler and started her own family. Uncle Levette managed the running of the farm alongside grandma. Grandpa Karns died in 1929 and grandma in 1970.

Dad went back to the farm on on occasion. Once when he was back home, he went to a church function that ended in auctioning off box lunches (a box social). Dad bid on the box belonging to Esther Holmquist. Mother really didn't know dad that well, but had heard of him because she had dated Levette before. Not only did mom and dad eat lunch together, but unknowingly mom was coming down with chicken pox and gave them to dad.

Nels Albin Holmquis was born in Omet, Sweden, in 1871 and at the age of 12 came to the LeRoy area with his parents and a sister. Melda Mae Lockhart was born in 1881 and was married in LeRoy in 1901. They had 10 children: Esther, John, Jennie, Frank, James, Mildred, Doris, Minnie, Albin (known as Mike) and Albina.

Esther, my mother, was born on March 13, 1902, and was the oldest. Because she was the oldest, a lot of the household chores and keeping track of the children fell to her. It took both grandma and grandpa to do the farming.

When mother was still quite young, she was sent to work at the general store in Edgetts owned by Mr. and Mrs. Chris Noder. Besides the money earned from working at the store, she would babysit for the Lickert family, and would bring back to the farm food items, cloth for clothes and other items. Mom told me she also would bring candy, which was a real treat. Because of the need for mother to help with watching her siblings and working, she wasn't able to go beyond the eighth grade in her formal education.

The chicken pox episode didn't hinder the relationship, because on April 10, 1921, Fred and Esther were married in the First Congregational Church in Reed City. The only religious life growing up that mother had was when living at Edgetts with the Noder family, so she was married in the church dad attended.

After living a short time with dad's parents in LeRoy, they purchased a house at 335 E. Slosson Ave. in Reed City and started their family. Mom and dad raised 12 children and mother had one miscarriage, named Doris Roberta, who was stillborn in 1939.

The 12 living children include Parmer, Gertrude, Margaret (Peggy), Arlene, Arnold, Frederick, Esther (called by her middle name, Maxine), Norman, David, Naomi, Joan and Richard. When David was 9 months old, the family moved to a larger house at 416 N. Sears St. The only children born in a hospital were the youngest three.

Dad was a foreman on the C/O Railroad and would put in long hours, sometimes getting home from work only to get a call that would require him to go back out and investigate an incident. If a train killed a cow or did some property damage along dad's section, dad would meet with the farmer or there would be a loose rail that would need to be looked at.

Mother was always busy, too, keeping house for all of us kid, cooking, baking, doing the wash — and still would take in washings and ironing for other people to make extra money for the family. It wasn't uncommon for mother to bake six or seven loaves of bread several times a week, along with rolls, pies and other great tasting treats. One thing both mom and dad agreed on was that all of us kids would graduate from high school.

Every one of us had chores to do. When we would gripe about doing them, dad would tell us in no uncertain terms that we lived there too and we were expected to do our share. We always had two cows, pigs, rabbits and sometimes chickens that would need taking care of. We lived on the edge of the city and across the road was Richmond Township where we staked out the cows for grazing. We always had a large vegetable garden that we worked in. Most of us would work during the summers picking beans, pickles, cherries, strawberries and other seasonal fruits for extra money for spending or for helping buy extra school clothes we wanted.

When it comes to my parents, I wish I could have known them when they were young. Dad was 45 and mother 42 when I was born. I really am in awe when I think about my parents. I had only three children and at times lived paycheck to paycheck. My parents raised and educated 12 children and never had much money to spare. Both of my parents were honest and always paid their bill. My siblings and I had great parents and role models. They weren't perfect, but I wouldn't have wanted any other.

Dad died on Jan. 29, 1971. Mother died on June 23, 1990. At the head of their graves is a commemorative stone that says it all:

"Thank you, God, for the lives of Fred and Esther Karns, and for the privilege of being their children, we numbered twelve."