Saturday, March 7, 2015

Dorothea (aka Dora) Suzanna Wierck - a first generation German/American

Family Lineage: 1 Dorothea Suzanna, Wierck, 2 Harold Victor Hayward, 3 Judith Ann Hayward

 1884 – 1971

Henry Nicholas Wierck
There isn't much background information available about "Dora's" parents before they left Hanover, Germany.  Although they were born and raised in the same area of the country, there was quite a difference in age, and they probably didn't know each other. What is known is that her father, Henry, was born in 1847 and had - perhaps in a fit of youthful rebellion at age 18 - stowed away on a ship to America without his father's knowledge or permission.
Dorothea Margaretta Meyn

Her mother, Dorothea Margarette Meyn, was 17 when she left Germany (perhaps taking what was called "a grand tour" provided to children of wealthy families.  In that case, she would have been expected to return to Germany in a year or two).   According to Dora, Dorothea had come from a wealthy family, and always intended to go home for a visit.  But before she could afford the trip or dare to leave her large family, she had received an announcement edged in black which announced the death of her mother. She never went back.

Upon arriving in New York City, Henry found work in a grocery store and, after mastering at least the basics of his new country's language, he started up and ran a heating fuel business for 10 years.  It was while attending a dance in the city that he met Dorothea, 7 years his junior (perhaps what drew them to each other was being able to comfortably talk in their native language without worrying about whether they were putting the nouns and verbs in the proper place).

Within four years of Dorothea's arrival in America, she and Henry were married, and two years after their first child, Mathilde "Tillie", was born, they were on the move again - this time into the heartland of America.  We can't know what led to their decision to once more trade the known for the unknown.  Perhaps they wanted a rural setting in which to raise their children and, even at that time, New York City fell far short of those expectations.  

We do know that they eventually arrived in Fairbank, Iowa, a small rural town with a large German/American population.  It was there that they finally found a place where they could comfortably settle down, and - after working for a few years on neighboring farms - were able to buy their own farm, where they raised their 4 girls and 3 boys. 
Dora shown standing second from right

22 year old Dora and 25 year old Edwin Herbert (aka Herb) Hayward had both grown up in small towns in Buchanan County, Iowa, and their romance probably got its start in school, church or introductions from friends.  But it was one thing to decide to marry and quite another to furnish a home or pay for a large formal wedding.   

Luckily for them the owner of Stewart's Hardware Store in Fairbank was an entrepreneur who was looking for a way to advertise his store through more than ads in the local newspaper (remember, radio and TV weren't even close to a glimmer at that time).  So he came up with an idea for a homegrown commercial.

It wasn't long before the idea and the solution came together in the form of a good looking, desperate young couple who agreed that in return for a "fine Jewell Steel Range" they would have their wedding on a raised platform outside the hardware store.  Of course the idea was strange enough that it brought in spectators from all over the county, and earned a column in the Fairbank Register, thus fulfilling the storekeeper's dream of a perfect advertisement.  

On a cool October day in 1906, with their Lutheran pastor officiating, the bride in a white silk dress and carrying a bouquet of white "brides" roses was accompanied by her sister, Tillie, as she exchanged vows with her groom, who was dressed in a traditional black suit and accompanied by his best man, John Paulus.  All this took place on a beautifully decorated platform in front of Stewarts' Hardware store.

This newspaper article reported on all the festivities and after the service, the reporter interviewed the best man and  maid of honor who said that if two steel ranges had been offered, there would have been a double wedding that day.  They also hinted that if the store was willing to sponsor another wedding the following year, they might be willing to apply (NOTE: family history reveals that they they did marry - other partners).

Dora with tame squirrel
While never owning their own farm, the Haywards were tenant farmers on dairy farms in Iowa and Wisconsin, where one of their jobs was caring for flocks of chickens and turkeys. Turning the chore into fun, one of Herb's turkeys won first place in the county fair, and Dora could truthfully claim that she had tamed a squirrel to sit on her shoulder and eat from her hand. 

After nine years of marriage, Herb and Dora, who desperately wanted to have a child of their own, decided that it was time to change their ineffective wishing into decisive action, and approached a Lutheran social services agency about the possibility of adopting a child.  Within months, the Haywards were informed that a couple of babies had become available for adoption, and they were welcome to come to the children's home to see them.  Herb said later that the first baby they saw was a beautiful, blond baby girl, and both thought she'd be perfect for their family.  That was until they were shown a screaming, scrawny baby boy, who - they decided - needed them more. 

After a few months, the baby had filled out, thanks to lots of love and good food.  Even better, Harold Victor - with his blond hair and blue eyes - fit in well with his German family and friends.  As a matter of fact, his looks and demeanor matched that of the Wiercks so well that Dora decided that he never needed to know the truth of his birth and swore their family and friends to silence.  It was only after he turned 19 that Herb emotionally told him "the secret".  Harold said years later that he had always suspected something because his aunts and uncle often were more patient and understanding with him than they were with his cousins.

Herb, Dora, Edna, Harold 5/23/1936
It wasn't long after he graduated from high school that Harold decided farm life was not for him and hopped a freight train for Chicago. Of course, that changed the tempo of life for the senior Haywards, and after attending Harold and Edna's wedding in 1936, they found work closer to Chicago where the young couple and Dora's sister, Tillie Williams, made their homes.
Just as it seemed the Haywards' life had settled into a comfortable routine, everything changed drastically in 1940. After picking and filling several bushel baskets of tomatoes, they stored them in the back seat of their car and headed home. They'd had a full, tiring day and it was dark as they approached a railroad crossing that had no gate or warning lights.  Since they had safely crossed the tracks before, they weren't worried, especially since they had just heard a train pass through just a few minutes before. What they didn't know was that the noise from that train had muffled the sound of a second train coming up fast from the opposite direction, and hit the Hayward car before it could get off the tracks.

It was a serious accident but could have been much worse!  Upon impact, Dora was thrown into the back seat of the car (no seatbelts in those days), and the rescuers believed she was dead since she seemed to be covered in blood (actually it was juice from the tomatoes).  She did crush her knee and, although she underwent extensive surgery, she was never again able to bend it. 

Since her recovery time was going to be long and painful and Herb was unable to care for her, the decision was made to move her into Harold and pregnant Edna's tiny apartment, which also housed their 2 year old daughter (sleeping in a crib in the closet) and one of Edna's brothers (who slept with Harold on a mat in the attic).  It was several very trying months for everyone before she was able to walk well enough to return to Herb.

At least there was one good thing that came out of that devastating accident.  The settlement offered by the railroad allowed Herb and Dora to buy a two story building on the North side of Chicago. This building became home for three Hayward generations, with Herb and Dora settling into a comfortable apartment in the basement, Harold's family living on the first floor, and the Buggy family renting the second floor.  For Dora, the added blessing was that she now lived near her oldest sister, Tillie, and they spent many happy hours cooking good German food for their loved ones.

Herb loved gardening but hated all yellow flowers and plucked any that dared to show themselves.  He also thought if he built a playhouse for his granddaughters, they would be content to stay in there and play with their dolls. It was his way of trying to keep rowdy boys who might hurt his flowers out of the yard.  It didn't work! (He never knew that as soon as he left for work, Edna allowed the boys to come into the yard  as long as they promised to leave as soon as she spotted Herb coming home).  He did eventually find the job of his dreams - in a cemetery - where he lovingly cared for the grounds until his sudden death caused by a heart attack in 1948. 

By the time Dora died in 1971 at age 87, her immediate family consisted of  Harold and Edna,  3 granddaughters and their husbands, 4 great granddaughters and 3 great grandsons. All of her granddaughters still vividly remember the German children's prayer she said with them each night, although the wording seemed to vary - depending on who was reciting it:   "Ich bin klein; Mein herz ist rein; Darf niemand drin wohnen; als Jesus allein" which, translated, says:  "I am small; My heart is pure; Nobody may dwell in it but Jesus".  What a good memory to carry from childhood into adulthood!