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.
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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