My grandfather John Mathias Weiherman, was born on October 15, 1890 in DeKalb County, Illinois. Names changed as Europeans came to America: Johann became John, Mathias would become Matthew. He was the son of George Weiherman and Christiana Huebsch. George was straight out of Thunhofer, Ansbach, Bayern. Christiania hailed from Dentlein, Ansbach, Bayern. Notice that I have already deliberately spelled her first name two different ways to honor the various census takers and immigration officials who butchered her name over the years. She was also labeled ‘Christine’ and ‘Chris.’ There are also variations on the spelling of Huebsch. She did herself no favor when she married a Weiherman. Or was it Weyerman? Wyerman? Weirman? Weirmann? Wehrman? And into infinity and beyond!
Grampa John grew up on the Weiherman farm a couple miles south of DeKalb. He married Laura Kopher in 1912. They were blessed with the following children: Eleanor in 1916, Marion in 1917, Merle in 1920, Doris in 1924 and Raymond in 1929.
There was a time in colonial American history when being the oldest son meant gaining the family wealth, the prime property and secure future. It was defined as the law of primogeniture. Younger sons usually had to leave home and head down the road to establish new digs and a new family fortune. As the eldest of George’s sons, John took over the family farm. Second son William (‘Chief’) became a teacher and a Lutheran lay minister fondly remembered for founding and managing Camp Acadia in Michigan. John’s brother Louie Weiherman, a railroad engineer, drove streamliners after the war. Lou’s Twin brother Leonard passed away of a appendicitis in Los Angeles at the age of 22 in 1922.
The 1920 Census indicates that John was literate, capable of reading and writing. He was identified as fluent in English. His parents were fluent in German and hard pressed to maintain a long conversation English. He was identified as working his own farm and the farm was mortgaged. That 1920 census recorded the arrival of Eleanor, Marian and Merle.
John had the unenviable task of managing the family farm through the Great Depression. The stress led to a heart attack in late ‘1930’s. His health forced him to move his family into DeKalb where he worked in a poultry processing plant. George Weiherman then sold the farm to his youngest son, Louie. John’s sisters (Mary Kaus and Lena Carstedt) married and lived near DeKalb.
In an effort to reinvent himself, John took a class in college in sanitary engineering but could not get credit for it because he was not a high school graduate. In fact, he had left school after 8th grade to help his father on the farm.
At age 51, John sported a Draft Card during WWII as required by law. The card identified him as in the employ of JD Carlson at 207 Grove Street in DeKalb. The card described him as 5 feet 10 and one half inches tall and 175 pounds. I am calling that lean. His eyes were blue, his hair brown and he had moles (plural) on his left cheek. I am thinking he could have played Abraham Lincoln.
A turn of the page in those Draft Registration pages brings William Frederick Weiherman to the surface. ‘Chief’ is identified as a Chicago resident in 1942, age 47, with blue eyes and gray hair. He is employed by the Walther League, the Lutheran Church youth organization. He could be reached by phone at Aberdeen 8553. Census data tracked the growth of phone usage in America.
The 1940 census reveals John’s work status as “poultry man” working 48 hours a week, earning 1020 dollars in a year. Let’s pause and do the math on that: 51 weeks x 48 hours = 2,448 hours. 1020 dollars divided by 2,448 hours creates an hourly rate of 42 cents an hour. In 1940 John paid 36 bucks a month rent for his house on 519 Fourth Street; in which all of his five children (ages 10 thru 24) resided. Fifteen years earlier, Brother Chief had been earning 100 dollars a month as a St. Louis school teacher in 1925, with a wife and one child in the home.
In 1945, My father, JD, was visiting his folks (Leb and Mary Smith) in Eyota, Minneasota for three days while on leave from the Air Force. He then came to see my mother, Doris Weiherman, at the Weiherman home on Fourth Street in DeKalb. Her sister, Eleanor, greeted my father and advised him, “Dad died today.” It was September 19, 1945. John Weiherman had suffered a massive heart attack. He was laid to rest two days later in the Fairview Cemetery.
Grandmother Laura Weiherman took a job in the Burlington coat factory for the remainder of much of her life. My mother would comment that “Dad died too young. But it was the will of God.” My mother also passed away at the age of 54. Too young. Her mother Laura, my grandmother, gripped me in her arms at mom’s funeral and wept. Speaking through her muffled teardrops I heard her say “I always thought I would die before my children and they are always your children. This is so very hard for me.” I assured Grandma that mother told me she would be with Jesus in heaven. It was hard for me to comprehend that it was God’s will.
Laura Weiherman took a job in the Burlington coat factory for the remainder of much of her life. She died in DeKalb on August 27, 1981.
Grampa John was blessed with good looks, a savvy mind and a flare for fun. One look at the Weiherman family photo which includes John and his siblings, tells you that Uncle Ray Weiherman got his own GQ looks from the DNA of Grampa John.
When Raymond and his sisters (Eleanor, Marion, Merle and Doris) were growing up, their father (John) would occasionally prank them in ways that are recalled to this very day. Despite the hard knock life that he seemed destined to live he found joy in his children. I will let my Cousin Dorothy (Marion’s daughter) tell the stories.
“When our moms were kids, every year when they were driving back from church on Christmas Eve, their dad (Grandpa John Weiherman) would always say, ‘There goes Santa!’ Of course, no matter how quickly they looked up in the sky – they missed him.
One time the entire family drove to town to do some shopping. After they all split up to shop for what they wanted, Grandpa went back to the car early and rigged a mask in the back window with a string to make the eyelids go up and down. He then laid down in the seat and worked the eyelids. The children were all afraid to go to the car because they thought someone was in it waiting to get them.
I believe this happened more than once – Grandpa used to ask the kids if they wanted to see a butterfly and then put a glob of butter on the end of a knife and prepared to shoot it across the room. I don’t recall an actual launch being mentioned – just a protesting ‘JOHN!’ From Grandma Laura and giggles from the kids.
When the family lived on the farm Grandpa always had a dog, and every dog they had, was always a collie. Each time one passed away they would get another collie and they named each and every one of them Bruno.
Apparently ‘gypsies’ used to camp at the end of the road and Grandpa used to tell the girls that they didn’t have to worry because if the gypsies ever picked them up, they would drop them under the first street light. I always thought that Grandpa would have been fun to know.
Since George and Chris came from Germany and spoke German they taught them a poem in German that my mom taught us. Since I don’t know how to write the German, I’ll write the English translation: ‘Oh how hurts my finger – Oh how hurts my foot – Oh how everything hurts – When I must work.’
So, i took the liberty of throwing Dot’s English version of the childhood poem into an online translator software program and got this:
“Oh! Wie meine Finger weh! Oh! Wie schmerzt mein Fuß! Oh! Wie alles weh! Wenn ich die Arbeit!”
In my latest effort to locate information related to John’s extended family I found a DeKalb Chronicle article that conveyed information related to a huge social event that included many members of the extended family. In true newspaper fashion in that era the author filled the society pages about the occasion:
Guests numbering 60, arrived and soon realized that a most unusual event was transpiring. Those present included, Prof. W.F. Weiherman, of St Louis; Louis Wieherman of Ottawa; John Weiherman and family, Arthur Carstedt and family of DeKalb; Albert Kaus and family of Hinckley; Mrs. Thtess (sp?), Mr. and Mrs. C. Tratt, Mr. and Mrs. H Eggebrecht of Chicago; Mrs. Caroline Strausberger and three daughters, Mr. and Mrs. Snyder, Mr. and Mrs. Duselle, Dave Garbelman and family, Martin Garbelman and family, Henry Wieherman and family of Aurora; Harvey Kahle and family, William Rolf and family of Waterman: Rev. Carinas family of Sycamore. Various forms of entertainment proved a most enjoyable diversion. An elaborate lunch was served at a late hour.
Unfortunately the article I found was entered online by someone unfamiliar with the limitations of the OCR software they were using and much of the article, as found online, is a garbled hieroglyphic language defying my limited cryptographic skills. I will look for other variations of the press release. I am curious as to the occasion for the event and the time period. A wedding perhaps. More about John will be forthcoming as contributions come in to my desk. I wish I would have had the opportunity to have known my Grandfather John. He comes off as one wonderful man, a decent human being, a hard working family man whose head was focused on taking care of his loved ones.