Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shirley Harriet Krueger (1918-2008)

Shirley was born July 11th, 1918 in Michigan City, Indiana to Myer “Mike” Krueger (1887-1934) and Antonia “Tony” Jeannette Engel (1889-1944). She was the youngest of three children with Marvin “Brother” (1914-1981) and sister Fern Esther (1911-1974) both doting on her.

As a little girl she started dance lessons and through the years she continued dancing into her senior years. Here is an excerpt from her autobiography that describes this aspect of her life.

My mother inspired us to try all sorts of lessons. A baby grand piano was bought by our parents-- that was prestige to have one. So all of us tried our hand at it. Fern took for several years, then Brother, then I for three years. Fern then went into Dramatic Art and was excellent at readings. She later taught it. I used to watch her take dancing lessons and I would try to dance along with them. Mother felt I was going to like that better, so at age 4 I was the ballerina and was encouraged to do toe, tap, acrobatic as well as ballet. Mother was so proud of her children and their talents and was pleased when we were asked to perform and her friends would say we were very good.

In the 1920 and 1930 census the entire family shows up as living at 225 Detroit Street in Michigan City, Indiana. Shirley was very close to her father and often spent time with him in his shoe store. Here is an excerpt from her autobiography that describes her Sunday mornings with her father.

As I grew up, Daddy and I had a ritual on Sundays. Waking me gently in the room I shared with Fern, he would ask me to make some breakfast and go for a ride. Of course, I always said I would like that. Being the youngest and least busy had its compensations – spending time with Dad. Pancakes or French toast, the inevitable menu, we would eat and read the Sunday paper, clear the dishes, and set out for our ride. There appeared to be only two routes for us... the lakefront road beckoned us with its mounding sand dunes and handsome spacious homes of the rich or the crowded apartments of the not-so-rich. Inevitably we turned off at one of the side roads and got lost as we wormed our way around until we came on the Dixie Highway or the beach road. Our other route took us to neighboring towns to learn their ideas of merchandising and displays in the windows. Dad would peer into the store to note the setup and tell me what was good or bad about them. I teased him that he never took a vacation just a businessman's holiday for a few hours. Others took trips away from it all, but Dad said, “This is my work and you are the reason for work. You must have the things I never could have-- especially going to school.”

Unfortunately she did not get to have her father in her life very long. This was one of several losses of family that she experienced. Here she tells the story.

When I was sixteen, Dad and I continued to be close and sometimes I would help out at the store especially in the hosiery department. One evening before Halloween he and I were home alone. Dad was quiet, but he answered the door when trick or treaters came around, patiently giving out the goodies. In the year 1934 children went out to beg on beggar's night, the night before Halloween. We listened to the radio in the little room, our family room, I was trying to get my studying done. At 10:00 he asked me to go to bed because he too would be going up soon. We both went upstairs and said goodnight as he kissed me and I told him I loved him. The next morning the phone rang as I was getting ready for school at 8:00. I answered and the person asked to speak to Mom. Even though I told him she was sleeping, they said it was urgent. When Mother answered, she was informed that Dad had taken poison in the store in a suicide attempt and had been taken to the St. Anthony's Hospital. One of the clerks had come early to help Dad, found him in the back room, and called an ambulance. We were just shattered. Fern and Mom drove to the hospital and told me to go to school. I didn't want to go, but they said they would call me if I was needed. Brother was at school in Ann Arbor. After school I ran to the hospital but he could hardly speak, but I think he said, “I did it for you all-- the insurance.” He died two days later.

Education and opportunity went together in his mind. Little did he know that we would have exchanged any amount of money or education for his being with us. Perhaps we did not convey our feelings to him well enough.

Shirley did eventually go to college and attended Indiana University and the University of Wisconsin. She received her Bachelors degree in Speech and Journalism. On August 3, 1940 she married Edward Herbert Morse (1918-1981) and then remarried with family present on Feb. 9, 1941. They went on to have three children- Brett, Toni, and my mother, Jan. They lived in Gary, Indiana for a few years and then eventually moved to South Bend, Indiana.

I have many memories of Grandma.  When I was young I spent many a night at their house being babysat while my mom worked or was “out on the town”.  Grandma and I would walk around the neighborhood after dinner and would chat with her friends as we went by.  She taught me to tap dance and always encouraged me to take lessons and work hard.   She was funny, witty, and a person that I always admired for her outspoken ways.  I think of her fondly whenever I catch myself saying, "Oy!".


My mother describes Grandma's active persona and influence herself in this excerpt.

She was a most excellent editor for all our themes and newspaper releases for BBG and MSTY. She had a degree in journalism which never went to waste, as she was editor of every newsletter for every organization she joined. She wrote silly poems for every occasion, but was a miserable typist. She was always doing something creative. She taught me needlepoint when she learned it. She helped teach me to sew garments and do hemming. I remember the smell from the tiny hot wire that she used to cut all kinds of table decorations out of Styrofoam. She obsessively decoupaged everything she could to wooden boxes and plaques. She would have 30 going at a time all over the bar down in the basement. She tried Japanese brush painting and oil painting. When I became interested in herbs, she had a guy put up shelves across the window in the upstairs hall so I could grow them.

She was a traveler and went all over the place. Her photo albums were full of interesting and exotic places.  I’d always hoped that someday I could travel somewhere with her, but that never happened.  She was a constant volunteer with Temple Beth El and Civitan and many other groups.  Grandma was interested in genealogy and had taken several classes to learn more.  She made contributions to the St. Joseph County Genealogical Society.

As my mom describes, Grandma had quite a few losses in her life.

The sorrows she lived through. Her father’s suicide when she was 16, and her mother’s death from leukemia soon after the birth of my brother Brett. Yet she went on. She lost her only sister, Fern, to cancer in 1974. She had a difficult life with my father, but never gave up on him. He got cancer when I was in my 20’s and she spent a lot of time shuttling between home and the hospital and home. One day a burglar broke into the house and beat her and robbed her, during this her husband’s final illness, and still she went on. That same year she lost her best friend, our Aunt Leah, and her husband, mom’s last living sibling, Marvin. When her only son, Brett and his only son, Danny were killed in a plane crash, still she kept on living a generous life. She never brooded. She found new classes to take, places to travel, and people to help. She spent time with all her grandchildren, encouraging them to also take classes and be in extra-curricular activities at school.

I don't know how Grandma dealt with so much sadness in her life. Somehow she kept going and didn't let it depress her. She was quite the positive person. I think despite these losses she focused on the positive of the many grandchildren and other family members. She was quite proud of all of her children and grandchildren.

Even when my mom remarried and we moved to Ohio, Grandma stayed in touch. She would come down and visit with us and I would show her my latest dance routines. She wrote me letters while I was in college and shared stories of her many activities and what my cousins were up to. Although she always asked if I had met any “nice Jewish boys”, she didn't push the issue.

Eventually her age caught up to her and she suffered several strokes.  It was sad to see the vibrant Grandma fading away and each time I visited her in the nursing home I hoped that she knew how much we all loved her and thought of her.  I was fortunate to see her just an hour before she eventually passed away on April 20, 2008. 

It was a great personal loss, but I believe one that has inspired me to become closer to my family.  Her interest in genealogy became mine and now I continue to pursue her questions about her father and his side of the family.  Perhaps someday soon I will find those answers and be able to share them with the rest of my family.  

No comments: