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An Ypsilanti Childhood…My Father, John Bogan Shepherd

An Ypsilanti Childhood…My Father, John Bogan Shepherd image An Ypsilanti Childhood…My Father, John Bogan Shepherd image An Ypsilanti Childhood…My Father, John Bogan Shepherd image An Ypsilanti Childhood…My Father, John Bogan Shepherd image
John Dobney Shepherd
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Ypsilanti Historical Society
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Edited by Peg Porter with Pamela Shepherd DeLaittre Background: this remembrance was written by John D. Shepherd (known to everyone as Jack) and shared by his daughter Pamela Shepherd DeLaittre. The Shepherds lived in Ypsilanti until 1956 when the family relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jack Shepherd’s father, John B. Shepherd, died before his grandchildren were born and this piece was written to let his children, Pam, John and Fred, know more about their grandfather and their father’s childhood. This is not going to be in good chronological order, but I will try and tell you all of the things that I remember that made my early years so enjoyable and made me love my dad so much. Of course it is a little difficult to tell you about when I was born, but it was in 1912 and we were living on Ann Street in Ypsilanti, MI in the same house that the finishing foreman at Peninsular Paper Co., Mr. Fred Holly, finally lived in. This was just around the corner from where I was a little kid and really the earliest time that I remember. Dad was 24 years old and was working at “The Mill” (Peninsular Paper Co.) at the time that I was born. He worked on the shipping dock. He had had a rough life up until he came to Ypsilanti and to the Mill. John Martin Shepherd, my grandpa, had come to Ypsilanti first as a millwright at the Paper Mill. My dad, (John B.) was born in Amanda, Ohio, a suburb of Middletown, Ohio, near Hamilton, OH. He lived there until his father got him to come to Michigan to work on a crew that was building dams up and down the Huron River for the paper mills that were to come. Dad had always been a big, strong kid and he was only in his early teens when he came to Ypsilanti. He was working with a tough crew of Mexicans on the dam building and he soon became foreman of the crew simply because he could lick any other member of the crew. It was necessary to have someone that could keep order amongst the employees. He was very strong and could lift 100 pound sacks of cement up on each shoulder and carry them to the job. After the dams were built, the Mill was looking for a strong roustabout type of individual to work in the yard and on the dock. Grandpa (John Martin) got the job for Dad from Mr. D. L. Quirk, Sr. Dad worked through various jobs until he became the shipping clerk. It was at this point that he first saw my mother, Ethel Dobney. It was never quite clear to me who was the moving factor in the romance. She used to sit out on the steps of her rooming house on Washington Street and wait for Dad to go by in the Mill’s horse and wagon and they would wave at each other but that was as close as they got for a long time. Finally, Dad got up the nerve to ask Herb Bisbee, a friend, to find out who she was and the romance progressed from there. The courting of John and Ethel was all done on the old horse and freight wagon of Peninsular Paper Co. He would pick her up and they would have picnics in what is now Peninsular Grove. John B. and Ethel were married July 5, 1910, in the Scovill home where Herb and Genevieve Scovill Bisbee were living and where Dad was rooming. After they were married, they bought the house on Ann Street. I came along August 24, 1912. We lived there for some time and then we moved to the house on the corner of what is now College Place and Washtenaw Avenue. It was there that Dad and Mother made the acquaintance of the Lister family. One of the most terrifying moments in their young married life was one day when the beer wagon pulled up in front of their house to make a delivery. It was ginger ale but Mother thought surely that the Listers, who were staunch Presbyterians, would think they had ordered beer. In those days the beer distributor hauled all of his wares in a horse and wagon and for a young couple to have the wagon stop in front of their house was unheard of! They did not live on College Place for very long. They moved to Lowell Street where I really for the first time come into the picture. I am not sure how old I was at this time, probably around four years old. Back in those days Montgomery Ward Company was a very real part of all family life. It was not only a large merchandizing company but it was also the place from where a lot of staple groceries were purchased. Everything came out of Chicago by train. I can remember my dad bundling me up in the winter time and starting off with me for the freight house to get our order. He used to pull me on my King of the Hill sled for which he had made a box so that we could carry the merchandize home. At Christmas Time there were many mysterious packages that arrived from Montgomery Ward. I could never handle those packages. They were private for my dad and mom. We always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Morning. We did not always have a tree but we always hung our stockings on the fireplace in the parlor and Santa filled them and left the larger packages on the hearth in front of the fireplace. Some of those larger packages looked an awful lot like those that we had hauled from the freight house but they couldn’t be because Santa had left them in our house and not in the King of the Hill delivery! My dad and mom were always quite lenient with us. We could sneak down stairs at any time on Christmas morning to see if Santa had come as yet and what he had left. One thing that we could always be sure of was that there would be the “Teddy B” series of books and Christmas Day was taken up partly by Dad reading one of the “Teddy B” and “Teddy G” books. They were teddy bears that lived in the woods and were like people. Christmas always meant that my Grandpa Shepherd (John Martin) would come from Kalamazoo, and of course, Grandma Dobney lived with us all of the time. So after my brother Bob came, we had six for Christmas dinner which in those days was a great big chicken. We couldn’t afford turkey, which was not as plentiful then as they are now. Grandma Dobney and Mom would always fix the Christmas dinner. Grandma Dobney always made sage dressing for the festive bird. We had cranberries which had been in one of the packages from Montgomery Wards. We also always had dried apples in one of the packages for apple pie, instead of pumpkin that we have now. After the dinner and the gifts were in shambles, Dad, Grandpa and I, and later Bob, would take a walk out in the cold brisk air, usually up into what is now known as Sleepy Hollow in back of the college. There was always one place we would have to go. It was to a large hole in the ground. I was told it was an elephant hole, although I never saw any elephant go in or come out. In later years I was convinced that someone had pulled my leg. One year Grandpa Shepherd drove over from Kalamazoo in his new car. It took him all day to come two hundred miles in his Willys Knight, the one and only sleeve valve car I have ever seen. Grandpa usually came over on the interurban, an electric car that ran from Kalamazoo to Detroit. Our first car was a Dodge Touring Car with side curtains and all of the modern conveniences. It had a self starter. You didn’t have to crank it. It was black and would go up to thirty miles per hour. It never went that fast as there were no roads that would take that speed. They were all sand or gravel “roads” and I use the term loosely. We went to Clarks Lake in the summers. It was forty miles from Ypsi and we would leave early in the morning and get to Clarks Lake in the late afternoon. How I remember Clarks Lake. We rented the cottage from some people in Jackson, MI. I remember most the General Store at the lake. I don’t know why unless it was there that I first tasted fruit drops like our life savers now. They also had ice cream for sale at any time you wanted it. We couldn’t keep ice cream because we didn’t have a refrigerator; only an ice box. We kept all of our perishables in the well house by the lake where we had cold artesian well water all of the time. We had no electricity, only kerosene lamps. My dad and I and sometimes my grandpa would go out fishing every day. In those days we would catch fish and not have to tell fish stories. Dad would clean them and Grandma and Mom would fix them for supper on the kerosene stove. Boy, were they good right out of a cold lake. Usually, once while we were at the lake we would go into Jackson, about 15 miles away, and did I look forward to this. We would go to a movie and have lunch at the restaurant; something that we did not do at home. It was here that I first met some show people. The people who rented the cottage next to ours played in stock companies and were the nicest people but different from us. They were always quoting from plays that they were in and all of them could play a musical instrument; so we never lacked for entertainment. After the summer was over we came back to Ypsilanti. The First World War was just about to begin and everybody was so conscious of the needs of the service men who were going to Europe to fight for world peace. The German armies had overrun Armenia and we were all conscious of the starving Armenians. The Red Cross was putting on one program after another to raise money. One of the features was a parade put on by the Red Cross and the War Bond committee to sell War Bonds. This was in 1917 and I was a poor little Armenian waif on the Paper Mill truck. I was being held by Pearl Filkins, Dad’s secretary, who was Miss Liberty and we were in an old Pierce Arrow truck with a chain drive and the chain was forever slipping off and Bud Robtoy would have to put it back on. If you had ever seen your dad then, a real ragamuffin, you would never have claimed him as your dad. One of the most memorable events that took place each year was the coming of the Ringling Brothers Circus. It came to Ypsilanti each summer and played on the circus lot on Hamilton Street near what is now Ainsworth Drive. There was a big open field in the middle of the block south of Ainsworth. My dad and mother always took Bob and me to the show. It was mostly a wild animal show, but it later became The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Combined Shows. Also every summer, we had the Redpath Chautauqua come to the same lot. Here we saw some of the greatest actors of that time in some of the greatest melodramas of that era. They also had great musical stars like Harry Lauder, great violinists, and one year the Sousa Band. Of course we always had medicine shows that sold snake oil that would cure anything from an earache to ingrown toe nails, tape worms, the summer complaint and, believe it or not, they were all friends of Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickock and they always had real live Indians who made up the wonderful potions. Then of course there was the Weurth Theater where every Saturday the year round we could see the best Wild West Shows with Tom Mix, Buck Jones, etc. and a continued serial that always left you with the hero just about to be burned at the stake by unfriendly Indians or run over by a wild buffalo stampede. Then we would get there the next Saturday to see the hero or heroine saved only to be put into another death defying position. It may sound like all we did was go to the shows but that was not the case. When I was still in grammar school at the Michigan State Normal Training School, my dad was playing baseball for the Peninsular Paper company baseball team in the city league. Besides the paper company, the league was made up of teams from the Stove Works, the Ladder Company, the Foundry and the Coaster Wagon Factory. Dad was a fine pitcher and had played baseball in high school in Ohio. The Peninsular Paper Company had been making the paper for the Chicago Tribune Newspaper. They were printing it on fine rag content paper. The same type of paper we now find being made by such companies as the Crane Company for the finest writing papers. This was very expensive. The Mill was the only source of supply that the Tribune had and they demanded that another mill be built across the river from the present mill. This plant burned down and at about the same time the Tribune started using ground wood newsprint as is used now. Peninsular could not compete with the new high speed newsprint mills that were springing up in Canada so they lost the Tribune contract. This left the Mill with production of ground wood papers but no customers so they decided to try to make ground wood covers for booklets and, having rag paper before, they also made rag grade. The Mill had no sales force so Mr. D. L. Quirk, who was president of the Mill, started out on the road to try to interest book publishers in the Mill’s first cover papers. He was only relatively successful, and, as he was needed back at the Mill to administer the business, he had to find someone else to do the selling. He approached Dad, and, although Dad had no more idea what it took to be a salesman, he started out. This is how Dad got into the sales end of the Paper Mill. I have gotten a little ahead of myself so I guess I had better go back to my earlier days and the story of our family before Dad’s selling experience. There was a creek that ran through Sleepy Hollow, but before it got that far it also ran past Bissel’s Store and Norton’s Greenhouse. In back of both of these establishments we used to hunt for crayfish, minnows and once in a while small turtles and small fish. I think it is these experiences that have hung on all of these years and has started me on my poems about the brooks and the tiny bugs and animals. One of my early recollections about the Michigan State Normal College was that every spring on the first of May they had a May Day celebration out in Sleepy Hollow. They always danced around the May Pole and of course all we kids had to be there and we were. In 1919, Dad and Mother bought the house on Congress Street at the corner of Summit Street. At that time there was a dusty gravel street out in front and on the side of the house. The Summit Grocery was in the back end of what later became Fred Walton’s house on the corner of Summit and Congress. Across Summit Street from our house was the Pray family home. Dr. Carl Pray, head of the History Department at the college, and his family lived there. We had one of our first baseball diamonds in their backyard. They had four children, Carl, Audrey, Ellen and Joe. Across the street on Congress from the Pray backyard was the home of the Burrell family. Besides Mr. and Mrs. Burrell there were Wesley, Eugene, Sylvia, Alfred and Allen Chester. The other kids in the neighborhood were Andy Smith, son of the electrician, and later the Walton and the Westcott kids. Living next to the Burrells was the Young family. Dick Young was the first airplane pilot in the city and he used to take people up for rides from Recreation Park. He had a Waco Biplane and gave me my first airplane ride. My grandfather was a miller by trade and also a machinist. He came to Midland, Michigan from England to work in the flour mill in that city, a village then. I am not sure of the year, but I believe it was in the late 1880s. It was in Midland that he met Nellie Sproul and they were married. My mother, Ethel, was born in Midland, September 11, 1885 and died March 15, 1958. When your Great Grandpa Dobney came to this country and to Midland, he worked as a miller and took care of the milling machines. This led to his next job in Ann Arbor at the Hoover Steel Ball Company. Here he was in charge of maintenance of the machines. He roomed in Ann Arbor and your Great Grandma Dobney lived with us in Ypsilanti. Great Grandpa Dobney came over every weekend to visit. He took the interurban electric car that went down Cross Street in Ypsilanti. He went back to England once to see his family and never returned to Ann Arbor. My Grandma Dobney lived with us from then on until her death. My brother, Bob, and I never knew what it was to be without a Grandma in the house until we were in our teens. (Notes by Peg Porter: John (Jack) Shepherd was the Class President of the Ypsilanti High School Class of 1931. He married Barbara Jean Choate of Greenville in August of 1940. They had three children: Pamela, John and Frederick. In 1956 the family moved to the Minneapolis area where Jack had been hired to work for a Minnesota paper company. Jack Shepherd died in 1999 from complications related to ALS (often referred as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). His wife Barb lived into her nineties, passing away in June 2012.)

Photo Captions: 1. John Bogan Shepherd moved to Ypsilanti when he was in his early teens.

2. John Dobney Shepherd was born in Ypsilanti in 1912 and lived for a time in a house on Ann Street.

3. Both John Dobney Shepherd and his father worked at the Peninsular Paper Company that was located on the Huron River. The power plant that supplied electricity for the mill was located across the river.

4. A group from the Peninsular Paper Company (Circa 1925): (front row – left to right) Vasily Preinishnicoff, Harry Johnson (Superintendent), John Bogan Shepherd (Sales Manager), Howard Cooney (Assistant Superintendent) Paul Snowman (Technician) and George Rominski (Office); (back row – left to right) ????, Dan T. Quirk (Assistant Sales Manager), Bud Robtoy (Traffic Manager) and John Dobney Shepherd (Technician). Jack Shepherd is on the far right in second row. His father is third from the left in the first row.

5. The Shepherd house on Congress Street as it looks today.