HOME

JOHNSON COUNTY IAGenWeb Project  

 

WILLIAM PETER HOHENSCHUH

         

      The honor of being the borne town of "the best funeral director in America" belongs to Iowa City, Johnson county, Iowa, and William Peter Hohenschuh is the native son whose extraordinary work, educationally and practically, has secured this distinction. Hohenschuh is reckoned by his profession as a living encyclopedia of information on mortuary matters from cadaver to coffin. His fame as an author, lecturer, and demonstrator is international. The Embalmers' Monthly, of Chicago, on the eve of his retirement from the lecture platform in 1910, among many splendid statements of his activities covering a period of thirty years, said: "Mr. Hohenschuh retires with all the public honors the profession can give him. He organized the Iowa Funeral Directors' Association in 1881 and was its first delegate to the National Association, in whose councils he has been a power from that day to this. He was elected president of the national organization in St. Louis in 1894, and reelected to another term at the next year's convention in Atlanta. His expert knowledge of embalming and sanitation has made him of unusual service to these organizations. In perfecting advanced legislation along the lines of embalming and public sanitation he has been of the highest service both in his home state and in the national organization. The present regulations for the transportation of the dead have resulted in a great measure from his efforts. As an educator in the scientific side of his profession Mr. Hohenschuh holds his highest honors, and no man holds more. He was a member of the faculty of the Chicago College of Embalming, and later established the Hohenschuh-Carpenter College of Embalming at Des Moines, which still holds two well-attended sessions each year for the education of the Iowa funeral directors and embalmers. When the University of Minnesota established a school of embalming in 1908, Mr. Hohenschuh was selected to fill the chair of practical embalming. He has been a prolific writer on educational topics in all of the journals devoted to the undertaking profession, and is the author of The Modern Funeral — Its Management, a book of some 400 pages that is recognized as the standard work of its class both in this country and in England."

      In one of the apartments over the storeroom at 20 South Dubuque street, Iowa City, where his furniture store is located, William Peter Hohenschuh was born November 10, 1858. At that same location, in 1855, Frank Hohenschuh, his father, a cabinet maker by trade, started in the furniture business, making by hand much of the goods sold in the course of a growing trade. Directly across the street, at No. 19, is located the Hohenschuh undertaking establishment, which The Embalmers' Monthly says is "faultlessly kept and faultlessly managed." This is high praise, but fully deserved, as every citizen of Iowa, City acquainted with the high class modern institution maintained by Mr. Hohenschuh can testify.

      Frank Hohenschuh and Teressa Statzer, parents of William P., were natives of Germany. The former was born April 23, 1824, at Wesel, a fortified city on the Rhine; the latter, November 8, 1827, at Knittelstheim, Bavaria, a small German village. Frank came to America and to Iowa City in 1852 and, as previously stated, engaged in the furniture business and cabinet work on South Dubuque street. Teresa Statzer came to Iowa City with her parents in 1842, and in 1858 was married to Frank Hohenschuh. The latter died December 13, 1876, but Mother Hohenschuh is still living at her old home, 318 Bloomington street.

      When a boy William Peter Hohenschuh attended St. Joseph's Institute at Iowa City, conducted by Rev. Father Emonds, during whose pastorate St. Mary's church was built. In the spring of 1877, following the death of his father, young Hohenschuh took up the business left by the former and has conducted the same without interruption to the present time. What greater proof of the rewards of constancy, energy, and faithfulness in business could be cited than the success that has attended William P. Hohenschuh?

      On February 4, 1880, Mr. Hohenschuh was married, at Morris, Illinois, to Miss Nena. C. Crawford, a native of that state, whose parents were descended from one of the old families of New York state. Although not blessed with children, the relations of the Hohenschuhs have been most happy, and their home is one of the most beautiful in the city.

      In politics Mr. Hohenschuh is a democrat. Never an office seeker, he nevertheless was honored by his constituents with the position of coroner of Johnson county for fifteen years — an indication of the confidence of his fellow citizens and a strong commentary upon his ability. His only other public official position is that of member of the Iowa City Public Park Commission, an office which he has held for six years, being now secretary of the commission. Mr. Hohenschuh is a member of St. Mary's Roman Catholic church, Iowa City; Past Grand Knight of Knights of Columbus, local council No. 842; Past Exalted Ruler B. P. O. E. No. 590, and a member of the grand lodge of the order.

      Peter Statzer and wife (nee Miss Margaret Bishop), parents of Mrs. Frank Hohenschuh, our subject's mother, came with their five children to America in 1841 from Bavaria, Germany, the voyage being made by sailing vessel and occupying eight weeks. Peter Statzer gave as his principal reason for leaving Germany the desire that his three sons, Jacob, John and Ferdinand, should not be compelled to go to war through association with the German army. His heart was gratified in this, though two of his beloved boys, Jacob and John, and a daughter, Frances (married to John Stenz at Iowa City), have joined him in the Great Beyond. Teresa Hohenschuh and her brother Ferdinand Statzer (aged 76) are the sole survivors of their father's family. Happily they have the comfort of each other's presence in their declining years, being residents at the same house in Iowa City.

          Peter Statzer had a brother in America who constantly urged him to emigrate, representing to him that he could get good land at $1.25 per acre in the United States. On arrival in Iowa, Mr. Statzer looked over a proposed location on the Cedar Rapids road between Ely and Salem, six miles north of Salem, but not being exactly suited, came on to Iowa City (1842) and purchased from a German named "Nick" for $300 the property where Mrs. Frank Hohenschuh now resides. A one-room frame house then stood within ten feet and a log house occupied the site of the present residence of the widow. Adjoining was also a log house fronting on East Bloomington street. The same year Mr. Statzer's mother (his parents having accompanied him to the new world) died and was buried between Linn and South Gilbert streets on a tract of land near the present railway track. This was simply following the usual custom in that early day, cemeteries being unknown. Grandfather Statzer survived his wife thirty-eight years, dying in 1880.

      Frank Hohenschuh, in 1875, erected the brick building on South Dubuque street where Sueppel's grocery store now stands. Across the street from where his widow now resides in the early days there was a large slough. This she saw all filled in and graded, for Mrs. Hohenschuh has resided continuously at 318 East Bloomington street for sixty-nine years, with the exception of a short period after her marriage in 1858, when the family lived in one room in a brick building on East Market street while the husband erected a frame building for his furniture store, after which they occupied the up-stairs of the store building for a time — that being the birthplace, as previously stated, of William P. Hohenschuh. Mother Hohenschuh has a remarkably retentive memory and can recall many interesting incidents of the early days. One of the epochal events of her young life was attending mass in the first place of worship of the Catholic church in Iowa City, when services were held in the dining room of Ferdinand Haberstroh's boarding house opposite the present campus of the State University of Iowa on East Jefferson street, now the site of the residence of Mrs. Martha Marshall. Always a consistent Catholic, Mrs. Hohenschuh was a charter member of what was known as The Rosary Society of St. Mary's Catholic church; other charter members of this society whose names she recalls were Mrs. Catherine Sueppel and Mrs. Barbara Hotz.

      The children of Frank Holienschuh and Teresa Statzer are: William, the subject of this sketch; Mary (deceased May, 1890); Katie (deceased 1909); Christian, of Iowa City; and Dr. Frank C. The grandchildren of the family number six.

      Of the above children, perhaps some particular mention should be made of Christian Hohenschuh, engaged in the book and stationery business on South Clinton street, adjoining the old St. James Hotel. Born in 1865 in Iowa City, following his education at the public and parochial schools, Christian entered at once upon a business career, and in spite of the fact that he has been in delicate health and his life despaired of on several occasions, he has made a marked success. Several trips to Denver, Colorado, have been necessary to give Mr. Hohenschuh renewed vigor. Mother Hohenschuh very pathetically refers to the filial affection and interest manifested by her son Christian, which, she says, has been especially solicitous since the sad death of Katie in 1909. Every day, in his journeys from his business to his home, Christian has been a caller at his mother's residence to pay her the honor of a son's love — a trait which honors both the object of his affection and himself.

The wife of Christian Hohenschuh was Clara Dostal, daughter of John P. Dostal, one of the pioneers of Iowa City. Two children have blessed their union, Marian and Loretta.

      Mr. Hohenschuh was one of the organizers of Marquette Council, Knights of Columbus, being one of the original nine charter members. He is a member of St. Mary's Catholic church and of the Gentlemen's Sodality.

      We cannot close this sketch more fittingly, we think, than by transcribing the following extract from an article on the retirement of William Peter Hohenschuh published in The Casket, Rochester, N. Y., July, 1910: "Professor Hohenschuh has always stood for that which is best, and has won the confidence and esteem of all who have come in touch with him. His effort has been to make better funeral directors and embalmers of his fellow professionals, and not to exalt himself at the cost or by the disparagement of others. He has won for himself a name and fame in the profession which will long endure, and his many friends will wish for him long years of happiness and usefulness, by personal influence, in the sphere which he has both honored and adorned."

Source: Leading Events in Johnson County, Iowa, History (1913); Volume: 2;
Aurner, Clarence Ray; Cedar Rapids, IA: Western Historical Press