Tuesday, January 14, 2014

January 14, 1956

A little over a month ago in December 2013, my beautiful Mother, Emma Jean Burris Lensing, joined my Father in Heaven/on the other side, whatever your beliefs.  Today would have been their 58th wedding anniversary and that is all I have been able to think about today.  So in honor of them and their 54 year marriage I am posting a little bit of information about that beautiful day... .

Fifty eight years ago, January 14, 1956, my parents Thomas Andrew Lensing and Emma Jean Burris stood before God, family and friends and were married, to love and to cherish, from this day forward, until death do they part.  The wedding took place at St. Edward's Catholic Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, at 9:00 a.m.   My Dad's older brother, Father Michael Lensing, OSB, officiated.  Mom wore a simple but elegant white satin tea-length dress with long sleeves and a fitted waist.  She wore a shoulder length veil with a satin crown, beautiful drop pearl earrings and white pumps. The tea-length dress was designed, as etiquette required at the time, for a morning wedding.  Here is a photograph of of Mom in the dress with Dad and the church altar in the background.

The story of the dress is that Mom had it made by the same dress maker as a friend of hers from where she was working at the time.  Mom worked at Jack East Insurance and her friend Stella was getting married right before her and she recommended her dress maker.  As you can tell by the photo, Mother looked absolutely radiant.  I have the lovingly-boxed dress, slip and veil sitting on a shelf in my closet.  Nice family heirloom I hope to pass on to one of my nieces someday.   Her co-workers at Jack East gave her a lovely bridal shower at Riverdale Country Club in Little Rock where Rebsamen Golf Course is now located.

The wedding was a beautiful event, held at St. Edward's Catholic Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.   The Church was established in 1885 but the church they were married in and still stands today was built and dedicated in 1901.  Its architectural style is Gothic and still stands as one of the most beautiful churches in the State. 

As beautiful as the church was, the wedding itself was a little complicated by  very strict Catholic Church doctrine and  rules of the day.  Back then, only Roman Catholics could participate in Roman Catholic weddings and the lives of my Dad and his family were very much run by church rules.  He couldn't even marry her in the faith unless she became Catholic, which she did.   She was born and raised in the First Baptist Church in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, but became a Roman Catholic for love.  The witnesses, singers, musicians, even photographers all had to be Catholic.  So did the ushers, but Dad's brother, my Uncle Jim Lensing, threw his weight around and there was one concession made:  my mother's brother, Bill Burris, got to be an usher.   So the only two non-Catholics in the ceremony were the bride's brother Bill and Grandfather Burris, who gave the bride away. 

There were only two attendants standing up for Mom and Dad.  Dad's cousin Gilbert "Chick" Lensing and his wife Evelyn were groomsman and bridesmaid.   Mom could not ask her best friend or even her sister because they were not Catholic, but my parents were very appreciative of Chick and Evelyn for taking part.  Her best friend was also married to a professional photographer and he offered to photograph the wedding as a gift, but nope, he was not Catholic.  

The music, however,  was one of the unforgettable parts of the ceremony according to Mom.  She asked Charlie Olletta, who happened to be Catholic and who she also knew from work, to sing at the wedding.  He brought his own organ/piano player as well, who also happened to be Catholic, so luckily this worked out.   One of the highlights of his repertoire was singing "Panis Angelicus".   Mom always mentioned how beautiful he sang this song when she talked about how wonderful the music was at her wedding, and the song was so revered my sister had it sung at her wedding 30 years later.

Although it was cold, it was a beautiful day and everyone was happy.  Grandfather and Grandmother Burris were both there to see their beautiful daughter get married, as well as Mom's youngest sister and brother attended.  All of Dad's 3 sister's and 5 brothers were there, as well as my Grandmother Anna Lensing. 

Following the wedding, they held a breakfast at Granoff's Restaurant on Main Street in downtown Little Rock.

For their Honeymoon, they went to New Orleans, LA, with a few stops at some horse race tracks along the way.  (Horse racing in the Lensing family is another story for another time).  

        Jean Burris arriving at the church, so happy and full of hope for the future.

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas A. Lensing at Granoff's Restaurant in Little Rock for the wedding breakfast following the ceremony.  Mom told me she had French toast that morning.  Knowing Dad, he had bacon and eggs with plenty of ketchup.


                  Jean's parents, George and Louise Burris of Arkadelphia, AR

Tom's Mother, Anna Heim Lensing (Gram as we called her) and his brother Father Michael Lensing, OSB, who officiated.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Remembering Crittenden...

I have seen just about every nook and cranny of this state called Arkansas. Not only have I spent the majority of my life here, I travel a lot on my job...a LOT.  I have driven highways, by-ways, roads, streets, alleys, neighborhoods, mountains, valleys, and even a cow pasture.  Yes, I drove across a cow pasture looking for a little tiny school in a little tiny town.  Actually my GPS drove me to this said pasture - not sure what it was thinking.  My colleagues and I just stopped in the middle of the thing, said hello to the staring and munching cows and tried to re-group and get back on track.  This was one of the funnier adventures I have found myself in the middle of while traveling for work.

Today I arrived back home from another work trip in the great city of Arkadelphia, AR.  I was there most of the day doing a workshop for teachers at the Dawson Educational Cooperative.  Great people!  Great place! 

Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with family stories/history.  Well, Arkadelphia holds a very dear place in my heart.  It was the place my mother was born eighty years ago.  It was the place where my grandfather and grandmother built their beautiful home and raised their family.  It was the first place I ever visited, as a baby in 1960, outside of Little Rock where I was born. From 1938 to 1980, when my grandmother Burris passed away, their house was a place of happiness, togetherness and joy for all of us.  Many games of football were played by us grandchildren in the front yard of the house on Crittenden Street.  Many holiday celebrations, birthdays, family reunions, and just whiling away a nice summer Sunday was had and enjoyed by all.

Those sweet memories are with me today and always will be, and I want it to stay that way.  You see, whenever I go to Arkadelphia on business or drive past on my way to and from Texas, or wherever, I try to at least visit my grandparent's graves  - if there is time.  Every once and a while I'll get the urge to drive by the house and see how it is holding up.   I did that today and I think it will be my last time. 

The house is still in pretty good shape for it's age ( built in 1938) solid rock all the way around with a big beautiful red brick chimney reaching to the sky.   Aside from it taking a direct hit from a tornado in the 90s, it is still standing strong.  The inside has been re-done, probably many times over since 1980, from what I can tell and what I have heard.  It's what I see on the outside that really bothers me.  My grandparents kept the most beautiful flower gardens and lawn.  The grass was always mowed and trimmed to perfection and there used to be a lovely pecan tree right outside the back door (great for climbing when you are a kid).  Grandmother took care of her flower beds and shrubbery, and knew everything that was in her yard.  My grandfather would get on his hands and knees and personally trim the edges of the lawn to perfection.   The outside of the house was made of beautiful stones my grandfather had brought in from Hot Springs, that wide- open town full of gangsters, movie stars, and the clearest, hottest spring water in the country.  Their house took pride of place in the neighborhood and they were so proud of it.

As I drove by the house today, I noticed the yard:  the flower beds were empty, the yard was grown up, the shrubs were cut down to nothing and someone had planted two ornamental trees on each side of the walkway that leads up to the front steps...I couldn't even see the grass where we used to play football and practice our cheers and do those cart wheels across the yard.  The stone was still there of course but the siding was no longer that beautiful white contrast against the rocks...someone decided to paint it brown-- dark brown.   Yuk.

I could say that now the house no longer looks like the same place where I grew up, but it hasn't in a very long time, and I don't want to see it again.  I want to remember it the way it was, the beautiful way it looked when all of those memories of mine were being made.  When the house was filled with all of the people I love, enjoying each other's company and being happy.  That is what I want to remember, to hold on to.

So whenever I make that trip back to Arkadelphia for work, and I'm sure there will be many more, when I am finished I'll just get in the car and head out.  Leave the house as it is now behind for the people who own it today... and keep my memories of that beautiful home on Crittenden Street with my grandmother in the kitchen cooking dinner and my grandfather in the den sitting in his favorite chair and watching his favorite sports team.  That is the way it will always be to me.  That is the way I want to remember it. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Thomas Andrew Lensing - Part I

I have been thinking a lot of my Dad lately, which isn't too unusual because reminders of him are everywhere, and I think about him all the time.  I have especially been wanting to start blogging  about him and his life, his life though my eyes anyway.  So here is my first story...

Thomas Andrew Lensing Sr., or T.A. as he was so lovingly called, was born on March 6, 1928 and died on August 19, 2010.  A lot of life was lived in those 82 years and I have been having a hard time trying to decide where to begin.  That is why you have not heard from me in a while...there are so many memories, so many stories, and so much to say about him that I have developed a serious case of writer's block.  I just do not know where to start.  

So I decided to start with a photo, two photos in fact.  The first one is Dad, in about 1939 or 1940 with his pet white rabbit.  

He mentioned this rabbit off and on all his life so it must have been a special pet.  Too bad I never asked him if the rabbit had a name... .  The only thing I remember hearing about it, other than how much he must have loved it,  is how it died...a cat got him.  Since I have two indoor cats that I absolutely adore, we will not dwell on that.

Suffice it to say, Dad loved his white rabbit and rabbits in general all his life, which brings to mind a few other memories I have of Dad and rabbits that I want to share.

Dad grew fabulous tomato gardens and he would sometimes plant lettuce, cucumbers, and other wonderful vegetables thereEvery summer, every year of my life, as far back as I can remember, he grew tomato/vegetable gardens. And they were organically grown:  no pesticides or other poisonous substances were used...he didn't want to kill the birds or other animals visitors he had to his garden.   Although he never entered his tomatoes in prize winning contests, I am here to tell you they were one of a kind delicious!  If I remember correctly, he usually grew a type called Better Boys.  They were big, red, and juicy, and It just wasn't summer without them.  

I guess I have drifted off topic from the rabbits so I'll get back on it.  Dad's vegetable garden is a blog unto itself for a later date.

There were several wild bunny visitors to his garden over the years and he had to do something to keep them from eating away all of his luscious summer delicacies.   So, a plan was hatched (no pun intended).  Giving my Dad's love of rabbits, killing them was totally out of the question.  So he went to the trouble of relocating them.  He would put out live traps and catch them, then take them to a wooded area where there were other rabbits and where he knew they would be OK.  That was my Dad, he had a  big heart for nature and wild things and I am so proud of him for that.

My other  memory is of a little toy white rabbit  that Dad had when he was a little boy.  This rabbit was made of plaster and about 4.75 inches tall.   The little guy stood up on his two hind legs, wore a vest, a dress coat with tails and a tie around his neck.  He is a rabbit dressed like a little man - a dashing little man at that.  How do I remember such detail?  I have it here with me as I type.     

Dad acquired this cute little toy, according to Mom,  way back when he was a boy growing up in the family home in Scranton, probably for his birthday one year.  Now one needs to remember that back in the 1930s, children didn't get the hords of toys that kids do now for birthdays and holidays.  So this was a special toy for Dad, maybe one of the very few he received.  

He told me that he put this rabbit up in the front window of the attic of his home one year, and the little guy sat up there in that same spot, looking out, until the home was sold many decades later.  He remembered that little rabbit all those years,  went up to retrieve it and brought it to his home in Little Rock where it was kept until he died.  

Mom gave it to me because I did a little plastic surgery on the bunny one year that Dad was so happy with.  As old as that little piece of plaster was, it held its shape pretty good but the painting was mostly worn off.  So, I took paint to brush one day and gussied that little rabbit up with a new white body, newly painted suit and a new tie around his neck.  My choice of colors for the suit and tie were probably a little different than what was originally there, but I digress again.

Dad was so pleased that he thanked me with a big smile on his face.  Mom remembered that and gave it to me after Dad passed away and I'll treasure it always.  Sometimes when I'm holding it and looking at it I think of the smiling little boy and how his little fingers held it way back then, over 75 years ago.  I don't know which came first, the live white rabbit or the toy white rabbit, but one thing I do know is that Daddy loved them both.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lensing-Heim Wedding: A Bright Start in Life

Casper and Anna Lensing, my paternal grandparents, were married September 5,  1911.   Dad always told me that the wedding was a special one, as Anna was the oldest daughter of George and Elizabeth Heim, and very special in their eyes.  She was a very petite young woman with a 21 inch waist, which is easy to see in the accompanying photo.  This photo always hung in my grandmother's home above the photos of each of her nine children.  It was in a large glassed-in shadow box with a beautiful carved wooden frame.  Her original wedding veil was inside the box too, wrapped around the photograph, and I remember how I would stand and stare at that picture whenever I was there - there was a magical quality to it, it was beautiful.   

From what Dad told me, Great Grampa Heim built a huge platform stage for dancing and the wedding party lasted three days.  It was documented on the front page of the the local newspaper, The Scranton Independent.

Here is the article dated September 15, 1911:

The Scranton Independent
OUR MOTTO:  To Boost Scranton, Logan County, and Old Arkansaw, First, Last, and Then Some More." (I just love that!) 


"On Tuesday, September 5th, at 9 o'clock a.m., during High Mass at the Catholic church at Morrison Bluff, Ark., Casper Lensing and Miss Annie Heim were united in marriage according to the rules and usages of the church by Rev. Martin Fleig.

After the ceremony, the bridal party were escorted by the Morrison Bluff Silver Cornet Band to the hospitable home of the bride's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Heim, where they were joyously welcomed by a large concourse of relatives and friends.

A long table that would probably seat 30 or 40 people was loaded down with every description of eatables, as fast as one crowd satisfied the wants of the inner man another took their places, and this was kept up all day and far into the night.  Several beeves, hogs, etc., were slaughtered to take care of the big crowd.  No one went hungry or dry.

Dancing was one of the pleasant features, and the splendid music, handsome men and lovely maids and matrons, all combined with glorious weather and beautiful surroundings, reminded one of some of the famous Aladdan Lamp fairy scenes.

The happy couple were the recipients of many beautiful and costly presents, and their start in life seems indeed bright.

Among those in attendance from out of town were:  Herman Lensing of Little Rock; Mrs. Threasia Lyons of St. Louis; Mr. and Mrs. Pete Schmitz and family, Mr. and Mrs. M. J. Heim, Mr. and Mrs. Willie Heim, with their families, Mrs. M. A. Heim and Miss Barbara Heim, all of Ft. Smith; Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lensing and family of Shoal Creek.  It is a conservative estimate in giving the number in attendance at 400.

Casper Lensing is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lensing of Shoal Creek, and secretary of the Scranton Mercantile Co.; a young man that makes and holds your friendship and respect by his sincerity, truthfulness and utter abhorence of anything underhanded.

Miss Annie is the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Heim, and by her ladylike manner, sweet disposition and charming personality, has won the respect and esteem of all who have been fortunate enough to meet her.

The Independent, with hosts of others, wish Mr. and Mrs. Lensing all that life holds dear to the young, and that their old age may be tempered and shorn from the winds of adversity."

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Lensing - German Beginnings

The photo you see here is from May 1984.  The occasion of the get-together was my Grandmother's funeral.  Anna Heim Lensing died that year and the family was gathered in Scranton, Arkansas, to pay our respects and say goodbye to "Gram" as we grandchildren called her.  At 92 years of age when she died, Gram was the Matriarch of a large and mighty family, as she became head-of-household - though not of her own choosing - in 1936 when my Grandfather Casper Lensing died of pneumonia.  More on that later.

Some of us grandchildren are in this photo (I am in back row, second from left) and we are standing on the front porch of the old Lensing homestead - home of Henry and Christine Lensing, my great grandparents.   During this trip I remember as we were walking around inside the old, empty, house, I ran into an angry wasp that gave me a sting on the neck I'll never forget.  Also I remember seeing some pieces of the original wallpaper still hanging on a few of the walls.  It was a pretty floral design with a dusty rose background.  Perhaps one of the girls bedrooms???   I peeled a piece off and took it with me and still have it to this day - it was in surprisingly good shape.  

On the back of the picture was written the following:

"Home of Henry and Christine Lensing in Dublin, Arkansas, May 1984, on occasion of funeral of Anna Lensing."

A cousin, who I believe took the photo, sent a copy of it to me along with a document with some historical information.   It is as follows:


"Information provided to (my cousin) in letter dated March 15, 2007, from Fred C. Forst," (physical address and email address redacted by me)

"During the nineteenth century the U.S. Government granted large tracks of sparsely populated public lands to railroad companies with the requirement that the railroad companies construct a railroad through the area.  The railroad could then sell the land to settlers to pay for the construction and simultaneously gain customers for their service.  Such was the arrangement in the 1870s with the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad (LR&FSRR) that ran between these two Arkansas cities through the Arkansas River Valley north of the river through Clarksville.   The LR&FSRR decided to set aside most of their land-grant to Logan County for sale to German Catholic settlers.  They encouraged and aided the Benedictine religious order from St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana, who founded New Subiaco Abbey in 1878, and the Convent of the Immaculate Conception, also in Indiana, who founded St. Scholastica Convent in the Shoal Creek community in 1879 (St. Scholastica Convent later moved to Fort Smith, AR.)

A man named Anton Hellmich, editor of Amerika, a German-language newspaper in St. Louis, bought some of this land for speculation purposes.  On 5 November 1879, he sold 440 acres to Herman Lensing, a recent immigrant from Prussia (Germany).  For the tract, he received $3000.00.  The deed was recorded on 5 December 1879.  Herman Lensing was the vanguard of the immigrants from Germany that are the concern of this story.  Three of his brothers, Bernard, Henry and Johan, would follow sometime in the next two years.  Joseph Buss also came with three Lensing brothers.  It was Henry Lensing who would make the permanent settlement in Logan County.

Henry Lensing's parents were Johann Heinrich Lensing and Maria Adelheid Dieks of Westphalia, Prussia.  This couple must have initially lived in Borken then moved to the nearby village of Burlo where they are recorded in church records as Henricus Lensing and Aleida Dickes (Dicks or Diks).  Borken is west of Muenster in the modern German state of Nordheim-Westfalen, not far from the Netherlands border.  The death card of Henry Lensing states that he was born in Kloester Burlo, Westphalia.  "Kloester" means cloister, but I have not been able to find any information about a monastery in Burlo.  Henry Lensing's birth is recorded in the baptismal register in Burlo as 14 February 1836.  (Over the years, several member of the family, including Fr. Michael, General, Cooky and Nicky have visited Burlo and found this baptismal register in Burlo, a tiny potato-farming community-with outstanding beer at the local tap!!  The register is presumably still there today if anyone should ever wish to see the entry.)

As best I can determine from existing county records, information from my mother, and from those unreliable parish records, three of Herman's brothers, Bernard Joseph, Johann Joseph and Johannes Henricus (Henry), came to America about 1881....Of the brothers Henry was the only one who was a long-term resident of Logan County.  All who carry the name and trace their ancestry to Logan County are descended from him and his eight children, including Casper Lensing.  Henry immigrated with his wife, Maria Anna Roesing, and at least one daughter.  Maria Anna, his first wife died at Shoal Creek on 31 August 1881.  Later, on 11 November 1884, Henry married Christine Duelmer with whom he had eight children, including Casper Lensing who would marry Anna Heim.  Henry lived until 1924 and is buried in St. Scholastica Cemetery, Shoal Creek, Arkansas, as is his wife Christine.  (We have visited this cemetery in Logan County during past family reunions.  We have also visited the old homestead of Henry and Christine Lensing, an abandoned house, where their family was reared.)

Casper and Anna had nine children:  Helen, George, William (later Fr. Michael), Dorothy, Mary Jane, Leo, James, Casper (Cap) and Thomas, all born in Scranton, Arkansas, in Logan County."

In the passage above, the names in BOLD represent the direct descendents of Johann Heinrich Lensing.    Members of my family tree.  So the "begats" go like this:

Johann Heinrich Lensing married Maria Adelheid Dieks, parents of
Johannes Henricus (Henry) Lensing married Christine Duelmer, parents of
Casper Martin Lensing married Anna Crescence Heim, parents of
Thomas Andrew Lensing married Emma Jean Burris, parents of
Barbara Louise Lensing (Me)

Below is a photo of Henry and Christine Lensing and their children (the family of my grandfather Casper Martin Lensing, back row, second from left)  If sources are correct, here are the names:  Back row:  Aloise, Casper, Teresa, Herman, Henry.  Front row:  Joseph, Henry, Anna, Christine, Rosa.  It is very possible that the house in the background is the very one that is in the photograph at the beginning of this entry - the old abandoned house that once belonged to the Henry Lensing family.  (German only spoken here!)


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hello - thanks for giving my blog a read.

First of all I'll get some housekeeping things out of the way: This blog is written for your enjoyment, and I also hope you learn a few things about the family you did not know.  The text on this blog is copyrighted, the photos are not.  If you are family or friends and like one of the photos you see here in my blog, please help yourself to a copy - just do not claim to have taken them yourself.

If you read anything I have posted and have something factual to add, I would love for you to contact me and let me know so I can add it to the blog.  I am always interested in more family history information. 

You will notice that most of the information is of our human family members, but I will also included our furry family members as well.  They are important too - they help make the lives we live more enjoyable and worthwhile.

So sit back and learn a little bit more about the Lensing and Burris families, not to exclude the Heim and Herrington families, of course.  

I hope you enjoy your time here and as my dear Great-Aunt Emma Burris Crites used to say as we would back our car out of her dusty, gravel driveway, "Ya'll come back soon!"