Monday, September 23, 2013

Visiting Grandma & Grandpa Sullivan's Graves

We had a week between Mom's funeral (Aug 6, 2013) and burial (Aug 13, 2013) - due in part to the massive storms that wreaked havoc on the infrastructure of Appleton the night before the funeral.  It took a few days longer than normal to get a death certificate processed in order to complete the cremation.

During this time, my  brother Dale, sister Nancy and I headed to Riverside Cemetery in Oshkosh to try to find Grandma & Grandpa Sullivan's graves.  William Augustine and Marie Josephine Bednorz Sullivan are my Mom's parents, my maternal grandparents.  I had never visited their graves.

Dale had been to the Sullivan grave site and had a vague memory of where the graves were.  However, after wandering a couple of sections along the river with no results, Dale resorted to calling Uncle Gerry to ask where Grandma was buried.  Besides directions - which Uncle Gerry had written down in his files (and could find in just a couple minutes of looking- Impressive!) - Gerry had stories to explain why Grandpa was buried next to Grandma - not at all a given since they had been divorced since 1936.

Dale Hanson communing with Grandma Sullivan
Grandpa Sullivan died March 14, 1957.  According to Gerry, he was a drinker, an alcoholic who spent the family's hard-earned money on treating his bar mates to drinks and buying expensive items (like $10 shoes) for himself.  Money was always tight and children were numerous.  Gerry says that when his Mom confided in a priest about how Augie was ruining the family with drinking and spending, keeping them in poverty in spite of her working to earn extra money, the priest suggested Marie leave her husband. Probably not in so many words, since Catholics don't divorce, but the implication was clear. (What an enlightened priest!) So she did. Gerry was no older than 18 months when the divorce was finalized in 1936.

After that, Gerry told us, Augie only contacted Marie when he had a "business scheme" he wanted Marie to invest in.  But Marie always knew that his only business was getting some personal spending money because he had drunk away all that he had and couldn't pay his bills.  Gerry seemed to think that Grandma would give him some food money and send him on his way without getting taken in by his schemes.  I wonder whether any of the children ever saw him again.  I need to ask Gerry.

At the end of his life, Grandpa was living in Milwaukee. My Mom always said Grandpa fell on a radiator (the old steam kind that got really hot) and died of his injuries.  A death certificate would help confirm or clarify this family story.

He died when I was 9 years old, and until then, I didn't even know of his existence.  I had always thought that Al Chappa was our grandpa, and  one day while I was still little, he mysteriously disappeared from Grandma's living room, never to be seen again.  No one talked about him after that. Since he never interacted with us, I didn't think much about it. I didn't really have a relationship with "Grandpa Al"

"Augie's" funeral was in Oshkosh - I remember a bunch of us cousins being at Grandma's house while the adults all left in their dress clothes.  I understand now that they went to Grandpa's funeral held in Oshkosh.  My Mom kept the funeral card which only gives dates of birth and death. And the birth date on the card is incorrect - on purpose?  According to the copy of Wm A's birth registration (in my collection), his birthdate is June 17, 1877.  The year on the funeral card is 1874 and the year carved in the gravestone is 1883.  Did Grandma just not know the actual year?  Why did she have the stone carved 1883?  We'll never know.
Funeral card for Wm A. Sullivan

So Grandma paid to have Grandpa's body shipped from Milwaukee, paid for the funeral, bought a grave site and headstone at Riverside Cemetery.  All for a man who drained the family's resources.  To me, this is a testament to the Christian charity of my Grandma.  She never turned her back on the scoundrel.  And it also shows the strength and good sense of my Grandma.  She managed to raise 11 children, buy a house and live a comfortable life all on her own.  Quite a feat in her day.  Makes you wonder what kind of conversations they are having now that they are back together again, side by side under one gravestone.

Sullivan William A. (Father, 1983-1957)
& Marie J. (Mother, 1893-1972)

 If you go, Marie J. and William A. Sullivan are buried in Riverside Cemetery off Algoma Boulevard.  The grave site is about 20 yards south of the intersection of St. John and St Peter streets.  They are near the river, but a bit up (east) from the road that goes along the river.  Hopefully, the map below may help you find them.  While at Riverside, you might want to look for their daughter, Ann Sullivan Beutler and her husband Kenneth Beutler.  I don't know where their graves are. Hopefully cousin Sali can fill us in on their location within this humongous cemetery.

St John & St Peter streets intersection
north of the Sullivan grave site
View from the Sullivan grave site
looking west toward the river

Research notes:  My to-do list for fleshing out this part of our history

  1. find obituary for William A and Marie J Sullivan (Oshkosh library)
  2. interview Jerry about the funeral and Grandpa's cause of death and whether he or siblings ever saw him after the divorce
  3. interview Monica about funeral and cause of death and whether she or siblings ever saw him after the divorce
  4. find divorce papers (should be in Oshkosh); determine actual date of divorce
  5. find death certificate for William A and Marie J Sullivan (one in Milw, other Oshkosh)
  6. find Milwaukee address for Wm A
  7. find church where funeral was held (Oshkosh)
  8. find Ann and Ken Beutler graves, photograph
  9. Add this gravestone to Find a Grave


  1. Hi Lynn. I'm Tiny's eldest daughter, Dianne. Thought I'd let you know that my understanding of Augie's death was that he had a stroke & fell against/on a steam radiator. I also think Gerry did see his father before he died. I know that Mom never saw her father after he left the family. Could be in great part because she had moved to Tucson, AZ in 1943. It'll be interesting to see what Gerry has to say to clarify that event.

  2. Thanks Diane - this is good information. I will send for a death certificate for Grandpa (it costs $20, so I might wait a few weeks.) I'm posting some of your Mom's memoir comments about Augie in my next post. I just re-read her memoir today and it's terrific - something we all should read.

  3. Great post! I found your blog in the Organized Genealogist group on Facebook and just love this entry! Your notes at the bottom are just what I need. Sometimes I just need to get the entries flowing and posted without completing the research. What a great way to document where you left off! I'm also very impressed that your cousin replied so quickly to help you fill in the missing pieces. I'm going to put out the vibe for my cousins as well. They're all older than I am and knew most of my relatives firsthand. Thanks for the inspiration!