Do you remember: Leo and Esther Wekenman

(Courtesy photo)
(Courtesy photo)

By Richard Karns

Special to the Herald Review

The information to write this article was given to me by Leona Wirth and Marvel Mund, children of Leo and Esther. Leona has many scrapbooks and other written information about her parents and their parents, and it made writing this a lot easier.

This story starts in 1869 when Stanilaus Wekeman, his wife, Justine, and their four children, Henry, Charles, Ernest and August immigrated to the United States from Germany and settled in Richmond Township in Osceola County. Their youngest, August, married Bertha Beilfus on Nov. 23, 1878. Bertha was the daughter of William and Hanna Schmidt Beilfus, whose family was from Germany. They started their lives farming in Richmond Twp. and had eight children: Mary, Helena, Ellen, Frank, Clara, Martha, Lottie and Leo.

Leo Bonapart Wekenman was born in 1898, and along with his siblings helped his parents run the farm. Leo married Esther Stoll on Feb. 20, 1921. Esther was the daughter of Charles and Jennie Stoll. Leo was a hard worker. Besides working on the farm, he worked at other places in Reed City to make ends meat. He was employed at the Kooper Tie Plant, the railroad, Dickerson's Lumber Co., the Milk Plant in the boiler room, and for several years ran the gas company on the curve south of Reed City where Tiels used to be. Leo also drive a school bus for St. Philip Neri during the school season. Esther, although she didn't work out of the home, eight children and a house to keep was all she needed to keep busy. Their children consisted of Eva, Marian, Douglas, Leona, Leon, Lois, Marvel and Gene.

Both Leo and Esther were people of faith. Leo was a member of the Knights of Columbus Council No. 1300 in Big Rapids, the Holy Name Society and the Richmond Twp. Grange. Esther was a member of the St. Philip Neri Altar Society and the Richmond Twp. Grange. Marvel shared with me that they would both attend the Christmas party at the Grange Hall and would be asked to sing. Both Leo and Esther were talented. Marvel said her parents would be asked to sing at weddings and other events. Esther loved to play the piano and when all the work was done she should play while the kids put puzzles together. They would join in singing as she played.

Many will be able to relate to the experiences of Leona and Marvel growing up in those times. Leona said it was expected that everyone in the family would do their share. She, along with the others, not only milked the cows, which they usually had eight or 10, but also needed to work in the fields. Leo, along with his father, hauled stones from the fields to build the foundation for the Catholic Church that was on Chestnut Street.

As big as their houses were, many times there was only one register in the floor to heat the upstairs. Marvel said she remembers trying to beat her sister to the register to warm her feet before going downstairs in the wintertime. Leona said it was nothing to see a glass of water have ice on it in the morning.

Both Leona and Marvel said the family was close, and often when time allowed would play games like baseball and cards or put puzzles together.

Both Leona and Marvel commented on their mother's good cooking. Esther would bake enough bread for the week. She would have the bread dough in a dishpan; when my mother did that we called it "dishpan bread." Esther would place the dough in the back of the wood stove on the reservoir to let it rise and then it could be baked. Besides the cinnamon rolls, their mother would a mocha cake from an old German recipe on special occasions. Marvel still makes it today and it consists of a cake cut in pieces and covered in frosting with crushed peanuts.

During World War II, it was a scary time for not only the Wekenman family, but for many in the Reed City area and the country who had a child in harm's way. The day Douglas came home from the Army, his youngest brother Gene was born.

The Wekenmans have been part of Reed City almost from the beginning and have left their mark. I have known most of the family  of Leo and Esther. I graduated from high school with Gene and still meet up with him most days at McDonald's for coffee. I am not related through blood, but have always felt fortunate to be by marriage. Doug married Esther Briggs, and I married her youngest sister, Joan. Leo and Ester Wekenman would be proud of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.