Volume Forty-Four

No. 2


April 2003

Ruth Burnham - Veteran, Wife, Mother and Volunteer


Most Batavians know Ruth Burnham as an active volunteer (she was Batavia's Citizen of the Year in 1992) and the wife of the late Joseph Burnham, chairman and CEO of Marshall Field's. There are many aspects of her life, however, which most people know nothing about. The following story is the result of two interviews (see accompanying story "The Interview") and Ruth's memoir, A View from the  Shore, covering her life as a WAVE during World War II.


March of 1921 I was born into the family of Ethel and Percy Drover in Barrington, Illinois;' Ruth Burnham began. "As I was the fourth child of that family -- and the first daughter - you can imagine that there were great celebrations. "My father was born in England, livIng his early years in Clovelly -- a picturesque town on the Cornish coast.


After serving briefly in the British Marines, he emigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada, where he established a homestead. "My mother was a young schoolteacher in Chicago and traveled to Saskatchewan one summer to visit a friend who was debating establishing a homestead there. She met my father on the prairie, and after several summer visits, they decided to vol_44_10.jpgmarry. "When my father came down to the Chicago area, he fell in love with Chicago as he missed London.


They settled temporarily on a farm near Barrington where he "worked the soil"  - he did in Canada. That's how it progressed: many automobile dealers in the early days had been farm implement dealers. "For the first five years of my life, we lived in an apartment above the dealership. Then we needed bigger quarters, and the family decided to build a Sears home at the edge of Barrington -- a house through the mail, so to speak.


I was seven years old when we moved into that house. "Soon after we moved into this new house," Ruth continued, "the Depression hit. Also, one more member of my family arrived, brother Alan, who is my last brother alive now and lives right here in Batavia -- something very special for me.


Even though the Depression had hit - today our children would think that we were deprived -we were all in the same boat and never felt any deprivation. They were very happy times for me:' After a brief pause, Ruth went on, "One thing the family was sure of was that I was going to be able to go on to college when I graduated from high school.


It would be the University of Illinois, something that we would be able to afford. And if I was able to work for room and board, then the family could supply my apparel, other expenses, and also my tuition, which in 1938 was $90 per year, $45 per semester. I can remember writing that out in my little book. "Many friends urged me to major in home economics as that was something that could always be put to good use.


It didn't sound very exciting to me because I had done a lot of that sort of thing in my family, helping my mother and cooking for my brothers. I was much more interested in interior design or architecture; however, at that time there was really no field, no interest or anything, in the interior design element, and architecture was probably a little beyond my field. So I majored in home economics in the College of Agriculture.


'When I went down to the university, I found a lovely family to live with. They eren't blood relatives, but they had a connection with ourfamily. Even though I was supposed to be working for room and board, I did not do a great deal of work for them -- although I worried all the time because I knew I was supposed to be earning my room and board. But I guess I was a good companion, and it worked out very well. I had four wonderful years getting prepared for my bachelor of science degree:' At this point we will let Ruth tell her story directly by quoting from her April, 2002, memoir, A View from the Shore, in which she relates her wartime experiences. As the "greatest generation" -- so named by Tom Brokaw in his book by that name -- departs our landscape through sheer old age, post Pearl Harbor WWII experiences fade in memory and are shadowed by the September 11, 2001, attack.


It is time to write my story. I, Ruth Drover Burnham, was one of the 400,000 women who served in the armed forces in WW II. My story 3 unique only because I was one of the first WAVES to enlist and struggled along with Navy personnel in the shaking-down of such a different crew -- FEMALES!


In July of 1942 the Navy Department announced the establishment of a new division in their ranks -- the WAVES -- Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service -- and I needed a job! I would graduate in August from the University of Illinois and my major in Home Economics wasn't pointing me toward satisfying employment. I was grateful for my education and had a $350 debt to repay.


The Depression years had been sobering and I was ready for work, adventure and a dash of patriotism. A train ride to Chicago found me in the U.S. Navy Recruiting Office. It was abuzz with forms and exams. After hours of processing, I was accepted and sworn in as a candidate for officer training, to await orders "at any time:' Hustling back to Urbana I completed my finals, waved goodbye to campus and packed for home -- to wait! A temporary job (filling sugars and salts in the Jewel Tea Company corporate dining room) kept me grounded as anticipation of my new life grew. vol_44_11.jpg


Meanwhile, the War Department was very busy. Recognizing an acute manpower shortage, the president announced that 160,000 women were required immediately in all services (Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard) to replace the fellows needed in the war theater. By that time we were readying troops for all over the world and needed gals to "free the guys to fight." Colorful recruiting posters popped up in public buildings and the media nudged the public to accept the startling concept of women in the military.


The Navy invited the famous American designer DS Mainbocher, to create an appropriate uniform. His classic and attractive design is still in use today. Women officers were recruited from civilian life


Regular male officers trembled at the thought of training and disciplining females. What was the world coming to? And I was waiting. Finally on December 1, the long anticipated order arrived -- "reportf for basic indoctrination Northampton, MA on December 22; train ticket enclosed:' My first-ever overnight train ride (lower berth) delivered me to Northampton where 550 assorted females were gathering as "90 day wonders."


Explanation -- 30 days as seamen in basic indoctrination and 60 days as Mid-shipmen with advanced courses.


If we passed, our commission as Ensign was awarded -- which was the "wonder" part. We were stacked into station wagons with 350 delivered to Mt. Holyoke College a few miles away and the remaining 200 to Smith College campus.


En route to Mt. Holyoke our luggage was misdirected and we arrived, were assigned our bunks in the SS Rockefeller (largest resident hall) and slept in slips and no toothbrush until the next day. Reveille came early.


Divided into 7 platoons of 50 we attempted our first "Hup, 2, 3, 4's." (Marching band experience helped.) Our feet became primary transportation. We marched to town, to chapel, to class in lively cadence -- often singing to bolster spirits. As our uniforms were a few weeks from delivery arid pants had yet to be introduced into everyday wardrobes, lisle hose and rubber boots provided warmth -- and we marched faster.


Snow settled in for the season and this little New England town glowed like a Currier and Ives. But wait, we had Christmas to celebrate! On the 25th Christmas carol replaced reveille.


A tree and red roses feel adorned the lounge and our "mess" trays were heaped with a "magnificent dinner of 18 different items." (NO rationing here.) Scuttlebutt was circulating that the dreaded Captain Inspection was scheduled for the next day.


Had we learned to square-corner our bunks in just three days? At 1000 hours sharp the Captain boarded the SS Rockefeller wearing white gloves and stern demeanor. Standing at attention when he reached our deck we held our breath as he fingered door tops and bounced a coin to test tight bedcovers. An assistant blew into the radiator corner and declared it "distinctly dirty", but we passed inspection -- whew!


No special favors were allowed because we were female. We had volunteered to replace a guy to go to sea, and let's not forget that. Indoctrination classes were tough -- Naval Personnel, Naval History, Ships and Aircraftand Organization of the Navy.


Did we question how this knowledge might be used? NO. (Secretly I hoped it might outrank my college major.) But we learned DISCIPLINE, RESPECT, AND PROMPTNESS as extra-curricular. As seamen we stood while speaking, repeating our name and rank and addressed our superior with name and rank. By mid-January we had advanced to the rank Midshipmen.


A small contingent was transferred to the campus of Smith College in Northampton. The Northampton Hotel -- recently leased by U.S. Government -- became home for a while. Facilities were luxurious compared to the dorm, but let's not become too comfortable! A course in Communications was our focus, and I was introduced to an electric typewriter. Four platoons of 50 each mustered daily in the parking lot to march to class.


The town was alive with the sound of WAVES! When platoons passed on the way to lunch (staggered servings) the hungry group would sing "what have we for lunch" (tune n Happy Birthday) and the response would often be "creamed codfish for lunch' Fun. Exciting news -- our uniforms were finally ready and we could ship our civvies home. We were issued the handsome suit, 3 shirts (white, navy and mid-blue), navy gabardine raincoat and Havelock, and heavy "great coat" -- and of course, hat and tailored shoulder bag. Wearing a uniform called for proper saluting. Oh, oh -- that meant practice and keeping our eyes open. For several days we'd hide in a doorway as a uniform approached.


Soon feeling adorned and secure we planned a weekend in New York City -- a first for me. At the Hotel Commodore I was quizzed by a traveler about accommodations in the area. Mistaking me for a hotel attendant (imagine!) rather shattered my pride, but not for long. Bunked eight in one room (convention in town) we soon tasted the delights of the city - Times Square, Sardis' Restaurant, Statue of Liberty and USO where French sailors who had just docked were partying! What fun, but we'd better get back to our ship.


Official scuttlebutt came sifting through that Communications had been over-filled and advanced Indoctrination would be offered to a group of us. This meant another move and our last 30 days were spent at CAPEN HOUSE a beautiful old, drafty mansion. Perched on a hill it had massive white pillars, which framed a view of the Berkshires. A summer sojourn would have been delightful, but this was February -- and the coldest in recent history (-27 degrees celcius one day).


Most nights I wore flannel p.j.'s, wool sweater, lisle hose plus woolen anklets -- covered with three Navy woof blankets, raincoat and flannel bathrobe. Washcloths hanging on our bed rails were frozen by morning. But thoughts of graduation warmed us. Had we passed our courses?


Soon THE DAY was announced for mid March and we would be graduated as Ensigns -- blue stripe for our sleeves -- and orders for duty issued. Where would we go and were we ready? From my diary" -- "It's just as though we've been edging slowly along a diving board and we're plunging into the deep blue sea. Actually, I'm a bit scared -- I don't feel qualified. for an Ensign stripe. Suddenly I know nothing, but maybe my learning period has just begun'.


How true. Orders granted me a few days back in Barrington and then I was to report to The Office of Naval Officer Procurement in Kansas, City, Missouri. Kansas City?! I had dreamed of oceans -- at least a view of one!


In the next issue, we will continue with Ruth's experiences in the WAVES, her marriage to another Ensign, Joseph Burnham, and their subsequent life in Batavia.



The Jeske Murders

Helen Bartelt Anderson



It happened a long time ago -- seventy-seven years, to be exact. Headlines in the Aurora Beacon News read:





Saturday Night - Oecember 12, 1925. Henry Jeske was a popular young assistant cashier at the Batavia National Bank.


He said goodnight to his senior associate, Mr. W. B. Beam. Banking hours on Saturdays were 9:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M., as were places of business. Customers and others lingered in the bank lobby. Many came in after shopping to escape the cold, damp December air.


Henry's wife, Eva, sat on a bench in the bank, waiting for her husband as six-year-old Ralph fidgeted beside her. Finally, Eva and sleepy Ralph climbed into their Model T Ford. Henry 'was able to start the engine after the frst two or three cranks. Eva regulated the throttle and spark just right. Little Ralph was soon sound asleep on the back seat of the Ford.



I can imagine riding home to their farm was enjoyable that nfght. Talk probably would have been about friends and neighbors that they had met that day. They may have talked about Cousin Eva's and Aunt Em's having planned a Christmas Day dinner at Eva's parents were John (Jack) and Emma Bartelt Schimelpfenig. Emma was Papa's oldest sister; Eva was a cousin to my brother, Roger, and myself. She had a Sister, Amy, and two brothers, Walter and Ira. We were all good friends and spent many Sunday afternoons together.


Their farm was located at the corner of Wilson Street and Kirk Road, where the Batavia Apartments are now. Kirk Road was gravel and only went north. Henry and Eva also owned a farm on County Farm Road (Averill Road), which is now Fabyan Parkway.


The Kane-Dupage line ran through their farm and house. Harry Newby operated a speakeasy or roadhouse on County Farm Road. It was less than a mile from Henry and Eva's farm. He illegally operated his still because of the prohibition amendment to the constitution. The 18th amendment ordered all saloons and liquor establishments to lock their doors. Newby's roadhouse was hidden from view by a grove of trees. Neighbors knew where it was, especially Henry and Eva Jeske. They knew a man had been killed in a nighttime brawl. Somehow, it was not reported. Henry complained to the authorities.


The "blind pig' was shut down for a short time. Henry and Eva knew it was operating again when drunken men wandered along the roadside and into their farmyard. On this date, December 12, 1925, the Jeskes made their way home on County Farm Road.


Thirty-four-year old Eva became nervous and fearful, knowing they were passing the "blind pig roadhouse. As they reached their home, Eva was petrified. She hurriedly walked the distance from their car to vol_44_13.jpgthe back door of their home.     

She would unlock the door so that Henry could carry their sleeping son inside. Eva was nearly to the door when she was felled by the killer's two shots to her forehead. Her body was dragged into the house. Henry's and little Ralph's bodies were found in the yard.


A seventeen-year-old man, Harold "Red" Hall, lived with and worked for the Jeskes. He had lived with them for about three years. He happily claimed them as his family. Red had a friend Bill Bowron, who was often with him at the Jeske farm.


On this night, Bill drove into the driveway of the Jeske home. He saw what looked like a body lying in the yard. Although he thought that it might be another drunk, he decided to report it to the police. He drove back to the police department in Batavia and reported it to Chief L. L. Urch.  

The chiefnotified R. C. Holister, deputy coroner. Together they drove back to the farm where they found and identified the three bodies of the Jeske family. The deputy coroner immediately drove back to town. He telephoned the radio stations to put out a call to all people to be on the alert for the killer.


This radio message was heard by Victor Anderson of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, as he searched on his crystal radio set. He jumped out of his chair and called to his wife who was in the kitchen, "Alma! The Henry Jeske family in Batavia have all been murdered:' 

Eleven-year-old Clifford, my future husband, was lying on the floor. He can tell you of the horror he and his parents felt. He has never forgotten. Authorities were quite certain the prime suspect had to be a stocky, poorly dressed man who stole the Jeskes' car after the murders.


The car was found at a spot near West Chicago. This man had boarded the third rail train to Chicago. Because he was not under suspicion at the time, the conductor could only give this report: "He sat with his head down all the way:' When he transferred to another train, this sad looking man with the soiled brown overalls was not to be vol_44_14.jpgseen again. He had paid his fare to Chicago with 83 cents in small change.


In spite of the suspicions of the police departments, Henry's and Eva's families were never convinced that a robber murdered the Jeskes. Nothing had been taken except Henry's car, which the man only drove to West Chicago.


A couple of years later, Papa was notified by the sheriff that two men who were in jail for other crimes had confessed to the Jeske murders. Papa and one of Eva's brothers drove to DeKalb for the questioning of the prisoners. Papa and Walter were not convinced. Another lack of evidence. The case was closed with the police believing the original idea that the crime was committed by a robber caught in the act.


There was a rumor that high-up county officials secretly frequented the "blind pig." Was fear of exposure the cause of this horrendous crime? Did Harry Newby seek revenge for Henry's report to authorities, not once, but over and over? How important is alcohol in the lives of men and women! At our home -- Papa's days were filled with anger; Mama's days were filled with fear. She had Papa make a wooden bar across the back door. Roger and I just wanted life to return to normal again. Christmas 1925 came and went. Gifts were given and received without joy. lfe goes on.


Writer's note; This story was written at the request of Jeanette Anderson. Many thanks to Harold "Bosco" Hall, son of Harold "Red" Hall, for sharing his original copy of the Aurora Beacon News from December 13, 1925. And thanks to my sons Dennis and Jim for their photo and computer help with the story.





The Traveling Travails of Batavia's Early Pastors


Marilyn Robinson has been reviewing published histories of Batavia churches and came across interesting stories about how some of Batavia's early pastors were able to solve the logistics of getting to two churches in different communities for services on the same Sunday. The first involved what is now Immanuel Lutheran Church.


"Pastor John Feiertag came to Aurora in 1869 and conducted the first divine service in Batavia for the German Lutherans

in the home of William Wilke. Later on services were held in various buildings every two or three weeks.


Transportation was a problem in those days. The Burlington Railroad had built the line from Chicago to Aurora through Batavia in 1850, so it was possible for Pastor Feiertag to come here by handcar. Members of the Aurora congregation were kind enough to pump the handcar here for him. If weather didn't permit, horse and a buggy were used with members of both congregations furnishing this equipment."


And this one involves Calvary Episcopal Church. Rev. Steel, who served the church between 1882 and 1887, wrote this piece about his Sunday transportation "My Sundays included Early Celebration in Batavia, then one in Geneva, breakfast, Sunday School and morning service in Batavia. For some time, Mrs. VanNortwick provided me with a horse and buggy or a cutter for the Geneva trips. Also, at times, I used a tricycle of the old fashioned variety, seat perched on above the large when a small guard wheel in front. Incidentally, I made an adjustable top for it and, putting my valise on behind, peddled to Galena, on up to Milwaukee and Nashota, returning via Geneva, Wisconsin."


Marilyn has added, "And we get mad at our cars sometimes'


What's New At The Museum

 Carla Hill, Director


The museum re-opened for the 2003 season on Wednesday, March 12. The opening display is titled, "Spring Is..." It includes many wonderful photographs from our collection as well as "Colorful Kite Tales," an exhibit that depicts the history, art and technology of kite flying starting with Benjamin Franklin. This is a fun exhibit that we have done in the past and is always popular with the children.


As usual, Chris Winter has done a wonderful job with this display.


The museum will be celebrating International Museum Day on Sunday, May 18. The museum will be open from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.


We are planning refreshments, entertainment, tours and demonstrations for that afternoon. We have been working on many projects over the winter break. The museum sponsored two Lincoln programs in February, both of which were very successful.


We are planning a trip to historic Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, another trip to Newberry Library and a trip to the Chicago Archives. We are also preparing for May, which will bring several hundred third graders to the museum as part of their Batavia history report. This year we will be completing the railroad exhibit on the main floor.


Thanks to Bea Hodson's wonderful donation, we have ordered a mannequin for the ticket booth that will represent the station masters who ran the station for so many years. (Chuck Hodson was the last station master for our building.) As part of this display we will be planning a celebration for 2004 which will be the 150th Birthday of our Depot. We will celebrate National Volunteer Week in April.


The museum is very fortunate to have almost 100 dedicated volunteers. Chris and I truly appreciate all of the time that they give and everything that they do. We could not operate the museum without their help. We look forward to another great year at the museum and the beginning of the warm weather!


Anyone who would like to volunteer at the museum -- and we really need help -- should contact Kathy Fairbairn at 406-9041. Come and have some fun.




Membership and

Other Matters


Since the last issue, the following persons (Batavians unless otherwise noted), some of whom were already annual members, have become life members:


Tony and Paul Bex,

Bill and Sue Blair,

Karen L. Hall,

Bruce and Lisa Hohman,

Tom Johnson (Las Vegas, NV),

and Ronn Pittman.


Other new members:


A. F. Allen,

Richard and Diane Cutlip,

Leola Dixon (Atlanta, GA),

Tom and Donna Dwiggins,

Phyllis Holstead,

Kathy K. Jensen (Manchester, NH),

Don and Joan Johnson,

Margaret K. Kienitz (Winfield, IL),

Timothy P.Killoran (Danville, CA),

Mary B. Killoran (Atlanta, GA),

Joan Kline,

Richard and Carol Miller,

Deanne and C.J. Simpson,

Robert and Ann Thomas,

Tyler G. Tincknell (Lombard, IL),

and Norma Vaughan (Aurora).


We welcome these new members and look forward to their participation in the affairs of the society.


We regret to report the deaths of life members Ted Schuster and Rev. Lee Moorehead and members Charles Ella Stoakley and Robert Thorsen.


Ted and Lee, close friends, were not only active members of the society but also deeply involved with the community. Both were Batavia Citizens of the Year, Ted in 1988 and Lee in 1991.


Ted chaired the ACCESS Committee, and Lee initiated the "Books between Bites" program and the annual Lincoln Day Dinner.


Besides the Glidden gift described elsewhere, the society received gifts of $500 from Cliff and Royce Clifford of Encinitas, CA, and $100 each from Robert and Susan Ducar and George and Erdene Peck (Melrose, MT).


In addition, we received gifts from Richard and Lois Benson in honor of Ruth Murray, from Virginia T. Phelps (Mountain View, CA) in appreciation of Marilyn Robinson's help in looking up her family, and from Allen F.Mead (St. Charles) and Mrs. Kay Peterson.


 We thank these donors for their support.


 Oops - We Googfed



When we first got the idea of writing a story on Batavia's Sears houses, we talked to Jerry Miller because we knew that he had a Sears home.


He lent us his book on the homes, which we used for our research until one was acquired for the Depot Museum. And then what do you think happened?


We forgot to include his house at 220 Spring Street in our story in the last issue! Here it is, appearing belatedly.


Another Sears houses slip-up. Someone has told us that the house we identified as 318 South Van Buren is actually 714 Morton -- and this can be verified if one looks at the street number under a magnifying glass.


We can't figure how this happend, but we're thankful for careful readers. Member Allen Mead has pointed out that it was Arnold Benson, not his brother Emil, who was running for governor as related in Gladys Noren's interview.


Again, thanks for setting the record straight.