Speese Family Biography



(Written by Ava Speese Day, St. Paul, Minnesota and submitted by Darrell R. Fransen)

There were 17 children born in the Speese family. Howard was born at Westerville, Nebraska, where his father grew up and his mother and father were married. He was born in the house built by Grandpa Moses Speese, a frame house, in 1895.
Lena, Ava, and Celeste were all born in a sod house on the homestead near Torrington, Wyoming. Clifford, Kenneth, Lela and Homer were also born in a sod house near Brownlee, Nebraska, with Grandma Meehan as midwife. The four oldest children had Grandma Speese as midwife; none of the children were born in a hospital. Nelson and Norma, the first set of twins, were born in Thelford, Nebraska. Sylva, the first child born in South Dakota, was born on the Blair place. Dean was born on the place where Luella Bush now lives. The second set of twins, Allen and Elaine, were born on the Morgart place, as were Maynard and Roger. Shirley was also born on the present Luella Bush place.

The Speese family moved to South Dakota March 15, 1925, to the Blair place, where they lived for two years. They later moved to the Harmer place; in 1927 to the Morgart place; and later back to the Harmer place, where Luella Bush now makes her home.

All of the children, except Howard, attended South Dakota schools. Their teachers at Fairbank Rural School were Stanley Pierce, the only man teacher, followed by the Donahue sisters, Kathryn, Nellie and Mary. The younger children, from Nelson and Norma, to Sylva, Dean, Allen and Elaine, attended and graduated from high school in Pierre. Maynard graduated from Casper, Wyoming, and Shirley from Central High at St Paul, Minnesota. Homer also went to high school in Capser, leaving to go into the Army. He spent many months in Italy during World War II. then on through the Panama Canal to the Philippines, and finally to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he still lives. At the same time, Clifford was also overseas in Iran (then known as Persia), where he was a Staff Sergent in charge of unloading U.S. supply ships going to Russia, who was our ally during that period. After V-E Day, Clifford served in Australia.

When their father went to South Dakota looking for land and school, the thing that impressed him most was the soil. He wrote back,"The soil packs and you can drive a team to town and back in the same day." Both Mr. and Mrs. Speese were born in central Nebraska, where they grew up and married, From there they moved to Wyoming, and then back to the Nebraska Sandhills, where it took all day to reach town and all day to come back, over sandy soil. Therefore, he appreciated the speedy travel in South Dakota. The children drove a four-horse team seven miles to school for the two years they lived on the Blair place. Ava would set the clock ahead two hour's every Sunday night and back two hours every Friday night; she hated to be late for school.

The parents continued to see that all the children studied after supper and they corrected their papers. Sunday School "was held every Sunday in their home, until, through the efforts of Mrs. Martha Jaeger, a Lutheran ministry started in Pierre and came to Fairbank School to hold services. (After Mr. Jaeger's death years later, Mrs. Jaeger married a Reverend Mueller. He passed away a few years ago and Mrs. Jaaeger-Mueller lives in Philip. She is a wonderful person.)

Henry Sirell came to South Dakota with the Speese family, but he did not stay very long. Perhaps South Dakota was too different for him - as it was for the Speese children. They couldn't get over the flat topped hills; the fact that rain did not soak into the ground, but ran along to make "water falls"; the loom fencing around pastures; all the rattlesnakes; the fact that black-eyed peas were not known to South Dakotans. They had always raked them - and later introduced them to South Dakotans.

It took Mr. Speese and Mr. Sirell 12 days to come to South Dakota with the horses, cattle and household goods by wagon and hayrack. Mrs. Speese and the children came with the local mailman, who brought mail from Seneca, Nebraska, to rural settlements. He had an open truck; sides but no top. The passengers had to ride wrapped in quilts.

When driving to school, Mr. Speese took a tarp that was used to cover the furniture during moving, and made a covered wagon for the children - bows and all. The teacher, Kathryn Donahue, stayed with Bill and Bessie Serbousek and Bill made a wooden cage on their buggy for driving to school.

Ava remembers replanting much corn, due to loss by cut worms, gophers and too much rain. The Speese's saw rye, wheat and flax for the first time in South Dakota, as these crops would not grow in the area of Nebraska where they lived. Also, around Brownlee, Nebraska, there were no rocks. They had liked rocks, until they saw how much machinery they broke.

They enjoyed visiting the other families of African American ancestry here: the Bill Day family, the Bill McGruder's, Bill Joiner and his sister Sadie and niece Marjorie, and Almer Figgins. All of them had settled Sully County through the efforts of the Blair's, coming from as far away as Missouri and Iowa. Bill Nash and Mr. and Mrs. Bill Smith lived in Pierre and ran the cafe in the State Capitol. Eno Fields and Grandma Ellen MeGruder and her son Jin were also friends. There were more families at one time, but they had already left Sully County.

Bill Day's wife, Octavia McGruder, had passed away, as had an infant daughter. Both are buried in the Blair Cemetery. Bill and Octavia, who was a cousin to the McGruder's, had four children, Celestine Figgins, George, Edith Fields, and Lue. After Octavia's death, Bill remarried Mary Boston and they had four children, Juanita, Loma, Arnold and Donald. Mary Day had a son, Everett David Boston, plus the Charlie West family Canning.

Blair place had water, but the two previous Speese homes did not and they hauled water from the Missouri River and put it in a cistern. They were close enough to walk to school, but it was quite a mess in bad weather. Gumbo was new to them. The Speese children thoroughly enjoyed the field meets held by the schools each spring. One year Ava won all but one of the "first prizes" in her age group. Some children said it was not worth contending, as Fairbank always took all the prizes. Mrs. & Mrs Bert Morgan came to West Sully about the same time as the Speese family did, but they soon went to Alliance, Nebraska. The older Speese children did not get to go to high school. However, while they did attend school, they got good grades. The fact that their parents always urged them to read a lot helped in the education process. Those who did not recieve a high school education were Howard, Lena, Ava, Clifford and Kenneth. Celeste was killed in a car accident on her way to Okobojo to take eighth grade exams. She and her baby brother Roger, who died a year before Celeste, are both buried in the Onida Cemetery. Roger lived less than two months.

Howard went to Casper, Wyoming, where he married Margaret Ruecker. Both worked for a bank before their retirement. They now run their own maintenanece business, giving employment to many people. They have no children.

Lena married George Day. They lived on the Spencer place for several years before moving to Huron and later to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1957. George went into the garage business and Lena worked at the old Ancher (now Ramsey) Hospital, from where she is retired. She then went back to work on a Senior Citizen's program for the government. All four of their children were born in South Dakota. George died suddenly while on vacation in Huron about 10 years ago. Lena is still very active in her church, choir and community affairs.

Ava married Lue Day and they lived on the Sutton place where the sale barn now is. They moved to Huron in 1940 and after seven months went on to the Burt Reno Ranch at Gillette, Wyoming. They later moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where they did private family work for three years. Lue went to work at Armour's, where he spent the next 27 1/2 years. Ava worked at a munitions plant until the end of World War II, and later worked for Northwest Bell Telephone Company, retiring in 1977. Lue died in 1969. They had no children.

Clifford married a St. Paul, Minnesota, girl, Arquilia Criner. After the war, he worked for Whirlpool, mixing enamel for freezers and refrigerators, until his sudden death of cerebral hemmorhage. They had a son and daughter.

Kenneth, as well as Clifford, went to CCC, later to a munitions plant in Parsons, Kansas, and then was called into service at Great Lakes, where they found he had yellow jaundice from the powder he worked with, and he received his discharge. He married Mary Ellen Graham and they moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he went into the U.S. Mail Service. He retired in 1980. His wife taught school, is now with the Agriculture Department. They have a daughter and two sons.

Lela went into the nursing profession, after obtaining her high school diploma after her three children were grown. She married Walter Avery from Sioux Falls and worked at the Miller Hospital for years, until she hurt her back lifting a patient. She has been employed by Honeywell for over 10 years and has two sons and a daughter.

Homer went to Whirlpool, also, and is still there. He married Thelma Graham, who died In 1977.

Nelson also went to Whirlpool, and then ran on the road. He was called during the Korean War, was at Pork Chop Hill, and still suffers from it. He is married and lives at Sturgeon Lake, Minnesota. They have no children.

All of the girls, except Ava, went into nursing. Norma got part of her training at San Francisco. She married Jimmy Owens at Staten Island and finished training in New York City at New York University, Columbia, Bellvue and also New Jersey. She taught cancer nursing to foreign students for 17 years and has been on the staff of New York University for many years. She set up Day Top, a school for high school drop-outs to finish school and get their diploma. It turned out to be such a huge success that New York City took it over and still runs it. There is not enough wall space to put up all the honors and citations Norma has been given. She has also written several books on cancer treatment and cancer nursing. She received one of six awards that New York City gives out each year for Special Honors. She has no children.

Sylva took nursing training at General Hospital No. 2 in Kansas City, Missouri. She was head nurse in the children's department when she quit to raise two daughters, She married Joe Davis of Kansas City, Kansas, and their home is the house where John Brown lived while helping slaves get from south to north, just before he went to Harper's Ferry. After the girls were in school, Sylva went back to nursing in Head Start, where she sometimes had to drive 300 miles a day on inspection tours. Their oldest daughter teaches school and the other is taking nursing. Dean worked at Armour's for a time, until a carcass fell on him, breaking his hip. He then went to a Chrysler garage to work as a mechanic, becoming the only person of African American ancestry to be elected president of the Minnesota Mechanics Union. He worked hard for his men, even after cancer took hold. He married Pat Harris and they had two girls and two sons.

Allan went from Wegner's Garage in Pierre to the Post Office in Kansas City, Missouri, where he still works. He married Mary Ellen's sister, Lena Marie Graham, and they have two girls.

Elaine took nurse's training at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul and worked at Miller Hospital in Histology. She says that entails everything from biopsy to autopsy. She went on to Modesto, California, where she taught Histology; also at Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She then went back to Los Angeles, where she now has her own laboratory, doing lab work for others. She has two sons and lives in Thousand Oaks, California. Maynard went into the Navy from Casper, Wyoming. After his discharge, he married a Los Angeles, California, girl, Peggy Woodard. They have a daughter and a son.

Maynard went back into the Navy for two years in Scotland. He now lives in Seattle, Washington.

Shirley also went into hospital work, working as a nurse's aid, and was so good at her work that doctors at Miller asked her to serve in the operating room. Later she went to Frisco, where she went to school and graduated as a Respiratory Therapy Technician. She is now working in a Denver hospital in that capacity. She has one daughter.

Mrs. Speese passed away at St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1966 of cancer. All her nursing daughters helped care for her during those days. Mr. Speese had a number of strokes and died in Casper, Wyoming, in 1970. Mr. and Mrs. Speese left Sully County about 1948 or 1949.

Bill Day had a homestead on the edge of the hills overlooking what is now the Oahe - about one mile west and a little south of Sunset Lodge. His first wife had a homestead in Little Bend - a log house set half in the ground, as was Daddy Day's.

At Huron, on the building on the southeast corner of Dakota and Third Street, there was for many years a painting of men who served in World War II. There were four Speese names among them, Clifford, Kenneth, Homer and Nelson.

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