Category: Sternitzky

A Day for Peace

A week ago today the weather was miserable in Wisconsin. After two days of 65° degree weather we woke to temps in the 30s, and an expected snowfall of 2-5”. Not the weather we had hoped for as we laid my mother to rest in Neenah’s Oak Hill Cemetery. 

We met at the cemetery at 11:00 and headed to what shelter a nearby mausoleum entrance could provide from the snow and sleet. It was a beautiful service with readings and intentions from some of her oldest friends. 

Upon leaving the cemetery we headed back to our hotel at the Home2Suites in Appleton. We had two rooms that were adjoining, and so allowed the 12 of us ample seating and room to move around. Mom loved a grazing meal in front of the fire in the library, a glass of wine in hand. We couldn’t provide the fire or library, and we didn’t offer wine, but we had warm coffee, cupcakes, and all the cheeses and charcuterie meats she loved. 

As a genealogist, I love to tell stories. As the keeper of the photos, my mother loved to identify, date to the best of her ability, and gather them into an album of sorts for all to view. Last week we played on the room’s massive TV a slideshow I had put together of her life. 

In the past, we have done photo boards where pictures are randomly tacked to foam core sheets, and placed along the receiving line. For my mother-in-law, I created a movie using actual footage from their wedding and adding images of her and my father-in-law through the years. I was a bit ahead of my time as it didn’t transfer to a form that would play well at the dinner after the funeral. 

This time we had a bit more control as we sent the slideshow from my laptop to the Apple TV. 

As people entered the room, the kids had it playing and the coffee brewing (we brought a 12 cup pot from home, along with a favorite flavored decaf). The images stopped people in their tracks. 51 images with captions flowed across the screen. Mom and her brother as young children, mom as a teen in red shoes, a 1947 selfie stating “Me ’47 taken by me,” when she was 14. An image from her days studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, graduation from Drake University in 1955. Her summer trip to Europe where she and two college friends traveled 2900 miles over 31 days in a small Renault, visiting France, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, back to France, London, Scotland, back to London then the ship back to New York. Her days working at Quaker Oats in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, meeting my father, their marriage and move to New York City. The birth of their first child, me, and the second, my brother. Images of us as a family, and her days working as the secretary at First English Lutheran Church in Appleton. Images through her life. A snapshot of time. A life. My mom’s life. 

Because of COVID and distance, it took a year for this to happen. But I think she would have been pleased with how the day came together. Rest in peace mom. 

A Few Days in Wausau

St. James Catholic Church, Wausau, WI

This past Friday and Saturday, I had the wonderful opportunity to network with other genealogists, and learn from Judy G. Russell (!) at the Wisconsin Genealogical Society’s Gene-A-Rama. This year the Gene-A-Rama was held in Wausau, Marathon Co., Wisconsin, the birthplace of my father, Robert Sternitzky. I knew that I would have no time to do any research, but I did think I would have time to search out the church that my father and his family attended while living in Wausau. Thinking this would be an easy process, I asked my mom if she knew what church they were attending when dad was baptized. Not finding his baptismal certificate, she did find his Solemn Holy Communion card, dated May 14, 1944, and from St. James Catholic Church. BINGO! A quick Google search showed that St. James church no longer existed in Wausau. What happened to it?

It took a bit of digging, and a lot of disappointment in the lack of information available on the parish website, and also the diocesan website, but I figured it out. They had simply changed the name of the parish. Now in the world of consolidation of parishes, I am used to seeing parishes being re-named. An example is St. Katherine Drexel in Kaukauna, Outagamie Co., Wisconsin. St. Katherine Drexel is the consolidation of three parishes, but they still retain their individual identity by being called: St. Katherine Drexel, St. Mary Site; St. Katherine Drexel, St. Al Site; and St. Katherine Drexel, St. Francis Site, which is the parish located in Hollandtown, Brown Co., Wisconsin. In Wausau, the Eastside Parishes consist of St. Michael Parish, and Church of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ (formerly known as St. James).

While I have not yet determined when and why the parish was re-named, I have learned that the present building was constructed in 1911-12, as the congregation had outgrown its present building. St. James had been organized in 1905 as the first English speaking Catholic parish in Wausau. 

Checking the Mass schedule, I was disappointed to learn that it was a 6:00 p.m. Saturday Mass, while St. Michael’s had the 4:00 p.m. Knowing that churches are usually open 45 minutes to an hour before mass time, I made the decision to attend St. Michael’s for Mass, and then head over to Resurrection, hoping to get in. I had no problems navigating to the address: 621 North 2nd Street, and getting out of the car, I shot a couple of photos of the exterior:

Testing the door, I found it unlocked, and so went in. The lights were still dimmed, and there was a woman praying near the front of the church, who I did not want to disturb. I quickly snapped a few shots, knelt and said a few prayers, and vowed to return at a time closer to Mass time so I could have better light. But until that point in time, I did find this website discussing the restoration of the interior of the church by Conrad Schmitt, and this flickr album showing the windows. 

Directly across the street from the front entrance of the church, is the school. Dad would tell the story of how he would take the bus to school, and after school, or at lunch time, would head over to visit his Grandma Sternitzky (Christine Goerling Sternitzky) at her house on Steuben Street.

The Baptismal Font is still there, and appears to be original. Now I just need to be able to get close to it for a good photograph. Another item to add to the growing to-do list. Photo of the Baptismal Font in the Church of the Resurrection aka, St. James. NOTE: This is NOT the original baptismal font, please see comments below.

An Addition: Laziness set in yesterday, and so I didn’t go in search of my great-aunt and uncle’s address in Wausau, even though I knew my father would visit with them also; sometimes for a quick lunch during the school year. And it should be shame on me, as I never knew my great-grandparents, Robert R., and Christine Sternitzky, I did know my grandmother’s older brother, Great-Uncle Russell Cook, and his wife Hattie (Dietzler). Aunt Hattie even attended my wedding! Here is the route dad might have taken to their home from school, and then back down to the Sternitzkys:

The Park Bench

My family lived in Owatonna, Steele Co., Minnesota from 1973 until 1980 – late summer moves both times. We lived in a house built by my parents; it had a view of Maple Creek, and sat above the fairway of what is now called Brooktree Golf Course. Our property had a small wooded section at the west end, which overlooked the fairway. 

Some time in the mid 1970s, my parents purchased a park bench to place under the trees next to the birdbath. It was a real park bench, the kind that had holes in the feet so that it could be bolted into place. My mom thinks they may have paid $4.00 for the bench, one of two that were for sale.

When they moved to Appleton, the bench naturally moved with them, and sat for many years, first on the front stoop, and later in the corner of the back yard. Eventually the wood rotted away.

I took the pieces and the legs to our shop, hoping to use the remaining wood as a pattern. Unfortunately the wood was thrown out during a shop clean out, so the project sat. Until now. My son is hoping to take his hobby to the next level, and is having fun adding “toys” to his basement workshop. The bench became one of his first projects completed in this new space.

This weekend he brought the park bench home, and presented it to my mother. A piece picked up in an antique store in the late 1970s, is now fresh and beautiful with newly painted legs, and a cedar seat and back. Now the only decision is, where to place it, and when will it be warm enough to enjoy it. To be honest the bench looks so nice on his deck in this photo that I wasn’t sure that he would willing to give it away.

Memorials – Cook Park

We have attended two funerals this month, both for men gone too soon. Reading through the obituary at the end is the usual statement: “A memorial has been established in his name.” We all want our loved ones to be remembered. As a genealogist, remembering is what I do, and I am working to write about the lives of these family members gone, but not forgotten.

When my father, Robert (Bob) Sternitzky, passed away in 2005, my mother wanted to do something in his memory. “A memorial has been established in his name.” The memorial. I realized that as part of my Library of Artifacts page, I should include these memorials. I will start with my dad.

As I have stated before, Samuel Andrew Cook was the Cook that fascinated my father. He spent years researching him, and documenting his story. One of my father’s “pet” projects was to support Cook Park, a park on Doty Island, located near where S. A.’s home once stood. William E. Dunwiddle wrote about how Cook Park came to be a park, in his book: The Parks of Neenah: An Historical Interpretation.

In 1997 it was determined that Cook Park needed to update its playground equipment. The park became one of four parks participating in the “Buy a Brick. Build a Dream” program sponsored by the Kimberly-Clark Community Playground Project. Each brick cost $30.00, and was engraved with your name, or the name of someone you wanted to honor. My father took on, as his mission, the task of filling Cook Park with the names of Cook relatives. He brought the program to the Cook Reunion that year, and worked to spread the word. At the end of the campaign, Cook Park had new playground equipment, and 161 engraved bricks were set in place. 61 of these bricks honored Cook family members. Dad commemorated this accomplishment by photographing the bricks while standing on a ladder overlooking the bricks; and the park, from the open window of a friend’s Cessna 172, flying at 1300 feet and 75 mph. 

In 1996, the year before the brick project, a planter had been created in Cook Park, and the front of the box facing the street was formed by the giant “S. A. Cook” concrete piece that once graced the top peak of the S. A. Cook Armory. The armory had been torn down in the late 1980s, and thankfully this piece had been saved, and is now preserved in the park named for him.

DCF 1.0
Cook Park, 23 Jul 2007

When my dad passed away in 2005, mom wanted to create a memorial that would be placed in Cook Park to honor both my dad and his great granduncle, Samuel Andrew Cook. She worked closely with the Neenah Parks and Recreation department to decide how best to do this, one idea was to place a bench in the park with a plaque bearing dad’s name. One thing that was missing from this park, was information telling the visitor WHO S. A. Cook was, and why would a park be named for him. And in that question came the answer.

A large rock was placed in the garden bed, and attached to this rock is a brass plaque telling the story of S. A., and a smaller plaque honoring my father. My mother wrote the history with input by me, and edited by my brother.

cook park plaque page
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The plaques in place
DCF 1.0

This story is fully commemorated in my dad’s “Report” created for the Cook family members who supported the brick project. It was privately published in December 2005 as “The Bricks of Cook Park. A Modern History.” The introduction written by my father reads:

“This is not the story of S. A. Cook who was a U. S. postmaster, a mayor, a state assemblyman, a U. S. congressman, a successful businessman. This is the story of the park named for him and the combined efforts of family and friends to fund a patio of bricks engraved with the names of his grandfather, his parents, his siblings, his two wives, his three children and his grandson–plus people I call mother, uncle, aunt, child, grandchild and cousin–many cousins!”

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Letters to Germany

At the turn of the century, (yikes!) I spent a lot of time in the Kaukauna Public Library snooping on the lives of the Fassbenders living a century ago. As I moved through the years scanning the Kaukauna Times, a weekly newspaper, I not only followed the lives of my Hollandtown ancestors, but would often print items that were about Outagamie County that interested me. It’s always about the background information to flesh out the two dimensional look at the people I am researching.

Kaukauna Times, 20 Apr 1917
Kaukauna Times, 20 Apr 1917

This past weekend I spent some time filing. Paper filing, electronic filing, it all needs to be done. While going through a file of paper, I found this item. The paper was dated April 20, 1917. What caught my eye, then, and now, was the headline: “No More Mail to Germany. Letters From United States to Germany Have Been Stopped.” No letters would be received or delivered until this “unpleasantness is over.” I can only imagine the fear, sadness, even heartbreak over this news. Although my Germany ancestors had been in this country for many decades by this time, they still had family and friends back in their homeland. Letters brought news of births, deaths, moves, and even the occasional plea for financial help. The sense of loss, and being cut off had to be acute. There was no longer any way to learn how family was faring during this awful war. How long would it be before the “president and the kaiser are again in a mood to shake hands?”

Germany formally surrendered on November 11, 1918, and the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended the war, was not signed until June 28, 1919. Over two years would go by with no news from home, or any way to get news to family. I wonder if the letters put into the “dead letter office” were ever delivered.

We live in such an age of instant news through 24 hour television, the internet, and telephones, both land line and cell, that allow us to keep in touch, with each other, and with what is going on in the world. Imagine waiting over two years for news from home.

My Genealogy Bucket List

The site of Doctor's Hospital, NYC
The site of Doctor’s Hospital, NYC

I was born in New York City, in a hospital that is now a high rise condo building, and was baptized in church that has since been razed, and parts of it placed in a chapel that is a few blocks away from the original site. Although the apartment building we lived in is still standing, it has now been condoized (is that a word?) It’s not my parents New York City!

My first visit to New York took place over my 25th birthday. Gary and I were there to attend the Eastern Dairy Deli Association conference and show. My mother asked us to walk by our old apartment at 649 2nd Avenue, so that she could see what it looked now, 25  years later. She said upon seeing this image that the building looked the same. Although I am sure I did not!

649 2nd Avenue, NYC. October 1987
649 2nd Avenue, NYC. October 1987

It would be another 25 years before I would have the opportunity to visit the “site” of my baptism. By this time the church, the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which had been built in the Greek Revival style in 1915 at 307 East 33rd Street, had been razed. It had been closed in January 2007, merging with the Church of Our Lady of the Scapular-St. Stephen, and was razed in 2008.

A small chapel dedicated to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary was opened in May 2009. It is located at 325 East 33rd Street. According to the church website, the statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Sacred Heart of Mary as well as those of St. Jude and St. Anthony are from the old church, as is the “baptismal font and the copper cross above it are from the church. Within the worship space on the north wall is the restored painting of the Sacred Heart. There are six restored and backlit leaded glass windows on the east and west walls that were originally in the church. The altar was created by using central panels from the side altars of the church along with some new marble pieces. The cross with corpus that hangs on the reredos as well as the electronic organ were also taken from the church.”

Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC
Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC

In 2012 as Hurricane Sandy was gathering strength, we headed south from our daughter’s apartment on East 93rd Street, to walk past the apartment (completely hidden by construction on 2nd Avenue) towards the chapel. We were lucky in that the chapel was open, but we didn’t have much time to look around as they were ready to lock up for the day. I snapped a few pictures, but was unable at that time to ask about the origins, or even photograph the baptismal font. We were able to get some nice shots of the chapel courtyard.

Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary

The day we visited the chapel was Saturday, October 27, 2012. As I mentioned earlier, we had no idea how strong, and exactly IF Hurricane Sandy would hit New York. At this point in time, we assumed that we would still be able to enjoy my birthday, celebrating on my actual day of the week, and date of birth, and be able to get on the plane home early Monday morning.

Well we soon learned that we would have to make other plans. As this was our first trip together to New York to visit Kate, we had turned in hotel points for the weekend visit. Kate was living in a very small

Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC, 27 Oct 2012
Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC, 27 Oct 2012

studio apartment. Space was limited, and we had assumed that we wouldn’t be able to comfortably sleep three in the apartment. Gary and I got up early Monday expecting to be able to get to the airport, but no flights were going out of LaGuardia. So we hightailed it up to our daughter’s apartment, knowing that if we waited too long we might not get a cab. We spent the next five nights living together, sleeping Tetris style, between her twin bed, a twin air mattress, and the floor.

It was an adventure. It was actually kind of fun. Well, fun for us as we were not in the flood zone, we did not lose power – although we watched transformers blow to the north of us, and we watched on TV as lower Manhattan flooded – and we had enough food and wine. We learned on this trip that

Tetris style sleeping arrangements
Tetris style sleeping arrangements

we could easily spend a visit staying all together, in a small apartment in Manhattan.

As part of my Genealogy Bucket List, I did want pictures of the baptismal font. Kate was kind enough to head down to the chapel and snap a couple of pictures for me. Thanks Kate!

Next on the Bucket List is to see if the original St. Francis font is still in the church in the Hollandtown church. This font would have been used to baptize my father-in-law and all of his siblings, and also would have been used for Gary and his brothers.

Baptismal Font, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC
Baptismal Font, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC
Baptismal Font, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC
Baptismal Font, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC