Category Archives: Laurence [Di Lorenzo]

A Valentine’s Day love story: My grandmother elopes

Valentine’s Day this year brought to mind one of my favorite family love stories — how my maternal grandmother eloped during the Roaring Twenties to marry my maternal grandfather. Pieced together like an heirloom quilt from precious scraps of information, this tale begins in the early 1900s in Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y.

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My maternal grandparents Tony and Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence in 1926 with their first child — my mother Peggy, age 3 weeks, who was born about two years after they married. Scan by Molly Charboneau

My grandmother Elizabeth Christina Stoutner, born on 20 Nov. 1905, was a third generation German-American — descended from ancestors who arrived in the 1850s. They appear in census reports as machinist, brick manufacturer, milliner, railroad employee and glove workers.

Born on 2 May 1902, my grandfather Antonio W. “Tony” Laurence (his surname anglicized from Di Lorenzo) was an Italian-American whose mother was born here and whose father arrived from Italy in 1896. His family members populate the census as junk dealer, garage owner, shoe shiners and glove factory workers.

The boy next door

Growing up, Tony and Lizbeth (as he called her) lived next door to each other on Wells Street in Gloversville — she in a house built from brick manufactured by her grandfather and he in a wood frame house just around the corner from his father’s Peter Laurence Filling Station on East Fulton St.

Sometime in the early 1920s, my tall, artistic, stylish and high strung grandmother Lizbeth fell for my grandfather Tony, the warm, handsome, solid boy next door — a skilled mechanic, craftsman and troubleshooter who was anchored in a large, lively extended family. And he fell for her.

But the road ahead was rocky because Lizbeth’s mother was “very against their marriage,” according to the daughter of one of my grandmother’s oldest friends.

I have to wonder why: Was my great grandmother Celia (Mimm) Stoutner influenced by the anti-Italian sentiment then sweeping the country? Or was she just intent on running her oldest daughter’s life? Whatever the reason, her opposition spurred my strong-willed grandmother to action.

Secret meetings

My great grandmother must have told Lizbeth to stop seeing Tony, and she pretended to agree. But all the while my grandmother was carrying on a subterfuge that fooled her family — including her younger siblings, my mom’s Uncle Andy and Aunt Margaret. Years later, Margaret shared this story:

Elizabeth was working at the school [a one-room country schoolhouse on Bemis Rd. about 3 miles east of Gloversville] and we all thought she had stopped seeing Tony. She would leave in the morning and walk all that way to the school, then in the evening walk all that way back. Well, we found out later that she would actually leave the house and walk a few blocks to meet Tony, who drove her to the school. At the end of the day, he would pick her up, drive her back and drop her a few blocks away so she could walk up to our house alone.

Exactly when my grandmother’s family discovered these secret meetings I can’t say for sure. But after high school, my grandparents were separated geographically when they both went away to study — Lizbeth to teachers college in Oneonta, Otsego, N.Y., and Tony to learn automotive mechanics in Detroit, Wayne, Mich.

I’ll bet my great grandmother Celia thought distance would put an end to my grandparents’ courtship — but if so, she didn’t know her daughter very well. Sure, my grandmother Lizbeth put on a great show while she was still underage and needed permission to marry — but I think she was just biding her time, waiting to turn 18 so she could finally follow her heart.

Young love endures

How they planned it I don’t know, and my mother was never told. But after she came of age, my grandmother Lizbeth joined my grandfather Tony in Detroit, where they were married by Father J.J. Hunt, a Catholic priest, on 9 Jan. 1924 — just 50 days after her eighteenth birthday.

My grandmother had boldly embraced her future, and she clearly did not want her family coming after her. The 1924 Return of Marriages in the County of Wayne, Michigan shows that, while my grandfather admitted that he was from New York, my grandmother said she was from Michigan.

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The treasured  souvenir of my maternal grandparents’ marriage: A tiny loving cup showing the Post Office in Detroit, Wayne, Michigan — the city where they were married in 1924. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Returning to Gloversville as a couple, my maternal grandparents Elizabeth and Tony remained married for life — confounding the nay sayers and eventually winning Celia over. And they left tangible evidence that their young love endured.

On my bookshelf sits a tiny, silver plated loving cup from the Detroit Post Office — the only souvenir from their wedding — treasured and re-silvered by my grandmother and passed down from my mom to me.

After my grandfather died at age 80, inside his wallet we found my grandmother’s pristine calling card with her maiden name embossed in gold, on which she had penned her address on Elm St., Oneonta, N.Y. — where he may have gone to fetch her for their clandestine drive to Detroit all those years ago.

May we all have love like theirs in our lives — and many Happy Valentines Days in our future!

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Remembering Aunt Rita

On Veterans Day this year I found myself thinking about my aunt Rita Mary Laurence — my mom’s younger sister — born on 7 May 1929 in Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y.

Aunt Rita was not actually in the military, but she rendered service nevertheless. During the Vietnam War, she worked at the blood bank in the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego, California, also known as Balboa Hospital — then the largest military hospital in the world.

Laurence, Rita Mary Hyland Lab Schweitzer img084That is also where she died unexpectedly after a brief illness on 1 July 1966 — and her effervescent presence was missed. Aunt Rita was a unique and memorable relative with a story worth sharing.

Aunt Rita’s lighter side

My Aunt Rita moved to California in 1955 when I was a child and took a job as Senior Technologist at the San Diego Blood Bank. She had gone on a trip there with a friend, fallen in love with the city and decided to stay.

And California seemed to suit her. I remember Aunt Rita flying home for vacations looking slim and tanned, sporting stylish cat eye glasses and colorful casual wear.

“You would have loved Rita,” my dad told me years later. “She was funny and unconventional.” Indeed, from the few times she visited what I remember most was her infectious humor and acerbic wit.

On one trip east, Aunt Rita had her red Triumph convertible shipped, too, so she could show off the kind of car she drove — thrilling us children and scandalizing my maternal grandmother by roaring up the driveway at the farm in a cloud of dust just before a family picnic.

“The car was so small you had to pack the trunk as if it was a suitcase,” was how my mom summed it up — a far cry from our sensible Ford station wagon, but perfect for a maverick, wisecracking aunt who liked to travel light.

College educated, self-supporting and independent, Aunt Rita was one of my role models during adolescence — clearing a path that I  would later travel as the turbulent 1960s unfolded.

All business in her career

"San Diego, CA Old Naval Hospital Administration Building 1955" by Adam from Champaign, Illinois, USA - San Diego, CA Old Naval Hospital Administration Building 1955Uploaded by xnatedawgx. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons -,_CA_Old_Naval_Hospital_Administration_Building_1955.jpg#/media/File:San_Diego,_CA_Old_Naval_Hospital_Administration_Building_1955.jpg
Old Naval Hospital Administration Building in San Diego, Calif. (1955). During the Vietnam War, my aunt Rita Mary Laurence worked at the blood bank in this hospital — then the largest military hospital in the world. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

If Aunt Rita was a cutup in her private life, she was all business in her blood banking career.

According to her obituary, after college, “She received her training under Dr. John J. Clemmer, at Bender Hygienic Laboratory in Albany, N.Y.” I have an Albany Times-Union photo from that time showing Aunt Rita with some of the first donors to the N.Y. State Division of Employment’s new blood bank.

After that, she went to work at the San Diego Blood Bank, where she was Senior Technologist from 1955 to 1960. She joined the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) in 1959.

Her next career move was to Los Angeles for a job with Hyland, a serum supplier. During her tenure there, a news photographer snapped the impressive photo shown above of Aunt Rita in a crisp, white lab coat meeting with biochemist Rhena Echert-Schweitzer, daughter of Nobel prize winner Albert Schweitzer.

In 1965, Aunt Rita returned to the San Diego Blood Bank where, says her obituary, “As the dynamic and active Laboratory Supervisor she was responsible for collecting and processing 35,000 units of blood annually and supplying the blood needs of 37 hospitals throughout San Diego County.”

From there she went to her last job at the U.S. Naval Hospital, where she worked as a Medical Technologist in the Blood Bank Section of the Bureau of Medicine & Surgery, Laboratory Service, Clinical Pathology Branch.

Well known and beloved at the time of her death, Aunt Rita was honored through a Rita Laurence Memorial Fund set up by the California Blood Bank System — and a Rita Laurence Memorial Scholarship created by her family to help Gloversville High School students majoring in science in college.

Aunt Rita is remembered fondly in our family as an independent free spirit who carved out her niche in a world where self-supporting career women were just coming into their own.

There will be more on Aunt Rita in future posts.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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