Do you remember: William and Viola Torry

By Richard Karns

Special to the Herald Review

To get the facts for writing this article, I talked to their daughter, Betty Torry Pontz. When we met, she brought with her pictures and a lot of other written information about both sides of her family.

William Torrey was born in 1899. His mother died soon after he was born and his father died while he was still very young. William went from one family to another, and when he stayed with the Torry family, he took their last name. William's life growing up wasn't easy, and in some cases it was downright harsh.

At the age of 17, he lied about his age to get into the U.S. Army during World War I. After he left the service he dropped the "e" from his last name, and from that point on it was spelled Torry. William, always called Bill, Torry had one sister, Leona, who kept the "e" in her last name and married Art Ruppert. In talking with Betty, there wasn't a lot she remembers about her dad's family.

Henry Gaedcke was born in 1866 and died in 1931, and Matilda Gaedcke was born in 1969 and died in 1953. Their children were John, Henry, Fredericka (called Aunt Rickie), Fonica (called Aunt Fanny) and Viola. All of the children were born at what is now the centennial farm near Hawkins. After the death of their parents, John and his family continued to live and farm the land. Henry built his farm next to John and Fredericka Gaedcke Knuth has her farm a mile to the south of her brothers.

When Bill came home from the service, he saw Viola passing by one of the schools in Reed City, and at one point asked her for a date. When Viola told her mother, she was told she could not date him. According to Betty, her grandmother said that William was known as a "bad boy." Bill talked to Mrs. Gaedcke to explain his intentions in dating Viola. During their conversation, Mrs. Gaedcke realized, when Bill told her he lived in Reed City, she recognized him as the little boy she used to babysit for. Remembering the rough life he had growing up, Mrs. Gaedcke consented to Viola dating him.

Bill and Viola were married in 1922 and made their home on Davenport Street in Reed City. They had 10 children and raised seven of them: Marvin, Arlene, Marjory, Betty, Alvin, Bill and Dale. All of the children were born at home except for Bill and Dale.

Bill was a machinist and had his own shop behind their house. He worked for Bernie Hafer at the engine shop on Higbee Street before going into business for himself. He worked hard at his business and continued to do work for Hafer Engines as one of his clients. Viola was busy working at home. She did work for a couple of years at Wolverine after Dale was older.

Raising a family that size during The Depression wasn't easy. It was an all-consuming effort on the part of both Bill and Viola to make sure the family had the necessities they needed. Making do with what you had was part of that effort. Handing down clothes from one child to another or saving baby clothes from one pregnancy to another was important, and a common practice during that time. Nothing went to waste.

Betty recalls her mother telling her that she worried before Betty was born, that she wouldn't have the baby items she was going to need.  Betty is the fourth child, and there are six years between her and Marjory, so much of the supply of baby clothes were depleted by that time. Betty's mother told her one day there was a knock on the door. When Viola answered the door, no one was there, but someone had left four boxes of baby clothes.

When Betty was 4 years old, her dad made her a table and chairs, along with a cupboard and cradle with a cat on the front. Her folks bought a doll for a buggy she had, along with a set of dishes. Betty said she still has the cradle and it is one of her most prized possessions.

They were a close family and always played cards or other games. Betty shared that she would walk to and from school to eat lunch at home, like many other town kids did. She enjoyed listening to the radio after school listening to "Super Time Frolics." Their family liked to go for car rides and if they rode any distance, her folks would buy bologna and cheese as a snack. They also had a yearly reunion at Wolf Lake.

According to Betty, going to a restaurant didn't happen very often, but when they did, it was when they went to Grand Rapids. On one occasion when they went to the Toledo Zoo, they not only ate in a restaurant, but spent the night in a motel.

Betty told me that on one of their day trips they went to "the bridge," which was a bridge in Manistee. There were steps that allowed you to be close to the water. When Betty was dating Glen Pontz (her future husband), she asked him to go with her family to the bridge.

It needs to be stated, too, that the Torry family was civic-minded in many ways. On one occasion they, along with the Reed City Jaycees, erected a flag pole at the new hospital on Patterson Road. The flag pole is still there.

The photo with this article was taking in 1972 on William and Viola's 50th anniversary. William died a year later and Viola died in 1986. Betty's documented history about her family is a real treasure. It tells the story of her parents, that even during hard times, they were a family of love for each other, showing strength and perseverance.