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My Great-Grandmother’s 150th Birthday

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I was adding a couple of new names to my Family Tree Maker 2019 database last week when I realized that Martha Winkelman Duntemann’s 150th birthday was coming up. Today’s the day, and for me it’s worth some modest celebration. Martha (who died in 1967) is now 150 years old–and I knew her. That seems odd, bordering on the impossible somehow.

But it’s true. Martha was born on a Bensenville, Illinois farm on April 10, 1871. I have a scan of an old plat map somewhere with the names of the farmers on their acreage. I believe the Winkelman farm was on land now part of O’Hare Field. The Duntemann farm certainly was. In fact, I discovered with a little mapwork that the Duntemann farmhouse was almost directly where the airport’s boiler plant is. You see it from the freeway coming out of the main terminal on your right. Interestingly, my father was the gas company liaison engineer to the city when they built the gas-fired boiler plant in the early 1960s. He never knew (as best I recall) that his great-grandfather’s farm was right there.

Martha married Frank W. Duntemann on January 31, 1892. She was 19; he 24. They had two sons: Harry George Duntemann, born on October 20 of that year, and Elvin Frederick Duntemann, born July 16, 1895. Harry was my grandfather, and Uncle El was a jolly, goodhearted man whom I saw less often than I should have. Martha’s husband Frank died in 1936. My father was named after him. The family photo shown below is undated, but by the ages of the boys I’m guessing 1900.

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Frank did not go into farming as most of his four brothers did. Instead he established a general store in the little railroad town of Orchard Place, Illinois, roughly where Higgins Road crosses the Soo Line railroad. Soon after the store opened, Frank got the job of Orchard Place postmaster, which he held until a year or two before he died.

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The family lived over the general store. Martha shut the store down after Frank died and Des Plaines took over the mail processing. By 1936 she was 65, and did not want to tend the store on her own. Her son Elvin took some of the inventory and created a coal and building materials dealership in a new, larger building up the road a ways, which was in business well into the 1950s. The store was converted to a separate first-floor apartment. Martha lived the rest of her life on the second story, alone, for another 30 years.

Orchard Place met its end in the mid-1950s. The Feds literally dropped an Interstate on it. The NW Tollway was built over what little “main street” the town had. Before the toll road was built, many of the old houses, including the General Store building, were moved a few blocks north into what by then was a Des Plaines residential neighborhood. The old store building is still there on Curtis Street, and is now owned by one of my cousins, a grandchild of Uncle El.

Martha was less alone than you might think. There were several Duntemann families on the same block, including Elvin and his three children and their families. When we went out to visit when I was a kid, I played with my cousins, but always went upstairs to say hi and get a hug from my great-grandma. I have a grainy b/w photo from 1954 or 1955 (below) including four Duntemann generations: Martha, her son Harry and his wife, Harry’s son Frank (my father), my mother, my Aunt Kathleen, and…me. Oh, and two dogs, Willie and Rebel, who didn’t particularly get along. Rebel is cut off at the bottom of the photo, held firmly in place by my mother. Willie, on my dad’s lap, apparently wanted to be anywhere else but there.


Martha was rail-thin, energetic, and spry to the end of her life. She had 19 great-grandchildren and often had a pile of my younger cousins on her lap:

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She went up and down the stairs to her apartment unaided until three weeks before she died at age 96, and never missed church on Sundays. She is buried beside her husband Frank at Town of Maine Cemetery, Park Ridge.

Obviously, I wish I had known her better. But she lived out in the burbs, and died when I was 14. Remarkably, she outlived all four of my grandparents (including her son Harry) who died when I was 2, 4, 12, and 13. I wished I’d known them better too–granting that my mother’s parents were Polish immigrants who didn’t speak English.

So here’s to you, Great-Grandma! Happy 150th Birthday! You carried the flame of life down to me (and by now, hordes of others including my sister’s girls and my cousins who now have kids who have kids, yikes!) and it was an honor to know you even as little as I did. You are my link to a time when trains ran on coal and Chicago’s suburbs were mostly cornfields. Until we meet again…go with God, and rest assured that the gift of life you gave us has not been wasted.

Four Mothers, One Photo


Mothers Day. The photo above, from sometime early in 1953, is an interesting one: It presents four generations of Duntemanns, including four mothers. Back row, L-R: Frank W. Duntemann 1922-1978. Martha Winkelmann Duntemann 1871-1967. Harry G. Duntemann 1892-1956. Sade Prendergast Duntemann 1892-1965. Front row: Kathleen M. Duntemann 1920-1999. Victoria Pryes Duntemann 1924-2000. Basically, my father, my great-grandmother, my grandfather, my grandmother, my godmother, and my mother. (And me. My godmother Aunt Kathleen is holding me to keep me from harrassing my mother’s poor cocker spaniel.) I miss them all, and thank them all for various things, but mostly for just being who they were.

Martha Duntemann was a remarkable woman. She survived all four of my grandparents (including her oldest son Harry) and lived longer than anyone in my direct line of descent, as far back as I can see. (Only one person anywhere in my family tree lived longer, and by less than two years.) She lived in a second-floor flat, and went up and down the (outside) stairs without assistance until three weeks before she died at age 96. I didn’t get a great deal of time with her (I was one of 19 great-grandchildren) and didn’t appreciate at age ten or eleven that when she hugged me hello I was touching a living link to the 1870s.

I appreciate it now. And I can show Martha in a better light in the photo below, from 1900:

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The man is her husband Frank W. Duntemann (after whom my father was named) 1867-1936, and the boys are Elvin F. Duntemann 1895-1979 and my grandfather Harry. Frank was the postmaster of Orchard Place, Illinois (from which the abbreviation ORD for O’Hare Field was derived) and owned the little town’s general store.

I guess people just didn’t say, “Smile for the camera!” in 1900. The good news is that when I remember Martha in her 90s, I remember her smiling. If I live that long (and I certainly hope to give it a good shot) I intend to do the same.

Those Gnarly Duntemann Brothers


A woman contacted me recently who is evidently a fourth cousin; we have a set of great-great-great grandparents in common. She sent me a scan of an old undated photo and told me that the second man from the left was her great-great grandfather, Frederick Duntemann 1846-1927. She thought that one or more of the other men were Frederick’s brothers. What did I know?

HermanDuntemannHeadshot.jpgWilliamDuntemannHeadshot.jpgNot much. But it’s an interesting sort of detective work, this family resemblances stuff. I do know that my great-great grandfather Heinrich Duntemann 1843-1892 had four brothers, all of whom long survived him, who died of an infection from a farm injury at 48. I have photos of two of his brothers, William Duntemann 1849-1921 (left) and Hermann Duntemann 1859-1933. (right). William’s photo was taken when he was in his sixties, as best I know. Hermann’s was taken when he was 26. If I had to guess, I’d say that the leftmost man in the group photo was William, and the rightmost was Hermann. The remaining man may have been Louis Duntemann 1851-1928. I can’t tell, as I’ve never seen a photo and know very little about him.

Well, they certainly look like brothers to me, and in fact far left and third from left could almost be twins. The guy on the right seems like a shoo-in for an older version of Hermann. That said, I’m not sure how fair it is to say: “This is a photo of the four surviving Duntemann brothers, circa 1920.” Hermann left no descendants, but at least a hundred people descend from the other three brothers. If I say that that’s what it is, all those people will likely take my word for it. (I’m the de facto family history expert, simply because I know a little and everybody else knows nothing.) It would be great to have such a photo of the four brothers, and maybe I do. But I think I have to be real damned careful about saying so. Uncritical acceptance of expert opinions is dangerous, when the experts know only a little more than everybody else but still want the prestige of expertise.

So I will lead by example: These guys may just possibly have a greater-than-zero chance of perhaps being your great-great (and perhaps greater) grandfathers. It is impossible to know. We might wish it were otherwise, but wishin’ don’t make it so.

Odd Lots

  • The dairy that delivered milk to our house when I was a kid was indeed Hawthorn Mellody Farms (as verified by the Sister of Eidetic Recall) which was unusual in several ways: They had an amusement park in Libertyville, Illinois, complete with a miniature train ride, a petting zoo, Western town, and pony rides, that was a famous destination in the 50s for suburban moms with station wagons full of Boomer kids. They were the first dairy to put pictures of missing children on milk cartons. And before they went bankrupt in 1992, they were one of the largest Black-owned businesses in the country.
  • Also relevant to my entry of Febraury 24, 2009: Dunteman’s Dairy evidently existed before 1939. A page out of the 1937 Arlington Heights phone book from Digital Past shows an entry for Dunteman’s Dairy at 830 N. Dunton Avenue in Arlington Heights. The 1936 phone book shows a listing at the same address for “L. Dunteman,” so Lenard may have begun operating the dairy from his back yard (not an uncommon thing to do back then!) in that year. Prior to 1936 his listing shows yet a different address. I’ll have to see what’s at that address today the next time I’m in the area.
  • Digital Past is a very good source if you’re doing genealogy research on Chicago’s northwest suburbs; awhile back I found the location and a photo of the headstone of Laura Brommelkamp Dunteman there, after looking in vain for some years. (She was the second wife of Henry Dunteman, founder of R. W. Dunteman Construction, which is still in operation in Chicago’s western burbs.)
  • Well, grub is still plug-ugly, but it’s no longer difficult to configure. I’ve been using KGrubEditor for over a month now, and it makes the job a breeze. Highly recommended.
  • Where’s my flying car? Well, it may be here: Yet another Skycar concept, but this time it’s more Mad Max than Flash Gordon. Put a big fan on the back of a go-kart, get up some speed, and then release the parawing. Off you go!
  • Philip Jose Farmer has left us. Along with Heinlein, Clarke, and Keith Laumer, Farmer was one of the SF writers who inspired me to keep going and make something of myself in fiction. I still consider the Riverworld concept one of the most compelling ideas ever to surface in SF, even though the series wandered toward the end and would have been much better had it been three books (on the outside, four) instead of five.
  • I was going to do a whole entry on this, but Cory Doctorow said everything I intended to say about whackjob Roy Blount Jr and the knucklehead Authors’ Guild, who want money from anyone who does text-to-speech. There’s nothing I can add, and as a longtime author who still makes money writing, I think I have a right to strong opinions about this. Let me quote Cory here, and cheer:
  • Time and again, the Author’s Guild has shown itself to be the epitome of a venal special interest group, the kind of grasping, foolish posturers that make the public cynically assume that the profession it represents is a racket, not a trade. This is, after all, the same gang of weirdos who opposed the used book trade going online.