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Uncle finally buried in family plot

June 16, 2013
Tim Robinson , Reinbeck Courier

My Uncle Sam is finally coming home after 46 years to be buried in his family's plot in Reinbeck. The story starts in February, 1967, when he died in Calif. at the age of 56. His wife Evelyn wanted him interred in Calif. thinking that she would eventually be interred with him. Family members thought this was reasonable; however, his mother thought differently. She knew that the chances of this happening were slim since Evelyn was a young widow and would probably be married again. This was very hard on his eighty-five year-old mother. She died in 1972. Sixteen years later just before Sam's one-hundred-three year-old father died, he asked his two daughters in Reinbeck to try to get Sam back to Reinbeck to appease his buried wife. This is where I came in.

Sam was interred into a mausoleum in Westminster, Calif. I contacted the funeral home. Proof of death of his wife Evelyn was needed before we could take possession of the ashes. Family members hadn't heard from Evelyn since the funeral in 1967.

My mother and her sister-in-law in Calif. were together for a family wedding in Portland, Ore., in the summer of 2007. They decided that they needed to get this issue resolved because they were both in their early nineties. My cousin Bill is an attorney in Arcadia. He and his mother went to the Westminster Funeral Home to get the process started. It was the same story again. We couldn't do anything until we had proof of Evelyn's death. Since there were no children, my mother, as the sole-surviving sibling, would have the power to remove Sam's ashes and re-inter him into his parents' family plot in Reinbeck. However, we needed to establish Evelyn's death before we could do anything. My mother died early the next year, and my aunt died early the following year. While my aunt was ill, her daughter Sharon from Portland stayed with her taking care of her for her last six months. During this time, Sharon did some detective work trying to find Evelyn, or proof of her death. She didn't get anywhere.

I hired a lawyer in Des Moines to see what he could do. After a few months, he finally decided that a Calif. attorney would be needed. Westminster Funeral Home put us in touch with Brian Harpst of Santa Ana. He said he would be able to do what we wanted, but it may take a while. I told him that since we'd started this in 1984 that a quick time frame was not necessary.

Over a two-year period, he hired a detective to track Evelyn. Since there were no children involved and the family didn't even know her maiden name, or her current last name, he had quite a job to do. He eventually tracked her down and found her death certificate. She had remarried, her last name was Kruger. She had died in 1995, was cremated, and her ashes were scattered from a naval ship off the dock at Point Loma. The detective had to ascertain that this was our Evelyn, so a state genealogy expert was hired to do this research. This did prove to be our long-lost Evelyn.

The next step was court approval. Sam's surviving family members now consisted of eight nephews and nieces who all had to agree. Seven of the eight nephews and nieces agreed, and last month the judge approved their petition to Orange County to disinter their uncle for reburial in Iowa.

Sam Smith was born on a farm north of Lincoln, Iowa, in Tama County. He graduated from Reinbeck High School with the class of 1929. Under his yearbook picture, he was quoted as saying, "I don't want to farm. I want to be an adventurer."

After graduating from Iowa State with an engineering degree, he headed off to AK. During his college years, he and some college fraternity friends had gone west to work summers on the construction crews building the Hoover Dam. While working on the dam, he heard stories about gold mining in AK, and that must have sparked an interest because that became his first job after graduation. Whether he didn't make the money he thought he'd make or he was ready for another adventure, he joined the crew of a salmon fishing boat. After this job he worked in the Alaska canneries packing salmon. From there he headed to Monterey, Calif., to work on Cannery Row.

Unpredictably, he would show up on his parents' farm between these adventures, a surprise that made everyone happy. Soon he'd be off again to the West searching for something else. During the mid 1940's he married a divorcee with twins. He became a jeweler and opened up a shop in Okla. While working in this area he attended a nearby university and studied optometry. He headed off to sunny Calif. and set up shop in Anaheim as an optometrist, a profession he had for the rest of his life.

Sam and Evelyn showed up in Reinbeck in 1953 when Jackie was a sophomore to introduce his new wife to his Iowa family. And that was the last we ever saw of Evelyn unless we trekked to Calif. She was a stand-offish person, not the type that fit into our family.

In the summer of 1966, Uncle Sam showed up unexpectedly in Reinbeck. It was the first time since 1958 when he'd flown in to surprise his parents on their fiftieth anniversary. He stayed for two weeks, an unheard of amount of time for him. No one thought anything of it since this was so typical of Uncle Sam. The following January, our Uncle Ralph in Calif. called his parents and sisters in Reinbeck and let them know that Sam had terminal liver cancer and only a few weeks to live. Everyone speculated that the summer visit had been planned while he was still healthy enough to travel and hide his condition.

My grandfather and aunt traveled to the funeral. My grandfather paid for all of the funeral expenses because he thought he should as the father. It was at this time that the idea was proposed that Sam should be buried in Reinbeck. Evelyn nixed that proposal without a second thought.

Those family members who attended the re-interment on Monday were Jackie and Harry Birdsell of Hampton; Pat Birdsell of Mesa, Arizona; Anne Birdsell and Justin Vorster, and Stephanie and Ryan Gustafson, all of Ankeny; Larry and Susan Robinson of Colorado Springs, Colorado; Tim Robinson of Des Moines; Logan Galanits of Mason City; Don, Laurie, Steve, and Josh Weiermann of Chelsea; Sheridan and Mary Lou Downey, Jim, Deanna, and Josh Spear, Pam Davis, Daryl and Carla Downey, Nate and Chelsea Chevelle and family, and Randy and Diane Staker, all of Reinbeck; Breanna Vint of Morrison; Jason Staker of Toledo; Clair and Blanche Koobs of Grundy Center; and Billy and Doris Tessau of Gladbrook. Joel Love of the Reinbeck UCC officiated at the service.



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