Alma Mary Vadnais and Lewis Charles Heckel (part 2)

After their marriage on November 27, 1909, Alma and Lewis resided with Alma’s mother Jennie Vadnais at her home.  I don’t think they were there for long because by the 1910 U.S. census, recorded on April 29, 1910, Lewis and Alma are renting on Murray Avenue while Jennie is in her home on Third Street.23,24  The census shows Lewis working as a boat builder (for Ramaley Boat Works).

1910 U.S. Census, Village of White Bear showing Lewis C. and Alma M. Heckel

On June 5, 1910 Alma gave birth to their first child, Marvin Francis.25  At the time of his birth, Alma was 18 years old and Lewis was 32 years old.  Their second child, also a son, Cornelius (Connie) Charles was born on December 27, 1913 and their first daughter, Veronica Mina (Vera) was born on June 4, 1916.26,27 

Meanwhile, Lewis (Lou) was working on building the family home at then 137 Birch Lake Avenue in White Bear Lake.  His grandson wrote that, “Mr. Ramaley [of Ramaley Boat Works] wanted him to work on Saturdays because of business, but Lou told him he couldn’t because he was building his home.  After asking him many times, Ramaley told him he would give him more money plus all the pieces of hard wood left over from building the boats to put in his home.  Lou and Alma had the only hardwood floors in the area-tongue and groove.  The other floors were made of pine.”28

Lewis registered for the World War I draft on September 12, 1918.  He did not serve, but his registration card shows that he is living at 137 Birch Lake Avenue and that he is employed as a boat builder at Ramaley Boat Company in White Bear.29  He describes himself as being of medium height and slender build.  According to the records his grandson compiled, “Grandpa Lou had blue eyes, was 5 foot 5 inches tall, had brown hair, weighed about 100 pounds, and wore size 5 shoes.”30

The 1920 U.S. census shows Lou and Alma in their forever home at 137 Birch Lake Avenue (eventually the number changed to 1309 and presently it is 1981 Birch Lake Avenue).  Alma’s mother Jennie and her brother Harvey were living with them.  Lou is shown as being the village commissioner.31

1920 U.S. Census showing the Lewis Heckel family, Jennie Vadnais and Harvey Vadnais
Circa 1913 – The Heckel home at 1309 Birch Lake Avenue, previous to any additions.  Shown from left to right: unknown, possibly Harvey Vadnais, Lewis Heckel, Jennie (Baillargeon) Vadnais, Marvin Heckel and Alma (Vadnais) Heckel.  Harvey was around 25 years old, Lewis 36 years old, Jennie 47 years old, Marvin 3 years old and Alma 21 years old.  It appears that Alma is pregnant with her second son, Cornelius (Connie).  Jennie is Alma’s mother and Harvey is one of her brothers.
The Heckel family home – shown left to right: Jennie Vadnais, Joe Vadnais and Alma Heckel.  Joe was Alma’s oldest brother.  A dormer with 3 windows has been added to the house.

You can’t help but notice the sign “The Home of the Honey Bees.”  I found ads for as early as 1908 with apiarist, Lewis C. Heckel selling honey and colonies of bees.  In the 1908 ad he advertised “One thousand pounds of extracted honey for sale fresh from the combs… Gallon cans, one full gallon $1.75.”32  Interestingly, Alma was deathly afraid of bees; she would seek refuge as quickly as possible if a bee was in sight.

By the 1930 U.S. census, 3 more children have been added to the family: Lewis Charles Jr. born on November 10, 1922, Doris Katherine born on May 25, 1924 and Hugh Bernard born on January 28, 1928.33,34,35  The Heckel family was complete with 4 boys and 2 girls, all of whom were raised in the family home on Birch Lake Avenue in White Bear Lake.  The children were fortunate in that their grandmother Jennie Vadnais was also a part of the household.

1930 U.S. census showing Lewis, Alma, the 6 children and Jennie Vadnais36

Around 1926 Lewis went to work as the head gardener on the Frank J. Anderson estate in Dellwood, a job he would retire from in 1958.37  According to early Dellwood history, “Heckel [Lewis’ father Frederick] was either a grower of fruits, vegetables, and flowers on his own land or one who planted and maintained the grounds of nearby residents… Seventy years later, Frederick Heckel’s son, Lewis, regretted that he had not “paid more attention to the secrets [father] told me.”38  

Lewis may have felt that he had not learned enough lessons from his father, but the truth is that he was a very accomplished gardener, apiarist and horticulturist.  A true landscape artist!  Family records show that “He kept bees and had 25 or more hives.  He sold honey.  He developed 4 different varieties of the Heckel peach tree and a crabapple tree.  He also had date, fig, magnolia, persimmon, Minnesota palm, apple, cherry, plum, apricot and pear trees.  He raised cotton, red grapes, raspberries, strawberries, tobacco, currents, and peanuts, plus the usual garden vegetables.  He gave his bees something that made them give green honey.  He also raised buckwheat near the bees so that the bees would give dark, almost black honey.  In the spring, he sold strawberry plants, apple, peach and pear trees (he had over 1000 trees).  He exhibited vegetables, peaches, plums, apples, and honey at the County and State Fair.”39

1940 letter from Lou and Alma to their nephew, my uncle, George Vadnais40
I love the letterhead!  In the letter Lou mentions finding 2 hives of wild honey in the Hill woods which would have been a part of the land owned by James J. Hill in what is now North Oaks.  Lou had also been to Hudson, Wisconsin scouting wild honey.  It closes talking about George delivering milk.  At the time the letter was written, George was a delivery man for Sanitary Farm Dairies.

Alma played a huge role is Lewis’ gardening endeavors.  All of the produce from his gardens that was not sold or given away had to be carefully preserved.  It is written that “She canned around 500 quarts of vegetables, fruits, jams, jellies and pickles a year… She also made homemade root beer. One time Lou was carrying a bottle in each hand up the basement stairs.  By the time he got to the top, all he had left were the tops plus being very wet.  Boy was he mad!”41

The family was deeply involved at St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church.  Alma cleaned the sacristy and tended to altar flowers.  She would bring the priests’ garments and altar cloths home to launder them, which was not a minor task since it involved using a wringer washer, line drying and ironing with lots of starch.  I imagine she also repaired them as needed since she was quite accomplished with a needle and thread.  The garments and cloths would then be carefully returned to the church and placed in the appropriate place.  Over the years all four of the Heckel boys served as altar boys at the church.42

1940 U. S. census enumerating the Heckel family

A few things to notice from the 1940 U. S. census is that the family home is valued at $3,000 and Alma (she provided the census information which is shown by the circled X next to her name) gives Lou’s annual income as $1440, which is $120 per month.43

Family members posed on the front steps of the family house.  Back row (left to right): Vera, Hugh and Alma Heckel. Front row (left to right): Lou Heckel, Tom Proulx, Jennie Vadnais and Doris Heckel
Tom Proulx (Proue) was Vera’s husband.
Alma in the backyard of the family home
Left to right: Alma, Hugh, Doris and Jennie Vadnais

Lewis, at 64 years old, registered for the WWII draft on April 25, 1942.44  He was a part of the fourth registration, for those men whose year of birth was from April 28, 1877 to February 16, 1897.  It was generally referred to as the “Old Man’s Registration” or the “Old Man’s Draft”.  He was not called to serve, but his son Lewis Charles Jr. did serve in the Navy on the battleship USS Hancock during the war.45

Lewis Charles Heckel WWII draft registration card
Circa 1944 – Alma and Lewis in their home at Christmas time

The 1950 U. S. census enumerates the Heckel household with all but one of the children, Doris, as living elsewhere.46  Doris would marry later the same year leaving just Lou, Alma and Jenny living in the home on Birch Lake Avenue.

1950 U. S. census showing the Heckel household
Notice that Lewis is 72 years old and he is still a gardener (on the Anderson estate in Dellwood), a job he would not retire from until 1958 at age 80.47
Circa 1960 Alma and Lou
Alma and Lou with their 6 children
Back row left to right: Lewis Jr., Cornelius, Hugh and Marvin
Seated left to right: Vera, Alma, Lou and Doris
1981 Birch Lake Avenue – the Heckel family home as it looks today

On April 6, 1964, just 6 years after retiring, Lou passed away at home from broncho-pneumonia; he was 86 years old.48

Lewis Heckel Sr. Minnesota death certificate #15908

Lou was laid to rest on April 9, 1964 at St. Mary of the Lake Cemetery in White Bear Lake.

Lewis Heckel obituary in the April 9, 1964 White Bear Press49
Lewis Heckel Sr. prayer card

Alma would live another twelve and a half years after Lewis’ passing.  Sometime in her later years she moved into the White Bear Care Center in White Bear Lake.  A few letters exist from 1976 that she wrote to her sister-in-law Rachel Vadnais (her brother William’s wife) while living at the care center.  Her words speak to her being a realist who was grateful for what she had and express what a positive outlook she had on life regardless of her infirmities.  She wrote that, “I couldn’t live alone and I was afraid at night so I thought I’d better go some place where I would be taken care of.  I could have gone to live with any of my kids as they all asked me to come but I wouldn’t want to make work for them.  Really old people should not live with the young… I don’t see so good and my hearing is bad – half of the time.  We are taken good care of here… I feel pretty good but like everybody I have my bad days.  My children come and see me very often and they are so good to me.  I am very glad and happy to be here.  Really Rachel this is like heaven.”50

How Alma closed one of the 1976 letters she wrote to Rachel
1974 – Alma, queen of the White Bear Lake Care Center during Manitou Days51
Circa 1971 – The last of the William and Jennie Vadnais siblings
Shown left to right: Adlore Vadnais, Alma Heckel and Harvey Vadnais
Adlore was around 82 years old, Alma around 79 years old and Harvey around 83 years old.
The picture was taken in Adlore’s home at 4787 Bald Eagle Avenue, White Bear Lake

On October 5, 1976 Alma passed away from heart disease at Mounds Park Hospital in St. Paul.52  She was 84 years old.  Alma, like her brother Adlore, had spent her entire life in White Bear Lake within blocks of the home she had been born in.

Alma M. Heckel Minnesota death certificate #026874
Alma M Heckel prayer card

Alma was laid to rest next to her husband Lou in St. Mary of the Lake Cemetery on October 7, 1976.

Lewis and Alma Heckel grave marker on the left and Jennie Vadnais grave marker on the right
St. Mary of the Lake Cemetery, White Bear Lake
Close-up of the Lewis and Alma Heckel grave marker53

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Footnotes for Alma Mary Vadnais and Lewis Charles Heckel (part 2)

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