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Alva Lester House buried his wife, Mary Lucy Besser, on February 17, 1920 with their stillborn son and next to their two babies – Arthur and Esther – in South Lawn cemetery, Coshocton County, Ohio.

With his two surviving children, Evelyn and Jarold, recuperating from the flu, and feeling as if life has dealt him a losing hand, Lester had to find a way to move forward especially when a few months later his older brother, James W. (Willie) House, died from bronchial asthma.

 

Marriage Permit of Lester House and Pearl Davidson

A little over four years later, he married Pearl Davidson on June 14, 1924.  She was the daughter of Isaac Newton and Mary Davidson of Keene, Coshocton County.  Born the youngest of four children on April 6, 1893, she had lived in Keene until her marriage.  Immediately she became a second mother to Evelyn, age 10, and Jarold, age 8.

Even though Pearl was 31 years old at the time of the marriage, it is unknown if the couple tried to have children or if she had any pregnancy complications. 

Several months after their wedding, Lester’s father, James Emory House, passed away. He was 82 years old. The year following their wedding, Pearl lost her mother, Mary Davidson, due to diabetes.
 
Several years later, Lester’s son, Jarold, went into the U.S. Army.  He enlisted on July 19, 1940 at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio.  During his duties, he was sent to Trinidad in the British West Indies, stationed at Camp Robinson in Arkansas, and also Italy.  In August 1943 he married Elizabeth Johnson.  When she went to visit him a few months later in Arkansas, she found him “leading an improper life and associating with other women”.  Soon she had filed for divorce.  It took over a year for the divorce to be finalized.  There hadn’t been any children born to this union.
 
In April 1942 Lester was required to register for WWII.  Called the “old man’s draft”, he completed the registration card at age 55.  He listed Pearl House as the person who would always know his address.  He lived in the same house he’d grown up in: 423 N. Eleventh Street, Coshocton, Ohio (the home that was willed to him by his parents).  He was working at the Warner Brothers Theater on N. 6th Street in Coshocton and listed that he had distinguishing characteristics of both his thumb joints.  He was 5’10” and weighed 160 lbs. with blue eyes, brown hair and a ruddy complexion.

In December 1944, Pearl became ill, possibly having a mental breakdown.  Lester took her to the doctor.  Requesting that he take his wife to a hospital in Columbus, Pearl was hysterical.  She threatened to end her life as well as her husband’s.  Thinking that he would try to prevent any suicide attempt, Lester took the firing pin from the shotgun he owned and went to work as a janitor at the Bancroft school building on the morning of April 5, 1945.  Not too long after her husband left for work, Pearl figured out how to work the shotgun and killed herself.  Lester had called the doctor and then went back home where he found his wife’s body.  The coroner listed her official cause of death as multiple lacerations of brain due to discharge of shotgun in head, self-inflicted.

With his son in the service in Italy, Lester and Evelyn had to come to terms that Pearl had ended her own life in the community they had lived in all their lives.  She was buried in Prairie Chapel Cemetery in Coshocton County, Ohio two days later.
 
 
Once again, a devastating tragedy had left Lester looking for a way to pick up the pieces of his life.  He had hardly gotten his breath when his older brother, John, died on October 22, 1945 due to coronary thrombosis.  He had already lost another brother, Florus, in 1941 and a half-sister, Lucina, in 1937.  His oldest sister had died in childbirth in 1907.  There were only a half-brother, half-sister and one sister left. 
A month after John died; Lester celebrated the marriage of his daughter, Evelyn, to Ellis Murray close to Thanksgiving 1945.  The joy soon turned to more grief as Lester’s half-brother, Ed House, died three days after Christmas of a cerebral hemorrhage.  It had been so quick and sudden that it was initially reported that he’d died of a heart attack.  Lester’s family was dwindling and more people he loved were dying.
 
Then came the news in 1946 that his son had been wounded serving with the United States 5th Army in Italy.  He’d received wounds to his right arm, chest and thigh and received a Purple Heart.  In July of that year, Lester’s only remaining sister passed away of breast cancer. 
 
A bright spot came in June 1947 when there was a wedding to celebrate.  Jarold and Margaret Ruth Wohlheter married at the Zion Methodist Church in Adamsville, Muskingum County, Ohio.  Within several years, the couple’s family had grown as their children were born. 
Lester then lost his last surviving sibling, his half-sister, Belle Dora (House) Ruby, on November 12, 1951.  He was the last one left of his father’s children and time was slowly catching up to him.
At some point, something must have changed within Jarold.  Something so unsettling that Lester had even more to be concerned about.  In 1958 his son was arrested on morals charges and sent to the State Mental hospital for a sanity hearing.  Finding him sane, he was released back to Coshocton County to be arraigned.  In March he was sentenced to 1-20 years in prison at the Ohio Penitentiary.  A month later, Margaret filed for divorce.  The judge hearing the case found no evidence of cause and dismissed the divorce.  It is unknown the length of Jarold’s sentence or if a divorce ever occurred.
At the age of 76 years, he responded to a letter from his niece.  In the text of the letter he wrote, “I can’t write much as I have a crippled right hand with arthritis.  I am only one of all the children left. And I will be 77 May 9.”
Lester died in January 1968.  He was survived by his son, Jarold, his daughter, Evelyn, and four grandchildren.  Services were held at Gibson and Bontrager Funeral Home and was buried next to his wife, Pearl, at Prairie Chapel Cemetery in Coshocton County, Ohio.
  

Epilogue: Jarold died in August 1980 and Evelyn died in 1985.  It is my wish that my Great-uncle Lester finally found some measure of happiness in his later years.  He had endured so much tragedy and loss in his lifetime that he deserved some bright spots.

 

 

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My dad remembers his mother’s youngest brother with fondness.  Born Alva Lester House on May 9, 1886 in Coshocton County, Ohio, he was the youngest of James and Frances (Ogan) House’s eight children.  Somewhere along the line, he acquired the nickname of “Doc” even though he went by his middle name, Lester.

 

Lester and Mary Lucy Besser, daughter of Isaac Besser and Mary Thornsley, were married on June 13, 1908.  Lucy, as she was known, was just over 16 years old.  On February 28, 1910 their first child, Arthur Joseph House, was born in Tuscarawas Township, Coshocton County.  On April 16, 1910 the couple and their son were enumerated in the James E. House household living at 423 N. Eleventh Street in Tuscarawas Township, Coshocton County.  Lester is working for a pottery company as a kiln worker, possibly at the Pope-Gosser China Company located on Seventeenth Street.

 

 

Lucy’s mother, Mary Lucy (Lucy) and step-father, Noah Deeds, lived on the same street at house number 336.  Lucy’s father had been killed in a coal mine accident when she was still a child. 

 

Four days after the census taker left, little Arthur came down with pneumonia.  At just two months old, he contracted meningitis and died on April 29, 1910.  Lester and Lucy faced their first tragedy as husband and wife.  The baby was buried two days later in South Lawn Cemetery in Coshocton. 

 

 

Two years later, Esther Annie House, was born on April 7, 1912.  She lived only 18 hours before dying of lobar pneumonia. She was buried next to her brother in South Lawn Cemetery. 

 

 

Not but a little over a month later, as the couple were enjoying some time at the home of Lucy’s mother and step-father, Lucy Thornsley Deeds, fell out of her chair by the window of her home and died of a heart attack.  The woman was about 42 years old.  Once again, Lucy had to overcome a loss and wade through her grief.

 

 

 

The couple finally had a child they could nurture when Georgia Evelyn House (referred to as Evelyn her entire life) was born on March 11, 1914.  Their joy continued as a healthy son, Jarold House, was born two years later on May 26, 1916.  Unfortunately the year previously, Lester had lost his mother, Frances (Ogan) House, to pulmonary tuberculosis.

 

Lucy wasn’t in the best of health as the family had lived in Colorado about a year but returned to their hometown on account of her health.  The family also lived in Dennison, Pennsylvania where Lester worked in the shops but returned to Coshocton in September 1919. 

 

The 1920 US Census taken on January 8th, shows that the couple is residing, once again, at 423 North Eleventh Street with Lester’s father, James. The census taker must have asked for the first name of occupants as they are listed as James E. House (head), Alva L. (listed also as Head), Mary L. (wife), Georgia E. (daughter), Jarold E. (son).  There was also another child – one still unborn – as Lucy was pregnant.

 

A little over a month later, the young mother contracted the Spanish flu, which had been the cause of a worldwide pandemic that had begun two years previous and would continue for several more months, then pneumonia set it causing labor.  It is unknown how far advanced the pregnancy was, however, the son that was delivered on February 14th, was stillborn.  Lucy died the following day.  The baby was buried with Lucy next to the other two children, in South Lawn Cemetery. 

 

 

 

 

 

Lester had to pick up what was left of his family and move forward.  His small children were also ill with the flu but would go on to recover.  He had to move beyond his loss and grief.

 

Part Two: How much more loss and grief can this famliy withstand?

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