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Cerro Gordo County >> 1910 Index

History of Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Ed. and comp. by J. H. Wheeler. 2 vols. Chicago: Lewis Pub Co., 1910


Biographies submitted by Kay Ehlers.

N. F. Ward

N. F. Ward, whose postoffice address is Plymouth, Iowa, R. F. D., and who resides on a farm of one hundred and sixty acres in section 1, Falls township, Cerro Gordo county, came from Nebraska to this state in 1891. He landed in Cerro Gordo county in March, and first settled in Portland township, from whence two years later he moved to his present location, where he has since been engaged in general farming and stock raising.

Mr. Ward was born in Oneida county, New York, August 12, 1850, son of Joel and Mary (Smith) Ward, natives of England and New York state respectively. Early in the 50's the Ward family left New York and came west to Illinois and not long afterward went from there to Wisconsin, where their home was maintained until late in the '80s. Then they came to Iowa, and in Cerro Gordo county the parents spent the closing years of their lives and died. They left the son and three daughters, all of Cerro Gordo county.

His father a farmer, N. F. Ward was reared to farm life, and has continued in this line of work, meeting with success in his operations. He lived in Wisconsin until he was twenty-seven, then went to Butler county, Nebraska, and from Nebraska came to Iowa, as above stated.

In Illinois Mr. Ward married Nancy E. Marsh, a native of Rock county, Wisconsin, and a daughter of Edward and Catherine (Veach) Marsh, natives of the same county in which she was born. She is one of a family of three children. A sister, Mrs. Myra Cook, resides in Nebraska. Mr. and Mrs. Ward are the parents of three children : Grace, born in Illinois, Cora, in Wisconsin, and Pearl, in Nebraska. Grace is the wife of Joseph Johanni, a dealer in grain, live stock and coal at Union Center, Indiana. Cora is at home and Pearl died on May 22, 1910, at twenty-two years of age.

Politically Mr. Ward has made it a practice to cast his franchise with the Republican party, and at different times has served in local office. Socially, he is identified with the Yeomen and the I. O. O. F. of Plymouth, and Mr. and Mrs. Ward belong to the Rebekahs. The family are all members of the Methodist Episcopal church.

Mr. Ward has just recently sold his farm and expects to remove to Plymouth, Iowa, and retire.


One of the progressive captians [sic] of industry in Cerro Gordo county is William S. Wilcox, who is vice-president of the E. B. Higley Company of Mason City, one of the important concerns of the city and one that furnishes the best of facilities and service through its functions in the conducting of a modernly equipped creamery and cold storage plant and the handling of butter, eggs, and poultry, as well as in the manufacturing of Higley's “Luxus” ice cream.  Mr. Wilcox has been a resident of Mason City the greater portion of the time since 1893, and his entire career in a business way has been one of close identification with the produce trade and allied enterprises.  In the year following his arrival in Mason City he connected himself with the company of which he is now an executive officer and in the promotion of whose business he has give most effective aid, as an able executive and as a man of progressive ideas and policies. The business of the E. B. Higley Company dates its inception back to the year 1880 and Edward B. Higley has been identified with the enterprise from the time of its foundation.  Upon the incorporation of the company in 1901 he became its president and he is still incumbent of this office, being recognized as one of the substantial business men of Cerro Gordo county and having ever held a secure place in the esteem of the community.  As already noted Mr. Wilcox is vice-president of the company and the secretary and treasurer is Cornelius O'Keefe.  As may be naturally supposed the enterprise was one of modest order in it incipient stages but with the passing of years the reliable and excellent management brought to bear in the connection have been potent in the development of a splendid industrial and commercial enterprise and one that contributes materially to the prestige of the city in which its headquarters are maintained.  In the earlier years a specialty was made of handling large amounts of dairy butter produced in the northwest and finally was instituted the manufacturing of creamery butter.  This department of the business has expanded to wide scope and importance with the final addition of a large cold-storage building and another building which is utilized for the egg and poultry department. Branches are maintained at various points in northern Iowa and several buyers are engaged in traveling through Iowa and the surrounding states.  The plant at Mason City affords employment to about thirty men.

William S. Wilcox is thus to be recognized in this publication as one of the essentially representative business men in Cerro Gordo county.  He was born at Freeport , Illinois , on the 9 th of January, 1873 , and is a son of William and Barbara (Alward) Wilcox, both of whom were born in the state of New York .  His father died when the son was a child and when the latter was but four years of age, in 1877, his mother removed to Floyd county, Iowa .  In this section of the state Mr. Wilcox received a good education in the public schools and he has been dependent upon his own resources since early youth, thus being the more worthy of honor and credit for the splendid success he has achieved through his earnest endeavors.  Prior to initiating his independent business career he completed a course in a business college in Mason City .  For some time after identifying himself with the business with which he is now connected as an officer, he had charge of branch houses for the original firm and finally he assumed general supervision of the fifteen branch establishments, with headquarters at Emmetsburg for about three years, since which time he has been actively concerned in the administration of the affairs of the concern at its headquarters in Mason City.  It has been found expedient to reduce the number of branch establishments and the business is now conducted largely through the main headquarters in Mason City .

In politics Mrs. Wilcox is a stanch adherent of the Republican party and in the spring of 1909 he was elected to represent the second ward in the city board of aldermen, where he is proving a most valued and loyal supporter of good municipal government and stands exponent of the most progressive civic policies.  Mr. Wilcox is affiliated with Cerro Gordo Lodge, No. 70, Knights of Pythias, of which he was Chancellor Commander for two terms, and he is also a member of the Masonic Orders.  He is a member of the Methodist Episcopal church and its official board and is an active and popular figure in both business and social circles in his home city.


Great Britain has lost a large number of her good subjects to Cerro Gordo county, and among these is William N. Williams, who owns and operates a farm in section 25, Geneseo township.  He was born in Cornwall, England, in November, 1859, his parents being Peter and Priscilla (Nicholas) Williams, both of them being natives of Cornwall.  The father lives at present in Sheffield, Franklin county, and is seventy-eight years of age.  The mother died in 1903, at the age of seventy-two.  In 1869, Peter Williams brought his wife and five children to the United States.  They located at time at Hazel Green, Wisconsin, and then removed to a farm near Jamestown, Grant county, Wisconsin, which the father had purchased.  This was an improved farm with good buildings and other advantages.  In 1893 it was sold and in 1894 was replaced by a half section two miles from Sheffield, Franklin county, Iowa.  Here the family resided until 1898, when the father retired and made his home in the town of Sheffield.  William N. is the second of eight children, five of whom are living.  Harry and Thomas are in business in Sheffield, Albert is in the west and Annie lives at home with  her father.  John died when fourteen years of age, and Jessie, at the age of six months; Bessie, who was the wife of Edgar James of Sheffield , is also deceased, and Laura died at the age of forty-two years.  She was the wife of Esau Webb of Aberdeen, South Dakota.

In 1883 William N. Williams located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and remained there eleven years.  In the fall of 1894 he removed to Pleasant Valley, where he rented a farm for a year and in 1895 bought his present place of one hundred and sixty acres, all improved.

Mr. Williams was united in marriage in the month of September, 1885, to Miss Effie M. Keesler, a daughter of J. M. and Rhena Keesler.  They were residents of Sioux Falls, later living in Springfield, Missouri, and in 1903, came to Geneseo township to make their home with Mr. Williams.  They lived here but a short time, the father dying the following June, the mother's demise occurring in 1904 while upon a visit to her old home in Pennsylvania.  Mr. and Mrs. Williams have three sons : Albert J., Walter L., and Leslie P., all of them at home.  Mr. Williams is a loyal Republican and has served as secretary of the school board for fourteen years and as township trustee for twelve, his term in the latter office expiring in 1910.  Both he and his wife are members of the Fraternal Order of the Mystic Toilers.


The present city attorney of Mason City merits recognition in this publication as one of the fairly representative and distinctively able members of the bar of Cerro Gordo county, where the success in the work of his profession has been of unequivocal type, showing conclusively that his equipment for his chosen vocation is excellent, both from natural predilection and technical training.  Mr. Witwer is a native son of the Hawkeye state, as he was born in the city of Cedar Rapids , on the 4th of April, 1870 .  He is a son of John J. and Sarah (Harroun) Witwer who still retain their residence in that city.  John Jay Witwer was born at Williamsville, Erie county, New York, where he was reared and educated, and in 1860 he made his way across the plains and over the mountains to California, where he remained about seven years, at the expiration of which he took up his residence in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he has maintained his abode since 1867.  He has long been numbered among the leading business men of that city and through his honorable and progressive efforts has contributed his quota to its commercial and industrial precedence.  He has been engaged in the grocery business and also in the manufacturing of coffee and spices.  He still has interests in Cedar Rapids but is now living virtually retired.  The lineage of the Witwer family is traced back to the staunch Swiss stock, but the name early became identified with civic and industrial affairs in Holland , whence came the original progenitors to America about the 1627.  The family was founded in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania , and from the old Keystone state, John Witwer, grandfather of the subject of this sketch, moved to Erie county, New York , where he became a successful miller and influential citizen and businessman.  The mother of him whose name initiates this review was doubly orphaned when an infant and she was reared to maturity in the home of her maternal uncle, Robert Miller, in Batavia , New York .  She is of Scotch descent in the paternal line and on the maternal side the ancestry is traced back to English origin.  John J. and Sarah (Harroun) Witwer became the parents of four children of whom the subject of this review is the only son : Esther C. is the wife of Van Dyke Fort, who is general freight agent for the Illinois Central Railroad Company, at Cedar Rapids , Iowa ; and Rachel E. and Bertha H. remain at the parental home.

Robert M. Witwer gained his early education in the public schools of his native city, where he prosecuted a higher academic course in Coe College .  After leaving this institution he began reading law in the office and under the preceptorship of Judge N. M. Hubbard of Cedar Rapids , who had presided on the bench of Linn county.  Mr. Witwer was admitted to the bar in Cedar Rapids fifteen years ago, and in his native city he initiated the practice of his profession, besides which he was identified with surveying and other civil engineering work in that section for some time.  At the inception of the Spanish-American war Mr. Witwer enlisted in June, 1898, as a member of the Fifth Iowa Battery.  He was mustered out and received his honorable discharge in November 1898, and he then returned to his home city of Cedar Rapids , where he remained until the opening of the following year, when he removed to Mason City .  He has been actively and successfully engaged in the practice of his profession since the 31st of January of that year and he has gained an excellent reputation as a resourceful and versatile trail lawyer and as a counselor well informed in the minutia of the law and as one of exceptionally mature judgment.  He has finely equipped offices in the Cliggitt building.  He has taken an active interest in public affairs of a legal order since coming to Mason City and here is one of the influential factors in the council of the Republican party.  On the 25th of March, 1908 , he was appointed county attorney to fill out an unexpired term and he retired from this office in January of the following year.  He was appointed city attorney in December, 1908, and the public estimate made of his services in this connection was indicated by his election to the office in the spring of 1909.

On the 24th of June 1903 , was solemnized the marriage of Mr. Witwer to Miss Anna Dickinson Fay, who was born and reared in Ohio , and who is a woman of culture and gracious personality.  For several years prior to her marriage she was the principal of Mason City high school.  She is a daughter of Nathanial and Roxann (Woodburg) Fay, both descendants of families founded in New England in the early colonial epoch.  The father was born in the state of Maine and died in West Virginia , at the patriarchal age of ninety-five years ; the mother died at the age of thirty-seven years.  Mr. and Mrs. Witwer have one son, John J., who was born on the 21st of May, 1906 .


Among the useful and progressive citizens of Grimes township must be mentioned Hans Wohler, who owns and operates within its limits a homestead of eighty acres, all highly improved, together with two hundred and seventy-six acres elsewhere in Cerro Gordo and in Franklin counties.  Mr. Wohler was born in Holstein , Germany , July 7, 1856 , his parents being Jerry and Fredericka (Meier) Wohler, farming people who lived and died in their native country.  There were five children besides himself, one brother, Julius, now deceased, having lived in Iowa .

Mr. Wohler enjoyed the advantages of training in the excellent German schools and was sixteen when he came to America with his brother Julius.  He had very little capital with which to start when he made his initial venture at independence in 1872. He worked several years in Jackson county, Iowa, and one year in Elgin, Illinois, and he bought his first land in Cerro Gordo county, locating in Pleasant Valley township in 1879.  He now owns a good sized property and an interest in land in another locality.  He formerly handled considerable cattle, but has abandoned this in later years.  He is independent in politics, always supporting the community.  He was reared a Lutheran.