|Birth: ||Feb. 7, 1911|
|Death: ||Feb. 23, 1970|
Born at home on 449 NE Jackson Street in the 7th Ward of Milwaukee, Wisconsin at 11:30 pm and delivered by a midwife L. E. Myers, his father was 39, days away from turning 40 and his mother was about 35. The Midwife was Lydia Elizabeth (nee Powers) Myers who resided at 515 Van Buren at the time of the birth. How she was associated with the baby's parents is not known.
The birth certificate contains many errors, the greatest being the last name registered as "Lanigen" on the state level and "Lavigen" on the county level. Although his intended given birth name was Edward Theodore Lavigne, later evidence when he was age 9 indicated he did not go by Lavigne for much of his life, but rather "Edward Fleming" using his mother's assumed maiden name. As the "legitimacy" box was not filled out on his birth record, and given his preference at a very young age (and while living with his father) to go by his mother's name, it is assumed his parents were not married at his birth.
Bob is believed to have had an older sibling, who his wife Nada recalled him saying was a sister; Nada uncertainly thought he may have said this sibling's name was "Eunice" in her recollections 60+ years after the fact. The fact that there was actually an older sibling is verified on Bob's birth certificate where it was stated his mother was the parent of two children now living at his birth. As his father's whereabouts are known into 1909, but not 1910, it is most-likely this was a half-sibling only related only through his mother as it does not appear his parents would have known each other long enough to have had two children together by the time of Bob's birth in early 1911.
Ted Lavigne listed his occupation as a locomotive fireman on Bob's birth certificate and in the 1911 Milwaukee City Directory, he is listed as a janitor. Additional city directory evidence indicates at least Bob's father left Milwaukee within a year of his birth and apparently drifted for a while. It appears Ted Lavigne was in St Paul, Minnesota in 1913 again working as a janitor per the directory, then it appears Ted may have gone to Eveleth, Minnesota by 1914-15, before returning to a suburb of St. Paul (White Bear Lake) about the same time, however, largely his whereabouts are unknown through about 1917-1918.
Between 1917-1919 Bob's father arrived in Detroit, Michigan (his death certificate in 1923 said he lived there 6 years = 1917, he first appears in the city directories in 1919). Its not know if Bob was initially brought with his father or sent for after his father became established in the area, the latter being more likely. Approximately at this time a photograph was taken of father and son - they both looked happy. Exactly when, where, why or how Bob's mother disappeared from the family unit is unknown. It is strongly believed she died sometime in that same time frame of 1917-1919, however, details have yet to be found to validate such a claim.
In January 1920 on the US Federal Census Bob's father Ted was living as a roomer in a boarding house in Detroit and listed as a widower; Bob is not with him. Was Bob staying elsewhere at that point, maybe with unknown maternal relatives? It is known he was not with any of Theodore's extended family when the census was taken that year. You would assume if he was with his father Ted in the rooming house he would have been enumerated, but he was not.
On October 11, 1920 Bob's father Theodore remarried one Edith (Dewstow) Thornton - a documented cruel, twice divorced seamstress of the Detroit-area. On January 22, 1921, when he was 9 years old the Wayne County Sheriff in Detroit was approached by the new stepmother of Bob, "Mrs. Edith Lavigne". Bob was going by "Edward Fleming, alias Lavigne" at this point in his life despite the fact he was 9 years old and living with his father. Why, at such a young age was he preferably going by his mother's maiden name is not clear - was it his choice or was he born illegitimately? A marriage record between his parents has yet to be located. In his adult years Bob refused to talk about his parents, only vaguely and casually mentioning them here and there. One instance, in a letter to his daughter-in-law Kay dated May 8, 1965 he had stated he chose to use his mother's maiden name.
On January 22, 1921 Edith immediately signed over custody of Edward/Bob to the Wayne County Sheriff, even indicating she wished to waive the rights of a hearing over the matter, however, the county proceeded to schedule a hearing anyway. The stepmother cited her reasons for "riding herself of the boy" was because he was a "neurotic child" noting that he "would not behave", "did queer and odd things" and would "bring all sorts of things home". In the same record Edward is described as malnurished and neglected. Wayne County placed him in juvenile detention for more than two months awaiting a hearing in late March to determine his fate.
In early March 1921 Bob, age at 10, was subjected to an IQ test and it was deemed he had the intelligence of a 7 and 1/2 year old. Given that he obviously did not have a proper home / upbringing or education, it seems logical he would have been behind in his development. The IQ rating he had was sufficient enough to rate him a "medium grade moron" and to admit him to "The Michigan Home and Training School as a feeble-minded person. In the same letter to his daughter in-law Kay many years later in 1965, at age 53 Bob said he hated his father to this day. No doubt given his childhood fate to "The Michigan Home" we can assume his deep hatred came from the neglect he endured before and during the custody matter.
Prior to the hearing further attempts were made to contact his stepmother Edith but she refused to be "bothered", rather reiterating to the county that she "wished to be rid of the boy" as documented in the paperwork. Theodore, the father, was found at work in March 1921 before the hearing where he agreed to attend it. Its surprising that Ted seemed largely uninvolved or interested in his son's custody or moreover matters pertaining to his son's fate. It is not known whether or not the hearing took place, and if it did, we do not know whether or not Bob's father did actually attend as records are not available regarding this matter. By the end of March 1921 paperwork was filed and Edward was sent to Lapeer. Theodore would die just two years later of a heart attack on July 11, 1923 when Bob was only 12. The stepmother Edith promptly claimed Ted's estate valued at $130 and didn't list any survivors for Ted in his obituary beyond herself.
From at least 1921 to 1930 Bob (then Edward Fleming) lived and grew to manhood at The Michigan Home. It is unimaginable what life was like for him - no loved ones, no holidays, harsh, cold, and rough. While he was there he did learn to read, write and spell and developed beautiful handwriting as well as a trade or two. On the 1930 Federal Census he was listed as a helper in the pipe shop, a trade he would use five or so years later in Oregon. It is assumed in his youth he first developed his enjoyment of drawing, something he did very well, in a comic book style. He also had a passion for writing poetry indictive in his letters of later years.
Bob can be found at The Michigan Home as late as age 19 on the 1930 Census, however, by 1935 he had found his way west. Its not known for sure when or how he left Lapeer, however, the probate guardianship record stated he "escaped." Exactly when or how he escaped has yet to been identified. It is interesting, but probably only a coincidence, that that main road through Lapeer was "Oregon Road" and Oregon would be Bob's final destination for the second chapter of his life. It was in this time, between 1930-1935 that informally changed his name to "Robert F." or "Robert Frank Fleming" - no doubt to leave behind the dreary life of his early years as "Edward" and perhaps out of fear of being placed back in "The Home."
One can only image the adventure and uncertainty of the trek west in the early 1930s for a man in his very early 20s during The Great Depression. Bob provides us one small glipse in another letter he wrote in the first half of 1964 to his son Gary where he indicated in his years just "before I met your mother" he had spent some on the Stillwater River in Montana where he was training with a fur trapper but decided it wasn't the life for him as he hated to hurt the animals.
ADULT LIFE AND OREGON
According to a couple sources, Bob stood 5'8" and weighed between 130 - 165 lbs during his adult life. He had "blue-black" hair and blue eyes. In 1935 or 1936 he drifted into Oregon during the height of the Great Depression, a true hobo that even had a hobo pack per his former wife Nada, as he continued to seek out work. He ended up in Rose Lodge, Oregon where he worked in the Rose Lodge Store for Pat and Gladys Gregory, she being his future wife's first cousin. He became acquainted with Bill and Eva Powell, they being the parents of Gladys. Eva, Gladys's mother, was a paternal aunt of Nada, his future wife. Eva and Bill really liked Bob and encouraged him to come to Salem, Oregon for additional employment opportunities through them.
By November 1936 Bob (thanks to some matching from Eva, had met 16-year-old Nada Rickard while doing some house upkeep at her grandmother Hannah Rickard's home located at 2256 N. Church Street in Salem, Oregon. They had dated for about a year before eloping, running off to marry by an impromtu service performed by Minister Joseph Keating around mid-day on December 31, 1937 in Vancouver, Washington. Nada's first cousin Ross Powell (Glady's brother, Eva & Bill's son) and his wife Eunice were their witnesses. The marriage lasted until they separated on November 26, 1943 and they eventually were divorced on March 7, 1945. During their marriage they were the parents of four children, two girls then two boys.
20 YEARS OF DRIFTING AND RETURN TO OREGON
After the divorce Bob lived first in Oregon City then drifted between California, Portland and Seattle during the rest of the 1940s. From there, he drifted around the west coast, the Rocky Mountain states, the Southern States and even living in Brooklyn, New York for a time, then back west before finally settling in Baltimore, Maryland by 1963. In Baltimore he kept residence with a lady friend he considered his "common law" wife, named Carolyn. He also found companionship in a dog he named Lamb Chop. About 1964, by Carolyn's encouragement, Bob tried to reestablish contact with his then-grown children by first phoning their maternal Uncle Jim Rickard to get contact information. After about a year of correspondence between 1964-1965 Bob returned to Oregon in the summer of 1965 to try to establish a relationship with his children. The surviving letters he wrote 1964-65 have proven to be priceless in painting a picture of Bob's character and some events in his life that he otherwise was tight-lipped to share verbally during the course of his life. Unfortunately, strained by his drinking problem and too many years passing by he could not connect with his children and was encouraged by his kids who bought him a Greyhound bus ticket to return to Baltimore in mid-fall 1965.
Bob's last years were lonely and an alcohol problem he had struggled with for many years soon consumed him. Upset and impaired by his drinking, he wrote an unkind letter to his son Gary that resulted in the severing all contact with his children around 1966. Bob passed away 5 years later on Monday, February 23, 1970 at 7 pm at home in his apartment located at 1802 St. Paul Street, Baltimore at the age of 59 and 16 days. His children were not notified of his passing, so the Baltimore City Health Department donated his remains to the Anatomy Board of Maryland. Their practice is cremation after 1 to 1 1/2 years of study, then cremated remains are interred at a location in Sykesville, Maryland.
Bob Fleming was a very talented man; A happy-go-lucky jokester, a jack-of-trades who had beautiful handwriting and enjoyed comic book style drawing and writing poetry. He also enjoyed baseball and had a soft spot for pets, particularly dogs. It seems very evident with such a rough beginning to his life, he always struggled to find himself and to feel comfortable in a place to call home. Years of pain from his childhood seemed to haunt him his entire life so he couldn't stay in one place for long. Sadly, his addiction to cigarettes and alcohol took hold in his young adulthood only to consume him in his later years and resulted in his wasting away. His paternal grandson Brian, with his passion for genealogy, has made it an ambition to document and tell as complete and accurate story of Bob's life so he may be known and remembered by his descendants and anyone who cares.
At the time of his passing he was survived by daughters Rosalie M. (Doug) Hall and Barbara J. (Bill) Durig of Salem; Sons SSgt Robert E. Fleming, USAF and Gary E. (Kay) Fleming, all of Salem, Oregon and 8 grandchildren: Billy, Tim, Kara, Brenna, Velvet, Angela, Ed and Lindi. Later 3 more grandchildren would be born for a total of 11: Tyrene, Brian and Melinda.
Written by his Grandson Brian - Updated 2/7/2014 - Find-a-Grave Contributor #41712388
Theodore Joseph Lavigne (1871 - 1923)
Julia Fleming (1876 - ____)
Nada Opal Rickard Lewallen (1920 - 2009)*
Barbara Jean Fleming Durig (1940 - 2011)*
Anatomy Board Gravesite
Plot: Unclaimed remains incinerated in 1970 and interred in mass about 1974 by the Maryland Anatomy Board.
Created by: In Remembrance
Record added: Apr 15, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 68418552