Uncle’s rich history benefits region

Robert Stanger

Although both were “Erie success stories” in their own chosen lives, my father and my maternal uncle were about as different as two people could be with the same general ethnic background and who similar environments as they faced the challenges of their respective lives

This seems rather unusual, as one would assume that my mother, Alma Olsen, would have married a person with traits similar to hers, as how else could she and Christian Stanger have gotten together initially, and remained wed for 50 years?

There were assuredly marked differences between Alma and COS, (as my father was known by many) but in the things that mattered, such as values and temperament, they were quite similar.

Yet the differences between my uncle, Charles Olsen, and COS couldn’t have been much more marked.

They were dissimilar physically, as Sweden-born COS was typically Scandinavian in appearance … fairly tall, with light hair and gray eyes.

Charles was at least 3 inches shorter, slighter in build and had dark eyes. (There was a quirk in Charles’ ethnic background, however’ as we found out through 23 & Me that my inherited ethnicity is about 18% Finnish which apparently comes from my maternal grandfather, Christian Olsen, who was born in Tromso, Norway — the world’s third largest city north of the Arctic Circle, with a population of 77,000, following Murmansk and Norilsk, both in Russia.

The Sami, or Laplanders, who live in the area are an indigenous Finno-Ugric people and are thus presumably somewhat dissimilar from other Scandinavians.

(Traditionally, the “Mountain Sami” of the area have been reindeer herders, while the “Sea Sami” have depended on fishing for their livelihood.)

We assume that my grandfather had forebears who had married Samis, and thus the traits of those people would have been passed on to my mother (and hence to me) and to her brother, Charles.

Both COS and Charles had successful careers in Erie’s industry, with COS having worked for Griswold for 44 years, where he was the controller. Charles also worked for Griswold for a time, but found more lucrative employment at General Electric, long one of Erie’s major industries, where he was employed for many years until retiring.

I don’t know what Charles did at GE, but it was apparent in his lifestyle that he must have earned a decent salary.

My father was married twice, and had seven children.

Charles was married three times but was childless. After his first wife died of inoperable cancer after a long marriage. he married twice more — and his third wife survived him.

Outside of work, COS was heavily involved in hunting and fishing and in caring for the cottage (“Valhalla”) he acquired as a family retreat on the beach west of Erie. He also had property in Fairview which included a gas station, a small vineyard and an orchard. Both the vineyard and orchard required maintenance and, of course, annual fruit harvesting..

Charles was a member of the Erie Yacht Club for many years, and he “sailed” out of that Erie landmark consecutively on two very impressive yachts, both rather prosaically named “Neslo”“Olsen” spelled backwards. built for him at the renowned Lund Boat Works located at East Dobbins Landing on the Erie bayfront.

The yachts were his favorite and seemingly sole diversion. There would of course been countless excursions from the Yacht Club into the surrounding waters, including the lagoons at Presque Isle State Park.

I believe he did take at least one “voyage” on one of the “Neslo” yachts. This was on the Trent Severn Waterway which traverses the Canadian province of Ontario from Lake Erie up to Georgian Bay on Lake Michigan.

I recall taking a cruise with my parents on one of Charles’ yachts. His wife, Bess, who had a beautiful voice, sang and served refreshments as we sat on the yacht’s covered rear deck amid polished woodwork.

I don’t believe COS was in his element on this cruise. There could also have been some lingering tension between COS and Charles at any family gathering, as the latter was said to have opposed his sister marrying COS, a widower with five children.

Both COS and my mother worked at Griswold. “If anyone had told me that I was going to marry Chris Stanger, I would have told them that they were crazy. He had so many kids,” my mother used to say.

Charles (and his wives) lived in a beautiful one-story home with a roof with curled eves he had built on a small lot near the Erie Yacht Club.

The home COS had built in southwest Erie was less impressive but much larger due to the needs of a growing family. There was a large yard behind the home and he would pick flowers from rose gardens planted there and take them to work for his secretaries.

Charles certainly lived a much more sedate life than did his brother-in-law, and this might have been a factor in his longer longevity. When he died at 92 he had lived five years longer than did COS.

My sister, Ruth, with full knowledge of Charles’ lack of descendants, many years of employment at GE, fine small home and ownership of yachts and having had an employed wife for many years, used to rhetorically remark, “I wonder where Uncle Charles is going to leave all his money?”

We found this out, to our dismay, when the terms of his will were disclosed.

His estate had probably been whittled down due to his multiple marriages, winters in Florida over many years of retirement and also perhaps by the costs of his final illness.

In an apparent sign of regard for the city in which he had fared so well, Charles left a full 50% of his remaining wealth to various Erie charities, which he enumerated in his will. Of the rest, 25% went to his brother Fred, an engineer with a wife and three offspring who lived in Cleveland, with the remaining 25% going to other beneficiaries, including my sister and me.

(I don’t believe Charles’ third wife figured in the will, as they had only been married a short time, and she had a settlement from her previous marriage as well. She did attempt to claim the house in which she and Charles lived, but I retained a lawyer and this was disallowed in court.)

My inheritance from an uncle with whom I admittedly had only a distant relationship amounted to a very good 35 mm camera and a fine dining room set of table and chairs.

I was not particularly unhappy, since my expectations hadn’t been high. However, any one of the charities cited by Charles in his will fared better than did I, the only son of his only sister.

My sister, the only daughter of Charles’ only sister, did not fare much better. At the time of Charles’ death, she was a divorcee living with her son in a mobile home park on Mission Bay in San Diego, and eking out a living as a secretary at the nearby naval hospital.

Perhaps the rancor Charles had felt toward COS for saddling his older sister with five children from a previous marriage had extended to how much of his wealth he would leave to the two children his sister had with that brother-in-law.

Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today