[Last updated: 23 September 2016]
Johan Friederich Stembel (Great-great-grandfather)
Frederick Stembel (Great-grandfather)
John Stembel (Grandfather)
Joseph V.S. Stembel (Father)
GEORGE OREN STEMBEL (1853 - 1914)
George Oren Stembel was born October 30, 1853,(1) on the family farm four miles southwest of West Liberty, Ohio. He was Joseph and Mary Stembel's second child, and their oldest son.
(5) Or possibly he was influenced by his school's proximity to Cincinnati and the Ohio River.
I surmise school played a large part in George's life, for he was one of the few Stembels of that era to attend an institution of higher learning. At the age of 23, George enrolled in the National Normal School(2) located in Lebanon, Ohio. Lebanon is a small town 50 miles northeast of Cincinnati. National Normal School was a teachers college, but other degrees were offered as well. At the time George attended, it was considered a large institution, with about 1,800 students. To earn a diploma, students were required to attend at least four 10-week sessions and one 8-week session. Tuition, room, and board cost about $27 per session, and textbooks were rented for 10% of their retail cost. The entire cost of each session was payable in advance.(3) George received his diploma in June of 1879. His degree was in business. George's diploma includes a list of his classes and the grade he received in each.(4) He did well in all of his classes, but excelled in his business courses. Curiously, at a time when railroads were exploding across the country, George elected to take a course in Steamboating instead of Railroading. Is it possible that George knew of, and was inspired by, the exploits of his distant cousin, Rear Admiral Roger Nelson Stembel, now retired?
I surmise school played a large part in George's life, for he was one of the few Stembels of that era to attend an institution of higher learning. At the age of 23, George enrolled in the National Normal School(2) located in Lebanon, Ohio. Lebanon is a small town 50 miles northeast of Cincinnati. National Normal School was a teachers college, but other degrees were offered as well. At the time George attended, it was considered a large institution, with about 1,800 students.
To earn a diploma, students were required to attend at least four 10-week sessions and one 8-week session. Tuition, room, and board cost about $27 per session, and textbooks were rented for 10% of their retail cost. The entire cost of each session was payable in advance.(3)
George received his diploma in June of 1879. His degree was in business. George's diploma includes a list of his classes and the grade he received in each.(4) He did well in all of his classes, but excelled in his business courses. Curiously, at a time when railroads were exploding across the country, George elected to take a course in Steamboating instead of Railroading. Is it possible that George knew of, and was inspired by, the exploits of his distant cousin, Rear Admiral Roger Nelson Stembel, now retired?
After graduation, George returned to Champaign County where he taught school. In the 1880 census he was recorded as 25 years old, single, and living at home with his parents and siblings. His occupation was "Teacher."
George didn't stay at home for long. Soon after the census, George moved to Indiana. We have no idea exactly where he moved or why. There were Stembel relatives living in Benton County, but I have no record that he ever visited them or lived there. It's possible he first moved to Chicago and moved to Indiana soon after to either take a job or to attend a business school. Family lore says that George attended the Northern Indiana Normal School and Business Institute in Valparaiso, Indiana, not far from Chicago. If this is true (and there is some doubt)(6) it seems the most likely explanation for his move to Indiana, but without proof of his attendance there we will probably never know why he moved.
We know that for a time George worked in a drugstore in Hebron (Porter County), Indiana, before moving to the nearby town of Wheatfield in the fall of 1884. Wheatfield, Indiana was a small prarie town about ten miles southeast of Hebron. The town was so small in fact that at the time of his move the entire town had only six houses,(7) but it had the W.E. Sweeny Lumberyard, and George became it's manager.
While living in Wheatfield, George met Sarah Elizabeth Tilton. Sarah was born in nearby Medaryville, Indiana,(8) on December 9, 1869. She moved to Wheatfield with her parents in 1885.(9) George noticed her soon after her arrival, and not long after they were engaged. They were married on October 2, 1888. Sarah was 18. George was nearly 35.
In 1889, their first child, Albert Frederick was born. George and Sarah had six more children; the last was born in 1907. George was nearly 54 years old at the time of his birth.
In 1903 George formed a partnership with Edward Biggs selling lumber, grain, hay, and farm implements.(10) In August of 1904 he assumed full control of the business at the death of Mr. Biggs.(11) Under his control, the business prospered, as Wheatfield grew. Later George sold this business and used the proceeds to erect a large grain elevator.
As owner of a large business in a small town like Wheatfield, it is inevitable that George would be active in his community. George was a member of the Wheatfield School Board for eighteen years,(12) a post he enjoyed. He was also active in politics. In 1898, he ran for the office of Jasper County Auditor.(13) However, running as a Democrat in a strongly Republican county probably doomed his chances. He lost.
George was also active in a number of social organizations, including the Masonic Lodge, the Knights of Pythias, and the Modern Woodmen of America.(14)
Just as his grain elevator business was prospering, George was diagnosed with diabetes. His obituary describes how he dropped from a robust 200 pounds to 150 pounds in the ten years before his death. This was before insulin was available to control diabetes's devastation. Eventually the diabetes led to George's death on August 7, 1914,(15) at the age of 60. It was reported in a local newspaper that his funeral was the largest ever held in the area.(16)
George usually went by the name George Oren. Mary Stembel Davis remembers meeting him when she was a child. She described him as a jovial man who got along well with children. She told me her sister Goldie was so fond of him that she later named one of her children after him (but spelled the name "Orrin").(17)
By all measures, George was a financial success. At his death he was the wealthiest man in Wheatfield, and one of the wealthiest in Jasper County. Unfortunately, George died without a will. It took almost sixty years to settle his estate. His sons took over the management of his businesses, and his property was divided among family members.
Sarah remained in Wheatfield, a widow with seven children. Almost four years after George's death the family's wooden house burned down on June 23, 1918.(18) Sarah had a new house built upon the same site, this one made of brick. She lived there for the remainder of her life. Of her children, one son died in 1921, another in 1930. Two sons married and remained in Wheatfield, a third did not marry, but remained in Wheatfield. Another son moved to Chicago. Her only daughter married and later moved to Texas.
In 1949, Sarah was interviewed for an article in a nearby newspaper. She described the early days of Wheatfield, and how much had changed since then. The article noted that three of Sarah's surviving sons still lived close by: Harry was single and living with her, Albert was living next door, and Oscar was living across the street.(19)
Sarah died in 1958 at the age of 88. I'm told she had a quick temper, and had been hard of hearing for at least 30 years before her death. This writer remembers meeting her once as a child, a few years before her death.
George and Sarah Stembel's seven children:
A. Albert Frederick (1889-1960). Albert was born on August 25, 1889, in Wheatfield. He was most likely named after his father's brother. Albert married Almedia Louella McCay in 1914, shortly after his father's death. Albert was 25. Almedia was 17. At George's death, Albert took over as manager of his father's businesses. A year later Albert was elected to the Wheatfield Town Board. At the same time he also held the office of City Treasurer.(20) Albert and Almedia had three children.
Sometime after the 1930 census Albert and Almedia divorced. Albert married Nancy Ellen Harrington on January 12, 1934. In the 1930 census, 3 years before their marriage, Nancy (who went by her middle name Ellen) was living with her father and two of her brothers on her father's farm outside Wheatfield. Ellen was 20, her marital staus was listed as "married" and she had two young daughters living with her. She used her maiden name as her last name and for her daughters, which seems strange if she is married. I assume her two daughters came to live with Albert and Ellen after their marriage. Together they had one more child, Albert Allen who was born in 1936.(21)
Albert died of a heart attack(22) in 1960. Nancy died in 1985.
Albert's four children (with two wives):
B. Oscar J (1891-1953). Oscar was born on January 15, 1891, in Wheatfield. In 1920, Oscar married Clara Bell Dunn. At the time of the wedding, Oscar was 29, Clara was 19. Oscar and Clara had two children, both daughters. About 1925 Oscar moved the family to Hammond, Indiana, where he took a job as a carpenter for a railroad company. Oscar died November 24, 1953. He is buried in the Wheatfield Cemetery. Clara died December 2, 1993.
Oscar and Clara Stembel's children:
C. Grover Cleveland (1892-1921). Grover was born on November 6, 1892, at Wheatfield. He was the third child born to Sarah and George in just over three years. Grover married Lulu Fern Dewey in 1916. Grover was 23; "Fern," as she was known, was 19. They had two children, Oren (the father of this writer) and Elizabeth.
Grover was a foreman at the family's grain elevator. He also enjoyed gardening; he had a reputation for growing prize vegetables.
When his son, Oren, was four years old, he recalled that he remembers his father coming home for lunch one winter day and complaining of a bad sore throat. During the meal it got so bad that he couldn't return to work. Oren remembers his father went to bed that afternoon and never got up again. Grover was taken to a hospital in Valparaiso where he died of lethargic encephalitis. He was just 28. His wife was left with two small children and no income. She stayed on in Wheatfield, where she opened a hat shop with a friend, and took in boarders. This income was not enough to support her family, so she moved to South Bend, Indiana, to look for work. Her two children went to live on her parent's farm, not far from Wheatfield. Eventually Fern found work in nearby Elkhart and was able to send for her children. From the time of Grover's death, Grover's brother, Harry, made it a point to watch over Fern and her family.
In 1933, Fern married Earl Shigley, but the marriage was short-lived. In 1945 she married again, to Fred Berkey. Fred worked on the railroad as a maintenance man. After Fred retired, they moved to Pensacola, Florida, where Fred died in 1967. Fern died in 1974.
Grover and Fern Stembel's children:
Oren was a salesman for Kreamo, a local bread company based in South Bend, Indiana. Later he started his own insurance agency, and worked out of a shoe store he purchased. After all her children were in school, Sue sought a job as a paraprofessional teacher at the age of 51. She worked 25 years before retiring at the age of 76.
Oren died of a heart attack on October 1, 1989, in Bremen, Indiana, while visiting his son Michael. He is buried in the Sugar Grove Church Cemetery, east of Elkhart. Sue moved to a new house on Michael's farm. She lived there until her death on June 18, 2001. She is buried next to her husband.
D. Mary Samantha (1895-1981). Mary was born March 18, 1895, in Wheatfield. She was George and Sarah's only daughter. On March 4, 1918, Mary married Abe Morehouse in Rensselaer, Indiana. Abe was from the town of Kouts, just a few miles from Wheatfield. After their marriage they moved to a local farm not far from Kouts. They had two daughters, Lois and Vera. Sometime later they moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, hoping the climate would be more beneficial to Abe's health.
Abe died in 1953 just two weeks before his 57th birthday. Mary remained in Corpus Christi for the remainder of her life.
On June 1, 1980, the city of Corpus Christi honored Mary's service to the community by proclaiming "Mary Morehouse Day." Mary was 85 years old. She died a year and a day later.
Mary and Abe Morehouse's children:
After his brother, Grover, died suddenly in 1921, Harry watched over Grover's widow and her two young children, one of whom was this writer's father.(25) I remember his visits to my home in Elkhart when I was a child. He was a kind, friendly man who laughed easily and enjoyed children. About once a year he would bring us a 50-pound burlap bag of unpopped popcorn, popcorn being a favorite snack of our family. His kindness was much appreciated. Harry never married. He lived in his boyhood home all his life, and cared for his mother when she became too old to get around.
Harry died of a cerebral hemorrhage(26) on February 12, 1961. He is buried in the Wheatfield Cemetery.
F. Gilbert Henry (1900-1986). Gilbert was born August 7, 1900, in Wheatfield, Indiana. He grew up in a large family in a small town. For seven years he was the youngest in the family until his brother, Clarence, was born in 1907.
In 1917 Gilbert married Mildred Anna Morrow in South Bend, Indiana. I don't know how they met or why they were in South Bend. It's possible Gilbert had moved to South Bend, a large industrial city, to find interesting work. His father and older brothers ran the family enterprises back home, and maybe Gilbert, at 17, didn't feel useful. However, it's possible they met closer to home, for Mildred was from Francesville, about 15 miles from Wheatfield.
After they married they had a daughter, Mary, but World War I was heating up and Gilbert entered the service in 1918. Evidently the marriage didn't survive the enforced separation for by the 1920 census, Mildred was boarding with a family in South Bend, working as a clerk in an auto factory, but most significantly, she told the census taker she was single, not married. Their daughter, Mary, was living with Mildred's parents in Francesville (Pulaski County). Gilbert may have still been in the service stationed overseas becuase he didn't appear in the 1920 census.
The next record we have of Gilbert is 1928, when he married Erma Schram in Evanston, Illinois. In 1934, they had a son, Gilbert Oren, who was born in Evanston. Gilbert remained in the Chicago area all his life where he owned a coal company and an insurance agency. Erma died in 1965. Four years later Gilbert married Ethel Volk. Gilbert died in 1986. I don't know where he, or his wives, are buried.
Gilbert's two children (with two wives):
Gilbert and Marilyn had a son, Steve(29), and daughter, Merrilee. Gilbert died August 29, 1998, a day after his 64th birthday.
G. Clarence Oren (1907-1930). Clarence was born September 1, 1907, in Wheatfield, Indiana. He was born seven years after Gilbert. Clarence never married. He died suddenly on July 18, 1930, of an infection which developed after an appendectomy operation in La Porte, Indiana. He was just 22. He is buried in the Wheatfield Cemetery.
1. George's tombstone shows his date of birth as October 20, 1854. I believe this is incorrect. If George was born on this date, his younger brother John, born July 23, 1855, would have been born just 9 months and three days after George (highly unlikely). Also, the 1860 federal census (taken July 1, 1860) gives George's age as 6 years old, not 5 as it would be had he been born on the date shown on the tombstone.
2. The National Normal School (later the National Normal University) merged with Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio, in 1917. Wilmington College is a Quaker institution of higher education.
3. This information comes from an information booklet published by the school around the time George was a student. A photocopy was sent to me by the archivist of Wilmington College, Ina E. Kelly, in 1984.
4. George's diploma was donated to me by Miriam Stembel Lawyer.
5. I'm curious how closely the various branches of the Stembel family kept in touch with each other. At this point it had been 60 years since the Stembels began migrating from Maryland to various locations in Ohio. According to Mary Stembel Davis, who was a child when George was an adult, her parent's generation (George's generation) kept in pretty good touch with some branches of the family, but contact dwindled during her generation.
6. In one of George's obituaries, it stated that George had attended Valparaiso University. Valparaiso University was known as the Northern Indiana Normal School and Business Institute at the time George would have attended. According to Mr. Daniel Gahl, Archivist for the University (1984), the only records still available for the period that George attended are in the form of lists of student's names published in quarterly and annual school catalogs. He did not find George's name in any of those lists. It's possible that George later took a class or seminar at Valparaiso University in conjunction with his business or community activities.
7. The "Rensselaer Republican" newspaper, Rensselaer, Indiana. March, 1949 (exact day unknown). An article in the newspaper was devoted to the life of George's widow, Sarah Stembel, describing her life in Wheatfield. Sarah was about 80 years old at the time. She had lived in Wheatfield for 64 years, moving there as a teenager in 1885. The original clipping is in the possession of George and Sarah's granddaughter, Miriam Stembel Lawyer.
8. There is some confusion over Sarah's place of birth. On her marriage application she listed her place of birth as "Indiana." When her son, Grover, married, on his license application he listed her place of birth as Pulaski County, Ohio. When her daughter, Mary, married she listed her mother's birthplace as Porter County, Indiana. Sarah's sons, Albert and Oscar, both claimed her place of birth was Medaryville, Indiana, on their applications. In sorting this out we can eliminate Pulaski County, Ohio, because it doesn't exist. There is a Pulaski County in Indiana, however, which happens to be the county where Medaryville is located. Also, Sarah's younger brother, John, was born in Medaryville (according to his obituary). I'm reasonably certain, then, that Sarah was born in Medaryville, Indiana, a small town not far from Wheatfield.
9. Newspaper clipping, "Rensselaer Republican", March, 1949.
10.Newspaper clipping of George Oren Stembel's obituary. Newspaper and date unknown, but presumably it was a Rensselaer, Indiana, newspaper printed soon after his death (Rensselaer is the county seat of Jasper County). Original is in the possession of Miriam Stembel Lawyer.
11. Newspaper clipping, "Rensselaer Republican", March, 1949.
12. A Standard History of Jasper and Newton Counties, Indiana. Hamilton, Louis H., and Darroch, William, eds. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York, 1916. pp.543-4.
13. Newspaper clipping of George's obituary, second of two obituaries in unknown but different newspapers. Like the first, this is probably from a Rensselaer, Indiana, newspaper. Rensselaer, like many Midwest towns its size, may have had two newspapers, the Republican (which I know existed in 1949) and the Democrat. This clipping is headed "GEORGE O. STEMBEL IS DEAD", with "$1.50 Per Year" above that. The original is in the possession of the author.
14. Newspaper clipping of George's obituary, "Passing of George O. Stembel". I have not yet researched the purpose of the latter two organizations, but they were very popular in the Midwest at the time of George's death.
15. George's death certificate lists his date of death as September 8, 1914. I believe this is incorrect for the following reasons:
a.) A newspaper obituary in my possession reports his date of death as August 7, 1914. Even though the clipping is undated, the obituary was obviously published soon after his death (certainly within a week of his death). It seems hard to believe they could be a full month off in the date of his death, b) A resolution of condolence placed in a local paper (a copy is in my possession) by the Knights of Pythias, Lodge No. 353 also shows his date of death as August 7, 1914, c) A second newspaper obituary states that George died at his home Friday afternoon at 4:30. August 7, 1914, did, in fact, fall on a Friday while September 8, 1914, was a Tuesday, d) George's tombstone also shows his date of death as August 7. Even though the date of birth on his tombstone is incorrect, it seems less likely that they would error on his date of death because the tombstone was probably engraved soon after his death and a mistake like that would not go unnoticed.
16. Newspaper clipping, "Passing of George O. Stembel".
17. Letter from Mary Davis Stembel to author dated August 26, 1986.
18. Newspaper clipping from unknown newspaper (probably the South Bend Tribune), exact date unknown. The original in the possession of Miriam Stembel Lawyer.
19. Newspaper clipping, "Rensselaer Republican", March, 1949.
20. Hamilton, p.544.
21. Evidently Nancy had children from a previous marriage, for two daughters (Mrs. Joyce Minor of Rensselaer and Mrs. Patricia Whiteaker of Wheatfield) that were not Albert's children are mentioned in his obituary.
22. Newspaper clipping of Allen's obituary. Newspaper unknown. Date unknown. Obituary titled, "Albert F. Stembel." The original is in the author's possession.
23. Newspaper article reporting Harry's death. Newspaper unknown (probably a Rensselaer, Indiana, newspaper). Date unknown. Article is titled: "Harry I. Stembel Is Found Lifeless In Wheatfield Home". The original is in the possession of Miriam Stembel Lawyer
25. A somewhat humorous story was told to me by an older family member. When Harry's older brother, Grover, died, he left a wife and two young children. With no income, they faced hard times. However, a few years before he married, Grover had purchased a life insurance policy in the amount of $2,500. His mother was named the beneficiary. Unfortunately, Grover neglected to change the beneficiary after his marriage, so when he died the insurance check was paid to Grover's mother, instead of his widow. It should be noted that Grover's mother did not like the woman whom her son had married, so she determined she was going to keep the money for herself. This so incensed Harry that when the opportunity arose, he barricaded his mother in the bathroom and wouldn't let her come out until she agreed to sign the money over to Grover's widow. She refused to do so for many hours before finally giving in.
26. Newspaper article reporting Harry's death.
27. "The Peffley Families in America," by May Miller Frost. 1938. Page 161. I have not located this book, but was told of it by Jeff Scism who has researched the Morrow family. This was found on the Internet.
28. My father occasionally saw her on his bread sales route in South Bend. I believe she attended South Bend Riley High School.
29. Steve called me in 1986, but it was quite by accident. He was working as a telemarketer for Apple Computer. He was working from a list and was amused to find he was talking to another Stembel.
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