Our mother, Ruth Lavern Feezell, and our Dad, George Earl Keelin, Sr., were both born in Galena, Cherokee County, Kansas. Mom was French with a touch of Cherokee Indian; her Mother, Mollie Ann Eliza Murray Feezell, also part Cherokee, and her siblings were born in Dade County, Missouri; her father was born in Tennessee. To date (2003) we have not traced her family to earlier times. Mom’s father, John Wiley Feezell, was a zinc and lead miner, then farmer.
Dad was of Irish and Scottish heritage. His Mother, Mollie McNarny, was born in Indiana. Little else is known of Grandmother Keelin. Dad’s Father, James Edward Keelin, was born in Plymouth, Indiana and worked in and around the mines in Galena. He was appointed a Deputy Marshall. Granddad Keelin was born in Ireland and came to this country during the potato famine. His grandmother, our great-grandmother, was born in Scotland.
The Beginning of our Family
George Keelin and Ruth Feezell fell in love and were joined in marriage on Friday, August 3, 1923, in Galena, Kansas. Less than two weeks later, on August 14th, Dad, a grocer and meat cutter by trade, traveled to Houston, Texas, to look for better employment. Mom soon followed on Tuesday, August 21st.
Dad went to work for the Schotts Bakery delivering bread to Grocers in Houston while Mom set about raising a family. They lived in several locations in Houston. On April 23, 1924, James Matthew became part of the family. Then, on February 9, 1926, Rosemary arrived. She was followed on December 8, 1927 by Robert Leo. On November 12, 1932, George Earl Jr. was born. All of the children were born at home, which was not unusual for the time.
Back To Kansas During Hard Times
The family made several visits back to Galena over the years. We lived in Galena during a violent labor strike in 1933. One Saturday morning, in front of the only movie theater, there was a fight and some shooting. The children attending the matinee were taken out back of the theater into the alley. James and Rosemary were among them. This was during the period when the stock market had crashed and dust storms were ravaging the mid-west. The storms were terrible. Clouds of dust would appear on the horizon and move in like a serious fog; it was impossible to see any distance. Dust would penetrate every crack and crevice in the house even though all of the windows and doors were closed and towels or rags were used to plug leaks.
Return To Texas
During 1934 and 1935 we lived in Liberty, Texas. Dad worked as a butcher for a local grocer. During this period the store was the victim of an armed robbery. Following this, Dad purchased a .45 automatic pistol that is still in the family. Dad said looking at the pistol used by the robber was “like looking down the barrel of a cannon.”
In 1936 we moved from Liberty to Houston, Texas and lived in a small house next to the home of Emory and Inez Cooper, who were long time friends of Mom and Dad. We were there during the great flood of 1936.
Deaths In The Family Once Again Bring Us Back To Kansas
On January 17th, 1936, Dad's mother, Mollie McNarny Keelin, died of pneumonia following a house fire. Our trip from Houston to Galena was quite eventful because we encountered a snow storm in Buffalo, Texas. Roads were not very good in those days, and cars were no better. We spent the night in a motel before leaving for Galena the next day. It was bitterly cold the entire trip, and Robert did not have any shoes. Because it was on a weekend, he went shoeless until we reached Arkansas and found a shoe store open. We spent some time in Galena following Grandmother Mollie's funeral. This was during the depression. While in Galena, Mom's sister, Golden E. Feezell Radcliffe, died. We frequently visited Mom's parents, Mollie and John Feezell who owned a small farm near Galena. Pop Feezell was a very progressive farmer and very tough on children and his animals. John had one of the first battery powered radios in the area. Sundays at his place for dinner included their several children as well as our family; and, like today, politics were a hot topic of conversation.
A New Store – A New Beginning
In 1936, Dad leased a large grocery store around 1200 Broadway in Joplin, Missouri. He, Mom and occasionally with help from the children, did well. Dad was the butcher and Mom the grocer. It was a two story building, and we lived on the 2nd floor in an area much too large for living space. We lived toward the front part, and the bathrooms were in the back. Entrance to the living area was up an outside stairway from the back alley.
At times the refrigeration in the grocery store would leak ammonia, and we would be forced to evacuate the living area until repairs were made and the air was fit to breathe.
Joplin is in part of the "tornado alley" that goes through the mid-west. Winters were severe and spring thunderstorms were frequent. Once during a hail storm, Dad ran out of the store and picked up a large hailstone and weighed it on the market scale. It was almost 16 oz of ice. At the time many automobiles had cloth roofs so the destruction was staggering.This was also the time of the WPA or Works Project Administration where the government employed many people to do various jobs. In the Joplin area around the grocery store, they did street and drainage work. Mom and Dad carried credit for the many WPA workers who lived nearby. Using small tablets, they recorded their purchases, and on payday the customers would come in and pay their bills. But when the WPA was rather suddenly disbanded, Mom and Dad were left with considerable outstanding debt. It was too much, and the store went out of business.
Back To Texas For Good
During 1939, we moved from Joplin to Alvin, Brazoria County, Texas, about 3O miles south of Houston. Dad worked in a local grocery store as a butcher, and we lived a short distance out of town. It was farming country, and we children would work with local farmers to earn enough money to attend the Saturday morning movie, which cost 25 cents. We lived in Alvin until mid 1941.
From Alvin, we moved back to Houston, renting a house at 644 West 26th Street, in the Houston Heights. Mrs. Hall, who owned the house, lived next door on 26th Street and Shepherd Drive. Her grandson, Gus Hall, was a good friend of Robert’s. They spent a lot of time together getting into trouble. Our bathroom was out on the back porch with a toilet, a bathtub and a sink. No hot water in the house. The cracks in the floor were large enough that it was not necessary to use a dustpan; we just swept the dirt into the cracks, and it fell to the ground under the house. These were lean times and we had no automobile or telephone. Dad worked in a local grocery store; Mom did the laundry in the backyard, building fires under washtubs, and using a scrub board. The children worked after school as much as possible to earn enough money for school clothes, etc.
The War Years
Military Service And Family Growth
On December 7, 1941, Robert took a trip with his friend, Gus, and his father and grandmother to visit relatives in Palestine, Texas. This was about a 5 hour drive in those days. Gus Sr. owned a nice two door coupe that included a radio. Late in the evening returning to Houston, they learned that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. It was later learned Mrs. Hall had a son on the battleship Arizona, who survived, but had both ankles shattered during an explosion.
James enlisted in the United States Marine Corps almost immediately. Rationing began and the supply of some foods and clothing, gasoline, tires etc. made living more difficult.
On January 23, 1942, shortly after the beginning of World War II, we welcomed our newest, and last Keelin family member; a beautiful sister, Molly Elizabeth. The family was now complete.
Robert, anxious to serve his country, pestered Mom and Dad until, in July 1945, they let him quit school and join the United States Marine Corps. He was in boot camp when WWII came to an end.
On April 16, 1947, Robert was home on leave in Houston while stationed in Washington, D.C. Late in the evening Dad took him to the train station to return to duty. While waiting for the train to board passengers, they heard many emergency sirens. Curious, but with no way of knowing what was happening, Robert boarded the train and left. It was not until several days later that they learned that was the date of the Texas City, Texas, Disaster. Had Robert been in Houston, the next day, all military personnel were ordered to Texas City to help.
Interestingly, several years later, as Robert was working at Sinclair Refining Company, he learned that his part time secretary had been a morticians assistant during that disaster. She had been ordered to Texas City to help, and as a result of the horror, she decided to become a secretary instead.
Dad's Heart Attack
In the early 1950s, Mom, Dad, George Jr., and Molly moved from 26th Street to 2809 Ada Street in order to be closer to dad's work at Laufman's Grocery. One day at work, while dad was sitting in the car eating lunch, he suffered a major heart attack. He was hospitalized for about three weeks, and unable to work for several more weeks. It was time for Dad to slow down.
He and Mom bought a home on 43rd Street, and Dad worked for a nice family at a local drive-in grocery for several years before finally retiring. It was during this time that Mom was diagnosed with cancer.
Closing Note From Robert
As the author of this, as yet incomplete, but hopefully accurate record, I encourage my brothers and sisters to relish these ‘precious memories’ of the events that occurred as we struggled with growing up in such a wonderful and loving family.
Robert Leo Keelin
Kansas City, Kansas
James, Rosemary, Robert, George Jr., and Molly, all married their sweethearts and began families of their own (see the Family Unit Pages). Our precious Mother died of cancer on May 12, 1963. Our beloved Dad followed on October 23, 1978. Then, on June 3, 1994, we lost our kind and gentle elder brother, James, to cancer. James' wife, Ruth, still lives in Houston.
The surviving paripatetic Keelins have moved yet again. Rosemary is in Baxter Springs, Kansas; Robert and his wife Marilyn are in Kansas City, Kansas; George and Patsy live in Utopia, Texas; and Molly and her husband, Ron, reside in Wimberly, Texas.
Our “golden years” are enriched by precious memories of days gone by; and life is made more exciting and wonderful each day by our precious children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
God has been so very good to the Keelin family throughout all these years.
Gloria in excelsis Deo
George E. Keelin, Jr.
August 5, 2009