Joseph Edward Wenzel

My Grandfather of Bon Secour, Alabama
by Vivian Wenzel Houser

     Joseph Edward "Ed" Wenzel (b: August 3, 1887 d: December 1967) was born in Bon Secour, Alabama. He was the first child of seven born to Joseph W. and Jessie J. Wenzel. Ed married Hela Donaldson (b: 2 April 1892 d: March 18, 1997) daughter of David and Modina Ellafair Cooper Donaldson of Seminole, Alabama. Siblings John Lewis (b: 3 July 1888 d: July 1962) married Ruth Dannelly, and later married Lucille McKenzie of Baldwin County. Frank (b: August 1891) married Ethel Hermecz, Jennie (b: 4 April 1895 d: May 1989) never married, George W. (b: August 1896) never married, Charles (b: 4 June 1900 d: June 1974) married Ann Laura Underwood of Baldwin County, and Emmet O'Neal (b: 17 July 1906 d: November 1987) married Vina Louise Morse, a Mississippi native.

     At present we have little information about Ed's paternal grandparents, German immigrants, John Wenzel of Wuerttemberg, and Anna Zant of Bavaria. Records do show that they married in Mobile County on October 24, 1859, and they appear in census and city directories as living in Mobile and later in Baldwin County. John was naturalized June 1867 and Anna as his wife would have been granted citizenship at the same time. We have no record of their deaths or places of burial. Their three children attended Catholic schools in Mobile.

     The first child born to John and Anna was Catherine "Kate" who married Frank Hecht of Foley, Alabama. Their daughter Annie married a Mr. Graham of Biloxi, Mississippi. Joseph (b: 12 October 1863 d: 19 March 1919 - buried Wynn Cemetery, Summerdale, Al.) was second born and married Jessie Cooper (b: 23 May 1870 d: 12 April 1946 - buried Pine Rest Cemetery, Foley, Al.) of Bon Secour. The third child John married Alice Cypert and lived in the Marlow and Point Clear areas of Baldwin County. John is buried in the Timney SRP Community Cemetery, Marlow, Alabama and sister Catherine's place of burial is unknown.

     The given name of my Cooper g,g,g,g grandfather is believed to be Joseph and he may have been born in Union, South Carolina about 1771. He married Elizabeth born in North Carolina about 1775 whose surname may have been Jordan. It is believed that there were at least eight sons born to Joseph and Elizabeth. Their son, Lewis Jordan Cooper (b: 1798) married Jane Cumbaa (b: 1813) of South Carolina. The fifth child of Lewis and Jane was my g,g, grandfather, Lewis Jernigan "Old Man Lou" (b: 18 May 1838 d: 22 January 1901) who first married Elizabeth Walker November 1860 and several children were born before her death. Lewis Jernigan then married Elizabeth Jennie "Jane" Wynn (b: 1844 Florida d: September 1906) of Summerdale, Alabama on 17 December 1866. Jessie J. Cooper was the third child of seven born to Lewis and Elizabeth Jennie "Jane" Cooper and would later be the mother of my grandfather Ed Wenzel.

     In the 18th century, Spaniard, Augustine LaCoste posted a claim on a large tract of coastal land that included a 54-acre river site later settled by Lewis and Jane Cooper shortly after reconstruction following the Civil War. From this site on the Bon Secour River, later to be known as "Cooper's Landing", farm produce, turpentine, and timber was shipped by schooner to the ports of Mobile and New Orleans. The well-tended Cooper home still stands today and is designated a Registered Historical Landmark.

     Joseph (Joe) Wenzel, son of John and Anna Zant Wenzel moved to Bon Secour, Al. He was as self-employed timber man, and superintendent of Swift Lumber Company located in that community. On 9 June 1886 Joseph married Jessie, the young daughter of Lewis and Jane Cooper. They built their home near the Lewis Cooper home at what is now the intersection of county roads 10 and 65 in Bon Secour. The Wenzel children grew up with school marm Miss Imogene Russell living in their home. She taught penmanship, the three R's, Geography and strangely, Greek. The Greek seems an odd subject, however, it is listed on several surviving "Class Merit" reports. Later Joe would be one of several persons to consolidate their schooling efforts by organizing the Swift Consolidated School on land donated by the Swift family.

     Following her mother's example, Jessie opened her home to church services. Services were later moved to the Woodsmen of the World Hall, and then in 1925, the Friendship Baptist Church was organized, and services moved to the newly constructed church building down river. Joe sent sons Ed and John to Birmingham, Alabama to attend Massey Business College. Young Jennie planned to be a teacher and studied at Daphne Normal School. However, family legend is that Jennie quickly became desperately homesick and caught a schooner heading south to Bon Secour, thus ending her teaching career.

     John Lewis owned and operated a mercantile business on Chicago Street in Foley and later a restaurant also in the young town of Foley. He later retired from Civil Service and lived in Bon Secour until his death in 1962. Frank was Postmaster of Gulf Shores where he lived with his family until his death. Jennie, having earlier abandoned her teaching career, remained in the old home place with brother George where they continued to run the family business. Charles worked in his brother's grocery and mercantile store, and owned and operated a dirt supply business that laid the foundation for many miles of county and state highways. His wife Ann died much too young and he was left to raise six young children alone.

     The building that would later become Wenzel's grocery store was in the beginning located a quarter mile to the north of its final location. The building was slowly moved by rolling logs down a hill, then up another hill before reaching its destination. The family story is that Emmet and his brothers would roll it so far, then he and Vina would live in it for a while, then he would roll it again.

     The store and a "filling" station across the road, also owned by Emmet, served the needs of the surrounding community for many, many years. Behind the station was the Bon Secour Ball Field where serious competition baseball games were played against rival county teams on Sunday afternoons.

     My grandparents, Ed Wenzel and Hela Donaldson first met at a July 4th picnic at the Patterson store down river. Ed's uncle, Lewis Dixon "Mose" Cooper, who was always playing cupid, encouraged a courtship and Ed soon sent a letter to Hela asking if he could call on her. After they married around 1914, they lived with Ed's parents until he built a home close to the Wenzel and Cooper homes. Ed farmed, raised cattle, hogs, chickens, worked timber & turpentine, and built a few homes. Five children were born to Ed and Hela; Helen Imogene (b: 29 March 1915 - d: February 1998) married Lawrence Nelson of Bon Secour, Alabama, Edward H. "Bud" (b: 11 February 1917 - d: 20 January 1994) married Norma Plash of Oyster Bay, Alabama, Orville D. "Andy" (b: 2 February 1919) married Hazel Callaway of Orange Beach, Alabama, Margaret (b: 11 March 1921) married W.H. Wilson of Kentucky, and my father George H. (b: 8 August 1923) married Carrie Waters of Gateswood, Alabama.

     Times became hard. Ed and several brothers moved to Michigan to work. Ed sent money home and Hela bought her first car. Hela was to have a lifelong love affair with cars and fishing, and would reluctantly give up both sometime in her 90s. Ed never drove a car, but did drive a tractor and we laughed when he told it to "whoa" and ran into a fence at the end of a row. We did not let him see us laugh as we loved him too much to run the risk of hurting his feelings.

     Ed freshened and changed from work clothes to khaki pants and a long sleeved white shirt before every evening meal. The Wenzel men always wore long sleeves even in the hottest weather, except for brother John, who was always considered stylish and quite daring by his brothers. It was said that he would even wear short pants!

     Ed and Hela faithfully attended church, first by horse and buggy, then later in Hela's car. Much later my grandparents purchased 40 acres on West Michigan Avenue, closer to Foley where Ed built a new home. This is where my earliest memories begin. I remember the red brick building called a "crib" where we played in the corn. There were baby pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, cows, rabbits, birds, squirrels, and always, at least one old patient dog. I still see Hela sitting on a stool in the chicken yard plucking down from the bellies of squawking geese. One wet bitter-cold night, I watched in awe as Ed placed newborn piglets still in their embryonic sacs into a quilt lined metal tub that he had placed next to the warm kitchen stove. Hela took in all manner of animal, and today we could call this little farm a "Petting Zoo."

     I remember how we children had to sit quietly when the crackling war news was broadcast. My father George, his brother Andy, and cousins Quitman and Van Cooper, were stationed on separate ships in the Pacific during World War II, and all activity was ceased for the war news. My grandparentís prayers were answered when they all came home safe. I remember Ed's well worn Bible, his newspapers, the Pos( and Look magazines, the radio static, licking cake mix from a wooden spoon, hiding beneath the big dining room table with the crochet table cloth that made a tent, and wonder of wonders, when their first crank telephone with party line was installed. I remember Ed rocking grandchildren and singing "Old Time Religion", "The Old Rugged Cross", and "Slap Her Down Again, Pa." I remember camping out at the watermelon patch to prevent thieving. And most of all, I remember Ed's kindness, his sweet smile, and the twinkle in his clear blue eyes.

     Ed and Hela made one last move sometime in the 50's when they purchased 40 acres and a large two-story home at the corner of State Highway 59 and East Michigan Avenue in Foley. Many happy memories were also made at this home that was always filled with good cooking and rambunctious grandchildren. This move put them within walking distance of daughter Margaret's store that operated for many years as Wilson's Grocery.

     Joseph Edward Wenzel died December 1967. Hela Donaldson Wenzel lived to be just a couple weeks shy of 105 years, and died March 18, 1997, 30 years after Ed's death. They are buried side by side at Pine Rest Cemetery, Foley, Alabama. During their many years together, dear gentle Ed waited patiently while Hela visited and visited. The family joke is that when Hela finally gave up this life. Ed's first words to her were, "What took you so long, Hela?"

     Written 2001 for The Baldwin County Heritage Book by Vivian Wenzel Houser, 414 West Myrtle Avenue, Foley, AL 36535.
     Sources: Census Records, County Records, Church Records, Newspapers, Family Stories, personal recollections.

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