Church and Family
When I was in grade school, my maternal grandmother lived in an apartment building across the street from Victor Elementary School where I attended classes. After school, I would walk over to her apartment and do a little bit of helping out, play gin rummy, and learn Christmas carols in German until my mother or father was released from work and came to pick me up and take me home.
At Grandma’s, I had a small collection of toys to keep me occupied, as well as a collection of German magazines that my Grandmother’s friend, Giesela, had given her. While Grandma would sit in her chair crocheting a pair of slippers or a hat and scarf set, perhaps a baby blanket or an afghan, I would sit on the floor clipping pictures from the magazines to make collages. While we were engaged in our own creative endeavors, Grandma would be teaching me those German Christmas carols, or the Lord’s Prayer, or tell me stories about growing up at the turn of the century.
Hildegard Wehlitz, née Jenny, my grandmother, was the daughter of Johannes (or John) Jenny the second pastor of Saint Jacobi Lutheran Church in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Grandma was born in 1895 and lived with her parents, brothers and sisters in the parsonage built in 1894 at 1321 West Mitchell Street. In 1906 Saint Jacobi built a new Gothic style church building next to the parsonage on the corner of South 13th and West Mitchell Street.
As a little girl, Grandma had a playroom just off of the new church building in which she had a collection of magazines that she enjoyed looking through, cutting up and making collages. Just before the church was finished, the ceiling of the nave was being painted with a mural. The mural depicted a landscape with rainbows pouring down and angels holding a placard with “Vater unser der Du bist im Himmel” printed on it. Above these angels, at the very topmost point of the nave, was a dove with rays of glory shining down on the angels and the entire landscape below.
However, the artist painting the mural could not find a model for the dove. Somehow his search led him to my grandmother’s playroom where he found her with her magazines. One of those magazines has a picture of a dove in it. My Grandma cut the picture from the magazine and gave it to the painter who modeled the dove in the church on the one from the magazine.
In the late 70’s, as I sat on Grandma’s floor cutting pictures out of magazines and listening to her story, I was about the same age she was when she gave her magazine to the painter.
The death of my grandfather, the onset of severe arthritis, and the trials of advanced age precipitated Grandma’s move into an apartment in Torrance, California, far from her two-storey house in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. My father died a couple of years ago, and my mother (who now suffers from severe arthritis) has moved into an apartment attached to my sister’ and brother-in-law’s house where her great grandson visits almost daily, as I visited my grandmother.
As my mother was preparing to move out of her house and into her new apartment, she had me come out to go through some of my things that I’d been storing at her house. While I was at it, I was to go through family things, too, and decide what should be sold, what should be given to children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren, and what should just be discarded. In this process, many boxes of photographs and papers from the Jenny line of the family were uncovered, including pictures and papers from Saint Jacobi, articles written by my great grandfather (Pastor Jenny), as well as letters that my grandfather wrote to my great aunt Adele–but more of that another time. The pertinent bits here are the pictures.
The pictures are of the old Saint Jacobi, torn down in 1977 to make way for a strip mall and a McDonald’s franchise. The windows and other fixtures were sold. My cousin has one of the less elaborate windows. While looking for information regarding Saint Jacobi, and possibly a picture of Grandma’s dove I discovered that the altar and pulpit along with the pews were sold to Saint Marcus Lutheran Church; their site has a virtual tour that shows all of the remaining bits of Saint Jacobi in their “new” home. I’ve been told that the painting of the dove was somehow saved, but I’ve not been able to find any more information about it, not even a picture. None of the family pictures of Saint Jacobi show the dove that my grandmother told me so lovingly about.
The picture below is of the confirmation class of 1908. In the picture are my great grandfather in the center and his daughter, my grandmother, Hildegard Wehlitz: she’s the second girl from the left in the front row of girls next to the pulpit. In 1981,after many weeks of asking to go home for Christmas from the nursing home in which she was living after a series of strokes, Grandma was born into her heavenly home on Christmas Day. Her Earthly birth took place on January 21, 1895.