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Berniece's Story

by Jari Lynn Oncken - March 18, 2010

Berniece Davisson Gaede was baptized by Rev. Oltrogge in the Minonk First Baptist Church on October 13, 1929. For 80 years her church has been her source of spiritual support.

Berniece was born on a farm near West Salem, Illinois on September 3, 1912, the middle daughter of Frank and Addie Davisson. From West Salem the family including Berniece's sisters Velma and Helen moved north to Shirley, Illinois where Frank worked on a large cattle farm. Later he worked for William McNamara southwest of Dana and then for William Raber near Flanagan. Frank died in an accident on this farm in 1931 at the age of 47.

Berniece's education began in a country school near West Salem. Her remaining elementary school years were spent in the Groveland School southwest of Dana, Illinois. When speaking of her half year at the Dana High School she said that her way of going through high school was going through the front door and out the back.

In order to help her family financially during the depression Berniece worked as a housekeeper for various families including Tom & Emma O'Connoll and Tink Elliott's folks. She also worked in the kitchen at Dude Ryan's Park Cafe in the old Schlitz Opera House building on 601 Chestnut Street and at the Woodford Hotel on 541 Oak Street. These Minonk restaurants served breakfast to many railroad men who worked on the Illinois Central which ran through down town Minonk.

In 1931 Bernice became the wife of Morris Gaede, a fellow first grade classmate back in West Salem. She had become reacquainted with him in 1924 when at the age of 12 he was sent by his mother Bessie Gaede to live with his older brother John and family southwest of Dana near the Davisson's home. His mother was unable to raise all of her nine children after the death of her husband Herman.

After Berniece and Morris were married Morris was hired by Rowland Tucker to work on his farm west of Minonk. While living on the Tucker farm their daughter Betty was born. We know her as our friend and fellow church member Betty Gaede Pinkham wife of Dick Pinkham.

Even though these were the depression years the Gaedes lived well. They were supplied with 1/2 a hog at butchering time, milk and eggs from the farm and vegetables grown in Berniece's garden. Morris was paid 25.00 a month which according to Berniece went considerably farther then than it does today.

The Gaedes left the Tucker farm and moved in with Berniece's mother for a few months to help out after her dad's death. Then in 1935 their family relocated northwest of Dana where Morris was a tenant farming for John Janssen. Their son Billie was born on this farm. Six years later the family moved two miles south of Minonk on Route 116 just east of old Route 51 and farmed for a man from Chicago. Then in 1945 until Morris' retirement from farming in 1956 they farmed for Charlotte Onnen farther east on Route 116. During these eleven years Morris and Berniece raised a herd of milk cows and sold the milk to the Minonk Dairy. In her spare time she enjoyed crocheting, embroidering and quilting.

After Morris' farm sale in 1956 the Gaede family moved to Minonk where he was employed by Kent Lumber & Coal Company and Young's Chevrolet Garage. In 1959 they bought the Homestead Restaurant on 1010 Chestnut from John and Edmona Lohr. Morris took care of the business and Berniece was in charge of the kitchen. Many older residents of Minonk enjoyed all those delicious meals eaten at the Homestead. Berniece recalled those ladies who worked for her in the kitchen. The main cooks were Elsie Shelby and Gertie Fricke assisted by Eva Janssen, Ethel Lake, Marge Palmore, Gladys Jones, Dorothy Oyen and Thelma Bost. When asked to name a few customers, the first to come to mind was Liberia Galli or just Galli, a man who pushed a 2 wheeled cart around town picking up discarded vegetables from the grocery stores which he fed to his flock of chickens. Galli used to stop by the Homestead for a carry out of vegetable soup, always with his dog in tow. In 1973 Berniece and Morris retired.

When Berniece was young her family worshipped in the Church of God in Dana. At the age of 17 while working for Dena Franklin in Minonk Berniece and Dena's daughter Cola attended a Baptist revival led by Rev. Oltrogge. It was at this meeting that Berniece accepted the Lord, was baptized and joined the First Baptist Church.

Throughout the years Berniece has been a Sunday School teacher, a member of the Women's Mission Society and a deaconess. When asked to recall fellow members who influenced her spiritual walk she named, among others, Minnie Underwood, Blanche Stepler, George and Edith Janssen, Clarence and Lena Smith and Vernon and Bertha Smith.

Now Berniece lives at the Heritage Manor in Minonk where she enjoys the many planned activities and church services with Mary Hartzler. Special to her are the many friends who come to call and her family which includes her daughter and son-in-law, seven grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and twelve great-great-grandchildren. An important event in her life was taking part in the 150th celebration in 2008 of the founding of her church and being able to remember so much of its history.