Football and family

We have many football fans among our family and friends, most more avid than I. This article will be out of the norm for Our Heritage but it’s fall, and it’s my blog, so we’ll take a brief look at American football and its intersection with family appreciation.

Mom becomes a football fan

My mother’s interest in sports used to be centered around baseball, from our little league teams to the Detroit Tigers. I picked up her interest in the Tigers in the summer of 1961, when I listened to game broadcasts on our family radio. That was a good season for the Tigers, but resulted in a not-uncommon second place finish behind the New York Yankees. I could still name the starting lineup of the ’61 Tigers by field position. First baseman Norm Cash led the American League with a .361 batting average, but the sporting world was focused on the home run derby between Yankees teammates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.

I think Mom always liked football and basketball to some degree, but her interest in football rose to a whole new level when my nephew Jesse came up through the youth leagues to become the starting center for Central Montcalm High School. Mom is not a quiet sports fan when her grandchildren are on the field. Now she has joined the active ranks of ever-hopeful Lions fans as well as cheering for Michigan university teams.

Where did this topic come from?

Dee and I have subscribed to Guideposts Magazine for many years. The cover story for the September 2016 issue features Ben Utecht’s experience with gradual memory loss related to concussions from his career in the NFL. You can read the article here: https://www.guideposts.org/comfort-hope/former-nfl-star-ben-utecht-on-dealing-with-memory-loss. Ben recounts the impact on his career and on his family. The video about his song ‘You Will Always Be My Girls’ is touching and poignant.

This story has a personal intersection with my own family for more than one reason. We have good friends in North Carolina who are gradually losing a loved one to early-onset dementia. Several years ago we watched the slow decline of Dee’s mom’s memory and awareness in the waning years of her life. We lamented the loss of her gifts and abilities, yet she seemed to gain a contentment that I hadn’t seen in her days of conscious worry and concern over the challenges of life.

This story has another personal connection with our family from our years in Minnesota. Ben Utecht’s father was the associate pastor at our church. While Dee and I didn’t have any significant contact with little Benjamin, I think our son Joe did. Ben, of course, wouldn’t know any of us because he was still very young. His family moved on to other churches and we moved to North Carolina. Nevertheless, as they say, it’s a small world. As we pass by people in our lives, we never know when or where we might later encounter them. We should be more mindful of our friends and especially our family before we lose them. If we are fortunate, our paths might meet again.

Learning more about Rachel Dennis

As I mentioned in a recent article about maternal kin, Dee and Mom and I met cousins in June who we had found through DNA testing. In August we visited Diane and Janet in Ohio, meeting their mother Betty and their brother Jim. Mom was delighted to meet Betty, who is Mom’s age but is a first cousin of Mom’s mother. Betty’s mother Grace Dennis Abell was my Grandma Sovereign’s mother Idell Dennis Fisher’s youngest sister. While enjoying the company of our new-found cousins, we shared information about our Dennis and Powell ancestors.

Janet, Diane, Dee, Betty, and Lois
Janet, Diane, Dee, Betty, and Lois

Rachel Powell

Rachel was born in Mill Creek Township near West Unity, Williams County, Ohio on 11 February 1854. She entered the world in a family of strong religious ties. Her mother, Amy Cliffton, was raised in a large extended family of Friends, commonly known as Quakers. Clifftons, Bortons, Townes and other Quaker families were interconnected for generations. When Amy Powell died shortly after her daughter Rachel’s birth, a Borton cousin reportedly served as Rachel’s nurse. Rachel’s father, Joseph Powell, was a farmer and Methodist preacher.

Rachel and John Dennis

Rachel married John Samuel Dennis, ten years her senior, in Ransom Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan on 13 October 1872. John was a veteran of the Civil War, having served in the 111th Ohio Volunteer Infantry for about three years. John’s obituary stated that he was born in Mansfield, Richland County, Ohio on 3 April 1844 shortly after his family’s arrival from England. His family lived in Mill Creek Township, Williams County by 1850.

In 1880 John and Rachel lived across the state line in Ransom Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan with their children Joseph Clinton, Mary Amy, and Hannah as well as John’s mother Mary Dennis.

In 1890, John was listed in the Veterans Schedule for Ransom Township, Hillsdale County. Nearly all of the Population Schedules listing residents for the 1890 census have been destroyed so we have no record of the rest of the family in that census.

In 1894, the Michigan state census records John and Rachel in Ransom Township with Hannah, Charlotte, Clara May, Florence Idell, Anna Lucille, Arthur John and Ellen Grace.

John and Rachel’s relationship was apparently somewhat tenuous. John filed for divorce from Rachel in the Circuit Court of Hillsdale County, Michigan on 27 April 1897. Their oldest son, Clinton, died later in 1897 after suffering interstitial nephritis for perhaps three years. Their youngest child, Grace, had been born in 1894.

In 1900 Rachel was listed by the census enumerator in Morenci, Seneca Township, Lenawee County, Michigan with Charlotte, Idell, Anna, John, and Grace. Morenci borders the Ohio state line a few miles east of Williams County. Rachel was reported as married, but her husband John was not in the household. I have not yet located John S. Dennis in 1900 census records.

In 1910 John Dennis was listed in the household of his son-in-law and daughter Olla and Charlotte Moyer in Hudson Township, Lenawee County, Michigan. John was identified as divorced in this census enumeration. I have not located Rachel Dennis in the 1910 census.

On 21 June 1915 the Circuit Court of Lenawee County granted a divorce to John dissolving his marriage with Rachel on grounds of desertion. John married Sarah Russell Keefer on 9 July 1915 in Morenci. Her first husband had died in 1912.

In 1920 Rachel was recorded as a divorced woman in Hillsdale, Hillsdale County. Her occupation was reported as evangelist. John was recorded in Morenci, Seneca Township, Lenawee County, married to Sarah Dennis, age 43. Their household included children from Sarah’s previous marriage.

John died 5 July 1926 in Morenci, Lenawee County, Michigan. He was buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery at Morenci, apparently in a family plot associated with his second wife Sarah. John was buried next to Sarah’s third husband Cyrus Bowersox and near one of her children from her first marriage, Earl Keefer.

In 1930 Rachel was recorded in the census enumeration as widowed, living in Hillsdale, Hillsdale County. She was reported as a seamstress. On 16 June 1930 Rachel was ordained as a Minister of the Gospel by the Assembly of God at The Gospel School, Findlay, Ohio. This school, described in an article about T.K. Leonard, was part of his work in the founding of the Assemblies of God. This was the final year of the school’s operation. Rachel apparently served in home mission work before she was ordained. She used a tambourine to accompany her music and message.

Rachel's tambourine
Rachel’s tambourine

Rachel died 11 April 1937 in Medina Township, Lenawee County, Michigan. An index of her obituary provides more information about her family. Rachel was buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery at Morenci in a plot with her son Clinton, daughter Anna, and great-grandson Harold Apger.

Rachel Dennis and her daughters at the Blackford home. Back: Hannah Blackford, Amy Bailey, Idell Fisher. Front: Lottie Moyer, Grace Abell, Rachel Dennis, Anna Dennis, Clara Schoonover.

What happened?

Betty’s research notes indicate that her mother, Grace, was about a year and a half old when her parents separated. Without uncovering first-hand evidence or knowledge of causes leading to the dissolution of John and Rachel’s marriage, we can only speculate about some potential factors.

Was the strain of Clinton’s decline that eventually led to death a factor?

Was Rachel, mindful of her own mother’s death from childbirth, withholding her affections? Large families, including her father’s, were quite common. She might have been concerned about that prospect.

Was Rachel beginning to focus on gospel work outside of the home that might not have met John’s approval? John was described by his daughter as having died a Christian, suggesting that he had not always appreciated efforts in faith.

Was John convinced that Rachel had been unfaithful? He is reported to have had some doubt of Grace’s paternity, but I have seen no evidence suggesting infidelity on Rachel’s part.

Lois Springsteen's top DNA matches
Lois Springsteen’s top DNA matches

DNA testing, while not yet offering the proof of shared DNA with descendants of John’s siblings or cousins, strongly supports the case for John as Grace’s father. Betty and Mom, as first cousins once removed, share 8.95% of their DNA. This is well above the average amount shared by first cousins once removed (6.25%), let alone the amount (3.125%) for half first cousins once removed, which they would be if John wasn’t Grace’s father.

If Rachel left John, as was the claimed basis for divorce, what prompted her departure? Something seems to have pushed or pulled her away, but we don’t know what that was. Rachel certainly didn’t abandon her children, but kept them in her care.

A daughter’s perspective

John and Rachel’s daughter Clara wrote brief accounts of her parents and her paternal grandmother that our Findlay cousins have shared with us. Here is Clara’s perspective on Rachel’s life:

Mrs. Rachel Powell Dennis

Her mother was French with just a little Welch mixed in some way. Her father was a Methodist evangelist-was Scotch and English

Mother was called by the Lord to be a minister of the Gospel. She was ordained in the Assembly of God Church in Findlay, Ohio years ago. Later she went to Hillsdale, Michigan, organized a little Mission church, was head of this Mission for 20 years. She believed much in prayer for all things. She was called to come and pray for the sick. When the terrible epidemic of the flu was raging all over America, she was kept busy praying for the sick and she said not one died whom she prayed for.

I lived in Hillsdale. After Mother was called to glory, I was in a neighbors house one day. Another neighbor came in telling of another neighbor being awful sick, and this one said to the other-I used to know of an elderly lady that went and prayed for the sick and they always got well right away but I don’t know if she is here any more. I haven’t seen her for some time. I (Clara) spoke up and said would you mind telling me her name. She said Mrs. Dennis. I said that was my mother. The Bible says when we leave here our works follow us.

She was a home Missionary. Went from slum to slum telling people about Jesus and He loved them so much He gave his blood for their salvation and gave His body to be beaten, marred, torn, spit upon. He did all this for the healing of their bodies. He said it is finished for body, soul and mind. Many accepted Christ thru her teaching.

A missionary was coming to North Morenci, when Mother lived in Morenci. The Lord told Mother to hire a livery rig and go to North Morenci for the lady. Mother did not have the money to pay for the rig, so she said to the Lord on the way over there, “Lord you told me to do this, now you will have to furnish the money.” Something right away told her to water her horse. There was a watering trough to water him and there in the mud lay a big silver dollar just enough to pay for the rig. Mother was a beautiful young lady with short curly hair, like it’s worn today.

Mother was a quiet person. I always described her as like a feather. She could put aside a lot of work, with no fuss nor bother. I could talk all day about my mother’s kind and loving ways.

I thank God for a mother like Rachel Dennis.

A life lived for others.

A saint if there ever was one on earth.

This transcribed account is from a document about the Powell and Dennis families. A note at the end of this document says

Recopied from a carbon of the original by Clara Dennis Schoonover-

On a 1977 August morning.

Handwriting after the dash says ‘date to be inserted.’ Clara would have produced the original sometime between her mother’s death in 1937 and her own death in 1957.

Further observations

Mom and Betty were around eight years old when Rachel Dennis died. Mom remembers her Great-grandma Dennis scolding people who referred to children as kids. Betty probably saw more of her Grandma Dennis than Mom did. Betty has done quite a bit of research on her family, an interest that she has passed on to her daughters. Until Betty’s mother Grace died in 1988, she would have been a good source of information about her mother Rachel. Betty’s notes, of which I here include a few, indicate that Rachel had considerable education for a woman of her time.

Two things I know about Rachel Dennis-she gives me much to live up to and I have much more to learn.