Summary of My Family's History



This is a condensed version of the book that I'm currently writing about my family's history.  It's now 594 pages long and growing!  Rather than have your read all 594 pages (you can thank me later), I'm posting here a brief summary to highlight the most salient parts.


My Father

My dad, Donald Leu, grew up in Seattle, Washington in the early 1920s in a large, middle-class family.  His father, George Leu, ran a small grocery store in their Ballard neighborhood and his mother, Minnie, stayed at home and raised their six children, including Don, the youngest.  Life was comfortable for the Leus through the 1920s, but when the Great Depression hit in the early 1930s, his father lost his grocery store and the Leu family was suddenly plunged into poverty.  When Don was a teenager, during the late 1930s, he moved with his family to the rural logging town of Skykomish, Washington, about 50 miles east of Seattle, where his father, George, desperate to support his family, had opened another grocery store.  Don, always a bit introverted, loved spending time alone in the mountains around Skykomish.  And always athletic, he starred on the high school's basketball team, one of the best small-town basketball teams in Washington.


Above:  My dad in 1999.

Don was the first person in his family to attend college and was studying at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, in December 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, plunging America into World War II.  The next day he volunteered for the U.S. Navy and enlisted in their officer training program.  The Navy spent about a year starting up their highly-condensed officer training program, known as V-12.


After finishing his sophomore year at Western, in 1943, Don entered the Navy and was sent to Dickinson College in North Dakota for officer V-12 training, where he met my mom.  They married a year later in Florida, where my dad, now a ensign, had volunteered for the Navy's special operations unit called Scouts and Raiders (today's Navy SEALs).  Having completed that demanding course and nearly drowning in the process he was sent to China in 1945 to fight the Japanese army and teach guerilla warfare to the Chinese Nationalists troops in Chungking, the wartime capital of China.


After the war, in 1946, Don returned to the U.S., completed his bachelor's degree at Western Washington University, then got a doctorate in Education from Columbia University in New York.  With his wife Anne and a growing family, he moved to Michigan in the mid-1950s where he became a professor at Michigan State University.  Our family moved to the Bay Area of California in the late 1960s after my dad accepted the position of Dean of Education at San Jose State, then my parents moved to Portland, Oregon in 1980, where he became the Dean of Education at Portland State University.  He and Anne retired to Bellingham in the early 1990s.


During the 1970s and 1980s, my dad was recognized as one of the top educational facility planners in America.  He was named Alumnus of the Year from Western Washington University in 1994 and a few years later he was named one of Western Washington's "Most Distinguished Alumnus" of the past century.  Don passed away in November of 2002 at age 79, two years after Anne.  I've posted more information about him at News:  March 28, 2003.

My Mother

Above:  My mother with her daughter, Dorothy, in 1991.

My mother, Anne, was born in North Dakota in the 1920s and grew up on a farm, the oldest of three girls born to Helga and Edward Reinhard.  Times were hard and when she was a young girl, the family lost their farm during the Great Depression, plunging them into dire poverty.  The family moved to the small towns of Wing and Wilton, North Dakota, before moving to Bismarck when Anne was about 10, in the early 1930s.  Sadly, her father, who had become a carpenter and laborer to support the family, died when she was 13.


Anne helped her mother, Helga, raise her younger sisters and was an exemplary student at Bismarck High School.  She enjoyed playing the violin and was sociable, with a large group of friends.  Shortly after graduating from Bismarck High in 1943, she visited a girlfriend in Dickinson, North Dakota during the Fourth of July weekend.  They decided to go to a dance that Saturday evening, held to honor the Navy's officer recruits who had just arrived in town for training.  My mother met my father at the dance, they went horseback riding the next day and the rest, as they say, is history.


A few months after they married, Don was sent overseas during World War II, and Anne and their young daughter, Dorothy, moved back to Bismarck to wait for him.  Don returned from his service after the war in 1946 and my parents moved to Washington, New York and Michigan, all in the pursuit of education.  They were a good team.  While Don focused on his education and career, Anne focused on raising the children:  one girl and four boys, me being the youngest.  We did a lot of traveling, packed into our family's station wagon, especially in the summer months when my dad wasn't teaching.  We camped all over the country, traveling out to Washington each summer to visit our relatives there, with my dad doing the driving and my mom taking care of us kids and keeping everyone safe and well.


I think my mother's main goal in life was to raise a happy and successful family.  She gave everything for her kids and was determined to make sure that her children had a solid foundation in life, something she never had, given her family's economic struggles when she was young.  She wanted to raise her children in a kind and loving household and give them the stability that she never knew.  If I may boast about her, I think she did a terrific job.  My mother passed away in 1999 during a winter's stay in Las Vegas, Nevada.  She was a loving mother and a wonderful person.



Above left:  Don and Anne in Dickinson, North Dakota, in 1943, a few months after they met at a dance.  My dad was in Dickinson training to be a naval officer during World War II and my mom had grown up in Bismarck.

Above center:  After the war, Don came back from overseas and, with Anne, they started a family.  This is in 1950 in New York where my dad was attending Columbia University.  He got his doctorate two years later and became a college professor.

Above right:  In San Jose, California in 1968, with their kids (that's me on the far right).  Don had recently accepted the position of Dean of the School of Education at San Jose State.  Growing up in the Bay Area before it became Silicon Valley, these were blissful days.


Here's a summary of my grandparents and their ancestries.  Being the youngest of the five kids in my family, I have only dim memories of two of my grandparents, George Leu and Helga Swang, and no memories of the other two, Minnie Plane and Edward Reinhard, who passed away before I was born.


My Father's Parents

George Leu (my grandfather)

My great-grandfather, Georg Leu (pronounced "Gay-org Loy"), was born in the Schaffhausen canton in northern Switzerland in 1862, from a long line of Leu farmers in Switzerland.  In 1882, Georg, who had a rather prickly temperament, became angry about an inheritance that he thought he deserved, then he took the money, $400, from the family, made his way to France and hopped on a boat bound for America. 


He made his way to Toledo, Ohio, where his former neighbors in Switzerland, the Schneiders, had moved many years before.  They were the only people he knew in America.  He knocked on their door, was invited to stay, and a few years later, he married the Schneider's daughter, Emma, much to the displeasure of her parents.  The young couple moved to Cleveland, where Georg started a butcher shop, which operated continually into the 1980s by his descendants.  Georg and Emma had several children and named their oldest son (my grandfather) George.


Above:  My grandfather, George Leu, around 1950.

Growing up in Cleveland, George Leu, unlike his temperamental father, was a quiet and studious man.  And much to his parent's disapproval, he loved baseball, which was considered an unsavory sport in those days.  Young George, without telling his parents, played professional baseball in Cleveland briefly when he was a teenager, around 1905, but he was hit in the head with a pitch one day.  That spilled the beans with his folks and was the end of his fledgling baseball career.


Around 1910, George's younger brother, Cliff, who was about 20, got into a dispute with his parents and left home.  Cliff hopped on a train heading west and traveled as far as he could, to Seattle, Washington, to make a new life for himself.  George got on the next train to Seattle, hoping to bring Cliff back to Cleveland, and when he reached Seattle, he found Cliff working at the recently-opened Pike Place Market, which today is an iconic Seattle landmark.  George couldn't convince Cliff to return to Cleveland, and he figured it was a nice place, so he decided to stay.  George became a salesman and, in 1912 at age 25, he married my grandmother, Minnie Plane.

Minnie Plane (my grandmother)

Minnie Plane was born in Mayville, Michigan in 1892.  Her ancestors, mostly from England, were among the first white settlers of North America, having arrived in the Boston area in the 1620s, just a few years after the arrival of the ship Mayflower.  Her Putnam ancestors played a key role in the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and other ancestors of hers were at the Boston Tea Party in 1773 and had fought for the American army against the British during the Revolutionary War.  Perhaps most interesting to me, given my interest in geography, is that her distant cousin, Rufus Putnam, had been the first official Geographer of the United States and in the late 1700s he established the Township-and-Range surveying system.  Oh, and Rufus also apparently brought the first apples west over the Appalachian Mountains.


Service to the country ran strong in Minnie's family.  Her great-grandfather, Solomon Myers, had fought for the American army during the War of 1812 (and was granted land in Michigan for his service) and her grandfather, Ransom Myers, had fought in the Civil War.  In fact, Ransom lost his left arm in Kentucky in 1862 while fighting with the Union Army during the war.  Afterwards Ransom returned to Michigan, where he owned a 140-acre farm and became a prominent citizen of his county.


Above:  My grandmother, Minnie Plane, around 1950.

Minnie's mother, who was also named Minnie, was born to the one-armed Ransom and his wife in 1872.  She had a rebellious spirit and fell in love with a local fur trapper named Harrison Plane when they were teenagers.  Ransom strongly disapproved of this fur trapper, though, and forbid his daughter from seeing him.  But one snowy evening, the strong-minded Minnie Myers eloped with Harrison and they moved a few miles away.  Ransom was incensed, but after a few years he reconciled with his daughter.  By this time, Minnie had a daughter, whom she named Minnie (my grandmother).  Harrison Plane died of tuberculosis in 1900 at age 29 leaving the elder Minnie widowed and the younger Minnie without a father.  They were both distraught.


The elder Minnie, having lost both parents just a few years earlier and now her husband, decided to leave Michigan with her eight-year-old daughter and together they rode on a train to Seattle, where they had relatives.  Twelve years later, on Minnie Plane's 20th birthday, she married my grandfather, George Leu.  She was dynamic, active and always eager to travel, as opposed to her husband, George, who was quiet, subdued and preferred to stay home.  Her mother, the elder Minnie, married three more times but never found the true love that she had known with her first husband, Harrison, in Michigan.

George & Minnie's Family

George and Minnie had six children from 1914 until 1923, including my father, who was their youngest.  George was a salesman and the family lived throughout the northwest, in Tacoma, Seattle and Bellingham.  In 1916 they moved to Moscow, Idaho, where George became a partner in a grocery store.  The family moved back to Seattle in 1921, to the Ballard neighborhood, where George opened his own market.  Minnie stayed home and raised their six children while George worked as a prominent grocer in the Seattle area in the 1920s, ultimately becoming president of the IGA (Independent Grocers Association) for the Seattle area.  Times were good for the Leu family.


But things took a dark turn with the onset of the Great Depression in the early 1930s.  George, who had extended a great deal of credit to his customers, lost his store in 1933, then he opened another store but that one failed, too.  The Leu family had suddenly gone from solid middle-class to near poverty.  In desperation, the Leus moved to the small logging town of Skykomish, Washington, about 50 miles east of Seattle, where George opened a small store he called "Leu's Market."


The Depression was difficult for the Leus but George and Minnie worked hard to raise their family and put food on the table each night.  George operated his store in Skykomish for 20 years until he suffered a stroke in the late 1950s.  Minnie, who helped run the grocery store when she wasn't raising the six children, died in 1957 at age 65.  George suffered a stroke the next year and was debilitated for the rest of his life.


Our family, living in Michigan at the time, visited George in a rest home in 1965 near Seattle.  That brief visit was, unfortunately, the only memory that I have of my grandfather George; he died three months later at age 78.  My dad told me that George loved our visits and often cried after we left.  Through their hard work, love and dedication, George and Minnie had provided a solid foundation for their children, including my father.



My Mother's Parents


Note:  For security reasons I haven't posted  my mother's maiden name on my website, on this or any other page.  In place of her maiden name I've used the name "Reinhard."  But everything else about them, other than their last name, is true as far as I know.

Edward Reinhard (my grandfather)

My mother's father, Edward, was born in Westbrook, Minnesota in 1894 into a large family.  His father, Henry, was born in northern German in 1866 and came to America when he was a small boy, traveling with his parents across southern Minnesota and settling in Cottonwood County, where they homesteaded a farm of 160 acres.  Their farm was a few miles from Walnut Grove which, at that time, was the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder who would later become a renowned author about the pioneers.  Henry and Laura were both about 10 years old, so they well may have known each other.


In 1890 Henry married a local woman, Petrina Blege, who had also emigrated to America, but from Norway.  Henry and Petrina lived on a farm in Cottonwood County for many years and ultimately had nine children, including my grandfather, Edward.  In 1907, when Edward was 13, he and his family moved to the small town of Regan, North Dakota where his parents, Henry and Petrina, homesteaded on 160 acres of land.  Edward became a farmer and in 1923, he married my grandmother, Helga Swang.  The following year, my mother was born, the first of their three children, all girls.


But times were hard and the family lost their farm in the early 1930s during the Great Depression, and they had to move to Bismarck to survive.  They were desperately poor and the former farmer, Edward, became a laborer and carpenter, doing construction work when he could find it.  He died suddenly in 1937 when my mother was 13, leaving Helga a widow with three daughters to raise during difficult times.

Helga Swang (my grandmother)

Above:  My grandmother, Helga, around 1905.

My mother's mother, Helga Swang (pronounced "Swong"), was born in a sod house in South Dakota in 1898.  Her parents, Nels and Anna Swang, had arrived in South Dakota with their respective families when they were young, both having emigrated to America from Norway.  Nels parents, Ole and Birgit, had traveled to South Dakota by covered wagon in the 1880s.  Helga's parents, Nels and Anna Swang, grew up on homesteads a few miles apart just north of the town of Webster, and they married in 1896.


Shortly after Helga was born, her parents moved the family to Fessenden, North Dakota, where Nels became an engineer with the Soo Railroad.  A few years later, Anna and Nels divorced, rare for that time, and Nels abruptly departed for California, leaving Anna to raise her five children, including Helga, alone.  Anna became a laundress to support her family and ultimately saved enough money to buy a small house near the railroad tracks for $500.


Helga graduated from Fessenden High School in 1915.  The career opportunities for single women at that time were mostly limited to either teaching, nursing or secretarial work and she chose the former.  She taught in a small one-room "country school" on the North Dakota plains for a few years, since country school teachers in those days needed only a high school diploma.  Helga wanted to improve herself, though, so around 1919 she enrolled in the Teacher's College at Minot, North Dakota.  She graduated in 1921 with a degree and was offered a teaching position in the small town of Regan, North Dakota.


She moved to Regan and began teaching the primary grades, kindergarten through fourth grade, in the newly-built, three-room Canfield Consolidated School there.  Soon afterwards she met Edward, a local farmer, and they married in 1923.  Married women were not allowed to teach at that time, so she immediately lost her job at the Canfield School.  She stayed home and raised their family of, ultimately, three girls:  Anne (born Anna Mae), Betty (born Elizabeth) and Corky (born Corinne).  She and Edward lived on the farm of Edward's brother, George, and his wife Olive, about a mile from Henry's farm.


Above:  Helga at the Canfield School near Regan in 1922.

The family continued to live and farm near Regan through the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the Great Depression hit.  Like so many others during those hard times, the family struggled and ultimately lost their farm.  In the early 1930s they moved to Bismarck where they eked out a living.  After Edward died in 1937, Helga suddenly had to support her three girls alone, a formidable task during the depths of the Depression.  She had no marketable skills but taught herself stenography and became a court reporter at the State Capitol building in Bismarck.


I've always admired Helga's pluck and determination; she never had much money but she endured.  And her three girls eventually all graduated from Bismarck High School and left the nest:  Anne met Don in 1943, Betty moved to the east coast in search of work and "life in the big city" in 1947, and Corky moved to Minneapolis around 1950.


Now an empty-nester, Helga moved to Sturgis, South Dakota in the early 1950s and worked as a secretary, for meager wages, at the Veteran's Hospital at nearby Fort Meade.  In the early 1960s she moved to Capistrano Beach, California to live with her daughter, Betty, who had moved there 10 years earlier with her husband.  About a year later, in March 1964, Helga died of a heart attack.  I was very young when my grandmother passed away and have only the dimmest memories of her.  I've always admired Helga, though, for how she pulled through after her husband died, raising three girls alone during the Depression.  All of Helga's daughters, including my mother, were very close to her.


Though I barely remember my grandmother Helga, I have some of her possessions, including her childhood photo album, which my mother kept packed away after Helga died and which I found after my mother's passing in 1999.  In fact, it was finding that photo album and wondering about the photos inside that ultimately led to my decision in 2001 to quit my job of 10 years in Portland and travel around America to see what I could learn about my family's history.  So, for many things, I am grateful to my grandmother Helga.  I've posted more information about her on this page:  Helga Swang.


Above:  Map of the Regan, North Dakota area, about 30 miles north of Bismarck.  Helga and her husband, Edward, lived on the farm of Edward's brother, George, in the 1920s.  My mother, Anne, grew up there.  Also shown is the site of the Canfield School, built in 1916, where Helga taught in the early 1920s.  In 1907, Edward's father, Henry, homesteaded the farm shown on this map after moving the family here from Minnesota.  Also shown is the location of the farm that Edward's brother, Leroy, bought in the early 1920s.  Leroy died of appendicitis in 1925 and all of the farms shown here had been lost by the 1930s during the Great Depression.



Above left:  During a visit to Bismarck in 1949, this is Anne (center), her daughter, Dorothy, and her son, Don Jr. (left).  Anne's mother, Helga, is on the left holding Don and her younger sister, Corky, who had just graduated from Bismarck High School, is on the right.  Anne, Don and their kids were living in southern Washington at this time where Don was teaching elementary school.

Above right:  I believe this is the last photo taken of Anne with her two sisters.  Anne is on the right in the dark blouse.  This was in Portland, Oregon in 1982.  Her sister Betty is on the far left and Corky is in the red.  Their Aunt Violet is in the light blue and their cousin Marionne is on the far right.


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