Back in February when I wrote of the difficulties Roland and Glady had, it felt a bit like a betrayal. As their grandchild, I think I can vouch for the rest of my generation when I say that both Roland and Gladys were super people (in fact, we even share Super Grandma stories…but more on those in the months to come).
So now is my time for restitution. Because this upcoming week is Gladys’ birthday—she would have been 101—she is our person of the week. There’s a lot of great stuff to talk about because, after all, she was Super Grandma.
Gladys was born on April 27, 1911, to Earl and Maggie (Laing) Gulick. She and her older brother Ralph grew up living right next door to her grandparents Perry and Fidelia Gulick, and just a farm or two away from any number of extended Gulick relatives.
This family togetherness was part of Gladys’ growing up. Her first cousin, once removed, was Golda Gulick McBride and, being just a year apart in age, the two were always close friends. Much of what we know of Gladys’ childhood comes from stories Golda shared with Jerry many years later.
“When she was little, she had a pet chicken,” says Jerry. “In the cold weather, it slept on top of the horse to stay warm. One night it froze to death. Her brother Ralph must have done something to tease her about it because she got mad and chased him with a butcher knife. She had a bit of a temper. She got that from her mother probably.”
Childhood wasn’t always easy for Gladys. Her parents had marital problems and for many years, from when she was 5-11 years old, she and Ralph lived next door with their grandparents. By that time, Grandpa Perry had suffered a stroke and wasn’t in his right mind. As the story goes, once Ralph was working in the field and when he took a break under a tree, he looked up to find Perry standing over him with an ax. Perry also was said to have gotten up during nights and done strange things such as setting the table for a houseful of company.
According to Golda, Gladys was afraid of Perry. Her bed was at the top of the stairs and she slept close to the edge in case she had to get out fast.
Eventually Gladys’ parents divorced. Earl remarried a woman named Clara (White) Swanson, who came as a package with four daughters (one of whom would later marry Ralph).
“For a while she (Gladys) moved in with Earl and Clara, so she had some stepsisters to try and get along with. I don’t think she lived with them too long,” says Jerry. “She got passed around. But not as much as one of Clara’s daughters, Francis—she was sent off to relatives in Chicago, then over to Bay City, then back again, then back to Bay City. There was quite a bit of that going on back then—families splitting up and they couldn’t take care of all the kids.”
Life was transitional for Gladys during her young adult years as well. For a while she lived with her mother Maggie, who had moved to Lansing and remarried to Jim (JR) Adams. Then, for a while she lived with her brother in a house next door to Maggie and Jim. She quit high school after 10th grade and began business classes at Lansing Business University.
I ask Duane and Bruce if they had heard many stories of their mother’s younger days. They both say no, Gladys didn’t talk much about it.
“She had her hands full just trying to keep Duane in line,” banters Bruce. We all get a good laugh from that.
But really, there’s a lot of truth in that statement. In 1929, Gladys married Roland and within a few years was the mother to three young boys. On top of that, her husband was often gone from home and she worked whatever job she could during the difficult times of the Depression. So, yes, Gladys had her hands full.
“When she could find some relaxation and fun, she had it,” says Jerry. “Just to keep her sanity, I guess.”
Over the years Gladys worked many jobs, including a job as a Coca Cola girl installing bottle openers in people’s homes. Most of her jobs, however, were office positions. When she worked as a bookkeeper for Liberty Highway, the manager provided her with a pickup truck because she had no other way of getting to work.
“The fellow that managed that truck company was very nice to her and always willing to help her any way he could,” says Bruce.
I’m thinking she must have been a valued employee, if the company was willing to provide her transportation.
“Yes,” says Jerry. “She was good at her job. She knew what she was doing.”
Eventually, Gladys got a job with the Michigan National Guard and worked there until she retired in 1966.
“When she got with the National Guard, that was the best paying job she’d ever had up to that point,” says Bruce.
“Yeah, she made a lot of friends there,” adds Jerry. “She worked with a lot of big shots. Colonel Case was her boss and she fixed him up with her friend, Joyce. They (Case and Joyce) eventually got married.”
In 1949, Gladys had been divorced for a couple years when she met a man named Emil Messerschmidt. He ran a meat packing plant. Emil and Gladys married and she moved her then-teenage boys into his big house. They weren’t married long however.
“I went down to Indiana before they got married. Then I went in the Navy. So I didn’t really know him or what went on there,” says Duane.
“He kind of liked to run everything,” says Bruce.
“People called him Hack,” says Jerry. “He’d get cantankerous. He could be pretty gruff and was used to bossing everyone around. Mom was pretty independent. She didn’t appreciate anyone bossing her around, outside of her boss at work.”
I ask if that independence was her personality? A trait acquired out of necessity? Or, maybe both?
“Back then most families were pretty traditional. She was ahead of her time,” says Jerry. “Most people assumed then that the woman stayed at home and took care of things, and the man made the money and made the decisions.”
“It was essential for her to work and be in charge,” says Bruce. “She brought us boys up basically on her own.”
Did the Amos Boys get their strong work ethic from their mother?
“Undoubtedly,” says Duane.
“I would think so, yes,” says Bruce.
“She had a lot of energy, I know that,” says Jerry. “She would work all day, come home, and then she was always rearranging the furniture.”
“Well, she had to keep Duane out of trouble,” says Bruce. “Really though, looking back, you have to give her a lot of credit. She put up with a whole lot raising us boys.”
In 1965, Gladys married again. She married Leo Klotz and when it comes to nice guys, she hit the jackpot. Leo had been a security guard during his working days and was active in the Moose Lodge, as was Gladys. Together they enjoyed a busy social life with lots of friends. Sadly, they were only married three years when Leo died of a massive heart attack.
As we look at Gladys, we see a woman who took the good things in life along with the sometimes-not-so-good. From there, she went ahead the best she knew how.
And she loved her boys.
Somehow, as I’ve acquired family mementos, I was given this note. It’s a thank-you written by Gladys to her boys and it’s really special. I think these few words say more of who she was as a person than anything we can write.
In 1987, Gladys noticed she was having trouble managing the treasurer’s position she held at the Cedar Place Retirement Community where she lived. Medical tests revealed she had an aggressive brain tumor and not long to live. She moved in with Jerry and Elaine, and on March 27, 1988, she peacefully passed away.
She was one month from her 77th birthday.
Happy birthday to Super Grandma! What special memories do you have to share?