2 April 1902 — 1 November 1992
Remembrances of her children on the passing of Rose Groleau:
On a gray day in Milwaukee, Mother passed away quietly while at her home sitting in her favorite chair. Mom was loved by lots of people in addition to her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandchild. So we felt some would want to know more about her life.
Mom was born in 1902 in St. Jacques, Michigan to Mary Louise Grandchamp and her first husband, William Longhurst. Her mother came to the U.S. from Clarence Creek, Ontario, Canada, when Grandma was two. We think her dad was born there also. His family is buried near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and more than likely came here around the same time Grandma did. Ma was the second of twelve children. Five were Longhursts, and the others were of a second marriage to Frank Provo of Stonington.
Some of us were fascinated with her interesting early life and other family history. We have dug into genealogy and have traced our family a long ways back. But we will only give a short summary here because we know there are many in the family who want to know more about “Grandma Groleau.”
Bill Longhurst worked in the sawmills of Nahma. A child named Laura died there of diphtheria at age six and was buried in the cemetery of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church. Ma’s other siblings at the time were Minnie, Charlie, and Ernest.
By the time Clara, Charlie, and Laura had been born, and Ernest was on the way, Bill and Mary were divorced and Ma’s father went out of her life. No contact was ever again made, but Minnie was especially interested in his whereabouts. Many years later, Ma’s cousin, Howard Longhurst, was found in Rapid River. He was able to tell us some things about the family. In October of 1991, Richard, Virginia (Auntie Sis), and Laura went to Neebish Island, Michigan, where Howard had told us how to find his father’s farm. We visited the graves of Ma’s grandparents and other relatives, and met another cousin of Ma’s named Larry Hart. Larry had bought the old schoolhouse adjoining the old farm and made a home of it. Oddly, Larry passed away just a week before Mom did. Ma never got to make that trip, though, as she wasn’t able to travel then. While preparing this biography for publishing, we were saddened to learn that Howard Longhurst had died from bone cancer in March 1993.
At the time of the divorce, Ma was living with her mother. Probably in St. Jacques, or Nahma, or perhaps she may have gone back to Garden. Ma later went to work for the Groleau families, where she helped to raise Joe and Omer Groleau’s kids. She lived with them and was well-treated; she always fondly remembered their families. We were told by Hector Gagnon’s widow in about 1984 that Ma and her went to school together in St. Jacques not far from where the old store is now. Ma said she went to church at St. Jacque’s church. That church was torn down in about the 1960s. On a visit there, Richard and Rosa Lee talked to some of the old-timers and were given some details. Some of the Groleaus are buried there in the cemetery surrounding the former church. The local people told us that part of the cemetery’s north side was disturbed by Michigan State Highway Dept. road-building crews who were digging for sand on the hill where the church had stood. It’s not certain if any of the graves were disturbed. But some of the Groleaus were buried there, and their stones were visible when we were there in 1984.
Ma’s mother and father were friends of the Tom Groleau family of St. Jacques, and of their sons, Joe and Omer, and so were the Provo family. Evidently she met Frank Provo there, and they were married about the time Ernest was born. The family moved to Stonington then. Relatives are still there in the Big River area on the shore of Big Bay de Noc. (This is where the “camps” are.) There Ma grew up on a small subsistence farm. We older members of the family remember that old loghouse, barn, ice house on the beach. It was from there Ma walked to Papineau School across the pastures and through the woods. Grandpa Provo was a substitute teacher there, and the regular teacher also lived in their home at times. Ma went to the sixth grade, and then to work.
It was the custom, apparently, to begin work at age fourteen. Ma had been a housekeeper for various neighbors, including that old Indian woman named Lizzie Stone who was so well-known around there. So she went to work for Joe and Emma (née Monpellier) Groleau when their children were born. They lived at St. Jacques (or Nahma) on the east shore of Bay de Noc. In winter, the Provos would cross the lake to visit by horse and sleigh.
When Emma (who Ma was named after) did not need her any more, she went down the road a ways to the house of Joe’s brother, Omer Groleau. She helped Florestine (née Sabourin), Omer’s first wife, to care for the family while the mother was recovering from childbirth. They all had large families in those days. With no automatic washers, and food cooked on wood stoves, it was a busy life Ma lived there. She must have begun that work about age 14 and continued until 18 when she married my dad.
My dad lived in Wilson, near Spaulding, on a farm at a place called 47 Hill. They, too, came from Canada, from a village called Embrun, southeast of Ottawa. They came just before Dad was born (so he and Edmond were American-born) but Anna and Adolph were born in Canada. They had a small dairy farm when I was a child. They were related to the Tom Groleau family in St. Jacques. While visiting there, my dad met this pretty little dark-haired girl named Clara. They were married on 23 November 1920. Alice Groleau and Dad’s brother Edmond also married at the same time. It seems that Alice’s and Edmond’s blood relationship was far enough away that it was accepted as OK. Perhaps second or third cousins. Ma said the wedding took place in the old St. Jacques church that sat up on top of the hill. Father Savageau was the priest.
Dad was always called Peter Charles, but his baptismal record gives him the name Charles Publius. Publius, a Bible name, was the name of his favorite uncle, Publius Gagnon, a popular fellow in St. Jacques.
They moved to Dad’s farm home in Wilson with Anna, Dad’s oldest sister, and her husband Arthur Harris. Anna had been given the family farm when their father Delphise (or Adolphus) Groleau died in 1919. But Anna had to pay each of the children their equal share in cash. It wasn’t a happy time there at the old farm. It may be that Grandma Groleau (née Paré) bought “the old orchard farm” at that time, because Ma said they lived there with Dad’s mother. She told us this while spending a month at Richard’s farm in Oklahoma in 1987. We have an audio tape of Rosa Lee and Richard talking with her as they looked over old pictures.
In April, 1921, Al was born. Ma and Dad called him “Sonny.” Laura says they moved to Flint in 1922. Adolph, Dad’s oldest brother, lived there on 600 Erie Street, where he ran a small tire shop at his home. Edward and Sis were born there; Edward Lawrence, 8 November 1922 and Virginia Mae, 5 December 1923. We have a few pictures taken in Flint of the family, apparently when they lived there.
Laura was born in Escanaba, 13 July 1925, when she says home was again “the old orchard farm.” Grandma Marie died in 1923 while living in Gladstone with Uncle Edmond. So if the orchard farm was still in the family, whose property was it? Mother said she couldn’t remember much about the days there. But she said that Grandma Marie Groleau considered Dad the “baby” of the family—he was her “pet” as Dad used to say. She did not have a happy time there. Laura said they moved to Gladstone on North Tenth Street. Robert came 26 November 1926.
In 1926, when Publius and Clara signed the record selling their share of the farm to Anna, they said they lived in Iron Mountain, but we have found no other information about that. Perhaps it was a brief temporary address.
“Northtown,” on Escanaba’s North Sheridan Road, right across from the ore docks, was the next change of address. Over the next twelve years or so, we had three homes within a ten-block range. Dad got a barber shop next to Viau’s store and Skradski’s bar, which is still there (1992) and still looks the same. There was an apartment upstairs, where we lived when Richard was born 25 January 1930. Ma remembered it was a very cold stormy day when she went to St. Francis’ Hospital. Jackie came on 11 August 1932. His name of record appears to be Allen John, but we always called him Jackie Allen.
Their marriage was showing signs of breaking up about this time. Eleanore was born 4 May 1934, but was adopted by a childless couple from Gladstone. She grew up totally apart from us. Dolly was also born about this time, 2 September 1935. They then lived with her father, John Courier, in a basement apartment on North 18th Street for a short time before Ma and Dolly came home to the rest of the family. However, divorce came and the family split up again.
I remember meeting Eleanore for the first time in April 1990 at Dolly’s house, and it was a happy reunion for me. My son, Wesley, met her then too. Eleanore had been in touch with Laura, since Laura knew about her living in Little Gladstone. Eleanor, Laura, and Mom planned a reunion at Laura’s house in Gladstone where an emotional meeting at last came to pass.
The house called “Hogan’s Corner” was the next home. Adelore Paré, Grandma Marie’s cousin, lived on the first floor and we lived upstairs. The address was 1201 Sheridan Road. We went next to 1000 Sheridan Road and lived there six or seven years. Most of us grew up in that old white clapboard house with the big wrap-around porch. It was there that Mom and Dad separated and divorced. When the separation came, Ruby Provo came to live with us and was our housekeeper. Actually, most of the Provos (if not all) lived with us at one time or another.
Many of the “events” of our lives took place during these years. Al graduated from high school in 1941, Sis in 1942. Al got hurt working for the city in 1937 or 1938. Ed joined the circus. Richard was hit by a car at age five and had a severe leg injury. There Dad worked on WPA and cut hair at home after work. Webster School was where we all went. These were Depression times; rent was $12 a month, salary was $44 a month. We had gangs of friends and neighbors we know to this day, including Bob Mattson, who is now married to Eleanore. Ed went into the CCCs.
But the war came, and we moved again. Dad moved to 1517 First Avenue North, a block from Main Street. Most of us lived with Dad in that old dilapidated upstairs tenement that Ed sarcastically called the “Smith Estate.” I remember going to Escanaba Junior High then. Again Ruby Provo was our housekeeper.
In those days, Mom had become self-employed cleaning homes and businesses. Aunt Minnie had done that for a living, and Ma and Aunt Ruth Provo Courier also worked at that job. I guess Aunt Minnie got them started. They were close friends and had lots of good times together. They also shared a lot of secrets that are gone with them. Ma kept up that work until she was in her 80s. She was a “world-class” cleaner. She kept her house spotless, and when she came to our house, she cleaned it, too. She’d say, “What are you keeping this old junk for? I’d fire it out!” We always mimicked her and laughed about that. She passed some of it onto her kids, I guess, as they’re all neat housekeepers.
Ma moved to 600 North Nineteenth Street, a huge old house with eleven rooms. It was 1942. Edward went away to the Army; Al went into the Merchant Marine. Robert moved to Flint, worked at a funeral home, and went to high school on his own. Sister moved to Detroit to work in a defense plant. The need was for a smaller house, so the last house Ma lived in in Escanaba was at 221 North Sixteenth Street, where Laura was married in 1944.
Before that happened, some of us also lived with Dad in Sault Ste. Marie. Robert, Laura, Jack, and Agnes Thompson were there together, at least for a short time. Jack and Richard then moved with Dad to Muskegon, Michigan. That was a bug- and mouse-infested upstairs apartment that was as bad an experience as a child could have. Two young teenagers, alone most of the time, we hung together like puppies. Dad worked in a defense plant, and at barbering. Richard worked for 35 cents an hour, washing dishes in a restaurant, and later hauling cement blocks for construction.
Ma had gone to Milwaukee and Jackie went with her, but Richard moved up to the Thompson farm, where he worked for his room and board. He was treated like a loved member of the family and loved it there, happiest days for him.
Milwaukee was the beginning of a new life for Mother. She worked at cleaning houses and offices, as she had been doing for many years before. Depression times forced people to make work, and so she did. She sewed clothes and scrubbed floors, and rode streetcars and buses to get to work. She managed to find her way anywhere by bus—no small problem in such a big city.
Ma did such a thorough job and was so pleasant and helpful that she never needed to look for a job. She was always referred from one to another. They never had to worry about the safety of their property, either, for nothing was ever found missing.
At war’s end in 1945, Ma and Dad tried to patch up the marriage, I think for the family’s sake. They rented a house in Bay View: 1325 East Potter Avenue, down near the lake. The kids began to come home, but it didn’t work out, so Dad left again. It was there Dolly and Jack grew up and went to school. But soon all were grown up and gone except Robert.
There were a few more moves in Bay View before Mom retired to Bay View Manor about 1980. Robert had died in 1976. Al died in 1962, Ed in 1972, and just two years ago in 1991, Jackie died. It was very hard on her. She went to Richard’s farm in 1987 and made some recordings of old memories of her life. She celebrated her 90th birthday—her last—at the farm, riding down in a car with Dolly and Jack Enright. She made a side-trip to Jackie’s grave in Durant, Oklahoma, and a visit to Dallas-Ft. Worth with Gwen (Jackie’s widow).
On the first of November, 1992, Laura was driving home from her grand-daughter’s birthday party. Suddenly, around 7 PM, the lights went out on her new car. She pulled over and stopped for a few minutes, and the lights went back on. When she got home, she found out that Mom had passed away at 7 o’clock and now belongs forever in our memories.
I spoke to her on the phone for half an hour just before she passed away, and though she was very tired, she gave no hint of what was about to happen.
At Grandma’s funeral mass, the priest mentioned that she was a hard worker. Others talked about how much fun she was, or how much she traveled, or about some cute quirk of her rich personality. One pointed out the well-being of so many children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren as a tribute to her character. All agreed of course, that we loved her and we’ll miss her.
Richard Groleau and Laura Trotter were the primary writers of this story, with help of course from the rest of the family. Rosa Lee Groleau typed the first two drafts. This was done between November 1992 and January 1993. Wes Groleau re-formatted and performed minor editing in 1999-2000.