"Glory Be to God!" or The Executve from "Turkey Hill"
Wallace Ropes LeFevre was born on October 3, 1883 in New Hurley, Ulster County New York. In later years, he always said that he was born "on Turkey Hill," which might perhaps have been the nickname of the family farm that he was born on.
In 1885, the LeFevre family moved to Lincoln, Lincoln County Kansas. They returned to New York in 1889 after Wallace became seriously ill from drinking bad well water. The precise nature of the disease is unknown, but Wallace's daughter said that they had thought that it might have been Polio. In a letter written in 1940, Wallace's wife called it Typhoid Fever ("Mr. LeFevre has always had an awful dread of Typhoid fever, which he had when a boy and which left him crippled so badly"). In any case, the illness left both of Wallace's legs and feet deformed and paralyzed. A series of operations and treatments both in Kansas and in New York managed to restore both legs and one foot. The other foot (his left) could not be helped. This left Wallace crippled for life; he sometimes had to use a cane and had to have special shoes made at $40 a pair. But he bore it with resolve and determination, trying not to let it stand in his way. The story was often told of how Wallace once climbed to the bottom of Niagara Falls (long before it had all the tourist amenities it has today, such as sturdy stairs) in order to take a picture of them while his wife and daughter stood at the top praying fervently for his safety (we still have the picture). Still, it seems that he was somewhat self conscious about his disablility. In nearly every photograph we have of him his deformed foot is hidden behind someone or something! He needed a great deal of help, but always gave large tips to anyone that came to his aid.
After the LeFevres returned to New York, they settled in Middletown, Orange County. Wallace attended school until around eighth grade and then went to work as a bookkeeper in his father's grocery store.
Wallace was very good at math and was able to do complex figuring with accuracy and ease. Armed with this, he applied for a job as a bookkeeper or accountant with a Hoboken, New Jersey, firm called Cooper Hewitt. This was sometime after 1900 when the census recorded him in Middletown. Wallace's application was accepted and he moved to Hoboken.
While there he caught the attention of an engineer who was working on the construction of a tunnel in Massachussets, and was hired to help with the mathematical end of the job. When the tunnel was completed, Wallace returned to Cooper Hewitt. Wallace's daughter Katherine Miller recalled that the tunnel was "famous" but was not sure of its name.
At around the same time as these events were taking place, Wallace organized a performing trio in which he played the piano. Music, along with photography were Wallace's lifelong interests. Some of his scenic photographs (which he printed himself in the bathroom) even won prizes. Always behind the camera, often photographing his wife, images of Wallace himself are quite rare.
Personally, Wallace LeFevre was a generous, conscientious family man. At Christmas time (he was always the first in the neighborhood to put up his tree) Wallace gave away cigarettes and liquor to his friends, and when the coal delivery many showed up at the LeFevre apartment at any time of they year he was sure to get a carton of cigarettes as a tip. Wallace himself was a very heavy smoker, both of cigars and cigarettes-- a fact which would cause his early death. In politics, he favored the Republican party, and in religion he was a protestant for much of his life, although he was not very devout.
Mary Elizabeth Whelan was born on March 10, 1877 in Jersey City, New Jersey. As a child she attended Public School Number 1 in Jersey City, and perhaps St. Aloysius Academy as well. After graduating from High School, Mary attended four years of Normal School (teacher training). Somewhere along the line she picked up the nickname Mame (pronounced Mamie) by which she would be called for the remainder of her life.
After graduating from Normal School, Mame took a job teaching Kindergarden in Jersey City that she held until her marriage, after which she did not work.
She was an extremely devout Catholic all of her life and attended mass every day that she possibly could go. One time she sat down at a restaurant and ordered a ham sandwich, and was just about to take a bite, when she realized that it was Friday. This was back in the days when Catholics were confined to fish on that day, and Mame refused to eat the appetizing meal. Her favorite expression was "Glory be to God," which she uttered on all occasions, both happy and sad.
Mary was a generous and kind person, and was a Democrat in politics*. In he younger days, she was a beautiful woman, with blue eyes and black hair.
In the summer of 1902, Mary went on a vacation to a New York resort. Wallace LeFevre was there too, playing with his trio (they were performing as late as 1906), and after the show they got to talking. In November Wallace wrote to Mame (he spelled her name wrong...) and asked to see her again, although he made the excuse in his note that he just wanted to ask her about what a mutual friend was up to. Clearly he spent a lot of time on the letter; the writing is meticulously neat, the spelling exact, the tone formal. Love blossomed in a true case of opposites attracting and by 1906, when Mame visited Wallace's home in Middletown and he gave her an engraved arm bracelet (she wore it for the rest of her life) they seem to have been well on the road to marriage.
Mary Whelan and Wallace LeFevre were married on July 3, 1907, in Baltimore, Maryland. Although it was a Catholic Ceremony and Wallace gave her a rosary for the wedding, he did not convert. The newlyweds set up housekeeping at 1303 Madison Avenue in Baltimore, where they enjoyed playing bridge with their friends when not working.
Around 1909 they returned briefly to Jersey City (they lived at 241 Arlington Avenue) and Wallace found work as a private secretary to an electrical engineer. By 1911, they were living in Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe), Carbon County Pennsylvania, though Mary apparently attended St. Jerome's Church in nearby Tamaqua. Within a year or two, Wallace found that he needed more money than his job there was paying him (the nature of his work there is unknown). He seems not to have done too badly though; Mame had a hat with three "London Plumes" that cost $25.00 and wore custom tailored suits, as she noted on the backs of several family photos.
Luckily for Wallace, he had cousins with connections, and one of them, a New York lawyer named C. B. Hill, got him a job as manager for a New York City company called Durabla. They made gaskets for warships. During the summer before he took up his new position, Wallace made up for his lack of formal education by moving into a bungalow on his parent's farm and taking some correspondence courses (Left: Mary at the farm about this time). He got 100% on nearly everything, and in the fall moved to Newark to take up his new position. He would eventually rise to general manager.
The date of the move to Newark is somewhat hard to pin down. Wallace's daughter, Kay LeFevre Miller, estimated that it was in 1912, but it can be proven that the LeFevre's were in Pennsylvania in January of 1913 (their daughter Mary was baptized in Tamaqua). Mary W. LeFevre wrote that she and Wallace spent twenty years in Newark, which, based on the fact that they left in 1937, would mean they had moved there around 1916 or 1917. However, their daughter Katherine was photographed "on her way home from Kindergarten" in Newark in May of 1915.
Mame and Wallace moved into an apartment at 196 Woodside Avenue in Newark, New Jersey and Wallace made the commute each morning into New York to work. The LeFevre's never owned a car, although Mame and perhaps Wallace did learn to drive. Mary was able to have groceries sent up to the apartment and also hired an african-american cleaning lady. They apparently got along well. Mary used to give her used clothes and make food for her after he work was done, in addition to paying her.
The good times lasted until the depression hit in the 1930's. Wallace, who had retired, suffered a heart attack, broke his good leg and had his pension cut all around the same time (1936 or 1937). This last item meant that the LeFevre's could no longer afford to live in their apartment, and, with Wallace's declining health as an added (or perhaps the main) incentive, they moved in with their daughter Katherine LeFevre Miller in Rochester, Monroe County New York in December of 1937. In 1939 they still had enough of their savings left to pay $6,000 out of a $10,000 dollar down payment for the new Miller home on Wildmere road, where they continued to live with their daughter and son-in-law.
Just before moving out of Newark, Wallace had finally come to the decision to convert to Catholicism (with a wife that had gone to mass every day for over thirty years to pray for this, and invited Nuns over to visit whenever he got sick, no wonder he gave in!). He had talked to a priest there who refused to do anything until he had talked it over with his mother. Wallace did, and she told him to do whatever would make him happy. So at Easter in 1938, Wallace made his first communion in the Catholic Church in Rochester. The picture of him at left was taken of on that day. His parents apparently did not attend, but this may have been due more to the distance involved and their age (both were seventy-nine) than to any disapproval of the event.
In the early summer of 1940, Wallace again became ill. He was taken to the doctor and diagnosed wth Bronchitis. However, the doctor later met with the family without Wallace and told them that he had lung cancer and had less than three months to live.
Wallace Ropes LeFevre passed away early in the morning of September 5, 1940, at his home in Rochester at the age of fifty-six. He was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery there, and with the headline "Huguenot Scion Dies..." his obituary was printed in papers as far off as Buffalo and New York City after the Associated Press picked it up. Little did they know just how many descendants of Simon LeFevre were around! (As a side note, Wallace's daughter, Katherine, often referred to herself as "the last of the LeFevre's" for some reason). He had at one time been fairly interested in the LeFevre family history and had made several trips to the old LeFevre hometown of New Paltz with his cousin Jacob in the early 1900's.
Mary Whelan spent her last years in Rochester, remaining active in St. Thomas the Apostle Church there and helping to care for her grandchildren. She often shuttled them to school and her son-in-law to work ("pinch hitting," the family called it).
Among the old family papers that have come down to us are three letters written by Mame in the early 1940's that shed some light on her character. She was a prolific letter writer (one a day, every day to her daughter Katherine when she was in college) but her script is most difficult to read. "She wrote like she talked and thought- fast," her daughter said of her. On hearing that her son-in-law's father, John Miller, had Typhoid Fever, she wrote, in April of 1940, "While it is bad enough still it could have been so much worse. Thank God for sparing him and you all a long drawn out illness." In this same later she expresses her firm faith and belief in prayer. "The solemn Forty-Hours devotion closed last night with very elaborate ceremonies. At least seven priests were on the altar besides a number of boys from the Seminary, who chanted the Litany of the Saints-- St. John among them. As soon as we entered the church we lighted a vigil, which burned all during the closing and far into the night.... I went to [word unreadable] mass [word unreadable] Holy C [name of a church] and lighted a vigil for him. Monday after noon, when Kay [Mary's daughter] went to get Bill [Kay's husband], I went along and made a visit to Blessed Sacrament [another church], while she got Bill. The vigil I had lighted at [word unreadable] mass was just going out so I lighted a second one which burned for 8 more hours! "More things were wrought by prayer than mortals know--" once a great poet wrote, and I think he was right!" Mary was clearly deeply devoted to her family: "Kay and William worked on the lawn- They put in the hedge last Saturday.... I am contributing money ($5.00) I won- on radio- to buy an arch for back yard- on which your roses will climb up- you and I thus unite to beautify the grounds (two mothers)." Bubbly and gushing, a letter she wrote in Sept 1941 reads, in part, "Enclosed find our pictures taken that wonderful berry picking day- It is the best picture of you, so natural and so very happy looking. I also think mine is very good with that funny peaked cap! Like the hunters wear- only we were hunting berries!... I think I never saw you looking better Mrs Miller-- and so much "pep" was a joy to see especially when "out for the berries!"" From other cards that have survived it appears she was also something of a poet.
She died on December 23, 1955 at the age of seventy-eight and was buried beside her husband.
* This caused some trouble between she and her husband who was always complaining that her vote just cancelled his out.
I- Wallace Whelan LeFevre, born 1908; died 1908 (either at birth or age 5 days) Baltimore, Md.
II- Katherine Josephine LeFevre, born Jersey City NJ November 7, 1909; died July 27, 1999 Rochester NY; m. William John Miller, 1934. She was my grandmother and the source of much of the biographical data for Wallace, Mary and their parents.
III Mary Margaret LeFevre, born Jim Thorpe Pa 1913; died Newark NJ 1918/19