As my usual practice I want to reintroduce an early businessperson whose history seems to be missing in the community's records. My search was not very successful with only isolated pieces of information showing up: a past blog on the Gig Harbor Lion's Club, ancestry.com, until I saw a private family tree, and thought I would take a chance. I contacted the administrator of the family tree not knowing if I would receive a response. Not only did I get a reply, but also this beautiful, loving biography. William Oberndorfer is the Great Grand Uncle of Carla Schubert. Carla's generosity included permission to publish her biography of her Great Grand Uncle, but also to use her pictures related to his life.
WILLIAM OBERNDORFER, HIS MOTHER, HIS BROTHER AND THREE SISTERS
Front: Frederick Henry, Mother Mary, Mary Paulina, Back: Anna Elizabeth, William, Amanda Christine
William Oberndorfer was born on February 24, 1872 in Goshen, Indiana. He was the fifth child born to Johann Friedrich ("Frederick") Oberndorfer and Anna Maria Julianna ("Mary") Dick. At the time of his birth, Goshen, the county seat of Elkhart County (approximately 120 miles east of Chicago), had a population of about 3,300. It was during this time that the infant town was experiencing a significant population growth - a direct result of the newly opened railway service.
Both of William's parents had immigrated from Germany: his father from Boelgental, a municipality near Stuttgart, and his mother from Mittenberg, near Heidelberg. Though his father became a naturalized citizen before their marriage, the German language, as well as its culture, remained a foundation within the Oberndorfer household. The family were members of Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church, where the Sunday sermons, lessons and hymns were delivered in German. It was here that William was baptized, along with his sister, Amanda, on April 21, 1878. His sponsors were his mother's sister and brother-in-law, Christina and Johann Krau.
William's mother filed for divorce shortly after his birth. To support herself and her children, William's mother went to work as a washer woman. William's older siblings, (Mary, Fred Jr., Anna and Amanda), bonded together to take care of their baby brother. While the four older children remained in close proximity to one another throughout their lifetime, William had an adventurist spirit.
In 1891, William joined the Umbenhower's Goshen Military Band, under the direction of Frank J. Umbenhower. The band had 17 members. William played 2nd B-flat clarinet. Beginning on July 15th, 1891, and continuing for 30 days, the band furnished music during the entire session of the Spring Fountain Park Assembly in Warsaw, Indiana. This was a most flattering engagement. Before leaving for Warsaw, the band provided a preview concert for the Goshen community at the pavilion in Court Park.
On November 1, 1894, William married Miss Della Short, of LaGrange, Indiana. Della, who was born in 1873, was the daughter of J. Edson and Elizabeth (Longcor) Short. Della’s father was a farmer.
William and Della's wedding was held at the home of her parents, on 208 Purl Street in Goshen. The bridal couple was heralded by the beautiful strains of the Mendelssohn March. They took their vows beneath a bower of flowers in a doorway between two parlors. Nearly eighty guests were in attendance. Della looked charming in a simple cloth gown. William made little effort to conceal his joy. Following the ceremony, the guests were treated to a tempting nuptial feast. Many beautiful and useful presents were bestowed upon the happy couple. William and Della set up house at 213 South Third Street in Goshen. At the time of their wedding, William was employed at Dale's Dry Goods House.
During their marriage, William and Della moved many times. By 1900, they were living in Cook County, Illinois. While in Chicago, William was employed with Carson Pirie Scott & Company. Then in April 1906, they moved to Muncie, Indiana, where William became the manager of W. A. McNaughton Company department store. By October 1907, William was a partner and manager of Oberndorfer & Co., a women's cloak and outfitter establishment. A little over a year later, William bought out his partners. The Star Press reported that William was one of Muncie's most progressive merchants. With this new business deal, William professed to make his establishment more up-to-date and attractive to its customers. He decided to change the name of his store to Oberndorfer & Company, The Women's Shop.
During this time, life treated William and Della well. They were active in the First Evangelical Lutheran Church: William as a superintendent and a deacon, and Della as an organist and an accompanist. Friends and relatives from Goshen made frequent visits to the young couple. They, in turn, returned to Goshen to visit their parents and siblings.
William took trips to New York to purchase some of the finest garments for his store. Though his clients marveled at the splendors in his shop, fewer and fewer could afford such luxuries. By August 1911, William filed for bankruptcy. William and Della spent the next year repairing their establishment's finances. In February 1913, they filed articles of incorporation for the Oberndorfer Cloak Company, having capital stock of $10,000.
William was quite well known in Muncie. He was said to be enthusiastic over the city's future. William was also well known for his creative and elaborately worded newspaper advertisements. Some referred to William as "the writer."
The well known young couple, soon left Muncie and headed westward. They bought a ranch in Flathead County, Montana. While there, William became a buyer at a dry goods store. Finally, sometime around 1921, they moved to Tacoma, Washington.
In November 1922, Della traveled from Tacoma back to Goshen for an extended visit with her sister, Atta Hope. Shortly before Christmas, Della was suddenly stricken with apoplexy while in downtown Goshen. She was taken to her sister's residence in an ambulance. Della remained in an unconscious condition and clung to life for ten days. At one o’clock in the morning, two days after Christmas, Della passed away at her sister’s home. Funeral services were held at the home on 712 Emerson Street. Della was buried in Oakridge Cemetery, in Goshen.
Less than a year later, on August 18, 1923, William remarried. He and his new wife, the former Cathreen Nina Coulter, were married in Tacoma. Cathreen was the daughter of Samuel McConnell and Lucy [Kindig] Coulter. She was born on March 23, 1873 in Creston, Ohio.
Sometime around 1925, they moved to Shore Acres in Gig Harbor. William became the owner of the Peninsula Dry Goods Company there. Gig Harbor, about 12 miles from Tacoma, was only a rural area at that time. It was not yet incorporated as a city.
Though such a new community, the men and women of Gig Harbor were visionaries. They looked to the future and dedicated themselves to working hard at making Gig Harbor a successful and prosperous community. Many of the service clubs and organizations that these early pioneers established are still in operation today. The Lions Club of Gig Harbor is one such operation. After the Lions Club established a chapter in Bremerton, Washington in 1925, the men and women of Gig Harbor soon learned of all of the good being accomplished by the organization. On September 3, 1931, William, along with other prominent men of the community, met and established the Gig Harbor Lions Club. Their first meeting was held at the community hall, which later was the Masonic Hall.
William and Cathreen's store, the Peninsula Dry Goods Company, weathered the Great Depression. It also fared well during World War II, even amid the rationing in effect at that time. In a June 1944 advertisement in The Peninsula Gateway, the Peninsula Dry Goods Company reminded its patrons of upcoming Father's Day on Sunday, June 18th. "You'll Want to Remember Father on His Day," the ad read. Various and numerous gift suggestions were offered. These included tan summer hats for $1.45, smart new sport shirts in popular shades of tan, blue and white from $3.25 to $3.95, and dress shirts in white and colors in sizes "to your liking." Regarding the ties in stock, the ad advised that "You'll want several when you see the new colors and combinations."
In addition to men's' wear, the Peninsula Dry Goods Company also carried a full line of ladies' wear, as well as clothes for infants, toddlers and children. Their domestic house wares department carried lovely blankets, towel sets and luncheon and table cloths.
During World War II, William proclaimed his support for the military men and women, and the war efforts. William had two grand nephews serving in the Navy: George Lakemond Doll "Sonny" (grandson of William's sister, Mary) and William George Lloyd (grandson of William’s sister, Anna). In his company store's newspaper advertisements, he, along with other prominent businessmen, encouraged the men and women of Gig Harbor to support the war effort by buying war bonds. One advertisement in the Peninsula Gateway, dated July 14, 1944, is particularly poignant:
"Bow your heads. Pray with millions of mothers the country over, as their hearts reach out over the seas, each one seeking out her boy, to protect him with the shield of her love.
Believe that in this world there is definite strength in decency and honor.
Believe that in our devotion there is moral force. Believe that our will to victory will aid that victory.
Seek and ye shall find!
Let us seek added strength and fortitude for our men in our own sacrifice and devotion.
Let us focus every thought, every action, and every prayer on the boys fighting for us.
And, while each one bends to his task with every-growing fervor and energy, let us adopt a common symbol as our faith in Victory.
Let that Symbol be War Bonds. Let us pour our money in a gigantic flood of goodwill toward our sons and brothers, as a spiritual shield for them.
This is the Invasion. The lives of our boys are at stake. Let them see that the Soul of America is with them.
Let it not be too late...not next month, next week, or tomorrow, but today...now."
In February 1945, William’s grand nephew, William George Lloyd visited him and his wife, Cathreen. William George Lloyd was in the Navy at the time. His ship came to port at the naval base in Bremerton, Washington. Bremerton was only about 20 miles from where William Oberndorfer was living. Included below is a partial transcription of a letter from William to his grand nephew, William George Lloyd. The letter was dated February 21, 1945.
... Well today I am at it to answer, and first of all Cathreen & I want to thank you a million for the lovely red Roses. Don’t think there is anything that pleases your Aunt better than the Red Roses. Me, too. You don’t owe us anything; the pleasure to have you with us has more than paid what little trouble there was, only sorry you could not have been here a longer while, but I guess, as you say, a sailor here today and gone tomorrow. Sorry you could not have had the other Sunday with us as we wanted to get you down to Olympia to get some of their fine oysters and a trip to Hoods Canal, a fine drive of about an hour along the water. If ever you get near Gig Harbor, don’t stop to write, phone us at once [#]2437 and we will be here with lard in our hair and ears pinned back. How’s that? ... I am going to try and get down to the store tomorrow afternoon awhile to see how things are and will tell Barbara [Underwood] what you said.”
Shortly after his grand nephew’s visit, William Oberndorfer’s health began to fail. In the next letters that were written to William George Lloyd, both Cathreen and William Oberndorfer mention the latter’s health issues. It is not known exactly what William’s ailments were. However, it is poignant that the last letter he wrote to his grand nephew was dated March 21, 1945, just 3 weeks before William Oberndorfer died. Also worth noting is the fact that William George Lloyd had narrowly escaped death two days earlier (March 19th) when his aircraft carrier was bombed.
"Gig Harbor, Washington
March 22, 1945" [just 3 weeks before William Oberndorfer passed away]
"My Dear Nephew,
Your welcome letter rec’d and sorry [to] have to beg off for being so late in answering, but as you will probably know, I am not 100% yet and pretty wobbly. ... We rec’d your picture OK, but I am afraid we’ll have to put it the safe to keep it. Barbara [Underwood, a girl who worked for William and Della] [has] seen it and wanted to grab on to it, but Aunt Cathreen said ‘no, nothing doing, that is mine’. Well, thanks a million for it, Billy. We have been looking for you [on] the 6 o’clock bus, but here’s hoping you come back soon and give us a good visit. ... Well Billy, you almost caused a riot when the news was spread of a box [of] Red Roses. Who from? Where? How? etc., etc. Where is that sailor? Show me, hurry, etc. Don’t think anyone was hurt, but I think there was [a] loss of sleep that night. Next time you come again, you [had] better bring along about a regiment of sailors with you to handle the crowd. Ha! Ha! We do have a fine bunch of girls in Gig Harbor (all looking for sailors). How’s that? ... [We] Have plenty to eat. Your Aunt Cathreen is sure a good nurse, but too good. [She is] Making me lazy and I won’t want to do anything after I get going again. [She] Waits on me tooth and tongue, so you see what I have to overcome. Just too bad you did not know we were so close to Bremerton, as we might have seen more of you. Well, no use to cry over spilled milk. You’ll just have to have a visit here when you get away again. We have a fine country here and a good place to live and that ain’t all.?? Well Billy, I hope you can read the letter as my glasses and [eyes] don’t jibe very good. Aunt Cathreen sends her best to you, same as I. Hope these lines reach you and that you are OK. Don’t let your tonsils get you down.
Aunt Cathreen & Uncle Will
Your Uncle left a space for me to add a line. I want to thank you very much for the lovely box of candy, (oh my but it is good), and the gorgeous roses. Bill, you should not have done so much—and let me tell you how much we enjoyed having you with us. We just loved you at once and you just seemed to fit right in with us, even [though] we are a couple of “oldsters”. I think your Uncle Will was happier to have you than anyone else in the world. He just can’t talk of anyone else. And glad you liked Barbara [Underwood], too. She is a fine girl—and when she received her roses, she was the happiest girl. ‘Real roses for Valentine and red ones, too’, she cried—and said she never had a Valentine like that before—and asked me if she could call her pal June and tell her. All the girls were envious of her.
So Billie, when if ever you should come back to Bremerton, look us up right away—and when all this mess the world is in is ended, do make us a visit. We may not have the store—for I am sure we must get out of it, for it’s just so hard on both of us. After a long rest, we will find something to keep busy. Your Uncle was a very sick man; for a few days he had overdone and just gave out. [He] has been up and around the house—but not down town yet. .[..This is Washington’s Birthday and [the] store [is] closed all day. Barbara [Underwood] [has] been home this week with a ‘fluey’ cold. Saturday Will will be 73 years old. We will think of you anyhow. Now again, thanks for candy, the phone call and the roses—and most of all that you looked us [up].
On Monday evening, April 9, 1945, William died at his home at Shore Acres in Gig Harbor, Washington. He was 73 years old at the time. Funeral services were held at 2:00 p.m. on the following Thursday at Perkins Chapel, with the Revered Rolf D. Brandt, pastor of the Peninsula Lutheran Parish officiating. In an act of pure love, devotion and selflessness, Cathreen brought William's body back to Goshen for burial. Funeral Services were held the following Monday, on April 16th at the Culp Funeral Home. William was buried beside his first wife, Della, in Oakridge Cemetery in Goshen. A letter written by Cathreen to William George Lloyd, offers a heartrending insight into Cathreen's grieving heart.
I am writing on the train going back to Indiana -- Did you hear from Barbara? [Underwood] She told me just before I left, she had your letter and I know
she is quite proud to reply. Your dear old Uncle Will became ill again on Sunday,
April 8 --and on Monday [April 9, 1945] night slept peacefully away. So I am taking him to Goshen to lay him away beside his first love [Della Short Oberndorfer].
You of course did not know her, but he loved her before he knew me, and I think it's
the way it should be. I am thankful for knowing him and loving him and we were happy these years. Billy, you gave him much pleasure by coming to see him those few weeks and he talked so much of you. He was 73 Feb. 24 . He had his gold watch that
his mother gave him on his 21st birthday [February 24, 1895] and I know he would love for you to have it. So I am taking it to leave with your mother for you just as a remembrance of him. I loved you, too, Bill and hope some time to see you again.
|William Oberndorfer's watch that was handed down to William George Lloyd|
|William Oberndorfer's watch that was handed down to William George Lloyd|
|William Oberndorfer's watch that was handed down to William George Lloyd|
Cathreen's four siblings had predeceased her. Her only living relatives were nieces and nephews. Norris Overly of Detroit, son of Cathreen's sister, Ella, accompanied Cathreen to William's funeral in Goshen. After the funeral, Cathreen joined Norris on his trip back to Detroit. She had planned to return at once to Gig Harbor.
On April 18th, just two days after William's funeral, Cathreen was getting ready to take her train westward. It was nearing the dinner hour. Cathreen was feeling tired. She was persuaded to lie down and rest before her long trip. She fell asleep and it is heart wrenching to learn that Cathreen never awakened. Though the scientific cause of her death is not known at this time, it is safe to say that emotionally Cathreen died of a broken heart. Her love and devotion to William were unquestionable. Cathreen is buried in Jackson Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Caston, Ohio.
THANK YOU, CARLA SCHUBERT
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