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Pioneer descendants buried next to ancestors in Iowa

Francis Wenthur, center, son of Idell and Pierces Wenthur, watches as member of the Offut Air Force Base Honor Guard fold a flag during ceremonies at the Reed Pioneer cemetery near Spragueville, Iowa on Wednesday, June 27, 2018.

KEVIN E. SCHMIDT/QUAD CITY TIMES VIA AP

By ALMA GAUL | Quad-City Times | Published: July 7, 2018

SPRAGUEVILLE, Iowa (AP) — In August 1842, just 10 years after today's eastern Iowa opened to European settlement, a family with seven children in a covered wagon pulled by oxen was nearing the Wapsipinicon River when the mother became violently ill and died.

The family from Pennsylvania was heading to a land claim in today's Jackson County, so they wrapped their loved one — Margaret Reed — in a blanket and buried her when they reached their destination.

They chose a high bluff with the wild prairie falling away on all sides.

The Quad-City Times reports that last week, the remains of Margaret Reed's great-great granddaughter, Idell Wenthur, and her husband, Air Force Maj. Pierce Wenthur, both formerly of California and Arizona, were buried on that same bluff, right next to Margaret Reed's marker.

About 70 people attended the interment ceremony, including the Wenthurs' four children, flying in from California and Florida.

Also in attendance were numerous Wenthur grandchildren; about 20 Jackson County military veterans; a six-member, white-gloved Air Force Honor Guard from Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha; and members of the Jim and Lori Evilsizer family, who own the Century Farm on which the cemetery is located.

People were transported from the farmplace to the cemetery in a tractor-drawn wagon. Because of the crowd, the wagon made three trips, lurching past cornfields and the trees along the Maquoketa River, with birdsongs tripping on the cool breeze.

How all these people came to gather on this bluff is a story 176 years in the making, but the common thread is family.

After Margaret Reed's death, her husband settled on the farm with his children, including William E. Reed, who led a life both adventurous and filled with community-building.

In his younger days, Reed enlisted as a solider in the Mexican War and fought in hand-to-hand combat in the streets of Monterey. He also was a participant in the U.S. cavalry's forced relocation of 2,800 Winnebago Indians from Fort Atkinson, Iowa, to Minnesota.

After his military service he returned to Jackson County and became a pillar of the community, serving as a Baptist minister for 17 years and helping to build two schools and two bridges.

After his wife died in 1891, Reed moved to South Dakota, and in 1892, the farm came into the Stromeyer family, who own it today.

All of this history is known because Reed kept diaries and journals that made their way into the hands of Idell Wenthur — his great-granddaughter — in the 1960s.

Interested in genealogy, Idell followed the thread in these writings until, in May 2000, it took her to the Evilsizer farm 2 miles west of Spragueville.

Lori Evilsizer well recalls the day when she and her husband answered a knock on their farmhouse door and found an elderly couple from Santa Clarita, California, asking if there was a cemetery on their farm.

At this time, the burial ground was a tangled mess of brush, trees, high weeds and lilies. As the two couples wandered around, it was Idell's husband who found the gravestone they were looking for. "It was an emotional moment, as Idell dropped to her knees, and tears came to her eyes," Evilsizer says in a written account.

The Evilsizers invited the Wenthurs to stay overnight and from that day, the two couples became best friends, and Idell determined that, when the time came, she wanted to be buried with her ancestors.

Plans for last week's burials were set in motion in January when Idell died at age 94. Pierce had preceded her in 2013. Both were cremated.

The Wenthurs' daughter, Teresa Faitel, gives all the credit for last week's ceremony to the Evilsizers.

"Without Lori and Jim, this wouldn't have come out like it did," she said, sitting in a chair under the white tent set up on the bluff. "I think when we thought of doing it, it would be just the four of us."

The Evilsizers and Lori's mother, Laurel Williams, were definitely dedicated to the fulfilling the Wenthurs' wishes, and they know their life stories by heart.

Pierce Wenthur was an Army Air Corps B-17 bombardier in World War II, flying missions from England and Russia. He was on his 11th mission when his plane was shot down over Germany and taken prisoner, Lori Evilsizer said.

After five months, he and some 11,000 other POWs were forced to march in the middle of winter to a camp closer to Berlin to evade Allied troops advancing toward Germany. Three months later, they were liberated, she said.

After the war, Wenthur was assigned to a base in California and after his discharge, he and Idell — who married one month before he was shot down — decided to stay there. He got a job with Technicolor in Hollywood, working there for more than 30 years.

The couple had five children, but they had love for many more. They became foster parents and, over the years, opened their home to more than 100 children.

As the ceremony began around 10:30 a.m., two airmen in dress blues stood at attention next to the graves. Daughter Lorrene Balzani opened by saying how proud and grateful she and her siblings are to have had such extraordinary parents. "We were blessed to grow up feeling so loved, so wanted."

Deacon Greg Michel, of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, in Preston, read from the Bible, referencing Christ as "the resurrection and the life" and that whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life.

Those attending were invited to recite the Lord's Prayer and sing "Amazing Grace," helped by the strong soprano voice of Spragueville Mayor Caroline Bredekamp.

Military honors followed with three rifle volleys resounding through the quiet countryside and the sounding of taps. Finally came the folding, refolding and presentation of the American flag to the Wenthurs' oldest son, Frank.

Idell's "passion for her family history resulted in her finding this place and her wanting to be buried here," son Frank Wenthur said about his parents. "And here we are today."

The power of family can move many people to many places.

Friends and family arrive at the Reed pioneer cemetery for the of burial of Idell and Pierces Wenthur near Spragueville, Iowa on Wednesday, June 27, 2018.
KEVIN E. SCHMIDT/QUAD CITY TIMES VIA AP

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