|Birth: ||Apr. 15, 1883|
|Death: ||Feb. 28, 1974|
This page is graciously sponsored by Edda Meinikat, who helped in a bit of translation as well. Thanks, Ms. Edda!
My great grandmother was born Susan Mabel Schell to Jonas and Susan (Köenig/King) Schell, in Union County PA, one of 13 surviving children on a farm run by German-descent parents who were part of the ethnic group known as the "Pennsylvania Dutch".
At age 19, Susan married Edward Aaron Meckley, who deserted her after the birth of their daughter, Fay Schell Meckley (later Romberger), my grandma, my dad's mom.
Susan and her daughter Fay later moved to Allentown, Lehigh County, PA where Susan worked as a domestic. She ended up marrying her employer, William J. Dietrich, with whom she had her second child, June Dietrich Decker. In marrying, she became a stepmom to four young people, Dietrich's children from his first marriage, William J. Dietrich, Jr., Ruth, Naomi, and Esther.
At a ripe old age, Susan died after a fall in which she broke her hip and then contracted pneumonia.
Those are the bare bones with which to remember her. It's more important to remember her essence and character. She was an old school Pennsylvania Dutch lady who never sat still. Her hands were never idle between cleaning and cooking. She never drove, and happily walked everywhere. She was a thin woman with sturdy legs. Though her life was not an easy one, her disposition was almost supernaturally cheerful and jolly. Perhaps her constant activity and buoyant spirit are what enabled her to live almost to age 91.
She spoke fluent Pennsylvania Dutch (a bastardized German dialect), and even when speaking English her accent was very apparent. I can remember how she spoke, and it was music to my ears, the lilting tones and funny mispronounciations. Even her writing in English was rough in a dear way. She gave her grandson (my dad) a massive Bible when he was young and inscribed it "Gilbert, you have always wanted for good, and you will find it right here in this Book." An older cousin of mine remembers her love for my dad, and how she often called him a "schöene, beene Junge" -roughly, a "beautiful legs boy". If you say it aloud, it's very mellifluous, "Shay-neh bay-neh yoong-eh".
It's funny to recognize that she and her family spoke their version of German, that her daughter only spoke it at home, that her grandchildren heard it only at home occasionally, and that by my generation, I had to take German in school - silly, when I could have learned it at home with no effort, had there not been self-inflicted societal self-consciousness about German being a "peasant language" in Pennsylvania. But it went deeper than that. Nannie grew up in the country where everyone spoke the local version of German, but her daughter, Fay, my grandma, was a teen living in one of Pennsylvania's biggest cities when World War I broke out. Speaking German back then brought your patriotism into question. Still, it's a curiosity of history to know that my Nannie's second husband, who was on the school board, was one of the members who managed to keep German from being eliminated as a school subject.
I remember her as a woman of unconditional love and patience. Musically inclined as a child, I probably made her sit through far too many renditions of songs sung from "The Music Man" (her favorite musical), and later, violin pieces when I was a Suzuki-trained kid, and later still, guitar pickings. She never gave me less than her enthusiastic approval.
She was the oldest family member I grew up with, and so was not in touch with what kids of my generation tended to like in the way of toys. The gifts of hers I can recall (and still have) are a sewing box, and a Bible. Though I was once not thrilled with them, I am glad to have both now.
By the time I knew her, she had lost both her husbands and her one daughter, my grandma, so she always seemed like a loner in our family. We had her over on most holidays, and visited her regularly and never went away empty-handed, often with something from her kitchen - a tart cherry pie, or some fruited Jello. I wish I hadn't been just a kid, and had thought to ask her more about her life, her early years, what work she did when a single mom, and life on the farm when she was little. All I can remember her saying about her childhood was that her father had a rhyme for each of his children, and at supper, he would go around the table reciting for each child. Her couplet was "Susan Mabel jumped over the table."
She apparently never spoke of being deserted by her first husband. I have since found some of his siblings and their descendants, and while they do not wish to speak ill of anyone, it was recalled by two people that when Susan was newly married and with her baby daughter Fay, another woman used to rap on the house's windows as she went by, to let Susan's husband know she was around. This assertive lady eventually did become the next wife of Susan's former husband, and they would have no children. Neither Susan nor her first husband actually sought a divorce until he was ready to marry again almost 10 years later.
One of her first husband's family members remembers that Susan and her daughter Fay (my dad's mom, my grandmother) came back to their old town on a train because they had to attend the divorce hearing before a judge. Though a child, Fay was old enough to recount years later to one of her daughters "It was hard to sit in court and hear him say that he did not want us."
Apparently, Susan did not look back, but in her industrious way, moved on and did the necessary, working and raising her daughter until William J. Dietrich, who employed her as domestic help, proposed. It's a hard union to picture, because Dietrich was rather a self-taught scholar and very religious, as evidenced by his daughters' names above. While he had worked as a paint salesman, he was also very active in genealogy, several historical societies, and co-authored a few books. My mom remembers him as rather dour, which must have made for an interesting contrast to Susan's bright spirit.
I did not know him, and am most acquainted with William J. Dietrich because of the hideous tale of his death. In the early years of my parents' marriage, my mom recalls that one terribly stormy night they got a telephone call from Susan, very upset, saying to my dad "Gilbert, he's up there trying to fix the roof, can you please come get him to stop and come down?" You see, their home had a tin roof, and the storm had blown part of it up and the driven rain was coming in. My dad went to their home, got up on the roof to talk sense to him, and Mr. Dietrich insisted on finishing the job, so Dad pitched in to get it done quickly. My dad turned to hand him a tool and Dietrich was gone, blown off the third story roof, and landing on the porch roof two stories below. He died a few days later of chest compression injuries.
When Susan lost her second husband she lived alone for the rest of her life until she was unable to do so. I can remember her in an apartment in Allentown on 12th Street, and later in a high-rise for the elderly, Episcopal House. When she needed more care, her younger daughter June had her moved to Nightingale Nursing Home, and finally to Cedarbrook, the county home. That's where she had her disastrous fall, and the period of inactivity that led to fatal pneumonia. Her death was one of the first losses I'd ever known, and was very hard for me.
Though she is gone, all of us feel very lucky to have had such a durable and loving woman in our family, one who gave us the benefit of her character which was trained in older times and through much adversity. There are plenty of people I hope to see when I get to the "other side" and I hope she is one of the first at the gates.
Cemetery records note that Susan was 90 years, 10 months and 13 days at her passing. Her arrangements were handled by the Burkholder Funeral Home, and services had the Rev. Robert Hower from Trinity Evangelical Congregational Church officiating. Funeral home records indicate there was no viewing, but I remember that there was one, or at least that we family were permitted to see her in her casket, because it affected me tremendously.
Her obituary is obtainable only at the library since it was published before their current online archives. It appeared on March 2, 1974 on page 9.
Some scant information has been found about all her siblings, but their places of rest remain mostly unknown to me with two exceptions. Her brother, Joseph Wagner Schell is on FindAGrave, and fortunately I could pick him out based on name, since the only other info I had on him was from a Rootsweb tree that shows his date of birth erroneously. To my astonishment, I found buried in the same cemetery as Susan, her brother, Frank J. Schell. They were raised halfway across the state, but ended up together, back closer to their mom's home turf. I don't think any of our family knew our Nannie had a brother in our area in life or death.
In 2011, I located a descendant of one of Susan's stepchildren. You could hear the smile in her voice when she said of Susan, "She made the best lemonade!"
Jonas Schell (1840 - 1912)
Susanna Köenig Schell (1845 - 1926)
William Joseph Dietrich (1875 - 1950)
Edward Aaron Meckley (1883 - 1959)
Fay Schell Meckley Romberger (1903 - 1954)*
June Dietrich Decker (1917 - 2007)*
Lewis A Schell (1865 - 1884)*
George E Schell (1870 - 1951)*
Joseph Wagner Schell (1872 - 1943)*
Sarah Ella Schell Boorse (1877 - 1955)*
Frank J. Schell (1879 - 1966)*
Susan Mabel Schell Dietrich (1883 - 1974)
Plot: Section D, Lot 294 - cemetery records state "unmarked" which is incorrect.
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: Jun 21, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 14666369