Genealogists Carol and Bill Klopfenstein, left and right - Katy and Philip Denslow, center

by Sharon Jennings

Who was Mary E. Denslow and why were her cremains kept at a Winfield bank for the past eighty-eight years? Answers to these and other questions concerning the life and times of Mary Denslow and her son, Lorenzo, have been uncovered through countless hours of work by genealogy sleuths Carol and Bill Klopfenstein.

Through research, piece work and a little guess work, the following story of Mary, her son, Lorenzo, and their connection to Winfield has emerged as a one-of-a-kind story that helps prove truth can indeed sometimes be stranger (and more interesting) than fiction.

The saga of Mary Denslow and her son, Lorenzo, came to light when People's State Bank recently moved to their new facility.

Several years ago, Troy Garris, who was cleaning out the basement in People's State Bank, came up the steps "white as a sheet," said one witness. Stored on a shelf in the basement, Troy had found a strange looking metal box wrapped in brown paper. Attached to the outside of the box, which had been mailed from Rosedale Crematory, Los Angeles, California, was a paper dated April 28, 1916 and read: "Package contains incinerated remains of Mary E. Denslow, age 53, who died on April 26, 1916."

Troy was not the only Garris surprised by the unexpected find. Mick Garris, Troy's father and president and CEO of the bank did not realize Mary was in the basement either. He was not sure what to do with her cremains. When the story reached Bill Klopfenstein, People's State Bank director, Bill told his wife Carol about Mick (and Mary's) dilemma. It was then that Carol and Bill began their search for Mary's story, hoping it would lead them to some of Mary's descendants who could give Mary a proper burial.

Following months of research, on the computer, visiting local libraries and reading through reams of microfilm, they came up with many interesting facts - but no living relatives. It was during their initial search that they discovered Mary E. Park was born in Missouri in 1862. On December 30th, 1887, she married James O. Denslow. Lorenzo, apparently their only living child, was born in Missouri in 1888.

Mary's connection to Winfield began in the fall of 1913 when Lorenzo, a 1913 graduate of Drake University in Des Moines, and Mary, his widowed mother, moved to Winfield where Lorenzo began his long and illustrious career in education. From 1913 to 1916, he served as Winfield's Superintendent of School.

During their stay in Winfield, both mother and son were active members of the Winfield community. Both joined the Presbyterian Church there. Mary joined the Eastern Star in 1914. Lorenzo became a member of the Winfield Masonic Lodge in 1914 and kept his membership there until shortly before his death in 1975. And, in addition to his duties as superintendent, Lorenzo also served as football and track coach. Winfield school had some very outstanding seasons while he was there.

Mary became ill while they were living in Winfield. It was her desire to visit a niece, Anna Meyers Lane, who was living in California. Mary had raised Anna following the death of Anna's mother. Feeling somewhat stronger, Mary undertook the long train trip in April of 1916. Mary had only been in California a week when Lorenzo received the following telegram from Los Angeles, dated April 26, 1916: "Your Mother passed away eight-thirty a.m. Wire instruction," Signed by W. V. Lane.

Memoirs show that Mary was very proud of her son. Her goal was to provide Lorenzo with an opportunity to get an education and to carry out a very fervent wish of Lorenzo's father, James, that his son should not have as hard a time as he had had when he was young. James was only four years old when his father passed away in 1893.

Lorenzo fulfilled his parents' dreams. While at Winfield, he started a new Normal Training Course for teachers under state supervision and he developed the courses offered. During his second year at Winfield the Board of Education permitted Lorenzo to start the first organization of six-six plan in the state of Iowa. He received inquiries from coast to coast requesting information and courses of study.

Mary's love and support of her son did not go unnoticed. Taken from Lorenzo's "Memories of Mother Mary E. Park Denslow" is the following: " Mother was one of the world's great souls. She was always doing good for some one. Mother was always kind to people and never knowingly did any person any harm. She practiced the golden rule if ever anyone did."

Also, among Lorenzo's papers was a tribute to Mary written by Winfield first and second grade teacher Ella Vincent. Mary had often visited the children in Ella's classroom and the children learned to love her.

Records indicate that James, who died in Sullivan County Missouri, at the home of Mary's parents, Austin Park, owned real estate in Cincinnati, Iowa which is located about five miles from the Missouri border in Appanoose county. The 1900 census showed that Mary and Lorenzo were living in Cincinnati, Iowa, probably on the property they had inherited from James. Mary's occupation was listed as a milliner.

Following their move to Winfield in 1913 and after completing three years as the Winfield school's superintendent, Lorenzo spent the 1916-17 school year as superintendent of Wapello's school. He returned to Winfield and on June 2, 1917 he married Hazel Huston, daughter of Winfield druggist Ed Huston. The ceremony took place in the home that Mr. Huston had built at what is now 101 N. Clark in Winfield. It is currently owned and occupied by Mick and Kathy Garris.

In addition to Mick now living in the house where Lorenzo was married and Nelle Lindell's memories of the event, there is another Peoples State Bank connection. Shari Evans, an employee at the Peoples State Bank, is the daughter-in-law of the late Vashti Duncan Evans, who was flower girl at the Denslow wedding.

"He was my superintendent and the lady he married was my teacher," related 102 year old Nelle Lindell, a resident of Sunrise Terrace. She clearly remembers the wedding luncheon that was served at the Huston home following the Denslow wedding ceremony. Nelle was one of the high school girls who helped serve the 70 or so guests. She also remembers her superintendent, Mr. Denslow, as a strict and no nonsense taskmaster.

Bob and Naomi Lindell were visiting his mother, Nelle, when Bill and Carol stopped to visit Nelle. Bob Lindell became very interested in the story and the success of the Winfield School during the time Lorenzo Denslow was superintendent. Bill and Carol forwarded the facts as they found them to Bob, and he immediately started to compile them.

Now because of his great effort and many hours spent compiling the facts, Bob will soon have a book written about Winfield during the Denslow period. The book will soon be printed and those interested may purchase a copy.

Further research showed that by 1920 Lorenzo and Hazel were living in Washington, DC and the 1930 census showed they were residents of Los Angeles County, California. By then they had a daughter, Patricia, and a son, Huston. It was in 1930 that Hazel's father (her mother had died when Hazel was only twelve and a half) had also moved to the Los Angeles, California area.

It is in Los Angeles, near the UCLA campus, that a street sign was placed marking Denslow Avenue, named in honor of Lorenzo to recognize his contributions to education.

Through their research Carol and Bill had pretty well pieced together the story of Mary and Lorenzo. However, one thing was missing - a living relative. Records showed that Hazel, Lorenzo and their son, Huston, had all died in the 1970s.

Early one February morning, Carol decided to look on the web one more time. This time she typed in the name Lorenzo Denslow, instead of James, his father's name, that Carol had used on other internet searches. Carol was shocked. "I about fainted in front of the computer," she joked. She'd received a "hit." It had been entered by Philip Denslow of Lilburn, near Atlanta, Georgia. He was looking for Denslow information! Philip's information said his father's name was Huston Denslow and his grandfather's name was Lorenzo Carl Denslow! Success at last!

Carol immediately contacted Philip, but how would she tell him that his great-grandmother's cremated remains were in the People's State Bank?

Along with telling Phil about his grandmother's cremains, Carol also mentioned to Phil that Bill was a director at the People's State Bank.

Klay Edwards received a phone call at the bank from Phil. He had called to verify that Bill Klopfenstein was a bank director. Klay told him that was correct.

So Phil answered Carol's e-mail saying it was quite interesting information but he must take some time to think about it.

Many e-mails between Winfield and Atlanta, GA followed. Unfortunately, Philip did not know where his great-grandfather was buried, nor did he know that his great-grandmother's ashes were in Winfield at the People's State Bank.

Philip contacted Lorenzo's daughter, Patricia, who is living near Dallas, Texas. But, alas, she did not know either. Then Phil asked his mother, who lives in California. She had some papers of Lorenzo's that contained the answer to where James was buried! Lorenzo's father was buried in the Lemonville Cemetery at Lemons, Missouri. He did not have a tombstone. That is one reason Carol had such a hard time finding his burial site.

The papers indicated that Lorenzo wanted to place a tombstone there for his father, but had died before fulfilling this task. The papers also indicated that Lorenzo's mother, Mary Denslow's ashes were in the Bank of Winfield.

Just how they got in the bank can be surmised. It is assumed that Lorenzo was a good friend of the local Winfield banker, J. M. Lindley.

The original Bank of Winfield was located where Jennings and Associates Real Estate is today. It was reorganized and the People's State Bank was formed. The bank moved across the street to what is now the People's Insurance Office. Mary's ashes were also moved to the new location. However, the thread of information was broken somewhere along the way. Thanks to the efforts and care by the employees and staff of the People's State Bank of that strange looking metal box in the bank basement, Mary will not remain a resident of Winfield for another eighty-eight years! And now, because of the efforts of Bill and Carol Klopfenstein and the concern and caring of her newly found great-grandson, Philip Denslow, Mary has been given a proper burial beside her husband at the Lemonville Cemetery at Lemon, Missouri.

Philip and his wife Katy came to Winfield the week-end of August 27th, 2004 as guests of Bill and Carol Klopfenstein. They spent the week-end touring the area and taking in the sights and walking the streets that his grandfather and great-grandmother did some ninety years ago.

On Saturday, August 28th, the Denslows accompanied by Bill and Carol Klopfenstein and Bob and Naomi Lindell traveled to Lemons, Missouri and laid Mary to rest beside her husband, James.

The service was held at 2:00 PM. The Rev. Harold Myers of the Spickard Baptist Church, Spickard, Missouri, officiated. There were eighteen in attendance.

Through the efforts of Carol talking with genealogist Jaunita Hall of Lemons, Mo., Harold Myers was discovered to be a great-grandnephew of Mary. Carol had put Phil in contact with Harold and they met for the first time at the cemetery.

It had been a cloudy, rainy day, but God was with the family and friends all the way - even to the sun appearing during the service, a cool breeze and the location on the hill where the water had drained away.

It was very appropriate that Harold would be the minister for the service. He read the scripture from the Bible and Philip Denslow read some of his grandfathers memories he had written about his mother, Mary.

Rev. Myers asked Carol Klopfenstein to say a few words about how this had all came about. Carol also mentioned how she was thankful that Philip and Katy could come to Winfield. It had been a real blessing to meet them and Carol knows that Mary would have been very proud of her great-grandson.