Friday's Faces From the Past: my maternal grandfather, Harry Buerer

Throughout my entire life, my maternal grandfather, Harry Buerer, lived in the Sacramento area of California.  His pastoral and mission work took him and his family to the Belgian Congo and Manila, Philippines, but he always returned to sunny California where he kept one of the best vegetable gardens I've ever seen in my life.  A kind smile and loving eyes, he could also whip up a peach sundae like you've never seen.

The picture below shows my grandfather far before I ever knew him.  He played football for Wheaton College from 1936 to 1940, and I believe also was a great wrestler.  I like he kind of looks like Cary Grant here, and I'm sure he stole many hearts, leaving Wheaton with my grandmother's.

Old photos: Ceres First Baptist Church

While going through a bunch of old photos yesterday, I came across this disintegrating photo that I knew nothing about.  I could make out the words "First Baptist Church" over the doorway, but I had no other clues.  I emailed my mother about it, and she said the church is  the First Baptist Church in Ceres, California, the church where my mother was baptized and my grandfather attended as a young adult.  Throughout his life and many travels, my grandfather considered it his home church even after he moved across the world with his family.  The photo is almost completely withered, but I scanned what I had left. 

Ceres First Baptist Church old.jpg

Here's the church on Google maps, and it looks remarkably similar to what it looked like in the photo. 

More stories to come from my maternal side....

Saying goodbye to my father on the Gettysburg Battlefield

I love genealogy.  I love history.  I sat transfixed at The National Genealogical Society Conference at all the amazing information I learned about people's lives.  But as a family historian, I have to admit something with a slight bit of embarrassment:  I really don't like military history.  Other historians crave stories of battles, strategies, and wartime tactics, but even the thought of a short game of Battleship makes me run the other direction.

My father at the beginning of his professorship at Shippensburg University.

My father at the beginning of his professorship at Shippensburg University.

But not my father.  My father loved the military.  He loved the Civil War, delighted in talking about World War II airplanes, and I suspect even felt a bit of disappointment at not making the draft into the Vietnam War because he was a college student.  My sister and I would roll our eyes every time he waxed poetic discussing the Battle of Normandy or went off on a tangent about General Patton.  Battles and war history weighed down his bookshelves, and he enjoyed many of those books again and again.

My father passed away on February 5, 2012.  Since he wasn't married, my sister and I had to take care of many of the arrangements that come when a loved one declares you next of kin.

The only document my father gave to my sister and I stated two things:  he didn't want to be kept alive by machines if he became incapacitated, and after he died, he would like to be cremated and have his ashes scattered on a beach.  All of which initially seemed straightforward, and we wanted to do the best we could to honor his wishes.  But as I looked into the logistics of the two basic things he requested, the whole process of carrying out his wishes became more complicated.

First, I wanted to make sure my sister and I carried out the scattering responsibly.  I wanted to make sure we had a private and meaningful time when we laid my father to rest.  But I also was concerned about etiquette.  Is it legal to scatter ashes?  Is it littering?  Would we be breaking any laws?

Let me begin by saying the whole processing of scattering a loved one's remains is more than a little confusing.  Every state can pose different regulations, but Pennsylvania and Maryland (two states I researched) both have no state laws regulating where you can dispose of remains.  Almost every site and organization I came across in my research agrees that cremated human remains (called "cremains") are not toxic and pose no threat.  However, certain guidelines should be followed in particular areas.  For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates if a person's ashes are scattered at sea, they must be done so at three nautical miles from the shore and in water 600 feet deep.  An article in the Baltimore Sun from 1999 says the Maryland State Board of Morticians "suggests that people ought not leave their loved ones' ashes on other people's property, in lakes and streams, or scattered over public places like parks and beaches."  And although not illegal, mourners need to use common sense when scattering.  Apparently, scattering ashes has become so common at Disneyland that ride operators are schooled on how to handle such issues.  (Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion tend to be popular places.)  And a man in Philadelphia was fined $100 and sentenced to community service for scattering his mother's (a Philadelphia Eagles fan) ashes on Lincoln Financial Field during a game.

So after all this confusion, I finally found an idea and answer on where to lay my father to rest:  Gettysburg.  His love of military history, the joy he had in studying the Civil War.  Although federal land, Gettysburg will allow you to scatter your loved one's ashes if you obtain a permit in advance.  The superintendent's office couldn't have been more helpful, and the secretary even expedited our request.  And although I couldn't honor his initial request of a beach, I felt I finally found a responsible and meaningful way of laying my father to rest.

So on a warm Saturday on Culp's Hill away from the tourist's and public, my sister and I said goodbye to my father as the sun shone through the trees and fragrant honeysuckle bushes.  And we felt my father would have been happy.

How Fate Met His End

When the ground fell from under the two men's feet, neither one knew how far they would fall.  The defunct mica mine, Flat Rock, had lain idle for several years, but prospects could still be found, and Lafayette "Fate" English and Will Woody set out on Monday, June 7, 1909, to see what the mine still held.  Neither bothered with telling anyone where they were going; chances are the trip wouldn't last too long, and Fate could return home that evening to be with his wife, Sabra, and their three children, Agnes, Samuel, and May.

Born only 19 months apart, Hannah and her younger brother, Fate, grew up with the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and exploring had no limits.  The mountains held magnificent backdrops and views, and the fresh air and delight of discovery could lure many to its peaks.  Even by Monday evening when the men had not returned home, their families didn't express too much worry.  But by Tuesday morning a search began, although no one knew where to look first.  Only a boy passing by the Flat Rock mine noticed the sound of a man coming from the bottom of the shaft.  The rescuers soon made the grim discovery of the two men who had fallen 40 feet, and only Fate's head and shoulders appeared on the surface of the cave-in.  Near death, Fate looked up at his rescuers and uttered, "Will Woody is dead at my feet."  The search party soon dug Will Woody out from several feet of earth, discovering his neck had broken in the fall.  Although still alive, Fate's side had been pierced by a steel rod, and he too succumbed to death on June 10, 1909. 

Fate's family also endured hardship.  No doubt Hannah felt the death of her brother intensely.  Sabra, his wife, met her end the next year, and it appears May died when she was only 12.  Samuel passed away at age 44 of a heart attack.  Agnes lived until 1986 and died in Asheville, NC, at the age of 84. 

Fate is buried in the Bear Creek Baptist Church cemetery in Bakersville, NC.

Information gathered from Heritage of the Toe River Valley and Mitchell County Kronicle, Bakersville, Reproduced from the McDowell Democrat for 6/17/1909. Transcribed by Rhonda Gunter for the Toe Valley Geneological Society Newsletter.