Sundays with Wonie

“Sundays with Wonie”

One day I understood that Wonie, my Aunt and Godmother was the only one left that could answer my questions about my Mom. I called and asked if I could interview her on the phone , thus began my “Sundays with Wonie”. I have always admired her. She”ll turn 105 this year and looks 25 years younger. She was born Rosemary Kuntz, and nicknamed “Wonie”, by her sister Carrie (my mother) who couldn’t pronounce the “r” sound very well. She was born in Dayton, Ohio on January 25, 1908. She was the oldest daughter in a family of five girls and two boys. Her parents were John Kuntz and Rose Barlow.

When Wonie was very young, the family was told to move to San Antonio, Texas to oversee a branch of her Grandfathers lumber business.

Her Grandfather, Peter Kuntz Sr.was born in Planig, Germany, (other references say Mainz) in 1838. He came to the United States at the age of three, and the family settled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania , later moving to a farm near Greenville, Ohio. In his early years he secured jobs clearing the farms and chopping wood. The knowledge of wood that he acquired at this time was the foundation of his interest in the lumber business. He opened his first yard in Greenville but later moved to Union City, Indiana because it had better railroad connections. There, he met Mary Higi and they married in 1878. In that union, 10 children were born!

Grandfather never owned a home. He rented. The last house in Dayton View was rented from a Mr. Barney (He owned a Pullman cart business) for a very low price, (the annual property taxes) but the stipulation was that any improvements, repairs or remodeling was at the expense of the renter. When the boys took up tennis and wanted a tennis court, her Grandfather had them build one! (Her own father, however, would build almost every house they lived in!)

Martin was the first to build in the Oakwood part of Dayton, 111 W. Thurston Blvd. Peter was next to build at 550 Rubicon Rd (the big house down the street from the house I grew up in on 520 Maysfield. Martin had some extra land , so he and Peter built a house across the street for their mother (Molly) at 201 Southview. When Molly died, Uncle Bill and Aunt Hazel would move into that house.

This photo is Wonie (baby) Rose, (her mother), and mother Molly (Mary Higi) and grandmother, (Molly’s mom)

In 1883, Grandfathers’ business was destroyed by fire and he had no insurance, so he had to start all over again. (Wonie is sure he paid it back, with interest!) “He built up quite a fortune and he made it all himself. He gave a lot to charity, especially those relating to children. He was a very good Catholic, giving generously to the church. including two “Chapel cars”! He insisted that all his kids went to confession once a week, and preferred that they all go to church together on Sundays.”

Wonie remembers a story about when Grandpa Kuntz went to Africa and took her father (Gumpy) who was recuperating from typhoid fever. He was 10 or 11 years old. Grampa thought the trip would do him good. (I wonder what a trip to Africa involved in 1892?)

Grandpa Kuntz invested in a several lumber yards in Texas the early 1900‘s. Her father, John Kuntz (Gumpy) was the second oldest child of the 10 children. His older brother (Peter) was asked to move to San Antonio to to oversee these investments, but he declined. John was told to move to San Antonio, Texas in 1912. In those days communication came in the mail and presented too many problems.

Her mom, Rose, was reluctant to go. All her friends were in Dayton, and she feared life in San Antonio would be harsh, and there might be Indians to deal with. Her baby Caroline died at the age of two, adding to the pain of leaving Dayton and the support system she had there. A younger sister, (Caroline) was born in Dayton but died in San Antonio from an intestinal flu. Apparently the doctor was an alcoholic, and her mother didn’t know this. He prescribed Calano (adult strength) and died from complications. Wonie became much more like a friend than a daughter in those days, someone for her mom to rely on.

They first house in San Antonio was a rental at 105 West Woodlane Ave. in what is now the Monte Vista Historic District, and would be called home for at least a year and a half, while the new house on 118 West Kings Highway (also in the Monte Vista Historic District) was being built .

It was a beautiful red brick, two story, “Prairie style “ home with four bedrooms, and a maids room and a bath. The home even had a cottage built for Mary Jane and her, a

playhouse if will, with 2 rooms where she would spend time playing with paper dolls, as real ones bored her. Her friend Hollie Ball would make clothes that look like copies from Vogue magazine, while Wonie remained loyal to her paper dolls wearing fashions from Good Housekeeping, a much better look in her mind! Her brothers Jack and Peter also had friends in the neighborhood. They had a Texas pony named “Traveler”. During the First World War they often had soldiers-friends of her mother and dad over to spend the weekend. One of them, Jack Gates from Cincinnati, offered us a box of chocolates if they could name all the Presidents. Needless to say they did and Wonie still remembers them! (That would be up to President Taft!) They were in the house on 118 W. Kings highway until 1919.

In 1920 her Dad sold the house. and they moved to a fruit farm that her Dad rented on the North side, owned by Mr. Seidel. It had a swimming pool. They lived there 2 years and Wonie went to the Country School while her Dad was building the house on 602 Garrety Road.( now a city/ suburb within San Antonio called Terrell Hills) It would have 10 acres and a swimming pool This is a picture of my mom( Carrie Louise or “Dolly”) with her Dad , Gumpy ,in the pool.

After they moved in to the new house she went to Incarnate Word Convent (at that time it was an Elementary, High School, and College, and today the campus of Incarnate Word University) while the boys went to a school run by the Brothers of Mary. Dolly and Bette were born during this period and Wonie learned to drive a car and started dating.

This house held the most of memories of time with her sisters and brothers,( on the corner of Garrety Road and Eldon Roads). They had a cook, (Teedi)and a gardener. There was a Mexican couple (her name was Polly and she washed Dolly and Bette’s clothes). She did not speak English but read the newspaper every day) Wonie remembers a woman from Germany who had a thick accent. One time she had come to the kitchen and remarked how hot it was. The woman told her she was hot too with her “tin shirt “. Wonie went weeks thinking her shirt was the cause of her problems, when she actually had said her shirt was thin. The kids even had horses and a chauffer!

Her mom never drove a car,and never got a license . Nevertheless,Wonie remembers one day when her mom took the car out and couldn’t turn around so she drove 10 miles around a loop to get back to their house.

Sometimes, when her parents went on short trips, she and Jack would board at school. Her sisters Mary Jane ,Dolly and Bette weren’t impressed and chose to go to Alma Heights. They liked it a lot better!

Wonie mostly remembers playing with her brothers, until Mary Jane got older.

She was old enough to pick out my own mothers (Rose ) layette forDolly and helped with the new baby coming home. Growing up Wonie remembers that Mary Jane, although closest to her in age was too feminine for her. Bette was her favorite. She was the youngest and always made her laugh. My mom (Dolly) was very pretty and had a good sense of humor too. Dolly was very beautiful and quite popular. She was shorter than Bette.

It seems that Dolly and Bette did everything together. Their mother dressed them alike and even put them in the same grade even though they were a year and a half apart! It wasn’t until third grade that the Principal said “enough” and they were put in different classes. Bette really became her own person after that as my mom bossed her around too much!

She remembers a time when “Avery”(Florence Avery, a relative of Mary Todd Lincoln and visitor to Dayton on several occasions) was babysitting, because her parents were out of town. They all had gone to a movie where the woman in the movie had a baby and she wasn’t married. The kids, and in particular, my mom wanted to know how that could be .Wonie was trying to stall this situation and called Dr. Wolf (William Sr.)to ask how to explain . He told her where she could get some books that would explain it. My mom was going to ask someone’s date when finally someone came home that defused the situation and the necessary books .Apparently ,my mom told Bette that there wasn’t a Santa Claus the day before Christmas one year. (This is really getting good now.)

When she was younger, in her teens, she was given an allowance, not for spending money but to buy clothes. Her father wanted them all to learn something about money. She didn’t do so well, not able to stay within her budget. For several years all she got for Christmas was her Dad paying off her debts!

She remembers too that her parents didn’t require them to come home at a certain hour but instead to come in and give them a kiss goodnight when they came home.

Bette and Dolly would go to the same college, (Georgian Court) but it was Bette who would graduate . My mom came back to help take care of her Dad though the jury is still out on whether it anything to do with how hard college might have been . It seems Bette worked hard at school and it was easier for my mom until college.

Wonie, Mary Jane and Dolly would all take turns staying with their Dad . Each of them would take it upon themselves to teach him something new. Wonie remembers that it was possibly Mary Jane who took their Dad to dancing lessons so he could enter a “dance till you drop” competition.! Just the thing to keep him busy.

Now San Antonio had begun the process of having a Coronation, as a conclusion to the debutant season,where your family presented you to society. You did not ask to be included but were chosen. Wonie, (1930)Bette,(1948) and, Dolly(1942) were not only part of this tradition, they were all chosen as the Queen. Apparently you were the Duchess the one year and from that group a Queen was chosen for the next year. My mom, Dolly, was referred to as the “uncrowned queen”, as there was a war going on and the didn’t have the Coronation that year. There are pictures though and my mother’s dress was made from the train of one of Wonies dresses!

Here are Wonie, and her brother Jack (John Jr.) in Coronation outfits. He was her Duke, when she was a Duchess.

Her is my mom’s Coronation photo! You were also expected to buy the dress and have big parties, so it was rather expensive! The organizers even told you who to invite! Mary Jane was not the least bit interested and said she rather have the money! They still have the Coronation today.

When Mary Jane was in college, Grandmother Kuntz (Molly) came for a visit. She had a friend in the travel business who had suggested that she take the older girls on a little trip. The year was 1933. They went on a boat (ship) to California for a couple of weeks and then on to Honolulu. While on the boat some friends suggested they not get off in Honolulu, as there was a trial going on that compromise the visit. Instead they said to stay on, as the boat was going to the Orient! They had no passports, and the son of a doctor friend was the only person who could verify them as American citizens! It worked! They went with Molly to China, Japan, Hong Kong, and Manila and on the way back. The trip took about 2 months! Two years later (1935) Mary Jane and Wonie went around the world! Mary Jane talked her Dad into giving her the money and then took it out of Wonie’s savings! Wonie didn’t mind though. She said they had a ball!

They left from San Francisco and went to China for a week, Hong Kong 2 weeks, Singapore, Manila, India (But it was to hot to go inland), Suez Canal, China Sea, Egypt and then Italy for several weeks . They came back on an Italian ship.. Total cost around $2000/for 2months. I asked why my mom and Bette didn’t go and she reminded me they were too young, Wonie was in her mid 20’s. When they arrived home they found their mother was ailing. She had a terrible operation and never recovered. Wonie stopped everything when she got sick, going to the hospital to care for her. My mom was (16), Wonie was twelve years older, (28) when their mom died.

Rose Kuntz died in the spring on April 29, 1936. She died of colon cancer at the age of 54. Wonie remembers her mother as being someone everyone loved. She treated everyone with dignity, of the same worth. Everyone loved her. She was absolutely the sweetest person, gentle and trusting, and very smart. When she died people from all walks of life came to her funeral. It seemed everyone would miss her.

Her oldest daughter(Wonie) would continue to take care of those around her. It occurs to me that this would of been expected of her. I wonder how she coped. I wonder if anyone ever gave her support. My mom, Carrie (Dolly) was younger and looked to her oldest sister for help . That summer her Dad took all of the kids to Dayton and went fishing with his brothers. Mary Jane and Wonie took Dolly and Bette to Washington and New York to show them the sights .Their Dad joined them there and brought Dottie and Pete Graves along and they took a boat back to Texas.

The ship stopped in Florida and Bob Huston met us there.

Now for a period of time after her mother’s death, her father John (Gumpy) needed help, so Wonie moved back into the house . She was 29 years old. Wonie had met and fell in love with Bob Huston. The story goes that on the day he asked for her hand, a rattlesnake bit him on the property, but that didn’t deter him at all. In August of 1937 Wonie married Bob Huston. Her three sisters and sister-inlaw Kay and (daughter)Patsy Kuntz were attendants in her wedding. They had a garden wedding at the house and she still remained a resident, helping to take care of her family.

In those days, if you married someone that wasn’t Catholic the church would not let you use their facilities. It didn’t matter though, as the house was plenty big. After Wonie left, Mary Jane took over and her dad sold the house in 1939. Mary Jane married in the fall of 1939 and then Dolly (Mom) took over. By that time they had moved to the St. Anthony Hotel. (First, in the old part and then into an apartment in the new wing). After Dolly married Pete Graves, Bette took over.

Wonie usually managed to get to San Antonio about once a year, sometimes with Bob when he was on a business trip. Just before the holidays in 1949, her Dad married Edith Wolf (their doctor’s widow) Shortly after that Dad and Edith moved into the Bushnell Apartments in Monte Vista. Gumpy and Edith were very generous about allowing Wonie, Dolly etc. to visit, have meals, and get togethers. Sometimes Wonie would bring friends home after a dance and she knew she awakened her parents, but they never complained. She remembered one time her Dad came down and wound all the clocks, hinting it was time to go. They never knew how many would be invited for dinner, but always had plenty. Her Dad always carved the meat or served plates.

My mother knew her first husband in high school. His name was Dick Callen and they would marry in 1943, just before he went to fly B-24 Bombers in World War 11. My mom was 23. Wonie remembers that Gumpy and Bette went to Nevada to their wedding ,as my mother wanted to get married before he went to Euroope. He went Missing in Action/Presumed Dead in 1944. He did not know my mom was pregnant. My mom waited months , over a year ,before she could believe it. She miscarried three months later. (baby Joe)

Her first cousin, Peter Graves,was also a pilot in Europe and researched what happened to Dick Callen but to no avail. Mom and Pete thus became better friends, eventually falling in love. The story goes that when she told her Dad who she wanted to marry, he threw up. ..probably not the reaction she was hoping for. My Mom and Dad married June 7, 1946 at St. Mary’s Chapel, (now Our lady of Grace) .The had to have permission from the Pope (Pius the12th) to get married, as they were first cousins. They were the greatest parents, I wish they were still around.

However, Wonie is. She was 104 years old this year and I feel blessed to be alive the same time she is. She has always been someone who did everything in moderation. She never seemed to let anything get the best of her . She has remained in control. While my mom and dad had issues with stress and alcohol that would eventually end with their early deaths; Wonie took good enough care of herself to not let this happen. Nothing has impressed me more in life than that kind of mentoring. She has given me hope and I brag about her to everyone I know.

I love you Wonie

Elizabeth (Graves ) Caris, 2/2012 ай George Kuntz 2022