The Smithy

The Smithy by Paul Detlefsen

Isn’t it interesting how a person’s career defines not only him, but also his family? How many in the Amos family hold a nostalgic fascination for the Amish, simply because they’re part of our childhood? Or, as Joel wondered in last week’s comments, who remembers this painting entitled The Smithy, by Paul Detlefsen, and feels a kinship to the art of blacksmithing?

We feel these emotional tugs because a hundred years ago Arthur Amos, grandfather to the Amos boys, was a blacksmith for the Amish. They are our heritage as much as the man himself is.

Thankfully, I’ve come across a bit of a treasure trove on Arthur, considering we don’t have much information otherwise. Back in 1991, my son Jason also was intrigued by the Amish and blacksmithing (well, as intrigued as an 11-yr-old can be when his mother tells him he must write a 4-H report on family history during the middle of summer vacation). He chose to research and write about Arthur.

Here are portions of his report.

Our Very Own Clark Gable

Roland Amos

As we look at pictures, several people have commented how Roland looks a bit like Clark Gable. Maybe it’s that pencil mustache. Or maybe the jaunty glint in his eye. Whatever it is, he certainly adds a touch of charisma to the Amos Boys family portraits.

We know Roland is the Amos boys’ father, but what do we really know of his life?

1910 Census

Roland Elbert was born on July 8, 1909, to Wm. Arthur and Beatrice (Holmes) Amos. According to this 1910 U.S. Census, the family lived in the town of Corunna, DeKalb County, Indiana. Four years later, in 1913, his sister Dorothy was born and the family continued living in Corunna.

Apparently, Roland was not much on talking about his childhood. Even more unfortunate is that none of us, his offspring, ever pinned him down for stories.

“The only thing I can remember him telling,” says Duane, “was that when he was a boy, the neighbor’s dog bit him on his lip and gave him a scar.”

“Supposedly he was pretty good in basketball,” says Bruce. “A (Native American) Indian team recruited him to play for them because he was so dark.”

Roland & Gladys with friends

Roland and Gladys, on left, together with friends, circa late 1920s.

Small town Indiana must not have appealed to Roland because in the late 1920s he moved up to Lansing, Michigan. That’s when he met and married Gladys Gulick and started his family of Amos boys.

“For a while he worked as a tool and die maker for REO,” says Duane. “Supposedly REO had a basketball team. Maybe he came because of that, I don’t know. Later he got in with Ford Motor Company in Detroit when they were paying $5 a day.”

That was a big salary in those days.

It seems Roland was quite the adventurous spirit. In the mid-1930s, he met up with a pilot named Harvey Hughes and the two of them began traveling around the country doing air shows.

“Harvey had a plane and they went to fairs all over the country selling airplane rides,” says Bruce.

“I don’t know if it’s true or not, but someone told me they used to do some stunt work. They’d do that to attract attention and Roland would get out on the wing,” says Jerry.

“Yep, I heard that too,” says Bruce.

“As part of their show Dad (Roland) would ride a motorcycle through a burning wall. One time he broke his collarbone,” adds Duane.

“I heard that too,” says Jerry.

“Well, he didn’t check the other side of the wall and somebody had parked a car there. When he went through the wall, he hit this car,” says Bruce.

So not only was Roland adventurous, he was a bit of a daredevil as well!

Roland with Duane and Bruce

As we know, things weren’t always well with Roland and Gladys. Over time the boys lived with several different families, including Duane and Bruce living with Roland’s parents in Indiana and Jerry living with Gladys’ mother and stepfather in Lansing.

By then, Roland’s parents Arthur and Beatrice had moved to the small town of Topeka.

“Dad wasn’t with us all the time while we lived in Indiana,” says Duane. “But sometimes he was. I remember one time there was a bad thunderstorm and he took Bruce and I out on the big covered porch. He held us, one in each arm, so we wouldn’t be afraid of the storm.”

Duane remembers another time when Bruce, who would have only been four or five, was climbing on the guide wire of a telephone pole and got a shard of wire caught near his eye. It was Roland who took Bruce to the doctor and Roland who became upset when he felt the doctor wasn’t treating his son right.

“I guess Dad was holding Bruce while the doctor took the stitches out. Something happened and Bruce jumped,” says Duane. “Dad got mad and yelled at the doctor.”

Jerry remembers an incident with Roland as well. It was Christmas time and Jerry was spending the holiday with Gladys, Duane and Bruce (remember that he lived with his maternal grandparents until he was 13).

“Roland came to the house with presents for Duane and Bruce,” says Jerry. “He apparently didn’t know I was going to be there. He didn’t recognize me at first until Bruce or Duane said something to him. Thinking back on it now, it was to his credit that he made up the excuse that he must have left my present somewhere and would have to go back and get it…which he did. Roland and I did not know each other then. It was the only time I remember him ever saying anything to me. He was taken by surprise finding me there on Beech Street and knew the other boys did not want me to feel bad.”

These memories are special. But when a man isn’t around for his wife and children a sense of animosity easily arises. That’s how it was for the Amos boys.

“Yes, I resented my dad for a time,” says Bruce. “Mom had to basically raise us boys by herself.”

“When I was in junior high and high school I really resented him. He gave my mother a lot of dirt,” says Duane. “It wasn’t anything that was outspoken but we just never spent much time with him.”

“He seemed to be a very distant father, and I was not a part of his world,” says Jerry. “Gladys never let on that Roland was not my father and I did not give it much thought until adulthood when it was too late to discuss the matter with Mom. As adults, Roland and I became better acquainted and got along fine. We just never talked about our family relationship.”

That’s what’s so special about these Amos boys—they all grew up, got on with life and chose to forget whatever injustices transpired during their childhood.

“When I was in the service, I was stationed in Washington D.C. before going overseas,” says Duane. “It was 1951 and Dad and Harriet had just gotten married. They came to D.C. for their honeymoon. I wrote a letter to Harriet before they came, just to get acquainted, and when they visited we all did things together. When I came home from the Navy and all of us got married, everyone got along real well.”

And so we come to Harriet…

Sometime after WWII, Roland met Harriet Green. The Amos guys think they may have met at the bowling alley because they both enjoyed bowling.

“Bowling was a real big thing back then,” says Bruce. “Everyone bowled. Harriet was probably one of the top women bowlers in Lansing.”

Harriet Amos, 1955

Harriet was a professional woman who had previously never married. She was independent and had her own home in Lansing, which she inherited from a family member.

Originally, Harriet was from Lapeer, a town about 75 miles northeast of Lansing.

“I don’t know if her mother died or what happened,” says Jerry. “Harriet talked a lot about when she was a young girl and the nice things father would do for her. Maybe he felt bad that her mother was gone, but he got her a pony and that was a great thrill for her. She spent a lot of time riding.”

“Her dad was kind of a wheeler dealer,” says Bruce. “He was a horse trader.”

Harriet’s father Wallace eventually remarried and Harriet had two step-brothers, Wally and Robert.

When Harriet finished school, she moved to Lansing and began a career. At first she worked for the state in liquor control. By 1948, she had joined Donovan, Gilbert & Company, a small financial firm that dealt largely in bonds. She eventually became a stockbroker and decades later ended up owning the company.

I ask the guys if Harriet was an influence on Roland settling down and becoming a family-oriented guy. It’s possible, they say.

Roland, with his sister Dorothy Loughman, and their father Arthur Amos, stepmother Hazel and an unknown gentleman, 1963

Roland & Di, 1964

Roland and Scott

Roland and his namesake, his grandson Roland Scott, share July 8th as their birthdays.

Whatever it was, something clicked. The Roland my generation (his grandchildren) knew was a really super guy. Always together, he and Harriet came to family gatherings and grandchildren’s events, and they shared with us their involvement in various civic organizations (who can forget those Zonta fruitcakes!)

Roland & Harriet with Bruce, Duane and Jerry. Roland’s 75th birthday, 1984

Roland with his grandson Joel, 1984

Roland with his grandson Joel, 1984

Unfortunately, in the mid 1980s Roland developed trouble with his prostrate.

“Our dad didn’t like doctors or dentists,” says Bruce. “He had prostrate cancer and he didn’t do anything about it until after it spread to his kidneys.”

Roland died on August 19, 1987, when he was 78 years old. True to his family, everyone was there for his funeral—the three Amos Boys and their wives, Harriet, Gladys, and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

We are a special family, aren’t we?

Roland and Harriet

After Roland died, Harriet began to appear disoriented.

“We didn’t know if it was because she was grieving,” says Duane. “Or perhaps Roland had taken care of things more than we knew. But she would get lost coming to our house. Or she wasn’t taking care of her bills.”

In the early 1990s, Harriet was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She eventually moved to a memory care facility and on March 11, 2006, when she was 94 years old, she passed away.

Harriet’s death marked the end of a generation in the Amos family. But life just keeps moving on. The Amos Boys are now great-grandparents and the family is growing and growing.

Isn’t it great to be an Amos!

The Magical World of Indiana

Arthur Amos and family, 1963

When I was a kid, one of my favorite outings was going down to Topeka, Indiana to visit our Amos great-grandparents. Because we only went once or twice a year and because life there seemed so amazingly different, those trips were very exciting.

Topeka, located just 25 miles south of the Michigan border, is a small town in the heart of Indiana’s Amish country. As a kid, I remember the magic of turning off the main highway, going round a bend and, voilà, we were in a magical world—a long-ago land where people drove horse and buggies and dressed in old-fashioned clothes.

This is the land of our Amos people; even though, no, we’re not Amish.

Four generations, oldest to youngest: Arthur, Roland, Bruce, Scott

Roland, whose birthday we celebrate today, was born in Corunna, just a few miles east in DeKalb County. (His grandson Roland Scott also celebrates his birthday today—happy birthday Scott!)

Roland’s parents, Beatrice and William Arthur, who went by Arthur, were also from this area and eventually lived in DeKalb, Noble and LaGrange Counties. They did so specifically because of the Amish.

“He (Arthur) was a blacksmith first in Swan, Indiana,” says Duane. “He came to Topeka because at that time farmers were shifting over to tractors. He could see there wasn’t going to be much demand. But there were a lot of Amish near Topeka and there would always be demand.”

In the weeks ahead, we’re going to shift our attention to the Amos branch of the family tree. As I talk with the Amos Boys and look at old pictures, it’s intriguing not only because this area of Indiana is different than our own, but also because it’s home to ancestors we know little about.

But something also becomes poignantly apparent—something I didn’t think about before. The magical world of Indiana isn’t one we all share. In fact, a whole branch of our family gets left out—Jerry’s family.

After the wonderful reunion we had together three weeks ago, leaving part of us out seems kind of weird.