Tag Archives: Mame Kaser

Surprising Find! Mame Kaser Writes a Letter

Sometimes doing family research can get rather routine. But sometimes an unexpected find has me dancing and grinning with joy.

I have been working my way through a shoebox of letters between my mother and father, Paul and Harriette Anderson Kaser. Their courtship lasted several years, so there are many letters to transcribe. But a few stray bits and pieces showed up in that shoebox where my mother saved the letters.

As I sorted envelopes by the early 1930s dates, I came across a postmark from Oct 15, 1926. What was that about? Addressed to Paul Kaser, Takoma Park Sta., Washington D.C., c/o W. M. C., the return address reads Box 403, Millersburg, O.

Okay, a letter to my father when he was 17 years old, but who was it from and why was he in Washington D. C.? I knew the answer to the 2nd question, as I had written about my father’s attempt to attend college, and how that dream was interrupted. The c/o W. M. C. Stands for Washington Missionary College, a Seventh Day Adventist institution that his father decreed was the only school he could attend.

When I see the signature, I know this is the first thing I have seen that belonged to my grandmother, Mary Isadore Butts (Mamie) Kaser.

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

The letter, written in pencil, covers front and back of a page from a small, lined notebook. I am puzzled by the fact that the letter is dated Sept. 17 -26. That is nearly a month before the Oct. 15 postmark. Did she forget to mail the letter? Did she get the date wrong? Is there a missing letter sent in October? Was she waiting to get the promised package assembled? (We learn in a letter from Paul’s brother Milton that a blanket and overcoat are just being sent on 24 October.)

Mame’s Letter

Dear Paul

Got your letter yesterday glad to know you are settled & like it so far. I am going down to get your Bag this after noon. You would have had it to take along but the catalog said they had them down there. you didn’t tell me who your room mate is & how long are you paid up for Did some one meet you or did you go out on the car[streetcar?]
be sure all your things are stamped be fore you send them to the wash. It would be a good plan for you to list the things you send. Don’t send any socks or handkerchiefs they won’t amount to much to send home. Irene [Paul’s older sister] & I canned 22 qts of Peaches to day. Keith [Paul’s older brother]is hauling coal to day. Harold C. Has quit the rubber plant & Verne has quit driving the truck. They can live with out work maybe & get their gass[sic] out of the machines that comes to the shops. Milton [Paul’s younger brother] got a 100 in algebra to day. Say when you write one sheet will do you had two yesterday. You writ [sic] as often & you can address some to Milton.


Getting to Know My Grandmother

I have transcribed this as Mame wrote it, except for adding periods at ends of sentences and capital letters at the beginnings. She only capitalized proper names, and did not use punctuation. Her lack of formal education shows, but her content reveals her personality.

After suggesting her son should not use more than one sheet of paper for a letter, Mame sets a good example of frugality by squeezing her last words onto the top of the first page, and squeezing her signature into the remaining corner. I see her thinking that her admonition might discourage him from writing, and she quickly encourages Paul to write often.

Although the letter is filled with hints of a common sense housewife—don’t send handkerchiefs and socks to the laundry because it’s cheap to send them home—I can see how much she is missing her boy. She wants to know every detail of his life at school. Perhaps she is a bit envious, too, as according to my father, she read the Bible every day, and loved to read the poet Milton. My father gave her credit for instilling his love of learning.

I can’t help being amused as her strict moral sense comes to the fore over the way she imagines “Harold” and “Verne” are going to get gas when they don’t have a job. Apparently they are going to siphon gas from cars (machines) that they encounter at someone’s shop.

While I am excited to finally have something actually touched by my paternal grandmother, whom I never had a chance to know, it is sad as well. She was three months shy of her 58th birthday when she wrote this letter. but she did not live to see her son Paul again, or taste any of those peaches she had canned with Irene.

The timetable tells the story.

December 22, 1925: Mame turns 57

February 13, 1926: Paul turns 17

June 1926: Paul graduates from Millersburg, Ohio High School

September 1926: Milton turn 14 and starts his Freshman year in High School

September 1926 :Paul takes train to Washington D.c. to start college
September 17, 1926: Date Mame puts on letter she writes to Paul

October 15, 1926: Postmark on envelope with Paul’s letter from Mame (This letter or a later one.)

October 24,1926: Date on Milton’s letter to Paul, in which he says, “Everyone fine here.”

October 28, 1926: Mame has a stroke but Paul is not informed.

October 31, 1926: Mame’s death, and Paul is informed and returns to Ohio, never to return to college.

You can read more about Mame and her first daughter; Mame sews for a First Lady; and in the two articles linked above.

How I Am Related

Mary Isadore (Mame) Butts Kaser Is the mother of

Paul Kaser, my father


The original letters from Mame Kaser and from Milton Kaser to Paul Kaser are in my possession.

Other information is drawn from earlier research noted in linked articles above.

A Life and a Dream Ended When Mame Kaser Died

In the last episode of my father’s life, I talked about the sad loss of his Fourteen-Year-Old Brother, Milton Kaser.   I said in that story that I would explain why my father, Paul Kaser, was at home in April 1927 to tend to Milton in his final illness, and why 1926 was both the best year of his life and the worst. Before Milton died, the seventeen-year-old Paul Kaser was to face a worse crisis–the death of his mother, Mame Kaser.

I used this picture in my last post. Mame is shown here just about a year before her death. She was only 55.

Keith Kaser and family

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

If you have read that previous story about young Milton, you know that my father, eager for knowledge, started college in September 1926.  I imagine that his mother, Mame Kaser, who stimulated his love of literature, pushed to allow him to go away to college. And I also am pretty sure that the fact he was attending a Seventh Day Adventist Washington Missionary college (now now Washington Adventist University) was a compromise with Paul’s strict father, Clifford.

Clifford was a practical man who had built a successful career as a “tinner” without any fancy education.  As the 20th century began and central heating replaced the previous fireplaces and Franklin stoves as a way to heat homes, Cliff made the move to “furnace engineer”, installing the duct work for the new heating systems.

So we now can picture Paul Kaser happily delving into Latin, Greek and ancient history in the chilly suburb of Washington D.C. when he unexpectedly receives a telegram in the first days of November from his father.  While I don’t know the exact wording, the message was simply, “Come home. Mother dead.”

Well into his eighties, my father would still bemoan the fact that his father had not informed him that his mother was ill until after she died.  Our family formed our opinion of Cliff Kaser largely on that seemingly heartless way to treat a young man who adored his mother. However, when–with a little help from another member of Facebook*–I discovered Mame Kaser’s death certificate, I realized that we might have a false picture of Cliff.  He didn’t tell Paul that Mame was ill because her death came so suddenly.

Mame Kaser's Death Certificate

Mary I. Butts Kaser Death Certificate

(Mary I) Mame Kaser suffered a stroke on October 28th (cerebral hemorrhage of right side of brain) and died October 31st at 8:30 p.m.  Since the stroke was on the right side, she would have lost speech and her left side would have been paralyzed. The doctor and family no doubt hoped that she would recover, as many people do. But the death certificate lists contributing factors as arterial hardening and high blood pressure, which were not treated as efficiently as they are today, and she probably never had a chance.

At any rate, it is easy to see that Cliff, in his practical way, could see no point in having Paul get on a train and rush home when the outcome was so uncertain. So he waited–until it was too late for Paul to say goodbye.

I can forgive Cliff for not contacting Paul earlier. I’m not so forgiving, however, about his next decision. He told Paul that he was needed at home now, and could not return to school.  Instead, he needed to stay in Millersburg and work with his father. Therefore in April 1927 when his brother was ill, Paul was home.

So between June 1926 when he graduated from high school and the end of October 1926 when his mother died, my father had faced what he thought were the high point (going to college) and the low point of his life (the death of the beloved mother Mame Kaser). However, as we have seen, five months later, another blow came when his brother Milton died.  At eighteen, life must have looked pretty grim.

In 1928, he faced another turning point, and to make things worse, the country slid into the Great Depression. Next time, I’ll explain the final incident that cemented his move from boyhood to adult.

It is also worth noting, that Paul Kaser died almost exactly 70 years after his mother. She died on October 31 1926 and he died on October 29 1996.

Less Is More?

*Note: For those interested in “inside baseball”, I’ll explain about finding the death certificates of Milton Kaser and Mary Isador “Mame” Kaser. I had searched Ancestry.com to find more information about the Kaser family, but it had been a while, so I decided to go to Family Search.org and see if I could find any documents I might have been missing.  

I particularly wanted to find the death certificates for Mame, Milton and Cliff, and one more document that I will be writing about next time.  I put in all the information and came up with only those documents I had seen previously. Then I Googled “death records 1920s Holmes County Ohio.” and followed the bread crumbs to a link to Family Search.org list that was supposed to contain death certificates. I entered Clifford’s information and came up with nothing. I changed the name to Cliff and found nothing. I knew his death year because I had an obit, a tombstone, Find a Grave and the index of death records for Ohio.

So I went to the Ohio Genealogy Just Ask! page on Facebook and posted an inquiry. Could someone tell me how to find death records for the 1920s from Holmes County Ohio–if they existed.  A member of that group almost instantly came back with all the records I was looking for.  How? She didn’t even go to the link for the specific collection. She searched from the main search page.  She entered LESS information about Clifford than I did. And although I had the specific death year, she expanded the search to a decade (five years before and after). I still don’t know how LESS information equals a better search, but there you have it. It worked.

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.