My dad, Lester Denniston, shown above as a soldier in the early 1940’s, made his living as an automobile mechanic, starting in garages, then working in a Ford dealership before ending his career as a motor pool mechanic for the Galesburg Register-Mail , a newspaper in Galesburg, Illinois, a town of about 30,000 people in western Illinois.
He was a craftsman; he built a two-bedroom addition onto our house; he poured the cement for much of our driveway; he did kitchen and bathroom remodeling. He bought an old motor boat, sanded and varnished it until it gleamed and took it to the Mississippi river where we enjoyed it for a number of years..
He loved to fish and he was good at it because he knew how to work the drop-offs and find where the fish ought to be. For years we drove to northern Minnesota to fish and had a great time. He always told me two things, that any job worth doing was worth doing well and that I was too damned independent for my own good. Both are as true now as the day he first said them.
My dad loved Christmas. The family always had a big Christmas, gave lots of gifts and shared the joy with others. Those were good times.
Consequently, I always thought it was especially cruel that he died of complications of lung cancer in late December and was buried on Christmas eve. Christmas was never the same after that and was not helped when my mother died in mid-December some 35 years later.
I have a sister, Ann, and grew up with lots of relatives, especially aunts and uncles. From time to time we saw Betty (Becky) and Jack, by half-sister and half-brother. They and their respective families were fun to be with but a bit awkward for me since they were nearly a generation older than I was. My dad had been married before so Becky, Jack, Ann and I shared the same male parent. What about their mom? What had happened? As a dumb little kid I tried to get information but no one said much. I had questions about that, but never got satisfactory answers. Oh, I was told, it was embarrassing or it was something I would not be able to understand or maybe, just maybe, they did not know either. And so it went.
Time goes on. My dad, my mom, all my aunts and uncles who knew or might known what actually happened, die. Jack dies at age 80 in 2008. Becky, in her early 90’s, recently moved into an adult placement home in Michigan suffering from vascular dementia before passing in August 2019.
So…, what am I waiting for? No one living is going to be offended or embarrassed by what I find out now and it would be a worthy research project for a dumb old guy which I now am.
Ann was told that dad’s first wife’s name was Opal Renner.
Being a cheapskate I establish an account at the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) site, FamilySearch.org , which was free and started searching. I also paid a few bucks for an account at the newspaper site, GenealogyBank.com, for additional documentation.
What did I know going into this search? From census data, which is released to the public 70 years after it was taken I knew or discovered the following about my father.
Lester H. Denniston
1908: Born Roodhouse, IL (Athensville township)
He married Opal November 2, 1925 at age 18 (age at first marriage from 1930 census), Carrollton, IL
Becky arrives December , 1925
Jack arrives January, 1928
1930 census: Lester (married) living in household of Glen Grider (family of my Aunt Jenny), Galesburg, IL
1940 census: Jack (age 12) and Lester (single) living with Albert & Maude Denniston (my paternal grandparents) in Galesburg; (since 1935)
Becky (age 14) living in household of Glen Grider in Galesburg (since 1935)
1942: Lester joined US Army as mechanic as divorced with no dependents
1943: May, married Sybil Eshelman (my Mom), Palmyra, MO
There were “Opal Renners” in three adjacent states but because of age or family history none could have been the real Opal. Renner could not be the correct surname.
Where were the kids, Becky and Jack, from the times of their birth till the 1930’s? A search of the 1930 census showed that 4 year-old Bettie, 2 year-old Jackie and Opal Dennison [sic] were living in the household of Jesse Y. Rimbey in Athensville. Just days after the census was taken Jesse Rimbey, Opal’s father, dies. His obituary in a Springfield, IL newspaper showed the correct spelling of the surname.
The Rimbeys were long-time residents of the area as is shown by this listing from The Farmers and Breeders Directory of Athensville township from the early 1900s.
Around 1935 Becky and Jack moved in with relatives and Opal married Claude Eugene Robbins, moving to East St. Louis, IL.
The 1940 census shows Opal and Claude with 3 children, Joyce, George and Charles. Mary and Carly followed in 1942 and 1945, respectively.
In June 1947, Opal Rimbey Denniston Robbins died a few months after childbirth just short of her 41st birthday.
In late October 2019 I talked by telephone to Joyce Rimbey Wells, Opal’s oldest child by Claude Rimbey. On Becky’s passing last August my niece Candy helped me to locate her in the Belleville, IL area. It seems that there was an attempt at a reconciliation between Opal and my father but she thought he still was “too wild” and remained with the children in Greene County, IL. At some point in the early 1930’s my paternal grandmother took custody of Becky and Jack. According to Joyce, Opal was not giving them up willingly but did not have the means to fight the action, whatever form it took. Neither Becky nor Jack ever saw their mother again. They were told she “had died”. Opal’s brother Floyd told Becky the truth some years after Opal’s death and as one might expect it caused quite a rift in the family.
When Joyce was born in 1935 the surname on her birth certificate was mistakenly taken to be Denniston rather than Rimbey and Opal was actually afraid my grandmother might come for Joyce, as well. Of course it never happened. Joyce did not know exactly when either Opal’s divorce or her remarriage occurred.
Records pertaining to divorces in Illinois go back only to 1962.
After Opal’s death the family was separated with the Rimbey kids being raised by various aunts and uncles. Floyd’s role was not clear from my conversation with Joyce.