The enduring love of Cornell Valentines

Karen Wils photo
George and Bertha Rose circa 1920.

Karen Wils photo George and Bertha Rose circa 1920.

ESCANABA — A U.P. love story is a strong and enduring thing!

Scarlett O’Hara met Rhett Butler surrounded by the beauty of a southern plantation. Laura Ingalls met Almanzo Wilder on the wild, windswept prairie.

Love knows no bounds. This is a story about a Cornell Valentine.

He came from the wide-open fields of Kansas. A farmer’s son, he loved the soil and growing things, especially corn. The early 1900s weren’t good times for Kansas farmers. There were dust storms and poor growing seasons.

He needed new fertile ground to till, so he followed his older brother and sister to the untilled dirt of Upper Michigan. Land for sale was abundant in the U.P. after the lumber barons had stripped off the virgin timber.

Northern Michigan was a booming place then. It smelled of sawdust and lumberjacks. Train whistles echoed in its cold clean air. He knew there would be many obstacles for a farmer in this semi-settled land of big trees and rivers.

White pine stumps, limestone rocks and long cold winters had to be overcome. Still the U.P. had the lure of opportunity and wild beauty.

He came to Delta County to make his new life. He purchased land near the Escanaba River and near his sister and brother-in-law’s homestead.

In awe, he gazed at the dense cedar swamps, the big maples, and the bouncing, bubbling waters. Streams, brooks and rivers were everywhere!

The water table was good here and the only dust blowing around was sawdust.

The ambitious young man set to work immediately clearing his land. In the evenings, he would bunk at his sister’s house until he could build at his place.

She was born in the land of the maple leaf, “Kebec” (Quebec) as she called it. Her family moved to Gladstone when she was a child. Her father came to work in the granary.

She was an adventurous and outgoing young woman. The rambunctious U.P. lifestyle suited her just fine.

Delta County was changing and growing, and she meant to grow and change with it. She became a school teacher. The education of the children of lumberjacks, farmers and fishermen became her life.

She taught on the Stonington Peninsula and then out to the traveling little schoolhouse between Kingsley and Cornell. In the Cornell area, two worlds collided. Some of her students were sons and daughters of mill owners and workers and some were sons and daughters of traditional-living native peoples.

She enjoyed recess as much as her students did, playing in the woods and splashing barefoot into Hunter’s Brook.

The school mistress stayed with a farm couple who lived on the edge of a beautiful sugar bush.

Spring came and the smell of soggy snow and rebirth settled over the U.P. The farm couple went to work tapping their maple trees. To celebrate this sweet season they invited friends, relatives and neighbors over for a maple sugar social.

The sap, smoke, horses and laughing children made the day most enjoyable.

Then he came to the party, walking up the trail from the river. He was tall with broad shoulders. She heard someone say that he was the farmer’s wife’s brother. Another big dumb Kansas farm boy, she thought.

The first time she heard him speak she nearly laughed out loud! He talked so slow and southern. She laughed again when she heard him call at snowshoe hare a jackrabbit.

Then her impish brown eyes met his serious pale blue eyes and something special happened.

The rest is history.

That is the love story of my grandparents, George and Bertha (Martin) Rose. They spent over 50 Valentine’s Days together.

Their grandchildren and great- grandchildren still play beneath the maple trees and splash along the river.

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Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.

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