Tag Archives: Cliff Kaser

A Lively Letter from Teen Milton Kaser Makes Me Sad

Why do I say that a letter from the fourteen-year-old Ira Milton Kaser to my father, Paul Kaser makes me sad? The letter itself is cheerful and full of life.

For my father, the year 1926 was “the best of years, the worst of years.” (Apologies to Charles Dickens). The 17-year-old graduated from Millersburg High School in Ohio in June that year and in September he set off for college. The gregarious dark-eyed boy with a shock of dark hair and a flare for dressing well, made friends easily and had an endless curiosity. His mother had instilled a love of reading.

His strict father would only allow attendance at the  WashingtonMissionary College run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, a suburb of Washington D.C. Although Paul secretly had no plans to become a minister or a missionary, he was eager to learn and happy to board the train for the trip east.

The family in 1926.

Keith Kaser and family

Clifford Kaser Family: Paul, Irene, Milton and Keith with Cliff and “Mame” in front. About 1926

When he went to college, Paul left behind his doting mother (looking much older than her 54 years in this picture), task-master father, and beloved younger brother, Milton Kaser. Their sister Irene was working as a maid in other people’s homes.  Their much older brother Keith was married and farming nearby. Milton would have been fourteen in this picture and when he wrote a letter to his older brother, Paul, away at college. Ira Milton Kaser looks and sounds (in his letter) more mature than 14, although the letter is unmistakably that of a young teenage boy.

letter from Milton to Paul Kaser

Letter from Milton to Paul Kaser, October 1926, pg. 1

Milton to Paul Kaser

Letter from Milton to brother Paul Kaser, pg 2

Milton Kaser to Paul Kaser

Letter from Milton to Paul Kaser, October 1926, pg 3

Letter from Milton Kaser to Paul Kaser

Letter from Milton Kaser to his brother Paul Kaser, October 1926 pg 4

Milton spends two pages describing the latest high school football game, a description full of details and nicknames. The description is also notable for his use of a derogative term for the quarterback of the other team, which reflects a time less concerned with tolerance than our own time.

Milton Kaser then says “I’m doing fine in school” which is an understatement, as he gives his grades of A’s and B’s in subjects that sound advanced for a fourteen-year-old–at least the Algebra and Latin. Later we learn that he is a Freshman in High School.

He then moves on to the family. “Everybody fine here. Irene just went to Kenmore and “dad” and “Mom” just returned from Glenmont. Since Irene is gone we get bigger pieces of pie. Keith was to Mt. Vernon today and brought some  Cero (?) meat home.

We’re sending you your overcoat and a comfort[er].”

Darned Freshman class had a party Friday night.”

These passages take some explaining.

  • Irene may have been going to serve as a live-in maid with a family in Kenmore, a neighborhood of nearby city of Akron.
  • Glenmont is a town in the same county as Millersburg, where many of Mary (Mamie) Butts Kaser’s relatives lived.
  • Why are “Dad” and “Mom” in quotes?  In the 1920’s these words would probably still qualify as slang–not the kind of words you use in formal writing. However, later Paul’s father signs himself ‘dad.’
  • I’m still giggling at the fact that his older sister’s absence mainly means Milton gets a bigger piece of pie.  Wish I had recipes for Mamie’s pie.
  • The word that is missing in the sentence about older brother Keith looks like Cero.  Milton’s writing is quite clear, so I’m really puzzled by this one.  However, since Seventh Day Adventists manufactured vegetarian meat substitutes, and Mt. Vernon was a center for the church in that part of Ohio, I’m guessing that is what it refers to. Perhaps a brand that disappeared so thoroughly that even Google can’t find it.
  • sending your overcoat”  Apparently the D.C. area had some early winter weather that my father was not prepared for. He might have preferred to get some of that pie!
  • And why would a 14-year-old say “Darn” about a class party? Probably because of religion again. His father was very strict about keeping the Sabbath. No work between Sundown on Friday and Sundown on Saturday.  And that would no doubt include no parties.  So Milton would have preferred that the party be scheduled at another time.

On the fourth page, Milton Kaser closes the letter, and their father adds a note.  This is a rare–in fact unique relic of Cliff Kaser.  When my sister read it, she felt it reflected his concern for his far away son (sending the overcoat) combined with his practical side (weather report). It seems to me to reflect, the rather cold man, unable to express emotions, that was reflected in my father’s stories about Cliff Kaser.

“Rained from Saturday midnight to Sunday midnight then snowed about 1 1/2 “. Sloppy snow on ground this a.m.  your overcoat and comfort to forward today.  dad.

To return to the question at the beginning–why does this letter make me sad?

Because just five months after the lively letter, Milton Kaser was stricken with pneumonia. Three weeks later he died in his brother Paul’s arms. He had not yet reached his 15th birthday, which would have come in September. My father, Paul, never entirely got over Milton’s death, and we had heard the story from him many times.  But this week I finally saw the death certificate, and could more clearly understand the tragedy of this young man’s life and death.

Milton Kaser Death Certificate

Milton Kaser Death Certificate, April 9, 1927

Milton Kaser is buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Millersburg, beside his parents and other members of the Kaser family.

And why was my father, Paul Kaser, at home with Milton instead of in the spring semester of college in Washington D.C.?  That will be the subject of my next post, when I continue with Paul Kaser’s year 1926–the best of years, the worst of years.


Mame Kaser, Seamstress to the First Lady

Mary Isadore (Mame) Butts Kaser ( December 22, 1867- October 31, 1926)

Mame Kaser, the Quiet Grandmother

Knox County barn

Near where Mame Kaser grew up. Knox County barn. Photo by Jimmy Emerson

As I look into the life of my paternal grandmother, Mame Kaser, I find contradictions galore. I wish I knew all the answers to the questions that pop up.

I am indeed sorry that I have no particular cooking stories or recipes to share from this grandmother. (However, see my discussions of Buckwheat pancakes, since my interest in buckwheat came from my father’s singing the praises of his mother’s buckwheat. And see additional note below mentioning canned cherries.) Since she died several years before I was born, I never knew her.

When I hear the name, “Mame”, I think of some big brassy broad like Angela Lansbury in the musical called Mame. Or I hear I hear Rita Hayworth singing, “Put the blame on Mame, boys.”

parents of Mame Kaser

Henry Allen and Ann Marie Butts

But the Mame I’m writing about today was anything but big and brassy.

Mame was the third in a family of 6. She had two older and one younger brother and two younger sisters, all except Giles, the eldest, born after their father Henry Allen Butts returned from service in the Civil War. She grew up on a farm near Milwood (which is near Danville) in Knox County, Ohio.

This picture shows her parents much later in their lives.

Mame Kaser: Religious

An interesting, if not always accurate portrayal of the Butts family by Rev. Homer Blubaugh of St. Mary’s Church in Lancaster, Ohio explains how devoutly Catholic Mame’s mother was.

“Ann, a devout Catholic, was so faithful about attending Mass that she would walk the ten-mile round trip from the farm to Millwood, then up Carey Lane to St. Luke Church, located until 1895 in Saint Luke Cemetery.  Even more remarkable was the fact that Ann carried her youngest child the entire distance.  The other children also walked….Later on Sunday afternoon Ann walked back home with her children.  This occurred in the late 1860’s and at least through the 70’s and 80’s.”

Rev. Blubaugh collected facts from census and birth and death reports, but also included stories from friends and family in his narrative. I pass on this story from the Reverend to point out that Mary/Mame never had an easy life.  Blubaugh reports that Ann killed and cooked a chicken for breakfast according to one of the daughters, and she had a large garden in which she raised beautiful flowers.  So Mame learned all the skills that a farm woman needed, got a solid founding in religion, and had a bit of beauty in her life as well.

Mame Kaser: Gone Astray

It must have been a shock to learn that quiet little Mame was pregnant out of wedlock. It certainly came as a shock when I heard it.  For years I had looked at the family pictures  and pondered why the mousy little Catholic girl had married big gruff Cliff Kaser and joined him in the Seven Day Adventist Church.  When I heard the story, her life seemed quite different than I had imagined, and sadder.  My father had passed away before I knew Mame’s story, so I never learned if he knew about the incident and just did not talk about it, or he never knew.

We have heard this story from more than one of the Butts clan–an avid bunch of genealogists and family story gatherers, so I did not doubt it was true. (See a more complete story of Catherine here.) However, just to satisfy my need for documentation, I stopped at the St. Luke Catholic Church in Danville, Ohio one drizzly day. My mission was to find the gravestones of my great-grandfather and some of the other Butts family members, but while I was in the church office, I mentioned Mary Isadore and her illegitimate child. I had heard the child had been baptized, and wondered if that was true.

Sure enough, the ladies in the office, aided by the priest, pulled out a journal record of baptisms and there was Catherine Sapp, daughter of George Sapp and Mary Butts on 9/18/1891. Mame was twenty-four years old when she and George stood in front of the altar with their infant daughter. But they did not marry. Why they did not will remain a mystery.

Mame Kaser’s Married Life

Clifford Kaser and wife

Mamie and Cliff Kaser About 1893. Wedding picture, perhaps.

However, two years later, October 26, 1893, Mame married Cliff Kaser–not in the Catholic church, but by “Squire Workman” in nearby Mt. Vernon–possibly in a Seven Day Adventist congregation. When she left her family home, Mame left her two-year-old daughter behind to be cared for by Mame’s parents. It is only speculation, but I am guessing that Cliff Kaser did not want to raise another man’s child. Mame’s family no doubt was relieved to find a husband to look after their “ruined” daughter. He wasn’t Catholic, but he seemed hard working and a good provider. Whatever heartbreak was involved, she left Catherine behind.

Her family did not turn their back on Mame, as my father clearly remembered sitting on the lap of HIS grandfather, the Civil War Veteran when Paul a little boy.

The only other thing I know about Catherine is that she ran away from the Butts family when she was 16, which would have been before my father was born. No one ever heard from her again, according to family members. [NOTE: This story proved not to be completely accurate–see Catherine’s story.] This makes it quite possible that my father never heard about her. I also have no idea if her mother stayed in touch with her, or was known to her child. So many mysteries.

Mame and Cliff Kaser Family 1908

Kaser Family, Irene, Mary I. (Mamie), Keith, Clifford Kaser About 1908

A year after Cliff and Mame’s marriage, their first son, Keith, was born in 1884. The state of Ohio birth records indicate that in 1888, Mame gave birth to a female infant, but the baby apparently died at birth, as no name is given and I have seen no mention of another child.  Then in 1904, a daughter, Irene came along. During the first decade of their marriage, they apparently stayed close to the Kaser family in Clark, Ohio, where Cliff had a barber shop and played the trombone.

Clifford Kaser Family

Kaser Family: Paul, Irene, Milton, Keith, Clifford, Mary I (Mamie) About 1926

By 1909, they had moved to Killbuck, Ohio and Paul (my father) was born. They spent two years in Takoma Maryland in the early twenties, and returned to Millersburg where Milton was born in 1912.

I am very curious about how closely Mame embraced Seven Day Adventism.  My father talked about how she read the Bible every day, introducing him to its beautiful language and planting seeds of his interest in Christianity, history and literature. Did she adopt their healthy eating practices? Did she go as far as becoming a vegetarian? From my father, uncle and aunt’s appreciate of gardening, I’m guessing she had a garden wherever they lived.

Mame Kaser: Seamstress to the First Lady

One thing that I know for sure is that she was an excellent seamstress–good enough to sew for the President’s wife! The Reverend Brubaker tells a story about Mame’s sister-in-law (the wife of her elder brother). Delia, the sister-in-law, was making a shirt for Mame’s brother when Delia suddenly died of the flu. Mame finished the shirt in time for brother Mons to wear it to his wife’s funeral.

Mame Kaser sewed for Florence Harding

First Lady Florence Harding, Mrs. Warren Harding

But that was not her only “command performance in sewing.  When the family lived in Takoma Park Maryland, my father remembered, First Lady Florence Harding, wife of President Warren Harding [1921-23] , would drive out to Takoma Park to pick up items that Mame and Irene had sewn for her. I wondered how in the world  the First Lady came across the meek little lady from Miltown, Ohio. Mame must have had quite a reputation for her handiwork. [Addition, January 2022]  And then, I found this story told to me by my father, and forgotten in my memorabilia box.

An interview note from a conversation with Paul Kaser some time in the 1990s, tells this story that explains how the Hardings heard of Mrs. Kaser.

When Warren Harding was an Ohio Senator (1914-1920), Mrs. Carolyn Votow, who was a sister of Harding, attended the Seven-Day Adventist Church. This was during the time that the Kasers lived in Maryland.  Mrs. Votow learned that Mrs. Kaser (Mame) had canned sour cherries from Ohio and she wanted to buy some for a banquet the Senator was giving and of course Mame provided them.  Later, my father remembered, the Harding limousine pulled up to the Kaser house in Takoma Park, Maryland with a box of roses for Mame.

The house they lived in, he said, was on “Flower Street and the main Road, Blair, in Takoma Park close to 14th Street  streetcar line.”  It was a large lot with two bungalows on it.

As I related in my introduction of Cliff Kaser, Mame took ill and died the fall after my father graduated from high school, in October, 1926. She was almost 57 years old.

The Old Battered Trombone and the Community Band

“If music be the food of love, play on.” Twelfth Night, Shakespeare.

Although we usually talk about food that reminds me of family, this time it is music. The community band, to be exact.

Here’s how my week went so far.

Clifford Kaser

Clifford W. Kaser, probably about 1928 or 1929.

  • Found an old newspaper article telling about a 19th and early 20th century band in Clark, Ohio that had several Kaser members, including Clifford Kaser.
  • Ran across a postcard picture of my Grandfather Anderson playing in a similar band in Killbuck, Ohio. My mother, Harriette Kaser remembered how proud she was as a little girl seeing her daddy marching through town with his shiny horn.  

The church in the picture is the Killbuck Church of Christ. My great-grandfather Dr. William Stout helped raise funds to build the building and the family  continued to worship, be married in and buried from that church for generations. It still stands at the foot of School House Hill–also the home of the cemetery. Unfortunately, the steeple was damaged in a windstorm and never replaced, so the church now lacks the grace of its earlier design.

Killbuck Community Band

Killbuck band at Killbuck Christian Church Circa 1910. Grandfather Guy Anderson played French Horn. Possible front far right.

  • Remembered the old battered trombone in the cupboard that was Clifford Kaser’s and got it out.

Community band Trombone ed

  • Spent an another couple hours polishing the old silver.

Community band Kaser trombone

Community Band inscription

Clifford Kaser Trombone inscription, American Perfection The Richards Co. Cleveland Ohio
  • Marveled at the dents and the way the silver plate is worn off to the brass underneath in those places that were handled.
  • Got curious about the inscription. Turned to Google. There goes another hour or two.  Nothing definitive on the Richards Co., although one listing says Richards Co. 1882-1922, with no other information. That would be about the right dates. I’ve written to one of the experts I ran into on the Internet, and will let you know what I learn.

It was common for villages and towns to have a community band around the turn of the 19th-20th century, and the tiny communities of Clark and Killbuck where my ancestors lived were no exception.  Many towns had bandstands. To my knowledge, Killbuck never had a bandstand for its band, but the newspaper article I found had a vintage photo of the Clark Bandstand which stood until 1938 according to the caption.

Clark Community Band Stand

Photo of Clark Band Stand. Given to newspaper by Mrs. Sanford Lowe of Clark.

According to the newspaper article, the community band was known as the Bloomfield Band, even after the community was renamed to Clark. One remaining band members says they practiced every Tuesday and “we played at reunions, picnics, homecomings and fairs.” The band members, in their “smart gold-braided uniforms” were even asked to play in other communities, but never charged. They played in Coshocton, the nearest big town and marched with eight other bands in the Labor Day parade.

Florenz Schiebe who was in the Bloomfield community band, the band provided the instruments as well as the uniforms. They traveled from town to town on a painted wagon and would play as they passed through a smaller community. They even took the train to big “gigs” like playing at Myers Lake in Canton and Silver Lake resort near Akron.  After the Bloomfield Band broke up, Scheibe played in the Killbuck band  after 1912 or so.

As to Kasers in the community band–much of this article was based on an interview with Bessie Kaser Lowe, daughter of Dave Kaser who was a brother of my paternal grandfather, Clifford Kaser.  Dave Kaser played tuba, Cliff Kaser played trombone [the one pictured above] Homer Kaser and possibly Ira Kaser ( sons of Dave and brothers to Bessie) also played trombone. Ed Kaser (Clifford’s younger brother) played 1st cornet. Austin Kaser( a cousin of Dave) played tenor horn or trombone. In this article, Bessie says that Cliff was the town barber.  That means he played in the band sometime between the 1893, when he was married and 1914 when he had a tin shop in Killbuck.

The article further says that Homer and Austin left to work at the rubber tire company in Akron.  A second band started that lasted until 1920, and Harry Kaser [Another son of Dave] played in that one.

Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of Clifford Kaser playing his trombone, but somehow thinking of him riding through the Ohio countryside in the community band gaily painted wagon pulled by draft horses while blasting away on a trombone, gives me a whole new picture of him. Would a villain play a trombone?