Monday, April 14, 2014

Talented Tuesday - Belle Jorgenson McKee

The first indication I had that Belle Jorgenson had some talent was when I was searching the Peotone Vedette for her father Ole's obituary.  Belle was my Great-Great Grandmother Lena's sister.  Several little mentions in the Society column hinted at her musical abilities.
"Miss Belle Jorgenson has resumed the study of music in Chicago.  She is taking vocal music under Signor Maraschalki."  Peotone Vedette, Oct. 18, 1907"
"Miss Belle Jorgenson will continue her study of music and will reside at 5406 Drexel Boul." Peotone Vedette, 1907"
Belle was about 11 years younger than her oldest sister Lena.  At least going by the 1880 census when she was 9.  She was born October 16, 1871 in Will County, Illinois.  That date came from a copy I received from a "privately published booklet" titled "Necrology of Peotone, Will County, Illinois Residents, Relatives and Friends" by William R. Conrad 1879-1966.  In 1900 her age is 29 but from that census on, she doesn't seem to age normally.  In 1910 she gave her age as 29.  Again.  In 1920 her age is 35 and in 1930 she is 50 (actually 59).  In 1940 she concedes the truth and gives her age as 69.  It's interesting that in her obituary there is no mention of either her birth date or her age.

She not only went to college, but graduated from 2 different colleges, Valparaiso University, which was known then as Northern Indiana Normal School, and Columbia College of Music.  Both schools sent me her class listings that are wonderful to have, but I struck out getting a yearbook photo from either school.  Her photo is on my bucket list.

In 1900 "North Town" Chicago, she was living with Carl Judson and his wife Hannah who was another of Belle's sisters.  She was teaching, possibly at her home town school in Peotone, if the commute was practical then.

In 1910 Chicago, she lived with Jacob Bentall and his wife Bertha, the youngest sister in the family. They lived on Drexel Avenue and Belle's occupation is "musician, on the road". This may be about the time she was with the Chautauqua as mentioned in her obit.  (I've been searching for some advertisements for that.)   Also living in the household was a lodger named Earl McKee, a 27-year-old Stenographer in a law office.  The Columbia College archivist sent this engagement announcement along with the class listing for Belle.  It's such an awesome surprise when someone goes the extra mile!   It was just in the last month I received this and I've sent to IRAD for a copy of her marriage record that they will hopefully have. 

Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug. 4, 1911, pg 6
As her obituary mentions (though the year of their marriage is wrong), Earl & Belle spent two years in Fort Worth, Texas then moved to Los Angeles, living on Elmwood Avenue by 1920.   Earl is the Head of household, a court reporter.  From her obituary I know that by this time he was an invalid from an illness, I wonder if it was polio.  Belle is a musician working on her own.  This is the first time she uses the name "Merlin".  Her sister Bertha and Bertha's son Carlton are living with them.

In 1930 her occupation is a teacher at a private school, maybe with students like Will Rogers, Jr. and the sons of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I'd like to find out more about her time as "teacher of foreign consel, Bolivia and Equador" as mentioned in her obit.  By 1940, it looks like they were both retired.

Earl and Belle never had children.  Earl died in 1951 at age 67 and is buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Los Angeles in an unmarked grave.  He had a short death notice and a funeral notice in the Los Angeles Times.  His family included a sister, Mrs. Eltha Orr, and a brother Paul both of Los Angeles,  Robert E. McKee of El Monte, William P. McKee of Santa Rosa, Cal., and Francis W. McKee of Springfield, O.  

August 7, 1942 Belle died from a stroke in Los Angeles at the age of 71.  Her obituary doesn't mention being survived by her husband.  She was buried in her hometown of Peotone.  This is her very interesting obituary from the Peotone Vedette, August 13, 1942:
Mrs. Belle Jorgenson McKee passed away in Los Angeles on August 7, after an illness of five days.  She suffered a stroke on August second.  With her at the time of her passing was her nephew Carleton Bentall and Mrs. Bentall.
Mrs. McKee was born in Will township and at an early age came to Peotone with her family.  Her education was obtained in the Peotone Public School and Valparaiso University.  Very early in life she became a member of the Presbyterian church of Peotone, a faithful member of its Sunday school and was for many years a member of its choir.  She was the possessor of a wonderful singing voice.  She became a member of the teaching staff of the Peotone public school, successful and greatly beloved for many years.  Later with Mrs. Ella Elliot she went to Rock Springs, Wyoming where she became director of music and public speaking of the city schools.  She also taught in Menominee, Michigan.  In 1906 she was graduated from the music and public speaking department of the Columbia College of Music of Chicago.  Following this she was the leading singer and reader of a Women's quartette in Chautauqua work and travelled over the middle west.
She was married in 1915 to Mr. Earl Edward McKee.  The ceremony was performed by the late B. Fay Mills.  Following their marriage they removed to Ft. Worth, Texas where Mr. McKee was a court reporter in Circuit courts. After two years they removed to Los Angeles where they have lived ever since.  Mr. McKee filled some of the most important posts in the Los Angeles courts.  He has been an invalid since 1918.  Following Mr. McKee's illness, Mrs. McKee became a coach to numbers of prominent members of the Movie industry, among them Will Rogers Jr., and sons of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  She was a teacher of foreign consul, Bolivia and Equador, in Los Angeles.  Mrs. McKee has made a host of friends in Los Angeles and a service was held there on Sunday afternoon preceding the starting of the journey to the old home at Peotone.
Her father, mother, one brother, Andrew, and one sister, Mrs. C. A. Judson, Chicago, preceded her in death.  Surviving relatives are Mrs. Wm. Roscoe of Nebraska, Mr. P. C. Jorgenson, Ledyard, Iowa, Mrs. Bertha Bentall of Chicago, and Mr. W. R. Jorgenson, of Peotone, and one cousin, Mrs. Anna Loucks, Chicago.
Brief services took place in Fredde's Chapel after the arrival of Mrs. McKee's remains at seven o'clock Wednesday evening.  Mrs. Robert Wright sang "Going Home" with Mrs. D. V. Knowlton as accompanist.  Rev. Vaubel delivered a short address.  About forty persons were present.  Among those from out of town were the following:  The pall bearers were Henry Budda, James Kruger, E. P. Cowing, Earl, Carol and Howard Judson. Carl Judson Sr., Mr. and Mrs. Carl Judson Jr., Mrs. Hobart Passell and daughter, Harriet, Earl Judson, Mr. and Mrs. Howard Judson, Mrs. Anna Loucks, Mrs. Wm. Berry and two children, Mrs. M. Bensen, Mrs. Margaret Wahls, Mrs. Katie Potter, and Miss Gertrude Schrier, all of Chicago; Mrs. Anna Schaedler, Wilmette.  Interment was made at the close of the day in Peotone cemetery.
There is no death; The leaves may fall 
 Flowers may fade and pass away - 
 The only wait through wintry hours 
 The warm sweet breath of May 
 The voice of birdlike melody 
 That we will miss and mourn 
 Now mingles with the Angels choir 
 In everlasting song."

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