McKenna Process Company
Plant formerly located in Joliet, Illinois - ca. 1920.
Life Partner
by
George Langford, Jr.

In 1899, Mother and Father met each other on Kansas City, Missouri, as members of the same social group, where they had mutual friends.  Mother, pretty and vivacious, was a popular, established socialite.  Father, the newcomer in Kansas City, came as a well known athlete, a Yale graduate, good-looking, and a member of  new business in Kansas City, Kansas.  They very promptly fell in love, became engaged to be married, and set a wedding date in 1900.

When Father lost his left arm in a rolling mill accident in 1900, he felt obliged to call off their engagement, but Mother would have none of that.  She came to Joliet, Illinois, where Father was living and, with Father's mother, helped him to recuperate.  They were married in a big, stylish wedding in Kansas City on November 14, 1900, and set up housekeeping in Joliet.

Mother and Father were different in almost every respect, but perhaps that helped to weld them into their relationship.  Their devotion to each other never wavered, and they lived to celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary together.

Their social backgrounds had both similarities and differences.  Mother grew up as a rich girl in Kansas City's top level social stratum, accepted everywhere.  Father grew up as a member of a non-affluent group, socially accepted everywhere in St. Paul but not associating with the very rich families of railroad, mining or milling money.  Mother had never had any reason to worry about money; her father paid the bills.  Father, ever since his father's premature death, had always had to stretch his dollars.

Their educational backgrounds were totally dissimilar.  Father was a college graduate in Mechanical Engineering and a highly skilled, self-educated natural scientist, an intellectual.  Mother had gone to what were known as "finishing schools" at Monticello Seminary in Gadfrey, Illinois, near St. Louis, and to a small private school in Montreal, Canada.  She was well equipped with social skills.  Born with artistic talents, Mother sharpened them by formal attendance at Chicago's Art Institute.

Their first problem was housing.  After their 1900 Kansas City marriage, they moved to Joliet, Illinois, and set up housekeeping in a small rented house on Third Avenue on the East Side of Joliet.  This was quite a come-down for Mother, who was used to the social graces of a big, prosperous city.  Joliet, frankly, was an ugly steel-mill city, with practically none of the advantages that she was used to.  Mother hated Joliet all of her life, and that dislike led to problems.  The city of Joliet had three social groups: a prosperous group, mainly Catholic, on the west side of town; a business group, consisting of lawyers, doctors, businessmen and the like; and the workers and steel-mill laborers' group, which clustered around the mills themselves.

Mother had never learned to cook, but Mrs. Bedford's excellent Home Restaurant was nearby, and so that problem was solved.  On the other hand, soon, with two children, their home became crowded, and there was little room in which to entertain friends.  Therefore, a larger and better house was rented on Western Avenue, on Joliet's West Side.  Their Western Avenue house was comfortable and convenient to Father's job at the McKenna mill, but it was in an extremely Catholic neighborhood.  Her neighbors didn't accept Mother at her evaluation, and Mother liked very few of them.  Mother's and Father's good friends mostly lived on Joliet's East Side, so we all moved again, this time to another rented house on Union Street where we lived for a number of years.  It had a large yard and a carriage house in back.  It was also within bicycling distance for Father to reach the McKenna mill.  However, it was still within the city limits of Mother's much-disliked Joliet.  Mother's visitors from Kansas City made matters progressively worse and worse.  They kept contrasting gracious Kansas City with unattractive Joliet.  They also contrasted the large homes they owned with Mother's smaller rented house.

Mother persuaded Father that their happiness required them physically to move out of the city and into their own newly built home.  So they selected a site about two miles out of downtown Joliet and yet still only two miles from the McKenna mill.  They bought the large, pie-shaped lot in a thickly wooded Maple and Oak grove, with pretty Sugar Creek only a hundred feet or so in front of the house.  Only two houses had been built in their, The Maples, subdivision, and those were rather far away. 

Mother, talented as an artist, designed the house herself.  Unskilled as an architect, she designed all the rooms far too large.  Fortunately, they were scaled down to proper proportions by the selected architect-builder, who nevertheless preserved Mother's design while correcting the architectural blunders. 

Father, only a few years out of college, supporting a family of four on the salary of his first job, and having no capital of his own, negotiated with the local bank for financing. 

A couple of years earlier, Father had met an innovative mechanical shopowner named Karl Jensen, who custom-fabricated windshields for automobiles, which in those days were not so equipped at the factory.  Jensen had caught the eye of Henry Ford, who offered Jensen a contract for 1,000 windshields.  To fill this contract, Jensen had to build an adequate factory.  He had $20,000 of his own, but he needed $20,000 more, and he fancied Father as a partner in the venture.  The bank was perfectly willing to lend Father money for the house, but they were leery of Jensen and wouldn't lend Father the $27,000 total required to fund both the house and the business venture.  So Father had to be content with a $10,000 loan, which he used for the house and for the family's first automobile, a 4-cylinder Hudson two-seater. 

Jensen ultimately organized his Vanguard Company and made the windshields; he was both a good engineer and a good manager, and Vanguard was one of the companies put together to create General Motors.  Jensen's General Motors stock at his death was appraised at $6 million.

Our new house in the country was built just right for entertaining, but Mother still couldn't cook.  A succession of hired cooks didn't work out well, but she was offered a fine solution: a Montreal friend had read an advertisement that Mother had run in the Chicago Tribune; a cook-butler couple whom he knew wanted to migrate to America; and so they moved into the third-floor quarters.  Robert Baxter had been a Mess Sargeant in the British Army, knew how to dress properly and how to do his job, but he was an alcoholic who eventually had to be institutionalized, ultimately dying there.

Mary Baxter, on the other hand, was not only a marvelous cook and housekeeper, she was well read and a lovely person.  She truly enriched our lives.  Mother now had everything she needed to put her talents as a hostess together: a house built for entertaining; a gourmet chef who loved to display her skills; and an adequate household allowance.

Our home became the focal point of our family, very satisfactory to both Mother and Father as well as to my sister and me and to: Father's scientific and business friends; Mother's artistic and social friends; Mother's Kansas City relatives; Father's St. Paul relatives; Sister's friends and beaus; and my high school, college, fraternity, and business friends.

I could write a book about Mary Baxter.  She and Mother were equals as hostesses, and they both loved to entertain.  The had developed an amazing routine.  Mary would bring Mother breakfast in bed, and the two of them would spend half the morning planning; whom and when they should invite as couples for dinner, what were their favorite foods; should they have a large dinner party, with whom and when; and what visitors were expected; and how to entertain them.

Mother always had Tea in the living room in the mid-afternoon; anyone was welcome to drop in.  Mary just loved serving these tea parties.  She had two specialties: Scotch scones and Skotch shortbread, both super-good, and so when the rattle of the teacart sounded, Mary was deluged with compliments.  All our friends became Mary's friends, too, and they never failed to drop in to talk with her after the parties were over.

Mary was born in Edinburgh, remembered every poem that Robert Burns ever wrote, read every book and magazine in the house, and even took a Britannica Encyclopedia volume
[which I still have - George, III] to bed with her in emergencies.  In Mary's eyes, no one in the family could do anything wrong; to me she was both a friend an a third parent.  She worked for Mother and Father for twenty-five years until her terminal illness; a most lovable lady.

With our home well established pretty much as an open-house center of attraction, Mother's horizons widened.  She had a talent for writing about both her own and Father's interests, which led to her being in demand as a speaker, and she loved doing it.  She joined the Joliet Women's Club, was a good organizer, and was elected President.  She also joined the American Penwomen and became its Chicago President.

She had long acted as the family's accountant and treasurer, taking care of Father's income to the best advantage of the family, handling my sister's training as a pianist and mine as a mechanical engineer, and building a joint savings account.  Mother's legacy from her mother in 1929 was a motley array of local Kansas City stocks, California real estate ventures, and a few, nationally traded stocks.  Mother and a Joliet stockbroker house-cleaned the portfolio, retaining the good stock and putting the proceeds from the balance into her investment account.

Mother was impatient with the small investment return that she was able to add to their joint income, and when a Canadian brokerage firm got hold of her name somewhere and began offering great profit possibilities in a mining stock, she seized the opportunity to create a real fortune.  She invested about $20,000 in this stock and immediately began receiving dividends plus the advice to buy more stock.  Each time a dividend was declared, Mother took a small amount in cash, which went into the family's joint account, and used the rest to add to her stockholdings.  The unit purchase price was a little higher each time, and the broker kept promising large capital gains.

When Father inherited his mother's St. Paul house in 1931 and sold it, he consulted his college mate, Marvin Goodbody, owner of the brokerage firm of Goodbody and Company, and invested about $10,000 in good quality common stocks paying conservative but steady dividends.  The McKenna trustees had also rewarded Father with about $20,000 in McKenna Certificates of Beneficial Interest, which amounted to a substantial bonus whenever McKenna declared dividends.

With their home organized and operating so well, both children educated and on their own, the house all paid for, and money in the bank, the Mother-Father team appeared to have achieved success.  When the McKenna Company went out of business and Father's salary ended, they planned to sell their Joliet home and move to a Chicago apartment, living on the proceeds from the sale of the house, Social Security, Father's stock dividends, and Mother's stock dividends. 

But then, Mother's mining stock dividends suddenly ceased.  When Mother tried to learn what had happened, she found that the Canadian broker had gone out of business.  On further research it developed that the Canadian mining business had been fraudulent all along
[a classic, but long, drawn-out Ponzi scheme - George, III].  The mining business was entirely fictitious and Mother's stock certificate was worthless.  This was a heartbreaking blow to them both, but as always in their long life together, they acted as a team to sort things out upon starting their new life as retirees.

They decided that they would take a vacation together to plan their future, free from any duties in Joliet.  They went on a two-month trip to Yellowstone Park by automobile.  I loaned them my new Mercury for the occasion.  On their return, they found an apartment that they could afford, across the street from Lincoln Park in Chicago
[big and comfortable but several flights up in a building with no elevator - George, III].  Aware that their income was barely adequate, Ethyl Holmes, Mother's sister-in-law and a fellow artist, gave Father $14,000 in IBM stock, which was paying excellent and welcome dividends.

Father, with no compelling duties, volunteered to curate the fossil plant collection that he had given to the Field Museum and did so without pay for about two years.  Mother worked with the Chicago Branch of the American Penwomen, eventually became its president, and acquired a new coterie of Chicago friends.  Father's Chicago scientist friends saw them often.  Most Joliet friends their own age had died off, but the new generation of friends came often to visit at their Chicago apartment.

The Field Museum appointed Father Curator of Plant Fossils  at a small but steady stipend, and so they were again successfully operating as a team.  There was one change: Father, well aware that their capital would not last forever, assumed the family treasurer-ship, never touching the capital itself except in cases of extreme emergency.  Father and I developed the habit of auditing their monthly profits and loss and also any change in their total capital.  My sister and I always added cash to any anniversary or holiday gifts.  Knowing that the apartment rent was always a monthly moment of financial pain, I took on those payments. 

But there were emrgencies, serious ones.  Mother would take falls, unexpected and unpreventable, finding herself on the floor unable to move.  Each fall would break or dislocate something: her shoulder, a hip, a thighbone.  Each of these events would necessitate hospitalization, surgery, and licensed nursing care during recuperation, all in addition to their regular household help.  Father would then have to take money from their capital. 

Mitzi
[my mother - George, III] and I could see the time coming when we would have to become major contributors to my Parents' support, and we offered to do so ahead of time.  Father was counting on this, but he wanted to support himself as long as he could, and so we worked out an unoffical arrangement that when his remaining capital reached a certain low point, we would commence contributing.  But then Father died suddenly, before such point was reached, pleased, I believe, that he had managed the family finances as well as he had.

As Father's Executor, I administered his estate; it came to $6,500.  But Mother and Father had made it as a team.  Their life together had a bittersweet epilogue.  Ethyl Holmes, Mother's favorite In-Law, had made her a one-third beneficiary of her estate, and when it was distributed, Mother's share was appraised at about $160,000.  Mother had finally attained her life-long wish to become wealthy.  But she was now in a nursing home with badly advanced Alzheimer's disease and never knew of her inheritance.