Many Roads to Iowa, Part II
(Hannah Lee McCargar)
My great-great-grandmother on my mother’s side, Cornelia Elizabeth Treskes, was born in June of 1892 in Rotterdam, Holland. (The name Treskes originated in France with the Huguenots.) She grew up working in her father’s tailor shop along with a sister and four brothers. She got smallpox at an early age which fueled her mother’s suspicion that vaccinations were “not God’s will” and so had to be schooled at home. Her home was a very strict one where the Dutch Reformed religion guided every act. When Cornelia was around 18, she married an apprentice who was working in her father’s store. This marriage began the hard times in Cornelia’s life. Her husband had a nervous breakdown of some sort and had to be institutionalized. Their daughter, Margrethe, born early in the marriage, becomes crippled with polio and Cornelia was left to raise her alone.
It’s funny how people find each other and eventually marry, but they do. The next episode in Cornelia’s life had interesting beginnings. My great-great-grandfather Arie Swets (b. 1890) first words to her were “Boy are you ugly." Being a strong and exceptional woman she responded, “Now there is an unusual man." This conversation took place in the early 1920’s on the Volandam, a ship traveling from the Netherlands to America. Cornelia was on her way to visit her Uncle Proost, a farmer in Rock Rapids, IA. Arie was traveling from Holland also, but to Lakeville, MN to visit his Uncle Art, also a farmer. What was Arie’s background? Well, his father, Adrianus B. Swets (from “Svecs”, meaning shoemaker) was an engineer, about 6'6". His mother Wilhelmina Barendina Streevland, came from a very large farm near Lekkerkerk, Holland on the Lek River. Arie grew up with four brothers, three of whom later went to the Philippines to work on their uncle’s rubber plantation. Arie was sort of considered the “black sheep" of the family because of some deformities and a learning disability resulting from a severe early childhood illness. My uncle Marinus suspects that Arie’s father sent him off to find his way in the U.S. because they were a little embarrassed by him.
Back to our story...So the Volandam lands in America and Arie, having gotten to know Cornelia and Grethe a bit, sees them off on a train to Iowa. Apparently he tossed a cake through the open train window onto her lap just as they were pulling out of the station. Another of his odd ways of showing affection, I guess. He later makes an extended visit to the Proost farm in Rock Rapids, which results in marriage to Cornelia. They move to Arie’s Uncle Art’s farm in Minnesota, but country life does not suit Cornelia. They move to Grand Rapids, Ml in 1924 or 1925 where Arie has some possible business connections and Cornelia her beloved Dutch Reformed church. It was there that my grandfather, Adrianus Bernardus Swets was born on 22 Apr 1925. He is joined over the next five years by two other brothers, Marinus and Jakobus. Although they had been in the U.S. for several years now, Cornelia held fast to her Dutch customs and family traditions. Her boys wore hand-stitched Dutch style clothes — knickers and long stockings with sailor shirts. Dutch was spoken in the home and every meal at least was preceded by a reading from the Bible which was in old German type. They attend various parochial schools and try to find a niche for themselves between the world of their mother and "the old country" and the larger, modern world.
My grandfather Adrian serves in the Army during World War II, roughly from 1943 to 1945. Upon returning he enrolls in Grand Rapids Junior College with the help of the G.l. Bill. Two years later, he marries Kathleen Adell Bradley, on 2 Jul 1948. At this time Adrian earns a little extra money by cutting stencils for silkscreen signs at $1.00 each. Kathleen works tediously typing numbers on cards at the Standard Oil office. That and the $120/month from the G.l. Bill keeps them going. In the fall of 1948 Adrian and Kathy move to East Lansing, Ml where Ade majors in journalism and advertising at Michigan State University. He also writes cartoons for the M.S.U. paper and writes a comedy which is produced on campus. Their first child, is Deborah Elizabeth Swets. Three years later, my mother, Heidi Lou Swets, is born in St. Lawrence Hospital. At almost 5’10", she inherited my grandfather’s and my great-great-grandfather’s tallness. (Some say I seem to have done the same.) Heidi was about 5 years old when her family moves back to Grand Rapids. There they have a son, Benjamin Arie Swets. My mother lived with her family in the same big stucco house at 300 Briarwood, S.E. all of her growing up years. Adrian establishes his own building and remodeling business and the house is constantly being added on to or redecorated when business is slow and he needs to keep his crew of carpenters occupied. Kathleen, a very talented musician, keeps the rooms filled with music and friends who love it. Both enjoy the world of new ideas and philosophy, so the house is always bustling with talk and all manner of characters.
Years pass. Heidi grows up, and in July of 1978, when she was around 26 years old, she was almost an hour late for a meeting at the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Ml. There she meets my dad, Stephen McCargar. On 20 Jun 1981, they were married in Robert and Sophia McCargar’s back yard.
After their wedding Steve and Heidi continue to live in a small white stucco house on Bucholtz Court in Ann Arbor. Heidi works as a Veterinary Technician in a research laboratory at the University of Michigan and Steve remained director of the Ecology Center. However, they shared a dream of living in a rural area where they could build their own home powered by the sun and the wind, grow an orchard and raise lots of other fruits and vegetables. After some looking in Minnesota and Wisconsin, they chose a 35 acre parcel nine miles northeast of Decorah. It wasn’t until after they had purchased the land that they discovered the full range of their historical connections to the state (see McCargar). All that I have ever known is this house, on a ridge overlooking the Upper Iowa River, in which sits this table, where I have written this story in Oct 1995.
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this page was last updated on Monday, 29 March 2021