Sebewa Recollector
Items of Genealogical Interest

Volume 31 Number 3
Transcribed by 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 (Sebewa Township, Ionia County, MI.
DECEMBER 1995, Volume 31, Number 3. Submitted with written permission of Editor, Grayden D. Slowins:

ROBERT WILFRED GIERMAN, our founder, died Saturday, November 11, 1995, age 86 years, 3 months, and 19 days. We could say many things about this man who touched so many lives, but in the end we must print his story the way he wanted it. In the July 1989 issue for his 80th birthday we wrote: “Probably no-one can really succeed him as Editor, because THE RECOLLECTOR is Wilfred and Wilfred is THE RECOLLECTOR”.

In June 1986, after he stood on an upright piano while painting the schoolhouse ceiling, fell on his head and broke four vertebrae, we wrote: “Robert Wilfred GIERMAN is not dead and not yet perfect”. Today he reached perfection! Bill Davis will scatter his ashes at Sunshine. After his own telling of his story, we have included excerpts from various writers on that occasion of his 80th birthday.



ROBERT WILFRED GIERMAN was born in Sebewa Township, Ionia County, Michigan, Town 5 north, Range 6 west, NW ¼ SW ¼ Sec. 15, on July 23, 1909. “My mother was Nellie Effie MEYERS GIERMAN, born in Danby Township in 1879. My father was Robert Ernest GIERMAN, born in Edmore in 1881. My grandparents were Charles and Christina KLAGER GIERMAN, who at the time of their marriage moved in with my great-grandparents in Sec. 21 on BIPPLEY Road, where Ilene CARR lives now. They had a rather small, shacky house at that time. My great-grandfather, Frederick (Fritz) GIERMAN, was ill-disposed and laid all his troubles on Christina. So they didn’t live there long before Charles decided he’d go back to Ionia to see if he could work in the RR car shops where he’d left a job. They told him no, but they had a place at Edmore where he could work at his trade as car repairman. If they had a small wreck or something went wrong with a brake, the car would be side-tracked and he would go out and repair it. I could never understand that, because when I knew him, seemed like he couldn’t even fix a fence and the hogs were always out. Anyway, that’s how come my father was born at Edmore.

“After my grandparents moved to Edmore, Great-grandfather built a new house on the order of Theodore GUNN’S, Joshua GUNN’S, Andrew RALSTON’S, John OLRY’S, Heman BROWN’S, and W. W. MERRIFIELD’S, in the Victorian Italianate style. It was most like Joshua GUNN’S, where LaVern CARR lives, except that the wing was on the opposite end of the house. It’s like you turned the picture over. That house was still there when Granddad bought the Phoeba SHAY 40 acres across the road in Sec. 16 around the schoolhouse and took up residence in the big Italianate house. Great-granddad moved back to his house on North Jefferson in Ionia. That lasted from 1893 until 1900, I think, when the big new house burned. Granddad replaced the house with one just as commodious but very plain, with no clothes closets.

“They lived in the Town Hall while they were building the new house. Grandmother always did the milking, so she was back and forth from the barn to the Town Hall several times a day. One day, when they were going back to the Hall to prepare supper, she caught a chicken and gave it to Nettie to carry. They got part way and stopped to rest. Grandmother set down the milkpails, so Nettie laid down the chicken. They didn’t have the chicken any longer. Their children were: Robert, George, Cora (Warren) WALSH, Edna (Clarence) SAYER, Nettie (Edgar) NASH, Carl, and Elmer, plus four others who died young.

“Granddad built that big barn across the road on his 40. I’m not sure if that was before or after the house burned. They built a big grade up to the second floor to haul the hay in. Many times we’ve hayed there, drove the horses up onto the barn floor, and hooked another team onto the rope that raised the forks up to the mow. The wing was built after Carl took over. Carl and Martha lived there, raised their family there, and along somewhere in the late forties or early fifties, Carl decided to retire and moved to Lake Odessa. Their son, Maynard, took over the farm and raised his family there. One night he stoked the fire and it put out some sparks on the roof, it burned again, and Maynard had to build the house that’s there now. Maynard sold it to John HADEWAY in 1960 & CARRS moved in.

“Uncle George bought the 40 where his son, Wilbur, lives now. Granddad owned this south forty of my farm and that north 50 that belongs to Wilbur. My 30 in between had a set of buildings and at that time was part of what later became Sadie & Elem TRAN’S farm across the road. That belonged to Mr. & Mrs. Gene HALLADAY. Mrs. HALLADAY was a sister to Jennie Lyda WEIPPERT, who taught here when this schoolhouse was first new and then again when I started to school. She had married Andrew J. (Tom) WEIPPERT, Jr. and within a year he died, before their daughter, Loreita, was born. They had another sister, Mrs. COLEMAN, over by the COLEMAN School, and Jennie stayed there while the baby was born. Sometimes she boarded at GUNN’S and sometimes at Grandma’s when she taught here, and once she opened the wrong door and fell down Grandma’s basement steps and had a bad leg thereafter. The 50 and 30 had once been the John ARNOLD 80 acres.

“When Dad bought this 40 from Granddad, the house was what is now my garage. Charlie was born in that house. It had been the cooper shop on the Joshua GUNN place when Ben PROBASCO Sr. had it, and was moved down here and sat straight south of this one. They had to follow around the high ground to the east, to get it here and avoid the swamps. Ross TRAN was born in it, and maybe Elem was too. His father was Emmanuel, and they have a big stone over in the cemetery. Elem & Sadie TRAN lived in Fred GUNN’S little house and then had John WYMAN build the house over here out of tile. Their kids were Ross, Florence, Ethel & Alice. Ross married Gladys YORK, Florence married a TROWBRIDGE and then Ralph HIAR, Ethel was married but died 1918 of flu. Dad moved the house further back after having Barney OATLEY build this house. That is, the upright, the north two rooms upstairs and these down. I was born in it, but it hadn’t been here very long. Later my dad built a lean-to onto it out toward the south. The barn up there was what we used and this barn here is some of it, including the hay car & track. Dad tore that house up there down, probably wasn’t much of a house, and may have used some of the lumber on this one.

“My brothers and sisters were Charles, Christine (JARCHOW), Pauline (LILLIE), and Maurice. We attended our first eight grades of school at District No. 4, Sebewa Center School. As I mentioned, Mrs. WEIPPERT was my first teacher. She pushed me thru first and second grade all in one year. That fall when school started, we were expecting a threshing machine to come with a big old steam engine on it. I was scheduled to stay after school for misspelling Columbus, and I wanted to see that steam engine, so at recess I left. They had dug a ditch from the big ditch over behind here, up past Uncle George’s farm and to Granddad’s around the schoolhouse. The tile weren’t in it yet. I presume Elem TRAN helped dig it, because he did most of the digging around here. Anyway, I got down in the ditch and had a place to move along without being seen. I stayed in the ditch down by Wilbur’s place and saw the steamer arrive, heard the whistle toot and all the excitement of getting set and things going. Then I went back down toward the schoolhouse on the corner of Granddad’s. My older brother, Charlie, and a BALDERSON boy, who was visiting at Fred GUNN’S, spotted me. They knew what was up and marched me back to the schoolhouse. Mrs. WEIPPERT took me thru the lesson where I had misspelled the word, and applied another lesson as well.

“When it came time to go to high school, my folks sort of frowned on Sunfield High School, and Portland seemed remote, so I went to Lake Odessa. The old schoolhouse had burned in late 1921 or early 1922, so they arranged to build a new schoolhouse. It wasn’t ready until January. Charlie and I were in the same grade by then and our classroom, where we had our desks, was above the McCARTNEY store, the corner building where SCHEIDT’S Hardware later was. We entered from the stairway on Main St.; I think there was a stairway on the side street too. That had been an opera house of sorts, as there was a stage, and some of the facilities for producing plays were there yet. There was a classroom to the back, another up on the stage, I don’t remember where all. We had another class, a Zoology class with Mr. CHILDS, John Robert CHILDS, down the street to the south, somewhere in the area where the bank is now located. Seems to me we also had a class above the NYE Drug Store. Occasionally we got above the MINER Store. Both were places where organizations like the Oddfellows and Masons had their meetings.

“After the first of January, 1923, the new High School building was opened. We had an enormous room; all the high school classes and the seventh and eighth grades were in that session room. It seemed enormous to me; I suppose it looks smaller now. There were classrooms around the outside. I was smaller than Charlie, barely age 13 when school started, so I wasn’t expected to take part in the football or baseball games, and I wasn’t interested either. But Charlie was, so there was a period when I would wait around school for him to finish practice before we would come home. My dad had raised a colt; he was going to have something so the boys could drive to school. That was Prince. He was a good colt and Charlie rode him quite a bit. We drove to Lake Odessa for two weeks, and then Dad bought a Ford Roadster. I think it cost $350, a new one. There was no battery; it had magneto lights. If you went slow enough, your lights would get so dim, you couldn’t see anything ahead of you. We kept it in a garage up there during the winter to start with; but we never thought of using antifreeze in it then. That was something you didn’t have to do, if you were careful and filled it with water when you wanted to use it and drained it when you stopped. Occasionally that did make trouble, but we got thru high school with it. We’d usually take our lunches, drive down by the lake and sit there and look out over the lake while we were eating. Sometimes other kids did the same. I graduated from high school in 1926.

“I didn’t go to college after high school. I worked for Uncle Carl GIERMAN on the farm, with the understanding that I would have some time off each afternoon to study on a correspondence business college course. I bought a typewriter, practiced typing as the instructions showed, and occasionally I would mail in to Kalamazoo the sheet they had for the record. Then they came around and invited me to go down there to school. I don’t know if this is the exact order of events. Anyway, I went. They had a little business college. They had a typing room with about ten typewriters in it. We had a very good typing instructor who would show us how she could make her fingers go; and I knew I never would do that. I did pretty well to do 40 words a minute, with a few errors. Something got in the way and I quit that school.

“I think I had a chance then to go down to Lansing to Fisher Body, which was a part of the Olds factory, not the new part out this way. I worked there for the summer anyway. We made a dollar an hour and that was pretty good. I got enough to pay back my Granddad the hundred dollars I had borrowed for business school, and had some around besides. I can’t get these things all straight, but that was in 1929. The Depression set in and out the door we went.

“I had a session with Uncle Elmer in Grand Rapids. He had bought a tire repair store, and of course there were prospects of big money. We did some tire vulcanizing. We had a machine that was powered by electricity for heat, and a process to go thru. One day a fellow wanted to get his valves ground on his Model-T. I’d seen Charlie do that on the Ford we had, and Elmer said “Oh, you can do it”. So I tore it apart and went thru the motions of grinding. We got it back together somehow. I don’t know if it worked out or not. While I was there, we boarded with Mrs. NIECE, who was the wife of a man who had been pastor at Lake Odessa. She was very nice. He was blind. He must have been somewhat older than her. There were three or four other fellows in the house, so I couldn’t stay there at night. I had to go next door and had a room there. I remember one fellow who was there and was the son of a preacher who had given the baccalaureate when we graduated form Lake Odessa High School.

“Next we heard of a fellow who had a nursery in Jackson, needed someone, and I went down there. No car, and no thought of having one, and I found out the work was out in the country a ways. Some way or other I got out there, but it wasn’t very convenient and after two or three days I left.

“It was 1930 before I went back to college and started at Western. That was in the middle of the Depression. I was there when the banks closed, but I didn’t have anything in the banks, so that didn’t worry me. The first year Zack YORK and I and another fellow, Forrest SLATER from Indiana, were in one fairly large room together. Zack and I had a bed and he had another one. We got thru that year; we kind of fudged on our eating by turning over a flatiron and cooking on top of it. Western hadn’t begun to expand much at that time. Dwight WALDO was the President and had been for a number of years. He was supposed to be a man who could tell all about Lincoln, but he told it in such a matter-of-fact way, that he never caught my ear very much. He would do that when everybody appeared at the weekly assembly. We got acquainted with the system’ very much appreciated the library and all the things they did, including back issues of magazines and newspapers, and the current magazines, things I’d never seen before. Of course the library had a reputation of holding all the budding romances. I didn’t get into that. We stayed at Mrs. DEENSTRA’S house, and she had a daughter, Winnie, and a son, who were both in school too. She had a definite Dutch brogue. The heat quite often didn’t seem to reach our room. There were maybe six or seven guys in the house and only one bathroom. I guess that’s where I learned to clean the bathtub after using it, because we didn’t have water under pressure in the house here and of course no bathtub. We took a bath once a week in the washtub, whether we needed it or not.

“We finished that year and Zack started teaching down here at Sebewa Center, I think at 35 dollars a month. I went back alone. Maybe that was when I borrowed the hundred dollars from Granddad. I stayed with my mother’s cousin a month. I didn’t know what I was going to do after that, but I met a barber in town. He had cut my hair and I learned he had an apartment house. He usually employed a college boy to keep the fires, clean the walks, and do the little things that needed doing. It had a basement and three stories, and we lived in the basement. My room was just off the furnace room. I got my room and board. This went on for the whole three years. They had a dog and a boy, Sonny, who was in grade school. They had a cottage out at the lake and sometimes in summer we went out there evenings. Being a barber, he had access to a lot of chatter and had opinions on everything.

“I had to select my subjects with an advisor, but as far as I can remember, nobody was pointing me toward anything in particular, except that I was in Business Administration. I took History and Economics and courses like that. I did take one term of Geology, didn’t know anything about it before and not too much afterward, but I had a taste of it. Enough to influence me later to get mixed up with the Rock Club we formed in Ionia. I didn’t take much creative writing either, although I did have one literature class in which we had to write themes, and I did fairly well. I wound up graduating in 1934 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and there weren’t any jobs.

I worked here on the farm some. My dad was always a farmer, but he had a condition, I can’t think what they call it now, whereby he would have highs & lows. Sometimes he was jolly and could do anything, then all at once he couldn’t do anything and he needed some help. One time, when I was working down at Fisher Body, he had one of those spells and had to have some help. Charlie helped him for the summer and then I had to come home. There were cows to milk, pigs to feed and the chicken house to be cleaned.

“When the Depression was starting to get over, I worked with Elmer for two or three months at Fremont in Newago County. He was into the farm loan business by that time. We would investigate poor farmers, make a farm plan for them, and they would propose what they would do if they got a loan; buy a tractor and raise some beans, etc. We’d make up their loan plans and send them in. Then I came back and worked in Lansing for about a month at the Resettlement Administration Office. I operated a machine that would add, subtract, multiply, and divide; that was something. You wonder how people used to get things done. Charles McNEIL used to spread the tax roll all by hand, with just a machine that added & subtracted.

“Then I worked for several years, beginning in 1937, for Tri-County Electric Co-operative under the Rural Electrification Administration. They were stringing lines out thru this area. But I worked in the office in Portland for Dolph WOLF. He had originally installed the first telephone system in Sunfield, now he was older & manager. A man named Worthington from Lansing had started it. I was Treasurer of Tri-County Electric Association for a while, and signed the first million dollars worth of checks for building these lines.

“We had different groups around that signed up memberships. First they started building around Eaton Rapids, using power from the mill dam on Grand River. Then they put in a diesel generator. Then they came into Ionia County, because we had enough memberships signed by then. They built lines in Danby, Portland, Sebewa, Odessa, and on north, and the diesel generator plant in Portland. Then on up to Vestaburg, where they built another plant, and as far as Big Rapids.

“During the War I worked at Willow Run Bomber Plant for three years on B24s, and a short time at Atlanta, GA, on B25s. After that I went to Ionia Manufacturing Company, and it had other names: MITCHELL-BENTLEY, A. O. SMITH, DOW-SMITH, General Tire, GenTech, Gencorp, etc. I was an inspector – Quality Control they call it now. I worked there about 30 years, retiring in 1974, at age 65. I got a retirement pension of about $1100 a year and it hasn’t changed much over the years, although they do pay my Medicare now. I bought the 20 acre Wallace HOLLENBACH estate about 1960. Once farmed by Peter KNAPP, then Charlie COOPER, it was now an abandoned gravel pit. Dad said it was good for nothing but “Sunshine”. That’s how it got its name. There was some wet-land vegetation and walnuts on the back and I began to plant spruce trees on the rest.

“We started the Rock & Mineral Society in 1963, when KENNEDY was having his trouble in Cuba. We had an adult education class on it at Ionia High School. Our first teacher was in the group to start with; she didn’t stay long. There were other rock and mineral societies or things allied to that; one in Grand Rapids, one in Wyoming, one in Lansing. We would sometimes go and visit their meetings. Our meetings were generally held in Ionia or out at BOYCE School. Ours was called the Grand Valley Rock & Mineral Society and our bulletin was the Grand Valley Conglomerate. Later the name changed to Grand Valley Lithogram. By that time I had a duplicator and got out a bulletin of ten pages every month for ten years. The Lithogram began to overlap into what became THE RECOLLECTOR. THE RECOLLECTOR started in 1965, when the school closed and we started the Sebewa Center Association. I did both of them for a while. THE RECOLLECTOR was more than ten pages. Postage rates eventually limited us to what could go for one first class stamp. The older members of the Rock & Mineral Society began to drop out and finally we quit.

Other historical societies I participated in included LAKE ODESSA with Merton & Elaine GARLOCK as leaders, Grand Ledge with Judge John FITZGERALD & Lorabeth as leaders, Sunfield with Dr. HUYCK & Mrs. Dr. BERG as leaders. Vermontville & Charlotte each have historical societies, and then they have an Eaton County Historical Commission which was generated by the Old Court House project. Portland got theirs going after their Centennial of village incorporation in 1969. Ionia started as an antique club and changed to a historical society at the time of their Centennial of becoming a city in 1973. They soon acquired the Blanchard House, with the help of Ariel & Lynn MORRIS and George & Caroline VANCE. The Homes Tour and Antique Show are their big events. Lyons, Saranac & Owosso also have Societies. As for my travels, I can’t remember them all now; India twice, Peru, Australia, all over the United States and into Canada, England, Ireland. END



By EVELYN DAVID: As I sit at my computer and type, my mind is flooded with thoughts of different times I have had dealings with Robert GIERMAN (WOOFFORD as I knew him for so many years as a child). The first time I toured Sunshine, Wilfred suggested just a little walk through his property. Little did I know, but when the tour was completed, I was gasping for breath, and Wilfred was ready to jog through it again.

The other memory that stands out is of putting THE RECOLLECTOR mailing list on the computer. It seemed like pulling teeth to get the list out of Wilfred. Since extracting it from him, we have shared many a pleasant moment. When he stops with address changes, he also brings his pictures from a recent trip, or a gigantic leaf that he preserved (it hangs on my wall) or tells me of a recent find in a long-neglected cemetery. He speaks softly, he likes old stuff, and he is a great friend. That sums him for me.

By MAURICE GIERMAN: My brother is a person who never wanted to do things the way his father or grandfather had always done them on our family farm. He found many ways to improve the old traditions. He could harness the horses and have them hitched to the wagon in five minutes instead of the half-hour that it took my father. He was the one who taught me about assembly-line production - - by enlisting my help we could milk a cow, one on each side, in record time.

By VERA GIERMAN: Learning to know this complex man who was my brother-in-law took a little time. Not only was he soft-spoken, kind and helpful, but he was also determined, impulsive, and certain to have everything the way he thought it ought to be eventually, no matter how long it might take. Early in our acquaintance, even before our son and daughter were born and he became a welcome babysitter, we were enjoying a late summer evening and finishing chores. I never did many of the farm chores, but I was a good kibitzer. Wilfred appeared from somewhere in the vicinity of the garden, which was even then one of his many loves. The three of us visited for a few minutes. Then, without saying a word, Wilfred held out his hand, which appeared to have something in the closed fist. Being the trusting soul that I am, I promptly held out my hand to receive what I envisioned as some succulent berry from the garden. To my dismay, I found my hand filled with potato bugs.

By ZACK YORK: Though christened Robert Wilfred GIERMAN, (Robert Wilford was the way it was recorded by Fred C. SINDLINGER, Sebewa Township Clerk, and Thomas L. PEACOCK, MD) he was known by family and friends throughout his childhood and youth as “Wilfred”. There were, however, numerous variations in the pronunciation of that name. Lancy MEYERS called him “Woofert” with a heavy canine emphasis on the “Woof”. “Woofert”, “Wilford”, etc. I can hear Aunt Mae GIERMAN say “Will-fred” and Sadie TRAN fancied “Wil’fird”. My early ear heard no “l” in the name, just a vowel close to oo as in book. “Willll-freeeeed” was used to call him to supper or neglected chores. But we who grew up with him never called him “Bob” nor “Robert”. Robert was “Rob” and Rob was his pa. We did call Wilfred “Bullfrog” sometimes, but never “Bob”! I often wonder what would have happened to me if he hadn’t come to our house that morning in the late summer of 1930 and set in motion the events which got my schooling underway.

By RUS GREGORY: This Festscript honors Robert Wilfred GIERMAN, Editor of THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR, friend, neighbor, historian, inventor & proprietor of Sunshine Park, bricklayer, monument restorer, world traveler, wearer-out of a dozen lawnmowers, peanut brittle maker, (electrician, housepainter, gardener, naturalist, rockhound, quality controller, printer, photographer, audio-biographer.) So it seems sensible to call him the Sage of Sebewa, which he surely is. Having him among us is reason enough for a festival.


The cover photo (of this issue of THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR) is by Todd GIERMAN. Wilfred loved all trees, but perhaps the walnut and ginkgo were his favorites.

‘Tis neither the oak nor the maple nor the hickory
Whose stature I find so satisfactory
O you might as well forget them all, but
In the end spare me the black walnut.
-Todd & Lisbeth GIERMAN

Wilfred asked Maurice, Vera, and us to accompany him to the Cumberland Mountains, Cumberland Falls, and the Smoky Mountains. Coming back, we left Gatlinburg on the day before Labor Day, 1940. Everything went smoothly until we reached a small town in southern Ohio. Then the car developed generator problems. We were tied up several hours at a garage. After repairs were made, we drove all night and arrived back in Sebewa around 7:15 AM. Vera was in the Sebewa Center School forty-five minutes later to assume her new teaching job! During all of it, Wilfred remained calm and steady as usual. - - Alice & Howard HILE

We have enjoyed THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR through the years. His articles on John MAXIM, George’s great grandfather, plus many other related families of Sebewa have been very helpful to me in my pursuit of our genealogy. He got me interested in the Genealogy Workshop which as been so helpful to me. We have enjoyed his slides and accounts of his trips, many of places we later visited.
- - Joyce & George PETRIE

Several years ago we planned to go to Peru and wanted first-hand information. We called Bob, a world traveler, who graciously showed us his pictures and told of his experiences at Machu Pichu. After visiting with us for some time, he asked if we would like to see his Sunshine. We sauntered thru the most beautiful natural cathedral anyone would ever want to see. He has given countless hours and energy, trimming and grooming his evergreen forest to perfect splendor. We felt we were walking on hallowed ground, wandering under the quiet canopy of evergreen boughs. - - Lucille & Bill PRYER

It was in 1960 that Bob GIERMAN and I began exchanging letters, thru a contact in New York. I was 14, Bob was 50. Since then I have received 296 and kept them all. I have written an equal number. I passed the High School Class 10 Final in 1962. My father, like many others here in India, was unable to send me to college. I wrote Bob about my plans and the financial difficulty. Bob agreed to help me for a year, then for another three years, and further for two more years, as a result of which I could come out with a master’s degree in English. Bob came to visit in 1976 and 1979 I visited USA in 1985. Now I am helping another poor student in India. - - Elias P. PETER



Last update November 15, 2013