My dad, US Navy, 1946 aboard the US Hank.
Immigration to America ~ 1895 Peter Kreuz
December 7th marks the 80th anniversary of an important event in WW2 history. On this day, we also reflect on the journey of the Kreuz family, beginning in 1895 when Grover Cleveland was President, with the immigration of Peter Kreuz and his two brothers from Bliesen Germany to Toledo, Ohio. They sought the fertile soil, beautiful summers, and abundant farming opportunities in Toledo. Though their motivations are unclear, we are grateful for their journey.
Generation 2 in America
The Kreuz family were stoic and hardworking farmers. My grandparents, Jacob Kreuz (my dad’s dad) and Lester Okuley (my mom’s dad) continued the family’s legacy.
The Kreuz side ~ my dad’s dad, Jacob, and his brother Wendel married sisters, Melvina and Jeannie Langenderfer. Together, they owned almost 200 acres of adjacent farmland in Swanton, Ohio. Jacob and Melvina had eleven children, while Wendel and Jeannie had seven. As a result, the Kreuz family name was well-known in Swanton. My dad was the seventh of 11 hard working children.
Twenty years ago, these Kreuz families held several reunions where they took over the entire Maumee Bay resort. Jacob and Wendel were great farmers, and Jacob’s detailed ledgers of equipment and seed costs, labor hours, and price sheets on grain, corn, strawberries, eggs, and milk are still kept by his daughter.
The family was self-sufficient, with the exception of sugar and clothes. Jacob had a greenhouse, a milk house, a hen house, a well, and a hay loft where they even played basketball on the second floor’s hardwood floor.
Jacob Kreuz’s farm covered 100 acres, and although he had considered purchasing another 100 acres of land across the road, he never did. In 1956, a hailstorm destroyed his greenhouse on the day of his grandson Dan’s baptism, leading to a less-than-ideal return from the church ceremony. However, Jacob’s fruit and vegetable growing operation continued to thrive.
During high school, 1942 to 1945, my dad and his older brother Bob worked on the farm and would spend their days picking tomatoes. They would then load the produce truck to the brim and drive to the market in Detroit, often timing their trip to coincide with favorable prices and a Tigers game. The journey was long, spanning 80 miles, but they would gas up the truck upon arrival, watch the game, sleep in the truck, and wake up at 4 AM to sell their goods. They were back on the road by 5 AM and milking cows by 7 AM. Their dedication to the farm was unwavering. Ten years later, it was Jerry’s turn and his new nephew Jerry Parks (Burt Parks and Aggie Kreuz-Parks son) adventure. Jerry, now 85 recounts the adventure well.
Here is the link to the farm my mom grew up on. Lester and Mildred Collins-Okuley farm
My mother, Mary Elosie Okuley also grew up on a farm. The Kreuz and Okuley families were known for their remarkable farming skills and hardworking ethics.
My grandma Mildred Collins-Okuley’s (my mom’s mom) family owned a farm that was 45 minutes away from Jacob’s by car. Mildred’s father, DA Collins, was the first President of Hamler State Bank founded in 1921. My mom is still a shareholder today in Hamler Bank, a testament to the lasting legacy of these hardworking farmers.
My mom’s grandpa Frank Okuley, was a great man who owned five farms, one for himself and one for each of his sons including my grandpa Lester. On our visits back to the farms from Cleveland, we spent ample time at both farms, and we knew the route oh too well as we made the trek from the Kreuz to Okuley farms. Riding four in the front and four in the back, my dad drove like a banshee to and from the farms during our visits.
However, when great grandpa Frank had a debilitating stroke and died, his son Albert, who was greedy and jealous, bought the better farm owned by my grandpa Lester, causing a complicated land swap. In short order, Lester had the best farm in the region again, and he was known for his exceptional farming skills that even his brother Albert couldn’t deny.
My parents, Norman Kreuz and Mary Eloise Okuley Kreuz, were also farmers with parallel paths. Mom told me that Lester was the best farmer of his three other brothers, which is why he was so successful, even during the Great Depression. Not so lucky were many other farmers in Ohio and the Midwest who had to abandon their farms.
In 1953, my mom introduced Norman into the house the day the farm swap happened, bringing him home for the first time shortly after her parents had moved into the swap house. As my mom put it, “it wasn’t such a bad deal as my dad got the big brick home that he grew up in.” It was only a matter of time until Lester turned the farm into what he lost to Albert in the swap, and it was right around the time when grandpa Okuley bought his first Buick, a trophy for his success.
My mom didn’t dislike too many people in her life, but her brother-in-law Albert made the list as a result of his dirty pool play. Come to find out the details. Lester’s dad Peter had a debilitating stroke and the four brother’s farms needed to be realigned. Great Grandpa Peter had 5 sisters and one went on to watch over and be his caretaker for another 30 years.
My mom is a deep thinker still full of wisdom and historical knowledge. Her mind remains crisp at age 92. She reads my updates and helps fill in the blanks. Mom never had a driver’s license. She recalls their farmhouse being electrified in 1937, plumbing and running water while she was finishing #1 in her class in nursing school in 1952, and then there was grandpa’s great big Buick he bought in 1954.
Parallel stories with our countries leaders
I compare two former farmers, John Adams and Harry S. Truman the Kreuz/Okuley stories. The Adams and Truman’s were both farmers in addition to leading our country later on in their lives. Post WW1, Truman quit his bank job and formed a farming partnership with his dad, the J.A. Truman and Sons.
Harry S. Truman later would write in his diary. “You know as long as a country is one of that kind, people are more independent and make better citizens. When it is made up of factories and large cities it soon becomes depressed and makes classes among people. Every farmer thinks he’s as good as the President or perhaps a little bit better.” McCullough, David 19T23:58:59). Truman. Simon & Schuster.
Even though Truman wrote that about farmers, he left the farm for WW1 in 1930 where his sister did what she had to do and ran the day-to-day farm. The war ended; Truman threw in the towel upon returning from France to become a retailer. The farm equipment was sold, and the land leased and the next chapter began for him.
Truman and my uncle Al Kreuz had similar career paths. Truman became a judge and county commissioner, much like my uncle. Uncle Al started out as a farmer, served in the military, and eventually owned a prosperous Texaco station after the war. Al later owned a popular Ohio Turnpike restaurant and became a politician, serving as Fulton County Commissioner. Uncle Al won his first election but lost re-election, prompting him to run again four years later and regain the seat.
Truman and my mother shared a love for reading and playing the piano, but I never learned how to play. Truman once got himself in trouble while showing off his piano skills to Lauren Bacall at the White House.
My grandmother, Melvina Kreuz, had a total of 14 children over the course of 27 years. All of her children were born on the family farm, but unfortunately, three of them died at birth. My dad told me that after giving birth, Melvina was back in the fields two days later, supervising and directing traffic with my grandfather, Jacob. I remember seeing a daily log kept by both of my grandparents with meticulous notes over the years, including information about hired hands in addition to their own children, as well as grain and corn prices.
In May of 1945, my father enlisted in the Navy at the age of 18. His brother Bob had been denied enlistment the previous year but eventually joined the military in 1944. Their grandfather Jacob was unhappy about it and even stormed the enlistment office, arguing that Uncle Bob was needed on the farm as much as he was needed in Normandy. Grandpa Jake was known to be strict, so my siblings and I always made sure to be on our best behavior during visits to the farm.
My dad’s younger brothers, Al and Jerry, also served in the military. Al served as a post-war Army peacekeeper, and Jerry served during the Korean War. Aunt Aggie Kreuz also served in the Navy and was in charge of handling sensitive secret documents for FDR’s chief, Clifford Clifford.
The challenges that modern-day farmers face are similar to those of the past. Today’s farmers struggle with the economic impacts of COVID-19 (which was Smallpox back then) and the current turmoil in supply lines for products they need to run their businesses. They also face uncertainties related to staffing shortages (which were resolved in the past by having more children who could work on the farm), market-set prices for their crops or animals, and the unpredictable nature of the weather.
My dad never spoke much about World War II, before, during, or after his service. Years after he passed away, I was talking to my mom about the recent launch of the USS Littlerock from the Buffalo harbor, and how it would have been nice to have my dad, Norm, there. My mom then pulled out a handwritten letter, along with a matching photo, that my dad had written to his mother, Melvina, aboard the USS Hank post-war in 1946. This letter finally gave me some insight into the thoughts and feelings of a soldier.
At the time that Truman took over as president after Roosevelt’s death, my mom was 14 years old. She said that he was one of the greatest presidents in her lifetime and that he saved millions of lives. While Truman was in office, my dad was on the USS Hank somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Truman was the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, which consisted of more than 16 million men and women, as well as the largest naval armada in history, which included 10 battleships, 27 aircraft carriers, and 45 cruisers, as well as more planes, tanks, guns, money, and technology than had ever been marshaled by any one nation in history. In the critical final act of the most terrible war of all time, before the two atomic bombs were dropped, the Chiefs of Staff had estimated that fighting in Europe could last an additional six months, and in the Pacific, possibly another year and a half.
Similarly to Truman after WWI and my dad and his brothers after WWII, the wars ended, and life moved on. Truman opened up his haberdashery, and my dad went to the University of Detroit. Norman, on the other hand, dropped out of college during his sophomore year after receiving a call from his roommate, Jim Ryan, to play in a golf tournament at Arbor Hills Country Club. Norm dropped his pitchfork, took Grandpa Jake’s car for two days without permission, and upon returning, lived with his sister MaryJane after he got kicked out. Eventually, they rekindled, dad left college, got a job with the Yellow Pages, and retired forty years later. As for my mom and most girls during the war, they either went to college or started raising families. Eloise chose nursing school, where she met my dad at a VFW post dance, and they were married four months later in September 1953. Tim was born a year later, and Mom returned to nursing when baby brother Butch was old enough to be left alone.
Fourth generation exposure to the farm
At the age of six months, my family moved to Cleveland when my dad took a job with Ohio Bell. Despite having grown up around the farm, all 14 of my aunts and uncles shared a common sentiment: “Once high school ended, none of us wanted to be farmers.” My godmother, Aunt Regina Kreuz, even attended the University of Alabama solely to escape farm life, socialize with more people than her 27 cousins and ten siblings, and find a husband. However, there was one exception – my mother’s younger brother, Ed Okuley. Sadly, at the age of 13, Ed was killed in a tragic tractor accident. Ironically, he was the only one who loved farming and would have taken over the family farm. His loss was a tragedy for our family, and my mom attended the funeral before embarking on her own career as a nurse, which was ultimately short-lived.
Growing up, my siblings and I spent our childhood on the farms, visiting four times a year from our home in Cleveland and later Buffalo. We learned the tricks and trades of farming, and those trips, chores, and skills came in handy later in life when Cindy bought me a 1956 Ford 600 tractor with York rake to groom our property.
Our time on the farm was quite an experience. We’d help out on occasion, though we also found time for mischief, terrorizing the animals, shooting out the rain gauge, and breaking things. Nevertheless, we were able to experience firsthand how Norm and Eloise were raised, from milking cows to plowing fields to scouring the chicken coop to baling hay to hoeing fields to riding alongside in the combine and sitting atop the hay wagon. It was quite the eye-opener, waking up every day at 5 AM and working 24/7/365.
On a parallel path to my parents’ story is that of my mother-in-law, Gisela Serrer-Driscoll, whom we know today as Oma. Gisela was born in Oberndorf, in the community of Rottweil, Germany in 1932. During her youth years, her father mysteriously disappeared, and his whereabouts and lineage remain a mystery. By 1945, when Gisela was 13 years old, her German town was destroyed by Allied bombers, and she, like many others, had to endure the terrors of post-war.
Despite being a young teenager, Gisela witnessed the constant concern of disease, lack of food, ruined housing, and an entire population of good German citizens displaced and walking aimlessly about the countryside. There were no men around; they were either dead, escaped, or prisoners of war. We don’t often talk about it, although she sometimes drops hints about what life was like during those times. Once, when the kids were watching “Saving Private Ryan,” she walked into the room and said, “Please turn the television off. If you lived what my family lived through, you’d never watch that kind of show ever again.”
During the war, Gisela’s mother remarried, and she gained a loving stepfather and two more siblings.
In the early 1950s, Gisela became a nurse, and it was during her time at the hospital that she met a dapper post-war Army soldier, Sargent William Driscoll, who swept her off her feet. She came to America with him, but tragically, William passed away, leaving Gisela as a German immigrant working as a nurse at the VA and raising her children on her own.
In present times, Gisela has a boyfriend named Frederick, who is fluent in German and originally from Poland. Frederick was only seven years old when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, and although he doesn’t speak much about it, we occasionally get glimpses into his life during that time.
April 8, 2023 ~ we will be celebrating the passing of uncle Jerry, the last of 11.
As Winston Churchill once said, “It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” This sentiment rings true for the Kreuz family as well. While we say goodbye to this generation, it is only the beginning of a new chapter in our family’s story.
Let us honor the lives of these 11 children by carrying on their legacy, by living with kindness and compassion, and by striving to create a world where all children are loved, protected, and empowered to reach their full potential. Together, we can build a brighter future, one that would make our departed loved ones proud.
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My brother Terry shared some tidbits with me a while ago and it’s worth adding a few captions and sayings from my grandparents, parents and aunts and uncles.
- A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.
- Words that soak into your ears are whispered… not yelled.
- Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.
- Meanness doesn’t just happen overnight.
- Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads.
- Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.
- It doesn’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.
- You cannot unsay a cruel word.
- Every path has a few puddles.
- When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.
- The best sermons are lived, not preached.
- Most of the stuff people worry about, ain’t never gonna happen anyway.
- Don’t judge folks by their relatives.
- Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
- Live a good and honorable life, then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time.
- Don’t interfere with something that ain’t bothering you none.
- Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.
- If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging’.
- Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.
- The biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with watches you from the mirror every morning’.
- Good judgment comes from experience and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.
- Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than putting’ it back in.
- If you get to thinking’ you’re a person of some influence, try ordering’ somebody else’s dog around.
- Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, and enjoy the ride.
- Don’t pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight, he’ll just shoot you!
- Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong.
- Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.
I so enjoyed reading this article. I am Wendell’s daughter, Eileen and in my late 80,s. My parents had seven children not six. And our farm was adjacent to Jakes . I worked on uncle Jakes farm during strawberry season As well as trimming tomato plants, picking tomatoes for market and loading them on the truck.. Bob would often let me drive the tractor while they were loading. I think I was nine or ten years old then. Those were the good old days. However, I didn’t think so at the time. Keep writing.
Hi Eileen. Please call me at 716.445.2210 or send me your number and I will call you. Your brother Jim and my dad Norman were very close and I so enjoyed talking to him about my dad, and also his rockstar granddaughter Gabriella Kreuz
You sure had an interesting family I never knew you were a farmer haha Bob was in the navy also I never knew your mom was a nurse very interesting reading soooooo many kids wow on a 1 to 10 scale I give you a 10 for your writing skills love sherry
Joe… I thoroughly enjoyed your family’s history. What an incredible family you have. Thank you for sharing!!!!
Thank you for reading
Just had the best therapy, spending the morning writing how my life has been impacted by being a Kreuz kid.. OMG please let me know if possible WordPress has anything sent from me , egad
I think I now have WordPress ability
Will post again
Got it bro. Write an article and I’ll add it to my blog as an excerpt