In Memoriam – Russell Erwin Kees (1927-2016)

By Don Taylor

Photo of Russell Kees in army uniform
Russell Kees c. 1952
Source: Don Taylor

When I was growing up, my Uncle Russ was always a mystery – almost a myth. He was a photo on the wall and a wonder, as in “wonder what happened with Russell.  I knew my middle name came from him. I had heard a few stories, about how he took care of his sister, my mom, a lot when they were kids.  He was five years older and quite protective. I knew that after his grandmother’s husband died, he live with his grandmother during high school.  He was just a tad too young for World War II, but he did serve in Korea during the Korean War. After his military service he came back home to Detroit to help take care of his grandmother again. in 1953, his grandmother Ida (Barber) Knight died then he decided to “go out west” to find his natural father, who he hadn’t seen since he was five.  Then, he vanished to us.
My mother married, changed her name, and moved to Minnesota, making it hard for anyone to find her. Her mother, Donna, lived with my mom and me throughout the 1950s into the 1960s and never had a phone in her name, so she was virtually impossible to find as well. Every once in a while my mom would see a telephone directory for another city and look to see if there was a Russell Kees listed. When she found one, she’d call, but none of them was her brother.

In 2002, I was involved with my genealogy, searching for my biological father, to no avail, and got to thinking, could I use some of my new-found skills to find Russell? I talked with my mom who indicated that Russell graduated from Southwestern High School in Detroit in 1945, but not with the other students, he graduated in January, an odd time of the year. I devised a plan. I went to Classmates.Com and contacted every person in the 1944 and the 1945 classes from Southwestern High School. I told them my story and asked if they knew Russell Kees and if they had any contact information for him. People were responsive, and many remembered Russell but none had contact with him in years. Finally, a person responded, she had a reunion list that included Russ’s current contact information. She gave me his email address.  I contact Russ first by email, then by telephone, it was great. I learned that he spent much of his adult life living on Kwajalein Island, in the Marshall Islands, which is about half-way between Hawaii and New Guinea. He had been married three times and had one daughter. He had just retired, was living in Arizona, and would love to reconnect with his sister again.  Super!  I helped coordinate where and when they would meet and booked my flight from Boston to Minneapolis, so I could be there when it happened.  I then wrote an email to Classmates.Com and let them know of my success in finding my mother’s brother and told them they hadn’t seen each other for 50 years. I told them the date they would be meeting and thanked them so much for the service they provide. few days later, I received a telephone call from “60 Minutes II.” They had been informed by Classmates of the reunion and would love to send a crew to film it.

Photo of Sylvia Matson, Vicki Mabrey, Russell Kees - 2002
Sylvia Matson, Vicki Mabrey, Russell Kees –
2002

A few days later, I received a telephone call from “60 Minutes II.” They had been informed by Classmates of the reunion and would love to send a crew to film it.

(A quick aside: “The 60 Minutes II” call occurred while I was at work. In talking to them I was late for a staff meeting.  When I got to the staff meeting, my boss asked why I was late, I told him that “60 Minutes” had called and I couldn’t really hang up on them. He said “WHAT!” and I said, it really wasn’t “60 Minutes,” it was “60 Minutes II.” My boss’ eyes were like saucers, and he asked, “what did they want.”  I said, “would you believe they wanted to know what it was like to work at DCMA.” The look on his face was priceless – he totally freaked out. Then, I told him, no, they actually wanted to know the particulars of my mother and her brother meeting for the first time in 50 years. My boss was so relieved. I don’t think he thought it was funny, but all of the other people at the staff meeting did.)

My mom and Russell’s first meeting in 50 years
was filmed by a crew from “60 Minutes II”

My mom and Russell met in the hospitality area at a local hotel and the crew was there to film it. Their reunion went wonderfully. A few weeks later, “60 Minutes II” said they needed more and flew my mother from Minneapolis and uncle Russ from Phoenix to Albuquerque, put them up in a five-star hotel and filmed an interview with Vicki Mabrey.  Unfortunately, another Classmates.Com story took precedence over mom & Russ’s meeting so most of their interview ended up on the cutting room floor.

Sylvia & Russ on a cruise.

Mom’s husband, Edgar Jerome Matson, died later in 2003, and Russell and my mom became great friends. The took a cruise to Alaska together and a riverboat cruise on a paddleboat on the Ohio River. They loved sharing their time together. It was great to see their relationship grow and them to become great friends.

Although I only saw Uncle Russ six or eight times, I miss him dearly and miss the way he made my mom so happy.

Russell Erwin Kees (1927-2016)

Russell was born in Detroit, Michigan on 29 August 1927 to Samson (Sammy) Clark Amsterdam and Donna Knight [1] as Russell Erwin Clark Amsterdam. As a young child, he traveled with his mother and father, who were in show business, around the country. He was with them on the ship to Panama in 1930. Sammy and Donna divorced in 1932; Sammy lived in New York, Donna lived in Chicago, and Russell lived with Donna in Chicago.

Photo of Sylvia and Russell Kees, circa 1937
Sylvia and Russell Kees, circa 1937

About 1937, Donna became involved with a man named Russell Kees and lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan with him. Both my mom and Russell adopted the surname Kees, although I don’t believe that Donna ever married Russell Kees and both my mom and uncle Russ are sure Russell Kees never adopted them.

The husband of Russell’s maternal grandmother, Ida (Barber) Knight, Harvey Knight died in 1942 and Russell went to live with Ida shortly after that to help out there. He graduated from Southwestern High School. In high school, he was noted as an excellent roller skater.

He enlisted and service during the Korean War.  Russell told me the story that while in Korea, a plane strafed the jeep he was driving. He said he got out and into a ditch real fast.

His name change to Kees not being legal gave him some problems in the 1950s when he applied for a Top Secret Crypto clearance for his job. (A problem I too shared with my Taylor/Larson/Matson name changes and my inability to identify my father’s name.)

In 1954, Russell married Delphine Ann Sieradski. That marriage was short-lived and ended in divorce quickly.

In 1958, Russell married Jacqueline R Wigfield; they divorced as well, probably in 1964.

In 1965, Russell married June Elsie Callaway. They soon had a daughter. Russell and June divorced in 1968.

Russell spent many years on Kwajalein Island in the Marshall Islands. While on “Kwaj,” community theater dominated his activities. Theater was his passion, and he starred in many roles while there.  He is known to be an excellent piano player, able to play the “Flight of the Bumble Bee.” In the 2000s he recorded playing “Beautiful Mother of Mine” a song written by his mother, Donna in 1923.

Photo of Russell Erwin Kees
Russell Erwin Kees
Probably c. 1948

He was an avid golfer, winning tournaments for his age group when he was in his 70s.

Russell Erwin Kees died on 16 March 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.
He is buried at National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, in Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona in Section H3, Row B, Site 39.

Russell is survived by daughter Dawn Milligan, sister Sylvia Matson, and two grandchildren.

If you knew Russell and have a story or two you can share, I would love to add your story about Russell to my family history.  Also, I’d like any photos you may have of Russell.  I will add them to a family album and possibly use them in a coliague  remembering Russell. Please use the comments below to share with me.  Comments will be considered as public unless you specifically state you would like the story kept private within the family.

Endnotes:

[1] This is the only record I have seen that indicates that Madonna Montran used the name of her stepfather, Harvey Knight.

Sources:

1940 Census – Michigan, Kent County, Grand Rapids, ED 86-156, Sheet 10B, Line 61, Age 12, attending school.  Ancestry.Com
Birth Certificate – State of Michigan – State File #: 121-582-0201178.
Cook County, Illinois Marriage Index, 1930-1960 – Ancestry.Com
Donna Montran Collection – Digital Scans held by Don Taylor
Email – Various between Don Taylor and Russell Kees & Don Taylor and Russell’s sister (Living).
New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 – Ancestry.Com
Find A Grave Memorial# 161134930 – Russell Erwin Kees

Veterans Day 2015

Today I remember my ancestors that served in the military.

I know of 64 relatives who served in the military, ten of whom are my direct ancestors.  Six of those 10 served in the Revolutionary War and two served in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR – Union).

My Grandfather – Clifford Durwood Brown (1903-1990) (aka Richard Durand, aka Richard “Dick” Brown) served in the Army. Little is known about his peacetime military service. In 1928, he was in the army stationed in Panama. He was a member of the base’s champion basketball team (See: Article.  In 1930, he met my Grandmother in Panama.  It appears that he was discharged in 1931.

2nd Great Grandfather – John William Manning (1846-1888)

Civil War – GAR

29 Aug 1863 – Enlisted at 17 years of age into the 45th Regiment of Kentucky. His father, Enoch Mannin, gave his consent for young John William to enlist.
Between May and June of 1864 he was captured by the South (Morgan).
He mustered out on 30 Dec 1864.

3rd Great Grandfather – Enoch Mannin (1823-1907)
Civil War – GAR

29 Aug 1863 – Enlisted in the 45th Regiment of Kentucky.
Between May and June of 1864 he was captured by the South (Morgan)
He was discharged on 29 Dec 1864 at Leattettsburg, KY.

5th Great Grandfather – Reuben Fowler (1753-1832)

Revolutionary War Veteran. Service time unknown (by me).

6th Great Grandfather – John Maben 1753-1813) Revolutionary War (DAR – Patriot # A072838) Private – 1st Claverack Batt, 9th Regt.

Private – Capt Hawley, Col Van Ness; Albany Co.Mil/New York

 

6th Great Grandfather John Parsons, Sr  (1737/1738-1821)

Revolutionary War (DAR – Patriot# A088240

Lieutenant – Second LT in Capt Samuel Wolcott, 10th Co, 1st Berkshire Cnty Regt of MA Militia.

 

Lieutenant – Also LtCap Elijah Daming, Col Ashley

 

6th Great Grandfather – Wicks Weeks Rowley (1760-1826)

 

Revolutionary War (DAR – Patriot # A09932

Private – New York Militia

6th Great Grandfather – Samuel Wolcott (1736-1802)

Revolutionary War (DAR Patriot # A127434

Captain – 10th Co, 1st Regt, Berkshire Co Militia; Col Hopkins Regt to Highlands.

7th Great Grandfather – Grover Buel  (1732-1818)

Revolutionary War (DAR – Patriot # A016639

He was a soldier of the Dutchess Co. New York Militia 6th Regiment.

He received Land Bounty Rights

First Flag of New England 1686-1707

8th Great Grandfather – Samuel Wolcott (1679-1734)

“He commanded a military company.”
According to “The Family of HENRY WOLCOTT” by Chandler Wolcott See: https://archive.org/details/wolcottgenealogy00wolc

He probably served in either King Williams War 1688-1697 or Queen Ann’s War (1702-1713). These wars were the first two of the four French and Indian Wars, which pitted New France against New England.

Finally, My Uncle Russell Kees fought in Korea.

My stepfather, Edgar Jerome Matson fought in World War II

My step great-grandfather Sammy Amsterdam served during World War I.

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Veterans Day – 11/11/2013 – Howells & Darlings

Veterans Day – 11/11/2013 – The Howells & Darlings

General Frank Alton Armstrong
Official USAF Photo
The Howell/Hobbs line has had many in the military.  Certainly, the most famous of them is Greybeard’s 1st cousin, Frank Alton Armstrong. During World War II, Col. Armstrong led bombing missions over Germany, which were the basis for a book, movie, and a TV program, “Twelve O’Clock High.” After VE day, he flew many additional missions over Japan. After the war, General Armstrong pioneered a nonstop air routes from Alaska to Norway and Alaska to New York. 
In terms of direct ancestors in the Howell/Hobbs line has three veterans that I have identified so far.

Robert Bryan (1736-1794) – Revolutionary War – 5th Great Grandfather.
James Ashley Hobbs (1844-1920) – Civil War (South) – Great-Grandfather.
Peter Fletcher Howell (1842-1924) – Civil War (South) – Great Grandfather

Robert Bryan (1736-1794) – Revolutionary War – 5th Great Grandfather.

North Carolina
“Don’t Tread on Me” Flag
“Robert Bryan … assisted in establishing American Independence, while acting in the capacity of Private, N.C. Militia. Several Ladies have DAR Numbers for him. Per – Sara Long Johnson)
Robert Bryan died 3 April 1784. We do not know his burial location. 

DAR Ancestor #A016279

Sources: Martin County Heritage – [Biography] 89 – John Bryan Family by Sara Long Johnson.
Daughters of the American Revolution: Member # 517846 – Ancestor # A016279


– – – – – – – – – – – – –

David Swazey (1762-1828) – Revolutionary War – Fourth Great Grandfather.

Fort Mercer (New Jersey)
Revolutionary War Flag
David Swazey of Sussex fought in the Revolutionary War. His service was as a private under various Captains including McKinney, Hazelet, Henry, Bonnel, and Captain Ribble.  His pension number is S*W6111

David Swayze died on 2 March 1838. He is buried in
New Salem Methodist Episcopal Cemetery, Salem, Perry County, Ohio (Plot: Old Section Row 8 ( Ruth ) / 15th stone from tree line.) 

DAR Ancestor #: A111692
Please consider leaving virtual flowers and a note on his Find-a-Grave virtual marker.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – 

James Ashley Hobbs (1844-1920) – Civil War (South) – Great-Grandfather.

North Carolina Civil War Flag
James A. Hobbs enlisted, for the Civil War in Co. G 3rd Reg. N.C. Calvalry (12-1-1862) (41st State Troops) at Camp Badger as a Pvt., age 20, residing in Martin County. Present or accounted for until transferred to Co. A, 17th Reg, NCT (2nd organization) 9-23-1863.
Pvt. James Hobbs with the 17th NCT, whose home was Hamilton, NC was admitted to Hospital No 4, Wilmington, NC, on 12-6-1863; retd to duty 2-9-64. He was admitted for catarrtius, which is an inflammation of the nose or throat.  It must have been really bad to keep him hospitalized for two months. He was in Ward 8, bed 162.

Scene from Wilmington, NC Hospital
Courtesy of Hanover Genelogical Society 

Applied for clothing 2nd quarter 184, issued 6-21-64. Present or accounted for through 10-1864. Sept-Oct absent. Division Provost guard service. Pt. J.A. Hobbs appeared on “Roll of Honor” of his organization. (Resolutions ratified by General Assenbkt 12-20-1862)

COMPANY G, the “Scotland Neck Mounted Riflemen,” from Halifax County, had six commissioned, seven noncommissioned officers, and 108 privates; total, 121. Atherton B. Hill, who was made Captain 9 October, 1861, was succeeded by Benj. G. Smith promoted from Second Sergeant. First Lieutenant, Norfleet Smith; Second Lieutenants, George A. Higgs (afterwards promoted to Captain), Theodore B. Hyman, and John T. Savage.

James Ashley Hobbs died in December 1920. We do not know where he was buried.

Source:  Martin County Heritage – (Biography) 418 – James Ashley Hobbs by Hazel Armstrong Valentine.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –

Peter Fletcher Howell (1842-1924) – Civil War – Great Grandfather

Flag of Lee’s Army of
Northern Virginia
1861 – Peter Fletcher Howell enlisted on 23 October at the Sussex Court House in Virginia.
1862 – In May he was promoted to full 4th Sergeant.
1862 – In August he was Transferred to Company G. Virginia 61st Infantry Regiment.
1862 – In July he was promoted to full 2nd Sergeant.
1864 – In July he fought at “The Crater” where Sargent Peter Howell  captured the regimental flag of the 2nd Michigan Regiment.  He was with Mahone’s regiment and his participation at “The Crater” confirms oral history that he probably did participate in a “turkey shoot” of US troops.
1865 – In Feb he was promoted to full 1st Sergeant. 
1865 – He mustered out on April 9th at Appomattox, VA.

Peter Fletcher Howell died on 27 October 1924.  He is buried in Cedarwood Cemetery, Weldon, Halifax County, North Carolina, USA. Please consider leaving virtual flowers and a note on his Find-a-Grave virtual marker.  

Sources: Ancestry.Com — Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.

Original data: Data compiled by Historical Data Systems of Kingston, MA from the following list of works.

The Daily Dispatch: August 3, 1864., via Perseus system at Tufts University.

Find a Grave entry for Sgt Peter F Howell http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=62752874

Robert Harry Darling (1907-1969) – World War II – Maternal Grandfather


US Navy Flag
Robert Harry Darling, aka Harry, served in the US Navy during World War II.  Little is known about his service as many records of service were lost in a fire.  We do know enlisted in the Navy on 23 November, 1943, in Salt Lake City, Utah, when he was 36 years old for two years.  He served at the Navel Training Center, San Diego and the US Naval Hospital in San Diego, CA. 
Oddly enough, he was honorably discharged on 08 Sep 1944, less than a year into his enlistment as a Seaman 2nd Class. (So, he received one promotion.) 
Robert Harry Darling died on 22 January 1969.  He is buried in Cadillac Memorial Gardens-East, Clinton Township, Macomb County, Michigan, USA.

Please consider leaving virtual flowers and a note on his Find-a-Grave virtual marker.   

Source: Find-a-Grave marker for Robert Harry Darling http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=87669415



Robert Harry Darling

“Harry” was born 18 August 1907 and was the second of two children of Rufus Harry and Hannah (Anna) McAlister Darling.  It appears that Rufus and Anna separated shortly after Harry’s birth.  In any event, in 1910 Robert was living with his mother and sister, Elizabeth Grace Darling, at 2219 Ward Street, Pittsburgh, PA with Robert & Emma Hennig and their three children.
Anna died in 1913 when Harry was only five years old, and his father was absent, so his grandmother, Margaret McAllister, took the two children in to raise them.  In August 1915, it was necessary for Margaret to return to Cumberland County, England to settle a family estate issue. However, the family story is that Margaret was determined to see Rufus’ children civilized by an extended stay in her home country.  She and the two children traveled aboard the SS New York, which was an American Line ship. Transatlantic passage was very dangerous in those days; it was only three years after the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage.  World War I had already begun in Europe and German U-Boats were on the prowl. The sinking of the RMS Lusitania occurred three months before this journey so there was a great concern for their safety.  The three travelers remained in England for over a year, so Harry and Elizabeth attended school while there were there.  They returned safely to the States in December of 1916 intending to live in the Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh. 
Any hopes Harry & Elizabeth may have had of reuniting with their father were dashed when, in June of 1917, their father, Rufus, died. Elizabeth’s (Betty’s) memories of her father were vague at best. He was away on “business” most of the time but remembered lots of presents when he returned.
In 1920, Harry and his sister lived with his grandmother, his uncle John W. McAllister, along with his wife and two daughters 411 Arlington Avenue, in the Mount Oliver neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Also living there was his uncle, John Darling and his wife, Emma, and their two children,  Cousin 1 and Cousin 2. Today, that area is a rugged, unbuildable, embankment above the railroad tracks just a few blocks from the river and the steel factories of the day.
On August 10, 1926, eighteen-year-old Harry married Nora Adaline Glies in a ceremony performed by Edward Carter, who was a Baptist minister, in Wellsburg, Brook County. West Virginia. Wellsburg is a small town on the Ohio River about forty-five miles west of Pittsburgh.  Both Harry and Nora lied about their ages and indicated that they were twenty-one on their marriage license.  At that time, West Virginia required a parent to pay the Marriage Bond for parties marrying under the age of twenty-one.  That marriage didn’t last long and they divorced sometime in 1927.
Harry and Florence were married sometime in 1929 and in 1930 lived in a $60/month four-plex at 110 North Fremont Street, Ross, PA.  With them was a boarder named William Doll.  During that time Harry worked as an automobile salesman.  In July 1930, Florence gave birth to a daughter, Girl 1.  Florence passed away in 1934.  Family history indicates that Elizabeth was living with them at that time.
In September 1938, Harry and Mae Reno were married by a minister by the name of Charles Smith. This union produced three children, Girl 2, born in 1939; Robert Harry, born in 1940; and Girl 3 born in 1941.  Family history says that sometime during this period he fathered a child with a nightclub singer and had a child named “Girl 4.”  No information has been discovered at this time.
It appears that Harry and Mae were divorced in 1942, so Harry became eligible for the draft. He enlisted in the Navy on 23 November 1943. He did not see combat, only serving at the Naval Hospital in San Diego.  He was discharged on 8 September 1944, before VE and VJ days.  It is understood that he was discharged due to mental breakdown; however, his discharge papers indicated that his discharge was honorable and that he was eligible for reenlistment.  His physical description at discharge was 6’0″, 155lbs, Blue eyes, brown hair, ruddy complexion, and a birthmark on his upper left breast.
It is not clear when, where, or how Harry met Florence Drexl, but by 1945, they had a daughter, Girl 5, who was followed by a son, Boy 2, in 1946.

Video: Memorial Day 2016 and added to this post on 9 Jun 2016

Harry died 22 January 1969 and is buried in Cadillac Memorial Gardens, East. Mt. Clemens, Michigan, which is about 25 miles north by northeast of Detroit.

Note: Mentions of “Cousin”, “Girl”, and “Boy” refer to living individuals.

Kentucky – Confederate Pension Applications

I ran into a great site as part of the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives at
Department of Confederate Pensions (1912 – 1946).  More than just the application for pension, it also contains supporting documentation.  In the case of an ancestor that I was looking at, not only did the site have his application, it had confirmation regarding his muster dates, that he was wounded twice during the war.  It also included his death certificate and some follow-up documentation (handwritten letters) about where to send his final payment – to a daughter who was going by a first name I hadn’t know beforehand.

Kentucky didn’t pass the Confederate Pension act until 1912, so the veteran had to live 47 years after the war (into the individual’s late 60’s or older) and needed to have remained in Kentucky.

A great feature is that you can search and display applications by county, so I could look at all of the applications from folks in Morgan county at once.