Wednesday, December 31, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #52 Leona Violet Crispen Cole Allee

As the 52nd and last ancestor featured in 2014, I'm honoring my grandmother, who started me on this journey.

Over 20 years ago, my grandmother and I spent many hours going through her photo collection. If it were not for the photos, I might never have delved into my family history. When we started going through them, I had no idea who all these people were and how they related to me or to each other. I couldn't keep them straight on paper, so I bought my first genealogy program and started putting in names and dates.

The unknown photos captured my imagination, and I soon found myself launching into the research that has now grown my database to nearly 6000 names. Along the way I've identified unknowns, met new cousins and acquired photos for relatives I never knew I had. And I also turned to scrapbooking as a way to present and preserve the photos.

Leona Violet Crispen was born in Van Buren County, Michigan, on October 1, 1909, the youngest of three daughters of Daisy Myrtle Maddox and Clark Earl Crispen. The family later settled in the Lake Michigan resort town of Benton Harbor. Leona was the son her father never had. Instead of sewing, she learned to use his blacksmith forge, work on cars, develop film and print photographs.

Her parents divorced in 1921. I can't begin to image the impact on the young Leona. She must have lost friends and certainly her home life was disrupted. Her father moved to the house across the street, so she was able to move freely between her parents' homes. Because they had a civil and close relationship, she never doubted their love for her and her sisters.

During high school, Leona wrote poetry for the school newspaper and for the yearbook. Her love of writing poetry persisted through her life, as she contributed poetry to church and civic publications. After high school she took a job as a telephone operator.

On March 20, 1928, she eloped to South Bend, Indiana, with Clifford Royal Cole, a young man who worked in a foundry. She soon learned that he was unfaithful and cruel. His actions left their only daughter nearly blind and left Leona unable to have more children.

As the stock market crashed in the fall of 1929, her father lost the portfolio he had inherited from his sister. He was able to keep his house and, Leona, living with her father and her husband, decided to file for divorce. Imagine, for a moment, being 20 years old with a blind infant, an aged parent with no job, the economy in free fall and still choosing to end an abusive marriage. Her strength amazes me.

Leona decided about 1931 to leave the cold of Michigan and move to the warmth of California. Following the famous Route 66, she miscalculated a bit. She ran out of money and gas in the Northern Arizona town of Kingman. With her daughter, she lived under a bridge and in their car while she looked for some way to support them.

Her photography experience was her salvation. The old man who ran the local photography studio wanted to retire, so he hired her and she eventually was able to take over the business. However, she lived day-to-day and struggled through two more bad marriages and divorces during the Depression years. She married Everett Melvin "Jack" Stormer in 1932 and James Robert "Jim Bob" Turner in 1940.

About 1935, Leona had to place her daughter in boarding school at the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind in Tucson. She left Kingman behind and relocated to be near her daughter. World War II found her fixing airplanes and later working at the ration board.

On December 20, 1941, she married Fayette Franklin "Fate" Allee, her daughter's math teacher and, as a family, they built a stable life. After the war she found a secretarial job in the Tucson school district, where she worked until retirement.

Template and elements from Weekend at Home by  Kate Hadfield for Digital Scrapper, 2014

Leona cared for her mother in her final years, as well as helping her sisters care for their father during his decline. She was a nurturing person who also raised a nearly blind daughter and married a nearly blind man. Her kind, loving, fun and generous spirit was an anchor for our family throughout her life.

She was diagnosed with both breast cancer and skin cancer in the final few years of her life. Gardening in the hot Arizona sun for many years was the likely cause of the skin cancer that took her arm in 1997.

We invited family, neighbors and friends to help us celebrate her 90th birthday at her Oklahoma retirement center in October of 1999. She had a blast being the birthday girl.

The cancer took her from us on February 13, 2001. She was buried with her husband and her mother in South Lawn Memorial Park in Tucson.

As Leona's choices shaped her life, they affect her family to this day. Her descendants are an Arizona family because she stopped and stayed in Kingman. Her photographic experience became a life-long passion, leading to the vast collection of photographs, negatives and slides that came to me at her death. It is directly due to her choices that I am a scrapbooker and genealogy buff. And, of course, because of those hobbies, this blog exists.

So ends the series, 52 Ancestors in the 52 weeks of 2014. Please join me in 2015 for Murder at Mauvaisterre Creek, as I share the story of the murder of Leona's great-grandfather.

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