I have written about Eleanor Cobe and a little about Kenneth W. Rhoades in Family in the Great War. I have now received a request to write more about Ken. I had already considered writing about Kenneth and Eleanor in an attempt to make this week’s writing topic about their wedding. But…I don’t know anything about their wedding. It seems our family are not big wedding planners. I have not found any reference to any grand weddings in any of our direct ancestral generations. I think the Alecks might have been big on wedding shindigs, but Aunt Eileen already covered much of them in The Smart Aleck. So, this post will be more about Ken, with some updates about Eleanor.
Eleanor Cobe was the wife of the first Kenneth Woodfin Rhoades, he with the middle name of unknown origin. Eleanor persevered despite an early life of parental tragedy, while Ken came to manhood in the company of his parents, Daniel Rhoads and Rosetta Johnson.
He was born on 1 November 1892 in Aboite Township, Allen County, Indiana, just west of Fort Wayne. Considering the decade he was born, I assume the happy event took place at the Rhoads farmstead; the one Daniel inherited from Ken’s grandfather, John. He was the last child born to them. Daniel was 52 years old, and Rosetta was estimated to be 41 or 42 years old.
By the time Ken was 7 years old, Daniel appears to have left the Aboite Township family farm to Ken’s older half-brother, Clarence, and moved the family to Lafayette Township (in the same county south of Aboite and east of Huntington County) where they rented a farm. In 1910, Daniel, Rosetta, and Ken were living on Main Street in the town of Roanoke in Huntington County, Indiana, near one of Daniel’s sisters (Martha). Ken must have gone to High School there.
My Aunt has inherited newspaper clippings around the time Ken enlisted in the Navy. Unfortunately, we don’t know what newspaper they came from or the exact dates. We know 1917 because of their reference to his enlistment. According to these articles, Ken graduated from Big Rapids High School in 1916 and was the president of his class. We (the family) believe these clippings to be from a Big Rapids newspaper as they mention street names that are in Big Rapids, and not in Roanoke, Indiana, and are at a time when the Rhoads’ are known to live in one of these two cities between 1910 and 1920. The most frustrating thing about these clippings is I can’t find a digitized copy on Newspapers.com and apparently Big Rapids newspapers aren’t available digitally!!! Grrr.
By 1917, 24-year-old Ken is living in Chicago, Illinois, where he filed his World War I draft registration card and listed his half-sister’s address as his residence (Sada or Sadie, Rosetta’s daughter from her first marriage). He was working as a sales clerk for Carson Pirie Scott Co. (a prominent Chicago department store), a job his brother-in-law must have gotten for him. Sada had married Benson Ensign Gill as her second husband, and he was a purchasing agent for the same company.
Ken had signed his draft registration card on 5 June 1917 and is enlisted in the Navy at Norfolk, Virginia, within 20 days. He gets assigned to the U.S.S. Kingfisher, a minesweeper, and from 5 April to 1 October 1919 treks around the North Sea to clear mines around Europe. His duties aboard the Kingfisher were carpentry related. Navy ships in those days still used a lot of wood and required routine maintenance and repairs. He returns home in 1919 and is discharged on 6 December. After leaving the Navy, Ken returned to Big Rapids and moved in with his aging parents.
Around this time (1919), Eleanor had finished school in Ypsilanti and was back near Harbor Springs, renting a room from the Peterson family in Petoskey, Michigan. This is the same family she lived with in 1910 so she could attend town school. She had secured a position teaching in Petoskey or Harbor Springs. Eleanor disappears from the 1920 Peterson household, and I haven’t found her anywhere in Michigan. Is she living in Big Rapids or Grand Rapids?
The family always wondered when, how, and where Ken and Eleanor met. I had narrowed it down to three possibilities: 1) when Eleanor worked in Chicago during a winter break in her education. This occurred around the same time Ken lived with Sada in Chicago. 2) after Ken returned home from Europe in 1919, he could have met her while vacationing in the resort town of Harbor Springs, or 3) in Grand Rapids since she disappears from Emmet County in 1920 records, she could have obtained a teaching position in Grand Rapids where they got married. It turns out the answer was right under our noses in Eleanor’s daughter’s possession. Eleanor is mentioned in telegrams concerning Ken while he was serving overseas on the Kingfisher, AND her name is on a large photo of Ken in uniform that was presumably given to her by Carson Pirie Scott, Co. This places them together in Chicago in 1916/1917, before he shipped out in the Navy. She was waiting for his return in Michigan.
This new revelation also brings a different light to why Kenny went out of his way to write about his experience in Chicago while at Naval training. This is where his parents met and they told him all about the wonderful sights they wanted him to experience and relive through him.
Kenneth W “Rhodes” (28 years old) and Eleanor M Cobe (24 years old) are married on 7 August 1920 in Grand Rapids. No, not a June wedding. But soooo close! Apparently, not a big wedding either. In Eleanor’s collection of memorabilia in possession of my Uncle (that treasure trove of goodies), she kept the remaining prints of her wedding announcements. No invitations, no printed menu, no photographs – just the announcement. This could mean nothing, but I consider it an indication that it was a small church wedding.
We have their original marriage license in the family archives, and their marriage return is available for digital viewing on Ancestry.com. It is recorded in a ledger styled blotter that tells us they were married in Grand Rapids by minister, Harry E. Walker, and the ceremony was witnessed by Mr. and Mrs. E.C. Dinsmore of Grand Rapids.
In 1920, Henry E. Walker was the pastor of St. Paul’s Methodist Church, located at the NE corner of Jefferson Avenue and Highland. A quick check of 1914 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps at the Library of Congress confirms the street names are still the same today. And a church structure still stands at the same corner, though it is no longer St. Paul’s Methodist Church. Rev. Walker lived in the same neighborhood as the church.
I don’t know who the Dinsmore’s were. Were they merely handy members of the Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, or were they friends of Ken or Eleanor? I don’t find them living near either of them, in fact, I don’t locate them in Grand Rapids in 1920 census or city directories (yet). If they had a big wedding, I would expect to find one of their family members listed as witnesses. Daniel and Rosetta were still living, and Ken seemed close to Sada, close enough to live in her household for a while. Eleanor’s brother, Richard Cobe, was back in Michigan following the war, and while we know they lost touch eventually, we also know they stayed in contact long enough for him to be aware of her marriage to Ken and their address in Omaha. I do believe the marriage was not an elopement, but was welcomed by the Rhoades family. The family was well aware of Eleanor in his life and thought enough of her to keep her informed of any news concerning him while he was overseas.
St. Paul’s Methodist Church on the Sanborn maps also reveals the Sheldon School just one block away (and over). The 1920 city directory names a woman as the principal, and it appears to be a primary school – possibly for girls. Could Eleanor have been teaching here, and that is why the nearby Methodist church was used for their marriage? Neither Eleanor nor Ken are listed in the Grand Rapids city directory for 1919-1921, and neither is found in the 1920 Grand Rapids federal census, though I am not finished scouring page by page images.
Eleanor preserved a lot of keepsakes, the letters home from Kenny, his photo album, and Daniel and Rosetta’s documents. But she does not keep any wedding photos of her own. This lack of evidence further suggests a small and informal wedding.
Our family tradition of small weddings pre-dates Ken and Eleanor’s, and they continue in this manner by their descendants today. Our family has weddings, but they are small and humble ceremonies, just as they should be. Perhaps it’s the prudence of the frugal farmer.