I always knew my dad dearly loved and missed his brother, my Uncle Gordon. To me, Gordon was more than just a photo in a picture frame. He was the man I never got to meet.
Uncle Gordon’s picture was always there. An attractive man with deep-set eyes. I have wondered what his voice was like, and then it occurred to me he would have the same gentle voice as the rest of my dad’s brothers.
But siblings all have different personalities, and I wonder about his mannerisms and character. He was a pilot, so he was probably fairly intelligent.
They say when someone you love becomes a memory… that memory becomes a treasure. But in Uncle Gordon’s case, I have only my dad’s memories, not mine.
My mother was a writer of human interest stories which, of course, included essays about my father and his siblings. The generation before me is no longer here to answer questions about their lives, so I am grateful for the scrapbooks and little bits of written history they left for us.
Uncle Gordon and my dad were best of friends; Dad was born in 1919 and was just 16 months older than Gordon, who was born in January of 1921.
My Grandma and Grandpa Kimpel were the parents of many children. The two of them had 12 children together. Grandpa had been married and widowed before he married Grandma. Together the two of them raised ten boys and two girls. Dad had three half-siblings, which brings the total to 15 children.
Can you imagine coming up with 15 names? And middle names? It seems what was old is new again as we hear babies born today given names that were popular a century ago.
I think it would be fun to step back in time and spend a day with Grandma. I realize the appropriate attire would be a work dress. From what I can figure out from the photos, it would likely be a plaid dress. And there would be an apron to protect it. The shoes look a lot like shoes that can still be purchased today.
In order for my grandmother to keep homemade bread stocked in the kitchen, she had to bake it every other day in what would now be called an antique cook stove. Women from her generation were expert bread bakers with no need for a written recipe. I can only imagine how many loaves of bread she baked. My dad often spoke about the large pancake griddle his mother used, and we do have her pancake recipe.
It makes me smile to think they wore dresses every day as they worked so hard in and outside their homes. The ladies knew how to use a sewing machine and made their own dresses. I wonder if my grandmother owned a pair of pants. I have memories of visiting her home in Hicksville, and I remember her dresses.
I have a black-and-white photo of my Grandma and Grandpa Kimpel taken in the 1920s. Grandma’s plaid dress looks as if she completed more than a few hours of hard work while wearing it. Grandpa’s jeans had obviously been patched, more than once, at the knees. He didn’t take his hat off for the photo.
My mom had written a newspaper article which explained that Grandpa Kimpel raised the wheat that provided flour for Grandma’s homemade bread. He raised sugar cane, and the boys helped strip it, tie in bundles, and take to a press. She wrote that there was plenty of sorghum molasses for bread and pancakes.
Today, most of us know nothing about raising wheat and sugar cane and tying it in bundles and taking it to a press. My first thought was there is an online video that would explain it.
My dad said he liked to help in the kitchen, and his brothers called him “Mary.” Thankfully his nickname didn’t stick, and his nieces and nephews always called him “Uncle Vern.”
The majority of the siblings answered to their nicknames. My Uncle Ivan was known to us as “Uncle Dutch, and Floyd’s nickname was “Uncle Bean.”
My Uncle Bill’s given name is Kenneth Valentine. He was born on Valentine’s Day, and his Grandpa Kimpel’s first name was Valentine, thus the middle name.
In 1935, Joe Koerner asked Melvin to join him in working at the Kroger farm near Harrison, Ohio. Uncle Mel said he was so homesick after two weeks, he told Joe to bring his brother Forrest back with him after his trip up north, or he was going home.
Forrest was my “Uncle Johnny,” and he did go back to Harrison with Joe Koerner. Uncle Mel and Uncle Johnny decided to make Harrison their home, and that is why some of the cousins live in the Cincinnati area. I found a letter he had written to my parents and signed his name as “Johnny.”
Russell was “Uncle Russ.” Lester Lavon was my “Uncle Lavon.” And Melvin was “Uncle Mel.” Their sisters were Lois and Maxine, but their family called them “Loie” and “Max.”
My dad’s father’s name was Edward, and Edward’s parents’ names were Valentine and Catherine. I found a family photo of Valentine, Catherine, and their seven children. It was a formal studio photo. Grandpa Edward was in the front row with his parents. In the second row are his younger brother Clarence and sisters Julia and Mary. In the third row were sisters Caroline, Elizabeth, and brother Herman.
Grandpa’s little sister Sophia passed away at the age of three. She was born in 1889, so Grandpa was 11 years old when Sophia passed away.
In the photo, all of them wore clothing with high collars and long sleeves. The women had long hair which was pulled into a bun. They wore jewelry, and the men’s ties looked interesting.
If I were granted the crazy wish of spending time with this generation, I would like to spend a few hours with these four ladies who are my great aunts. I would ask them to teach me how to put my hair up in a bun – something I know not how to do. I would find out if they did their own hair, or if they depended on one another.
Certainly they knew their way around the kitchen, and for fear of being kicked out of their kitchen, I would ask if I may sit in a chair and watch them as they make their bread, roll their pie dough, and make homemade noodles. I know they had to go to the barnyard and obtain their own chicken for their chicken and noodles. I am sure I would opt out of that stage of the homemade cooking.
It was said that my grandfather was an excellent marksman, and he brought a lot of rabbit and squirrel home for meals.
My grandma Kimpel used a scrub board to clean the dirty clothes. The kind of scrub board you now see in antique stores or decorating the walls of country restaurants. There had to have been a huge number of bib overalls that needed to be cleaned, and hopefully the older boys helped her.
Those were the days when many took their Saturday bath in the wash tub; the same wash tub Grandma used to wash clothes was also used as the bathtub.
To stay warm in the winter, the family would often gather around the wood stove in the living room.
Years ago, I went to lunch with some friends. One of the ladies started talking about me – right there in front of me. She told the others that I have a picket fence. I remember agreeing there was a picket fence in my yard.
But my friend was referring to the figurative picket fence. She was pointing out that I have things that cannot be bought with money.
She knew I had a ton of brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and more cousins than I could count. She pointed out I was taking my daughters to family gatherings on both sides of the family, and my daughters were having fun growing up with their own cousins.
She knew great grandma Oxender was still hosting family potlucks after the Fourth of July parade in Kunkle. Everyone brought their lawn chairs because there was not enough room in Grandma’s house for so many of us to gather.
My friend also knew my mom and dad were still living in the same family home I had grown up in, and my daughters could walk upstairs and play in the rooms I slept in when I was a child.
The impressive garden in my parents’ backyard was still being tended to by my dad, and the toys and swing set from long ago were there for my daughters and their cousins to play on.
She was correct when she told me not everyone has a younger brother who brings so much joy into the lives of everyone he meets. A brother who can lighten the mood pretty much everywhere he goes.
Not every family can raise a young man with Down syndrome and nurture him, and love on him, and have plans for him to be known as uncle Steve to the next generations who will also be taking care of him.
I’ve never forgotten this conversation with a friend who pointed out my picket fence. It took me by surprise as I sat and listened to her. In my heart, I simply felt I had the same problems and heart aches and brokenness others have.
Perhaps it takes another person who looks at our life – from the outside looking in – in order for us to see all the blessings we should count.
We are given our own life and times with which we live, and my dad spoke with fondness about the era in which he grew up. I never asked Dad if they had a Christmas tree in the home. I never heard him say if he had opened a Christmas present as a child. He did tell me sometimes they received an orange on Christmas day.
My dad and his brothers didn’t have sleds, but they had an old buggy they rigged up to use as a sled, and they would ride it down a hill north of their farm home. I had to read that twice. They actually rigged up an old buggy to use as a sled. Certainly it was the older boys in the family who made this happen. It sounds like one of those somebody-is-going-to-get-hurt kind of stories.
They apparently had great fun. It is probably true we remember moments in time more than we remember gifts, and group sledding in an old buggy was a great memory for them.
My dad told us they often made lard sandwiches. They also roasted corn over an open fire and melted the butter in a small iron kettle. My brother Ed and I were talking about this, and we decided the sandwiches were rather inexpensive and probably tasted good to them. It would be similar to buttered bread. And honestly, I would pay good money for a loaf of Grandma’s homemade bread – lard and all.
My grandpa Edward Kimpel was born in 1881, and grandma Glatus Upp was born in 1884. The two were married in 1911. Their first four sons – Ivan, Lavon, Melvin, and Forrest – were born in town in their home in Edgerton. In 1919, they moved to an 80 acre farm east of town.
Grandma probably thought she had a large enough family at that time. If I were Grandma, I would be hoping my baby days were over. But she went on to have eight more children after they moved to their country home. I imagine the oldest children quickly became caretakers of the younger ones while Grandma was caring for yet another baby.
My father, Vernon, was the first to be born in their country home. Then Gordon and Russell. I’m sure Grandma was delighted to finally become the mother of two girls. Maxine was born in May of 1923. A year later, my aunt Lois was born in May of 1924. It’s safe to say the boys really loved on the two little girls.
Maxine and Lois became big sisters to three boys – Clair, Kenneth, and the baby of the family, Floyd, who was born in 1930. Grandma was 45 years old when she was finally done having babies. Her youngest son would be graduating from high school when she was 63 years old.
My dad told me that whenever their neighbor lady, Mrs. Hemenway, was at their home at an odd hour, it could mean there was going to be another baby born into the family. Women did not talk about their pregnancies back then, and thus they never knew when a new sibling would be arriving.
Mrs. Hemenway was present during the delivery of the babies and helped take care of the family and the house, because women often stayed in bed for a week or more after childbirth. Dr. Nihart would come to the home to deliver the babies, and his name is on Gordon’s birth certificate.
I wonder if Gordon was named after someone or if Grandma and Grandpa simply liked the name. Apparently “Gord” was one of his nicknames, because he signed it on his cards. His middle name is Merceil, and I do not know where that name originated. I hope that someone, friend or family, decides their baby boy will be his namesake some day.
The depression started in 1929 and many families were affected and lost their homes. Grandpa and Grandma moved to a rented farm home east of Hicksville soon after their youngest child was born.
My grandpa Kimpel never owned an automobile, and he walked to his work at a dairy operation. The boys who were old enough to mow lawns or find odd jobs were doing so in order to make some money.
On Friday nights after school, the boys hitchhiked out to Frank and Cora Hootman’s farm north of Hicksville and stayed with them through Sunday night. They worked on their farm, and Cora made great meals and cookies for them.
As they reached their teenage years, they became hired hands for farmers in the Edgerton and Farmer area, living with the families who employed them. All of the boys worked for the Hootmans, but Russell ended up living full-time with them and graduated from Edgerton High School.
Gordon completed his freshman year at Hicksville High School. He then moved in with Ed and Gladys Riehle and completed high school in Edgerton, graduating in 1939.
Arthur Krill was a neighboring farmer who needed help, and it was Mrs. Krill who suggested that Gordon take a night off from baling hay and go to the movies. Gordon took the Krill’s daughter Marcella to the movies, and that was the start of a friendship between uncle Gordon and Marcella Krill.
In the scrapbooks are photos of my dad’s oldest brothers and their wives and families. Marcella is in some of the photos. She and Gordon were certainly an attractive couple.
My father was born in 1919, and he told me that 21 year old men were the first to be called to the service. He received a letter from the U.S. Government in the early part of the year 1941 to report to duty.
Gordon was the second to enter the service in March of 1942 at Baer Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was a member of the 341st Fighter Squadron of Lake Field in Phoenix, Arizona. He received his silver wings as a pilot and became a Second Lieutenant in February of 1943.
Uncle Russell, having been born in 1922 and 14 months younger than Gordon, became the third brother who entered the service.
On April 12, 1943, my grandparents received a telegram which stated, “The Secretary of State regrets to inform you that your son, 2nd Lt. Gordon Kimpel, has been killed in an airplane crash.”
Gordon died on April 12 which was uncle Russell’s 21st birthday. Gordon’s funeral was held just 3 days later on Thursday, April 15 at the Edgerton Emmanuel Methodist church where he had been attending while staying with the farmers who were members of the church.
Gordon’s nine brothers were in attendance at the funeral. My dad was stationed in Kansas. Uncle Russ was in Mississippi.
If my dad were still here, I would ask him how he was told of Gordon’s death. I would ask how he traveled home for the funeral. Passenger trains would make stops in small towns to let just one soldier off.
We have a photo of Gordon’s 9 brothers which was taken when all were home for his funeral. I do not know of any photos of the ten of them together.
Uncle Gordon had taken out a $10,000 life insurance policy in his mother’s name. That $10,000 policy would be worth $145,000 in today’s money. Grandma had the choice of receiving one lump sum or to receive a monthly check for the rest of her life.
Grandma was 59 years old at the time of Gordon’s death. She chose to receive monthly payments rather than a lump sum. She and Grandpa purchased a house on Smith Street in Hicksville. I think my mother was referring to indoor plumbing and heating when she wrote that they had moved into a house with many conveniences that were new to them.
Uncle Clair was 18 years old when he became the fourth son to enter the service with an enlistment date of January 7, 1944.
In October of 1944, Clair and Russell left for overseas duty. Troops were transported by way of troop transport ships which held thousands of soldiers. Neither of the brothers was aware they were on the same ship together.
Russell was playing cards when Clair heard and recognized his brother’s laugh, and they turned to find each other. Can you imagine the embrace that took place? And the delight of those around them who were witnessing the chance reunion of two brothers? I would guess the card game was held up for a minute or two.
That hug took place on a ship in October, and the two were able to spend the time together but had to go their separate ways after their arrival to Europe.
Dad and his two soldier brothers were writing letters home to their family, and their older brother Lavon saved the letters he had received from them. As you can imagine, the letters are extremely interesting and were posted on a Kimpel family facebook wall by Lavon’s daughter Shirley and her husband Darwin for all to read.
Both Russell and Clair wrote home to tell of their reunion and their time spent together on the ship.
I found an Edgerton Earth newspaper clipping which reported my grandparents had been notified by the War Department on Friday, January 12 of 1945 that Pfc. Clair E. Kimpel, 19, was missing in action in Germany since December 21.
The article reported that grandma Kimpel had received a letter from Clair from Belgium on December 14 of 1944.
It also stated that Clair “left for overseas the first week in October 1944 arriving in England. He has a brother Pfc. Russell Kimpel in western France in the 345th Infantry. The two brothers left for overseas at the same time, neither being aware they were on the same boat until meeting accidently on the way over.
Another brother, Cpl. Vernon L. Kimpel is in the Netherlands, East India, and another brother, Lavon Kimpel, resides in Edgerton and is employed in defense work in Ft. Wayne. Two younger brothers are at home.”
I always knew my uncle Clair had been a prisoner of war. I knew he did not talk about it, and I knew he had made a comment once about a potato peel that someone was peeling at a family gathering. He told others that the peel would have tasted good at one time in his life.
Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Slaughterhouse-Five, is a novel which includes the character’s survival of the firebombing of Dresden, Germany. Vonnegut himself lived through this experience as an American serviceman.
Uncle Clair, at the age of 19, was held as a prisoner of war at the same building in Dresden.
I recently learned that years ago, uncle Clair had told his co-worker, Tom Trausch, that when the war was over, the guards simply left. The prisoners were on their own and free to walk away from the prison.
Clair found a bicycle in the city of Dresden. The front wheel needed fixed, and a resident of Dresden helped him fix it. I would imagine uncle Clair felt a sense of urgency and possibly renewed physical strength as he pedaled his way to freedom in search of the U.S. Army, knowing he would soon be making his way home.
Tom told me he worked with Clair in the early 1970s as a carpenter. The two rarely spoke about their experiences in the service, as Tom had recently returned home from Vietnam.
Tom remembers Clair saying he made the decision to head west on the bicycle, and along the way, he found a red cabbage that had been tossed to the road which meant he found something to eat. I told Tom I wish I could hear the rest of the story. How many miles and how long did it take before uncle Clair found the U.S. Army?
My dad and uncle Clair were honorably discharged in November of 1945. Uncle Russ was home the next month – having been honorably discharged on December 21st of 1945. I wish I knew more about what their life was like when they came home. I can imagine the relief the family felt in knowing they were home and ready to build their lives as young men.
Grandpa Kimpel passed away in August of 1947. It was said he died in his sleep of a heart attack. My mom and dad were to be married in October of that year. Grandpa had lived in their new home in Hicksville for only 4 years.
At the time of his death, eight of the 29 Kimpel grandchildren had been born. Melvin’s daughter Carol Ann was born on August 10, 1947 – the same day Grandpa passed away.
Uncle Floyd was only 17 years old when his father died. He had already been through such sad times, having been just 11 years old when his older brothers were entering the service. He was 13 when he lost his brother Gordon.
My mom wrote in her diary on August 12, 1947, that she worked until noon then went to Vern’s dad’s funeral. That night they bought some beer and went on a side road and drank. Since my parents were not known to be drinkers, I felt like I was reading the scene out of a movie. I had to think about what my dad had been through. I had to remember they were young. He had spent 5 years in the service. He lost his brother. He was to be married in a few weeks, and they had just buried his father. So I understand the devastation he was feeling.
An important part of my grandparents’ life story is the fact that 6 of their sons were servicemen. The fifth brother to enter the U. S. Army was uncle Bill, with an enlistment date of January 17, 1946, and release date of October 21, 1947. This means that uncle Bill was a serviceman when his father passed away.
The baby of the family, our uncle Floyd, was enlisted in the US Navy on September 14, 1948, which is my dad’s birthday. He was discharged a year later on September 13, 1949.
Dad’s younger sister Maxine had been ill, and she passed away in December of 1957 at the age of 34, leaving her husband, Mervin, with their 3 month old son. Uncle Lavon and Aunt Pearl took care of the baby, Paul Roy, and my cousin Shirley remembers having a little brother in her life. When Mervin remarried, he and his wife raised Paul Roy.
Grandma went on to live to the age of 87, having passed away on January 12, 1972.
I do not know who owned the camera and took the pictures back in the 1920s, but someone in their life owned a camera and came up with money for the film. Grandma and Grandpa didn’t tell the photographer they needed to go get dressed up before their photo could be taken; they simply allowed their photo to be taken. I’ve always felt fortunate to have a copy of what was captured in those snapshots.
I don’t think my dad would wish for anyone to learn from experience what it was like to live through such financially trying times, but he and his brothers took a difficult situation at a young age and became very capable and resourceful men.
Years ago when I was still working as a hospice nurse, I was asked to speak at a county event. I did not know Bob and Marcella Krill Koerner were in the audience. After the presentation, they came over to speak to me.
Marcella was in front of Bob as they walked toward me, and I did not recognize them. I was sure they would introduce themselves. And what did Marcella do but say my first name in such an endearing way. This lady was happy to see me. She knew me. She appeared to know me fairly well.
There in front of me was this beautiful lady, with an equally beautiful smile. And throw in a beautiful voice. Imagine someone saying your name with such emotion that you feel they are just going to reach right out and hug you. Because they know you. But you don’t know them.
I took a second look at her husband who stood slightly behind her. What a quiet gentle smile this man had. And then I recognized him as Mr. Koerner from Edgerton, so she had to be Mrs. Koerner. It had been years since I had seen them, and they did indeed introduce themselves.
We stood together and talked for a while. Delightful is not a word that comes to mind very often, but I had to use it to describe what it was like to speak with the two of them.
I remember telling my mom about meeting them and what neat people they are. Mom reminded me that Marcella had been engaged to uncle Gordon.
My mom didn’t tell me that Marcella had already given her beautiful scrapbook to the Kimpel family. The scrapbook is full of the cards and postcards she had received from Gordon while he was in the service. Marcella had told Mom she felt the scrapbook should ultimately land in the hands of Gordon’s family.
So when I found the box that contained the scrapbooks, home it went with me, so I could see what there was to discover.
I sorted through the box and found two scrapbooks: one of which Gordon put together and one from Marcella. His silver wings, some Air Force uniform pins, and framed photos were also in the box.
Marcella’s scrapbook is impressive. It is very rich looking with white lettering on black pages. When I found it, I knew I held in my hands a book that would allow me to learn more about uncle Gordon’s life and personality.
Just seeing how he signed his name was meaningful to me. I never realized there seems to be a feminine and masculine way to write in cursive, and I never knew I have a fondness for cursive writing until I started to dig through my family’s inheritance.
Marcella had affixed many of the postcards and envelopes so they could easily be removed from the pages of the book.
On one of the scrapbook pages was an envelope addressed to Lt. Gordon Kimpel. The envelope had the familiar “Return to Sender” stamp on the front. Marcella’s return address at the time was the YMCA in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
She had not placed any other items on this particular page – just the one envelope. There appeared to be a letter within the envelope which she had taped to the page.
I decided to remove the envelope from the scrapbook. I looked it over fairly well and could see it was still sealed. Marcella had written a letter to uncle Gordon, and it had remained sealed. She herself never opened the envelope that contained a letter she had written to Gordon so many years ago.
Gordon’s nieces and nephews are now his nearest living relatives. I am a niece so permission I granted myself to open the envelope and read the letter Marcella penned to Gordon 76 years ago.
I expected nothing less than impressive cursive handwriting, and there it was. Marcella started her letter with “Dearest Gordon,” and I could imagine her beautiful voice as I was reading the letter.
I was alone in my home and wanted to call my mom and let her know what I had just found. Then I remembered Mom had passed away. I ended up spending the evening alone reading my family scrapbooks.
At church the next morning, I told a few friends about my Saturday night reading material. It felt good to spend quiet time reading the notes and postcards Gordon had penned to Marcella.
A month later, I decided to read through her book again, and I noticed something about her letter I had not realized the first time I read it.
I knew Gordon’s date of death was the morning of April 12, 1943. There in the upper right hand corner of Marcella’s letter was the date of April 12, 1943, and she had written the letter in the earlier part of the day. She had sealed the letter 76 years ago.
It goes without saying there was no way Marcella could have imagined Gordon’s niece would be the first person to open the sealed envelope and read her letter. In the year 2019. And that niece was not only going to write about the letter, she would be able to share the words Marcella had written to Gordon. The niece would also share photos of the letter. On something called a computer.
And so it would be with Gordon. He never knew he would be an uncle to so many. He never knew one of his nephews would be given his middle name. He never knew one of his nieces would be named after his fiancée Marcella. He did not get to read the letter she had written to him, and he could never have imagined his brother’s daughter would one day ask Marcella’s family if she could share the letter with others.
So in her letter dated April 12, 1943, Marcella wrote the following words to Uncle Gordon:
I have some bad news for you now. I can’t come to see you. Dad thought it would be better not to go. You know how people around home like to talk. Iona would have come with me if I could have come. He said if we had been engaged before the war – before you left he would have paid my way and everything to let me come to see you, but he thought it would be best to keep things quiet now until you come back.
No I didn’t tell him we are engaged – he doesn’t know that, but they do know that I love you. I wouldn’t have been able to come for at least 3 or 4 weeks yet, and you might not be there then. I’m sorry, Darling, because I do want to see you again. I’m so glad you got your furlough when you graduated. We at least had a few days to talk things over.
I don’t want you to send me any money. Use that to have a good time before you leave. I wouldn’t know what to buy with it anyway.
I’m getting my picture taken tonight after school. I’ll get a small one for you so you can put it in your pocketbook. That’s what you can do with that money – use it to buy your pocketbook.
Do you think your mother would want a picture of me? I’m going to get one for my folks – just a small one – so you tell me if you really want me to send your mother one.
I only have a few minutes yet so I’ll have to hurry and finish this. I received 3 letters from you today. I’ll try to answer the rest of your questions later. Maybe I’ll write again tonight.
So you think you’re going to be boss when you get home? Ha. I cannot marry you until I’m 21. After that you can be boss. Ha. We can’t plan anything until this horrible war is over and things get settled again.
Well, must close now. Will write more later.
Good-bye Sweetheart! Lots of Love – Marcella
Although my uncle Gordon did not come home to live life as a husband, father, and uncle, his life prior to entering the service had to have been a very rich life with the blessings of an incredible number of brothers and sisters and fun times they had together growing up.
As I take a look at what life was like for them nearly a century ago – and that would be from the outside looking in – I can clearly see their picket fence. The experience of being one of ten brothers is something money cannot buy.
I’ve heard it said we won’t be forgotten if we write something worth reading or do something worth writing, and I’ve found the generation before me has done just that.
As for myself, I don’t know if I have done something worth writing, but I do know I have written something worth reading.