Tuesday, January 24, 2023

2023 - Prompt - I'd Like to Meet - Walter Raymond Simmons

Week 1 2023

Prompt - I'd Like to Meet

Walter Raymond Simmons 1902-1931

Nancy Simmons to Paul Simmons to Walter Simmons

Walter Raymond Simmons 
about 1920

I would like to meet and talk to my paternal grandfather, Walter Raymond Simmons. Walter died in 1931 in Dearborn, Michigan at the age of twenty-nine of broncho-pneumonia, influenza.[i] Of all the hundreds of ancestors I have researched, I'd really like to meet my paternal grandfather Walter Simmons.

I know quite a bit about Walter's family because I have researched the Simmons family line back to the mid-1700s in Pennsylvania but I really would like to know who Walter was as a person. My grandmother mentioned once that Walter had a sense of humor. Since my father, Paul, and my sister, Judy, also had a great sense of humor, maybe it was Walter's DNA. Yes, my DNA and that of my siblings along with my research confirm that Walter was of German and Scottish descent and his family was North Central Appalachia settlers. But I really would like to meet Walter and know him as a person.


Walter, Marvin & Cecil Bernice Simmons
about 1906

I would like to know about his early years in Missouri. Walter was born the second child to Reverend Andrew Lincoln and Elspeth (Leeton) Simmons in Gainesville, Missouri on June 4, 1902.[ii] Walter's parents were both from Ritchie County, West Virginia and his father was an ordained Methodist minister and had accepted a multi-church assignment in Missouri in 1899. It was in Missouri that Walter's older sister, Cecil Bernice, was born in 1900, and in 1904 his brother Marvin Andrew was born. All of them were born in Gainesville, Missouri. Does he remember living in Missouri? Does he remember his father traveling on horseback to seven different churches in his charge? He was only six or seven when his family moved from Missouri to Illinois. Did he remember their move to Illinois and how they traveled to get there?

Walter Raymond Simmons
about 1909

About 1908, Walter's father transferred to the Illinois Methodist Conference and he served churches in Bedford, Oakford, Broadlands, and then Henning, Illinois.[iii] It was in Oakford at the age of nine that Walter's brother, James Russell, was born in 1911. Did he remember going to school in Oakford? What was it like being a preacher's kid? What was it like to sit in church every Sunday and listen to your father preach? And I'd love to know if Walter's father and mother ever traveled back to West Virginia to visit family.


Walter and June (Putman) Simmons - about 1921

It was 1915 in Henning, Illinois, when Walter met my grandmother, June Putman. Both of them attended the Henning Methodist Church and went to Henning Public School together. I know my grandmother played basketball for Henning High School and played the piano for many church functions. I would love to ask Walter if he played basketball. Did he watch June play basketball? Did they sit together in church? When did they fall in love? So many questions.


L to R - unknown boys and woman, June & Walter Simmons
Wallace Raymond Simmons in buggy 1921

Walter married June Putman in Detroit, Michigan on December 1, 1920,[iv] and their first child, Wallace Raymond, was born in June 1921. It had to be exceedingly difficult for June and Walter to leave the small village of Henning, Illinois, and go to Detroit, Michigan to be married by a Justice of Peace. As was typical for that time, many young men moved to the city to find work. Walter and June moved to Detroit, Michigan where Walter took a job as a mechanic at the Ford Motor Company. I would love to ask Walter about their first home, and what was it like to work for Ford Motor Company in the 1920s.

L to R - Unknown child and woman, Paul & June
about 1929

On January 29, 1925, my father, Paul Herbert Simmons, was born to Walter and June.[v] He was their second child. June traveled back to Henning to birth my father. Did Walter go with her, or did he stay in Detroit to work? I never asked my grandmother these questions even though she lived until 1999 outliving Walter by 68 years. My grandmother was not too forthcoming with past events in her first marriage. I don't know if it was just too raw or out of respect for her second husband. She did state once that they were happy years.


June, Paul, Walter & Wallace Simmons
about 1929

It was during the 1920s that Walter's sister and her husband also moved from Illinois to Detroit to work in the auto business. They lived very close to Walter and his family. I'd like to ask Walter how often they traveled back to Illinois to visit his parents and June's parents. What did they do for the holidays? Were there any other Simmons relatives living in the Detroit area at this time? Oh! So many questions.


Walter Simmons - Michigan Death Certificate

Another interesting historical fact is that prohibition started in January 1920 and ended in December 1933. This was the period of Walter and June's ten years of marriage. In February 1931, my father who just turned six years old came down with a cold and then pneumonia. It was thought he would not recover from pneumonia, but he did. Shortly after my father recovered Walter came down with influenza and then developed broncho-pneumonia. He passed away on February 24, 1931, at 28 years 8 months, and 20 days![vi] He was so young! He left June who was also 28 years old with two sons, Wallace Raymond Simmons 9 years old, and my father, Paul Herbert Simmons who was 6 years old.


My grandmother remarried in 1934 and my father and his brother were raised by their mother and stepfather, Elvis Jackson "Jack" Merritt. Jack lived until 1991when he died at 92 years. He was my grandpa Merritt. But if I could meet any one of my ancestors I would love to meet and have a long talk with my paternal grandfather, Walter Raymond Simmons, my grandpa Simmons!

Walter R. Simmons about 1925
My Paternal Grandfather

[i] Michigan, U.S., Death Records, 1867-1952, Walter Simmons, Ancestry.com

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Union List of Ministers, Andrew Lincoln Simmons, Central Illinois Conference, The United Methodist Church, Conference Historical Society, Bloomington, Illinois.

[iv] Michigan Marriages 1868-1925, FHL film # 2342742, Vol 1, page 602.

[v] Birth Record, State of Illinois, Vermilion County, Illinois, Vermilion County Clerk, Certificate #17617

[vi] Michigan, U.S., Death Records, 1867-1952, Walter Simmons, Ancestry.com 

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