Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Bronislaw Grala & Teofilia Rogowska

Teofilia Rogowska was born ca. 1894. At the time of her birth her parents, Josef Rogowski and Maryanna Zakryewska [sp?], resided in Lyse, Poland. The only record of siblings found so far is that of Josef Rogowski, age 26 of Lyse, who immigrated to the United States on July 28, 1913 aboard the S.S. Berlin. The manifest shows he was on his way to his brother-in-law, Bronislaw Grala, in Lorain, OH.

A death certificate for a man named Joseph John (Rogowski) Rogus may well belong to Teofilia's brother. The record shows he was a retired steel worker living in Wheeling, Ohio, West Virginia. He was born in Poland on 17 Mar 1888 to Mary and Joseph (Rogus) and died 16 Feb 1954. I'll follow up on this lead to see where it brings us!

Bronislaw Grala was living at 86 Turner Ave. in Pittsfield when he met Teofilia. Coincidentally, around the corner from him lived a Leonora Grala and, possibly, her parents Adam and Mary. To date, I have not found if or how they are related to us.

He once told his daughter Bernice that he met Teofilia at a dance, "Teofilia was a tiny woman with long, dark hair and the first time I danced with her I knew she would be my wife."

They married at Corpus Christi Church in Housatonic MA on February 19, 1912 before moving to Lorain, OH where three of their children were born at 2848 Oakwood Ave.: Bronislaw (Benny) Jozef Grala, Jr. on January 20, 1913, Helena (Helen) C. Grala on March 2, 1914 and Bronislawa (Bernice) F. Grala on September 29, 1916. Sometime after Bernice's birth, they moved to 602 E. 32nd Street.

Between 1917-1918 the great Spanish flu pandemic killed more people than did the war. Teofilia became one of Lorain's 200 epidemic victims on November 30, 1918. A snapshot in Bernice's memory brings us to a moment when Teofilia, weak from the birth of her fourth child, and gravely ill with the flu, asks Bronislaw to bring the children into her room. "Sensing he was losing her my father thought he'd go crazy waiting for the doctor to arrive. So many people were sick and there were not enough doctors to tend to them!"

The image of Teofilia with her long, dark hair spread over the stark whiteness of her pillow remained with Bronislaw always. Before he died, he gave Bernice a container filled with dirt he had saved from Teofilia's burial site and asked her to throw some of it into his own grave. The rest, he said, was to be saved for herself.

I shared this poignant story with Benny's daughter, Betty, and appreciated her response: "Grandma Teofilia? Now that's an interesting name! My father used to weep whenever he played a Polish record of a ballad of a mother's love. He said one could only understand the song if one had lost a mother. But he had been so young, how could he remember? Still, it was the one and only thing I knew that brought tears to his eyes."

Gene's daughter, Cynthia, and I concluded that emotionalism - sometimes stubborn - is a reoccuring characteristic of the Grala clan.

After her death, Bronislaw was persuaded by his brother Francizek to relocate to New Britain, CT. Concerned about the burden three children would place on his sister-in-law, he made arrangements for Bernice to stay behind with a family who agreed to raise her. But at the last minute, he decided to visit his daughter to say goodbye. "I am sitting there playing with my toys when I see my father and run to him," Bernice recalls. "He started to cry when I threw my arms around his neck and decided he must keep the children together."

"To emotional and stubborn," commented Frank, Jr. (Francizek's son), "you should add these adjectives: industrous, strong-willed and disciplined. These have been proven by the generations as a rollover from our grandparents."

Imagine the strength and determination it must have taken to pack up and move three small children under such sad circumstances!

A death certificate was found today for Stanislaw Grala, the son of Bronislaw Grala and Teofilia (Rogowski), who was born November 25, 1918 and died May 18, 1919. Case of death was "milk infection", a very common cause of infant deaths at that time ... especially if the birth mother was ill with an infectious disease as was the Spanish flu.

The informant indicated on baby Stanislaw's death certificate was Domonik Rutkowski who, with his wife Michaeline (Krajewski), lived around the corner from Bronislaw and Teofilia at 3115 Elyria Ave. with their 6 children ranging in age from 4-15. Mr. Rutkowski is shown on the 1920 U.S. Census as being employed at the steel plant ... perhaps where Bronislaw also was employed.

Domonik & Michaeline
Understandably, Bernice's recollection of that sad time in our family history was through a child's eyes. However, we now know it was baby Stanislaw who was left behind to be raised by another family. While none of their descendants knew about baby Stanislaw, they now know he was a part of their family's history. Whether or not they are related to us remains another mystery to be solved!

Teofilia's story has been added to the Pandemic Influenza Storybook where you'll find personal recollections from survivors, families and friends. Go to www.pandemicflu.gov/storybook.

3115 Elyria Ave. Today

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