Florentine (Florence) Altwasser
Fourth Child of Gottlieb Altwasser and Euphrosine Beier
Florentine Altwasser, the fourth child of Gottlieb Altwasser and Euphrosine Beier was born on May 6, 1880 in Johannisdorf, Province of Volhynia, Russia. She married Ferdinand Greger in 1896.
Florentine (Florence) Altwasser and Ferdinand Greger
By Jack Milner, a grand nephew of Florentine Altwasser
Florentine Altwasser, the fourth child of Gottlieb Altwasser and Euphrosine Beier was born on May 6, 1880 in Johannisdorf, Province of Volhynia, Russia. Gottlieb Altwasser recorded this birth in his family bible and also listed Gottfried Klingbeil and Marianna Metke as her Godparents. Florentine is the German spelling, the spelling her father entered and pronounced 'Florentina'. The family bible was the closest source to her birth date available to document this event. Florentine's birth is also listed in the extracted 1880-1885 St. Petersburg archives using the same spelling. Florentine was "Americanized" to Florence but she never officially changed her name and the family always called her Florentina.
The St. Petersburg Archive extractions show the first recorded birth at Johannisdorf is on May 11, 1865 and the last recorded birth at Johannisdorf is on August 15, 1881. These dates suggest that the village may have had another name or did not exist prior to 1865. However, for sixteen years the German Johannisdorf was a community and it is believed that the name was changed to Janowka.
Kolonie Janiewka - Janiewka - Ludwipol - Johannisdorf
Before Jerry Frank produced his maps of Volhynia in year 2000, the location of Johannisdorf was somewhat of a mystery because this village did not show up on any available maps. Jerry Frank and Howard Krushel, two Volhynian genealogists, have this to say on the subject. "According to a list in Wandering Volhynians, December 1990, Johannisdorf is also known as Zanowka and is located in the district of Ludwigpol, east of Rowno. Look at the Stumpp map in Wandering Volhynians, September 1990. On the left side, go up the 27 degree line until it crosses the Slutch River. Right at that point, on the south side of the river is Ludwigpol. I have not been able to find a village called Zanowka on any map nor any list for Volhynia. However, there is a road from Ludwigpol that heads NW along the SW bank of the Slutsch River. A short 4-km up along that road is the village of Janowka and a further 2-km along is the village of Kolonie Janowka. In my opinion Zanowka is wrong and the place is probably Janowka or Kolonie Janowka"
Subsequent Altwasser family movements can be tracked by the birth of Florentine's siblings. Brother August was born in Kamenka in 1884. Two more sisters and two brothers were born in Minjatin. They were Julianne (Julia) in 1886, Karl (Carl) in 1888, Friederich (Fred) in 1891 and Olga in1893.
Florentine Altwasser married Ferdinand Greger when she was sixteen years old, probably in Minjatin or Antonowka, sometime in 1896. Her birth date suggests this would be after the month May. From Greger family stories, the marriage appears to have been arranged between the Greger and Altwasser families. The marriage is believed to have taken place when Ferdinand was home on leave from the army. From all accounts, the marriage of Florence to Ferdinand Greger was not a happy one which ended in divorce about 1940. Soon after that Fred remarried and subsequently developed leukemia, dying on June 16, 1951.
Ferdinand Greger was born on December 15, 1874 in Lesnika, Poland, the fourth child of Ferdinand Greger and Justina Patzer. The Greger family lived in Lesnika, Poland until they moved to Volhynia in l884. Ferdinand's sister Bertha was born en route and is listed in the St. Petersburg records as being born in Volhynia on December 17, 1884. However, the birth date should be September 7, 1884. September makes more sense for the birth date since they had planned to start their journey in the spring. One wagon master quit or was unable to go and the rain didn’t stop until the end of June. With twice the original number of people and only one wagon master, it’s a wonder they got there in the fall.
Ferdinand and his sister Justina, in later years, used to talk about the wagon train and the black forest they walked through, stealing eggs and robbing gardens to survive. They told of the birth of their baby sister on the trip and "marking her birth on an egg shell" which they packed away so they would not forget the date. That is quite a story as the children walked every inch. It is about 330 miles from Lesnika. They settled in Antonowka, in the Province of Volhynia, Russia, where they were still living in 1896.
Volhynia to America
E-mail from Carol Castleman February 28, 2011.
This was a group emigration arranged by a Jewish agent in Tuczyn. Their trip was uneventful because an agent put them on the train, another agent met the train and went with them to Liverpool and stayed with them until they boarded the ship. Yet another agent met them when they landed in Halifax and went on the train to Winnipeg where family members, friends, or an agent met them.
"My grandmother, Justina Greger and Florentine Altwasser were both born in l880 and both got married when they were 16. The men were on leave from the army when Justina was married. My grandfather left the day after his marriage to return to the army. This was the first leave for my grandfather in the ten years he was in the army. I know the men returned to the army together, but Ferdinand must have returned to marry Florentine. I hope the records for l896 will show up sometime, so we can see what really went on there. One child was born to the Greger/Altwasser marriage and died in Volhynia. The Gregers arrived in Canada on April 9, 1900 and lived for a while in Rosenfeld, Manitoba. Later they were in Athens, Wisconsin. However, they had returned to Rosenfeld in July of 1900 with the Fred Huebner family to pick up some of their belongings when my father was born two months early. About three weeks later, still in Rosenfeld, Florentine gave birth to her second child, Fredrich Greger on September 10, 1900. Both the boys were baptized in St. Johns Lutheran Church in Rosenfeld, Manitoba, in September 1900. I know the baptisms seem strange here, however I know both the Ferdinand Gregers and the Fred Huebners were living in Athens in 1900 when the children were born. When both of the ladies had recovered from the births, the women and children took the train back to Athens. Both Ferdinand Greger and my dad were naturalized citizens of the US and still held Canadian citizenship. Ferdinand and Florentine were still living in Athens for the birth of their third child, Wilhelm on May 15, 1902. In March 1903, baby Wilhelm died from a lung disease and is buried in Athens beside our family baby, Leo Huebner. On the tombstone in Athens it is spelled Grager, but the church records in Rosenfeld and Athens show Greger. Their third child, Olga Lina was also born in Athens on November 10, 1903.
When the families still lived in Volhynia, it was decided they would go to Canada to their relatives and Mennonite friends and then cross into America so there would be established families in both countries in case of a war. The Pokrants, Huebners and Jankes lived in Gretna, Rosenfeld and Winnipeg by l898. My great grandfather Gottfried Huebner sent all of his children before him. He, wife, and three teens with son Fred and Justina arrived in October of l898 and immediately found their way to Rosenfeld. It was agreed our Huebner and Gregers and Roeslers were to go to America where they settled in Athens, Wisconsin, a little village that was completely German in 1900. They bought land and tried to clear it, but the black walnut trees covering the land were so difficult to cut that it took months and constant sharpening of the saws to cut one large tree. Their situation was not good. They were freezing and all nine were just working to exist. The decision was made for Ferdinand and Florentine to go to Fresno, California, to another Volhynian and Mennonite area and see if it was not easier there. Ferdinand had bought land and was planning to stay until the l906 earthquake, which scared him, and he immediately packed up and moved to another Volhynian area, Portland. His wife and children came to Portland where the climate and fruit trees were more like Volhynia and my Huebner family followed within a year.
All of our family members were US citizens. It was very important to all of them that they have their citizenship and that they speak English only. The Gregers and I all agreed yesterday, that none of these people spoke German except for teasing each other. My grandfather Huebner was the exception, he could speak English, but chose German most of the time as he got older. In the early years, only one spouse took the test, the other was given citizenship. In our families all took the test and were written up in the newspapers, except for Florentine (Altwasser) Greger. A daughter-in-law of Florentine, Marge (Johnson) Gregor, said Florentine could not read or write English, and was accepted under her husband's citizenship. She was too busy working to attend the classes. She worked extremely hard on their farm and dairy and walked to work, which was cleaning train cars. She worked all the time. She had two babies who died, a house that burned and had to be rebuilt, a son who died of a brain tumor at age 19 and she divorced her husband and still made it on her own. She was one determined woman. No wonder she did not have time for evening school!"
My Growing Up Years
My parents came from a German-speaking farming community in the Ukraine in 1896 (Sic). My father had some schooling so he could read and write, whereas my mother was not allowed to be schooled: the culture of the time. However, her father was a teacher and taught her as best he could. She could read, but not write. I admired her strength of character to live her life to the full, in spite of her handicap, and early on, this taught me the importance of a good education. When she wanted to send a letter, I wrote as she dictated.
Leaving their home to come to the United States took courage. Handicapped with the label of 'immigrant', they worked hard to provide for their family of seven children, born over a span of about 26 years that resulted in my knowing only my brother Elmer (11 years older) and my sister Olga (20 years older).
They experienced more than their share of sorrow. First born daughter Willamina died before they left Ukraine; son William died after their arrival in the United States; both as infants. I remember a picture that hung on the wall of our front hall. It showed a dove flying with a ribbon in its mouth. One side labelled Willamina and the other William. Below were the words, "Gone but not forgotten".
Later Eddie, the oldest son who loved horses, was lured into working for a travelling circus company that used horses in their performances. One day, he left without a word, and was never heard from again. My mother followed up on all possible reports that he was alive, going to San Francisco on one occasion. Although her search didn't locate him, she never gave up hope that one day he would contact the family; he never did.
Brother Fred, described to me as an outstanding young man, died when only 19 years of age from a facial wound that turned to cancer. While he suffered, he wrote with great feeling and maturity of the peace he found in his belief in God.
At times, my mother took outside jobs while attending to all the household duties. Both mother and dad were good workers with the soil, maintaining large gardens of flowers and vegetables. Mom did fancy work on pillow cases, runners and tablecloths. Later when her eyesight began to fail, she bought a pair of glasses at the 5 and 10 cent store.
My Mom worked side by side with my dad whenever needed. Both Christians, they attended church occasionally, as the dairy responsibilities permitted. On Sundays when they were not able, they held worship services at home with Bible readings and singing. She was compassionate; you could see it even in the kind way she treated our animals.
My dad had a supply of tools and was a good craftsman. He made furniture, built the chicken house, and with the help of Mr. Rebian, a neighbour, built a 2-storey rental house on Wygant Street. I remember him digging the basement by hand and greeting the first renter.
The day started early for my parents who had to tend to the milking then to the feeding of the cows and the processing of the milk ending with the refrigeration. In the morning, breakfast was prepared for me, usually rolled oats, and I most always ate alone. It was my responsibility to get myself dressed and off to school, my mom appearing to give me a final checkout and ordering me to do well. Our evening meal was taken together as a family, and always began with grace.
Our meals were plain, but substantial. Mom baked bread and cakes regularly and prepared selected vegetables and fresh fruit from our garden and orchard, or from the stock of canned goods in the basement, which included a crock of sauerkraut. The basement also included the wine my dad made. Two of my favourite meals were potato pancakes and pierogis, the latter being a filling of cottage cheese encased in a covering of ground potato and then fried.
Our farm provided plentiful supplies of vegetables, eggs, milk, cream, cheese and homemade butter. Our meat supply included chicken and occasionally veal from a home grown calf which we had butchered.
Greger family home, 1920's.
Our Yard comprised 8 lots: four bordered on Wygant Street and directly behind, four on Blandena Street. A driveway from Wygant Street served the garage because Blandena Street had not been put through. We assumed this as part of our front yard, adding to the large area we had under cultivation. We had many fruit trees: cherries, peaches, plums pears, apricots and apples, as well as walnuts and raspberries. There was a chicken house and a barn. Our family was supported by operating a small dairy of about five or six cows. We delivered milk and eggs daily to regular customers, and fryers on order.
My dad built a shed beside the garage where we raised purchased baby chicks, (in lots of 100), until they were ready to be put in the regular flock. I remember my mom would pick out sickly or smaller chicks and kept them in a box near the stove until they got stronger.
My Dad was a longshoreman before I came along and work was not always available. My mother helped by working for the railroad, cleaning and prepping passenger train cars. One day, my dad was knocked into the hold of a ship when unloading and suffered injuries, which were judged to be disabling. I believe this was when my parents started the dairy. Our cows were pastured below the barn on a hillside, which extended down to the bottom of a gully. The gully is now Going Street, connecting Interstate Avenue and Greely Street to Swan Island.
Our House was a two story house with 9' ceilings and a full basement. It had a large covered porch the full length of the front of the house with two concrete platforms on each side of the steps which held large planter tubs of flowers. At the back was an enclosed addition we called the back porch; it was not heated and was used as a pantry. The kitchen had a wood stove with a warming hood. Water in the coils through the firebox produced hot water. A cabinet next to the stove held the wood lift. This was filled with wood chopped in the basement and then cranked upstairs with a rope lift. A supply of kindling (with pitch if possible) was always included because getting the fire going on a cold morning was always the first priority. There was a living and dining room and a large front entry hall with an open stairway to the second floor. We had one downstairs bathroom.
There were four bedrooms upstairs served by a central full length hallway. Heat from the wood furnace had outlets in only two of the rooms and the hall. On cold nights I can remember getting warm as I straddled the hall register and then running and jumping into bed.
The Basement contained the winter supply of sawed cord wood, the furnace, dad's work bench laundry trays, washing machine, a wood stove for the summer canning, and long shelves for storage of the many canned fruits, vegetables and berries. The basement also included the wine my dad made.
My dad had planted many fruit trees and grafted some for special fruit. We had a small grape nursery with one of the lots completely planted in young slips; the cuttings from mature vines. When rooted, the slips were sold to the wholesale nurseries. At planting time, my dad would make an open furrow and I would plant the slip. By now, I must have been seven or eight years old.
We always had a dog and he was a real companion for me, because Elm, being almost eleven years older, couldn't be considered a play mate. However, one of his specialities was making candy - a real treat for me. I liked chocolate and also got to lick the frosting bowl when my mom baked a cake.
Our dog had watchdog duties and had to be on a chain because our yard was not fenced. My dad had installed a horizontal pipe between two of the trees and his chain was connected to a sliding ring that allowed him a lot of room to run yet be contained. One dog was named Sport, a water spaniel, black and white markings and another was named Cap (Captain), more of a police dog/lab mix.
Through the summers, my dad, Elm and I picked the fruit; cherries apples, pears, plums, peaches, raspberries, walnuts and grapes. My mom sorted, picking the best for sale to stores and ships. The fruit, berries and grapes not considered saleable were set aside and canned. Our basement had long rows of shelves at one end and by winter they were filled.
Since I was small, my job was to climb to highest branches for some of the best fruit. My dad made a hook stick out of a hazelnut bush so I could pull the top limbs closer to me. That way, I got the choicest fruit that otherwise would only be eaten by the robins. I also had a bucket with a hook and a lightweight rope. Hooking the bucket to a limb let me use both hands to fill it with fruit, then lower it to the ground to be emptied. I had to be careful to pick leaving the stem on the cherry, as this was this was the only way the fruit was acceptable when sold to the store owners. I also climbed to shake the highest branches of the walnut trees to force the nuts to drop out of their split hulls. They were picked up and spread on mesh screens to dry.
As I grew older, I found myself doing more grown-up chores; my dad was usually the one who got me started. While we worked together at times, we did not have a social / fun relationship. That seemed to come more from my mother. I got the lawn mowing job as soon as I was old enough to push the lawn mower. Each spring I painted the trunks of the trees with a white lime solution; it made our yard look nicer.
To provide feed for the cows during the winter, my dad cut grass by hand with a scythe, dried it, and we stacked the hay in the hayloft. The grass grew on a vacant property that my dad had permission to cut. It was good for both the owner and us because a city ordinance required dry grass to be cut and removed because of the fire hazard. The hay was transported on a trailer that had been fitted with outrigger board on the sides. Dad showed me how to load the trailer with long swatches of hay in an interlocking fashion. We were able to bring home a good sized stack, much to the irritation of following drivers who, I'm sure, had trouble seeing around us.
Backing the trailer to the loft door, my dad pitchforked the hay inside. I pulled each bunch toward the back and jumped on it to pack it in place, at times hanging on to the roof rafters and pushing with my legs at the eaves to get the maximum compaction; a very hot and dusty job. My dad prepared for the next day of cutting by sharpening the scythe as I turned the crank on a large whetstone wheel.
I never did any of the milking. It seemed that a balance had been struck for the three of us to operate the business. My job being to deliver the milk, make collections, and get my schoolwork done. I had to fit in my social life and sport fun.
When I was in my senior year in high school (1940), my parents divorced. It was a blow to me, but there had been visible unhappiness at times, and it finally came to a head. My dad moved out, leaving my mom and me to run things. We continued for a while, but it soon became overwhelming and we put the business up for sale. It was reasonably easy for us to sell, because dairies were always looking to expand their milk quota through acquisitions. The cows, hay and remaining physical parts of the business were sold later.
Having just the two of us in that big house with the land and fruit resources to maintain and harvest was more than we could handle. The place was sold and we moved into the Wygant house. Luckily, my brother Elm and brother-in-law George Wagner looked after my mother's finances. With her productive garden, both vegetables and flowers, she got along O.K.
Olga Greger and George Wagner
My sister Olga, 20 years older than me, had three children, all younger than me. They lived on Boston Street, one block north of Killingsworth, and within easy reach to visit on my bike. Olga was a wonderful homemaker and George Sr. worked as an accountant for the gas company. He was very handy with tools and building things, and I remember he soon left the gas company and built their new home on Boston Street. He then became a licensed contractor and built many beautiful homes in the greater Portland area. He was also a great story teller. During the summer they would take a family camping vacation at Pudding River Campground. I was invited to go with George and Olga for several summers when I was probably 9 or 10 years old. When I was about 12, Olga, her husband George and daughter Pat had arranged to take piano lessons. This was learning in a class method. I was invited to join the group and my mother was delighted.
I was surprised how quickly I was learning with this system of each of us playing one of four pianos. Together, most of the music chosen for us was semi-classical, suitable for our level of expertise. I had always liked music and at this age I was singing or humming the popular songs of the day. So much so, that I asked the instructor how I could play the popular pieces. He gave me a few lessons on how to read the chords for the left hand while playing melody with the other. Well, it worked. I began to buy sheet music and playing this way.
Elm Greger and Margie Johnson
In the fall of 1934 Elm and Margie got married. The ceremony was held in the Johnson house and most of the younger group of kids was drawn to the festivities. We took up a collection from the kids and bought a coffee cake at Cunningham Store, and presented it to the newlyweds. They had two boys, making me an uncle five times. Elm had changed the spelling of his last name to "Gregor". So now we have one branch of the family as "Greger" and one as "Gregor". Elm taught me to drive when I was about 14 in our beautiful maroon Studebaker. With the open space we had in our yard, we had plenty of room for backing up, going forward, turning, etc. I was then able to back the trailer when needed to get ready to haul hay.
The Altwasser Family
My mother came from the large Altwasser family of Saskatchewan, Canada; seven children: Fred, Olga, Mike, Carl, August, Julia and my mother Florence. Fred and his wife Lottie along with Julia and her husband Christ with daughter Martha and son Dan, lived in Portland, and we visited with them frequently. The others remained in Canada and we rarely saw them. Fred was my favourite uncle. He liked children, and I felt it was regrettable that they had no children. Lottie was a pretty lady and both had nice dispositions. Fred had a little hearing impediment resulting from damage while serving in the United States Army during World War I with the 361st Infantry Regiment, 91st Infantry Division. He served as commander of the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Lottie served in the Oregon chapter of the Eastern Star. I remember the fun we had when the whole family got together at Lottie's parents farm in Boring where we played softball and drank the cold refreshing water from their well.
The Last Word
After writing these memories, I , once again, became aware of the unusual degree of independence I had as a child growing up. It seemed that it took nearly the full attention of my parents to do what was necessary to maintain the place, cultivate and harvest the garden, orchards and nursery stock, on top of operating the dairy business, and in between have some little time for me. That time was shared more with my mother.
I received very few, if any spankings. The only punishment I remember is when I was very young and I was spanked by my mom with the wire handle of the flyswatter. It happened only once, but did more than words could do. When in future situations, it was just held up to warn of its possible use, I got the message loud and clear. As I got older, my responsibilities increased and at the same time, a natural sense of trust evolved, making it evident that if each of us did our part, we would get along O.K.
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to William J. Milner, March 8, 2001.
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