|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 legal father was 39, days away from turning 40 and his mother was 31. The professional Midwife was Lydia Elizabeth (nee Powers) Myers who resided at 515 Van Buren nearby.
His parents appear to be a "common law" couple. Both had former spouses they separated from some years before, but no records of either divorcing their spouses. There also has never been any evidence found they formally married, either. As a result of the apparent lack of marriage and illegitimacy of the baby, the birth certificate contains many errors that appear to be deliberate to take attention away from the stigma of the situation. Both parents were literate and educated enough not to have made such mistakes. Most of the facts listed about his mother were incorrect (age, birthplace), his father's age was also incorrect. The greatest inaccuracy being the last name given for the father and registered on the record, "Lanigen", instead of his actual name Lavigne. Also, rather than replying "yes" or "no", the legitimacy box was simply left blank. Although his intended given birth name appears to have been Edward Theodore Lanigen / Lavigne, for the first part of his life into his early 20's he went by "Edward Fleming", his mother's maiden name.
To further complicate matters, autosomal and Y chromosome DNA testing of his descendants have proven his legal father was not his biological father. With assistance of a professional genetic genealogist, a very strong probability is that the biological father was Roscoe Marquies Grove, but definitely a son of Dr. Jasper and Cynthia (Miles) Grove. The 1910 Census recording Bob's mother in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan was taken in April 1910; Roscoe Grove lived a half-block from her. Considering Bob's birthdate, he was conceived in mid/late April or early May 1910. Exactly what kind of relationship his biological parents Roscoe and Julia had is not known, however, Roscoe lived in the Soo from circa March 1909 to circa June 1910 while Julia resided there. He was employed at the time by Ed Henry constructing the Federal Building / Post Office. In June/July 1910 the construction crew were concluding their work and started relocated to Catlettsburg, Kentucky where they had a contract for the next project. Roscoe at some point in that time frame is thought to have joined the crew and left town. Julia would have been about 1-2 months pregnant when he is believed to have left town.
Through his mother, Bob had a 10-year older half-brother, Arthur Frank Lemieux. It took many years to identify Julia because of the only facts Bob's descendants knew of her were those on the inaccurate birth record. It was with autosomal DNA testing conducted by two of Bob's children and one of Arthur's children that proved without a doubt that they are half first cousins, thus definitively identifying Julia. Bob's older sibling was acknowledged on his birth certificate where it was stated his mother was the parent of two children now living at the time counting the child born. One of Arthur's children also had a scrapbook with family facts in it believed to have been provided by his widow after he had passed away. One fact stated Arthur's mother (Julia) had been "married" to Theodore Lavigne after her first husband and before her last. Another statement said when she died Arthur was survived by "a half-brother and a stepfather."
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 legal 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. He and Julia are believed to have parted ways in 1913 or 1914 when Bob was 2 or 3 years old.
Julia, his mother, had returned to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan by 1915 where she appears in the City Directory as Mrs. Julia Lemieux, her legal name by her first marriage. In October 1915, when Bob was 4, she remarried John Young in Minneapolis. She died of the flu 3 years later November 2, 1918 during the world Influenza Pandemic when Bob was only 7 years old. From verbal family lore, passed down by Bob to his wife, at this point approximately late 1918 into early 1920 he lived with an aunt - this was one or both of Julia's unmarried sisters, Mary Lavina and/or Agnes Fleming. The sisters returned to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan by 1919. Aunt Agnes married that year and moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada where she lived out the rest of her life. Aunt Lavina moved to Detroit area by 1920 where she married in April.
Between 1917-1919 Bob's legal father had 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). Sometime after the January 1920 Census (when Bob's legal father Ted is listed as a roomer without his son and listed as a widower) Bob's aunt (probably Lavina who was in the same area) appears to have informally transferred custody of him to Ted Lavigne. Approximately at this time a photograph was taken of father and son - they both looked happy.
On October 11, 1920 Ted Lavigne remarried one Edith (Dewstow) Thornton - a 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 on the court papers.
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 lived and grew to manhood at The Michigan Home and Training School in Lapeer. 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 penmanship 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 was said to have "escaped" The Home in his guardianship file, but when and how is not known although surely occurring between 1930-1935 as by 1935 he had found his way west. 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 that he 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 9/16/2016 - Find-a-Grave Contributor #41712388
Theodore Joseph Lavigne (1871 - 1923)
Julia E. Fleming Young (1879 - 1918)
Nada Opal Rickard Lewallen (1920 - 2009)*
Barbara Jean Fleming Durig (1940 - 2011)*
Arthur Frank Lemieux (1901 - 1981)**
Robert Frank Fleming (1911 - 1970)
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