Items of Genealogical Interest
Volume 22 Number 4
LaVonne I. Bennett
LaVonne has received permission from Grayden Slowins to edit and submit Sebewa Recollector items of genealogical interest, from the beginning year of 1965 through current editions.
THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR Bulletin of The Sebewa Center
Association, APRIL 1988, Volume 23, Number 5. Editor Robert W. Gierman.
Submitted with written permission of current Editor Grayden D. Slowins:
SURNAMES: NIELSEN, SLOWINS, FLEETHAM, McDONALD, ELLIOT, RATHBURN, LOVELL, WELCH
SESSIONS SCHOOLHOUSE (With photo)
Jordan Lake Road and Riverside Drive, Berlin Township, Ionia County – Three
miles west of M 66, across from the State Park parking lot picnic area.
With the Ionia Association of Retired School Personnel, Steve Dice, manager of
Ionia Area State Park and interested citizens of Ionia County, we are joining to
raise some $1,400 for the restoration needed to keep the Sessions Schoolhouse in
good repair. That much money is the estimate for the materials for a new roof, a
door and a window. Funds donated will be deposited in the account of The Ionia
Association of Retired School Personnel in The Ionia County National Bank. Some
$700 has already been pledged for that purpose.
DEATHS FOR THE PERIOD.
Elaine Y. Broderick (daughter of Edith and Clarence Yager), David Brodbeck and
June Heintzleman Courts. Recently Howard Cross has been in intensive care at St.
Lawrence Hospital for severe injuries sustained in a headon collision at
SESSIONS COBBLESTONE SCHOOLHOUSE PRESERVED AS AN HISTORIC SPOT by June
Nielsen, June 1971:
The structure stands near where the Ionia County Infirmary used to stand. It is
a monument to the early educational activities of this county. It was here that
the county system was laid.
It was built in 1847 and is believed to be the oldest cobblestone schoolhouse in
Michigan. It was restored by the Board of Supervisors in 1918 and an appropriate
bronze tablet was placed by the Stevens Thompson Mason Chapter of the Daughters
of the American Revolution of Ionia, on August 29, 1918. This was eventually
It is a granite building with small windows and typical architecture and design
of early days. Many early Ionians attribute their early educational training to
Some of the alumni are Miss Clara Sessions, Mrs. L. P. (Bertha) Brock, Milo
Adgate, Philo Adgate, Mrs. L. P. (Connie) Loomis, Rev. F. P. Arthur, Amasa
Morrison, Clare Allen, Walter Meech, J. E. Morrison, Wade Allen, Hal Taylor,
Chester Adgate, William E. Howard, Clinton Gates, Mrs. Wm. Milligan, Julia
Tanner, Mrs. Riley Harwood, Mrs. Edith Allen, Mrs. Fred Arnold, Mrs. Frank
Bailey were teachers. The first teacher was Mrs. Elizabeth Sessions-Arthur,
better known as Libby Sessions.
Teachers received $2 per week and their board valued at $1.50. Water was carried
in a wooden bucket from the homestead of Alonzo Sessions and all used one tin
The teacher got there early to build the fires. The pupils carried lunches in
Indian baskets, made by Indians in a camp nearby. There were many snakes in
summer, but despite this, nearly all went barefoot. In winter they wore homespun
stockings and cow hide shoes, well greased with tallow.
When Mrs. Levi (Addie) Marshall was regent of the Daughters of the American
Revolution, shrubbery was planted, presenting a very picturesque appearance.
The annual report of 1848 of Berlin Township said there were 29 children in
District #2, 42 in #3, and 34 in #4.
The primary school fund was $17.00. The number of children in the township for
1849 was: District #1 = 23, District #2 = 28, District #3 = 56, and District #4
was 33, making a total of 140.
The annual report for 1856 gave 284 pupils with 7 districts and $149.04 as the
amount of money divided among them.
~ Courtesy of Marion Nielsen
M*A*S*H Continued by Grayden Slowins
A word here about the various Master-Sergeants. Sgt. Leavenworth was really
just FROM Leavenworth, Kansas, and I forget his name, which is just as well. He
ran the E. E. N. T. Clinic, and had a bad habit of getting the inductees to open
their clothing to the waist in order for him to examine their eyes, ears, nose
Sgt. Kilkoska was a farm boy from the Red River Valley and Detroit Lakes,
Minnesota. He was good hearted, as was Leavenworth, but he punctuated every
sentence with profanity.
Sgt. Ahab was an Arab who mostly smoked big black cigars and read trashy
paperback novels. Sgt. Pike was a black man who had been a mail carrier during
his brief stint of civilian life in Washington, D. C. Roy Spitzley and I used to
observe October 18th every year. In 1974 we realized, while tiling in the west
pasture, that day we could have retired at half pay from the Army. He spent
“Faarty years in this man’s army” (1915-1955) and refused to leave, even though
he could draw full pay whether he stayed or not. He had joined the army as a 16
year old right off the boat from Ireland and knew no other life. His main duty
in late years was showing the VD movies to the inductees. He had served in WWI,
WWII, and Korea.
The Supply Officer was an ROTC Business College graduate who spent his time
reading Playboy Magazine, while I ran the Medical Supply for the U. S. 5th Army
in Detroit Area. He didn’t even sign the requisitions, I had a rubber stamp for
that. I never negotiated the swaps that Radar did, but I hauled many a purloined
sheet of plywood in my ambulance, and C-ration hamburgs canned at Lake Odessa,
Michigan in 1943. The Sergeants used them for dog food. All this was in exchange
for assorted First Aid supplies.
Another person who looked out for us was the head nurse. She was not as
beautiful as Major Margaret (Hot Lips) Hoolihan, but she saw the humor in our
situation. She eventually married in the Detroit area, retired with 20 years
service, and became shop nurse at Chrysler’s Ordinance Tank plant in Warren,
Most of our patients were G.I.’s home on leave, who got into auto accidents or
caught the Detroit Crud. Also there were several guided missle stations in
Michigan at that time that we serviced.
I never got to go to Germany, but Detroit was better than Korea. Then I had to
serve a year of Active Reserve in Grand Rapids, kind of like the National Guard.
Weekly training meetings and two weeks at summer camp. In mid-July, 1957, I was
in the wheat line in Portland at nine P.M. Dad came to town, worried I wouldn’t
make the train. But I jumped into the pickup, went home, bathed, changed,
grabbed my duffle bag, and was at Union Station in Grand Rapids in plenty of
time for the 1:30 A. M. departure. We took the Silver Chief of the Atcheson,
Topeka, and Santa Fe to Denver, where we spent two weeks at Fitzsimmons Army
Hospital. I spent most of the time watching open heart surgery in the
amphitheatre. It was the same team that had operated on the President Ike a few
months before. I saw them lift a man’s heart from his chest, repair it and
replace it. No one hinted we would one day see them put someone else’s heart in
a man’s chest.
FROM HERE AND THERE by Edgar Fleetham
In life there are a great many things that we know about. But many of them are
superficial, only as we have never had any direct knowledge or experience with
them. Then there often comes a time when we are suddenly thrust into a position
of reality because of personal involvement.
I have known that sometimes people develop a condition in which the arteries
going into and out of the heart get plugged up. This creates a situation in
which a person becomes threatened with a heart attack. Sometimes the knowledge
of the condition comes only after an attack. I have known about stress tests,
heart catheter, baloons to expand the arteries, by-pass surgery etc. These were
the things that happened “to the other people”!
Then came the day when I strode confidently on to the treadmill, convinced that
“I would show them how it was done”. After all I have been a pretty active
person. And then…I blew the test almost before I got started and heard the
doctor say “That heart is starved for oxygen”. That was I, who worked almost
every day at something physical, who could walk a mile without difficulty and
never had knowingly experienced shortness of breath. All of a sudden I was part
of “other people” and scheduled in a few days for a visit to a cardiologist.
That day came and went with a date in less than a week for a heart catherization.
At this time we are waiting for that date in which the next steps will be
This column is written without the intent of zeroing in on a personal situation
that has suddenly arisen. After all, I am not unique. I stated that when the
lines above related to the fact that I was no different than others. My purpose
is to show that we so often talk about conditions and issues of which we have no
real knowledge. Only when we personally experience them can we truly understand.
So often we judge others and the decisions in life they have to make with the
criticism “now why did they ever do that” or “I never would have done that”. A
pretty good New Year’s resolution would be not to think or express opinions on
anything or on anyone until we have first hand knowledge. It would make life
easier and the world a better place in which to live. Its surely worth
A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL. By Edgar Fleetham
Since the above was written, Edgar has had quadruple bypass surgery in the
arteries around his heart and is home, slowly recovering from the procedure as
is also Ray Elliot. Both are doing mild exercise.
We found the same for Charles McDonald of Berlin Township. He had similar
surgery in 1987. During this cold weather he takes his walking exercise at the
Meijer Store and is “feeling good”.
SEBEWA TO WASHINGTON by Frank Rathburn
I moved to Sebewa in October 1936, when I was 12, to live with my father, Frank
H. Rathburn, Sr. (1874-1946), who had been married that August to Jessie
(Strong) Howland (1874-1969), the widow of William Howland, a long-time Sebewa
resident. My father and Jessie had been friends many years earlier in Grand
Rapids. They got back together by chance, when she advertised in the winter of
1935-36 for a summer farm helper. He was living in Grand Rapids at the time, and
answered the advertisement. He worked for her for several months, and they then
decided to get married.
The Howland farm was on the corner of the Sunfield Road and what I think now is
called Bippley Road, although there were no official road names in 1936.
I had been living in Detroit with relatives since the death of my mother eight
years earlier. I arrived in Sebewa on a Saturday afternoon, and can recall my
“city boy’s” excitement of being on a farm, with cows, horses, chickens, outdoor
“plumbing” and kerosene lights. There was even a hired man, named Will Meyers, a
puppy named Rags and an assortment of cats that lived in the granary.
I went to church (Sebewa Center Methodist) the next day with my father and my
new mother, I met a lot of people, but I can only remember one---Gretchen
Gierman---who I decided was “pretty cute”.
I also made a decision that weekend about my name. I had been called “Junior”
all my life, and detested that nickname heartily. I had attended a summer camp
that year, and met a boy named Jerry, who had become my friend. I liked the name
and decided that henceforth I would be Jerry. That is how I was introduced, and
that is what I was called the next five years.
On Monday I went to the Sebewa Center School to be enrolled in the seventh
grade. The teacher was Mildred Ensworth, later to be Mrs. Halladay. My fellow
students in the seventh grade were Eleanor Meyers and Margaret Shilton. Ahead of
us in the eighth grade, were Howard Meyers, Bruce Downing and Mary Zweep. Behind
us, in the sixth grade, were Gretchen Gierman, Virginia Cross and Arlene Sears.
Behind them, one year, I think, was Cleo Downing. I don’t remember any of the
younger children except Geneva York, who looked remarkably like Shirley Temple.
My major recollection of that first day in school was my embarrassment at being
the only boy in knickers and knee socks. That was standard dress in Detroit, but
not in Sebewa. I went home that night and gave my Dad an ultimatum—the knickers
had to go. We went to Portland that night to buy me blue jeans, or overalls, as
they were then called. It took me only a few days to “unlearn” my city language;
that roads were not called streets, and the outhouse was not a bathroom.
I am sure there is much to be said for modern education, with big schools and
fancy equipment. But I do know that the simple one-room Sebewa Center School was
the best thing that ever happened to me. Mrs. Ensworth was a capable and
dedicated teacher who really worked with her pupils. I had been a very poor
student in Detroit, but my marks and my attitude improved dramatically under her
teaching. I still have my old report cards to show it. I also have the
certificate signed by Mrs. Ensworth testifying that I was never absent nor tardy
during the two years that I attended Sebewa Center.
Mrs. Ensworth conducted frequent spelling bees among her older students, and I
had the honor in 1937 of winning the school championship, just barely beating
out Gretchen. I went on to the township spelling bee, and lost on the word
Early in 1937, the Zweeps moved from the farm just east of us, and were
succeeded for a short time by the Jake Van Polen family. My Dad, who was then
62, was too old for farming, so he leased some of our fields to Van Polen to
work on shares. I actually did very little farm work, but I do recall at least
once plowing on foot behind a horse-drawn plow. And I well remember when I was
finally old enough to drive the John Deere tractor the “easy way”.
The Van Polens moved later that year, and were replaced by Alfred and Oma
Goodrich and their family of six children—Mary, Orpha, Alfred Jr. (Sonny),
Stanley, Byron (Bonnie) and Loretta. The Goodriches moved about two years later
and the Ritters became our neighbors.
The other near neighbors were Roy Sears and his family to the north; Frank
Bickle, across from the Goodriches; Ross and Gladys Tran to the west, and Harry
Meyers and family just north on the Sunfield Road.
My best friends were the Meyers boys- -Howard, Wesley and Harold even though
they were all older than I. We spent many happy hours together, playing
hide-and-seek and barn tag in their barn or ours, fishing at the millpond,
tramping through the woods in the summer, hunting in the fall, and trapping
muskrats in Sebewa Creek during December. An eventful spring event was our first
“dip” in the icy waters of Sebewa Creek, at our favorite spot in a valley about
a mile down stream. We used to follow the creek for miles, from its source in a
large swamp somewhere to the south, to the point where it empties into the Grand
Harold Meyers had an old Model-T Ford, which served as transportation to
Portland on Saturday nights for the movies or to Sunfield in the summer for the
outdoor free show. We also drove it to skating parties at York’s pond on cold
winter nights. I never quite knew how the word got around, but everybody within
miles showed up for the skating parties—young, old and in-between. We youngsters
skated and played “crack-the-whip” on the ice. The older folks built fires on
the banks and chatted while they sipped coffee and maybe stronger drinks.
Speaking of the Yorks, I remember vividly how impressed I was to learn that
Helen York, a “girl”, could skin a muskrat!
PTA meetings at the school were a major social event for those with children. My
Dad was elected president in 1937, so we went to all the meetings. My stepmother
was active in the Ladies Aid Society at church, and was a major contributor to
their wonderful dinners. The food was fabulous. Every woman tried to outdo the
others, with fried chicken, scalloped potatoes, baked beans, homemade bread,
pies and cakes, and a host of other dishes.
There were also the “box socials” at the church, where the women and girls
brought lunches in boxes which were auctioned off to the highest bidder. The
winner then got to eat lunch with the owner of the box he had purchased, so
there was spirited bidding, especially among the younger set. No one was
supposed to know which box belonged to whom, but word somehow got out,
especially when it came to good cooks and especially pretty girls.
My Dad was a Republican, and he had a friendly rivalry with Ben Probasco, who
was a Democrat. In 1937 Dad was elected justice of the peace, and also treasurer
of the school board. (Homer Downing and Carl Gierman were the other school board
members. I remember one very nasty winter day when only three students got to
school—Cleo Downing, Gretchen Gierman and myself, the children of the three
school board members).
My sister Peggy came to live with us on the farm in 1939, but never went to the
Center School. She went to grade school and high school in Sunfield, where I
also attended high school.
I have so many wonderful memories of those days:
*The threshing season, when a dozen or more men and boys would gather at one
farm after another with the old steam threshing machine. The younger men pitched
the bundles of wheat in the fields onto wagons for hauling to the barn, and
others then pitched them into the machine. Older men handled the horses, watched
over the thresher, and took care of the “bagger”, where bags were filled with
the outpouring grain. The boys got the easy jobs, such as keeping the water
pails full and directing the flow of straw onto the rapidly growing straw
stacks. At noon, work came to a halt for “lunch”. And what a meal it was. All
the wives of the workers brought food. One woman couldn’t have fed that hungry
*The April Fool’s joke I played on my Dad about 1940. He had just bought some
new chicken feed that was supposed to increase egg production. That morning, I
took all the previous day’s eggs, and added them to those already in the hen’s
nests. When he went out to gather the eggs that afternoon, he came bounding in
all excited. “That new feed is great”, he announced. “Look at all these eggs.”
Then I told him what I had done, and shouted “April Fool!” He didn’t know
whether to laugh or cry.
*The time George (or was it Rob?) Gierman bought some young pigs from my Dad,
and asked me to help him load them on his truck. After he had most of them
aboard, and was gathering the last one or two, I somehow let them all jump off
the truck and was gathering the last one or two, I somehow let them all jump off
the truck and scamper away. He had to round them up again, and was very
disgusted with the “city kid” who couldn’t handle baby pigs.
*The time somebody’s dog started killing sheep throughout the township. There
were some mighty angry farmers who wanted to find that dog and shoot it. My dog
Rags was a suspect for a while, but then one night it snowed, and a group of men
followed the dog’s tracks from some newly-killed sheep to its owner’s house. I
don’t remember whose dog it was, but it was shot on the spot. My Dad, as justice
of the peace, had to negotiate a fair price for the dog’s owner to pay for the
*Neighbors for miles around came to our place during haying season with broken
hay ropes. My Dad was an old Navy man, and the only person around, I guess, who
knew how to splice broken ropes. He tried to teach me how to do it, but I never
As I look back, I realize that I was living in those first years on the farm
during the very last days of a life style that had existed with little change
since the last century- -the outdoor pump and windmill, the kerosene lamps and
candles that lit our rooms, the outhouse, milking our own cows, making our own
cream, shearing our own sheep, butchering a hog in January, making maple syrup
in March and apple cider in October, storing apples, potatoes, cabbage and
carrots in the cellar for winter, taking a warmed-up soapstone to bed on cold
winter nights, waking up to a rooster’s crowing in the morning, cooking and
heating water on a wood stove, cutting and splitting wood for the winter fires,
raising our own vegetables in Dad’s garden, and even an old-fashioned corduroy
road to bump along on near the Cross farm north of the Center. And a final
touch—Frank Bickle driving by in his horse and buggy! My great-grandfather, who
died in 1875, would have felt right at home in the Sebewa of 1936.
*My first car, a 1931 Model-A Ford that I bought in Portland about 1939 for $65,
using the money I had made trapping muskrats, skunks, possums, weasels and an
occasional mink. (Howard Meyers and I made a few extra dollars weeding onions
for ten cents an hour at a muck farm somewhere in northwest Sebewa). I drove
that car to high school for two years, then in the summer of 1941, drove it to
my grandmother’s in Maryland, to relatives in Boston, and then back to Maryland,
where it broke down. I sold it for $5 and bought a bus ticket home.
It was that December that I listened to a radio report one Sunday afternoon that
said the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I asked my Dad “Where’s Pearl
Harbor?” He replied, somewhat sadly I thought, “In Hawaii, and I have a feeling
you will be seeing it one of these days.”
He was right. I enlisted in the Marine Corps a few weeks later, and spent 26
months in the South Pacific with the Second Marine Division. On my last night in
Sebewa, Gladys Tran had a farewell party for me and Howard Meyers, who had
joined the Navy. A year later, my sister Peggy married Burt Daniels, her high
school sweetheart, while he was home on leave from the Merchant Marine. A short
time later, he was dead, one of the first local boys to die in the war.
After the war, my Dad offered to give me the farm if I wanted to be a farmer,
but I was not interested. So he sold the farm and moved to Lowell, where he died
a year later, aged 72. Mom lived to be 95, and was lively and alert almost to
the end. She was a most remarkable lady, a fact that, sadly, I didn’t appreciate
in my years on the farm with her. We grew quite close in later years.
I lived in Toledo for a while, then Detroit, where I went to Wayne University
under the G. I. Bill of Rights and earned a degree in journalism. I was a
newspaper reporter for 13 years, and then a Congressional aide in Washington for
16 years. I have now been retired seven years.
Except for an occasional visit, I have seen very little of Sebewa, where I lived
so happily for five years. My Dad and Mom are buried there in the little
cemetery overlooking Sebewa Creek, among the graves of so many of their old
friends. Whenever I do visit there, I stop at the cemetery and reflect on those
long-ago days when life was so simple, uncomplicated and self-sufficient. End
REMINISCENCES Continued by Myrtie Candance Lovell Welch
HIGH SCHOOL YEARS
My mother always mourned the fact that she, who wanted so much to have an
education, never had the opportunity. When she was a girl, anyone who could read
well and add, multiply, subtract and divide figures formed a class of pupils
qualified as teachers.
My mother became a very good reader, also quite adept with figures. The teacher
informed her she was now ready to teach a class of her own. Also the lady said
she would help my mother to find the pupils. Ma said she was so thrilled; but
her mother wouldn’t allow it. Ma would have to leave home to do this and Grandma
Croy wanted all her girls nearby. She allowed time to work for their near
neighbors but for no one else.
Ma in later years had five daughters and a goal to make each one a schoolteacher
or at least go through high school. Mae graduated from Woodland, only ten grades
there, and went directly into teaching.
Then Sylvia and Grace both finished eighth grade, but the tables turned on our
mother. Instead of her not wanting her girls to leave home, the girls didn’t
want to leave. She tried making them go on to high school but they absolutely
refused. As I look back, it was probably more fear of having to associate with
all of those town young folks. There was such a discrimanation between town
folks and farmers at that time. Town folks did really feel above the farmers.
That feeling was there until quite recently.
Anyway, when I was ready for high school, my mother simply rented the farm,
bought a house in town, moved in with her four daughters. When school started,
Grace started in along with me. Ma tried to get Sylvia to start, too, but she
didn’t want to. She, Grace and I in the same class? Sylvia would have been a
senior if she had gone on from eighth grade and Grace a sophomore.
Grace got through the tenth grade and then quit. She was such a good student but
too proud for her own good. She was so ashamed to be so far behind girls of her
own age. Sylvia found a job right after we moved to town. She was a typesetter
for the local weekly newspaper, The Vermontville Echo.
The first house we bought was the second house on the south side of the street
east from the Opera House corner. We were practically on Main Street. It was a
very friendly neighborhood and we soon felt right at home.
The people next door soon became our best friends. This friendship lasted the
rest of our lives. They had a daughter named Ethlyn, Sylvia’s age, and the two
girls became pals. It was this girl that Sylvia named Lucille for. Her last name
was Kidder. She kept in touch with our family long after Sylvia was gone. She
was a wonderful friend.
Ma didn’t care too much for this place we bought. It would soon be spring with
no room for a garden. Ma without a garden? That would never do, so she began
looking for another house.
Soon she found just what she wanted except the house was very small, a living
room, dining room, two bedrooms and a kitchen. Otherwise it was perfect, so she
bought the place at once. It had a nice big garden, a large lawn, the house back
off the street, a barn to keep a horse in, chicken coop—we now could raise
chickens again. It was just what she wanted. We would just have to get used to
that small house. It was located on East Main Street with the schoolhouse just
around the corner, practically at our back door. We sold our first house, moved
and tried to tuck ourselves into this little place. It took some doing but we
made it. This is where we lived when I worked in the restaurant. I told you
about that earlier in this history of memories.
V. H. S. RAH! RAH! RAH! September of 1903—There I was registering as a freshman
in Vermontville High School. I was scared but happy to be back in school again
tackling the strange subjects of algebra, Latin, history and English.
There was one large assembly room and two small classrooms behind this big room.
All grades ninth through twelfth were seated in the big room. The principal, a
man, conducted his classes at the front, watching over the students who were not
in class. Two classrooms, one for each lady teacher, were located behind the
assembly. Classes passed into these rooms to hold their sessions. It was so
different from Bismark. It really made me proud to be a part of this big school.
Vermontville had literally a high school. The building was on a very steep
grade. Looking down from the west windows, one looked right over the tops of the
houses on the next street. We could see all over that end of town and way out
onto the farms located north of town. It was a beautiful view. The hill made a
wonderful place to slide with our sleds, not only at recess and noon time but at
sliding down hill parties when the children played there on Saturdays.
On the lower floor of this building were two rooms for children from
kindergarten to eighth grade.
November 15, 2013