Me, My Father, His Father, and the Father Before


My parents were Matthew Robert Kohn (1901-1971) from the farm area 9 miles southwest of Tipton KS and Louise Josephine Deneke-Kohn (1913-1990) from a farm east of Beloit KS. They married on my mother's 34th birthday, 1947.02.13—Dad was then 46 years old. The witnesses to their marriage at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church were her brother Leo Deneke and friend Margaret M. Heger, both of Beloit. The officiant was Monsignor William J Butzer.

Math Kohn (1901-1971) in 1942
Before they met, Dad lived and worked on his parents' farm about 9 miles southwest of Tipton (the southwest quarter of section 33 (T8S R11W) or section 8-south (T9S R11W), in Bloom township, Osborne county KS). It's not clear to me if the farm was only ranch land, but the homestead was at the eastern end of about 300 acres of hilly and rocky pasture land, on which grazed a hundred or so cattle. It seems likely that the family rented other land for feed crops (alfalfa, milo, sorghum, and other small grains) to sustain the cattle during the winter.

Although Dad was already 40 years old by Pearl Harbor, he was still not exempt from the peacetime draft that was enacted in 1940. He enlisted or was drafted on 4 November 1942, and he was inducted into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Benning GA. However, he served only four months and was discharged on 5 March 1943 from Fort Belvoir VA. I believe that the short enlistment resulted from a change in the age range for conscription from 21 through 45 to 18 through 38, which became effective after December 5, 1942. Dad returned to Kansas and took a job as a mechanic at Voss Motors in Downs.

Louise Deneke-Kohn (1913-1990) in 1939
Meanwhile, Mom saw her oldest sister Mary Agnes marry Peter Braun of Tipton in 1931 and die in childbirth in 1936. Her brother Pete married Nora Long of New Almelo KS in 1938 and began growing his family to four children by 1946. Her next-younger sister Cecilia entered the novitiate in 1938 and took final vows in the Congregation of St. Joseph in 1941, after which she took the name Sister Mary Henrita Deneke.

Mom began to attend nursing school at St. Margaret's Hospital in 1938, and she was awarded a diploma in 1944. A portion of that time was spent as a nursing assistant at a munitions factory near Kansas City KS. With her freshly awarded diploma, she returned to Beloit and worked at Community Hospital. Aunt Nora once said that Mom confided in her about a fear of remaining unmarried and had asked Nora, "Should I marry just for the security of it, if someone comes along, whether I love him or not?" 

Jimmy and Tommy Kohn, early 1952
Aunt Nora offered no insight on how they met, but Mom and Dad did marry in early 1947. Mom and Dad first lived in Downs KS, near where Dad worked. Mom commuted 25 miles each way to Beloit Community Hospital. My brother Jimmy was born in November 1948, and that was likely a reason for Mom to become a full-time housewife and mother. They purchased 160 acres in Jewell County (Ionia township (T4S R9W) section 13), about 5 miles northwest of Ionia and about ten miles south of Esbon. I was born in August 1951, and I once discovered that Mom and Dad had begun the process of adopting a child before Mom was pregnant with me.

The farm included a two-story frame house, granary, equipment shed, barn, and a small pond east of the barn. The livestock included at various times about 15 cattle, 10 hogs, 25 sheep, 20 laying hens, usually 2 dogs, several cats, and one pony "Goldie." A small wood of locust trees provided a wind break from the north, and osage and large junipers provided wind breaks west and south of the house. As we grew, Jimmy and I learned some chores, including gathering eggs, feeding and milking cows, shearing sheep, and slopping hogs. We were both too small to help much in the fields, which included alfalfa and small grains as well as pasture. I guess that Dad also rented nearby land for wheat farming, though I don't remember wheat harvest on the farm. A nearby land owner was Frank Kissinger, whose name I vaguely associate with wheat crops. Our nearest neighbors were the Thomas and Dietz families, about a mile to the west.

Jimmy went to the Ionia public school for first through third grades, from autumn 1953 through spring 1956. (The Kansas school system for rural children did not include kindergarten.) When I began school in 1956, we were bused along with neighbor kids to Esbon's public schools. The Ionia school attendance was small enough to place three grades in one classroom of 24 pupils, and the Esbon school placed grades 1 and 2 together for a classroom of about 20 pupils. My first teacher was "Miss Dolores" Holleran.

Mom resumed nursing at Community Hospital after both Jim and I were in school. I remember summers when Dad would take us to the public swimming pool in Beloit, and then we would pick up Mom at the end of her 7 a.m.-to-3 p.m. shift at the hospital. I also remember a couple of winters when she got stuck in snow drifts on the way home from work. It turned out that the 30-mile commute to Beloit was too strenuous, and Mom and Dad decided to forsake their farm life for "the city." They arranged for an auction of the whole farm to occur in summer 1959. The house sold separately, and it was lifted from its foundation and moved to Ionia. (I found the house there in 2001, long uninhabited and rotted through with a termite infestation. A return visit in 2014 found the same property empty, and the town itself deserted but for a dozen families.)

We moved to Beloit in time to enroll Jimmy and me in St. John's Catholic School for Jim's 7th grade and my 4th grade. My class was one of the largest for many years—33 classmates, give or take a few each year. I don't remember my 4th-grade teacher, but Mrs. Golda Poelma taught 5th grade. Each school day began with assembly for Mass in the large, stone parish church. I had begun to develop a deep religiosity, and this likely resulted from —or furthered— an estrangement from my new classmates. My mother and at least the two aunts who were nuns in the Congretation of St. Joseph (Sisters Henrita (Cecilia) Deneke and Edna Louise (Isabella) Kohn) encouraged this religiosity. I'm sure they would have regretted it had they seen me "celebrating Mass" alone at home in vestments pieced together from sheets and comforters with hand-pressed "hosts" and Coca-Cola "wine." These feelings increased as I was encouraged to learn to serve as an altar boy and subtly shunned from recess team games in which my coordination and strength were insubstantial. Near the end of eighth grade, I asked Monsignor Fraser if he would recommend me for entry to pre-seminary school at St. Fidelis Friary, but he suggested I continue study at the parish high school.


Mike Kohn and Louise Ohnsat,
married 1900.08.13 at St. Boniface, Tipton.
My father's parents lived most of their lives in the Tipton KS area, and as youngsters they lived on farms about a mile apart. Mike Kohn married at 21, and his bride Louise Ohnsat was almost 25. They married 13 August 1900 at St. Boniface in Tipton. Their witnesses were Louise's brother Bernard Ohnsat and Mike's sister Katherine Kohn.

Mike Kohn, age 71.
John Michael Kohn (1879-1965) was born March 18th at his parents' homestead north of Tipton (Carr Creek township, T7S R10W section 25 in Mitchell county). He was their third child, and the second son to survive infancy. He was usually called Mike because his father also had the first name of John.

Sometime between the 1880 census and the birth of Mike's first sister in January 1881, the family moved to La Crosse WI. His uncle Mathias Kohn (1829-1888) had lived there since 1855, and he operated a saloon that included boarding rooms and a restaurant. The Mathias Kohn family had grown to nine children by the time that the John M. Kohn family arrived, another two children came through 1885, and two orphaned children were adopted as well in the 1890s.

Mike's father John M. had a dairy at the eastern edge of La Crosse, and he delivered milk daily to customers in town. I suppose that Mike and his older brother Pete (1877-1941) helped in the barn and herded the milk cows to and from pasture. Mike and Pete likely attended school in La Crosse, and it's possible they attended a Catholic parish school. The family lived in La Crosse until 1887 or 1888, when they moved back to the Tipton, after their mother died from heat stroke in August 1887. Her mother and sister had come from Tipton to help John M with his five children (Peter, age ten; Mike, age eight; Katie, age six; Annie, almost five; and Ben, just turning three). They persuaded John M. that Tipton would make a better home for them, with plenty of land available for ranching and several families of in-laws to help establish a homestead for the family.

Louise Ohnsat-Kohn, age 75.
Louise Ohnsat-Kohn (1875-1959) was born 2 December 1875 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By 1878, the Ohnsat family resettled in Osborne county, about ten miles west of Tipton.

Mike Kohn and Louise Kohn,
50th wedding anniversary (1950) at their Tipton home.

Great Grandparents

John Mathew (John M., Johann Mathias) Kohn (1839-1919)
John M. Kohn, seated right

Susanna Reinert-Kohn, seated left

John M. Kohn family, about 1895, on their ranch farm southwest
of Tipton in Bloom twp, Osborne county KS. l to r: Ben (age 11),
Annie (13), Kate (14), Mike (16), John M (56); Peter (18) is likely
behind the camera.
Susanna Reinert (1848-1887)

No comments:

Post a Comment