Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wilhelm Heinrich Prusse PhotoBio

Biography of 

Wilhelm Heinrich Prusse 1881 to 1964

by Fritz Hasler, June 2012 (Sources and credits given at end)

Wilhelm Heinrich Prusse was born in Hanover Germany March 19, 1881.  He was fatherless at 10 months and orphaned at 11 years old in a Germany that had no social safety net (no government help for widows and orphans). In spite of that, he pulled himself up by the bootstraps to become a successful baker and self-educated man. He saved enough money to buy a bakery, and had the foresight to sell it for passage to America and a house in Salt Lake City for himself, his wife and five children, just before the outbreak of World War I. He worked as a baker in Salt Lake and owned a successful bakery for many years in Provo Utah. He raised and provided well for 13 children, 12 until adulthood. He died in Parowan, Utah in August 7, 1964.  He married Johanne (spelled subsequently as Johanna) Caroline Conradi on June 9, 1907 in Hannover.  They were married for 55 years. See a picture of the young married couple below.

Figure 1. Newlywed Johanne Carolina Conradi and Wilhelm Heinrich Prusse, 1907

They joined the Mormon Church and after the birth of their fifth child, they immigrated to America in 1913, only 14 months before the breakout of World War I. They settled in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1920 he moved his family of nine children to Provo. He died in Parowan, Utah in August 7, 1964 and is buried at East Lawn Memorial Hill in Provo.

Wilhelm's life was not an easy one, as he had to watch out for himself most of his life. His father, Heinrich Wilhelm Prusse, was a construction worker who fell from a scaffold and died when Wilhelm was about ten months old. Wilhelm and his brothers moved a very sick mother to a new apartment to live. They were able to borrow a child's wagon and they pulled her and their belongings to the new home. His mother Anna Wilhelmine Buhs, died when he was eleven years old. He was the youngest of four boys who were left, to be reared by an aunt.  That was not so good as she spent most of the money left for them on her own family. His brother's names were Franz, Herman, and Gustav.

When he was 13 years old he put his few possessions into a knapsack and left his aunt's home and walked from town to town to search for a baker to apprentice himself to.  He said  "I knew what it was to be hungry and I figured at a bakery there would always be something to eat.  I walked from town to town, and baker to baker until I found a baker who was clean enough to apprentice myself to".

The family was anything but wealthy.  Wilhelm's father was a brick mason by trade and all the family had tuberculosis.  All, but Wilhelm died from it and he realized early that if he kept up his health, he could evade that scourge. Wilhelm exercised, swam a lot and tried to eat better food. This was possible after he apprenticed himself to become a baker. See photo of Wilhelm with his fellow bakers and racks of loaves of bread  below.

Figure 2. Wilhelm in the center with mustache and hand on box with fellow bakers, 1887

When he was drafted into the army he also was able to eat better since his job was to bake and serve meals to the officers. He was an excellent shot with a rifle and received awards for marksmanship.  See  Wilhelm in his army uniform below


Figure 3. See this photo of Wilhelm in his army uniform. He is wearing a gold braid for excellent marksmanship. 1889

See a photo of Wilhelm and his fellow service  below:

Figure 4. Wilhelm, middle of the second row, with a braid for outstanding marksmanship, and his fellow service men in the Prussian army, 1889

Wilhelm worked very hard all the days of his life. He had a good mind, was a good scholar, observed every walk of life, enjoyed good music, love the opera and was a keen observer of the politics of the day. He knew the history of the world. He did though have quite a time getting along with people.  He was a self made man that didn't adjust well to other personalities.  Perhaps the trials of eking out an existence as a child and young man contributed to his hardness as an older person.He was a very frugal person who managed to buy a bakery in Germany with his savings.  He always paid his debts. He saved his money before he bought anything, big or small. He was a great planner and a good manager. His knowledge of politics and watchfulness of the times triggered his desire to come to America. Meeting the Mormon missionaries and joining the church provided the way to do it.

Figure 4.5: Hanna, Hanover, 1909

February 1909: 9 months old, their first of soon to be 13 children.

Wilhelm was visiting his brother in the hospital when he found a Mormon religious tract. He was interested and sought out the missionaries.It took immense courage and planning to sell his bakery business in Germany and come to America with a wife and five children with one, Irmgard, only five weeks old. He had to take the proceeds from the bakery in gold and get the precious metal to Utah safely on the voyage because he didn't trust the paper currencies of the day.

Figure 4.5: Prusse Bakery, Hannover. 1912

The bakery that Wilhelm sold to pay for the passage to America and a house in Salt Lake City

 He could see the "storm clouds" of World War I developing and told Johanna that he did not intend to fight in it. If war broke out before they could leave, he had planned to leave Germany and go to England before he was conscripted into the army. He would send for Johanna and the children to come later. However, he was able to get the whole family out in time.

Wilhelm 32, Johanna, 29, Hanna 4, Evelyn 31/2 (spelled Eveline at the time) Erich 2 1/2, Alfred 1 1/2 (According the manifest of the ship Cassel) and Irmgard 5 weeks left from Bremerhaven, the port city of Bremen on April 24, 1913. They were on the sea for 28 days including a stop of several days in Baltimore, where Wilhelm took a trip into the city before landing on Hanna's fifth birthday, May 22, 1913 in Galveston Texas. They continued by train to Salt Lake City.

See a picture of the Prusses as they were en route from Germany to America on the steam freighter (ship) the Cassel, 1913.

Figure 5. Coming to America: Prusses with five children , Cassel, 1913

Evelyn, Johanna, Irmgard, Hanna, Wilhelm with Erich & Alfred on floor on the ship Cassel en route from Bremen to Galveston Texas. Note the gawking crew members in the background.

 See below another picture of the Prusses this time with other passengers as they were en route from Germany to America on the steam freighter ship the Cassel.

 Figure 6. The Prusses are shown with other families on the Cassel. 1913

Wilhelm (Second row far right) Johanna (on right holding Irmgard), Hanna (first row far right) with Evelyn, Erich and Alfred on the floor.

See below  a copy of the ships manifest showing the Prusses and other passengers as they were en route from Germany to America on the steam freighter ship, the Cassel

Figure 7. Manifest (Passenger List) of the North German Loyd steam freighter Casselwith the Prusses and other passengers, giving their names, ages, professions, homecountry and destination in the United States.

See photo of the ship they traveled in: The Cassel i below.

Figure 8. Norddeutsher (North German) Lloyd Cassel, 1913

 Passagier (passenger) and Frachtdampfer (freight steamer) ship Cassel. The ship the Prusses took from Bremen to Galveston.

See a picture below of Wilhelm and his family just a year after they arrived in America>

Figure 9. The Prusses now with six children a year later, Salt Lake City, 1914

This was taken not long after they arrived in America:  Irmgard, Wilhelm, Erich, Hanna, Johanna, Ruth, Evelyn, Alfred.

World War I broke out only 14 months later. If they had remained in Germany, Wilhelm would have certainly been conscripted into the Kaiser's army and most likely died in the trench warfare in France. Some six million Germans were killed or wounded in WWI. The war would engulf America in 1917 and she closed her doors to all aliens. Wilhelm made it to America and felt safe even though he was not yet in the country long enough to obtain citizenship. However, once the war started German aliens took a great deal of abuse from earlier immigrants. Wilhelm had sold his bakery in Germany for enough money for the train travel frommHanover to Bremen, the ship passage from Bremen to Galveston Texas, and the train travel from Galveston to Salt Lake City for himself, his wife and five children. He had enough left over to buy a house on 642 Hollywood Avenue in Salt Lake and to live for a time. As a well trained baker it didn't take him long to find work at the Hotel Utah.

Their home on Hollywood Avenue was frame house. It was the first time the Prusse's had lived in detached housing as apartment living was much more common in Europe. They had a big garden that Wilhelm always cultivated by hand himself. He usually wore a pair of wooden shoes when he did the digging. The garden was planted with all kinds of vegetables to go with several fruit trees, including pear, apricot, and apple. They had a large barn and a rather large shed that housed, chickens, ducks and pigs. There were also several cows, and one or two horses.

It is not clear how a city man from Hanover Germany learned to be a part time farmers while working full time as baker. Johanna was usually pregnant, but worked just as hard. When the pigs were large enough, they were slaughtered in the Fall as there was no refrigeration at the house. A butcher friend would come and help Wilhelm kill the pig, cut it up, and stay up all night making sausage. They took the hams to be smoked at a nearby smokehouse. Johanna would render the large amount of  lard and she canned the meat.  A city couple that had never done these kinds of things before did all this. Eggs were stored in limewater in a large crock and placed in a cellar with a dirt roof to keep them cool. They also made sauerkraut, put it in a barrel and put it in the cellar along with apples, pears, carrots, potatoes etc. It took all this food to feed a family that would soon have 14 members.

Wilhelm always worked very hard, knew very little pleasure and expected the same from his children. He saw no point in sports or anything beyond basic schooling. The war years were difficult when people discriminated against Germans. One man even took a shot at him during the night while he was working at the Applequist Bakery. Johanna was so worried that they would come after him at home that she made him stay at a hotel for a couple of nights.

Sylvia was the first grandchild to learn German so she made it a point to speak German with him and had him recount the stories from his early life. He told her that during WWI he spied a return missionary that he had befriended on the streets of Salt Lake.  Wilhelm said hello, the missionary recognized him, but pretended he didn't know him because it wasn't popular to know a German during the war. Wilhelm was angry and hurt that a Mormon would do that to him. Evelyn recounted the same story. Hanna remembered how she was chased home by a classmate yelling: "Go home you dirty German"

Wilhelm kept all the children busy. He had them raking leaves very early in their lives. There were many leaves on the property from seven huge poplar trees. Hanna, Evelyn, Erich and Alfred filled over 50 gunny sacks with leaves for the cows to use as bedding.

During the flu epidemic of 1917-18 the Prusses held Sunday school at home. Wilhelm was a devout Mormon who attended church, paid his tithing and instructed his children to do the same.

Wilhelm and Johanna decided to have their marriage solemnized in the Mormon temple and have their children sealed to them for life and eternity on October 21, 1915. Johanna spent the whole night getting the white clothes ready for she, her husband, Hanna, Evelyn, Erich, Alfred, Irmgard and Ruth. Evelyn remembers all of them kneeling around the altar of the Salt Lake Temple. Wilhelm knew the Old and New Testaments from cover to cover and believed every word. However, he didn't always see eye to eye with Mormon doctrine.

Wilhelm was a friendly person, but you had to know him. He was very generous with widows and was always taking bread, and rolls etc. to them from the bakery. He supplied the sacrament bread to the Bonneville Ward in Provo for the many years that he had the bakery in Provo.

He was an extremely good provider. He was always generous to the wants of his children according to what he had. He bought things to improve the quality of living of his family and to help Johanna in running the house. The Prusses were among the first to have a washing machine that was operated by hand and again among the first to have an electric washing machine. They also had an icebox which was cooled with blocks of ice and later an electric refrigerator. When the sewer came down Hollywood Avenue, Wilhelm saw to it that they had modern bathroom. It was quite a celebration when the Prusse's no longer had to use the outhouse.

Evelyn long remembered cutting up newspapers to use as toilet paper for the new toilet. She also has fond memories of the new bathtub that displaced the old tub in front of the kitchen stove. The Prusse's had a surrey (carriage) with a fringe on top. Wilhelm also bought an old wagon and turned it into a sleigh for riding in the snow in winter. Nellie, the horse, pulled the sleigh. Wilhelm made sure that the children helped Johanna. Hanna and Evelyn had to learn how to mend stockings and there were always plenty to mend. There was also shoe cleaning and polishing  on Saturdays so that they were ready for church on Sunday. The jobs were assigned first to the eldest children and then passed down to the younger kids, as they got older. Wilhelm cut the children's hair, mended their shoes and was also their doctor unless it was something he couldn't cure. However, he usually cured everything.

Figure 9.3: Hanna, Provo, 1921

His oldest daughter now 13

Wilhelm was desirous to own his own business again. He tried to buy a bakery in Sugarhouse in Salt Lake City, but in spite of great effort, couldn't get the necessary loan. When opportunity came in June of 1920 to buy a Bakery in Provo, 30 miles south of Salt Lake, he was ready and they moved.

Figure 9.5 Wilhelm, Barker Bakery, Provo, 1925

Grosspapa in front of the bakery he was finally able to buy in Provo in 1920, which resulted in the family moving from Salt Lake City.

Wilhelm came after the family from Provo to make the big move. He had learned to drive a car and came in the bakery truck.  What couldn't fit in the moving van, Wilhelm put in the truck with Evelyn, Erich, Alfred, and the chickens and drove everyone to Provo. At one point the new driver hit a curb and tossed Evelyn out or the truck. A number of the other family members came by train. It was a big event and tremendous change for the family and this progressive man.

Figure 9.7: Hanna, Provo, 1925

His oldest daughter now a 17-year-old Jr in High School

Evelyn and Johanna went back to Germany in 1928. It was Johanna's chance to see her parents again. Evelyn was sent to accompany her, because Hanna was preparing to go on a two-year mission to Wisconsin in the fall of that year. They also got to visit Wilhelm's brother Gustav. Evelyn thought it was too bad that her father didn't get to go back as thing had changed quite a lot.Christmas was a wonderful time at the Prusse home. They had all the old German customs and the German Christmas carols. They always had the most beautiful treen that was all aglow with real burning candles. The girls got dolls and if Christmas came on Sunday, the dolls went to Sunday school with them. The kids got candy in their stockings, but on occasion one of them would get a lump of coal in their stocking if they had been bad. It was a particularly grievous sin for one of the older kids to tell one of the younger children that there really was no Santa.

See photo of Evelyn and Johanna as they returned to Germany  below

Figure 10. Evelyn and Johanna as they returned to in 1928 to Germany to visit Johanna's parents.

Wilhelm was always generous in sending money to Johanna's parents and to his own family. After WWI when Johanna's folks and his brother were starving, he sent a large box of food and household supplies through the Swift and Company. Evelyn long recalled hearing the letter being read about how grateful they were to get the box and for all the things that they had done without for such a long time. They were so thankful to get soap that had become a luxury item in post war Germany. In my family we continued the tradition by sending care packages to the relatives in Germany during the dark days following World War II.

By 1928 there were 14 members of the Prusse family (not counting Judith who died in 1922 at the age of 5): Wilhelm, Johanna, and the children by birth order; Hanna, Evelyn, Erich, Alfred, Imgard, Ruth, Margaret, William, Dorothy, Walter, Norma, and Ralph as shown  below.

Figure 11. Prusse Family - Provo UT 1929

Hanna, Ruth, Evelyn, Irmgard, Margaret Erich, Bill, Wilhelm (Grosspapa), Walter (Pete), Dorothy, Johanna (Granny), Alfred, Ralph, Normo

By 1930 Wilhelm had earned enough to be able to buy a big red Packard automobile. This would be the equivalent to a big Cadillac or Mercedes today.

Figure 11.5: Mom, Dad, Kids, Packard, Provo, 1929

Figure 11.6 Prusse Kids 1929

Figure 11.7 Prusse Kids, Provo 1930

Bill, Pete, Ralph, Margaret, Norma, Dorothy

When Hanna came home from her mission to Wisconsin in the fall of 1930, she began dating Art Hasler (my father), the doctor's son. Ironically it was Art who borrowed the baker's big fancy Packard car to take his daughter, Hanna (my mother ) on a date.

See a photo of the Packard, Art and Hanna below.

Figure 12. Wilhelm's big fancy Packard car. Art the doctor's son going on a date with Hanna, the baker's daughter in the baker's car, Provo, 1933

Apparently the doctor, Walter T. Hasler MD, son of an immigrant mother, Louisa Thalman who came from the German speaking part of Switzerland and had been on a Mormon mission in Germany, became good friends with the German immigrant Baker, Wilhelm Prusse. They both spoke German and probably spent hours talking about their times in Germany. A story is told about them hunting deer together.Supposedly, Wilhelm got buck fever, shot too quickly, and brought down a doe. Since shooting a female was illegal, the doctor managed to graft some antlers onto the doe to get them out of the predicament.

Figure 12.5: Hanna, Grosspapa, Provo, 1933

Figure 11.7 Prusse Kids, Provo 1934

Dorothy Bill,, Ralph,, Norma, Pete

Figure 12.5: Wilhelm and Johanna, Provo, 1935

This is probably not a true color picture, but it was the rage in these days to artificially color black & white pictures.

See a photo of Wilhelm and his five sons 19376  below.

Figure 13. Wilhelm and sons, Provo, 1936

Erich, Alfred, Bill, Walter (Pete), and Ralph

Figure 13.7: Prusse Girls, Provo, 1936

Norma, Dorthy, Margaret, Ruth, Irmgard, Eveline, Hanna, Granny

Figure 13.5: Family Reunion, Provo, 1937

Hanna and Art drove all the way from York Town Virginia to show off Sylvia, the first Prusse grand child. Scanned from negative in Bill & Elaine's photo album.

Figure 13.7: Prusses, Provo 1940

This  is probably the first color picture of the Prusse Clan. At this time my father was taking Kodachrome pictures of our family. Note: If we have the date correct on this, Sylvia is now four and my mom, must be pregnant with me since I was born August 21, 1940.

Figure 13.8; Granny, Grand kids, Madison, 1945

Granny with Fritz, Galen, Mark, Sylvia Hasler

Figure 13.9: Hanna, Granny, Provo, 1950

See below a photo of, Johanna, with ten of her daughters, daughters-in-law and granddaughters in 1954.

Figure 14. Prusse Women - Provo UT 1954:  Sylvia (Hanna's Daughter), Marilyn

(Ralph'sWife), Ruth (Eric's Wife), Carol (Pete's Wife), Judy (Zona's Daughter), Hanna, Evelyn, Zona (Alfred's wife), Irmgard, Dorothy, Granny

The Wilhelm (Grosspapa) that I remember, spoke with a strong German accent and mixed German and English together in sentences quite a bit. I had learned German from living in Munich for a year so I was quite observant of his speech. He had a "weight-reducing" machine that had a big belt that you put around your mid-section and would vibrate strongly. It made a big hit with my brothers and me.  When we made the big trek from Madison Wisconsin to Utah in 1948-1954, we would come to Provo and visit the Prusse homestead. There were grapes to eat from the vine and lots of cousins to play with.

See a photo of, Johanna, Wilhelm, and Hanna in 1954 below

Figure 15. Provo UT - 1954: Johanna (Granny), and Wilhelm (Grosspapa) Prusse with Eldest Child, Hanna. 1954

Figure 15.25: Granny, Grosspapa, 50th Anniversary, Provo, 1957

Figure 15.5 Granny, Grosspapa grandkids, 50th Anniversary, Provo, 1957

Grandparents with 25 grand children.

Sylvia remembers that Johanna died of an intestinal obstruction. On January 6th 1962 at the age of 78.  Wilhelm refused to take her to the hospital for three days, at which point it was too late. Sylvia was very sad as she thought that Granny had many good years left in her. A similar thing happened to me (Fritz Hasler) at the age of 71. I went to the hospital early, had surgery and was home in three days with nofurther complications.

Figure 15.7: Sylvia, Hanna, Laurel, Granny, Provo, 1960

Four Generations: Sylvia & Laurel Thatcher, with grandma Hanna and great grandma Johanna.

Two years before Granny's death and nine years before Hanna's death.

See picture of a somber Wilhelm and all 12 children who returned for Johanna's funeral in 1962 i below:

Figure 16. The Prusse family when they returned for their mother's funeral in 1962:

Bill, Evelyn, Ralph, Walter, Erich, Hanna, Alfred, Ruth Norma, Irmgard, Wilhelm,Dorothy, Margaret
Wilhelm died two years later on August 7, 1964 at the age of 83 and is buried at East
Lawn Memorial Hill Cemetery in Provo Utah in the family plot with Johanna and many of his children.

His eldest daughter, Hanna (my mother) died of cancer only five years later in 1969 at the age of 61. His eighth child, Judith, died in 1922 at the age of five. His second son, Alfred died only three years after my mother, in 1971 at age 60 when his double banger (tractor with double trailer) gasoline tanker crashed and burned on the highway.

As I write this in June of 2012 only the two "babies", Norma, and Ralph, are still living.


This biography was written by his grandson, Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler, second child of his eldest daughter, Hanna, in June 2012 from the following sources:

1) A biography written by his second daughter, Evelyn, in June 1979

2) A biography written by his granddaughter, my older sister Sylvia Hasler Thatcher who interviewed him

3) My own encounters with him during summer visits to Utah ~1948-1956.

 4) Family pictures collected by grandchildren Sylvia, Ada Bills (Daughter of his fifth child: Irmgard) and Kevin Prusse (son of his fourth child Alfred

5) Supporting historical facts and information gathered from the Internet including the Mormon Church Genealogy web site, Family Search, for birth and death dates and a little work with a calculator to figure out how events transpired.

1 comment:

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