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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, obit




October 6, 2021

by Kenneth Westhues, Grandson   

Reflecting on the death
of our family’s patriarch
a century ago
has reminded me
of two important truths
in counterpoint.
One is a happy fact,
important for understanding
Westhues family history.
The other is a sad eternal verity,
an inescapable condition
of life on earth.

The historical fact: an American dream come true

The historical fact is that by all the evidence available in the fall of 1921, William and Theresia’s migration to America 29 years earlier, in August of 1892, had been a spectacular success.

It had been a risky adventure. William was 44 years old then, Theresia 34. The oldest of their six children had just turned twelve. When they arrived at Ellis Island, New York’s new facility for processing immigrants, they could not even be sure that all eight members of the family would pass the physical exam. One or more might be shipped back to Germany. All the money they had on arrival totaled $1500.

With luck and good planning, the family made it to Glasgow, Missouri, where Theresia’s mother and brothers were already settled. William went deep in debt to buy 34 acres northeast of town and begin farming. He was an overpowering presence in the family, larger than life. He ruled the roost firmly but with fairness and intelligence.

The times were right for relentless work and discipline in agriculture to pay off. William was able to buy more land, enlarge the farm to more than 200 acres. He and Theresia remained strong and healthy. All six children survived to adulthood. So did the four more born on American soil.

William’s goal, his vocation and life’s work, was to recreate in America the way of life he had known growing up on the homeplace in Münsterland: agrarian, Catholic, hard-working, prudent, conservative. Actually, he wanted to go one better: to help his children get established on farms of their own, extending the ancestral way of life for generations to come.

Every child a source of pride

By the fall of 1921, at the age of 72, William was surrounded by proof of his success.

On the adjacent farm north of the homeplace lived eldest son Theodore with his wife Lena. They had lost their first two children in infancy, but now had three healthy boys: Ted, Norbert, and baby Raymond.

On the adjacent farm to the east lived the second son, William G., with his wife Emma. Already they had five children: Billy, Hank, Agnes, Edwin, and Joe.

On the adjacent farm to the northeast lived younger son Ben, who had married Viola two years before. Already they had daughter Berniece and a newborn named Walter.

William and Theresia’s oldest daughter Theresa had died of TB in 1916, but their two younger daughters were now married and living on farms nearby. Mary and Joe Flaspohler had a year-old daughter, Mary Teresa. Anna and Jule Oidtman were still newlyweds, having tied the knot the previous April; Anna was pregnant with a daughter they would name Freda.

Besides these five young farm families in Glasgow, there was son Henry’s young urban family in Jefferson City. Henry and Helen had two daughters, four-year-old Rosemary and a baby who would be called Bebe all her life. Henry had already made a name for himself as a lawyer, having been elected Prosecuting Attorney for Cole County in 1918, and re-elected in 1920.

One 37-year-old son remained unmarried but pleased his parents even more than those who had given them grandchildren. This was Joseph, ordained a priest in 1907. In September of 1921, just weeks before the fateful October 6, Father Joe had been in the news, appointed by Archbishop John Glennon to found a new parish in the St. Louis suburb of Riverview Garden, to be named for St. Catharine of Alexandria.

By 1921, only the two youngest sons were still with William and Theresia on the homeplace. John had celebrated his 26th birthday on October second. He and an Irish Catholic girl, Olive Conran, planned to be married the next spring. William intended to sell John the eastern half of the farm, a hundred acres on which he and Olive could build a new home.

The remaining hundred acres would stay with William and Theresia and their youngest son Fritz, the baby of the family, then 20 years old. Five sons on adjacent farms and two daughters nearby! This was beyond what the parents dared to imagine when they boarded the ship for America in 1892.

Further satisfactions

Beyond his own family, William visited several times a week a source of immense satisfaction. This was the new, imposing St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Glasgow, completed in 1914. William’s financial success had enabled him to be one of the two or three biggest contributors to the cost of this building, the tallest, grandest piece of architecture in town. He and Theresia went to Mass there not only on Sundays but often on weekdays, too.

Yet one more exceptionally happy thought must have played in William’s mind as October of 1921 began. Six weeks earlier, the United States and Germany had signed a treaty that ended the warfare between them that began in 1917. World War I had cast a dark shadow on the family’s life in America. Fortunately, none of the boys had been called to fight against their ancestral homeland, but anti-German sentiment in America had lessened the pleasure of being here. Now at last peace was restored between the two countries.

A plan was probably re-awakened in William’s mind, that of returning with Theresia to visit relatives in Münsterland. They could afford such a trip. Father Joe had earlier offered to escort them. Family responsibilities and then the war had made them put it off. It was now again a possibility. The immigrant couple were in good health and not too old.

An eternal verity: in the twinkling of an eye

Besides the fact that William and Theresia fulfilled their dream in coming to America, there is a harder fact this centenary of his death is a reminder of. It is that everything can change, as the Good Book says, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” It is chilling how suddenly good things can end.

October 6, 1921, was a warm, sunny day on the homeplace, Indian Summer. The high was about 80 F. There had not yet been a killing frost.

John and Fritz spent the day in a routine autumn chore, shucking corn. They expected their father would be at the barn gate to greet them as usual when they came in from the field. The cows would still have to be milked. As was his custom, William had ridden out on his horse to herd them in, since they were often grazing far east of the house, on the land William planned to sell John the next spring.

William wasn’t at the gate. Theresia told John and Fritz she was worried. Then William’s horse returned to the barn riderless.

William had taken many big risks in his life, but riding out for the cattle that day was not one of them. He had done it a thousand times, often – unlike today – on slippery ground in rain or snow. Equestrian skills were second nature to him.

On this day, the horse stumbled in one of the many hollows between the hills and happened to fall in such a way that its full weight came down on the rider. William’s death was likely instantaneous.

John, Fritz, Theodore, Ben and William G., as well as several neighbors, joined in the search. John said that decades later he could still hear Ben’s scream when he found their father’s body.

W. B. Kitchen, a local doctor who attended all the family’s births and deaths, was called from town. He recorded the time of death as 5:30 PM. On the death certificate he wrote simply, “Crushed by horse falling, accident.”


To the Westhues family, William’s death was like the death of a king in an absolute monarchy, except that in this case there was no heir to the throne, no one to take his place. Theresia knew how to work and care, but not to rule. The family no longer had a head. It was now split up into the households of the nine surviving children, none having more authority than the next.

Word of his father’s death reached Henry that night at a Knights of Columbus meeting in Jefferson City, where he had been elected Grand Knight. He left the meeting early to drive back to Glasgow in the darkness.

John telephoned to the home of his fiancée. Olive’s parents drove her that night to the Westhues homeplace, where she remained until after the funeral. She had been fond of John’s father, had given him a new gadget, an Eversharp mechanical pencil, for his birthday the previous April 12.

William’s funeral was held in St. Mary’s Church at 9:00 AM on Monday morning, October 10. His sons all wore black armbands. His widow and daughters dressed in black. He was buried in Washington Cemetery. He rests there still alongside Theresia, who died in 1926.

What happened in the longer run? Theresia remained on the homeplace with Fritz. John and Olive did marry the next spring, though Theresia asked that they have their wedding not at St. Mary’s but at Father Joe’s parish in St. Louis. The mourning of William’s death would last for one full year. John and Olive lived with Theresia and Fritz on the homeplace until moving into their own new home on Thanksgiving Day, 1922.

For the next several years, the five brothers – Theodore, William, Ben, John and Fritz – continued to live on their adjacent farms. Even now, a century later, most of those farms and others nearby are in Westhues hands.

William and Theresia’s children continued, of course, to make babies. The grandchildren totaled 53 with the birth of the last one, Fritz and Eulalia’s daughter Teresa, in 1951. These grandchildren married into other families, formed new households, went separate ways. And so with succeeding generations. It is how things go in humankind.

Even so, William and Theresia are still remembered with respect and gratitude, as the present essay shows. Their descendants, moreover, manifest many traces of the culture and way of life they brought to America in 1892, preserved and cultivated in this New World, and instilled in their children.