Chapter 1 ~ Generation 1 ~ 1895 Jacob Kreuz
This post has turned out to be more of a short story and by the time I finish I’ll most likely publish my first book or maybe feature my own memoirs. Today December 7th on the 80th anniversary update on some WW2 history. We’ll get to that shortly.
Sometime in 1895 when Grover Cleveland was President, my great grandparent Peter Kreuz and his two brothers immigrated to Toledo Ohio from Bliesen Germany. From Staten Island they made their way to Toledo where they heard the soil was rich, the summers were beautiful and ripe territory for animal and agri famers was bountiful. I’m not sure of their motivation but glad they made the trek.
Chapter 2 ~ Stoic hard workers of the land. Generation 2 Jacob Kreuz and Lester Okuley
My grandpa Jake Kreuz and his brother Wendel married sisters, Melvina and Jeannie. Between the two of them they owned nearly 200 acres of adjacent farmland in Swanton, Ohio. Jacob and Mevina Langenderfer had eleven children and Wendel and Jeannie had seven. Needless to say, there were many Kreuz’s running around Swanton, Ohio. Twenty years ago, we had several reunions of both the Kreuz sides where we took over the entire Maumee Bay resort. Jacob ran a great farm. My mom has some old books of Jacob’s detailed ledgers of seed costs, labor hours, price sheets on grain, corn, strawberries, eggs, and milk. All from their land. Jacob had a greenhouse, a milk house, a hen house and a hay loft where we set up a basketball on the hardwood second floor. Needless to say, the Jacob Kreuz was as boisterous of a farm anywhere.
Jacob’s farm was 100 acres. Grandpa Jacob lamented buying another 100 acres across the road and never did. Jacob’s green house was destroyed by a hailstorm the day of my brother Dan’s baptism in 1956. Not a good scene returning from the church ceremony. Needless to say, Jacob’s fruit and vegetable growing entity sustained. While in high school, my dad and his older brother Bob used to pick tomatoes during the day, fill the produce truck, drive to the market in Detroit usually timed with favorable prices and a Tigers game. Eighty miles away, they gassed the produce truck, made the drive, they’d watch the game, sleep in the truck, rise at 4 AM, sell the goods, be back on the road by 5 and milking cows by 7.
My mom’s dad Lester Okuley married Mildred Collins and that farm was 45 minutes away from Jacob’s by car. On all of our visits back to the farms from Cleveland we spent ample time at both farms, and we know the route oh too well as we’d make 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. Lester’s farm had the best repair shop in Holgate. Lester’s dad was Frank Okuley who had four boys and five daughters. Frank was a great man and owned five farms, one for him and one for each of his boys. Back to that later. Lester’s farm was as boisterous with a remarkable repair shop. Grandma Okuley said “When Lester screwed a screw you weren’t getting that screw out” and as my mom noted “When Lester fixed something, it was fixed”
Lester’s brother Albert was greedy and jealous. Albert wanted 100 acres which is why a legal but dirty pool land swap happened after their dad Frank had a debilitating stroke.
Normal size farm was 80- acres according to Eloise.
Chapter 3 – Norman Kreuz and Mary Eloise Okuley Kreuz
My grandparents were parallel path farmers. My dad Norman Kreuz had 10 siblings and mom, Mary Eloise Okuley had four. My mom’s dad was Lester Okuley. My mom told me Lester was the best farmer of his three other brothers. So good that in an estate dispute Lester’s brother Albert bought his farm right out from under him and literally swapped houses across the street from each other. My mom told me as I was writing my Covid blog that she was seven when WW2 started. Her dad Lester had survived the depths of the Great Depression. Not so lucky she said were many other farmers in Ohio and the Midwest for that matter. They didn’t have statistical analysis back then, but mom does recall many abandoned farms as noted by many historians.
It was 1953 and mom introduced Norman into the house the day the farm swap happened. Mom brought Norm home for the first time shortly after her parents had moved into the swap house. Quoting my mom” Actually 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. 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.
Next up for my mom, the deep thinker. Her mind remains crisp at age 90. She reads my updates and helps fill in the blanks. Mom never had a driver’s license. I often still wonder. When did you get electricity? And running water? And a car? And what did you do summers in high school and nursing school?
Back to the Kreuz – Okuley story shortly.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about two former farmers, John Adams and Harry S. Truman. They were both farmers in addition to leading our land later on in their lives. Post WW1, Harry quit his bank job and formed a farming partnership with his dad, the J.A. Truman and Sons, it got me thinking about my first partnership where I coined my tagline for our business model “Half of a Lot is a Lot.”
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 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 went on to be a judge and county commissioner quite comparable to my uncle Al Kreuz. My uncle Al’s route is somewhat comparable to Truman: Farmer, soldier, retailer. Post Military, Uncle Al post war owned a very prosperous Texaco station and then a popular Ohio Turnpike restaurant and parallel path as a politician where he was Fulton County Commissioner. Al ran for office. He won. Uncle Al lost his re-election and was so upset he ran four years later and took over the seat again. And then there was also Truman’s love for reading and the piano as were two loves of my mother. I never learned how to play the piano and Truman got himself in a little trouble while showing off his skills with Lauren Bacall grabbing the spotlight at the White House.
My grandma Melvina Kreuz had 14 kids in total with a range of 27 years from oldest to youngest. All were born at the farm and three died at birth. My dad once told me “Melvina was back in the fields two days after birth supervising and directing traffic with Jacob.” I recall seeing a daily log from both my grandparents with meticulous notes over the years of hired hands in addition to the kids, grain and corn prices.
In similar fashion to Truman, May of 1945 at age 18, my dad enlisted in the Navy a year after his brother Bob was denied enlistment in WW2. Bob enlisted in 1944. My grandpa Jacob Kreuz stormed the enlistment office. He needed Uncle Bob on the farm as much as America needed him in Normandy. Farming was a patriotic duty. Grandpa Jake ruled with an iron fist, and we were less mischievous on our visits at that farm, My dad’s two younger brothers Al and Jerry would too serve. Al as a postwar Army peacekeeper and Jerry later served in the Korean war.
As it relates back then to now and the dilemma of today’s modern-day farmer versus then. Today’s farmers constantly struggle with the economic impacts of Covid (Smallpox back then), and the current turmoil in supply lines for products they need to run their businesses, on top of coping with the more typical uncertainties over staffing shortages (which back then meant just have more kids who were great laborers) market-set prices for the crops they grow or animals they raise and – as always – the weather.
I never knew much nor did my dad talk about WW2, before, during or after. Years after my dad passed, I was talking to my mom about the recent launch of the USS Littlerock from the Buffalo harbor and how it would have been a treat to have Norm there. That said Eloise pulls out a handwritten letter with a matching photo my dad wrote to his mother Melvina aboard the US Hank post war in 1946. Finally, some insight and feelings a soldier shared with his mom.
My mom didn’t know my dad yet. That said, I asked my mom her thoughts and what life was like when Truman took over after Roosevelt’s death. “He was one of the greatest presidents in my lifetime. I was 14 years old, and Harry Truman saved millions of lives. At the time of Roosevelt’s death your father was on a ship somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.” Yes, my dad was on the US Hank. Truman was the Commander in Chief—of armed forces exceeding 16 million men and women of the largest naval armada in history, of 10 battleships, 27 aircraft carriers, 45 cruisers, of more planes, tanks, guns, money, and technology than ever marshaled by any one nation in all history, and in the critical last act of the most terrible war of all time. Before the two A bombs were dropped, the Chiefs of Staff had said fighting in Europe could last six months longer: in the Pacific, possibly another year and a half.
My dad, US Navy, 1946 aboard the US Hank.
Chapter 4 ~ 4th generation exposure to the farm
When I was six months old dad moved to Cleveland and took up a job with Ohio, Bell. Having known all 14 of my aunts and uncles, they all had one quote in common they shared with me over the years at any type of Kreuz/Okuley celebration. “Once high school ended none of us wanted to be farmers.” I recall my godmother Aunt Regina Kreuz telling me the only reason she attended the University of Alabama was to escape farm life, hang out with more people than her 27 cousins and ten siblings and find a husband. There was one disciple who loved farming. My mom’s kid brother of nine yeas Ed. My mom’s brother Ed Okuley was killed in a tragic tractor accident at age 13. Ironically, he was the only one who loved farming and would have taken over. He was Lester’s sidekick and that was a real family tragedy. Needless to say mom attended the funeral and returned to Mercy hospital to begin her short lived career as a nurse.
Four times a year my siblings and I traversed from Cleveland and later Buffalo and literally spent our child years learning the tricks and trades of both farms. Those were great family vacations and lots of work. Those trips, chores, and skills came in handy when Cindy bought me a 1956 Ford 600 tractor with York rake to groom our property.
Life on a farm was quite the experience in our childhood. We’d help out on occasion when we weren’t terrorizing the animals, shooting out the rain gauge or breaking things. Needless to say, we were able to experience how Norm and Eloise were raised. From milking cows to plowing fields to scouring the chicken coop to bailing hay to hoeing fields to riding alongside in the combine and sitting atop the hay wagon, it was quite the eye opener. Up every day at 5 AM, 24/7/365.
In similar fashion to throwing in the towel on farming, Truman after WW1 and my dad and all his brothers after WW2, the wars ended, the world celebrated. Truman opened up his haberdashery and my dad took off to the University of Detroit. The last straw for Norman was the summer of his sophomore year of college. He got a call from his roomie Jim Ryan to play at a golf tournament at Arbor Hills Country Club. Norm dropped his pitchfork, took grandpa Jake’s car for two days without permission, and upon return, lived with his sister MaryJane after he got the boot. 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, off to college or raising families then. Eloise chose nursing school and met my dad at VFW post dance and they were married four months later in September 1953. Tim was born a year later and mom retuned to nursing when baby brother Butch was old enough to be left alone.
On a parallel path to my parents is my mother-in-law Gisela Serrer-Driscoll, Oma as we know her today. Oma was born in Oberndorf in the community of Rottweil, Germany in 1932. In the early war, Oma’s father mysteriously disappeared during her youth years and his whereabouts and lineage remains a mystery. In 1945, Oma was 13 when her German town was destroyed by the allied bombers. What terror the German citizens lived through in similar fashion to the London Blitzkrieg. We don’t talk about it much although she offers hints of what life was like for a young teen amidst the ruins of the bombing. All I needed to know one day was a reaction I witnessed while she walked into the room while the kids were watching “Saving Private Ryan. “Please turn the television off.” Oma said “If you lived what my family lived through you’d never watch that kind of show ever again.” The constant concern of disease was everywhere. There were no men. They were either dead or escaped or POW’s. Lack of food, ruined housing, an entire population of good German citizens displaced walking aimlessly about the countryside. I shared an excerpt of an Ed Morrow broadcast I read about talking about the bombing of London “”What a puny effort is this to burn a great city.” Germany was partitioned into four zones between the Americans, the Brits, Russians and the French. Obviously the American Army was stationed in Oma’s quadrant.
Post war and the German surrender, Gisela’s mother remarried and she enjoyed a loving stepfather and two more siblings. Her now boyfriend, German speaking friend Frederick, is from Poland. Frederick, at age 7, was living in Poland when the Germans invaded in 1939. He too doesn’t say much and we get snippets of his life on an occasion or two.
Fortunately for Gisela she became a nurse in the early 1950’s and while taking care of a dapper post war Army soldier in the hospital she was swept off her feet and off to America they came.
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In closing, framing this farm heritage of work ethic and values, my brother Terry shared some tidbits with me a while ago and it’s worth adding a few photos and 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.