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The Migration of Harry B Hepler   1 comment

Marguerite Clark Hepler

Harry Baptiste Hepler, AKA Shorty. 1978.

This is the story of my wife’s maternal Grandfather.  The picture of him, left, was taken at our wedding.

Harry Baptiste Hepler, AKA Shorty, had a tough life.  He buried two wives.  He had to split his family during the Great Depression, go to a new state to find work, and then finally reunited his family years later.

Harry was born in 1901, the youngest child of Abraham and Harriet “Hattie” Hepler. He married Marguerite Clark on March 4, 1920:  he was 18, and she was 22.  Their eldest child, Frances Elaine, was born on July 22, 1921.  More children followed:  Robert Carlyle in 1923, Harry Paul in 1924, Lyle De Forest in 1926, and then the twins, Anna Marie and Mary Marguerite followed on March 4, 1930.

Tragedy struck.  Marguerite did not recover from the rigors of childbirth, and died one week later, on March 11, 1930.

Harry had worked as a mine foreman in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, which has many bituminous coal mines spread throughout the county.  With the Depression taking hold across the country, however, he found himself 28 years old, widowed, with 6 kids under the age of 10 and needing to find work.

The 1930 US Census was taken on April 1, 1930, and found Harry and his 6 kids living with his mother, Harriet “Hattie” Girard Hepler Johnson and her new husband, Swedish immigrant Augustaurus “Gus” Johnson.  Harry made the difficult decision to relocate his family to St Louis, MO – but Grandmother Hepler insisted that he leave the babies with her.

Mary and Anna Hepler lived with their Grandmother until they were 12, and then moved to St Louis to live with their father, step-mother, and 3 older brothers that they had only met once, 6 years earlier.

Harry gathered up his 4 oldest children, ages 4 – 9, and took the train to St Louis.  He did find construction work, and he found his second wife, Ruby Uncapher.  Tragedy struck again, however, and Ruby died in 1934 of cervical cancer.

In 1936, Grandmother Hattie gathered the twins and traveled to St Louis to introduce them for the first time to their father.  Mary remembers the train ride, and remembers meeting her father, oldest sister and 3 brothers, who were all living with Harry’s future third wife, Lucille O’Day and her daughter, Carmen Werre.  Anna, Mary and Harriet returned to Pennsylvania.  (Side note:  in their elementary school classroom in Corry, PA, Anna and Mary were 1 of  3 sets of twins!)

Harry Paul, Lyle DeForest and Robert Carlyle Hepler.

The 1940 US Census has Lucille and Carmen living in St Louis, with Harry listed as their boarder.  Frances Elaine Hepler had married Henry Eller, Jr in 1939, and they were living with their firstborn Donald Gene at the time of the 1940 census.

Interestingly, Harry’s 3 sons, ages 13-17 at the time of the census, are not shown as living with a family member.  Harry Paul’s descendants heard legends that their father lived in an orphanage for a time.  I found a 13-year old Lyle “Heppler” living as a lodger in St Louis with Christian and Agatha Goechri.  This Lyle was born in Pennsylvania, so he might be our Lyle DeForest Hepler.  I have not yet found Robert Carlyle in the 1940 census.

Grandmother Hattie fell ill in 1942, so she sent the 12-year-old twins west to live with the family that they had only met once 6 years earlier.

With his family reunited, Harry finally found a good job with the St Louis Water Department in 1943.  He continued to work there 22 years, until his retirement.

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