My Great Grandfather.
The Stephanz family is my most exciting “find” yet. They have been what genealogists refer to as a “brick wall”. Brick walls are so very satisfying to break through! Their Kansas story really fascinated me in how they stuck together and triumphed through a language barrier and held steadfast to their traditions in a foreign land. But, I digress.
I’ll start with Mathias Paul Stephanz, Jr. Mat was born 13 JUL 1894 in Kansas City, Wyandotte County, Kansas. His parents were Mathias Stephanz, Sr. and Mary Swegel. No, wait, that is incorrect. He was born to Matijas Štefanc and Marija Švegelj, but that is yet another story.
Mathias, Jr. was born on a Friday, 123 years ago. My second cousin, Susan, told me that her father told her that he was somewhat fair haired when young, blue eyes,and a great father. She said he was always talking about how great his wife, Clara, was constantly driving them all over or sailing with them all over the country and world and how she was constantly packing up all they owned every time they moved. Her dad said it only took one look from Mat to make all the kids behave. She also said that Mat preferred Milwaukee over Kansas City because of the fun times they had at the lake, parties, and being with family, especially during the summers.
He was baptized in 1894 at St. Joseph’s Parish in Kansas City. He had one younger brother and two younger sisters.
They lived on Sandusky Ave./411 N. 4th Street (in the rear of the house) on what is known as Strawberry Hill. The addresses confused me until I realized that 4th Street curved into Sandusky and they lived right on the border of those two roads. So, some census takers show Sandusky and some show 4th St.
The house is still there. But, a highway was built right through Strawberry Hill in 1957 in which neighbors were forced to move from their homes. I will tell more about Strawberry Hill and how it came to be in another article.
Mathias lived in Kansas City until he was 24 in 1919.
On July 9, 1916, he wrote a letter to his sister, Mary. The postmark and what he wrote on his letter says “Detroit, Mich”. I can only assume he was visiting. In his letter he refers to his adventures in “Toledo”. He starts it with what must be her nickname, (written as he wrote with punctuation and spelling.)
I got your letter all ok. I spent the 4th in Toledo and went to Toledo Beach sure had a good time. I am going to tell you something that I don’t want the old folks to know. I think I’ll marry in Toledo. I’ve got the girl at last I believe and I found her myself too. Her name is Bessie Jacobs. Tell you how I met her Elizabeth’s old friend Frances (can’t read last name) has been trying to land me “ha ha” the old fossil she got me to come over and meet her cousin from Detroit and this little girl happened to be there too and she didn’t introduce us but I made up my mind that I didn’t need any and the funny part of it Bessie told me later that she had her mind made up to know me too but Frances kept on her tail so much that I couldn’t talk to her alone until the next day. She is a telephone operator and I’ve got the job taking her home when I am there now there’s another fellow but his name will be mud before I’m done. Sis, you can talk about fast work, but listen to this I met about 2 o’clock Monday and Wed night about 12 I proposed (she would not give me a final answer yet) She didn’t know me well enough yet but I think my chances are good. I wish you or Leah could come here on a visit and meet her I wonder if she is a big as Joe’s girl she weighs 103 pounds and reaches about to my arm pit and she wears glasses but she can look nicer in them than any girl I ever saw she 19 years old and she can cook and do housework too she’s not a fancy cook but she can put up a meal so I should worry. I’ll think I’ll move to Toledo and go living Alice’s husband is trying to land me a job there and I can be making 100 (word looks like “bones”) in a short time and I know I’ll like it better he’s got 2 uncles that are engineers too so it will all be in the family and I can save more money there too. What’s the matter with the King (Joe’s nickname maybe?) I thought he was going to be a candy maker he better try something where he can learn to be something so he won’t be a common laborer when he is my age I wish you all would move to Toledo you could all get jobs here easy enough and we could all have a dandy time better than in in KC I believe. Well sis I guess I told you all I could so I will close now hoping to hear from you soon and tell all my friends hello for me Leah and Joe too (Leah must have been Joe’s sister, Lizzie- maybe a nickname) Tell that King to get a job dam quick and tell the Belgian hello too I almost forgot her.
With Love, Mat
P. S. I repeat I would like picture of the bunch as soon as possible. ”
This letter is interesting as there are a lot of Stephanz in my research showing up in Toledo. There is even a Mathias, except the age doesn’t pan out. Are there relatives in Ohio we didn’t know about? Are they who Mat is referring to in the letter? Is this why he is in Toledo at this time? There is a William R, a Francis J. and a Mathias.
The marriage in the letter above is not to be however, because in 1920, Mat marries Clara Elizabeth Hennig at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Can you find the error in the above record? Augusta was Clara’s mother, it should state Mary as Mat’s mother. Also, it states under Mathias’ name “neo-Conversus”. Not sure why it shows him as a convert as he was baptized in St. Joseph’s Parish in Kansas City.
The directory of 1916 shows Mat living in Kansas City with his parents, so what happened between him visiting Toledo in 1916 and marrying Clara in 1920? They married in Wisconsin, but how did he meet Clara? Nine months later, Marguerite was born in Illinois. I imagine sometime around 1920 he entered the Navy, but I am still trying to get the records. The department will not send me them because I am not the next of kin. I have not appealed it yet.
He lived most of the next 47 years in the United States Navy. The military transferred him quite a bit- from 1920 in Wisconsin, 1921 in Illinois, 1922 in Pensacola, FL, 1926 in Norfolk, VA, 1932 in the Canal Zone in Panama, 1935 in Hawaii, back to Norfolk in 1939, Jacksonville, Florida in 1941, Oregon in 1944, and in 1950 his last enlistment, Jacksonville, Florida where he retired as the Aviation Chief and where they made their home. However, he did not stop at retirement. He became the Finance Officer at American Legion Lake Shore Post 137. Mat and Clara had three girls and two boys.
When I was researching something else for this blog concerning Mathias, I accidentally stumbled upon a wonderful find. Below is a photo and the description of the photo from the back. What a treasure!!!
Present Ranking F-4-D F.R. -31 Mar 1941- (Men transferred to Fleet Reserve upon completion of 20 years who were serving in the regular Navy on July 1, 1925, or who reenlisted under continuous service immediately thereafter.) ACMM (PA) (Aviation Chief MACHINISTS’S MA)
hover or click with your mouse over the pictures for captions
Jeanne, ARW, Mathias, Ruby 1963
Although Mat died in the VA hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama, his body was brought back to Jacksonville, FL to be buried in Riverside Memorial Park that October.
What a life Mat led! Still, he died too young at age 73. I wish I could have known him in person. I can only imagine the stories he could have shared with me as a kid growing up in Kansas and as a young adult with a young family and his very successful Navy career. Oh the places and things he must have seen.
If you see any errors in any of this, please do let me know so I can correct them. If you have anything to add, please let me know. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.