In 1962, as Luxembourg was preparing for the millennium celebrations of the city of Luxembourg (963-1963) the government sought to involve the Luxembourg-American community in the festivities. To advertise the forthcoming events, and to connect with the various communities throughout the United States, a whirlwind mission, dubbed the Luxembourg Millennium Mission, conducted by Paul Elvinger (1907-1982), then Minister of Justice, Economy & Middle Classes, traveled in the spring of 1962 to the main areas in the United States where immigrants from Luxembourg had settled. The delegation toured 28 states, traveled 13,000 miles and held 39 public lectures.
The account of the trip was serialized by journalist Roger (Rosch) Krieps in the weekly Revue, Letzeburger Illustre’ert and in December of 1962 the series was collated into a book Luxemburger in Amerika (Publisher: Bourg-Bourger, Luxembourg). Some fifty years later it is quite fascinating to revisit the fate of a few of the industrious Luxembourg-Americans who so impressed the young reporter in 1962.
Theodore (Teddy) Bettendorff (1889-1967) of Vianden, Luxembourg, did not become a rich man in the United States, nor did he achieve fame; he realized a dream though and attained a certain prominence.
On November 1, 1916, Theodore arrived at Ellis Island aboard the S.S. Noordam from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. His final destination was Chicago, Illinois. Teddy was a bachelor all his life and had a mind of his own. He bought a property on top of a hill in Fox River Grove, Illinois, built himself a shack and henceforth drove every morning with the same train to Chicago to his machinist’s job and back in the evening.
Teddy’s Castle – Fox River Grove, Illinois
Back home in Luxembourg, he had spent his childhood and youth about the castle of Vianden, the most imposing castle ruins this side of the Rhine River. Now he owned land on his own mountain. Who could prevent him from building his own castle? Teddy inspected the grounds he had bought. There were enough rocks there for ten castles. Definitely no slate and no real rocks, but boulders, actually not suitable for building, but Teddy collected boulder after boulder from the loose alluvial soil and embedded them with a sure hand deeply into stiff mortar. Later he had the idea to mass-produce building blocks using mortar and the smaller pebbles. He toiled every evening. He looked his model up on postcards and photos that were sent to him from the old country. His version of the Vianden castle took twenty-eight years to build.
In the Revue of May 25, 1963, Rosch Krieps writes about Teddy’s only and last visit to Luxembourg. In Vianden, he posed for a picture in front of the house in the Al Gâss where he was born on May 15, 1889.
He visited with his 87-year-old brother Joseph in Larochette and related families Roettgers and Bettendorff in Vianden. He saw the shop where his father worked as a cooper, making wine barrels, cabbage tubs, buckets and other wooden paraphernalia. On May 19, 1963, he returned to his castle in Fox River Grove. ‘Ech muss hannescht gôn, fir nach Blummen ze planzen’ – [I have to return, still flowers to plant], he told Rosch.
John Theodore Comes (1873-1922), was a prominent architect who specialized in places of worship. He was born in Larochette (Fiels or Feels in Lëtzebuergesch), son of carpenter/woodcarver Jean Comes and Margaret Rodange, a niece of Luxembourg’s eminent poet Michel Rodange (1827-1876).
St. Donatus Church (1872) Larochette, Luxembourg. Original woodwork by Jean Comes
The Comes family immigrated to the United States in 1882 settling in St. Paul, Minnesota. John Theodore received a Master’s degree in architecture from Mount St. Mary College, Emmitsburg, Maryland and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He designed some fifty churches and other buildings. His Catholic Art and Architecture, (Pittsburgh 1920) influenced religious architecture in the United States throughout the twentieth century. At the time the delegation from Luxembourg visited the USA, John Theodore’s daughter, Eleanor Mahoney, had served as a secretary at the Luxembourg Embassy in Washington, DC for 22 years.
Theodore Gilson – In 1962, Rosch Krieps, the young reporter, was quite impressed by the accomplishments in Wisconsin of the Gilson clan of Colmar, Luxembourg. Theodore Gilson (Colmar-Berg, Luxembourg 1820 – Port Washington, Wisconsin 1891) known as Fondris Dittchen (Fondris from the English word foundry and Dittchen = Lëtzebuergesch nickname for Theodore) immigrated in 1848, settling first in Milwaukee, then removing to Port Washington, Ozaukee County, Wisconsin in 1851.
The U. S. Patent and Trademark Office Patents, 1790-1909, lists some 28 patents attributed to the Gilsons, ranging from Improvements in Plows (Pat.: 55,279 – June 5, 1866, submitted by Theodore Gilson and Nicholas Martin), to Revolving Chair (Pat: 825,822 – patented on July 10, 1906 by John Gilson Jr.). The Gilson Manufacturing Company of Port Washington was the first company to attach a gasoline engine to a multipurpose gardening tractor.
Gilson Brothers Co. Fredonia, Illinois
The Gilsons had also their share of tragedies. In July of 1968, John P. Gilson, age 79 and his wife Laura, née Neuens, age 73, of Fredonia, Wisconsin, were involved in a traffic accident with a school bus; accident in which Laura was killed.
At the time John P. Gilson was the board chairman of Gilson Bros. of Fredonia, a company he had founded in 1911 with his late brother Michael. The company was considered the main manufacturer of rotary tillers in the United States; also producing a whole line of concrete and mortar mixers.
In 1988, the Lawn-boy Company acquired the Gilson Manufacturing Company. Lawn-boy was in turn acquired by Toro of Bloomington, Minnesota in 1989. Lawn-Boy’s interest was primarily in the Gilson’s line of lawn-mowers; Gilson’s line of cement and mortar-mixers was sold to Clemform of Missouri, a company which in turn was acquired in 2010 by Marshalltown Company of Marshalltown, Iowa. The Marshalltown Company continues, to this day, to produce and commercialize a line of concrete and mortar mixers under the Gilson brand name.
J. B. Krier and Bruce Krier – Bruce Krier is the current CEO of Krier Foods, Inc. of Random Lake, Wisconsin. He is a great-great-grandson of Johann Krier, born in Bertrange, Luxembourg in 1822 and an 1853 immigrant to Belgium, Wisconsin.
In 1913, Johann Krier’s son and Bruce’s great-grandfather, John Baptiste (J. B.) Krier, founded the Krier Preserving Company of Belgium, Wisconsin. The company quickly grew to be one of the largest canneries in the Midwest and an innovator in canned foods and the bottling of cherry juice and soda.
In 1962, the delegation from Luxembourg toured the company’s main facility in Belgium guided by Ray Krier, J.B.’s grandson and Bruce’s father. In 1982, the name of the company became Krier Foods, Inc. and in 1986, Bruce Krier became the four-generation president of the firm. In 1988, the vegetable canning facilities in Belgium and Random Lake were sold to Lakeside Foods, Inc. of Manitowoc, Wisconsin while Krier Foods, Inc. of Random Lake, Wisconsin specialized in the production of carbonated and non-carbonated beverages. The welcome center at the Luxembourg American Cultural Center (LACC) is named the J. B. Krier Wëllkomm Centre in honor of the founder of this noted canning and beverage company.
Teddy Majerus – When the delegation from Luxembourg visited Chicago in 1962, Teddy Majerus (1888-1967), was in the process of negotiating the sale of his world famous restaurant L’Aiglon which he had launched in 1926, together with his brother, Jean.
Before long the whole Majerus family was involved in its operation. Brother Alphonse shared the Maitre D functions, Eugene was in charge of the liquor inventory and Jean tended to the L’Aiglon Farm in Northbrook, Illinois.
The celebrated restaurant was located on 22 East Ontario Street, Chicago, which was the destination of Alice Majerus, née Hemmer of Crauthem, wife of Jean Majerus and sisters Julie Majerus of Niederwampach and Marie Majerus of Nothum, Luxembourg, as they alighted in New York on October 29, 1946, aboard the S. S. Ile de France from Cherbourg, France.
Teddy Majerus traveled often to Europe, never failing to stop in Luxembourg. On June 16, 1967, in Paris, France, on a return trip from Luxembourg, Teddy died suddenly. Funeral services were held on June 24, 1967, in St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Des Plaines, Illinois. Surviving Teddy were his sisters Julie and Marie and sister in law Alice.
The Luxembourg News of America of August 1972 published Maria’s obituary: Maria Majerus of Northbrook, Ill., sister of Julie and the late Theodore, Alphonse, John, Eugene and Michael; sister in law of Alice Majerus. Funeral services held Saturday July 15, from chapel to St. Mary’s Church, Mass 11:30 A. M. Entombment in All Saints Cemetery.
Alice and Julie returned to Luxembourg. The Luxembourg News of America of April 1991 recorded the following brief item: The Luxembourg News received a note from Alice Majerus saying, ‘My sister, Julie, died in November. We buried her in Nothum in her parents and brother’s grave.’ That was the last news the Luxembourg community in the United States heard from the Majerus family.
Ferdinand Pesche – Ferdinand Pesche (1892-1976) was born in Folschette, Luxembourg [Folscheid in German]. He immigrated to the United States, sailing aboard the S.S. Potsdam from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to New York, on October 14, 1911. [Name recorded as Ferdinand Peschi, on the passenger manifest.]
Other Luxembourgers traveling on the same transatlantic voyage were Michel Leyder, age 18 and Martin Reckinger, age 19, both from Dahl, Luxembourg; Anton Kayser, age 22 from Folschette [Folscheid]; Anna Weiler, age 17, from Petange [Petingen, in German] and Anna Mores, age 25 from Folschette [Folscheid]. The final destination of the party was Chicago, Illinois.
In Chicago Ferdinand Pesche worked in the greenhouse of his uncle, John P. Kellen and aunt Elisabeth, née Klotz, before starting his own business. The 1920 federal census locates Ferdinand Pesche, age 27 in Evanston, Cook County, Illinois, with spouse Helen, age 28 and daughters Catherine, age 3 and Jeanette, age 1 [Family name recorded as Pische]. The occupation is listed as laborer fruit farm.
In 1923, Ferdinand, now Fred N. Pesche, purchased five acres in Des Plaines, Illinois and established a thriving horticultural business there. His first wife’s maiden name was Helen Leider (1896-1940). She was born in Chicago, daughter of Luxembourg-born John-Peter Leider and Katherine Schaul. The Leiders are another family from Luxembourg, now in the fourth generation, growing flowers and potted plants in the Chicago area.
Des Plaines became known as City of Roses, for the numerous greenhouses, many owned by immigrants from Luxembourg and their descendants. Pesche specialized in growing carnations and chrysanthemums. Always active in his community, Fred N. Pesche, founded the Luxembourg-American Social Club and the Luxembourg Independent Club.
The heritage of the Pesche and Leider families and their horticultural achievements are commemorated in the Pesche-Leider Luxembourg Garden at the Luxembourg American Cultural Center (LACC).
John Ries – In 1962, John Ries, known as Jängy vu Kärch, [Körich, Luxembourg] of Granville, Iowa met the delegation from Luxembourg in nearby Remsen, Iowa. Eighteen year old, John (Jean) Ries arrived at Ellis Island, New York aboard the S.S. Waesland on July 19, 1893, from Antwerp, Belgium. His final destination was Chicago, Illinois. In Chicago on February 14, 1905, he married Iowa-born Mary Kraus (1881-1973) of Luxembourg parentage. Previously, on June 7, 1903, John helped organize the Luxemburger Brotherhood of America (LBA), Section 11 at Granville, Iowa, where the family eventually settled. He was an inveterate enthusiast of songs and music from Luxembourg and founder of the Luxemburger Sängerbund Chicago, Illinois; so it was no surprise that on that festive occasion in Remsen, Iowa in 1962, all sang the Hémecht (Luxembourg’s national anthem) led by John Ries. The Sioux County Capital of Thursday, September 1, 1966, reported his funeral under the header Services Held for John Ries, 91. Among the pallbearers were J.-P. Gaul, Ed Koob and Hank and Pete Klein; Luxembourg-Americans accompanying Jängy vu Kärch on his last voyage.
Arthur Trausch – Arthur Trausch (1895-1980), born in Hollerich Luxembourg sailed on April 18, 1914, from Antwerp, Belgium to New York aboard the S.S. Vaderland. His final destination was Dubuque, Iowa where his uncle J.P. Trausch had opened his first bakery called Vienna Bakery in 1904.
The claim to fame of the Trausch Baking Company is to have invented the first doughnut-making machine on February 6, 1926. The round doughnut/donut with a hole in the middle has evolved to the quintessential American staple. In 1931, a large one-story building was built at 25 Main Street, Dubuque; which is the building the delegation from Luxembourg visited in 1962. At the time Dubuque’s Trausch Baking Company employed some 240 people and its 66 trucks distributed Trausch’s Sunbeam Bread over a wide area, encompassing Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. In 1976, J. Heileman Brewing of LaCrosse, Wisconsin bought the Trausch Baking Company. Changing ownership several times, currently the complex is the Sara Lee Bakery of Dubuque, producing some 22 million loaves of bread per year and employing a staff of 100.
Millennium Celebration Tour to Luxembourg – It was on May 9, 1963, when 217 Luxembourg-Americans boarded a chartered Air France Boeing 707 in Chicago, Illinois on their Millennium Celebration Tour to Luxembourg; others had preceded them by ocean liner or via separate flights. Another group from Wisconsin traveled on an Air France regular Chicago-Paris flight which was exceptionally extended to fly onward from Paris to Luxembourg. None of the travelers expected the marvelous reception they were given on arrival in Luxembourg; military band playing, ministers, bishop, ambassadors, consuls and a myriad of relatives and friends welcomed the Americans home. Quite a few tears flowed!
More Industrious Luxembourgers – There are many more industrious Luxembourgers who merit mentioning, yet, as usual, space is limited. To name a few entrepreneurs:
Nicholas Pauly (1874-1921), founder Pauly Cheese Co. of Knellsville, Wisconsin
Jacob Ries (1830-1911), of Shakopee, Scott County, Minnesota, founder Rock Spring Beverages
Nicholas Strotz (1832-1894), co-founder of Gradle & Strotz tobacconist
Peter Reinberg [Originally spelled: Reimberg] (1857-1921), the Rose and Carnation King, president of Cook County Board of Commissioners (1914-1921)
Peter Pirsch (1866-1954) of Kenosha, Wisconsin, inventor of extension ladders for fire engines
Thomas Henry Stemper ( 1883-1978) of Milwaukee, Wisconsin founder European Statuary & Art Company – T. H. Stemper Quality Church Supplies
Francis Thill (1829-1890), of Brooklyn, New York, was a well-known glass manufacturer
Mel(vin) Thillens (1914-1993) of Chicago, Illinois, started an armored car check-cashing service and built Thillens Stadium.
Michael H. Wiltzius (1863-1950) of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was a publisher of religious publications and seller of church goods.
© 2009-2010 Fausto Gardini, Jacksonville, Florida
A version of this article was published in the Luxembourg-American Gazette, Vol 5, No 2. (Spring 2010)