Posted tagged ‘Lester White’

Ives Lake: Memories from My Childhood

July 24, 2012

The following post is taken from my book My Marquette and is preceded by a short history of Ives Lake and the Longyear family:

1970s photo of the caretaker house and red guest house at Ives Lake

1970s photo of the caretaker house and red guest house at Ives Lake

From 1971-1976, my grandfather, Lester White, was the caretaker at Ives Lake. He and my grandmother would go up to the lake in the spring and stay through the summer, only coming home occasionally on a weekend. I can vividly remember riding in the car with my mom and brother when we would drive up to Ives Lake to visit my grandparents. We would sing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” and any other songs my mother cared to teach us along the way. We would come to the gate where the gatekeeper would let us in because he knew us as part of my grandpa’s family.

My memories of Ives Lake are fragmented since I was only five when those years ended, but I can recall my cousins playing baseball on the large lawn, having big family picnics with all the cousins, great-aunts, and great-uncles there, swimming in the lake and my cousins collecting clams, and going fishing with my dad—I caught my first fish at Ives Lake. I remember my grandparents’ dog, Tramp, swimming in the river, and I remember going in the barn with my grandpa to see the barn swallows.

1970s photo of the Stone House

1970s photo of the Stone House

I distinctly remember my fifth birthday party was held here. I remember it mainly because I got a record player, an orange box that folded and locked up like a case. With the record player came several records made by the Peter Pan record company, including a book and record of “Little Red Riding Hood.” My cousin, Kenny White, who was born on July 4th, also had his birthday party here one year.

The clearest memory I have is of walking with my grandpa and Great-Aunt Vi behind the barn to the chicken coop, and my brother and I pretending to be Peter Pan as I described in Superior Heritage. While I don’t remember it myself, my cousins, Leanne and Jaylyn White, who are several years older than me, remember Grandpa feeding Chucky the Woodchuck, whom I also depicted in my novel.

One time, Grandpa took my brother and me into the Stone House where one of the rooms had a table with numerous rocks on it that the geologists must have been studying. Grandpa told us we could each have one of the rocks. I still have mine today, a curious two shaded brown rock like none I have ever seen since. Someday I will find a geologist who will tell me what it is.

My family has hundreds of photographs of summers spent at Ives Lake including fishing parties, picnics, and Grandpa and me on the riding lawn mower. The child’s mind is highly impressionable so perhaps that is why I remember this beautiful magical place so well.

My rock from the Stone House. I still have it but have never found out what kind of rock it is.

The visits to Ives Lake ended on a sad note when my mother received a phone call that her grandmother, Barbara McCombie White, had died. I remember I was coloring in a color-by-number book when the call arrived. I didn’t understand, but I remember my mother crying and her telling me to go back to my coloring while she got ready to go. We had to drive up to Ives Lake where my grandpa was—he had no phone there—so my mom could tell him his mother had died. The two events may not have been related, but my great-grandmother’s death seemed like the end of the Ives Lake summers to me. It was also the end of an era in another way—my great-grandmother would be the only person I would know who was born in the nineteenth century, 1885, to be exact, and being at Ives Lake was equally like being in another era.

Tyler with Grandpa on the riding lawnmower at Ives Lake about 1975.


Remembering Grandpa

February 27, 2012

Today would have been my grandpa’s 107th birthday. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think of him, so I thought today was a good opportunity to post the section I wrote about him for My Marquette.

Lester Earle White (1905—1987)

Grandpa with his car decorated for a Fourth of July Parade in the 1930s

            My grandpa, Lester Earle White, was the oldest and therefore the “big brother” to the rest. He was named for Miss Lester, the nurse my great-grandmother had in the hospital. He was born premature and about the size of a kitchen knife. Consequently, he suffered with health problems throughout his life. He was a workaholic, but when he got sick, he would be laid up in bed for days.

My grandfather, as the oldest child, helped to support his family. At fourteen, when he graduated from eighth grade, he went to work with his father. In time he would own his own salvage and scrap metal business and was known as Haywire White in the 1930s. However, most of his life he spent as a carpenter building houses, cabinets, furniture, fences, and anything else anyone needed. Many people said he was the best carpenter in Marquette and if nothing else, his work was always sturdy. He retired when he was seventy, but he never really retired. Until a couple of weeks before he died, he was daily in his workshop putting in more than an eight-hour day making tables, lazy susans, benches, mirrors, and anything else he thought he could sell. My brother and I spent many hours in his woodshop with him and to this day I have many of the little houses, wagons, and other toys he made for us.

Like Henry in Superior Heritage, my grandfather died as a result of his flannel shirt catching on fire one morning when he went to light his woodstove so he could start working. Although he was flown to the Milwaukee Burn Center, after two weeks his body could not take the pain and his kidneys failed.

Other than his work, I remember my grandfather most for his kindness. I wanted to be with him every minute I could. I always wanted to sit next to him at the table, and I always had to go with him to help with his craft sales. He never complained about having me around, although he didn’t like me getting dirty or getting crumbs on the floor. He was always giving my brother and me money or treats, as did my grandmother, and often, he would stick dollar bills between paper plates at supper so we would discover them later when we cleared the table.

The scenes in Superior Heritage of Henry Whitman feeding the animals at Ives Lake are all based on my grandfather. He would have chipmunks come into his woodshop, jump into his hand, and take peanuts from him. One time he took care of a pigeon with a broken wing in his shop until it was able to fly again. He always had peanuts to feed to the squirrels and fed all the pigeons even when the neighbors complained. Until late in his life he always had a dog, and after, when I had my dog, Benji, he would tell us we weren’t allowed to visit unless we brought Benji with us.

Grandpa did everything he could for his family, including giving his brothers and brother-in-laws work, and buying the property for his parents where their house on Wilkinson Avenue would be built.

Grandpa and Grandma in Chinatown, Los Angeles in 1948

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my grandpa and my grandma. They were the happiest married couple I ever saw. When my grandpa went to Florida to work for three months, my grandparents wrote to each other almost every single day, and my mother remembers when Grandpa came home, how he jumped out of the truck and ran into the house to see Grandma. I’m sure they are happy together in heaven. I don’t think I will ever stop missing them.

My Christmases at the White House

December 20, 2010

When I was a kid, my grandparents lived in the White House. No, not the one at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but rather on the 1600 block of Wilkinson Ave. in Marquette. Actually, there were two White Houses on Wilkinson Ave.

You see, my mother’s maiden name was White, so she actually grew up in the White House. My great-grandparents had lived on the 1800 block of Wilkinson Ave—the White House Sr. you might say, while my grandparents lived two blocks down the street at the junior White House. In fact, my great-uncles always answered the phone as “The White House” which made telemarketers think twice.

The White House - Christmas Day 1982, a rare Christmas without snow

Christmas was a busy day when I was a kid. My brother and I would get up early at our home in Stonegate and open our presents from Santa. Then our parents would drive us to our grandparents’ house to pick up Grandma to go to church at St. Michael’s while Grandpa stayed home to get breakfast ready. Then we’d have breakfast and more presents would be open at Grandpa and Grandma White’s house. Later, we would go to Great-Aunt Sadie’s house for dinner around noon, and then drive to Hardwood to Grandpa and Grandma Tichelaar’s house for supper. It was a very full day.

Christmas morning at the White House was always special because my grandparents were always so wonderful to us, not just in giving us presents, but just that they always treated us very well. We couldn’t have had better grandparents—they also were very loving toward one another.

Grandma loved Christmas and especially Christmas trees. She always had Grandpa find the biggest, widest trees possible, always live ones. He would put up the tree and then Grandma would be concerned about bare spots, so he would cut off branches, poke holes in the tree, and reinsert the branches where they would make the tree look its best.

Christmas 1978 - My brother Danny and me - I love our matching blue socks!

Grandma had numerous old ornaments, many of them dating back to the 1930s, and she always had bubble lights, which have since made a comeback, but in the 1970s and early 1980s when I was growing up, her bubble lights were already antiques.

And then there were the gifts. I honestly don’t remember much about the presents except one year, it must have been about Christmas 1981, when I got the “Smurfing Sing Song” record and my brother got the “Smurfs All Star Show” record—at least, those were the records we each wanted, but Grandma put my brother’s name on mine and vice-versa. I knew enough just to switch them and not say anything but my brother didn’t and Grandma looked worried that she had messed up. She also had a tendency to lose presents, forgetting where she had hidden them. After she passed away, we found a bag of chocolates she must have hidden away for Christmas and forgotten about that had to be at least a decade old and no longer edible. As for my grandparents, on their presents to each other they always wrote out gift tags that said things like “To Dear Hubby from Crabby Wifey” or “To Wifey from Lovey Hubby.”

One final thing about those Christmases I recall is the Christmas records. Grandma had lots of Christmas records but the one that we seemed to play the most was the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album. Those tooting horns made for festive Christmas mornings. I also remember the song, “Go Tell it on the Mountain” playing a lot. And the first record I ever owned, a 45 Peter Pan record of “Jingle Bells” I got for Christmas about 1974 when I was three, and I first played it at my grandparents. That record had four songs in total—“Jingle Bells,” “Sleigh Ride,” “The North Pole Express,” and “10,000 Santa Clauses” (a very odd song about a girl who doesn’t get to see Santa Claus even though there are Santas all over town because she gets the mumps). “I still own it and bring it out to play every now and then.

My first record - "Jingle Bells" from Peter Pan records

I think the childhood Christmases are always the ones you remember best. Unfortunately, I had little luck finding photos of Christmases that included my grandparents in the photos. The only one I could find with Grandma in it she was in her curlers, so she wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see that one. But I do rather like the picture of my grandpa with his mother (my great-grandma), plus my brother and me. I’d trade just about anything for one more hour with my grandparents on Christmas morning. They are now gone but not forgotten at Christmas or any day of the year. I was glad the other day to drive by their house, now in other hands, and see a large Christmas tree in the front window, just like Grandma would have liked.

I don’t think Christmas at the Pennsylvania Ave. White House could have been any better.

Christmas 1974 - Tyler and Danny Tichelaar, Grandpa Lester White, and Great-Grandma Barbara White

Marquette’s Post Office – Up for Sale?

November 23, 2010

On November 12th the Mining Journal reported that Marquette’s Post Office may be up for sale. You can read that story at Marquette Post Office for Sale.

Marquette's Post Office

Just a few days later, the story about My Marquette ran on the front page of the Mining Journal and mentioned that my grandfather had helped to build the Marquette Post Office. The story included a photo of the post office being built that I provided. Those of you who read the story online didn’t get to see the photo so I am attaching it here along with the section from My Marquette about the post office. More pictures, including one of the first Post Office, the federal building, are in the paper copy of the book.

While times are changing, I trust the Post Office building will remain used for many years to come, and I always consider it a treat to go in there and think about my grandpa.

From My Marquette:

He crossed Washington Street, gazing up at the tall Post Office and Federal Building. He remembered seeing a photograph of his grandfather peering out of one of those upper windows. John’s novel had started out from an idea based on his grandfather’s life; he missed his grandpa so much he had wanted to immortalize his memory, but the story had gotten away from him, creating a character only loosely based on Henry Whitman; nevertheless, John knew it was the best piece he had ever written. He thought it might bring luck that he was mailing his novel at the post office his grandfather had helped to build.

            Inside, three people waited in line before him. John stared at the painting of Father Marquette standing up in a canoe while Indians paddled it; everyone in Upper Michigan knows you cannot stand in a canoe, and the Indians looked crabby, as if irritated that Father Marquette was not helping to paddle. But since John had set the novel in the city named for this Jesuit priest, he thought seeing the picture might bring him good luck. — Superior Heritage

            Marquette has had a post office since its very founding. Initially, Amos Harlow ran a post office out of his own home, and there was also a Carp River post office. Since the bulk of the mail was addressed to the Carp River post office, it eventually became predominant.

            Delivery of mail to Marquette was not easy in the first years, and especially once winter set in, residents could go for months without receiving letters. The mail route over land was from Green Bay, Wisconsin, about a 180-mile journey. In 1850, the city fathers decided something had to be done to get the mail delivered more regularly, so they sent Peter White to Green Bay to collect the mail, hauling it by sleigh back to Marquette.

            The situation did not improve, however, until in 1854, Peter White took matters into his own hands, as related in Iron Pioneers:

In January 1854, Marquette had received no mail for three months, so Peter had been elected to go to Green Bay to fetch it. With Indian companions and dog sleds, he set out on the one hundred eighty mile journey. Halfway, he met sleighs coming north with the village’s mail. Eight tons of Marquette’s mail had accumulated in Green Bay, and it took three months for the postmaster to find someone willing to carry it north. Peter sent his companions and the mail back to Marquette, but intent to resolve the situation, he continued on to Green Bay.

            Upon his arrival, he discovered Marquette’s mail was accumulating at the rate of six bushels a day. Frustrated, Peter traveled another fifty miles to Fond du Lac so he could telegraph Senator Cass about the situation. Determined to receive a response, he bombarded the senator with telegrams until a special agent came to Green Bay to investigate. The postmaster in Green Bay, as upset about the situation as Peter, agreed to act as accomplice. Together the two men filled all the post office’s empty sacks, claiming, when the agent arrived, that every bag contained mail for Marquette. Thirty bags of actual mail now appeared to be four times as much. The agent, overwhelmed by the sight, quickly authorized weekly mail delivery to Marquette from Green Bay. Marquette had not lacked for its mail since, and Peter had been hailed as a town hero.

             As Marquette grew, the mail soon surpassed even the fake amount Peter White had created to remedy the delivery issues. The need for a larger post office resulted in the 1886 construction of the Federal Building on the corner of Washington and Third Street where today the current post office stands. Construction of the building cost $100,000 but was several times delayed, among other reasons, because a stonemason who was fired from his job for being drunk decided to shoot the general contractor and then commit suicide (perhaps the earliest example of someone going “postal”). Despite the setbacks, when the Federal Building, the first U.S. Government building in Upper Michigan, was completed it was highly impressive and worthy of the beautiful city hall soon to stand beside it. The Federal Building’s high tower and its arched doorways and windows make one regret it was ever replaced.

Building the Post Office - my grandpa is in an upstairs window on the far right

           In the 1930s, the U.S. Government decided a new United States Post Office and Court House was needed, and the old Federal Building was soon no more. The new building would be built of Bedford limestone and completed in 1937. Its style is typical of 1930s Art Deco. My grandfather, Lester White, was among those employed in its construction, so I feel a fondness for it whenever I go inside. I have mailed many of my manuscripts to various publishers inside this building, hopeful, since my grandpa helped to construct it, that the post office would bring me some luck.

            Inside the main lobby is a mural that was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) soon after the building was opened. Artist Dewey Albinson depicted Father Marquette with two French voyageurs and two Indians in a canoe. Most likely to lend significance to the Jesuit priest, Albinson depicted Father Marquette as standing up. When I was a student at Northern Michigan University, my American literature professor, David Mitchell, told the students to go down to the post office and write a description of what they thought this painting represented about America. After reading the papers, Professor Mitchell remarked that he could tell he was in Upper Michigan because every student had commented on how Father Marquette would have known that to stand up in a canoe would tip it over.

Post Office Mural

            Mail delivery in Marquette has vastly improved since Peter White’s days, but it remains difficult. The postal workers of Upper Michigan embody the saying “neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow” will stop the U.S. mail. In the worst of blizzards, I have come home to find my mailman has climbed over snowbanks to put my letters in my mailbox. The cost of stamps is small for such dedication.

 Read more Marquette history at

My Marquette

Flannel Shirt – published in “Recovering the Self”

July 11, 2010

This month my short story, “Flannel Shirt” has been published in the journal Recovering the Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing.

Recovering the Self, in which "Flannel Shirt" appears.

This short story is about repressed grief and the relationship between a boy and his grandfather. Here’s a small taste of the opening:

            I had not owned a flannel shirt since I was a boy. Then my wife bought me one for our first Christmas together. When I opened the box, the smell of flannel leapt out. Overpowered by nostalgia, I pressed the flannel to my face to breathe in the comfort of cotton fibers.

            “What are you doing?” laughed my wife.

            “I love the smell of flannel.”


            “I don’t know,” I lied. “I always have.”

            I did know. I just couldn’t talk about it. Flannel reminded me of my grandfather. I rarely thought of him now, but after all, he had been dead for fifteen years. Now the flannel brought back countless memories. Flannel had been my grandfather’s everyday clothing. Some of my childhood’s happiest moments had been spent with Grandpa. Despite the age difference, he had been the best friend of my boyhood.


The story is largely based on my own experiences with my grandfather, Lester White. Most of the story takes place at a Ives Lake, pictures of which I posted in my last two blogs. My grandpa always wore flannel shirts. Below is a picture of my grandpa, taken in 1971, at Ives Lake, along with another excerpt from the short story:

Grandpa (in flannel shirt) feeding a chipmunk at the Ives Lake Barn

            Grandpa was kind to all the animals at Ives Lake. Grandma complained when the raccoons got into the garbage cans, so Grandpa started leaving food behind the barn for them. Squirrels and chipmunks were always racing across the lawn; no matter how many there were, Grandpa could distinguish between them, and each summer, I helped to name them. The chipmunks trusted Grandpa enough to jump into his hand when he fed them peanuts, and he taught me to hold my hand just right so they would equally trust me.

            One summer, a pigeon broke its wing. Grandpa was afraid a wild animal might catch it, so he built a cage and kept it safely in the house. For two months, Grandpa and I cared for the pigeon and walked it around the yard while its wing healed. When it recovered, the pigeon started following Grandpa and me instead of eating with the other pigeons.

            In the evenings, Grandpa and I finally found time to go fishing. My favorite fishing hole was a giant rock that jutted out into the lake. Grandpa helped me catch my first fish, a ten-inch trout. But neither of us were good fishermen, so we rarely hooked anything other than a floating branch; I think the real reason Grandpa went fishing was just to sit on the rock and relax after a busy day.

            I can remember my innocent young eyes gazing out across Ives Lake on those evenings. I would hear the soft lap of water against the rock as the wind gently blew, and I could feel the cool breeze that rustled the leaves. Then I would lay my head against Grandpa’s shoulder, content with life.


To read all of “Flannel Shirt,” order your copy of Recovering the Self, vol. 2, no. 3 at

Besides my short story, the issue is packed with articles on grief, addiction, recovery, interviews with professionals, poetry, fiction, book and film reviews, insights on health and fitness and much, much more!  Don’t miss out.