Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Another John Kelly Stevens

In taking the time to do a quick overview of the sons of William and Agnes Tully Stevens, I’ll start at the logical point: the beginning.

There is certainly something to be said for the firstborn. As far back as the ancient book of Genesis, the patriarch Israel said of his own firstborn son, “you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power.”

That sentiment was even codified into Jewish law: “giving [the firstborn son] a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.”

I don’t know what William Stevens thought of his firstborn son, but chances are pretty high that he was right proud of his boy. At the same time, Will wanted to honor his father, and his firstborn son that made Will’s father, John Kelly Stevens, a grandfather also became that grandfather’s namesake.

The younger John Kelly was born in Chicago on April 21, 1913, a respectable ten months following his parents’ marriage. What was interesting to me about this birth—and I’ll share the story in more detail in a later post—was that the doctor delivering the baby was Agnes’ own brother-in-law. The good doctor’s wife, knowing that her husband’s brother in Ohio had unexpectedly become a widower with two young children, had played matchmaker and was the inspiration behind Agnes’s sister Mary Monica Tully moving from the big city to the outback of Perry County, Ohio, to wed Dennis Austin McGonagle. That story, as we’ll see when we discuss Will’s younger son Frank, was to have repercussions that affected not one but two generations.

I don’t know much about the younger John Kelly Stevens except that, as an adult, he somehow made his way from his hometown of Chicago to an out-of-the-way town in central California called Porterville, where he worked, raised his family, retired and lived until his passing on February 25, 1997. It was only a few years before that when I had the privilege of meeting him and his family.

The man was a letter writer, judging from the letters saved by his mother, Agnes. Given the distance between his hometown and his chosen residence and considering that in that time period—even those later years—it was still more common to write than to “reach out and touch” with an expensive long-distance phone bill, this comes as no surprise.

John would tell his mom of visits with his brother, Bill, who lived not far away in southern California, or of his work at the school. Toward the later years, he would talk of the constant exhaustion he’d feel during the school year. A letter just before Christmas in 1970, when he was fifty-seven, started out:

Last day of school today and I’m bushed. We’ve had something going day and night for a couple of weeks now and the Christmas assembly this a.m. for the high school was the last program this year. The Christmas concert…last night was very good but I was too tired out to enjoy it. Hope there isn’t too much to do the next two weeks.

For all the exhaustion he felt at work when he was in his late fifties, he remained in fairly good health and lived a full life of nearly eighty-four years.

He and his wife had two sons, were active in church and community life, and despite the distance from his Chicago family, he was conscientious about keeping in touch with his mom until her passing in 1985.

Though studying family members closer to the present may not be considered genealogy, I still want to know more about Agnes’ children and how the things that were important to her were passed down to the current generation through her children. In wondering about that, I realized that I don’t even know much about these people I’ve been able to meet in this family. On the other hand, in publishing tales of our families’ roots, it requires a deft hand to negotiate the proper balance between the right of privacy and accurate representations that honor the memory of these individuals. For these reasons, I want to be careful in honoring the names of those no longer with us while omitting the names of those still living.

1 comment:

  1. I bet Porterville was an exciting adventure "back in the day" when he moved out there.


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