Edwin Ashbel Winegar, 1873-1946
Edwin Ashbel was born in Vergennes Township, near Lowell, Michigan. In 1879, his father, Ashbel, died leaving his mother, Mary Rease Roberts, with four young sons and no one to help raise them. In 1883, she moved back to New York to live with her sister. She died in 1889.
The next record we have of is of Edwin aged 16 and his younger brother Ira age 14, living in Clinton County, Michigan with a Howe family. According to Howe records, the boys were orphaned and found shelter in an unused shack. Fred Howe felt this was not a proper place for the young boys and took Edd in. Ira went to live with Fred’s brother Rozelle. Edd worked for room, board and school and became a member of the family. A young son of the Howe’s reports on how he cried when he learned that Edd was not his brother. Edd stayed with the Howe family until he was ready to attend Michigan Agricultural College and learn the dairy business.
The Howe home was not far from the Edward W. Stephenson farm and he became acquainted with the Stephenson sisters, Bertha and Myrtie. At first, he courted Bertha until Myrtie was old enough to date. He and Myrtie were married in 1900 at the bride’s home.
Edd worked for a short time in a creamery then worked on a farm until he could afford to buy his own. He purchased a small farm in Wacousta, a small town of 150 inhabitants. Across the street was a creamery, and he ran that as well as farming. The house they lived in had been built by Nathaniel Irish Daniells, the great, great, grandfather of Mary Winegar whom Donald Winegar would later marry. N.I. Daniells had his office as Justice of the Peace in the house. Demand for the creamery fell off, and Edd turned to farming full time.
Edd’s son Donald Winegar writes:
Dad had a very good mind and was a great reader, always trying to improve his knowledge. He worked hard and faithfully. He was honest as the day was long. I never heard my father swear or say anything that could not be used in mixed company. His favorite expression when perplexed or exasperated was ‘Oh, Shaw.’‘
But for all his goodness, he had one failing. He was not a good manager, nor was he of mechanical mind, both qualities that a farmer should possess. He ‘toggled up’ machinery, harnesses, buildings and the like. Many people who knew him best, said he was out of his element as a farmer. He should have been a teacher, for he was a good one. But this I can say for him, in spite of his inadequacies, he kept on keeping on. He didn’t give his children property nor money; he gave them the legacy of a good name.
Dad was a Christian. From earliest memory, he was faithful in things of his faith. He was a good churchman. He was faithful in attendance and in giving. He lived his faith seven days a week.
For several years, Dad was postmaster of the little community of Wacousta. Progress dictated, however, that the post office be eliminated and the people of Wacousta put on rural routes. I can still remember people coming to the office, which was in a small room in the southeast corner of the house.
Dad wanted his children to have a high school education. Because Wacousta had only a ten grade school, this meant that the other two years had to be gotten elsewhere. This took money, in fact more money than dad and mother could afford. But they managed by paying for their children’s education rather than paying off the mortgage on the farm.
After my grandfather, E. W. Stephenson, died in 1931, his farm was divided between his two daughters, and as one part of the farm had a tenant house, my folks fixed up the old house and moved in. The old farm in Wacousta was allowed to go for its mortgage. The man who took over the mortgage discovered he had gravel on the property. Dad had made tests before but not at the right locations. The first year the pit was in operation, the owner realized $6000 in profit. But such is life!
Edd continued to farm until age 72 when he had to retire because of illness. He died of cancer of the stomach in 1946.
Myrtie Louisa Stephenson, 1880-1954
Myrtie was born in Wacousta in 1880. She and her sister Bertha were very close and remained so for all of their lives. According to Donald Winegar, she and her husband rarely spoke of their early life, and he knew very little of their past. Myrtie had rheumatic fever as a child and was left with a bad heart. She could do a lot of work but occasionally had to rest her heart. During those times, the children had to help with all the heavy work. Donald remembers that his work included churning butter and pumping the washing machine in the back room.
In many ways, it was a hard life for my mother. Money was always scarce and she rarely spent money for clothes for herself. Things for the home to make her work easier had to pushed aside until another time. She, too, was determined that her children should have a high school education, something she did not have. For years, she dreamed that things would be better someday.
Through it all, she was sustained by her Christian faith. She tried to be a good mother. She wanted her children to have the best possible life.”
When mother and Dad decided to move to the new location, give up the mortgage on the Wacousta farm, and start again free and clear of debt, they fell to with a will, making the house liveable and the barn ready for horses, cows and chickens. I don’t know when I ever saw her as happy and carefree. At last, they had a place which belonged to them. She took delight in making plans for the days to come. She sang at her work and seemed to take a whole new lease on life.
When Edd died in 1946, Myrtie lived with her children for a number of years. Ill health and the fact that she could not bear the confusion of her grandchildren any more led her to enter Clark Home in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1953. She died the following year of hardening of the arteries of the brain.
Myrtie had a hard life. Donald Winegar ends his biography of his mother with the following:
They are born; they live,
They struggle; they die.
But this in no way fills in the chinks of life — its dreams, its hopes, its failings, its joys and its sorrows. What mortal can know what it means to live, to struggle, and to die? But we believe that God knows and remembers. Praise be to God! Amen.
Edd and Myrtie Winegar had six children. Nina Irene died of tuberculosis shortly before she would have graduated from Michigan State. Mary Louise died in infancy. Other children were Esther Alta, Donald Stephenson (my father), William Edwin Ashbel, and Paul Ray. Below is one of the few pictures ever made of the entire family.