Nearly forgotten Uncle Donnie

Uncle Donnie

Uncle Donnie

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge this week is “nearly forgotten”.  The first person to come to mind was my Uncle Donnie.  I wrote his story in 2013 and am re-posting it today.  I loved this man, and I am sad about all the years that were lost with him. To find out about Donnie’s nearly forgotten life read on.

My father’s brother was mentally challenged.  Back when my father was growing up the term used was mentally retarded.  His brother, Donnie, was 14 years younger than him.  I don’t know if Donnie was born that way or if something happened after birth.  This was in the 1930’s, and they did not know as much as they do today on how to treat people with mental retardation.  He lived at home with my grandparents, and my grandmother did the best she knew how.  My grandmother died the year before I was born so I never knew her.  When she died, my grandfather had to make a tough decision of what to do with Donnie.  He had to go to work and could not leave him at home alone.  He could not afford to have someone come in and take care of him.  He decided to put Donnie in a state mental hospital.  My father and grandfather would go visit him regularly.   After my grandfather passed away in 1955, my mother and father would go see Donnie and send him clothes and things.  As a little girl, I would ask to go along.  My parents always refused to take me.  My father said “You never know what these people are going to do”, and he didn’t think it was safe to take me.  I asked why he couldn’t live with us.  My dad explained that Donnie couldn’t be left alone.  You never knew what he was going to do. He could set the house on fire, or hurt my brother or me.  He could not use the washroom on his own. There were more reasons, but now I can’t remember all of them now.  After many years went by,  my mom and dad quit going.  My father claimed that Donnie didn’t even know him anymore.  

In 1984 my dad passed away and my mother followed in 1987.  My brother and I had never met Donnie, and by this time it had been so long since my parents had visited that we didn’t even know where he was at.  We didn’t know how to go about finding him.  For ten years after my mother’s death, we didn’t try to find him.  Then one day my brother was going through some papers of my mothers, and he found some information that told what state hospital Donnie was in.  He contacted the hospital and Donnie was no longer there, but they were able to tell my brother that Donnie was still alive and where he was now residing.  My brother then called the hospital where Donnie resided, and he was told that Donnie was doing OK.  They invited us to come see him.  They seemed thrilled to find out that this man had a family.

In April of 1997 my brother and I made a day trip to see Donnie, and I met my uncle for the first time.  He looked at us with curiosity.  His nurse told him we were his family.  He shook our hands, and we sat on a porch.  He had a hard time communicating.  But you could see he was taking in everything.  I think he knew way more that he was able to communicate.  I asked him questions which he couldn’t answer, and told him that I was his Brother George’s daughter.  He repeated, “George”.  I told him George was in heaven with his mother and father.  He seemed to understand.  I asked him if he watched baseball and did he like the Cubs.  He said, “The Cubs suck.”  He would make hand motions when he wanted something.  He started pulling on his shirt and trying to unbutton it.  I asked him if he was uncomfortable and he said, “shirt sucks.”  He also said a few swear words that came out clear.  Other than that most of what he said, I could not understand.  But I felt we made a connection with him.  I asked him if he could give me a hug and he did.  When he was given commands he obeyed them.  He knew what was being said to him.  He was able to go to the bathroom by himself and keep himself clean.  They told us if we came back to bring pictures of my dad and grandparents.  He resembled my father and was a kind man.  He was not as bad off as my father had described.  Maybe it was because they knew more in recent years on how to help people with mental disabilities.  The administrator showed us his records going back to when he was admitted in 1946.  We did go back many times after that day, and brought my husband and children.  We went there for special events like Christmas parties, picnics, etc. We brought pictures of my dad and grandparents.  He ran his fingers over the picture of my dad and said, “George”.   I brought a picture of his mother and he said, “Ma”.  Another time he told me that his mother was with God.  He made me tear up many, many times.   Donnie would tear up when he saw us.  So I believe he knew we were his family.  My brother brought him a video of trains because we remembered my father saying he liked trains, and my father would take him to the train yards to look at the trains. I looked forward to each visit.  I had fallen in love with my Uncle Donnie.  Unfortunately, Donnie had a heart attack and died in 2002 at 68 years old.  The hospital had a memorial service for him.  I was unable to attend because I had Pneumonia at the time, but my brother went to it.  I am happy we had five wonderful years to get to know and love him.  Uncle Donnie is now free to fly without any physical or mental limitations.  May he rest in peace.

Coopyright © Gail Grunst 2013

Naughty Great-Grandpa part 2

A while back I wrote about my great-grandfather Rudolph Kaiser who may have left a family in Germany when he came to the United States and started a another family here. For back ground to this post you might want to read my original posts about Rudolph Kaiser at Naughty Great Grandpa and Letter’s from Germany to Rudolph Kaiser.

I just had the second letter from Germany transcribed.  It is dated 13 November 1910 and is written by his son this time.

Letter Transcribed:

Page 1

Allenstein, 13 November 1910

Mr. Kaiser,

After many efforts, we were able to determine your valuable address.  We only found out from Mother this year that our father is in America.  So we decided to write a few lines.  Hopfully, they will be received with pleasure.  Things are currently very bad for us.  Mother is alone with Ida because I have been drafted into the

Page 2

Military, Infantry Regiment 146. 6  Allenstein Company.  As a result, it has not been possible for me to work as I must now serve two years.  Ida works in a factory in Berlin.  Unfortunately, her earnings are very meagre.  Mother has been sickly of late so she is no longer abler to earn any money.  I Rudolf, have decided to move to America after my service.  Dear Father, write

Page 3

To me please and tell me how you are and how it is in America.  Hopefully, it is better than in Berlin because everything is expensive here and work is hard to come by.  Therefore dear Father, we ask you kindly, please reply.

Warmest regards

From your children


From afar


Rudolf                                                                                                                   Ida

Inf. Regt. 146.                                                                                                    Berlin S.O. 33

5th Company                                                                                                       Skalitzerstr. 54a



Page 4

Musketier [private]

Rudof Pielenz

Inf. Regt. 146.

6th comp.

Room 22


I have two more letters that I want transcribed and will do as I can afford it.  I am hoping one of them contains answers to all my questions that I have about these circumstances.  I can’t say it any better than I did in my previous post about my feelings toward this woman and her children and my great-grandfather.  I can’t help wonder about my great-grandmother in all this.  Did she know?  If so what did think or do about it?  Did this cause a riff in there marriage?  Did my grandfather know?  If he did, he never told anyone.  It was kept a secret, I think, except for the buried letters.  By the time they were found there was no one around that could read, write, or speak German.  Years ago my mother asked a German neighbor to read them and tell her what they said.  The neighbor did not transcribe word for word, but just gave my mother a summary of the letters so we had an idea of the information contained in them.  

Here’s my mother’s notes:

Mom's notes about German letters

Mom's notes about the German letters 2


I have a letter dated 1914 which corresponds to the note “wounded in Russia 1914 discharged”.  Story to be continued when next letter is translated.

Copyright © 2020 Gail Grunst



Long Line at Western Electric

This weeks 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompt is long line.

img001 (4)

In 1905 Western Electric Company built a large factory complex in Cicero, Illinois.  It was named Hawthorne works after the original name of the town Hawthorne, later incorporated into Cicero.  Hawthorne produced telephone equipment and also some consumer products such as refrigerators and fans.  The Hawthorne plant employed 45,000 people at the height of its operation.[1]

My husband had a long line of family members that worked for Western Electric that included his father, brother, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Some of the family members working for Western Electric moved on to other jobs, but not his father and brother. 

His father, Elmer Grunst, started working for Western Electric in 1918.[2]  He started out as a draftsman and worked his way up to supervisor in the equipment engineering department at the Canal Street location in Chicago.  He was active in the science and the flower and garden clubs.  He was a member of Hawthorne Chapter, Telephone Pioneers of America.[3] Elmer retired from Western Electric in January 1962 after 43 years of service. A retirement party was held at the American Legion Hall in Riverside, Illinois, and in spite of 10 degrees below zero weather over 200 people showed up.[4] 

Elmer, Gary, Bernie Grunst 1971 (2)

Elmer’s son also named Elmer went to work for Western Electric shortly after serving in WWII.  Elmer as a newcomer in 1946 scored 11 points for the Western Electric Engineer’s basketball team.  Further down in the same article his cousin Elmer Weis is mentioned, another example of a family member working for Western Electric.[5]  Throughout his years he played on many teams for the Western Electric.  In addition to basketball, Elmer played baseball, football, boxing, golf, and bowling.  There may even be some other sport that I have forgotten.  Elmer was a very athletic person.  If my memory serves me right, Elmer retired from Western Electric shortly before it closed in 1983.[6]  Elmer retired with about 37 years of service. 

The two Elmer’s combined worked at Western Electric 70 years. 

Copyright © 2020 Gail Grunst


[2] Berwyn Life (Berwyn Illinois), W.E. To Honor 40-Year Vets, 7 December 1958, Sun, Pg.6

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brookfield Citizen (Brookfield, Illinois), 25 January 1962, Pg. 13

[5] Berwyn Life (Berwyn, Illinois), Four way tie in W. E. Cage Loop, 1 March 1946, Fri, Pg 8


2019 Year in Review

analytics blur close up commerce

Photo by Lukas on

I always like to look at the stats for my blog at the end of each year.  In 2019 I had 38 published posts and 1,655 views by 1055 visitors.  This was not my biggest year, 2018 was but I had more posts that year.  In December I had the most views 321.

Top 10 posts.

  1.  Order of Yellow Dogs
  2. Is there a Doctor in the Family?
  3. Skeletons in the closet
  4. My Mother the Reader
  5. Conflict?
  6. Cook County Illinois Vital Records Has Turned The Genealogical World Upside Down!; You Can NO LONGER SEARCH THE SITE For Ancestral Connections On Vital Records
  7. Father’s Day: A Tribute to My Dad
  8. Christmas Family Portrait 1948
  9. The Navy Years
  10. Family Pictures: Smoking

Many people from all over the world visit this blog here are the top 10 Countries

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. South Africa
  4. United Kingdom
  5. Hong Kong
  6. Australia
  7. France
  8. Romania
  9. New Zealand
  10. Germany

Plus 28 other counties.

Referrers to this blog were as follows:

  1. Google
  2. Bing
  3. Yahoo
  4. Facebook
  5. WordPress Reader
  6. Twitter

Thanks to all my readers for your support during 2019.  My New Years Resolution for this blog is to change things up a bit during 2020 and post more often.

Hope you all have a great year and keep reading!




Christmas 1960 and 1962

Everyday until Christmas, I am going to try to post a picture from a past family Christmas. 

Mom's Christmas Table

Mom’s Christmas Table

My mother’s Christmas Table in 1960.  Behind my mother is a built-in china cabinet.  On the top left she has some dishes and on the top right is my doll collection.  You can see part of an old-fashioned telephone on the right.  My grandmother is sitting on the chair against the wall and above her is the Knick-Knack shelf that went from house to house with us.  On the table is a terrarium.  The camera flash can be seen reflecting off the glass doors behind my mother.


Pictured here is my brother with our second cousin, Diana in 1962   Look at all the presents behind them.  This was the first year that we did not have a real tree and my parents went with an aluminum tree.  In the background is our Grand Aunt Helen. 

Copyright © 2019 Gail Grunst

Christmas 1951: Rita Doll

Everyday until Christmas, I am going to try to post a picture from a past family Christmas. 

Christmasa 1951

Christmas 1951

In 1951 Santa brought me a Rita Doll.  You can see by the picture that she was half my size and she walked.  Oh, how I wanted that doll, and when I was older my mother told me that my father went without lunch and saved his lunch money to buy me that doll.  It meant even more to me after hearing that story.  Once her arm came off and we took her to a doll hospital to be fixed.  This picture was taken in my bedroom and that little dresser was painted pink and blue.  Every year we would go the A&P food store and buy one of those little trees for my bedroom.  There were lights on it and you can kind of see the cord going up the wall and around the door to be plugged in.  I like the paper chain on it, and I remember there were some glow-in-the-dark stars and icicles on it.

Below is information about the Rita Doll from

The Paris Doll Company ad for the Rita doll states: Rita’s a must – See her during Toy Fair at the Hotel McAlpin Rooms 1046-48, doll is unmarked.  Hard plastic head with glued on saran wig, hard plastic jointed body, sleep eyes, real upper eyelashes, painted lower lashes, open mouth with teeth. Came as a black or white doll.  May have been dressed in several different outfits one of which was a Majorette, as well as shown in the ad wearing a cotton plaid dress with white sheer pinafore trimmed with red satin ribbon, white socks and mary jane shoes.  Doll is unmarked24 or 28″ tall.

Copyright © 2019 Gail Grunst


Christmas Family Portrait 1948

Everyday until Christmas, I am going to try to post a picture from a past family Christmas. 

Christmas 1948 Family

Christmas 1948 Family picture

The picture was taken on Christmas Eve 1948 in my parents apartment.  On the left is my grandmother holding a doll, Fran my grandmother’s sister is next to her, my mother is in the kitchen doorway, I am next to my mother, Pat (Fran’s daughter) is front left, my Uncle Russ, and Grandpa.  I assume my father is taking the picture since he is missing.  I always like looking at the background in these old pictures.  In this one you can see a little into the kitchen.  There is an old stove with a kettle sitting on a burner.  The stove has a shelf and on the self is a clock and two coffee carafes.  I remember that kitchen was very small, and there was a small table that fit the three of us. Notice the knick-knack shelf on the wall.  I think my mother had that one and others in all of her houses until the day she died.  I know my grandmother did.  I don’t see them anymore, but they were kind of nice for displaying items.  I know I am always looking for shelf space to display things.  A few of those around would help.  The knick-Knack shelves now are plain square boxes. I love to see how styles of furniture, kitchen appliances, clothes, and hair styles change over the years.  The trees were always real with the bigger lights and tinsel.


Two Beauties Christmas 1949

Everyday until Christmas, I am going to try to post a picture from a past family Christmas. 

Pat, Mom and Tommy Doll

Christmas Eve 1949

You can’t tell this picture is from Christmas, but it is from Christmas Eve 1949.  I have to laugh at my mother’s face.  She made this face when when she didn’t like something.  So was use to seeing it.  In 1969 when I saw Lily Tomlin on Laughin playing Ernestine the telephone operator, I told my mother she reminded me of her.  My mother was insulted, but I meant it as compliment.  Click link to take a look at Lilly Tomlin as Ernestine and compare the faces.  This picture was taken in our apartment and was probably the first time my mother hosted Christmas Eve.  Our family tradition was we had Christmas Eve at our house, and opened our gifts after a visit from Santa. On Christmas Day we went to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for dinner.  Sitting next to my mom on the sofa is her cousin Pat.  She is holding a doll, that I probably received for Christmas that night.  I called it my Tommy doll.  I don’t know if that was the name from the manufacturer or something we came up with.  It is interesting that it is a boy doll.  At that time most dolls were girls.  I remember the doll, but don’t remember playing with it very often. My mother wrote on the back of the picture, “Two beauties — Xmas 1949”.


Christmas 1948: Taby

Everyday until Christmas, I am going to try to post a picture from a past family Christmas. 

Taby Christmas 1948

Taby 1948

It looks like he is wearing a party hat.  Maybe it was New Years Eve.  The back of the picture just says, “Taby 1948”.  I think he was a mutt, but don’t know what mixture of breeds he might have been.  I was about three when we was taken away.

I have a vague recollection of Taby.  He was my parent’s dog when I was born.  I believe Taby was my father’s dog before he married.  My parents lived with my grandmother when they were first married so Taby knew their house.  When my parents moved to an apartment across town Taby would go back and forth between the two places.  My mother said that he was very good with me.  I was told that the neighbors complained about him.  I don’t know what he did to upset the neighbors, but it became impossible for my parents to keep him in an apartment.  I have often wondered why my grandparents didn’t take him.  They had a dog and apparently when my parents lived there the dogs got along.  But the sad story is that we had to get rid of Taby.  My father took him to a shelter “Orphans of the Storm”.  I was promised when my parents bought a house we would get a dog and we did.  We never gave up another one.  They are with us until they take their last breath.  I am a big believer that when you get a dog you keep it.  They are not a piece of furniture that you throw away.  Every time I see a picture of Taby, it breaks my heart.  Just writing about Taby brings tears to my eyes.  I wonder what happened to him, and I hope he got a good forever home.



Christmas 1927

Everyday until Christmas, I am going to try to post a picture from a past family Christmas. 

Mom on Horse with Santa 1927.jpg

Mom and Santa 1927

This is my Mom again with Santa in 1927. I don’t think I ever saw a Santa outfit quite like this one. Love the outfit my mother has on.  It looks like it would be warm.  My grandmother wrote “Howe Street” on the back.  So I am assuming that this was taken on Howe Street in Chicago.  No date on picture other than 1927, but I assume it is near Christmas and there is snow on the ground.  I wonder did Santa walk up and down the streets of Chicago to have his picture taken with children.  We are use to seeing Santa in department stores.  The picture appears to be a professional one, not just a snapshot.  

Copyright © 2019 Gail Grunst