Tag Archives: Washington Missionary College

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 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.