Sunday, March 18, 2018

Happy Birthday Grandfather Cecil Oscar Werst

Dear Grandfather Cecil,

(I'm updating a post written to my grandfather, Cecil Oscar Werst  16 Mar 1900-24 Oct 1927 in 2018. By now you have been able to meet your daughter Helen who passed 17 Oct 2019. Another great-great grand daughter has been born and we are celebrating the 124th anniversary of your birth). 

Today we are celebrating the 118th anniversary of your birth in what was then called Grasshopper Falls, Kansas. Please forgive me for not addressing you as grandfather. Having never met you, I do not know if you would have preferred Papa, Grampa, or whatever. I've always thought of you as Cecil. Named for you, I always wondered if children had made fun of your name when you were in school like they did with mine. Thinking of you as Cecil helped me think that I had an ally in the name wars of childhood.

Cecil Oscar Werst
circa 1926
You are the 7th child of Lewis and Mary Jane (Barnes) Werst. The Werst side of your family was part of the Somerset Church Of the Brethren congregation of Wabash County, Indiana that emigrated to Jefferson County, Kansas in 1864.

1900 Federal Population Schedule for Rock Creek Township,
Jefferson County, Kansas showing family of Louis and Mary J Werst
with seven children including 2 month old Cecil O Werst. 8 Jun 1900
In the 1900 Federal Census, Lewis was working as a carpenter and states that he has only been employed for three months so far that year. The family is living in a rented home. I expect you had no memories of life in Kansas as your family soon moved west to Washington State.

Your Dad had been married once before he married your mother 1 Oct 1885. He and his first wife, Lunnete "Mattie" (Fitzsimmons) Werst were the parents of your three older half brothers, Jasper Lewis, George Franklin and Forest Dean Werst. Their mother died in April 1884.

Jasper had followed his maternal Uncle Charles Wesley Fitzsimmons to Pataha, a small community near Pomeroy, Garfield County in the Washington Territory. This was wheat country, not the forested country of Western Washington.

From by Russell Lee, 1941
How wheat was harvested before combines.
Jasper had written home about the plentiful opportunities in the new state and Lewis and Mary Jane decided to follow the opportunity. We do not know if they traveled by wagon or rail. It must have been a logistical challenge to move a family of nine more than 1,000 miles.

The family settled in and their next and last son, Alvin Edgar Werst was born Christmas Eve 1902 in Garfield County. Alas, Lewis was not a farmer. The death of their 10 year old son Guy Alfred on November 24, 1905, the day after Thanksgiving appears to have been the last straw for the family attempt at farming .

Before the end of the year, they moved further west to Belma in Yakima County. This area was known for its apple orchards. It was also an area where the Federal Government was building dams and irrigation canals and there was plenty of work for a carpenter ready to give up on wheat farming.
By the time the 1910 census was taken, Lewis was a prosperous contractor with three of his older sons working as carpenters for him.

Prosperity for the family was short lived, Lewis sickened and died in 1916. With your older brothers married and raising families of their own, supporting your Mother and younger brother fell to you. Thanks to, we know you applied for work as a fireman on the Northern Pacific Railway 21 May 1918 at Pasco, Washington.


We don't know why you lied about your age on the application. Did you think that being 19 would give you a better opportunity? The application states that you were 5ft 8 inches tall and weighed about 140 pounds. You had blue eyes and medium brown hair. You were hired and started work 2 days later. Evidently, the job did not suit you as you resigned effective June 3rd. It wasn't your job performance as the superintendent stated "services satisfactory." Were you homesick? Didn't like the work? Unfortunately, we don't know.

Eighteen months later, the 1920 Census lists you as head of the household, age 19, sole support of your mother and younger brother Alvin. You are listed as a laborer doing general work for wages.

1920 Federal Census for Grandview Precinct, Yakima, Washington
Household of Werst, Cecil
We don't really know much about your life between 1920 and 1924. We know you went to Pendleton, Oregon where your brother Clem was working as a carpenter building houses. Across the street from Clem and Bessie lived Harley "Hal" and Madge (Colby) Massey. Beginning in the summer of 1923, the Massey's were hosting Madge's younger sister Ada Grace. She had moved in after completing two years at Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University). Grace had discovered her stepmother had given away the dog she left at home in Newberg and vowed to never return to her father's house while her step-mother lived.

I wish we could know what you thought of Grace. I think she was quite the live wire. She had been President of her 1921 Newberg High School class and involved in everything. She was a modern woman, working as a secretary. I expect that she was also the whirlwind that swept you off your feet.

Ada Grace Colby circa 1922 from family collection
You did have many things in common. You had both lost a parent in your teenage years. You were both born in Kansas. You had each lived on farms and knew you wanted to seek your life's work elsewhere. You were both younger children in large families. Most of all, you both were determined to better yourselves.

Many years later, she talked with we grandchildren about her ambitions for you. She talked about how she helped you refine your dress, speech and manners. She also talked about how she loved to hear you play your banjo.

By August 8, 1924, you were in Spokane, Washington getting married.

We think this may have been your wedding photograph.
The next three years passed all too quickly for Grace. You were promoted from salesman to Field Manager for the Royal Silk Hosiery Company. She was forced to leave her position as a secretary for the Spokesman Review Newspaper when her pregnancy began to show. Your daughter Betty Lorraine was born June 23, 1926.
Cecil with daughter Betty circa Fall 1926
Grandmother Hoo Hoo, our pet name for Grace, told us how you doted on your daughter. She talked about you taking her on rides in the park, including the Merry-go-round. She talked about the wonderful three month trip through all your Royal Silk territories in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
What an adventure for the family of three who would soon become a family of four!

Sadly, it was not to be. One of your teeth was bothering you. It was removed, an infection set in, and you were dead in two weeks at age 27 years, 7 months and 8 days. Your death certificate says that one of the leukemias added to your condition. A young life, cut way too short.

Cecil Oscar Werst's Death Certificate

We can not know what you could have accomplished. You left behind a stunned, pregnant wife and a fifteen month old daughter.

I wonder if you ever imagined the size of your family now. We gathered last weekend to wish Helen (Werst) (Pearce) Caldwell, the daughter you never met, a happy 90th birthday. You have 24 surviving descendants and hopefully have been reunited with your daughter Betty.

Happy Birthday Cecil! Your legacy lives on.

Your granddaughter,

No comments:

Post a Comment