Saturday, January 16, 2016

Epilogue: William DeForrest Gay, 1863-1941

Find A Grave photo by "clio"
What turned out to be the final installment of Bill Gay's five-part memoir of boyhood in Lucas County's Warren Township, published on Oct. 8, 1936, actually ended with the promise of more --- in the Herald-Patriot of Oct. 15. What appeared instead was this, under the heading "Correction":

"Relatives of persons mentioned in a series of articles by W.D. Gay of Omaha, Neb., which have been published in The Herald-Patriot have called attention to the fact that some incidents related are purely legendary and not actual happenings.

"The Herald-Patriot sincerely regrets that embarrassment may have been caused to anyone as a result of some of the stories told. Such an occurrence was not the intention of the newspaper. Neither, The Herald-Patriot is certain, did Mr. Gay intend to create cause for embarrassment to anyone."

And that was that. It's entertaining to try to figure out who had been offended by Bill's story-telling and I'd put my money on descendants of George Champlin --- long dead when the series was published, but obviously not one of the author's favorite people.

Bill, however, was telling stories rather than writing history and while there's no reason to doubt the historicity of most incidents related, a good deal of embroidery was needed to grab readers and pull them back into the world he was attempting to recreate.

Less than a month later, during early November of 1936, Bill's beloved little brother, Eugene "Gene" B. Gay, died at age 72 in Puyallup, Washington.


Bill Gay lived on for four more years, a resident of the Nazareth Home for the Aged Invalid in Omaha, until Jan. 9, 1941, when he passed at the age of 77 and his remains were returned to his adopted hometown of Essex for burial.

I've lifted the tombstone photo and his obituary from a Find A Grave memorial created during 2005 by a family historian, Karen de Sannos. The stone marks the graves of Bill; his wife, Gertrude Mary (Houston) Gay; their son, Selwyn; daughter, Gertrude H. Stavaas; and son-in-law, Martin Stavaas. Also buried in the Essex Cemetery, most likely, are a child who died in infancy and a son, Robert, who died as a young man some years after sustaining severe injuries in a fall while working on a construction project.

The obituary may have been published in The Essex Independent, although it is unattributed:

W.D. GAY RITES HELD SUNDAY --- Word was received here on Friday telling of the passing of W.D. Gay, former Essex resident and businessman, the day before at the Immanuel Invalids Home in Omaha, Nebraska.

William DeForrest Gay was born in Barrie (Barry), Illinois, October 11, 1863. At the age of 5 he was taken with his family by covered wagon to Iowa where settlement was made near Chariton. He was married to Gertrude Houston at Creston in January 1895, settling thereafter at Lamoni, Iowa. In April, 1898, the Gays moved to Essex. Five children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Gay. Sorrow came to this family in 1913 at the death of Mrs. Gay. This was no little loss for a father with several small children, some of whom were under ten years of age. Two sons, Robert and Selwyn also preceded their father in death. Death came to Mr. Gay on Thursday, January 9, 1941, in Omaha, he having reached the age of 77 years, 2 months, and 28 days.

Mr. Gay's career as a watch maker began in Elliott, Iowa. This trade was continued in Essex. In Essex he used his abilities to aid his community. That he was appreciated is seen by the confidence of the town in making him mayor. Mr. Gay will also be remembered as a lover of nature; birds, trees, and plants were his joy. Many nature lessons were learned by Essex folks in their association with Mr. Gay. He also was well known as a writer of authoritative articles of nature and many of which he sold to various magazines, accompanied by excellent photos. Some of these photos are still used although they were taken many years ago by the deceased.

He was the victim of an auto accident about ten years ago, the result of which cost him the loss of both of his limbs at the thigh. For two of these years he was cared for by his late son and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Selwyn Gay. In 1933, he became a guest at the Invalid Home of Immanuel Deaconess Institute of Omaha, Nebr. Here he remained until his death last Thursday. During the course of his last years Mr. Gay lost his eyesight until he was totally blind. Despite his handicap he was always cheerful when met by visitors.

He had been a member of the St. John's Lutheran Church at Essex since 1932.

He is survived by three children, DeForrest of San Diego, Calif., James of San Leandro, Calif., and Mrs. Gertrude Staavas of Dallas, Texas, a daughter-in-law, Mrs. Selwyn Gay of Essex, several grandchildren, other relatives and friends.

Funeral services were held Sunday afternoon in the St. John's Lutheran Church, conducted by the pastor, Rev. N. Everett Hedeen. Music was furnished by a ladies quartet composed of Mrs. E.G. Oline, Mrs. Russell Kampe, Mrs. M.E. Collins, and Mrs. Swanhild Erickson. Pallbearers were DeLos Quist, Russell Englund, J. Alfred Sar, and A.D. Collins. Internment was made in the family lot in the Essex cemetery.

Arrangements were in charge of W.O. Carson, local mortician.

Relatives attending from out-of town were Mr. and Mrs. Theo. W. Ross (Rosa) and Mrs. Edith McKinley of Chariton, also Mrs. Willard Curtis and children of Shenandoah."


Bill Gay also was survived by his youngest daughter, Doris, who was only two years old when her mother died at age 38 in 1913. He had placed her for adoption with the family of a minister in nearby Shenandoah and she was taken to Nebraska to be raised. She was made aware by her adoptive parents of her birth family and, as an adult, formed a friendly relationship with her siblings.


Unknown said...

William's wife Gertrude was my great-great aunt. Is there a way I can read his five-part memoir?

Unknown said...

William's wife Gertrude was my g-g-aunt. Do you know how I can find his five-part memoir?

Frank D. Myers said...

All five parts of the memoir were separate blog posts. Either scroll back through "older" posts or do a "William DeForrest Gay" search in the search box.

Unknown said...

W.D. Gay was my great grandfather. Love the story! I would love to hear from any of the family!
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