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by Laurel Irene Spencer Busch

Valentine L. and Irena Margaret Neighbarger SPAWR’s middle daughter, Clara Catherine SPAWR, was my great-grandmother. She was born November 25, 1859, not long after her parents and 2-year-old sister, Elizabeth, moved to Bazaar Township in Chase County, Kansas. They had come from McLean County, Illinois, possibly by way of Iowa, where Valentine’s parents were settling. Ella and another sister whose name is unknown were born later.

Clara’s father enlisted in the Iowa volunteer infantry in Clarksville, Iowa, in 1863. Shortly thereafter, Irena and the children moved back to Hudson, Illinois. It appears from Valentine’s diary that the youngest daughter died there during the war. The regiment was disbanded in 1864, and some time between then and 1870 the family moved to Kansas again. This time they settled in Neosho Falls in Woodson County, where her father was one of that village's first trustees. Clara’s grandparents, Peter and Elizabeth Messer SPAWR, also relocated there from Iowa in 1866. Clara’s family moved back to Illinois in 1876, when Clara was about 16, and settled in the Gilman area of Iroquois County. Her mother died there in 1877.

The SPAWRs were neighbors with Isaac and Mary Barrows, who had moved to Gilman from New York after the Civil War. On December 26, 1880, 21-year-old Clara married their son, Charles Ernest Barrows, in Onarga, Iroquois County, Illinois. Her sister Lizzie later married another Barrows son, William, but was divorced from him by 1885.

Clara and Ernest had six children:
Florence Irene; born Sept. 28, 1881; married Sidney Proctor, then Dick Nicholes
Royal Valentine; born March 26, 1883; married Karen Elise Naess
Mary Mabel; born Oct. 31, 1884; married Milton Witherspoon, then Omer Foster
Pearl Eleanor; born June 20, 1888; married Paul Denning Sr.
Elsie; born Feb. 13, 1892; married Cecil Clutterham
Madge Birdine; born Aug. 28, 1896; married "a Dempster"

The family moved to Chicago around 1890. Lizzie ended up in Chicago, too, and ran three boarding houses there. She never remarried and did not have any children. I do not know what became of Clara’s younger sister Ella.

In Chicago, Clara and Ernest lived in a series of rented houses. The 1910 census found them at 7149 Wentworth Street with their three youngest daughters plus "a number of lodgers." Ernest’s occupation was carpenter.

Four years later, in 1914, Ernest died at the age of 56. Clara was 54. For the rest of her life, she moved around among all of her daughters, spending most of her time with Madge. When Clara died at age 84 in 1943, she was staying with Pearl Barrows Denning’s family in Joliet, Illinois.

Clara was dearly loved by her children and grandchildren. She refused to let them call her "Grandma," and somehow she acquired the nickname "Hurleybelle." (Ernest was called "Uncle Ern" rather than "Grandpa.")

Just as Clara gave one of her daughters "Irene" (her mother’s name) as a middle name, Clara’s son Roy named my mother "Irene." In turn, my mother gave me the middle name of "Irene." Sadly, neither my mother nor her siblings were aware of the origin of the name. I did not learn my great-great-grandmother’s name until I had been working on my family history for more than 30 years.

If you have or would like more information about the SPAWR or Barrows families, I would be happy to hear from you. You are also invited to visit my family history home visit, click here.


Clara SPAWR and Ernest Barrows’ only son, Roy, was my grandfather. He did not use the name "Royal Valentine" after he grew up; in fact, he apparently changed his name to "Roy Ernest." He married my grandmother, Karen Elise Naess, in Chicago in 1907. She was a housemaid who had come to the United States from Norway about 1904.

Roy and Elise had six children:
Florence Elise, married Alexander Francis Diehl, Sr., still living
Olea Catherine, born March 27, 1915, married William Stanley Cabaj, Sr., died November 1985
Margaret Elizabeth, still living
Irene Karen, born September 3, 1920, married Harry Edward Spencer, Sr., died April 12, 1979
Mabel Eleanor, married William Walter Flom, still living
Ernest Adolf, born July 7, 1925, married Ruth Bowden, deceased

They moved to the tiny town of Amberg in northern Wisconsin in 1922, believing promises of a land promoter that they could turn logged areas into profitable farms. (Ever heard of a stump farm?) They never were able to make a success of their farm, and Roy and Karen ended up back in Chicago during World War II (by then all their children were grown). Besides trying his hand as a farmer, throughout his life Roy worked in mining camps in Colorado and as a teamster, railroad telegraph operator, taxi driver, night engineer in a nursing home, school bus driver, and collector for a newspaper agency.

My mother, Irene Karen Barrows, was Roy and Elise’s fourth daughter, born a couple of years before they moved to Amberg. She got to know my father, Harry Edward Spencer, from the nearby town of Athelstane, Wisconsin. Their wedding plans had to be postponed when he was drafted into the Army to fight in World War II, but they were married in Chicago as soon as he was released from the service in November 1945.

In 1948, my parents joined the Spencer family in a cross-country move to western Oregon for jobs in the lumber industry there. My Barrows grandparents took a train trip to visit us in 1954. They did not complete the trip because Roy had a heart attack and died in Laramie, Wyoming, at the age of 71. Elise lived until her death in 1964 in Chicago with daughter Margaret.

If you have information or would like to know more about the Barrows families, including Roy’s sisters, I would be happy to hear from you. You are also invited to visit my family history home page; to visit, click here.

To return to the SPAWR Family of America homepage, click here.

To return to the page describing Valentine L. SPAWR's life and history, click here.