April 28th marks Gust Johns’s 130th birthday according to my records. Gust was born in Door County, WI, the first generation to be born in America of German-born immigrant parents. Early records indicate that their name was originally spelled Jahnz, and that this name was “Anglicized” somewhere around the turn of the last century.
Gust’s first marriage didn’t occur until he was 31 years old, but this marked a very sad time for him. His wife, Emma Smith, was just 16 years old when they married in the summer of 1915. Their son Emery was born January 2nd, 1916. Sadly, Emma died just days after childbirth:
Faced with raising a newborn, it appears Gust enlisted the help of his sister Ida for a few months. After this, his sister Minnie (and her husband William Sitte) took Emery into their home. From all accounts, it appears that Emery was raised as one of their own. But sadly, Emery died young from appendicitis. He was the same age as his mother when he died.
From The Door County Advocate – September 22, 1933
Gust remarried a few years later, and raised several children. I bring up these sad events because there are two things I’ve learned in researching Gust’s life, and the tragic events he endured:
First, that Gust’s first marriage, and the son that resulted from that marriage, were previously unknown to my family until researching the Johns family in the archives of the Door County Library, and in particular, their online collection of Door County Newspaper Archives from 1862-1941. I learned of this resource via the Peninsula Genealogical Society, and it is hands-down one of the most accessible archives I’ve discovered. Their search function is greatly effective, saving me many hours of fruitless searches through irrelevant search results… (ask me sometime how depressing it can be to search newspaper archives for the surname Struck!!).
The second reason I note these events is because it is a great demonstration of how the community drew around this grieving father – not just the family members that helped raise his young son, but also the friends that helped celebrate his milestones: