Preface: This is a story about my maternal great-grandmother Edna Lola Walling Dwyer Mundt of the family of John and Louisa (Emerick) Korns Too often the details about the lives of individuals are lost over time with only bits and pieces passed down through the generations. The further back they lived, the less we remember. Fortunately, a significant part of the Edna’s life was recorded and preserved by her eldest child, Lucille Viola Dwyer Gutzwiller. Lucille had written a family history; a recollection of her childhood years which covered the period roughly 1905 to 1920. She also included a few stories she was told by her parents for the years prior. In addition, this story includes some information provided by one of Edna’s grandchildren who met her often as a child when Edna periodically came to visit and live with her family. Their willingness to conserve and share their personal accounts has prevented many aspects of Edna’s life from being forgotten. For this I am greatly indebted. The parts of this story covering those years, unless otherwise noted, are drawn heavily from those remembrances.
Edna’s father, Alwin Walling, had grown up in Linn County where his father, George Walling, and his mother, Lydia Miles (Coomes) Walling, had settled the family. When Alwin was just a young man, his parents divorced. After which, sometime before 1870, he moved to Tama County, Iowa, with his mother. It is there that he had found work as a farm laborer. Her mother, Christina Korns, grew up on the large farm her uncle, Jacob Korns, and her father, John D. Korns, had established in Tama County. Her father and uncle were true pioneers and among the first settlers in the county. During the mid-1800’s the average farm size in Iowa was around 160 acres, the equivalent of one-half mile by one half-mile. The farm Christina grew up on was initially 160 acres (80 acres from a purchased military warrant and another 80 acres a homestead claim) but was gradually expanded over time and eventually encompassed 320 acres.
It is unknown how or where Alwin Walling and Christina Korns met, but they did, and their relationship culminated in their marriage on March 20, 1873. They made their home in Highland township, Tama County, Iowa and in time they had established their own 120-acre farm near Christina’s parents. Farm families in Iowa lived in relative seclusion due to the distance from neighbors and the only times to socialize with others were during irregular trips to visit the nearest town, neighbors or to attend church services.
There was, however, other information that can be attributed to John Dwyer himself. During one of his many appearances before a judge (all for public drunkenness which will be highlighted later in the story), he provided the following information about his younger years. “I have never known a mother’s love since five years old and never had a home until I made my own. At the age of five I was snatched out of my mother’s arms and put into an orphanage. Then I became a waif upon the streets of New York. Many’s the time, judge, that I saw my poor mother thrust into the Tombs [the New York City jail]. I was young then but, great God, those horrible scenes were indelibly impressed upon my mind.” It should be noted that this was said while he was seeking leniency from the judge for his latest offence and may have been embellished. During another court appearance the following account of his persona was given: “He was cultured and, when sober, a kind-hearted man and devoted husband and father, but booze dragged him down. He studied when a young man for the priesthood, and is well educated. He can quote nearly the entire contents of the Bible, and has in his memory many of the writings of the best authors.” His daughter Lucille also gave the following physical description of her father: “He was a small man, a little taller than our mother [who Edna’s granddaughter described her as being not much more than 5 foot tall if at all]. Black curly hair, blue eyes and fine features, no mustach[e] or beard that I can recall.”
It is also unknown whether this occurred in LeGrand or after the family had moved again. By 1902 the family was living in Sioux City, Iowa where there next two children were born. Lola Beatrice was born on Sept. 20, 1902 followed almost exactly two years later by, John Patrick Jr., who was born on the 19th of September 1904. It was around this point in time that the oldest daughter Lucille began the recollections of her early childhood. She wrote: “At that time we were living in two rooms. One large for sleeping and a small one for cooking and dining – near railroad tracks in Sioux City, Iowa. The bedroom was fairly large and contained one large bed, a small bed for Lola (3) and me (5) and a crib for John. Both John and Lola had whooping cough. John was about 6 months old, and the doctor had him in a cast around his chest. Both were quite sick for a while. The kitchen was small, just room for a table and chairs and a flat top cook stove.” In 1905, the family moved again. This time they traveled roughly forty miles north of Sioux City to the town of Hawarden, Iowa. But their stay here was short and soon the family was on the road once more, this time to Slayton, Minnesota..
The house they lived in was a wood building covered in tar paper. Typical for the town at the time, though some more permanent structures were being built. One of which was the school which accommodated roughly 500 children including Lucille and possibly her sister Lola. In the early spring of 1908, a forest fire began in that area of northern Minnesota and was close enough to threaten the town. In late April a description of the fire was reported by a nearby newspaper: “Forest fires are raging all around Akeley, and much apprehension is felt for the safety of property surrounding the village with a possible prosect of burning the town.” It was feared that it would do just that and a train was prepared to evacuate the women and children if needed. The fire was eventually brought under control. The damage stayed away from the town, but the fire destroyed much of the logging operation. Workers for the lumber company began to rebuild, but John became ill suffering from what was described as typhoid pneumonia. He recovered but in his weakened condition, could not continue the hard labor his job there required. John had no choice but to look for work elsewhere. He headed alone back to Iowa while Edna and the family stayed in Akeley until he sent for them. Word arrived and Edna packed and shipped all the belongings she could not carry. Not long after, on Sept. 2h, 1908, Edna and her children boarded the Chicago Great Western train the take them from northern Minnesota to Waterloo, Iowa.
However, when she and the children arrived early on the morning of the 30th, her husband John was not there to meet them. She had no address and no idea how to find him. Pregnant, with four children in tow, she began the search for her husband through the unfamiliar town. She contacted the police, an employment bureau she knew he had used and even had a notice posted on the front page of the local newspaper to help find him. Edna was so discouraged that she had contemplated leaving Waterloo and traveling to Kellogg, Iowa to stay with her sister if her husband could not be located. It was not until the following day that the family was reunited. Her husband John had found work with the Litchfield Manufacturing Company and their first home in Waterloo was a tiny four room house on the edge of town.
After only six weeks in Waterloo, the family had no money left to buy food and Edna had to request assistance from the city to feed her family. Apparently, her husband John had already lost his new job and the family was broke. After a short period without work he found employment with the Galloway Company. The company had just expanded its production of farm and light industrial equipment to include the manufacture of automobiles and needed workers. It was there in their first home in Waterloo that their next child, Dorothy Elizabeth was born on Jan. 26, 1909. By the summer of 1909, the family had moved into the two-story home located at 200 Sullivan Avenue near the Elmwood Cemetery. The following spring the family then moved once again to a house at the edge of town. From this house, the older children would walk along the railroad track about a half a mile to attend school.
During the time he was away Edna decided to pack up the family and move to a house near the downtown area. It was their fourth move during their short stay in Waterloo. Because of this, when John returned from his trip roughly six weeks later, he could not locate Edna. Completely intoxicated, he went to the house of a person, that could be described as a social worker, who had been assigned to him by the court several times before. There he hoped to find information on Edna and the children. The social worker promptly contacted the police, and he was arrested once again. During this trial, the judge severely chastised him stating: “You are a disgrace to humanity, to leave your wife and children to get along as best they may while you drink whisky and roam over the country.” The judge ordered that all his wages for six months were to be collected by the social worker and turned over to Edna. Edna finally had some reprieve from worrying how to feed her children. Over the course of her marriage, she had become adept at managing money. During this six-month period, she not only took care of the expenses, but she was also able to save some money as well.
With no money to spend on alcohol, John did sober up, at least somewhat, and by Christmas 1910, John began to consider moving again because he had heard about work in Illinois. But his demons returned and shortly after regaining control of the money, he began to drink again. In January 1911, John removed a quarter of their savings and went out for a night of binge drinking for which he was once again arrested for public intoxication and appeared before a judge. He was sentenced to 30 days community labor. He was also prohibited from drinking any alcohol and was to be reported if he did so. Only a week later, he came home after stopping for a couple of drinks after work (just two beers because he only had ten cents in his pocket when he left the house that morning). Arriving home, he was confronted by Edna and he became verbally abusive toward her. It was Edna this time that called the police to have him arrested, following the judges’ directions. The judge promptly sentenced John to ten days confinement.
John decided to relocate and to change his luck, and maybe try and escape his past, with the hope of work in Rockford, Illinois. A chance encounter on the train ultimately produced a major change in their children’s lives. Seated in the train car with the Dwyer family during the trip were a pair of Catholic nuns. From what is known, John and Edna did not take part in any religious practices at this point, and it is likely their children rarely attended church if at all. When John saw the nuns, he recalled his time in the orphanage and remembered it warmly. He had also contemplated becoming a priest while he was there. Sadly, it may have been the only time when he had any stability in his life. (While not truly known, it is believed that the reason he ran away from the orphanage, apparently, was due to being caught playing a prank for which he was ashamed). He decided there on that train to have all his children baptized as Catholic once they arrived in Rockford.
After a few weeks living in a hotel, upon their arrival in Rockford, the family found a more permanent place to stay. John began his search for work. Edna enrolled the school age children in the Catholic elementary school located next to the St. Mary Oratory church. After quite a bit of time searching, John was not successful in finding the work he hoped for. He decided to leave the city and look elsewhere while Edna and the children remained in Rockford.
From this point on, her husband John would only return to the family periodically, stay for a short period of time, then leave again in search of other work. The family had always been poor but living became even more difficult for Edna and her children as they had to now fend for themselves. Unfortunately, Edna had already become used to it. To support the family, Edna took in laundry, sewing work and any other small jobs she could find (she was also known to have been quite skilled at needlepoint and embroidery).
In the summer of 1911, Edna moved the family into a four-room house on Horseman Street. It was here, on the 19th of August 1911 that Edna gave birth to Blanche Margaret. By 1913 the family had moved to the 1500 block of North Main Street which bordered the southwest edge of Greenwood cemetery. On June 30 of that year, Catharine June was born. The following year, on Aug. 27, 1914, their daughter Marion was born. However, Marion only lived for two months and died from spinal meningitis. By the fall of 1914, the family had again moved. This time onto School Street.
Edna’s daughter Lola had by become good friends with a classmate at St. Mary’s school by the name of Marguerite Gutzwiller. The Dwyer’s home on School Street was located fairly close the Gutzwiller home on Peach Street, and through these girls, their mothers, Edna Dwyer and Agnus Gutzwiller, had also become good friends.
In May of 1915, Lola had contracted scarlet fever. At the time entire families were quarantined in the home of where the patients lived. Edna’s oldest daughter, Lucille, was on track to graduate from the eighth grade that year. [In the early part of the 1900’s many schools finished their curriculum at the eighth grade except for those students planning on continuing to college] The doctor told Edna that her daughter Lucille needed to stay away from the house if she wanted to attend school and finish on time. The Gutzwiller family allowed Lucille to live with them through the quarantine and therefore enabled her to graduate on time.
It was only a few months after the quarantine was lifted, on Sept. 4, 1915, that Edna gave birth to her son Joseph Calvin. It was not an easy delivery and there were serious complications. The attending physician offered little help because it was considered a "poverty case." It was her friend Agnus Gutzwiller that stepped in and cared for Edna. She nursed Edna back to health and is credited with saving her life. Though she had had survived the delivery, it was not the only medical scare Edna would face that year. Only a month later she had to return to the doctor to have a tumor removed from her arm. Fortunately, it was determined to be benign, and Edna made a full recovery.
Not long after Joseph was born when, following one of his long absences, her husband John returned to Rockford. By this point he was rarely with the family, offered them little financial support and never stopped his drinking. Edna, having only recently recovered from her latest health scare, told John to just stay away. (Though there is another story where it was his daughter Lucille that told him to leave and not come back).
From the little that is known about John Dwyer it is apparent that he was not ready for a family and could never be considered a model father. He was an alcoholic and would often leave his family for extended periods of time. It was up to Edna to find ways to support her children and herself during his absences. In her memories about her father, Lucille put it much more diplomatically writing: “… married life was too confining for him. ... He was not a mean man to our mother or to his children. Occasionally we got a spanking when we needed it. I can’t recall him quarrelsome. He like[d] his liquor and it controlled him, and when he travelled around, he was free to do what he wanted to, and all his earnings went for liquor. I did notice that each time he came home a new baby arrived before he came again. He didn’t seem to drink much when he was home but couldn’t resist long at a time.”
Sometime before the spring of 1917 Edna and the children had moved onto Lapp Court in Rockford. It was roughly then that Edna faced yet another health problem. This time she underwent a major operation, though it is not known for what, and she had to be hospitalized for seven weeks. Because there was no one to care for all the children, most were temporarily placed in a children’s home or placed with other families. The oldest, Lucille, who was working by this time, rented a room. The infant, Joseph, was taken in by the Gutzwiller family while Edna recuperated. After Edna was released from the hospital, the family moved once again, this time to Evelyne Street. They remained at their Evelyne Street home until 1919 when Edna received word that her mother was dying and needed her help.
Nine years earlier, Edna’s father Alwin had moved from his farm in Iowa to just outside Dupree, South Dakota. He had taken advantage of the government offer of free land to individuals who were willing to homestead on former Indian reservation land recently opened for settlement. The lands were opened in 1909 via a lottery type system and Alwin Walling was one of those selected. Even though he was over sixty years old, he left to establish his homestead in 1910 with the help of his sons. His wife stayed in Iowa until a home was built. Because this was prairieland, the original dwelling built on the homestead, was a sod house.
Edna’s mother arrived at the homestead in April 1911. With the improvements and time requirement met, Alwin Walling was granted title to his 144-acre homestead in 1917. But only a couple of years later her mother’s health began to deteriorate. After hearing of this, Edna offered to help and moved to her parents’ home near Dupree in early 1919. Most of her children followed shortly after. Her oldest daughter Lucille placed all her siblings, with the exception of Dorothy, on a train in Wisconsin for the trip to South Dakota. After she had finished the school year, Lucille took her sister Dorothy to Dupree to join her mother. Lucille, however, returned to Rockford later that summer to live and work.
Edna’s mother’s health worsened rapidly. It was only a few months after Edna’s children arrived that her mother Christina Ann died of dropsy [oedema/edema/congestive lung failure] on 25th of August 1919. After her mother’s death, Edna chose to remain in South Dakota to take care of her father. He was then seventy years old, and his health and eyesight were beginning to decline. Two of her younger brothers, Ralph and Russell, were also still living on the homestead working the farm.
The first of Edna’s children to marry was her oldest daughter Lucille who had remained in Rockford, Illinois. She married John Henry Gutzwiller, who was the son of Edna’s old friend Agnus Gutzwiller, on April 26, 1921. It is also likely that around this time that Edna began a relationship with a neighbor named Frederick (Fred) Henry Mundt. Frederick Mundt was a German immigrant who had also been previously married.
In due course, they contemplated marriage. There is uncertainty as to Edna’s marital status at this time; was she still married or was she divorced. On the 1920 census she listed herself as divorced. There is a family story that Edna had John declared dead to be able to remarry. However, it is more likely that she was divorced. Either Edna and her husband John filed before he left Rockford for the last time or Edna, not knowing where her husband was, filed for divorce on the grounds of desertion/abandonment. On the 27th of November 1924, Edna married Fred Mundt.
During the next few years, the family faced some new difficulties. The first was the death (or institutionalization) of her oldest son. There is another family story that somewhere around 1925/1926 Edna’s son, John Patrick Jr., died from complications from a medical problem, but no death record has been found. But then there is a record of a John P. Dwyer, born in Iowa around 1905, who was institutionalized in the Yankton State Mental Hospital and that this John Dwyer had later died on November 25, 1939. If this was Edna’s son, it may have been that he was sent away around 1925/1926. Unfortunately, John Dwyer is not an uncommon name, and it is not known which is true.
With Edna now living with her new husband, her father decided to move to Baxter, Iowa, around September 1926. He went to live with, and be cared for by, his daughter Nellie Hamilton and her husband. Less than five months after her father had moved to Baxter, feeling hopeless over his poor health and now completely blind, Alwin Walling took his own life on the 24th of January 1927.
At some point in 1931 Edna became quite ill. Due to her previous medical problems, and fearing the worst, her oldest daughter Lucille (and her family) moved from their home in Michigan to help take care of her. The illness was not as severe as initially thought and Edna did make a full recovery. However, her daughter’s family, due to the economic conditions found during the depression, were prevented from returning to Michigan for several years. Lucille’s husband, John Gutzwiller, had to become a tenant farmer on a nearby farm to support the family during those difficult years.
Edna stayed a little while longer before leaving to visit/live with others. She continued to move from family to family; some were short visits while others were longer. In March 1952, Edna moved for the last time. She traveled back to Capac, Michigan to live with daughter Lucille. It is likely she had health issues at the time because just three weeks after she arrived, Edna drafted her will. She remained there, with her daughter Lucille, for the final two years of her life. At the beginning of 1954, her health began to quickly fade. She was taken to the nearby Yale community hospital. On Jan. 21, 1954, at the age of 71, Edna Lola Walling Dwyer Mundt passed away. Per her wishes, her body was returned to Dupree, South Dakota. She was buried in the Dupree cemetery next to her second husband Fredrick Henry Mundt.
Edna’s oldest daughter Lucille ended her family history writing the following about her mother: “Must say, mother worked all her life to earn our keep, and clothed us with clothes given her. Medical help for her came as County care.” Edna did not have an easy life. She married young to a man with many flaws. During her life, she bore 11 children and for much of their lives she raised them on her own. Her life was a struggle with poverty, personal health, and an alcoholic spouse. Edna was able to eventually overcome these obstacles, a testament to her strength and character. And her story has not been lost to time.
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