Fennville During WWII

There is not one memory missing from this 1952 photo. Even OUR Theater is there.
Ten years earlier that school almost seen high in the background, was not there.

During WWII, all families in the Fennville area, a town in South Western Michigan, were affected by the war. This is a partial story of four of those families. If you do not know these families, the information on their life during these times should be interesting. History of early settlers is also included.

A Human Life exists in many ways over, maybe 60 to 90 years. We, in the United States, have not experienced war in our home land since the Civil War. I personally can not imagine what it would be like to shoot another human or even see another human being shot.

Nine men included in this story have witnessed this, over and over. Not just being shot but being blown to pieces. One family’s son was killed due to the war. They signed up in the military to perform a duty that would keep their country free from the German and Japanese take over programs. The training they received state side prepared them to work with their buddies and use the machinery provided to get the job done. The training provided little toward the anguish they would encounter on the battle grounds. The fighting was hard on them but they did the job. They were in the service to fight so we at home did not have to fight. When they were ordered on a mission, their answer was always, Aye Aye Sir.

To kind of imagine what the guys went through, view the description of the “Presidential Unit Citation”. To kind of know what a mother goes through, view description of the “Service Flag”.

This site has been created for this web host's CHILDREN and GRAND CHILDREN. His name is LaVerne and he was born on March of 1935, just as Germany and Japan started their march across the globe.

1935; March, Hitler revealed to Europe his military programs, on March 10 Goering announced the existence of the Luftwaffe, on March 16 Hitler announced conscription and a 36-division Wehrmacht, on March 17 proclaimed "Heroes' Memorial Day" as the Beethoven Funeral March was played in the Berlin State Opera House.

1937; Japan invaded Mongolia with the thought that Europeans should not rule Asians, Asians should. The U. S. began to support England, France and Russia.

1940; Japan signed an alliance with Germany.

1941; December 7 – Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

Handling Global Terrorism
In 1936, while political unrest was developing and spreading in Europe, the war first came to Fennville in person of the 124th Illinois Field Artillery which arrived, horses, guns and regimental band on special trains at the Fennville Depot.

The occasion was a series of war games that spread over a good share of the Midwest. After war was declared the “enemy” army captured Chicago and came north a motorized detachment reaching Fennville at dawn. The skies filled with a squadron of bombing and pursuit planes and “fighting” became general along the entire front with troops in Fennville, many bivouacked at the high school and in tent villages in surrounding farms, Pearl and Bravo, joining in.

The town teemed with soldiers. Military police were assigned to, and billeted in, the village hall. Cigar stores, ice cream parlors and other shops did a land office business and the post office was swamped with military mail.

LaVerne’s MOTHER was born, Lois Sheckler. Her father, Linn Sheckler was raised in Union County, Pennsylvania. His family moved to St. Joseph County, Michigan around 1900 where he soon married Ada Snyder who gave him 5 children but died giving birth to the 5th. Mom, Lois, was the 4th child, born March 21, 1916. In 1921, Linn remarried to Ethel Barnett Lickley. They had one child, Linn Jr., being mom’s half brother and making 5 Sheckler off spring.

At the age of 19, LaVerne’s mother married Herman Bouwman of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was born several months later on March 23, 1935 in Allegan, Michigan. His sister Jean was also born in Allegan, on Oct. 14, 1936. LaVerne’s father was given a good opportunity to work for the county during these years but he also had some very bad habits and was in and out of jail. In 1939 LaVerne’s grandparents had just finished building a house on Hutchins Lake. About the same time, his mother picked Jean and himself up and moved to a house down front by the lake. This was his 1st connection with the word Hutchins. Lois was carrying a third child, Arleen, who was born at the lake on Oct. 3, 1939. Then she divorced. Yup, she became a single mom, raising 3 kids. Well the grandparents helped a lot.

At the lake, times were good and bad. One time Lois burned LaVerne’s pants on the oil heater in the living room. LaVerne cut his knee on a beer bottle in the lake. He got mad and threw his wind up train in the lake. But just look how happy they were in the snow by the lake. Soon Lois had to go to work so they moved to a house in Fennville on Walter St. She started working at the Canning factory.

The house was maybe 400 feet from the railroad and every time a train, powered by steam engines, rumbled by they thought there was an earthquake. Later they moved to an apartment next to the Baptist church. It was easier for Lois to get to work, get a baby sitter and have LaVerne start in kindergarten.

Lois wanted to make more money so she, picked the three kids up and moved to Kellogsville, a suburb on the south edge of Grand Rapids. Here she worked for “Frost’s” and made latches. She rode the bus to work. This is where LaVerne started the first grade and Jean went to kindergarten. This house was very small and the outside was dried up and unpainted. LaVerne remembers the baby sitter always wore horse riding britches. He received another body injury here when he fell from a tree by the railroad tracks and cut his left hand thumb area, with a broken bottle again.

WWII When the United States officially joined the war in December of 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Fennville quickly responded. The Dec. 12, 1941, newspaper reported:
    “The patriotism and the intensity of feeling with which the people of Fennville received the news of the         outbreak of the war with Japan were exemplified in the jump sales of Defense Bonds here. In the first             three days of the week approximately $15,000 of Defense Bonds were subscribing bring the total sales to     $23,550. . . Serve your Country! Buy Defense Bonds! Buy Now!”

FIVE DIFFERENT FAMILIES are described in writing this story, displaying how they were involved this war. One family lost a son. The Army, Air force, Navy, Farm and Factories are acknowledged here:    and Family; and  "Sheckler" Hutchins:

SERVICEMEN reported in from all corners of the globe. Fennville boys hastened to sign-up for the armed services and the folks left back home began a series of drives to help the war effort, and grinded themselves for the inevitable shortages. In 1944 three Fennville men were reported missing in Germany and the whole town was relieved in May of 1944 to get a short letter from one stating, “I am a prisoner of war. Not injured to speak of, do not worry, I’ll carry on and be OK".

FUTURE TEACHERS served as well. LaVerne knows that four of his high school teachers served. Coach fought on Luzon in the Philippines, History teacher and English teacher served in Europe and Science teacher an MP, escorted German prisoners back and forth between Europe and the U.S.

OTHER STORIES about Fennville service men include   and his brother .

THE RUBINSTEIN CLUB headed a drive to collect musical instruments “to be used in hospitals for rehabilitation purposes,” and their effort yielded harmonicas, assorted wind instruments and a grand piano. Other clubs of the town knit socks, made laundry bags and surgical dressings for use by veteran’s hospitals.

THE WOMEN’S CLUB, in January of 1942, headed a campaign to get books for the army and navy, every citizen was urged to donate from their personal library and extras culled from the Club library and sent to army posts. Club workers tell the story of the day a group met to finish packing used clothing to be shipped out on the Pere Marquette to a collection point in Grand Rapids for war relief. “We had 4,239 pounds of clothing packed in four wooden boxes and 86 cartons. It was the last day of working and we were all so tired,” one worker recalls. We were finally done and getting ready to go when Anne Crane couldn’t find her coat. We had packed it in one of the boxes!” After a search the coat was recovered and the shipment made the train.

RATIONING began in February of 1942, first only sugar, it later spread to gas, meats, coffee, cheese, butter, fats, shoes, canned fish and other processed foods. The Woman’s Club set up a local office for the distribution of ration coupons.
Click Stamp Images for Rationing details

NOTHING WAS WASTED. The girl scouts mounted a “Victory Grease” campaign and collected 200 pounds of fat, the Boy Scouts were in charge of scrap paper with the slogan, “Don’t burn! Call the Scouts!"

A NEW FLAG began flying at the post office at the corner and an honor roll was erected on Main Street with 203 names of citizens of Fennville who were in the armed services. “The public is kindly asked to refrain from parking in front of the honor roll,” the Herald reported. “In respect to the names appearing thereon, and in appreciation of the time and effort spent to erect this memorial to those boys and girls of our community in the service."

RUBBER was collected at the Fennville Standard Oil Station for the Grand Rapids division and at one time had a mountain of old tires, tubes, rubbers, garden hose and other scrap rubber that weighed more than six tons.

SCRAP IRON and STEEL collecting was led by the Lions Club, motorists were asked to turn in their old license plates, the local printing office served as a repository for a “Key Kollection” for the metal pots, and tin cans were collected for re-tinning.

SILK and NYLON HOSERY was called for in November, to provide fabric for powder bags and other materials essential to the war effort. The American Legion headed a drive to collect OLD PHONOGRAPH RECORDS to be made into new ones “so that the men in the armed forces may have new music” and merchants collected used brass shell casings from hunters.

HARVEST TIME Workers were hard to find. The Girl Scouts harvested much of the STRAWBERRY CROP in 1942, and in 1944 a bumper crop of CHERRIES brought a plea for help from the canning factory. This is where ALBERT CRANE comes in.

From all possible sources they have volunteered—farmers tired with a day’s work in the fields, housewife’s finished with a full day at home or in the orchards, grocery clerks, bank clerks, service station men, school girls, office workers, war plant workers, truck drivers, a lumber yard operator, a telephone service man—almost every occupation has been represented during the past two weeks on the Victory shift. Through their efforts the cherries are canned where they can later be shipped out to the armed forces and to distribution centers all over the country, cherry hungry because of last year’s crop failure.

LaVerne’s mother, Lois "Sheckler" Bouwman then, was also one to work in the canning factory. But in 1942 she was working in Grand Rapids making parachutes. Perhaps Dick Bale used one of them. She was a "CAN DO; Single Mom".

WAR STAMPS: Faced with a shortage of workers, and also of merchandise to sell, village stores closed on Wednesday afternoons, and for a 15 minute period every week in the middle of the day sold nothing but war stamps.

BLACK OUT TESTS were conducted periodically by the local defense unit organized under the leadership of theatre operator Clifford Smith. In August of 1942 the newspaper reported: “Fennville cooperated 100 percent Mayor Art Pahl stated Thursday. Promptly upon the blowing of the cannery whistle at 9:55 every light in Fennville was turned out, cars shut off motors and lights, and silence prevailed, the only sounds were the chirping of the crickets, the occasional barking of a dog, and the footsteps of the auxiliary police patrolling their beats.” The tests were carried out, way into the country side where the whistle could be heard for miles.

MILK WEED POD collecting was another campaign that LaVerne remembers very well. He also collected metal and paper.
In 1943, during the War Loan Drive, Fennville residents raised $133,875 in War Bonds to exceed the goal set at that time by a wide margin. The cost of manufacture of this P-51 Mustang airplane was set by the government at roughly $75,000. It was named "CITY OF FENNVILLE Michigan". As an interesting local comment, this type of plane was flown in Italy and Sicily by Capt. William H. DuVall, son to Fennville's postmaster. His plane was modified with dive bomb brakes and bomb racks used for low level strafing, dive bombing and reconaissance. The Mustang had a speed in excess of 400 miles per hour. The plane was manufactured by the North American Aviation company.
Fennville was the first village in Clyde Township (named after Clyde, New York), was settled in 1860 by Henry Blakslee, who joined the Union Army in 1861 and was killed in action. Elam A. Fenn, in company with Levi Loomis, built a sawmill here in 1862.  It was given a post office as Fenn’s Mill, on February 27, 1868, with Mr. Fenn as its first postmaster.  The village was platted in 1871 by Emmerson & Company, who owned much of the land here, and its post office was renamed Fennville on September 27 of the same year.  Later that year the village burned down and was restored on adjacent land platted by M.C. Wilson.  Fennville was incorporated as a village in 1889, and as a city in 1961. The photo below is a 1940 postcard.

The more-than 200 men and women from Fennville who served in World War II saw action in every theatre, receiving medals, and performed their duties creditably, and in many cases with impressive heroism. There were Fennville boys at Pearl Harbor, over Germany, in Africa, Italy, and in the Pacific. One former resident, a civilian scientist, was part of a team who worked on the scientific program leading to the production of the atomic bomb.

Link To Fennville Page