The last three months the society has taken a couple of hard hits. We have lost two members; both were very active in the society. Nancy Prawl was a charter member and Donna Trost had been a member for a number of years.
Nancy Irene Prawl, 80 of Hiawatha, died April 12, 2022 at Midland Hospice House in Topeka, Kansas. She was born February 26, 1942, in Kansas City, Kansas, second of four children of Chester Earl Jacobs and Martha Louise Laverentz. In 1949 the family moved to Hiawatha and she lived her entire life in Hiawatha. Nancy graduated from Hiawatha High School class of 1961. She attended one year at St. Luke’s School of Nursing in Kansas City. She returned to Hiawatha and while volunteering as a Candy Striper at the Hiawatha Hospital she met Frank Reynolds, Jr. They were married April 24, 1962. They had one child Penelope Ann. They were later divorced.
Nancy was elected Register of Deeds in 1976 and took office on January 11, 1977. She retired in December of 2003 after serving the citizens of Brown County for 27 years.
In 1997 she was instrumental in forming the Brown County Genealogical Society. She was the first secretary of the society. She held office of president, vice-president and treasurer over the last 25 years.
Nancy went to work for Finley Miller Law in 2005 as an abstractor; when the attorneys retired and it became Finely Miller Title LLC she continued working for the firm. She retired December 31, 2021. She loved her “girls” (Michelle, Pam, Courtney and Angie) at the office and was like a mom to them.
She is survived by her daughter Penny of Hiawatha, grandson Nick Milroy of Hiawatha. She is also survived by one sister and one brother; Kathy (Don) Griffith of Holton and Bill Jacobs of Hiawatha; as well as nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her parents and one sister Rosalie Wilson.
Donna M. Trost, long-time resident of Hiawatha, KS died at 93 in her home attend by her daughter, Diane on June 6, 2022. Donna was born October 7, 1928 at Falls City, NE to Silas & Amanda (Yoesel) Hilgenfeld. She attended grade school at Silver Creek School, District #81, graduated for Falls City High School in 1946 and received her B.A. from Westmar College in Le Mars, IA then taught one year of English at Hubbard, IA. Donna married John D. Trost of Concordia, KS on June 14, 1952 in her parent’s garden. The couple moved to San Diego, CA where John finished out his enlistment. Upon his discharge in 1954 they settled on a farm in rural Concordia, KS. Donna’s family moved to Lincoln, KS in 1960 then to Hiawatha, KS in 1962.
Donna was employed by the Brown Co. SCS
office and the Morrill Public Library in Hiawatha. She attended the Emporia State Teachers College and earned her M.A. in Library Science in 1972. Donna was the librarian at Highland High School from 1971 to 1973 and then at Hiawatha High School until she retired in 1990. She was in charge of the yearbook for both schools.
Donna was very active in her community– a Camp Fire Girls Leader, a member of Saturday Club, 49er’s EHU, EANGUS/EANGKS Auxiliary, VFW Post #5210 Auxiliary, KS Teacher’s Assoc. and Church Women United. After her retirement she added Red Cross Gray Ladies at the local hospital, Brown Co. Assoc. Retired School Personnel, Friends of the Library, Brown Co. Historical Society and Genealogical Society.
Donna’s family were members of the Evangelical United Brethren Church which became the Trinity UMC and when Trinity closed in 2021 she joined the Bethel UMC the church of her youth. Donna was the church organist from 1967 until 2019. In addition she taught Sunday school, held varies offices, served on numerous committees and was a active member of the United Methodist Women.
Donna and her husband John loved to travel. They attended many EANGUS (National Guards) Conventions across the United States and continued the tradition started by Donna’s father to visit all the State capitols in the USA, seeing all but two.
Donna was preceded in death by her husband who died November 16, 1999.
She is survived by her 4 children Joyce (Jerry) Hjetland, Diane Kerr, Marilyn (Dennis) Van Swol, and Mike (Nancy) Trost, 8 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren, 1 great great grandchild and her sister Joan Zoeller.
I (Penny) started writing this in May before Donna passed away. Nancy was my mother as well as an integral part of the genealogical society. She was the one that convinced me to come with her to that first organizational meeting. I was not so interested in genealogy 25 years ago but I became a charter member right along with her. And this is where our adventures in genealogy started.
It was in 1999 when we moved into the building we are in now that she told me I needed to go down and help at the library. I did from time to time at first and then I started doing more and more and here I still am. I have not been working as much this year during her illness and death but I am trying to get back into the swing of genealogy and I am in the office on Wednesdays.
I had the pleasure of knowing Donna as well. I have to say we will miss Donna and her crazy cakes she made for the ice cream socials and those salads that were probably from a 1940 something cook book that had Jello as well as some strange ingredients (I’m pretty sure that one year the salad had hot dogs and Jello). I worked alongside Donna at many a church function. Donna had been sitting at the door at Santa’s Attic the last few years and she was the door greater for sure. She was one of a kind and I will miss her greatly as well. She was always interested in what you were doing and she always had time to hear YOUR story; that was just Donna.
The death of these two women have left a very large hole in the Genealogical Society.
Velmaine Solomon was born in Hiawatha on June 18, 1919 the daughter of Charles H. and Clarissa Solomon. She was a life resident of Hiawatha.
Velmaine was best known around Hiawatha for being a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Hiawatha. She took over this position when her father died in 1957. Her father C.H. Solomon began weather watching in 1939. After her father’s death her mother Clarissa, helped her until her death in 1976.
Velmaine was known around town to be quite the character as well as an entrepreneur.
Story found in the July 14, 1942 Hiawatha Daily World: Her Pet Lamb
Several weeks ago the story of Velmaine Solomon, her pet lamb, Betty, whose wool has put the young Hiawatha girl thru school, appeared in The World. Since that time people all over the United States have been noticing Hiawatha’s Mother Goose-like pair. Velmaine has received clippings about her pet from unknown fans everywhere. One newspaper went so far as to have a poem written about Betty. Velmaine; this paper was St. Louis Globe-Tribune. In an odds, end column the following paragraph appeared; “Velmaine Solomon, of Hiawatha, Kans. is financing her way thru school with shearing from a pet lamb Mother Goose will be glad to hear that lamb which gambled after Mary is at last justifying its existence.” Notice was followed with the poem; “Mary had a little lamb which followed her to school. Velmaine has a baa baa, too, Velamina’s not a fool. She clips its fleece to pay her way, gets returns most fair. Instead of following her to school, it pays expenses there.”
Velmaine Solomon died Thursday, March 13, 1980 (she did the March 13th weather report which appears in The Hiawatha Daily World), at Hiawatha Community Hospital. Miss Solomon was the meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Hiawatha. For the past 21 years she had provided the daily weather repot for the front page of the Daily World. Virginia Regier, Advertising Manager for The Daily World, said Friday morning, “Velmaine was a sincere person who was well liked. She would help out anyone if she were asked. She was a lovely person.”
Miss Solomon began weather watching in 1957 when her father, CH. Solomon passed away. Mr. Solomon was the first meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Hiawatha. He began weather watching in 1939. After her father’s death, Miss Solomon and her mother continued his work. Miss Solomon’s mother died in 1976. Velmaine continues the work alone after that.
In 1978 Miss Solomon won the John Campanius Award. The award was created by the National Weather Service in 1959 and is presented to honor outstanding volunteer weather observers. The award is named after John Campanius, a Lutheran minister who was the first person known to have taken systematic weather observations in the American colonies.
Miss Solomon said in 1978 that she enjoyed her work, although it was often thankless and there was no pay for the work.
Miss Solomon was 60 years of age and lived at 206 Kickapoo Street.
She had been a patient at Hiawatha Community Hospital since March 4.
She was born in Hiawatha on June 18, 1919, the daughter of Charles H. and Clarissa Solomon and had been a life resident of Hiawatha.
Upon graduating from Hiawatha High School, she started working as a switchboard operator for the United Telephone Company of Hiawatha. That was in July of 1944. She received her 35 year service award in 1979.
She was a member of the First United Methodist Church of Hiawatha, a member of the Communications Workers Assn., and a member of societies within the church.
Survivors include two uncles, James Solomon of Magalia, Calif., and George Solomon of Hiawatha, and a cousin, Mrs. Rebecca Prater of Hiawatha.
Funeral Service will be at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15, at the Casselman-Meek Funeral Home with the Rev. Phyllis Garrett and the Rev. Guy B. Casey officiating. Interment will be at the Mounty Hope Cemetery. ~~ The Hiawatha Daily World, March 14, 1980.
The reason for picking Velmaine for my article this quarter was a donation the society received late this summer. Chuck McSpadden brought in a hand carved box that contained a set of toy silverware that was marked Germany. The box is 3 pieces (as shown in pictures) in the bottom of the box is a hand written note saying the box was made for Velmaine by her grandfather O.M. Solomon. Chuck purchased this from her estate auction. It is still in pristine condition. It is definitely a piece of Hiawatha history. When Velmaine was alive everyone in Hiawatha knew who she was. She didn’t know a stranger.
My Two Cents Worth……
By: Penny Milroy, librarian Brown County Genealogical SocietyMrs. John (Elizabeth) Krebs The Flower Woman of Hiawatha
Elizabeth Oehler was born November 19, 1848 in Canton-Berne, Switzerland. She came to the United States in 1855 with her parents. They settled in New Philadelphia, Ohio. She was orphaned by the age of 13.
She married John Krebs, February 21, 1870 in New Philadelphia, Ohio. They came to Kansas on their honeymoon settling in Claytonville. They lived on a farm in the Claytonville community for 5 years. In 1875 they moved to Hiawatha. They bought a house on the Northeast corner of 6th and Iowa Streets. The house has been gone a long time. In its day I imagine it was house of a great granger with it flower gardens.
Mrs. Krebs was well known in Hiawatha for her beautiful flowers. She was in charge of the flower beds at the County Courthouse for many years and THOSE flower beds are what prompted her to start the Halloween festivities in Hiawatha. In the City Council meeting minutes from October 22, 1912; Hiawatha Daily World, “On presentation of Mrs. Krebs The council pledged its hearty co-operation with the Civic Improvement Club to arrange for a sane Hallowe’en to organize a special entertainment for the young people to take place of the usual rough pranks and disturbances of injury to property.” This is the first mention that I find in many weeks of research of the Hallowe’en “parade”. In another article in the same day’s paper it reads; “Hallowe’en Festivities. Boys and girls, old and you, get your carnival costumes read for the big parade Hallowe’en. The merchants and citizens all favor the idea and give a list of prizes which will be published. Everyone should mask and wear fancy, grotesque or funny costumes. The band will lead the parade and Oregon street will be crowded with fun makers. The Mardi Gras at New Orleans won’t be any better than Hallowe’en in Hiawatha. Prizes will be given for the best costumes. There will be a grand free dance at Life and Annuity hall that all can attend.”
Rules for the Hallowe’en Carnival were published in the October 31, 1912 – Hiawatha Daily World. The carnival started at the Armory and went down Oregon Street then returned to the Armory for
games and prizes. Rules were to be enforced by the marshals and special police.
1. There must be no disturbing of person or property.
2. No material, unless it be confetti, will be allowed to be thrown or used. No confetti will be permitted to be thrown on sidewalk.
3. Civil conduct towards each other must be observed during the carnival.
4. When the carnival is over, that ends it, and there must be no going out in town afterwards, molesting people by pranks, or disturbing their property. It was signed by Mayor J.T. Grimes.
Hiawatha Daily World November 1, 1912 Headline: Hallowe’en Carnival a Great Success – It’s to Be Made and Annual Event and Will be Greater Next Year – Everybody Had a Good Time. The news article goes on to say that around 1,200 people participated in the carnival. It was a dreary night; but the turnout was good.
In the October 25, 1915 edition Hiawatha Daily World talks of 300 or more participating in the parade which will take place at 8 o’clock on Hallowe’en. “The one held in 1912 was praised by every person who attended.”
Thus starts the Hallowe’en tradition in Hiawatha. Mrs. Krebs would continue to be a big part of the Civic Club and later the Community Commercial Club which both were sponsors of the early Hallowe’en Carnivals and Parade. Hiawatha Daily World – September 20, 1916; “Additional lights will be strung for three blocks, paper pumpkin heads will be placed over the street light gloves and the stores will all be decorated for the event. Hallowe’en in Hiawatha will be one big community Hallowe’en party in the business section of town.”
Mrs. Krebs died August 21, 1931. She was the mother of 4 children John who died in 1893; Charlotte who died in 1895; Emma who died in 1896 and Louise who is the wife of S.E. Friend of Horton. Mrs. Krebs is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery. Her entire obituary can be found in the August 21, 1931 edition of the Hiawatha Daily World. She was known for many things the first being her involvement with The Civic Club, The Community Commercial Club and the Garden Club. She was much more to Hiawatha than the mother of the Hallowe’en Carnival but that is what she now is remember most for.
John Milburn Davis The Man The Monument
John Milburn Davis was born January 18, 1855 in Bowling Green, Warren County, Kentucky. He was the son of Asa Davis and Elizabeth Moore Davis. He was the youngest of 5 children. It was told that John was orphaned at a young age. His father died January of 1870 in Warren County, Kentucky. In all the articles about John Davis it never mentions any of his family; only that he was an orphan. I didn’t find out much more information about his family; in the 1860 Federal Census it lists: Asa Davis age 44, Elizabeth Davis age 38, Martha Davis age 16, Frances Davis age 13, William Davis age 11, Lovy (Levi) Davis age 8 and John Davis age 5. I did find record of John’s birth in Warren County, Kentucky in 1855. John came to Brown County, Kansas in 1879 and settled near Padonia in the area referred to as Kentucky Ridge.
Soon after John’s arrival to Kansas he began attending church. It was at church that he met Sarah Hart. They were married April 6, 1880 much to her family’s disagreement. John Davis was called “flaming”. He was “touchy,” he had a violent temper, but on the other hand, he was upright and scrupulously honest.
Much speculation was made about John and Sarah’s relationship. Many people feared he treated Sarah badly. Stories say that Sarah’s family disowned her after her marriage to John; but John’s only real friend Horace England begs to differ with the citizens of Brown County. In 1946 Homer Croy interviewed Horace England and John Davis at Davis’ home at 201 north 7thStreet in Hiawatha. This was the place John moved to when he left the farm.
Homer Croy author of “Corn County” came to Hiawatha, Kansas in 1946 to interview John Davis for the book “Corn Country.” Of course he was lured to Hiawatha by the Italian marble statues at the Mt. Hope Cemetery. He had heard the stories of the marble statues far and wide. (John made Hiawatha famous before he or Sarah ever passed away.) Croy wanted to hear the stories behind the statues and the man John Milburn Davis. Mr. Croy arrived in Hiawatha and sought out Horace England. Mr. England admits to Croy that he is probably John Davis’ only friend. England explains to Croy what John is like and that he will take him to see John and see if John wishes to speak to him.
John Davis does agree to speak to Croy and upon entering the house John Davis hands Croy a business card. The card read: “Lord, help me to keep my nose out of other people’s business.”
Croy and Davis visit for a time and Davis tells the story of his and Sarah’s lives. John was good at farming and made a good living from the land. When Sarah’s health began to fail he took her to Siloam Springs and hired doctors to see what they could do. Nothing could be done and Sarah died on December 3rd, 1930.
The town folks of Brown County, especially Hiawatha wanted John Davis to build a city park or a new hospital. He and Sarah scoffed at the idea and sent the first set of pictures off for the statues to Italy. The first picture John and Sarah were dressed in their wedding clothes. When the first set of statues arrived and were set at the cemetery John and Sarah would hitch up the team and ride over and look at them. Ten years later another set of pictures was sent off; and two more statues arrived in Hiawatha. These statues depicted John after part of his beard had been burnt off while he was burning corn stalks. People in town were talking like John Davis was crazy but in reality he was just crazy in love with Sarah.
A few years later John had been out using a scythe to mow a fence row and cut his left hand. It never healed properly and he lost his hand; and another picture of him and Sarah went off to be made into more statues. The newest statues showed John with his hand missing. In December of 1930 Sarah passed away and another picture was sent to Italy. These statues came back reproduced in stone, it was him sitting in a chair looking out and an empty chair next to him. Now the town folks were really thinking John Davis is a pathetic old man and John just simply didn’t care. He said it’s my money and I can do with it as I please.
The statues were starting to really cost John and he mortgaged the farm and he eventually lost it. It was time for the next statues to arrive at the cemetery and these were of a slab on the ground over the body of his wife and John kneeling and looking down tenderly upon her grave. The town was again in an uproar about John Davis and his crazy statues. Why would anyone mortgage a farm to put up a tombstone of himself looking down at his wife’s grave. He was plumb crazy!
It is said that John would walk to the cemetery often just to look at the statues. These statues told the story of John Milburn Davis and Sarah Elizabeth Hart Davis.
Horace England was in the monument business and he is the person who ordered the marble statues for John Davis and the only other person who ever knew what kind of money had been spent on these statues showing John and Sarah’s life. Horace was also John’s only friend. The town folks speculated $60,000 to $100,000 was spent but the true cost will never be known.
Homer Croy was probably one of the few people John ever let interview him. In Croy’s book he quotes John a number of times and he actually tells John’s story about Sarah without judgement. John had been judged by the citizens of Brown County and especially Hiawatha for many years and John had no tolerance for any of them anymore.
John told Croy that after Sarah passed away and the article that had been written about him in the local newspaper made him out to be rich. Letters poured in. He said one day he got 26 letters in the mail from women wanting to meet him. He never wrote a letter in return. He had a couple of women show up he said. They didn’t stay around very long. He’d ask them to sit in Sarah’s chair and they never looked quite right “they just didn’t fill it” and he’d ask them to move along. One came all the way from St. Louis.
John Davis moved to the county poor farm and died there on April 26, 1947. The people of Brown County moaned and carried on that he lived his last months on this earth at the county poor farm and that he had spent all that money on “those” statues, but in reality someone else paid for John’s care at the county poor farm and naught a penny was spent by the tax payers of Brown County.
Many things have been written about John Davis and his memorial and most of it critical of how he spent his money. In reality his “crazy statues” have brought a great number of people to Hiawatha, including the television show Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Yes a park or a hospital would have been nice but in the long run what John Davis did for Hiawatha was put this quiet retirement town on the map and draw in tourists from all over the world.
The book “Corn Country” came out after John died but he was able to read some of the proofs before it went to print. A signed copy of the book arrived in Hiawatha shortly after his death.
I used the book as well as articles from “The Hiawatha Daily World” for research. You can get the book from the Morrill Public Library on inter-library loan.
Obituary – Sarah Elizabeth Davis was born November 28, 1860, on a farm in Padonia township, Brown county, Kans., passed out of the life Dec. 3, 1930, at the age of 70 years, 5 days. She was married to John M. Davis, April 6, 1880. They celebrated their golden wedding April 6, 1930. She united with the Christian Church in her girlhood. After marriage she lived on a farm 2 miles east of Reserve, Kans. until 1915, then moved to Hiawatha, Kans., where she lived until her death. At the time she was stricken, Nov. 24, she said, “I am ready to go.” She leave (sic) her husband, John M. Davis, to mourn her going. – Hiawatha Daily World, Dec. 8, 1930.
Funeral Services – Funeral services for John M. Davis were held from Meek’s Chapel Monday, April 28, 1947, at 2 p.m. Interment was in the Davis Memorial at Mt. Hope cemetery, Hiawatha. Services were conducted by Rev. P.S. Barrow. Chester G. Jones, accompanied by Mrs. B.E. Spalding, sang “In the Garden,” “Beyond the Sunset.” Body bearers were Otis, Vernal Vonderschmidt, Menzie Bown, Joseph O’Toole, Jones Hillyer, Clarence Hillyer. Before burial, it was necessary to remove the heavy railing from the east side of the Memorial, the 7 ½ ton granite slab that covered Mr. Davis’ grave which was dug in 1931. Immediately after burial, the grave was filled; sealed, the slab placed back on it. Work of moving the railing back in place was to have been done Wednesday morning but because of the rain Tuesday night it was decided not to move the heavy stones until the ground is dry. – Hiawatha Daily World, April 29, 1947.
By: Penny Milroy, librarian
Brown County Genealogical Society
In October of last year Jill Frese gave a very interesting program on DNA. At that time my mom and I had convinced her brother to give up his DNA for us to have analyzed by Ancestry.com. The results were pretty much as we expected they would be A LOT of German with a few other things in mixed in but not much. We (my mom and I) have done extensive research on both sides of her family line and we knew we would find mostly German but were hoping maybe we would get a little something else to go on. We have had a number of people contact us and we have pieced together a few missing things from this.
After the meeting in October I really wanted to get my DNA done. I am an only child of an only child and I have very few family members remaining on my father’s side of the family. My paternal grandmother was VERY tight lipped about her family; she was the daughter of a tobacco farmer in Iatan, Missouri. She was orphaned at the age of 5 and was passed from family member to family member until she ran away at 13.
I have so many more questions than I do answers when it comes to my father’s family.
For my birthday in November my mom bought me a DNA kit from MyHeritage.com. I have been anxiously waiting for the last few weeks to see what my DNA would provide.
On the next to the last day of the year I got an email saying my DNA I was ready. I was so excited. I signed in and I was a little bit shocked. I am still shaking my head a little today.
I asked my mom if they found me under a rock. My DNA says I am 84.2% English, 10.7% Scandinavian and 5.1% Irish, Scottish and Welsh.
The Irish, Scottish and Welsh is the only part that is maybe a little bit of my mom.
Instead of getting answers I now have a million questions.
My two cents? Was it worth it to get my DNA done??? I’ll have to let you know.