Sophia M. Petersen (Staack) (1828–1909)
Posted By: Michael Petersen (email)
Date: 4/19/2021 at 17:05:30
By Calla M. Petersen
I have only two authentic dates for Sophia’s life—her eldest son was born July 19, 1853 in Clinton Co., Iowa, and she and Peter celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there in 1902.
She was born in Europe in that part of Schleswig-Holstein that was at that time south of the boundary of Prussia. The family spoke German rather that Danish. The year must have been about the time that Queen Victoria was ascending the throne of England.
By 1853 we find her in Iowa, the wife of Peter Petersen. And beginning her family that, across the years, numbered 10 sons and daughters.
She was a very small person, I have heard the sons say 4’10” or so, but inclined to be rotund in her middle age. But she had a touch of elegance. One can see it in all the pictures taken of her, and those of her sons.
The family lived on a farm (we have had pointed out to us well-kept acres and sturdy trees) but derived part of its income from some enterprise in the town of Lyons, Iowa. They were never poor. Still, there must have been an endless amount of work for one little woman during the 20 years that her 10 children were born.
But the story of Sophia deals with her one great characteristic – courage! How she faced what she had to face, stood up against it and came out of it a fine, wise and kindly little old lady past her 80th year – this is why her story deserves to be told.
The need for that great courage can be explained in one fearsome, frightening word – diphtheria. Perhaps some of us remember old time stories of families of children wiped out by the dread disease; of a mother who had two families, one group of children all taken by diphtheria and then courageously beginning another family who by providential blessing, grew up to become parents themselves.
Today we have our babies immunized against diphtheria before they are a year old. We feel they are safe, and that is that. But there was no such protection for Sophia’s children. Her oldest son was 13 when the disaster struck. He survived to tell me about it, some 50 years later. There were five children younger than he at the time. All were taken. He told of having the sickness himself and of questioning his mother as to whether he too was going to die. She could not promise – she could only pray. She prayed for all of them.
It happened all in one winter. Sophia, the oldest daughter, age 12, was her mother’s helper and assisted sturdily as, one by one, her younger brothers and sisters were taken. It was hardest to lose Peter, 5, flaxen haired, named for his father. There had never been a picture taken of Peter. They had one taken of him in his coffin. It was shown to me many years ago. Then Sofia went too. Only the eldest son was left.
There were six in her family at Christmas time. By March five graves had been dug in the frozen earth. They thanked God for the one that was left and began all over again.
Three sons were born there on that Iowa farm, and now there were four. Later, another son, 20 years younger than the first, made 5. A new generation had begun.
But there was still need for courage, all that she could call to her command. The third boy, Emil, had reached the age of 9. All the family said afterward that he was the smartest of all the sons, the best in his classes, the most progressive in his achievements. For many years we had in our home the arithmetic book he used in school, far advanced for a 9-year old.
Then one day, in the sunny barnyard, his mother called him to her and he came running, a jack knife with which he had been playing, open in his hand. She saw the danger. She called a warning, but too late. He fell, and the blade of the knife pierced his throat, severing an artery. With her two hands she covered the wound, tried to find the ends of the blood vessel and hold them shut – the spurting would not stop. He died in her arms.
So the four sons of Sophia grew up to manhood, always with the feeling that they were but the remnant of their mother’s family, that somehow the four had to make up to her what the complete 10 would have meant. They held her in deep reverence and would have done nothing to disappoint her. And none of them ever did.
All were present at the golden wedding. All were grieved at her death some 10 years later. On the walls in our house was a large framed portrait of a white haired Sophia, sitting in a rocking chair too large for her reading a Bible. And the photographer had caught a ray of light shining on the Bible and the hand that held it. We had that Bible in our home for many years. It was printed in German.
Sophia’s eldest son, born in 1853, died in 1934. They are all dead now, the seven sons of Sophia. There are, to date, 52 living descendents.
First picture caption: Sophia’s grown sons – Three surviving sons, Detlef, the oldest, Hans, a progressive banker, and Otto, all lived up to their mother’s expectation of them in honesty, industry and self respect.
Second picture caption: Sophia, the daughter, died at age 12
Third picture caption: Sophia, the mother
Forth picture caption: Elegance in Iowa – Otto, youngest by 20 years, displays gold watch fob and wing collar with his splendid new.
Fifth picture caption: Orange blossoms – August, third of the surviving sons, became a bridegroom in 1894.
Placer Lifestyle, Friday, July 8, 1977 – Genealogy
The Press Tribune, Friday, July 8, 1977
Lincoln News Messenger
Clinton Biographies maintained by Nettie Mae Lucas.
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