Luxembourgers in the United States of America

Part 1: Famous Luxembourgers



Many immigrants from Luxembourg contributed to the fabric of the United States of America. Discover a few of the immigrants and their descendants.

When the LACS Staff approached me and asked me to write an article for the Luxembourg American Gazette about famous Luxembourgers in the United States of America my first reaction was: ‘Oh no, not again’, I mean not again famous Luxembourgers. Immigrants and descendants of Luxembourgers, who have achieved a certain notoriety in America, are covered at length in many books, articles, essays and lately on the Internet too. My preference would have been to write an essay about infamous Luxembourgers in the USA; those immigrants and descendants who were not so lucky; the poor souls, whom fate had dealt a dreadful hand.

We finally compromised on a series of articles, beginning with the ever popular famous Luxembourgers. In the next installment, I will cover the industrious Luxembourgers, such as the Hentges in Le Mars, Iowa; Kass in Remsen, Iowa; Krier in Belgium, Wisconsin; Speltz in Winona, Minnesota, and many others, who toiled hard and were successful in their respective field of endeavor. Finally, in a third installment, I will cover the infamous Luxembourgers, maybe the murderers, jailbirds, victims and other ill-fated immigrants or descendants whom scholars tend to ignore. But aren’t they part of our heritage too?  Still, rather than rehashing what has been written ad nauseam about a few famous Luxembourgers, I prefer to mention some rather unknown facts and bits of information.

François (Francis) Baasen

Many are familiar with Luxembourg-born François (Francis) Baasen (1829-1901) of New Ulm, Brown County, Minnesota, who was Minnesota’s first Secretary of State (1858-1860), and in 1873 was also elected to the Minnesota State House of Representatives, representing the 34th district. But here are some facts about Francis Baasen and his family that are not very well known.

Francis’ wife, Mary (1842-1929), whose maiden name was Belland, was the daughter of Henry Belland, a Canada-born Frenchman and of Mary Jeffries, a Mdewakanton Sioux Indian, who had married in 1839. Her brother, Henry Belland Jr., was known as Tewasdakeduta. On U.S. Indian Census Schedules Mary Baasen is recorded as a Mdewakanton Sioux Indian.

Francis and Mary’s son, Richard Baasen, was an adventurer, joining an 11-member Klondike gold prospecting party, known as the Horace Conger’s Party, bound for Alaska in January of 1898. He split from the party and returned home in July of 1898, with no gold and $700 poorer, as reported by the Sleepy Eye Dispatch, Minnesota of July 28, 1898.

Francis and Mary’s son, Frank Henry Baasen, born September 29, 1874, was a US Navy veteran. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, Section 3, Site 2383-1, with wife Jane Irene (1875-1950), resting next to him. He passed away on August 26, 1962. He is but one of the few descendants of Luxembourgers interred, with some 300,000 fellow Americans, in America’s most hallowed ground.

Bishops of Luxembourg Descent

American-Luxembourgers are familiar with the many bishops of Luxembourg stock. Jacques (Jacob, James) Schwebach (1847-1921) was born in Platen in the lovely Préizerdal [Preizerdaul]area (Valley of the River Pratz). The family lived in a house known as Rauschenhaus, hence he was known to the locals by the nickname of Rooschen Jâk. The Schwebach family immigrated in 1866, settling near Caledonia, Houston County, Minnesota.

On December 11, 1891, Rooschen Jâk, then known as James Schwebach, was appointed Roman Catholic Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin. He was ordained on February 25, 1892. Bishop Schwebach visited his native Luxembourg several times. On his last visit he alighted in New York on August 3, 1914, aboard the SS Washington, having left Luxembourg just ahead of the German invasion of August 1/2, 1914. He is the only known Luxembourg-born bishop.

Many Roman Catholic Bishops of Luxembourg stock were born in the United States of America. Peter William Bartholome (1893-1982), Bishop of St. Cloud, Minnesota (1953-1968), was born in Bellechester, Minnesota, one of 11 children born to Nicholas Bartholome and Catherine, née Jacobs. Catherine was born in Beaufort, Luxembourg and lived to the advanced age of 103 years, 1 month and 27 days (May 4, 1853 – July 1, 1956).

Raymond Emil Goedert (b. 1927), Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago (1991-2003), was born in Oak Park, Illinois, one of 12 children, born to Jean Goedert and spouse, Elisabeth, née Wink. As Bishop Goedert tells himself, the family was so poor that the children were placed in an orphanage. In 2003, Bishop Goedert attended a large family reunion in Bettborn, Préizerdal, Luxembourg, the birthplace of his parents.

Raymond Alphonse Lucker (1927-2001), was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. On December 23, 1975, he was appointed, and on February 17, 1976, installed as Bishop of New Ulm, Minnesota. In a letter to the Luxembourg News of America of September 1990, Bishop Lucker wrote, ‘My mother’s father came from Gilsdorf near Diekirch. The family name is Schiltgen. His parents, brothers and sisters came to this country in 1865.’

John Lawrence May (1922-1994), Bishop of Mobile, Alabama (1969), Archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri (1980-1992), was born in Evanston, Illinois, another area where many immigrants from Luxembourg settled.

George Henry Speltz (1912-2004), was ordained a bishop on March 25, 1963, at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Winona, Minnesota. Bishop of St. Cloud, Minnesota (1968-1987), he was born in Altura, Minnesota, son of Henry Speltz and Josephine, née Jung, both of Luxembourg stock. The immigrant Speltzes hail from Greiveldange, Luxembourg.

Sylvester William Treinen (1917-1996), was born in Donnelly, Minnesota. He was ordained a bishop on May 23, 1962, appointed Bishop of Boise, Idaho and consecrated on July 25, 1962, retiring in 1988.

Henry N. Prost (1915-1994), was born in Chicago, Illinois, son of Mathias and Marie Prost. Mathias Prost hailed from Niederdonven, Luxembourg. On August 23, 1962, Henry N. Prost was appointed, and on November 1, 1962, ordained Titular Bishop of Fronta, Brazil as Tadeu Henrique (Jude) Prost. He retired in 1992 as Auxiliary Bishop of Bélem do Pará, Brazil.   

There are many more servants of the Catholic Church who would deserve mentioning here, unfortunately space is limited. Maybe there is enough space to name a few representatives in other disciplines.

Artists, Athletes, Scientists, Actors of Luxembourg Descent

Among artists, we can list Chicago-born Joseph Pierre Birren (1864-1933), a landscape painter, whose father was from Steinsel, Luxembourg. Painter Jean Noerdinger (1895-1963), born in Nagem, Luxembourg, settled in River Forest, Illinois in 1925.

Edward Steichen (1879-1973), born in Bivange, Luxembourg, abandoned painting for photography. He may well be the only Luxembourger to whom the United States Postal Service has dedicated a stamp. The 2002 series, Masters of Photography, features a 1915 photograph of a Lotus flower by Edward Steichen. The USPS caption at publication reads,A remarkable versatile photographer, Edward Steichen played a pivotal role in elevating photography to a fine art. – Lotus, Mount Kisco, New York, 1915 – reveals his mastery of the medium, as well as his belief that the forms found in nature helped validate the turn toward abstraction in early 20th-century art’.

In sports we need to mention Baseball Hall of Famer Urban Clarence ‘Red’ Faber (1888-1976), who was born in Cascade, Iowa to Nicholas Faber and Margaret, née Gries. His Faber ancestor hailed from Canach, Luxembourg and immigrated in 1846.
Tennis Hall of Famer Christine (Chris) Marie Evert was born 1954 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her great-grandfather, Jean Peter Evert, emigrated from Luxembourg in 1857, settling in the Rosehill section on Chicago’s North Side. He married Catherine Didier, an immigrant from Beckerich, Luxembourg. In 1985, the Women’s Sport Foundation named Chris Evert Greatest Woman Athlete of the last 25 Years. By the time she completed her career in 1989 she had won a record 157 pro singles titles, winning 1309 games versus only 146 losses.

Let’s not forget that Josy Barthel, Luxembourg’s gold medalist at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, over 1500 Meters, was also the US 1954 indoor mile champion, while studying at Harvard.

In science one needs to mention Paul C. Lauterbur (1929-2007), 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine winner for his work in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). His ancestor Michel Lauterbour (Lauterborn) was born in 1798 in Assel, municipality of Bous, Luxembourg, married in 1825 Anne Heber from Dalheim, Luxembourg. The family immigrated in 1846, settling first in Seneca County, Ohio, later in New Vienna, Ohio.

Growing up in Luxembourg, I have heard of the following being of Luxembourg descendance: Actress Loretta Young (1913-2000) – I have done extensive research, but still cannot confirm 100% her Luxembourg stock, since her natural father was adopted. Another actor, whose name I heard mentioned as of possible Luxembourg stock is famous early Hollywood Western movie star, Pennsylvania-born, Tom Mix (1880-1940). The name of notorious bank robber, John Dillinger, (1903-1934) circulated too. The name Dillinger is a topographical name, i.e. a family name deriving from a place name. The hamlet of Dillingen (Lëtzebuergesch: Déiljen) is found in the municipality of Beaufort, Luxembourg and the German town of Dillingen is only 66 Kilometers, or 41 miles from the city of Luxembourg. Maybe one day irrefutable proofs will surface confirming or invalidating these anecdotal hearsays. 

© 2009-2010 Fausto Gardini, Jacksonville, Florida
A version of this article was published in the Luxembourg-American Gazette, Vol 5, No 1.
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