Sunday, June 25, 2017

My Gower Grandfather, June 25, 2017

I have a lot of great memories,
but I can't imagine anything more exciting
than the life I live now.
~Rob Lowe

This month of June is the month of Father's Day, and brings to my mind a few important fellows in our family.

My Gower Grandfather. I am thinking first of all of my grandfather Leroy Ertin Gower (1899-1974), who was born in Timbo, Arkansas, 118 years ago today. Of my four grandparents, he died the youngest at age 75. He was a stern fellow who made a huge change in his life when he and his wife Nola moved from the little town of Okemah, Oklahoma to the city of San Diego, California in 1942. He was born and spent the first 25 years of his life in the hills of northern Arkansas, which was also the home of his wife Nola Shannon, and was where they were married in 1921.

Leroy M. "Babe" Gower and Daughter Vergie
He was named after his uncle Leroy Monroe "Babe" Gower who lived next door to his parents when Leroy was born, in the community of Sylamore, a few miles west of Mountain View, Arkansas. This first picture from about 1940, shows Leroy's namesake, his uncle Leroy "Babe" Gower, and Babe's special needs daughter Vergie Gower.

Leroy's oldest brother Alford Gower died at just 4 months old, 5 years before Leroy was born. The second child of the family, Leroy's older brother Lloyd W. Gower, died at just 18 years old in WWI when Leroy was just 15. Combine those experiences with the difficulty of making a living on the family farm in the early 20th century in Northern Arkansas, and you get an early life for Leroy that was hard and trying. It explains a lot about his stern demeanor, his serious approach to life and his simple lifestyle.

Leroy Ertin Gower
In the 1910 US Census, as a child of 10 years, Leroy was listed as a "farm laborer" and a "wage earner." He was also listed as "able to read and write," so it appears he had attended school for some (probably short) period of time in his early life. Even so, his life as a laborer and wage earner defined him from the time he was a boy. This second picture shows my grandfather Leroy Gower in work overalls (appropriately enough) probably in the 1930s.

When the family did move to California, Leroy came first in the summer of 1942, with son Hank and his young wife Starlene. Leroy had to come first to get work and be a wage earner before wife Nola and daughters Maida and Vicki could come to San Diego, which they did in December of that year.

The Gowers had been small time farmers in Stone County, Arkansas for several generations. Making the switch to life in Southern California was obviously a big change for them, a "sea change" in how they saw the world and approached life. Leroy and Nola did have their Baptist church connection which was one familiar thing for them during their transition to life in the city. There were some tough times as they settled into life in Southern California. A few years after they moved to San Diego their 15 year old daughter got pregnant, then became a teenage bride, an incident that created great strain on the family. But through it all they endured as Leroy and Nola made a good life for themselves on Lynne Street in what was then called East San Diego.

Leroy has a rich Gower heritage that stretches back nearly 4 centuries in North America. I have discovered that finding family links that reach into the early 19th century and occasionally into the 18th century is not difficult. My grandfather Gower's lineage, however, can be traced back to the early 17th century in Colonial America.

A key person in his lineage was Abell Gower (1640-1689), the first of our Gower ancestors to be born on American soil. Born in 1640 in the town of Henrico, Virginia near Richmond, he is the earliest American birth among all our known ancestors.

The year 1640 was 135 years prior to the Revolutionary War, long before the declaration of Independence and the creation of "The United States." In 1640 the total population of Colonial America was only 26,600. (1,500 times that number of people live today in California alone!)

He is described in The Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (page 245) this way: "Gower, Abell was a justice of Henrico County, Virginia from 1679 till his death in 1689; sheriff in 1681, and a member of the house of burgesses in 1679. He married Jane, daughter of Edward Hatcher, of Henrico. He appears to have been a son of Abell Gower of Boulton, county Gloucester, England, esquire."

I am thankful for the life of my grandfather Leroy Gower and the rich and wonderful heritage we can claim because of him.

Joe Paul Harris (1950-2009). I am also thinking this month of my wife Cindy's brother Joe Paul Harris, who was born June 23, 1950. He spent his early life in San Diego before moving to Naknek, Alaska where he lived for about 20 years until he died in June, 2009. 

The accompanying picture shows Joe Paul at Christmas 2008 in San Diego, standing behind his mother Paula Harris, with his aunt Juanita Eeds on the left. His sister Cindy Shepard and nephew Nathan Shepard are on the right.

Kyle Sauvage. One other important June birthday to mention today: Kyle Sauvage, who will turn 12 years old tomorrow, June 26. Kyle is the younger son of James and Kelly Shepard Sauvage, and the grandson of Jackie Perry and my brother Gary Shepard. James lives with his parents and his brother Nate in Weatherford, Texas. 

This final picture, taken in March, shows Kyle Sauvage while at spring training in Arizona with a ball signed by San Diego Padres' Will Myers.
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Steve Shepard

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