Thursday, March 22, 2018
Aftermath of a War
When troubles over the great World War escalated enough to call all able-bodied American men to register for military service, by 1917, Ralph Howard Lee was among them. Then single and just about to turn twenty five, Ralph was actually a native of Lyn, Ontario, but this Canadian had come to California as a boy with his parents and subsequently became a naturalized citizen. He was ready to serve.
Apparently, by the end of the war, Ralph had returned to his adopted home of Lodi, California, as a war hero. Respected as a "rising young business man," by the time of the 1920 census, he was newly married and living in Fresno, about a two hour drive south of his childhood home. That's where we found him yesterday, when we stumbled upon his identity while searching for our photograph collector, Thirza Cole. Ralph, as you remember, had married Thirza and William Cole's only daughter, Pauline.
Unfortunately, the only reason I know Ralph's community considered him to be a rising young business man was that that was what he was called in his obituary. I might even have missed any mention of his passing, had it not been for a Find A Grave volunteer posting a transcription of the June 7, 1921, article from the Lodi News Sentinel.
According to the news report, Ralph Lee had, some time before his June 5, 1921, passing, decided to undergo surgery for removal of his tonsils. An abscess subsequently formed in his lungs, which, in an era predating use of penicillin, became the cause of his untimely death.
It was barely over two years later when Ralph's young widow joined him. Pauline succumbed to unknown causes on the morning of June 23, 1923, at the Mason hospital, a local medical facility in Lodi. Her deceased veteran husband's comrades served as her pallbearers, and she was laid to rest next to Ralph Lee in the Lodi Memorial Cemetery, leaving behind her parents, her in-laws, and an aunt, Mrs. Nellie B. Yates—all, presumably, still living in Lodi.
The California Chapter of the "Rainbow Division," the 42nd Infantry Division, left a marker at the Lee grave site to commemorate Ralph Lee's service during the Great War, and a respectable monument was erected in memory of the young couple—in a spot on the cemetery grounds which I have undoubtedly walked past, unknowingly, several times.
All told, though, the Coles' and the Lees' residence in Lodi was a recent occurrence. It was just in 1920 that we had found them in Fresno. Before that, Pauline was not even living in California. Finding the name of that one aunt, Nellie Yates, in Pauline's obituary thus becomes our next clue in tracing the Coles—and especially Thirza—back to their origin.