The Wilhelmi Story
This week’s column was suggested by Patricia Banasik Lorenz as a topic of interest for the returning St. Alphonsus alumni and for the community as a whole. The children of Louis and Stella Wilhelmi from the Loma area hold the record (as near as we can find) for the largest number of high school graduates from a single family, and it is timely because 13 of them graduated from St. Alphonsus High School. We understand there were several aunts and uncles in earlier classes plus grandchildren who had also graduated from SAS before the high school closed in 1968. In the 40 years the high school was in operation, that is a special record. While there are other important stories about this family, we want to give you the names in the order they graduated this week.
The first of the family to attend SAS was Daniel whose obituary says he went for two years. However, when others his age were graduating, he was also the age sought by the military. After the war he worked in California and died at the age of 28 in 1950. Kathleen, who died of whooping cough at a young age, and Edward, who chose or was needed on the farm (maybe both), were two other family members who did not graduate from St. Alphonsus. Edward’s story in the family history mentions he spent a year in Korea so may have been called for the military as well.
Lucille was a bright little girl from the start, attending North Loma Country School located a quarter of a mile from their farm. Some of the aunts and uncles lived nearby, and she wrote that she began her high school in Loma before that early high school closed and then, along with two of her cousins- Rose and Elfrieda, came to Langdon and St. Alphonsus. Yes, the cousins also graduated from St. Alphonsus. Lucille finished high school when she was 15, worked at home for a while, and then, because it was wartime and jobs were available in cities, she went to Chicago where she had relatives and worked for four years before coming back to marry Ed Waltz. Three of her sons graduated from St. Alphonsus.
Jeanne spent most of the war years at St. Alphonsus and graduated in 1944. Wanting to do her part, she enrolled in the US Naval cadet nurse training program at Valley City and received her RN certification in 1947. Jeanne’s married name was Hoiland.
Ione graduated from St. Alphonsus in 1947 and got her teaching certificate at Valley City in 1948. Ione’s story tells that she taught for three years, including the North Loma School so might have had some of the family in her classes. She married Jack Banasik in 1949, and their oldest daughter, Pat, also graduated from St. Alphonsus. The Banasik family still has a home here.
Charlotte lived with the Fischer family working for her room and board (this was a common way for girls to earn their way through high school) and graduated from St. Alphonsus High School in 1948. She went on to Aaker’s Business College in 1949, working her way there by living with another family. Charlotte married Leo Haggerty in 1955.
Colleen was the first of the family that I knew and remember she and Betty coming over to LHS along with other St. Alphonsus girls who took Home Ec. She graduated in 1950 and went off to Minot State for her teacher’s training and then taught at the “home” school before marrying Bob Loff. They had eight children and made their home near Edmore. Colleen died in a tragic accident in 1978.
Betty was next in line and graduated from St. Alphonsus in 1952. She also went to Minot for teacher’s training and taught at the school near the farm where they grew up. Another of the family who stayed in the Langdon area, Betty married Bob Bata in 1956. Children and grandchildren started out as students at St. Alphonsus and then have gone on to graduate from LHS or later Langdon Area High School.
Louis, known to most people as Louie and to the next generation as Uncle Junior, graduated from St. Alphonsus in 1953 and went on to Wahpeton State School of Science for a science degree in refrigeration and air conditioning. Louie became an independent contractor, and yes, we do know the school he attended has now changed its name. Louis married JoLeen Domres, and they have made their home in Minnesota for a number of years. His death is the most recent in the family.
Alvin graduated from St. Alphonsus in 1954. He stayed on the farm the first year after graduating to help his brothers as their dad was ill, but the following year he and the next brother made their way to California. Alvin graduated from Long Beach State College in 1963 with, what we think, more than one degree in electrical engineering as he went on to work for NASA on unmanned satellites to Venus and Jupiter. He married Sue who survives him. Either Alvin visited North Dakota more often than others or had a lot of friends here because his visits are remembered.
Wallace graduated from St. Alphonsus in 1955, and in June of that year he and Alvin headed west to California. Wally attended Long Beach City College for his mechanical engineering degree.
Kenny graduated from St. Alphonsus High School in 1957 and in 1960 married Lanetta Brooks from Langdon. He went on to NDSU for his BS and Master’s degrees in agronomy and then to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he got his PhD in agronomy. They spent time in Africa where he worked with government farming programs and returned to Nebraska where Lanetta died. Later he married again and with his second wife opened a popular pizza restaurant in Langdon. Ken also served as mayor of Langdon until his death.
Arlene, who recorded much of the family history in a special book titled Wilhelmi Legends, graduated from St. Alphonsus in 1959. She went on to Saint Francis School of Nursing in Breckenridge, Minn., getting her degree there in 1962. She married John Leisen and currently she is the oldest living member of this Wilhelmi family.
Sharon graduated from St. Alphonsus High School in 1962. She also chose nursing and graduated from Presentation School of Nursing in 1965 and St. Michael’s School of Anesthesia in 1967. She received her BSN from UND in 1987. Sharon is married to Vernon Wick and lives in Grand Forks. She coordinated the dates and places for this column.
Jerry is the youngest of this family and graduated from St. Alphonsus in 1964. In pictures he appears to have grown up with some of the next generation, and one of the family wrote that he would ask his mother for a younger brother and she let him know their family was fine just as it was. Jerry went on to UND and graduated in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science in Social Studies Education 7-12. He continued education classes with a Master’s equivalent and has been teacher, coach, principal, and athletic director over a 40-year career in education.
Special thanks are due to Pat Lorenz; Val Darling, who provided a copy of the family book; and Sharon Wick, Jerry Wilhelmi and Sue Wilhelmi, who live in different states but worked together on the educational history of this family. In using contributed information, I found some stories that could be future columns in the work done by other Wilhelmi historians from the past. The three family members currently living are Arlene, Sharon and Jerry as well as several of the spouses of other family members.