Sunday, March 29, 2015

Amelia O. Primas 1891 - 1961

Amelia O. Primas:  My Paternal Great-Aunt “Millie”

According to the Primas family Bible, Amelia O. Primas was born 22 January 1891 in Chicago, Illinois.  She was the third child and only daughter born to Paul and Emma (Stroschein) Primas.  It is possible that she was named for Paul’s mother Amalia.  The Chicago City Directory for 1891 shows her father Paul listed as a Tailor.  I always knew her as “Millie” and have never found her middle name in any records or documents.

Millie had one older brother and three younger brothers.  Paul and Emma’s first child died before Millie and her younger siblings were born.  Between Millie’s birth and that of her younger brother the family moved to Menomonie in Dunn County, Wisconsin. 

Why did they move to Wisconsin?  It appears that Paul Primas’ uncle and godfather Benjamin Petrich was living in Menomonie at that time with his family.  Perhaps they were lonely or struggling.  Paul and Emma had no other family in the USA at that time.  When Millie’s brother Otto is born in 1893, Paul is listed as a laborer on the birth certificate.  When Millie’s youngest brother is born, Paul is listed on the birth certificate as a Lumberman.  In that area of Wisconsin there were several large lumber companies at the time.

By the time of the 1900 US Census, the family is back in Chicago.  Millie is enumerated on 12 Jun 1900 as Amelia, 9 years old with birth as Jan 1891 in Illinois.  She is in the household of her father Paul Primas (occupation = janitor) along with her mother Emma, and brothers Fred W age 11, Otto age 7, Waldemar age 5 and Oscar age 2.  They are living at 156 N Kedzie Avenue in Chicago.  The census shows that her parents have been married for 15 years, and immigrated in 1887.

1900 US Census: Paul Primas Head of Household

Two days after Christmas in 1906 Millie’s father Paul died.  The cause of death on the death certificate showed Chronic Nephritis.  He was 46 years old and listed his occupation as carpenter.  Millie was 15 years old.  Her youngest brother was 9 years old.  Paul was buried in Concordia Cemetery in River Forest, Illinois.

It took me a while to find the family in the 1910 US Census because the indexer interpreted the name as Thomas, not Primas.  I was able to find the family in the 1910 Chicago City Directory so I knew they should be in Chicago.  I used the address from the Directory to find the Enumeration District using Stephen Morse’s One Step process (  Then I had to page through the Census to find the family.  When I found them, I saw the name as Primas easily, but then that is my name too!

On 15 April 1910 in the US Census for Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, Millie is listed as Emilie, age 19, single, working as a clerk for a telegraph company.  The head of the household is her mother Emma, age 45, widowed along with the other children:  Friedrich, age 21, operator at a telegraph company;  Otto, age 17, a door boy at a department store; Waldemar, age 15 and Oskar, age 12.  They are living at 417 N Sawyer in Chicago.

1910 US Census: Emma Primas Head of Household

Millie is in the 1914 Chicago Directory as Amelia, a clerk, living at the same address as Emma and Fred.

1914 Chicago Directory detail

Three of Millie’s brothers were drafted and served in France in World War I from 1917 to 1919. Fortunately they all came home but I imagine Millie had to work to help the family during that time.

Postcard sent to Millie from her brother Frank in the Army

On 8 January 1920 in the US Census for Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, Millie is listed as Amelia A. Primas, age 28, single, with “none” listed for occupation.  The head of the household is her mother Emma, age 54, widow, no occupation.  Others in the household include all her brothers:  Fred W., age 31, single, a department manager for a furnace company; Otto M. J., age 26, single, salesman for an ice cream company; Waldemar F., age 24, single, salesman for an ice cream company; and Oscar R., age 22, single, salesman for an ice cream company.  Also in the household are Edward Stroschein, age 65, widower, brother to Emma Primas, born in Posen, Germany, arrived in US in 1917 with occupation listed as carpenter in a department store.  Edward’s son Ernest, age 14, single, born in England, is also in the house.  They are all living at 133 N Long Street in Chicago.

1920 US Census:  Emma Primas Head of Household

I know from other research that Edward Stroschein had emigrated from Germany to Australia.  He had been living there for many years prior to his arrival in the US in November of 1917.  He had a wife who had died there in 1908 and older children still living in Australia.  One of his sons died in July 1917 during World War I in Ypres, Belgium.  His son Ernest never returned to Australia to live after arriving in the US in 1917.  He remained close with the Primas family.

On 17 August 1928 Millie’s mother Emma died at the age of 63 years at home in Maywood.  Cause of death was determined to be breast cancer.  Emma was buried in Mount Emblem Cemetery in Elmhurst, Illinois.  The death certificate indicated she had the breast cancer for four years.  At that time there was not much treatment available for the disease.

Emma Primas with sons Otto, Oscar and Frank circa 1927

In the US Census dated 15 April 1930 for Proviso Township, Maywood Village in Cook County Illinois, Millie is enumerated as Millicent A. Primas, age 39, single, sister to the head of household and nothing listed for occupation.  The head of the household is her brother Otto M., age 36, single, a chauffeur (driver) for an ice cream company.  It also indicates that the house is owned with a value of $15,000.  Others in the household are:  Frank W [Waldemar], age 34, single, brother to head of household, and a clerk for an ice cream company; Louise J. Piel, roomer, age 69, widow and her daughter Marie, age 24 years, single, working as a bookkeeper for a wholesale druggist.  They live at 217 N. Second Ave in Maywood.

1930 US Census:  Otto Primas Head of Household

Two interesting items concerning this document:  Otto would marry Marie Piel in 1931 and Millie was arriving on the ship MS Milwaukee in New York on 15 April 1930, having departed from Hamburg Germany on 4 April 1930.  Family recollections indicate that she had gone to visit family in the Posen area of Germany (formerly Prussia) where her parents had been born.  Stories also suggest she had traveled there around 1919 with her mother as well, but I have no documentation for that.

Ship Listing for Mille's arrival in New York 1930

I also had trouble finding Millie in the 1940 Census.  I found all her brothers but not her.  I knew she was in Villa Park at the time, so I went to the 1940 Census for Villa Park, read the district descriptions and choose the one I thought she would be in.  I was correct, however once again the transcription of her surname was not correct!  No wonder I could not find her.

1940 US Census:  Amelia O. Primas Head of Household

On 21 April 1940, Millie is enumerated as Amelia O Primas, head of household at 47 S Villa Avenue, Villa Park in DuPage County, Illinois.  She is listed as 49 years old, single with a sixth grade education.  She is the operator of an ice cream shop.  It also indicates she was living in the same place (Villa Park) in 1935, but not same house.  At the same address and in the same household, there is Cora Sides, 69 year old widow and her daughter-in-law, Hazel Sides, age 38 years, also a widow.  Hazel is listed as a saleslady in a confectionary.  Both are recorded as living in Maywood in 1935. 

I knew that Millie and Hazel Sides were friends.  I found on the 1930 US Census, they lived around the corner from each other in Maywood.  Perhaps they also both belonged the Eastern Star together.

Hazel Sides and Millie, Eastern Star Event Mar 1949
Millie and niece Marilyn Primas,
Eastern Star Event Mar 1949

The building at 47 S Villa Avenue is a commercial building with several store fronts, a precursor to what we call today a “strip mall”.  I am told Millie lived in the back of the ice cream shop.  Later she moved to a house at 209 S Yale Avenue in Villa Park with her brother Fred.  They were the only siblings not married.  Fred died about three months before Millie.  Hazel Sides also lived at the house, perhaps to help care for Millie.

47 S. Villas Avenue, Villa Park, Illinois, circa 2010

Millie’s brothers established the Primas Brothers Ice Cream Company in 1934 at the 47 S. Villa Avenue location.  The ice cream was made in the back of the shop.  They started the business with a five-year contract with the CCC camps south and west of Chicago.  There was also a route that included deliveries to the Brookfield Zoo.  In the front of the building was a small ice cream store which their sister Millie managed.  The manufacturing of the ice cream was moved to 105 W. St Charles Road in Villa Park about 1940-1941. In 1943 the name was changed to Medorose Ice Cream Company. The business remained at the same location until 1959 when it was sold to Schoeps Ice Cream from Madison, Wisconsin.  All the Primas siblings lived in Villa Park while they ran the business and retired when they sold it.  

Medorose Ice Cream Company in Villa Park, Illinois.  The Primas family business.

Besides owning a business together, the Primas family spent a lot of time together.   I have many pictures of family events showing everyone together.

Primas Family, April 1948, probably Easter Sunday.

Millie and her niece Marilyn circa 1956.
They were the only Primas females of their generations.

Villa Park ladies:  Millie Primas, Hazel Sides,
Rose Dreckman, Hazel Primas, late 1940s.

My mother told me that Millie had a double mastectomy due to breast cancer before 1952.  At that time radical mastectomy was the recognized treatment for breast cancer. 

Millie and her great-niece Donna Primas in 1956.

Millie died at Westlake Hospital in Westlake, Illinois on 30 March 1961 at the age of 70 years.

AMELIA PRIMAS – Villa Park Argus, Press Publications, Mar 31, 1961
     Funeral services for Amelia Primas, 70, of 209 S Yale av., Villa Park, will be held Saturday, April 1 at 9:30am in the Johnson Memorial Home, 305 S. Princeton av.  
     The Rev. Harvey C. Lord, pastor of the Christian Church of Villa Park will officiate and interment will be in Mount Emblem cemetery.
     A 28 year resident of Villa Park, Miss Primas died Thursday Mar 30 at Westlake Hospital.  She was born in Chicago.
     Miss Primas was a 50-year member of the Order of the Eastern Star.  She was a charter member of Cleveland Chapter 698 and for 20 years belonged to Villa Park Chapter 963.

1961-03-31 Chicago Tribune (IL)  
Amelia O. Primas of 209 S. Yale avenue, Villa Park, beloved sister of Otto and Frank Primas. Services Saturday, 9:30 a.m., at Johnson Memorial home, 305 S. Princeton, Villa Park. Interment Mount Emblem. Charter member of Cleveland chapter, No. 696, and Villa Park chapter, No. 953, O. E. S.; 50 year member of Eastern Star. TE 4-6656.

Being one of three sisters with no brothers, I am not sure how Millie felt about being the only girl in the family.  She probably had babysitting responsibilities as well as household chores as a young and teenage girl.  The family moved a lot, from rental to rental, especially after the death of her father.  Her brothers went to work early in life to help support the family.  I found no evidence that her mother ever worked outside the home.  Millie may have had a close relationship with her mother and was fortunate to go to visit her parents’ families in Germany, although it may have been a little bit intimidating traveling alone. I am not sure if she learned to speak German at home.  She seemed to have many friends and was active in the Order of Eastern Star.  She was close to her family and appeared to have a good relationship with her sisters-in-law, as well as her niece and nephews.  Perhaps others in the Primas family have memories of her to share.