Guert Wanningen was born in Negeloo, Gendwingelo, the Netherlands in 1860. Jantje Frantzen was born in Steingherworld, Overijssel, the Netherlands in 1867. Both immigrated to the United States in 1888 (were they on same boat, did they already know each other? I don’t know) and were married later that year after settling in the mostly Dutch community of Sioux Center, Iowa.
These immigrations were well thought out by former immigrants, now living in the states. After they became established, found housing, jobs and started learning the language, they in turn would sponsor someone else from the Netherlands who was interested in starting a new life in the states. The most recent immigrants were welcomed with open arms, helped with finding work and a place to live. The newbies would offer their profound thanks and bring a small gift they brought over from the old country. Mom talked about these ‘sponsor’s gifts’ often because she had several in her possession. Not from the immigrants themselves but her grandparents who had sponsored several people from the Netherlands over the years. Now I have a couple of those gifts.
Geurt and Jantje had their first child, a daughter named Jantje (pronounced yon-chee, Americanized to Jennie) December 1st, 1889. A son (my grandpa, christened Gerke-Americanized version-Gerrit) followed on January 17, 1896. My Dad, (who would later become Gerrit’s son-in-law, shared my grandpa’s January birthday. Gerrit was 21 years older than my dad-kinda odd). The Wanningen’s lived on a 20 acre farm north of Sioux Center. In 1918 they sold the farm. The Sioux Center Nieuwsblad (local newspaper) posted this snippet of utmost importance: Geurt Wanningen is going to build a large new house. Joe Van Deest will be the carpenter and lumber has already been purchased. (Ha-ha, I love this).
Tongues were wagging, heads were shaking about the Wanningen’s new house since there were only 3 of them living there. Geurt and Jantje’s daughter Jennie got married in 1915, then became pregnant and very ill at the same time. She developed cancer in her eye during her pregnancy. Jennie’s husband Paul brought her to the hospital in Sioux City where she had a stillborn baby boy they named Peter. Jennie died the next day at age 28. Jennie and Peter were buried in the coffin together. Tragedy number one for the Wanningen clan.
Gerrit had adopted the nickname’ Lakey.’ (How he came by this nickname remains a mystery. Perhaps he was a great swimmer. Maybe the name fit because he was around 6′ 5″ and a ‘tall drink of water,’ or he simply wanted something different because Gerrit reminded him too much of his dad’s name)? He still lived at home and was considered a bit different. Awkward, very tall, gangly and often had ‘words’ with his parents, especially his father. He was not particularly good looking (unlike his dad, my great-grandpa Guert who was incredibly handsome) and somewhat unsure of himself. That would all change when Lakey, now 27 fell head-over-heels in love with a young lady named Coba Berghuis in 1923. She was from a large family and a senior in high school.
Coba graduated from high school in May of 1924. She immediately headed to Des Moines for 6 weeks of Normal Training to become a teacher. (Six weeks, are you serious? Yes quite). She started her teaching career in September of 1924 and taught for 2 years in West Branch # 8, four miles south and one mile west of Sioux Center. She married my grandpa Lakey on December 6, 1924. Lakey was working for the Sioux Center Phone Company. Coba taught until the end of the school year, May of 1926. She was expecting a baby by the end of the year. She gave birth to my uncle Floyd and my mom Florence on December 13, 1926. Sioux Center Nieuwsblad, December 15, 1926: Mr. and Mrs. G. Wanningen, Jr. were gladden by the birth of twins, a son and a daughter. (This was a big deal in a small town).
But my grandpa Lakey’s life was about to take a hit from which he would never recover. The introverted guy who came out of his shell after accepting the love and devotion of a beautiful woman he knew was out of his league, retreated once again. When the twins were 2 weeks old, the light of his world was extinguished. Coba died from birth complications (Mom said it was her kidneys). The twins were motherless and grandpa Lakey was heartbroken and bitter.
Sioux Center Nieuwsblad, December 29, 1926: Mrs. G. Wanningen, Jr died Monday morning on December 27th at age 20 years. Two weeks before she gave birth to twins. She leaves her husband and both babies. Additional, she leaves her parents, three brothers and three sisters. The funeral will be held Thursday, December 30, 1:30 at the house and 2 o’clock at the Second Reformed Church.
Sioux Center Nieuwsblad, February 2, 1927: Gerrit Wanningen, with his small babies have moved in with his father and mother. Lakey tried, he really did, but his heart was not in raising the two babies who snuffed the life out of his beloved wife. Lakey’s parents, Geurt and Jantje were not young when this second tragedy hit. He was 67, Jantje was 60-raising 2 month old twins. (Their friends and neighbors now however realized that the “large new house” was exactly what the Wanningen’s needed to rear their grandchildren). Coba’s parents pushed hard to raise their new grandchildren, but Lakey’s folks won this round. Since both sets lived in Sioux Center, the Berghuis bunch, who were younger and still had children at home shared many of the duties.
Lakey didn’t spend a lot of time with the babies when they were young. He changed jobs and worked in Rock Valley for IPS (Iowa Public Service). He married Mary Arendson in 1933. I think she was widowed and had a couple of kids. Lakey and Mary encouraged Floyd and Florence to join their ‘yours & mine’ family, but the 7 year olds cried constantly for their grandparents and the way of life to which they were accustomed. Soon Lakey brought them back to the large Wanningen house where they would remain. Guert passed away in 1938.
I have not found any pictures of Lakey with his twins and I have a ton of pictures. I have numerous pictures of the kids during various stages of their young lives with both sets of grandparents, but not one with their dad. Mom truly believed Lakey blamed her and Floyd for the death of their mom. It was just something he couldn’t move past until he was much older. Thus I believe Lakey’s rejection led my Mom to have her own self worth issues her entire life. Vicious cycle.
Mary passed away after a decade of marriage. Grandpa Lakey showed no interest in seeking female companionship after that. He got his pilot’s license and flew his own plane. Uncle Floyd joined the Navy, Mom got married and moved to Rock Valley, but still went to Sioux Center (15 miles) to visit both grandmas (grandpa Pieter Berghuis died in 1936) and her dad. I guess it was a case of time heals. Lakey became a lineman for Sioux Center Municipal after they bought the system from IPS. Jantje died in August of 1950, right before I was born.
Mom and her dad did get close the last couple years. As a family, we’d drive to Sioux Center to visit him (in his tiny 3 room house) and grandma Berghuis every Sunday afternoon, often bringing him a plate of food and something sweet. Lakey retired in 1955, grandma Berghuis passed away in March of 1958, six months before Larry was killed. I distinctly remember sitting next to grandpa Lakey at Larry’s funeral. His suit coat was wool and scratchy and smelled like moth balls, but I leaned my 7 year old head against his arm anyway during the service.
Grandpa Lakey got stomach cancer late in 1959. He was in and out of the hospital several times. Mom spent many hours and days driving back and forth taking care of him before he passed away in August, 1960. I know he felt resentment towards Floyd and Mom for the loss of Coba but he grew to love and appreciate his adult children and they loved him. It was just another notch in the Wanningen/Berghuis/Gerritson family tragedy…