THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR Bulletin of the Sebewa Center
Association (Sebewa Township, Ionia County, MI); FEBRUARY 2002, Volume 37,
Number 4. Submitted with written permission of Editor Grayden D. SLOWINS:
SURNAMES: Pryer, Plummer, Howe, Phillips, Csonka, Shoemaker, O’Mara, Endres,
Steinberg, Schnabel, Pray, Hammond, Pope, Kennedy, McEdeard, Megarah, Buck,
Duffell, White, Morehouse, Olry, Leak, Sindlinger, Heintzelman, Hazel, Gunn,
VERNON PRYER, 86, husband of Mary Jane PLUMMER PRYER, father of Patricia Ann
PRYER, Thomas Warren PRYER, Ronald PLUMMER PRYER, and Terry Robert PRYER,
brother of Loyd & Maxine PRYER and the late Clyde, Merlin & Donald PRYER, son of
Thomas C. PRYER & Bertha HOWE. Vernon was born in Danby Township December 21,
1914, on the farm of his grandfather, William H. PRYER, son of of Thomas PRYER &
Cornelia Ann PHILLIPS PRYER, who settled in Danby Township in 1850 on a farm
deeded by the U.S. Government to his brother John in 1835, because Thomas was
only 15. Vernon died July 27, 2001, Santa Ana, CA.
SUSAN MARY O’MARA CSONKA, 37, wife of Jeffrey, mother of Michael, Kaitlin,
Bailey and Madison, sister of Onette McKENNA, Colleen GOODMAN, and David,
Phillip, Patrick, Robert Stephen and Thomas K. O’MARA, daughter of Norma
SHOEMAKER & Thomas S. O’MARA, son of Emma ENDRES & Frank O’MARA, son of John
O’MARA & Pauline STEINBERG, daughter of Regina & Anton SCHNABEL, Sr.
THE PRAY FAMILY OF RONALD TOWNSHIP – IONIA COUNT AND SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP –
WASHTENAW COUNTY by Grayden SLOWINS:
George PRAY, M.D. was born August 27, 1825, in Allegany County, New York. His
father was Ezek PRAY, a farmer born in Connecticut. His mother was Sallie A.
HAMMOND, born, raised and married in Rhode Island. They farmed in Allegany
County, came to Michigan in 1825, when George was five weeks old, and were among
the earliest settlers in Superior Township, Washtenaw County. They purchased and
improved a large farm, where he died in 1856 and she in 1872. Their log house
burned in 1839, and the red brick Federal-style house built in 1840 still stands
in 2002 at 8755 Plymouth Road.
George PRAY/S life up to age fourteen was similar to all boys on the farm. When
fourteen he entered the Ann Arbor Academy and prepared for the University. In
1841, when the University opened, he entered the first class at age sixteen. He
was graduated from the Classical Department in 1845. In 1846, after teaching a
term of school, he began the study of medicine in the private medical school of
Professors SAGER, DOUGLASS, and GUNN. He later transferred to the Medical
Department at Case Western Reserve, in Cleveland, Ohio, and was graduated in
1849. he began practice in Salem, Washtenaw County.
In October, 1856, Dr. George PRAY relocated to Ronald Township, Ionia County,
and purchased a large tract of land in connection with his practice. He was the
first physician to locate permanently in the township and spent many long and
hard rides in pursuit of his duty in the field of medicine. Thirty and forty
miles per day were sometimes traversed, carrying oats for his horse and hoping
for his own meals at the homes of patients. His farm consisted of five hundred
and thirty acres on the north and east shores of WOODARD Lake. The full acreage
was owned by the fourth generation into the 1980s, and the house and 128 acres
belong to a great-great-great-step-niece in 2002.
In 1863, Dr. George PRAY returned to Ann Arbor and engaged in practice, but in
1867 came back to his productive Ronald farm and remained. On July 4, 1849, he
had married Deidamia H. POPE, daughter of Willard and Barbara POPE, who was born
November 28, 1828, in Pennsylvania, and died March 14, 1875, in Ronald Township.
They had no children. April 9, 1876, Dr. PRAY married Ellen Adele COMSTOCK,
daughter of Jared V. and Mary COMSTOCK. She was born in Montcalm County in
February, 1858, and thus was age 18 and he age 50 when they married. One son,
George PRAY, Jr., was born to this union June 16, 1877.
Although the 530 acre estate of George PRAY, Sr. was diminished somewhat in the
1870-1890 period, to pay debts or whatever, George PRAY, J., got it all back
together in the early 1900s and his son, Dr. Frank PRAY owned it all his long
life, along with property in the Ann Arbor area. Frank’s daughter was Mary
ADAMSKI, and her step-niece, Terri (KENNETH) PICKETT now owns the house and 128
acres. Arthur PELON, Ronald Township Clerk, whose family members are long-time
neighbors, owns the rest.
Dr. George PRAY Sr. was a Republican after the organization of that party, but
was formerly a Democrat. He was Supervisor of Ronald Township for fourteen
years, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Ionia County for several years,
and represented his District in the Legislature in 1879-1880.
In religion his views were liberal. Both wives were members of the Disciples
Church. The doctor also took great interest in the Grange movement and, with the
exception of his time spent in the Legislature, was either Master or Secretary
of the WOODARD Lake Grange every year from its organization. For four years he
was Master of the Ionia County Grange. The WOODARD Lake Grange Hall stood near
the church and cemetery on the north edge of the Pray farm, facing WOODS Road.
WOODARD Lake Cemetery contains one of three Revolutionary War Veterans buried in
Ionia County, William PANGBORN, Louden ANDREWS is in LETTS Cemetery, Berlin
Township, and Jonathan INGALLS is in Sebewa Township, south of Sebewa Corners.
When 16-year-old George WASHINGTON PRAY started at the University of Michigan,
his father took him and his belongings the first time with a team and wagon.
Thereafter he often walked the 10 miles from the farm home to his room on
campus. He wasn’t the first student to arrive at the newly opened University, he
was the second, because Lyman NORRIS from nearby Ypsilanti Township beat him by
a week. But PRAY has a greater distinction – he kept a diary of everything that
happened those four years, and we have excerpts.
George was able to go to school because his father, Esek, was wealthy enough to
do without his son’s help on the farm. Besides, there were three children older
than him and four younger. In 1836 Esek had been a delegate to Michigan
Territory’s Second Constitutional Convention, called to ratify the war of
Toledo, Ohio, for the Upper Peninsula, a requirement for Michigan’s admission to
the Union. Esek was active in educational and agricultural organizations and the
Democratic Party, and served at least nine years as a Justice of the Peace.
Five other students arrived that day and three more would trickle in – and one
would trickle out – by the end of the first academic year, leaving nine
Freshmen. Perhaps as many as 20 young men were part of PRAY’S class at one time
or another, including transfers, but only six of the original nine Freshmen were
among the U-M 11-member first graduating class in 1845. There were just two
professors and a part-time librarian that first year.
Four houses for faculty and their families had been built by 1840, of which only
the President’s House remains in 2002. The campus was farmed by Patrick KELLY,
the caretaker, and had a jumble of sheds for horses, cattle, chickens and hogs,
as well as a high picket fence to keep University livestock in and keep out the
hogs and stray dogs that roamed Ann Arbor at will. For PRAY, the entire
University was contained in the fifth building, Main Hall. Here he slept,
attended lectures and recitations, studied, went to chapel, took in literary
society meetings, examined the University’s scientific collections, including
one of the largest stores of mineral specimens in the world, and read books from
the school’s 4000 volume library.
University of Michigan had no gas, electricity, running water or sewage system
then. In all weather they used the latrine behind the building. Night trips
between campus and town meant weaving a path through stumps and ditches in
complete darkness. In their room, light came from candles or from the fire in
the iron stove. Unless they heated it in a kettle on the stove, the water for
washing, shaving, and scrubbing the floor was always cold. They drew water from
the faculty’s well, carried their buckets across the muddy, unpaved campus, and
lugged them up to their rooms. They sawed and carried piles of wood into the
“wood closet” of each room.
In Ann Arbor, only 10 miles from his farm home near Dixboro, George PRAY felt
out of place and ill at ease with the girls of town society. He longed to be in
the country and wrote of one occasion when 50 farm boys and girls gathered to
eat and sing, and a farm girl gave him “a pressing embrace which threatened to
break every bone in my body”. Ann Arbor had about 2,500 inhabitants at that
time, and because of the Univeristy as well as the County Seat, attracted an
unusual number of teachers, professors, lawyers, and booksellers.
George PRAY’S diary told of the coming of the “cars” on the Inter-Urban
railroad, Samuel Morse’s new telegraph, the new daguerreotype studio where he
had his likeness done. With such a small student body, all classes were
required, the texts were fixed by the Regents, and there were no grades. At the
end of each of the three terms, students were given pass-fail oral examinations
and perhaps an essay on an assigned topic. PRAY doesn’t mention any student
failing, but there was a great turnover.
The two professors who taught throughout PRAY’S four years were Rev. Joseph
WHITING for Greek and Latin, and George P. WILLIAMS for natural philosophy and
mathematics. Others were added from time to time for: mental philosophy (logic),
political economy (outlines of constitutions), moral sciences (proof of the
accuracy of Christian doctrine), chemistry, geology, zoology and botany. PRAY’S
passion was botany. Savillion SCHOFF, from Portland, Michigan, a year behind
him, shared PRAY’S interest, and with this “great naturalist” and others, PRAY
created a new club called The College of Natural History of the University of
Michigan, in 1845.
Pressed for funds as always, the University Regents allowed the students to take
(and pay for) outside lessons. With no professor of modern languages, PRAY took
German from a William MENTZING, and elocution from another man. Students also
undertook to plant the needed trees on the barren campus. PRAY’S Senior Class
tried to form an artful XLV design with trees “to mark the year we graduate,
though I think it will be hard to read”.
With no cafeteria in Main Hall, PRAY made his way across the four or five block
swath of underdeveloped land between the University and town for breakfast,
lunch and supper. From the time he entered as a freshman, PRAY took his meals at
the boarding house of Earl GARDNER, an editor of the Ann Arbor Argus, and his
wife, Frances. There he met Frances’s younger sister, Deidamia H. POPE, who was
named after the wife of Achilles.
“I was a sophomore, the only boarder”, PRAY wrote of his first meeting with her
when he was 17, in 1842. Deidamia was about 14, “tall, beautiful, red cheeked
and red lipped”, a companion in his loneliness. “I was ardent, she timid. I was
vexed with her, still she influenced me”. He marveled at “how entirely did she
gain my childish and youthful affection”. Deidamia united the town sophisticate
and the country innocent. She was one of the minuscule number of women receiving
higher schooling back then. The University housed a state-supported preparatory
school (high school) for a few years, but unlike those in Monroe, Tecumseh,
White Pigeon and Niles, for example, did not admit women. Deidamia found her way
to the well-regarded Ann Arbor school for young women run by Mary CLARK, who
offered Latin, French, German, botany and math, as well as piano, drawing,
painting and fancy work.
As one of the up-to-date young women of the town, Deidamia dressed in the way
PRAY despised, “Disfigured by a diabolical big bustle”. Sharing meals, George
and Deidamia spent hours in each other’s company, reading the same books (George
lent her Abercombrie’s Intellectual Powers), sharing the same interests (she
lent him one of her rare plant specimens) and growing closer as the years
passed. But most important, Deidamia also fit into George’s country life. His
sister Almira was a good friend of Deidamia’s at Miss CLARK’S and, to George’s
delight, often brought her to the PRAY family home. “The girls came home; we had
a great time playing and singing, etc.” Such a good time that he even “dared to
kiss her” on New Year/s Eve, 1844!
After adding an MD degree in 1949 to his 1945 BA degree, (he also got a belated
MA degree in 1863) George PRAY set up practice in the northeast corner of
Washtenaw County, between his boyhood farm home at Dixboro on Plymouth Road, and
the town of Salem, serving mainly Northfield and Salem Townships. Then on July
4, 1849, on the way to his brother, Joseph’s, wedding, he and Deidamia suddenly
decided to get married. He was 23, she was 20. They lived in Salem-Northfield
until 1856, then in Ronald Township (Ionia County, MI). They spent the Civil War
years in Ann Arbor, with him spending part of the time on his Master’s Thesis.
Long an Abolitionist, he first supported John Pl HALE for President on that
platform in 1848. George also ran for State Representative from Ionia County on
the Prohibitionist ticket in 1872, before being elected as a Republican in 1878.
He wrote that he first saw the evils of demon rum while tending bar as a child
in his father’s roadside tavern on the Plymouth Road farm.
Returning to the Ronald farm in 1867, their life there was good, until Deidamia
became ill with pneumonia and died childless on March 14, 1875, at the age of
46. After a year of mourning, he married Adele on April 9, 1876, and became the
father of a boy on June 16, 1877. George and Adele had five children total, of
whom three lived and attended the University of Michigan. After a day calling on
patients in dead of winter, George too caught pneumonia and died January 27,
1890, at age 64. His two youngest children died of whooping cough within four
months of his death. Five months after that, in October, Adele died of
consumption at age 32, leaving three orphaned children, ages 13, 7 and 5.
Probably it took those acres that were sold off for a while to put them thru the
DUNCAN G. KENNEDY OF PORTLAND by Grayden SLOWINS:
Duncan KENNEDY was one of the most well-known and respected citizens of
Portland, MI, in the late 19th & early 20th Centuries. He was born in the
Province of Ontario, Canada, June 9, 1846, son of James and Jane (McEdeard)
KENNEDY, both natives of Scotland. They came to Canada with their parents when
young, and grew up and were married there. The father was a stone-mason by
trade, but after his marriage he engaged in farming. He took up two hundred
acres of land from the government, which he improved into a good and prosperous
He and his wife belonged to the Presbyterian Church, of which he was an elder.
His death occurred in the city of Toronto, and his wife died on the home farm.
They had five children, of whom three survived. They were: James, who engaged in
the grocery business in Toronto, ON; William of Vancouver, BC, and Duncan of
Duncan KENNEDY grew up on the home farm, attended country school, and set out to
learn the blacksmith’s trade in 1860, at age 14. He established a shop in
Portland in 1872, which he operated until 1885. Then he sold out and engaged in
the hardware business for the next thirty-one years. He had a well-stocked
old-fashioned hardware store, with bins and drawers and shelves, and ladders on
tracks to reach the stock. He also sold smaller farm implements before the days
of tractors. In 1916, at age 70, he retired and sold the store to Carl DERBY &
Bill STOCUM, who were succeeded by Leo LEHMAN & Laban SMITH, followed by Aaron
Duncan KENNEDY was married August 11, 1870, to Edith E. MEGARAH, who was born in
West Unity, Ohio, April 26, 1848. Her mother died when she was a baby, and soon
thereafter the father moved with his children to Toledo. In 1864 they came to
Portland, MI. The father was a mill-wright and worked at his trade in Portland
and nearby towns until 1865, when he bought a large farm at Collins and settled
there. Edith had graduated from high school in Toledo and taught for some time
in the high school in Portland, as well as at Crystal before her marriage.
Duncan & Edith KENNEDY lived in the large square house on the northwest corner
of James St. & Grant St.
Edith was a talented singer and led the Methodist choir, as well as singing at
funerals and weddings. She was president of the Portland Women’s Relief Corps
and active in the state organization. She was president of the Ladies’ Literary
Society, and the Ladies Aid Society of the Methodist Church. She died January 2,
Duncan KENNEDY was a Democrat and long active in party affairs. He was president
of the village in 1875-1876, then sixteen years as a member of the village
council, then another four years as president. He also served as Portland
Township Highway Commissioner and was active at all levels of Masons and Knights
Templar. They had one daughter, also Edith, who married Louis SLOWINSKI, son of
Theofil, son of Daniel SLOWINSKI, Sr. & Anna SCHNABEL. They lived and died in
South Haven, where they ran a movie theatre, but are buried in Portland, near
her parents and the FROST Mausoleum. Mrs. Edith KENNEDY and Mrs. Wm. FROST
shared in the MEGARAH farm estate, possibly were sisters.
THE BUCK FAMILY OF PORTLAND TOWNSHIP by Grayden SLOWINS:
George A. BUCK was born July 8, 1858, in Avon Township, Lorain County, Ohio, son
of Hart BUCK and Elizabeth DUFFELL BUCK. He and his brothers, Edwin A. BUCK,
Bart BUCK and others, grew up on the family farm in Portland Township. They
attended GIBBS country school and graduated from Portland High School. After
high school, George taught school for eight winters and worked on the farm
summers. Then he entered into partnership with his brother Edwin in buying and
selling livestlock, along with the farming. In 1896 Edwin withdrew from the farm
partnership, although he and George continued to bring in feeder cattle and
lambs together, and to ship finished animals. Edwin also acquired his own farms
to rent out.
George continued to farm the home place with his other brothers, especially
Bart, and enlarged the operation by the addition of his in-laws’ farm. On August
4, 1897, George A. BUCK was united in marriage with Mary WHITE, daughter of
Edwin WHITE and Emily MOREHOUSE White. They lived on their large farm on Lyons
Road in Portland Township, around the bend from the Portland Dam and overlooking
the riverbank. This property is now being developed by West Point Properties
into a site-condominium project called Cottonwood Creek Estates. They also lived
in the large WHITE family home on Smith Street in Portland, south of the Baptist
Edwin WHITE, father of Mary WHITE BUCK, was born August 11, 1832, in Genesee
County, New York, son of James and Jane WHITE, both of whom were born in New
Jersey. James WHITE’S parents came from Ireland to New Jersey, while Jane was
the child of Scottish immigrants. When Edwin WHITE was ten years of age, in
1842, he was brought to Portland Township by his parents. His father James
bought a farm, cleared and worked it, and was also a painter and chair maker.
Edwin remained on the home farm until his marriage, when he and his wife settled
on a farm next to his parents. Thus the core of the WHITE-BUCK farms is not only
centennial, but is beyond sesquicentennial, as it dates back to 1842. Edwin
WHITE was married February 4, 1863, to Emily MOREHOUSE, born August 18, 1827,
daughter of Oliver MOREHOUSE and Susan B. FARRAND MOREHOUSE. Oliver was born in
Albany, New York, of Welch ancestry, and Susan in Newark, New Jersey, descended
from French Huguenots on one side and English on the other.
Emily MOREHOUSE was brought by her parents to Wayne County, Michigan, in 1835,
and her mother died there. Her father died in later years at the home of his
daughter in Portland. Edwin & Emily WHITE became the parents of four children,
Mary WHITE BUCK being the only survivor. Susie died at age sixteen and the other
two as infants. Edwin WHITE was a lifelong Republican, but never sought public
office. Later years they lived in the MOREHOUSE house on Smith.
George A. and Mary WHITE BUCK had two children, Harold W. BUCK, who graduated
from Portland High School in 1916, and Evelyn Elizabeth, three years younger.
The family were members of the Congregational Church and George was a trustee.
He was a Republican but never held office. The big house was torn down to expand
the Baptist Church.
Harold W. BUCK married Margaret GIBBONS of Charlotte. They lived in the house by
the Baptist Church on Smith Street and he was in the insurance business. Their
children were: Thomas G. BUCK, who graduated from Portland High School in 1950,
also was in the insurance business, married Velma (Scotty) SCOTT, had daughter
Cathy. They lived in Ohio, and then on the corner of Donna Drive and SLOWINS
Avenue in Portland. Harold and Margaret’s other son was called Joe (George J.?)
BUCK, graduated in 1954, lived in California? END
HEINTZELMAN UPDATE: In October 2000 Issue, Olive HEINTZELMAN SLATER’S husband’s
name was Ivan Kenneth Slater, not Iran Keith, and of course Olive was a sister
to Robert, not brother. Also William E. HEINTZELMAN, grandfather to Olive,
Robert, Raymond and others, came to Sebewa in 1876.
HAZEL BROTHERS FARM DRAINAGE UPDATE: In 1996 Nikki HAZEL drove the big Steiger
tractor on the tiling plow. Then she went off to L.C.C. to become a Physician’s
Office Assistant. This fall her little sister, Becky (Rebecca Anne) operated the
backhoe on our farm with speed and accuracy. Now her parents announce her
engagement to Lynn MAZUREK. We hope she sticks to the tiling machine, too. Their
sign says they started in 1892, but we are pretty sure her
great-great-grandfather, George HAZEL, dug his first ditch around the village of
Bonanza in 1885. Just can’t find the newspaper clipping right now.
SAM GUNN UPDATE: Dorothy ROBB, a descendant of Sam & Caroline GUNN, writes for
information about their son Theodore, named for Sam’s brother. She also asks
about the HELMER family, of which there are many around Ionia, but I don’t know
of a connection to GUNNS. Her address is: 750 SCOTT Road, Salina, KS 67401.
PROBASCO-SHAY UPDATE: Rose STEWARD calls from Sunfield to comment on the
SHAYTOWN Issue. She is daughter of Malcolm (Mack) SLATER, OD, son of Valmon
SLATER, DVM, and her grandmother was a daughter of Ephraim PROBASCO, who owned
the William ROSEVERE farm on BIPPLEY Road. SLATERS were around the corner on
END OF AN ERA by Grayden SLOWINS:
My year as President of Michigan Townships Association came to an end on January
18, 2002. Thanks to all who helped make it a successful year! The last of the
sheep and lambs left on January 5. For the first time in my 70 years, there will
be no baby lambs this spring. Ann still has her church organist job and I still
have the RECOLLECTOR and a couple Boards of Trustees. More time to travel!
John F. and Margaret OLRY brought their seven children to this farm in 1849.
They also brought a team of horses, a cow, a sow, a few chickens, and some
sheep. The original log barn was maintained for many years to shelter the sheep,
long after the new horse & grain barn was built in 1870 and the cow barn was
built in 1882. Eventually we converted everything to sheep. Now, for the first
time in 153 years, the only livestock on the Sebewa Sheep Farm are barn cats and
the mice they catch. All the barns are silent for the first time ever.
Through his HISTORY OF IONIA AND MONTCALM COUNTIES, MICHIGAN, published in 1881,
John S. SCHENCK contributed substantially to the story and photos of the George
PRAY family. If you like his work, you can buy the new printing of his book.
This book is the most comprehensive work on the history of Ionia County and
Montcalm County ever written, and includes the earlier work of J. D. DILLENBECK
in 1872. It is a must for every historian and genealogist. The book is available
in hard-bound format with over 500 pages for $52.00 from: The Ionia County
Genealogical Society, 13051 AINSWORTH Road, Lake Odessa, MI 48849.
NEWS CLIPPINGS: From the Ionia Standard, December 11, 1906: The following people
from the Sebewa-Sunfield area have taken up homestead claims in North Dakota: E.
H. DEATSMAN – 320 acres, Marvin KENYON – 320, Ella KENYON – 160, James KENYON –
120, Frank KENYON – 160, J. H. CREAMER – 160, Harvey VanBENSCHOTEN – 800, Ha.
McCLELLAND – 160, Rob MERRIFIELD – 160, Will MERRIFIELD – 160, Bowers PEABODY –
160, Frank PEABODY – 160, Jason PEABODY – 120, Floyd PEABODY – 160, Rob RUMFIELD
– 160. Many of these people eventually came back to Michigan, but not all of
FROM THE LAKE ODESSA WAVE, March 23, 1900: The United Brethren people of West
Campbell contemplate building a new church in the neighborhood of the North Fish
School (Pleasant Valley); quite a sum of money is already subscribed and about
17,000 board feet of saw logs are at the mills. They are a persevering people.
(Editor’s note: My great-uncle Fred KLAHN, Sr., husband of Aunt Inez WENGER, was
the contractor and Granddad John BRAKE was long the church treasurer.)
Also from the WAVE, March 23, 1900: Elmer LEAK, born February 10, 1879, died
March 18, 1900, leaving father, mother, two brothers, two sisters and a host of
other relatives. Jesse & M. LEAK were called home from Eaton Rapids by sickness
& death of their brother.
Miss Carrie SMITH (McNEIL WHORLEY) left the employ of Mrs. Christian SINDLINGER
to work for her father, Oliver D. SMITH, Sr. Minnie SINDLINGER, who teaches
school, is home for vacation and taking her place. Albert W. MEYERS has his
sawmill stuck in a snowdrift, while moving from the John GRIFFIN farm to the
SOME PEOPLE LIKE THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR for the history, some for the genealogy,
some for our travels, some like it all. If you don’t like any of it, please stop
sending money so we can finish retiring. The April-June issues will again be
combined, so five per year. There are no longer any dues, but we accept $5
donations to cover printing and the coming increase in postage: THE SEBEWA
RECOLLECTOR, 3226 E. MUSGROVE Hwy., Lake Odessa, MI 48849.