Mother’s Day, 1931

In addition to the photo box, my mom put together a folder of various short fiction and letters my dad wrote over the years. The earliest one? 1931, when he was a mere 8 years old.

It was Mother’s Day, and he wrote to his big sister, Fran.


Before I went through this folder last week, the earliest writing I had ever seen from my dad was from his late teen years in the seminary. It is incredible to hold this letter and think of him writing it with his little 8-year-old hand. I’m so glad we still have it, and that I’ve seen a side of my dad I’ve never seen before.


Near and Far

I found a couple of snapshots of my dad’s ordination in 1949 mixed in some photo piles. He was 26. My brother is 25 and my boyfriend 24. I’m 20. It’s weird to see my dad at an age so near to mine and those I’m close to. He seems so tangible in his close up if that makes sense–I can picture him moving and talking easier than I can at any other age except when he was 50+. These are some of my favorites I’ve seen so far.Dad had a whole album of 8X10 ordination ceremony photos too, but I haven’t had time to scan them. There are so many pictures in this damn photo box. Haha. In time, in time.

A Father I Never Knew

I knew my dad when he was 69+. There’s a lot of life he lived before I miraculously came along–my mom was 45, he was 69. Frankly, I’m surprised I don’t have Down Syndrome with parents like that. Haha. Obviously, I only knew my dad as, well, a dad. My mom worked as a nurse until I was five, and my dad was retired. I spent all my days with him, and still remember us in his words,”bumming around”; from the locally owned grocery store where the owner always gave me a free piece of fruit (it’s closed now), to the hardware store, to the department store Grandpa’s (once again, now closed), we were always running somewhere. I remember asking, “Is she your granddaughter?” and he would proudly correct them, “No, I’m her father.” I remember loving it when I was young. I felt nearly as proud as him.

We played badminton, basketball, went on walks, and read books aloud. My family went to the Botanical Gardens a lot, and we always had Burger King breakfast on Sundays. At this point in my life, I really didn’t have any other friends than my immediate family, but it was a pretty idyllic time.

Little did I know at 5 how unusual my father’s background really was. Even if I knew, I certainly didn’t care at that young. I never thought to ask, “Hey Dad, what was it like growing up in The Great Depression?”, “Were any of your seminary/priest friends drafted/leave to join the army in World War II? Could they?”, “What was it like being a part of the Selma to Montgomery march for equal voting rights?”

I would kill to know the answers to those questions now.

My Cousin Carol who put the family history book together for my dad’s 80th birthday wrote a letter to him at the beginning. It has some wonderful anecdotes I’m glad to know now about my dad as a young man. Here it is.

Dorm Life

Looking at photos of my dad as a young teenager with his friends reminds me so much of dorm life– very wholesome dorm life, but still a blast. My dad captioned a lot of these photos, and I don’t recognize the names at all. I doubt he kept in touch with them after graduating, much like a lot of high school or college kids. Even so, they looked like while they were close, there were tons of good times. In a day of film photography where taking pictures of goofing off was a lot more work than it is now, I’m especially glad my dad took the time to capture these special memories.

Because of how he captured his time at Kenrick, the difference between his life in 1940 and mine just a couple years ago in Maria Hall seem remarkably similar.


My father entered Kenrick Prep Seminary at age 14. I thought choosing a career at 18 was hard enough, I can’t fathom what I’d be doing right now if I followed through with my 14 year old self’s desired occupation. Probably trying to be an interior designer, but working at the Penny’s Home Store? Who knows. I’m glad I don’t know.

My dad made an incredible album of a few of his years at Kenrick from age 17-20. He actually had a wonderful eye for photography, which I never really realized until looking through this album. Kenrick still exists, but with a hell of a lot less land now than they had in 1940. I’d like to go back, share these pictures with whoever’s in charge there, and take some comparison shots of the grounds. Maybe I’ll leave out the fact that my dad left the priesthood. Never quiiite sure how religious folk will respond to that, even if it was in the past. I guess that means I can’t call him my dad then. Eh, time to figure that all out later.

Here are some of my favorite shots of Kenrick:

Introducing the Hendel’s

The Hendel’s hail from Luxembourg, and there are actually still Hendel’s living in the same 1735 house in Dellen. I seriously wish I would have known that when I studied in Holland so I could have paid a visit.

My Great Granddad, Nick Hendel, married Anna Margaret Schieber in 1872, and they moved to Caledonia, Minnesota that same year to start a farm. My dad lived on this farm for a year after his mother died in 1929 until his sister Fran brought him back to St. Louis to live with her from then on. The family actually still owns the farm, and the 1872 house still stands. Coincidentally, the farm is owned by a couple possessing the same names as my parents, George and Mary Hendel.

From left: Great Grandpa Nick, Great Uncle George, and Grandma America and Uncle John

My Grandpa John moved to St. Louis after graduating from a business school in Austin, Minnesota. He owned a grocery-saloon-meat market (I would really like to see how that trio worked out. Very strange. Haha) with his brothers Nick and Frank. In 1907, he married my Grandma America. John owned several stores in St. Louis, and even had a franchise with Dad’s Cookies.

Grandpa John Hendel in the back. It’s actually really refreshing to see ANY women in this business school in 1907, much less 4!

I hadn’t realized until reading this book that my Grandma America (that will never sound normal) and Grandpa John got divorced in 1925, four years before her death. John was an alcoholic, and that ended the marriage. He moved back to Minnesota after the divorce, and as far as I understood from my dad, he was mostly estranged from him and his siblings.

However, I did find a couple pictures from later in his life, including one with my his daughter Fran in 1942.

My Great Great, Great, and Grandma. Make sense?

The women in my Hendel roots have some colorful history. I can’t thank my Cousin Carol enough for putting this book together. She did the research before it, well, died away. Since she put the family history together, my great great aunt who gave her most of the oral history, my father and his sister have all passed away (and those are just those that I know of). One plus of the digital age? I’m pretty sure family histories will never be lost again. Luckily Carol got a hold of ours, something that could easily have been forgotten if not for her dedication.

Anyway, I’ll start from the ground up.

My Great Great grandma Lucy Ann Martin was married to William G. Mitchell, and they lived outside McMinnville, Tennessee. William was in the Civil War…fighting for the South…eh hem. Until reading the Hendel family history book, I knew of no military connection in my family. At some point William camped near Lucy and his home during the war, and she paid him a visit. 9 months later, my great grandma Willie Ann was born, aptly named in memory of her father; during her pregnancy, Lucy had received word that her husband died during a battle.

Miraculously, in what seems like a scene from a film, 3 months after the war ended William stumbled home wearing rags and covered in lice. Lucy Ann made him strip of his clothes in the yard, and she burned them. They had four more children, and Lucy lived out her final days in a Confederate widow’s Home until 1924.

There isn’t much about my Great Grandma and her husband, but the story of my Grandma America is great.

At 20, America traveled alone to St. Louis in 1904 for the World’s Fair. She lived temporarily with a woman she met on the train, knew no one else, and had no job. She eventually became a housekeeper and cook for a doctor, and met her husband there. Known as “Johnny, the curly red-headed butcher boy,” John Hendel owned Hendel’s Grocers in St. Louis. Also, never had a clue I had red-head genes in my family. The mysteries black and white pictures hold! They married on October 23, 1907.