Friday, January 3, 2014

Raymond Bernard Westerheide (1894-1981) "52 Ancestors"

As we start the new year everyone is making (and breaking) their New Year's resolutions. With all of the social media (Facebook, G+, and others) there are plenty of ideas for resolutions. There are a couple that I have seen that I hope to be able to follow through with during the year - we all know how that will work, don't we. The first is a blessing jar where I will keep track of at least one good thing that happened to me or that I am thankful for each day. So far I have been good at that one - two days in a row. The second one is the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Basically, the goal is to post a story to my blog at least once per week during the year. Remember back in February when I tried to post once per day and I managed to get 10 posts in that month. Let's see how long this one lasts.

This post is about my great-grandfather Raymond Bernard Westerheide. I am not exactly sure what day Ray was born on. His birth record states 12 December 1894 in Minster, Auglaize County, Ohio. However, many of his other records, including WW I and WW II draft registration, death certificate, Social Security Death Index, and obituary, state that he was born 4 December 1894 or 1895 and may have been born in Egypt, Auglaize County, Ohio. Both communities are in Jackson Township and are only a few miles apart and, based on his mother's obituary, the family farm was located two miles west of Minster near Egypt. His birth record lists his name as B. R. Westerheide. His parents were John Henry ("Henry") (1863-1948) and Catherine Bornhorst Westerheide (1858-1931). His mother had been married previously to William Severin (1852-1886). Catherine Bornhorst lived most of her life in the Egypt community except for a brief time when she lived in Belloit, Kansas with her first husband and four children; Emma Catherine (1877-1935), Anne (1878-died young), Franz Joseph (1880-1931), and Bernard. They moved to Kansas in October 1885 and in January 1886 William Severin died, leaving her to care for the young children. Once the family was able to dispose of their affairs in Kansas they moved back to Ohio to be near their relatives. It is believed that Henry Westerheide had also been with the family in Kansas, possibly employed as a farm hand. Henry and Catherine married on 16 February 1887 and had nine children during their marriage. Their children were Dr. Edward Frances (1887-1955), Julius Henry (1889-1963), Mary (1891-1949), George (1893-1926), Raymond Bernard (1894-1981), Pauline C (1896-1977), Joseph Ignatius (1897-1976), Anthony Frederick (1899-1963), and Henry A (1902-1985).

Ray's father, Henry, was a well known farmer and was active in local politics. He had served three terms as a township trustee and 24 years as a member of the local board of education. Ray's mother, Catherine, was a devoted member of St. Joseph's Catholic church and was well liked in the community. Henry and Catherine were both born to German immigrants who settled in Auglaize County in the mid part of the 1800s.

Ray left the farm early on in his life. By the time he registered for the WW I draft in 1917, he was living at 44 1/2 Pulaski in Dayton, Ohio. He had married Laura Ann Stueve (1897-1988) on 17 April 1917 at Holy Trinity Church in Dayton. He was employed at Domestic Engineering Co., as an inspector. Domestic Engineering Company was started just a year earlier in February 1916 by Charles Kettering. This was one of the companies that became Delco-Light which was eventually bought out by General Motors in 1920 and was moved to Detroit in 1925. The Domestic Engineering Company specialized in bringing electricity to the farm and rural communities.

In 1920, Ray, his wife Laura, daughter Norma, son Vernon, and brother-in-law August Stueve were living at 317 Nassau Street, in Dayton, Ohio. They were renting the home. Ray was working for Delco-Light as an assembler. By early 1921 the family had returned to the Minster area. The family was living at 122 South Frankfort Street in 1930. This house was a newer home, built in 1924, and they were renting it for $15/month. Ray was employed as a grocery store manager for the Kroger store in Minster. The store was located on the corner of Fourth Street and Frankfort and later became Farno's Market. It was one of the earliest Kroger stores. The family was growing and they had six children; Norma (1917-2011), Vernon (1918-2004), Emerita (1921-2010), Rosabel (1921-1996), Lucille (1924-1994), and Leroy. One child, Ohmer Francis, born on 14 November 1922 had died on 15 November 1923, at the age of 1. Their last child, Mary Jeanette was born in 1933 and died in 2007.

During the period after Prohibition, Ray was using his store as a front for illegal alcohol manufacturing and distribution. He would drive his grocery truck to the C. D. Kinny Co., wholesale grocery firm in Dayton to pick up large loads of sugar which were used in the making of alcohol. John W. Dye, the branch manager of C. D. Kinny, Co., would hide the sales to make it appear to be small sales to grocers. Whenever a truck would show up at the loading docks a company truck would pull up along side it to hide it from view while the sugar was loaded. Ray would then transport the sugar to a large illicit still. The still was moved through Darke, Shelby and Mercer counties to avoid detection and the alcohol was then transported to Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati for sale. The still was operated by Ray Westerheide of Minster; Carl Knoebel and William Yenney of Covington; Alfred and Ralph Jutte of Ft. Recovery; and Clarence Green of Muncie, Indiana. Federal liquor agents began cracking down on the group in early 1936. Initially the charges were related to defrauding the government of $175,000 in taxes through the operation of the still. The agents had been watching the operation at the C. D. Kinny Company from a house across the street and had captured Harold Stover, a young man who had been mixing the alcohol, who plead guilty and testified against Carl Knoebel and Ray Westerheide.

Ray was arrested by liquor agents at the end of September 1936. Agents blocked Route 54 two miles southeast of Urbana and stopped Ray when he tried to go around them in the ditch. He had 50 gallons of alcohol in the vehicle at the time and police confiscated his automobile. Newspapers listed him as the leader and last of a ring that had been distributing alcohol from Chicago throughout Ohio for at least the last two or three years. Several other persons were also captured and held awaiting the grand jury in the Preble County jail.

Ray was again arrested in 1938 after a major raid where nearly 500 gallons of illicit liquor was seized. The raid was made at a cottage in St. Marys Township near Villa Nova at 10:30 pm during the week. Agents confiscated a car along with 345 gallons of alcohol and 114 gallons of liquor. The liquor was produced by cutting the alcohol with water and then preparing it in small quantities for distribution. The car that was confiscated contained 35 five-gallon cans of alcohol and belonged to Wilfred Moorman who was a driver for Ray. Federal tax labels were fastened on the cans. Moorman escaped during the raid by running out the back door of the cottage and walked nine miles to Celina. He surrendered to agents a two days later. Stiff penalties were given to each man. Ray was fined $750 plus costs and sentenced to three months in jail. Wilfred Moorman was fined $100 and also sentenced to three months. The jail sentences were suspended when Ray immediately paid the fines, a total of $863.13 in cash. This ended a two and one half year investigation where agents had tried unsuccessfully several times to trap Ray but on each previous occasion he had been able to elude the agents by moving the still to a new location.

By 1935 the family were renting a home at 104 South Frankfort Street in Minster. In 1940 the family consisted of Ray, his wife Laura, daughters Lucille and Mary Jean and their son Leroy. Ray was now employed as a dry cleaner running Home Service Cleaning in a garage at the back of the property. Later he moved the business into a building on Fourth Street in Minster next to Wagner's original grocery store. In 1942, when Ray signed up for the WW II draft, he was working at Monarch Machine Tool in Sidney, Ohio. He continued to run the dry cleaning business on the weekends and evenings with hired help until it became busy enough for him to work full time.

In the late 1930s, Ray managed the Minster City Baseball Team for a time. One of his claims to fame was that his hands and wrists were so big that he could hit fly balls in practice to the outfield using a fungo bat and swinging it with only one hand.

Another interesting story associated with the family took place in May of 1938. The story was reported as follows:

"And when she got there the clothes line was bare ..." Recalling the old rhyme of Mother Hubbard and her cupboard was an incident that occurred here. Because it rained after she placed them on the line, Mrs. Ray Westerheide permitted her clothes to hang out all night. When she prepared to take them down shortly after daylight, however, she found that her entire week's family washing had been stolen.

Ray and Laura moved to a home that he built on Lake Loramie in the early 1950s and lived there until his death. Ray died on 14 May 1981 at the age of 86. He had 43 grandchildren and 84 great grandchildren at the time of his death. His wife survived him and eventually died on 14 July 1988. Ray and Laura are both buried in St. Augustine Cemetery in Minster, Ohio.


  1. Great post! Loved the Prohibition tale (I blog about my New England roots, but have lived in Cincinnati for almost 30 years).

  2. Wow - Ray certainly had an interesting life! How great that you know all these details. (I grew up in Celina so I know where Minster is!)

  3. Ray's life could be the subject of a reality tv show!

  4. I remember hearing some of these stories as a kid. Great Grandpa was always looking for his big break.

  5. I am a little confused by this history. Grandpa told my husband that he served one year in a federal prison. He also claimed to have owned a cigarette boat he operated on one of the great lakes for the purpose of transporting bootleg whiskey and there was a connection with Al Capone. He said it was the fastest boat on the lake and he could outrun the law with it. I know the prison story to be a fact as my mother told me dad's first meeting of grandpa was a prison visitation.