Sepia Saturday: Fred Webber – Best Debater 1926

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

At The Cross, Hunstanton, Norfolk 1949 (Third Party Album)

This week’s prompt photo prompted me to return to my great uncle Fred M. Webber. He has his own landing page here because I keep adding to his story.  As I have researched Uncle Fred, I have found a few surprises along the way. Today, though, a look back at his high school days. I’m guessing that the photo I chose in response to the prompt image may have been from his college days based on his cool demeanor and nice hat.

Fred M. Webber attended Fairfield High School in Fairfield, IA, where he was a member of the debate team.

As the fifth of nine children in the family, I wonder if Fred’s debating skills developed at an early age and how those debating skills worked out at home once he really mastered debate in high school.

The first documentation I located of Fred’s participation on the debate team was during his Junior year of high school. The article notes that Fred was chosen for the Big Nine League team from Fairfield High, arguing the negative on the question: “Resolved, that the United States should join the other nations in a world court.”

Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), 10 N0v 1924

In March, the team met their rival team from Davenport, with the Fairfield team of three arguing the affirmative on the same question. A newspaper clipping announcing the upcoming debate noted that Fairfield had won 14 of 15 debates during the previous two years. Unfortunately, Fairfield lost this one, bringing their score to 14 of 16. Newspapers and available yearbooks on let me down and I don’t know how the year ended for the debate team, but Fred M. Webber came in second place in the Big Nine League state extemporaneous speaking contest that year.

The Daily Times (Davenport, IA), 25 Apr 1925

Fred’s Senior year of high school was a big one for the debate team. March 3rd found the Fairfield team winning a debate against the Montezuma team on the topic of government vs. local control of mines. They now had eight victories under their belts, having argued both sides of that question. On March 23rd, the Fairfield team beat the Davenport team in what the Davenport newspaper deemed a repeat “victory of decade,” this time arguing the affirmative side of the question: “Resolved, that the Japanese Exclusion Act should be repealed in favor of a gentleman’s agreement.”

Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), 24 Mar 1926

An article from March 26th is amusingly descriptive of the anticipated debate against Iowa City.

Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), 26 Mar 1926

Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), 26 Mar 1926

This looks like a photo related to the match with the Iowa City team.

And since these undated photos were in my grandmother’s scrapbook on the same page as the photo above, I’ll assume this is the team with the trophy they won that day. Everyone got the chance for a photo holding the trophy on the steps of Fairfield High School.

Josephine Ball, Fred Webber, Harold Gilbert, S. E. Wallin


The 1926 edition of The Quill, Fairfield High School’s yearbook, offered this take on the debate team in the Broughgam mentioned in the article above about their win over Des Moines. The team of boys and girls pulling the carriage replaced by mules in the collage. The photo collage is printed sideways, but I’ll rotate it so you don’t have to rotate your head. Fred’s head is in the back seat with their coach. (Click to enlarge.)

The Quill, 1926

On March 30, the Fairfield team won the Iowa Eastern Title, again on the topic of mines. On Friday, April 30th, the Fairfield debate team met the Rock Valley team in Iowa City for the state championship. A radio was set up in the Fairfield High School auditorium so that everyone could hear the live broadcast of the debate. They were not disappointed.

Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), 4 May 1926

Monday found the championship debate team – Fred Webber, Josephine Ball, and Harold Gilbert, celebrated by the residents of Fairfield. The band led the student body and faculty in a march from the school to Central Park.

There, the band escorted the debate team up to the bandstand where they were met by a committee of citizens representing the school board, city government, merchants and ministers.


Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), 4 May 1926

One of Fred’s grandchildren is in possession of a trophy presented by the debate coach to Fred.

S. E. Wallin

Fred Webber

The yearbook offered this tribute to their state champion debate team. Fred and his teammates were offered scholarships to the University of Iowa.

And the following page includes a letter from from the Debate Coach at the University of Iowa.

Fred accepted that scholarship. It was his ticket to the University, something neither he nor his family could have afforded. Fred, his parents, and siblings who were still in the home moved to Iowa City so that Fred could attend the University. The scholarship must not have included room and board. I wonder what kind of debate went on within the family about moving?

I think it is safe to say that Fred’s participation in high school debate played a significant role in the trajectory of his life.

When I started this post, I thought I’d get to include more of the fun things I found in his high school yearbook and his college days, but those will have to wait for another day.

Take the stairs, if you are able, and visit the other participants in Sepia Saturday.

7th Blogiversary This Week

I published my first post here on April 21, 2012. It is not a date that sticks in my mind. In fact, I only know to mark the occasion because I saw that Jana Last noted her Blogiversary. We launched our blogs within a couple of weeks of one another, Jana being first. When Jana says she is having a Blogiversary, I know I am too.

As happens with many of us, this blog has had times of drought as well as plenty. At one time, I was posting about three times a week. A few family and friends kindly followed along, as well as a small circle of fellow family history bloggers. I enjoyed my new community.

Then came the drought, precipitated by a diagnosis of a nasty lymphoma that necessitated chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. Posts were few and far between, even for some time after my treatment was complete because I had lingering “chemo brain” and just couldn’t get my writing or research together. My little circle of followers had nothing to read and a few left blogging themselves.

When I was ready and enthusiastic about getting back to it, I didn’t know how to jump back in. Thank goodness for Sepia Saturday. The weekly photo prompts gave me a way back. And that is where I am now – usually posting once a week in response to the prompt. It has been my blogging life preserver.

Alas, cancer isn’t through with me. A new diagnosis of an unrelated cancer meant major surgery the first of February and I have just had my second of twelve chemo treatments – every other week for six months. So far, I’m having one not-so-good week followed by a week that’s pretty good. I’m hopeful that I won’t fall completely off the blogging wagon this time.

I look back at those early posts now, many about my young self in relation to my family, and I am surprised at the stories. I have lost some of those memories now. I would not be able to write them today. I hope you will take my advice to preserve even the silly little stories of your life. Write them somewhere – even if only for yourself.

By far, my most read post is for directions to make “port pillows” – little pillows to attach to your seatbelt. They offer a bit of comfort to cancer patients who have a portacath for administration of drugs. Someone “pinned” the post a few years ago and I get hundreds of hits every week from around the world.

My most recent “accomplishment” here is a series I just completed about an uncle who died due to complications of measles when he was five years old. There are eight in the series, beginning with this one:
Sepia Saturday – An Uncle I Never Knew: A Tow-Headed Boy

Here are a few of my other favorites from the past year:

Sepia Saturday – Stunt Man on a Bike

Sepia Saturday – From Sicily to New Orleans

Sepia Saturday – Farming and Fences in Kansas

Sepia Saturday – Grandpa at Lake Okoboji

Sepia Saturday – Protest at Gwynn Oak Amusement Park

Sepia Saturday – Environmental Impact?

Thanks for reading along! I look forward to #8!

Sepia Saturday: An Uncle I Never Knew – The Rest of the Story

The month of January and a health emergency declared in the state of Washington because of a measles outbreak had me thinking about an uncle I never knew.

This is the last post in a series about my uncle Wilbur Thomas Hoskins, who died at five years of age due to complications following measles. You can catch up here:
A Tow-headed Boy
Who was with the family?
Funeral Record
The Salvation Army Offers Assistance
Letters of Condolence
bills to pay

I first introduced Uncle Wilbur in this photograph, taken when he was three months old and in the arms of his parents, Eveline and Thomas Hoskins.

Eveline, Wilbur, Tom Hoskins

A few months after Wilbur’s death, my mother was born. Only one of the other five children born to Eveline and Thomas knew Wilbur – Albert, whose fourth birthday was the day of Wilbur’s funeral.

Front: Montell, Eveline, Wilma 2nd: Albert, Tom Back: Doris, Roy

My mother and I lived with my grandparents from the time I was two to almost eight years of age. I never saw any pictures of Wilbur or heard about him that I remember. I’m sure it was my mother who told me about him sometime later. Mom gave me three bits of information that stuck with me: Wilbur died of Bright’s Disease; my grandfather had a “nervous breakdown” after Wilbur’s death; and my grandfather vowed he would never give another child his name. (Wilbur’s middle name was Thomas). I’ll take these one at a time.

Cause of death:

It wasn’t until I got a copy of Wilbur’s death certificate that I learned that measles was contributory to Wilbur’s death – preceding the nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) listed as cause of death. Bright’s Disease, the cause of death given by my mother, is a historical classification of kidney diseases that would be described in modern medicine as acute or chronic nephritis.

Sometimes death certificates contain errors, but I feel confidence in this one. Having the receipts for payment of bills to Dr. Bissekumer, I can match the signatures on the death certificate to the receipts and I also know that he saw Wilbur on more than one occasion. He was the attending physician.

My grandfather had a nervous breakdown:

I emailed the remaining members of Wilbur’s generation (one sibling and his wife, and two spouses of siblings) and no one recalls any photos of Wilbur displayed in the home. Uncle Roy thinks it was his brother Albert who told him about his dad’s breakdown and he and his wife don’t remember any conversations about Wilbur. Albert’s wife recalled a conversation she had with my grandmother:

I believe it was your grandmother who told me your grandfather suffered what was then called a nervous breakdown, it seems soon after Wilbur died and he spent some time in a facility, then I assume needed to stay nearby after his release perhaps for further treatment and that is when he stayed with Ethel and Mark. It would seem likely that your grandmother moved back to Mystic sometime around this time because of the lack of money. I can’t imagine how torn she must have been.

I haven’t been able to find documentation to fill in the gaps on this. There is that odd postcard from a health resort in Excelsior Springs, Missouri that just says “Wilbur” on the back. This was saved for a reason, as was the notation of Wilbur’s name on the back.

Excelsior Springs is not close to either Rockford, Il or Mystic, Iowa. Did Grandpa take a trip to Excelsior Springs in hopes that the mineral waters and baths would bring relief and healing to his suffering? Might he have spent some time in treatment here?

The one thing I did find was a receipt from a doctor in Rockford for an examination in August. This was apparently a family practice clinic. Grandpa could have gone for an illness or to seek help with his depression or whatever form of distress his grief manifested.

So where were each of my grandparents in the months after Wilbur’s death?

Receipts from a doctor’s office shared in my last post, show a change of address for my grandfather between the January 29th payment and the April 12th payment, moving from the home he and my grandmother shared on Church St. to the address of his sister Ethel and her husband’s home on Kishwaukee St.

The 1930 Census, taken April 5-7 shows my grandfather listed as a lodger with his sister and brother-in-law.

Of particular interest is the D in the column for marital status. No other evidence of divorce and not part of our family story. I wonder who provided information to the census taker and how they worded their answer to the question. Whatever was said by whom, the clear indication is that my grandparents were not living together at that time. Tom was in Rockford and Eveline had returned home to Mystic.

I also found a Mortgage document dated 30 April 1930, although on the reverse, the year looks like 1931 – so I’m confused. What do you think?

date on front

date on back

If it is 1930, then my grandfather made a trip to Mystic where they signed a mortgage on a piece of property. If 1931, then it was the following year.

My mother was born July 7, 1930 and I have a photo copy of the birth announcement sent to Grandpa to let him know of her arrival. He was in Rockford when she was born. The address is to the home of his sister Ethel and her husband.

And the receipt to the doctor above places my grandfather in Rockford at least through August.

Albert’s wife put me in contact with Ethel’s and Mark’s daughter:
I do remember hearing about Wilbur’s death but not more than you have already. You are correct that uncle Tommy stayed with my folks for a time as did my uncles from both sides of my family. My folks were the first to go to Rockford to find work during the depression.  I don’t think uncle Tommy stayed too long with them as the other brothers arrived  to find work and bring up their families.

So I can’t confirm that Grandpa spent time in a facility, only that he lived with his sister Ethel and her husband for a time after Wilbur’s death.

None of the other children had family names, so I guess that nugget was true. Grandpa seemed to feel it bad luck.

Of more interest is how my grandparents dealt with their grief and loss over the years. As noted above, no photographs or mementos of Wilbur were visible in their home.

Albert’s wife : Your grandfather never mentioned Wilbur in my presence; Al had indicated that his Dad had never gotten past that loss.  It hit me as I was putting this together that he was very vocal about the bad things that happened to him and for lengthy periods of time after but this was not one of them.

Your grandmother spoke to me just once about Wilbur; I don’t remember the circumstance but was likely sometime after Stephen was born. She was very matter-of-fact, rather dispassionate I think. She said that Wilbur had been very sick with what was then referred to as red measles and he didn’t get better. 

I always thought of my grandfather as a worrier. I would help my grandmother with the dishes and he would interject, “Be careful. That knife is sharp.” Or, “Be careful crossing that street.” or “Don’t get too close to the road.”

My grandmother, on the other hand, gave me the sharp knife to dry, sent me down the street on errands, let me try my hand at ironing (for which I carried a scar on my forearm for a good many years), among other things. She was not overprotective. Although very loving toward me, she was also not overly affectionate. She held me in her lap in her rocking chair by the window, but did not smother me with kisses. We played games together, but I got no advantage for my young age. She didn’t tolerate whining (see 1st Grade Hairstory) or crying that she thought excessive or without good cause. “Go upstairs if you are going to cry. I don’t want to hear it.” She stayed at home and worked hard in the house and in the large vegetable and flower gardens. Practical. Down to earth. Hard working. Disciplined routine. I loved her dearly and I know she felt the same about me. Hence her name used in the name of this blog.

I picture her as the one who had to be strong. The one who carried on. The one who had no choice but to do so. There was a young son to care for and a baby on the way. Perhaps this set the pattern for how she lived the rest of her life.

Although there were no pictures or remembrances of Wilbur visible in their home, all of these photos and papers were kept tucked away in a safe place.

Things I may have missed or gotten wrong: 

Maybe Albert was with my grandparents and Wilbur in Rockford. My belief that he stayed in Mystic with his grandparents I assume I got from a conversation with my mother. Al’s wife remembers this: Your grandmother said Al had them (measles), too, but he wasn’t nearly as sick. I had assumed that Wilbur got sick first and Al got them from him but if the boys were not together with their parents then that might not be true.Your grandmother didn’t provide any details and I didn’t ask questions.

I’ve probably made mistakes throughout this series. I’m always open to correction.

Better days:

I received this nice photo of my grandparents with Ethel and Mark after making contact with their daughter. Taken some years later, in better times.

Tom, Eveline, Ethel, Mark

My grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1973, surrounded by most of the kids and grandkids. Unfortunately, I was not there.

And this last photo, which almost kind of matches the prompt photo of two people with big smiles. It is one of my favorites of them.

And here I lay to rest the story of an uncle I never knew, Wilbur Thomas Hoskins.

Wilbur, Eveline, Albert

April 3, 1924-January 18, 1930

Vaccinate. It saves lives.

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

Chris and Max, Taken At Fulham Town Hall, 1949 (Third Party Album)

Please visit other participants at Sepia Saturday where you may find photos of big smiles or big stripes or big ties!