George and Alma Widmann Dankenbring

Alma Pauline Widmann

George William Dankenbring

Parents: Elizabeth Krieger and William Widmann

Parents: Maria Dickenhorst and August Dankenbring

Born: June 9, 1887 in Sioux City (Woodbury County), Iowa (no certificate, confirmation record)

Born: December 16, 1879 in Emma (Lafayette County), Missouri

Married: December 25, 1905 to George Dankenbring in Waterloo, Iowa (picture) (no certificate) (church record) (newspaper)

Married: 1. 5/31/1902 to Myrtle Ratekin in Kansas City, MO (license) 2. 12/25/1905 to Alma Widmann in Waterloo, IA (newspaper), 3. 2/26/1916 to Nondus Spoo in Des Moines, IA (newspaper), 4. 4/10/1921 to Estelle Short in Brandon, IA (certificate)

Died: March 6, 1915 in Oelwein, Iowa, of pneumonia (and childbirth complications) (certificate, obituary, church record)

Died: July 14, 1934 in Santa Monica, CA of bronchopneumonia (and heart problems) (death certificate, will)

Interred: Fairview Cemetery in Waterloo, Iowa (picture)

Interred: Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica CA (cremated) (picture)

Occupation: Drug salesman; drug store proprietor and general Manager

Alma was the apple of her mother’s eye, beautiful and charming with a sweet disposition. She married at age 18; George was 26. He was the brother of good friends, widowed with an infant son. Although family stories hint at parental disapproval, it would seem that these were colored by later events. The couple lived in Waterloo for nine years, and both the Widmann and Dankenbring families often gathered at their summer cottage on the river; Alma and George visited in Sweet Springs and Manning as well. Elizabeth must have loved having granddaughters close. Even the move to Oelwein was not bad since it was only an hour away on the railroad line. But then, just six months after the move, as family lore goes, Wilma (age 6) had an ear infection and Alma insisted on holding her for her treatment (anesthetic and lancing), against doctor advice. Alma was pregnant with a boy. She contracted pneumonia, the baby was born prematurely and died, and Alma died too - one week later - the day before Eleanor’s second birthday; she was only 27. Once again, George left his children in the care of others, as Alma's parents assumed responsibility for the two girls.

George was the consummate salesman -- a real charmer who had a way with the women. He enjoyed the "good life" -- expensive cars, fine furniture and china, a summer place, and his houses had indoor plumbing! But trouble loomed; following Alma’s death, his life disastrously spiraled out of hand -- a third marriage, forgery, a move to Minneapolis, prison, divorce and disownment. George then married for the fourth time, moved west and changed his name to Daken. Business troubles in Seattle during the Depression and perhaps his health induced a move to southern CA, where George died suddenly, but not totally unexpectedly -- diagnosed with heart problems, he had written a will. After Alma’s death, her parents had taken the girls (and the bodies of Alma and the baby) back to Waterloo; George had minimal personal involvement in their lives, probably at family request. However, for the last seven years of his life, he conscientiously sent each girl $25 monthly and left them money in his will. Estelle’s entire family absolutely adored George (see her 1934 letters to Ellie); she never remarried in the following 60 years.

Alma Widmann Dankenbring

Census data: 1890, 1895, 1900, 1905, 1910, 1915

Photo Gallery: 1888-1932

George Dankenbring

Census data:1880, 1890, 1900, 1905, 1910, 1915, 1920, 1930

Waterloo and Oelwein newspapers: 1888-1927



Date of Birth, Place

Date of Death, Place

Married - date and to whom

# children

1. **Merrill Dankenbring Sell

8/12/1903 Kansas City, MO

5/20/1922 Kansas City, MO



2. Wilma Louise Dankenbring

12/8/1908, Waterloo, IA

11/18/1976 at sea (a cruise)

10/7/1930 Raymond Hohenstein in Minneapolis, MN


3. Eleanor Alma Dankenbring

3/7/1913, Waterloo, IA

10/19/1974, Bethesda, MD

5/15/1936 Donald Albert Hay in Washington, DC


4. (unnamed son)

2/28/1915, Oelwein, IA

2/28/1915, Oelwein, IA



Eleanor and Wilma, about the time of their mother's death ~1915
Notes: Drug stores and pharmacists were much different in 1900-1934, the period that George was in this profession (see history of drugs); until the early 1920s, pharmacists routinely prescribed drugs without the oversight of physicians.

**Merrill (1903-1922) had been a conundrum for many years. While Chuck Hohenstein, Wilma’s oldest child, remembered his mother talking about her older half-brother Merrill (a product of George’s first marriage), and had three pictures (~1908-1917) of him in an album, Eleanor never mentioned him to any of her children. Chuck said his mother remembered meeting Merrill. Uncle Elmer Widmann (1902-2004) vaguely recalled Merrill too in 2000-2004, but had no details about him or about George's first marriage. No one knew the name of George's first wife. As of 2009, no records had ever been located for a Merrill Dankenbring; no answers were ever received to any postings on online genealogical sites. After locating a marriage record in 2009 I was able to determine what happened to Merrill; he died in an automobile accident at age 18.

George W. Dankenbring and Myrtle Ratekin took out a marriage license on May 31, 1902 in Kansas City, MO. While the license does not list ages, it is known that George was 22 and Myrtle was 20 (her 1900 census specifies she was born Feb 1882). It is unknown why George moved to Kansas City, but perhaps it was for schooling or work opportunities. Less than two years after their marriage Myrtle, who was only 22, died on April 14, 1904 of a bowel obstruction. Her son Merrill was just 8 months old (his birthdate is known from his May 20, 1922 death certificate which specified his age as 18-9-8, so a birthdate of 8/12/1903). Merrill also died precipitously young, age 18, of a cerebral hemmorhage from an accidental skull fracture suffered in an automobile accident about 12 blocks from his home.

Myrtle was the only daughter of Merrill Ratekin, the namesake of her son. Her mother was widowed (age 30, married name Ann Shively) with three children in 1880 -- Minnie 12, Gertrude 9 and Edward 6. Merrill Ratekin was 28 and single in 1880. So Gertrude was Myrtle's half-sister, but had been raised by Merrill Ratekin since about age 10. Myrtle and her parents lived with Gertrude and her husband in 1900. It is unknown if George and Myrtle continued to live with Gertrude and her husband and parents after their marriage. After Myrtle's death, George left his son with Gertrude and her husband Dayton Sell who were childless, visiting several times over the years, first alone and then with Alma after their marriage (see newspaper articles). George and Alma even had Merrill visit them and the Sinns in 1909/1910 (see photo album; Merrill is in the pictures with toddler Wilma).

Merrill exclusively used the surname Sell; it is unknown if he was formally adopted, it is unknown if he knew George was his natural father. Merrill's 1910 and 1920 census forms list him as Merrill Sell. His 1922 death certificate lists him as Merrill Sell, with his parents specified as Gertrude Shively and Dayton Sell. Since Merrill died a year after George's marriage to Estelle, and George apparently never told Estelle of Merrill's existence, it is assumed that George became estranged from his son some time in the 1910s.

Within six months of Myrtle's death in April, 1904, George moved to Waterloo, Iowa, to live with his sisters. He lived at 328 High Street in January 1905 and said he had lived there "one year" on the January 1905 census form, which seems to indicate he moved to Waterloo immediately after Myrtle's death in April. Ironically, in 1905, his sister and her family lived in the same home his Widmann in-laws would later buy, by 1910, and raise his two daughters in (1915-1927 -- 1920 census)! George's sisters belonged to the same Lutheran Church as the Widmanns and were friends with the Widmann girls prior to his move, at least by 1902 when they were at a party with two of George's sisters (11/11/1902 newspaper).

George and Alma's unnamed son is buried in Fairview Cemetery (Waterloo) as "Baby D" just behind his mother's grave. After Alma and the baby died, the two girls, ages 2 and 7, moved to Waterloo to live with their maternal grandparents. George, and then George and Nondus, visited Waterloo, and had the girls up to Oelwein, as documented in the Oelwein newspapers; it is not clear how often these visits took place, but it is clear there was fairly frequent visitation in the 1910s.

As much as Alma's parents may not have approved 100% of George marrying Alma, it seems clear that at least Nondus' father was not enthused. George and Nondus married (article 1, 2) on 26 Feb 1916 at her aunt's home in another county and her father did not attend. Plus, the wedding seems precipitous as the shower for Nondus was held after the wedding, upon their return from a honeymoon in Chicago. George was now twice widowed with three children he was not raising. And Nondus was only 23 while George was 37. However, the father at least softened enough to have the young couple start out living in his home. Most of the newspaper articles found in the Oelwein papers detail a lot of involvement of Nondus' mother, but little of her father; the mother visited the couple at least once in St. Paul, MN in June, 1917 too. Nondus and George visited the girls in Waterloo often, and the girls visited them; it is assumed visits to Kansas City to Merrill still occurred but maybe were less frequent. After two years of marriage, while George was incarcerated, Nondus divorced him in May 1918, resumed her maiden name, and married Wallace Burnham, an undertaker, on 8 Sep 1919. Nondus had no children with George; she and Wallace had a daughter Betty. (census: 1910, 1920 p.2, 1925). Nondus Burnham, born 11 Nov 1892, died March, 1975 in CA. George actually stopped in Oelwein on June 20, 1919; it is unknown if he saw Nondus, who was probably living with her parents but engaged to Wallace at the time.

Curiously, George's brother-in-law Elmer Widmann was attending seminary academy in Minneapolis at the same time George and Nondus lived there, and he remembered visiting their apartment once, probably in the fall of 1917.

George probably listed the 328 High Street Waterloo address on his 9/12/1918 draft card because he had no permanent address, he may not have known Nondus' address (they were actually already divorced; perhaps George was not notified -- he lists Nondus Spoo as his wife), and that is where his daughters lived.

George married for the fourth and last time on April 10, 1921 to Estelle Short, in Brandon Iowa. They were both living in Mason City in 1920, two blocks apart, where she is thought to have been an x-ray technician; it is unknown why each chose this city at that time. Upon their marriage, she was 27 and he was 41. However, in the beginning, he lied to Estelle about his age -- the certificate states that George is just 36, that this is his second marriage, and he is from St. Paul, MN. Furthermore, Eleanor told her children, in the 1960s/1970s, that Estelle never knew of any marriage other than that to Alma, or children other than Wilma and Eleanor; Ellie's children never asked Estelle directly, although they maintained a relationship with her until her death. By 1924 George and Estelle had moved to Seattle, WA where they legally changed their name to Daken. In the early 1930s they moved to the Los Angeles, CA area, where George died in 1934 and Estelle in 1993. George never saw his daughters after his move out west in the early 1920s. Estelle and her family adored George, and felt that all his business problems were brought on by unscrupulous business partners and George's soft heart. She never remarried in the 60 years after his death, and her cremated remains reside next to his. Estelle was born 29 Jan 1894; she died 29 Aug 1993, age 99. (census: 1900, 1910, 1915, 1920 and 1920, 1930, 1940)

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