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Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories

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Columns | Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories

Six Generation Galvestonians Are Hard to Come By

by Bill Cherry
Bill Cherry

Because I have written so much about Galveston, her people and her past, most people assume I’m from a multi-generational island family.

The truth is I was the first one of this family of Cherrys that was born on the island. All before me were born in Kentucky and Louisiana.

Quite frankly, it’s a source of embarrassment for me. Why would they have wanted to live in Kentucky and Louisiana when Galveston was here?

My very first friend on this earth was Butch Kelso. We met in 1944 because we lived across the street from each other. Butch was three and I was four.

That best buddy friendship has remained strong for all of the subsequent 68 years.

In fact we are so close to being blood brothers that we decided it would be alright for me to claim his son, Mark, as my nephew. And I do it with pride.

Butch and his wife, Judy Kobarg Kelso, are both from families that settled on the island in its early years as a city.

Butch’s mother’s side just after the Civil War; Judy’s father’s family in the early 1900s.

Both families quickly became prominent.

When my nephew, Mark, and his wife, Jennifer Beck Kelso, had their first child on April 4th, 2012, Mark Andrew “Drew” Kelso, Jr. became a sixth generation Galvestonian.

As World War I ended in 1918, Barbara Bornefeld was born into two prominent island families – the Herman Bornefelds and the Alphonse Kennisons. Herman Bornefeld was in the steamship business, Fowler and McVitie. Herman’s wife, Lucie, was the daughter of the Alphonse Kennisons.

The Kennisons were in the insurance business. Kennison and Beers was its name.

Lucie played the violin and was a Latin scholar. She tutored Butch and me in Latin.

Herman was involved in the Galveston politics of the old corporation form of government.

I remember one of his old campaign posters strapped to a heating duct in their 24th and Avenue L home’s basement.

By June 26, 1941, Barbara Bornefeld had finished two years at University of Texas, pledged Kappa, made her debut at the Galveston Artillery Club, married Walter A. Kelso, Jr., moved into a new brick home that her husband and his father’s company had built, and given birth to Walter A. “Butch” Kelso, III.

Within what seemed like moments, again her life changed. World War II was going strong, and Barbara’s husband, now a lieutenant, was shipped out overseas.

Not more than days before the armistice was signed, Barbara became a widow and contemporaneously Butch was without a father.

Barbara never remarried, although that didn’t interfere with her social life. She was an active artist, sailor, Red Cross certified swimming instructor, bridge player and spent most Sunday mornings in her chosen pew at Trinity Episcopal Church.

Barbara B. Kelso
Barbara B. Kelso Circa 1950
Photo courtesy Mark Kelso

Throughout most of those years after Walter, Jr., died, she was the assistant librarian at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Barbara died in 2001, leaving a significant vacant space in many of our hearts.

After college, Butch married Judy Kobarg whose family emigrated from Germany to Galveston in the early 1900s.

Carl Johannes Kobarg became a delivery man for the famous grocer, Peter Gengler. Anna Bilkernroth, who came to Galveston in 1904, became the personal assistant and cook for Mrs. Waverly Smith.

Carl and Anna met when he delivered groceries to the Smith’s home. The romance blossomed and when they announced their engagement, Mrs. Smith was so pleased that she took Anna to New York by steamer ship so that she could buy Anna a wedding dress.

Within a decade or so, the Carl Kobargs owned a major island dairy. My family bought fresh milk from them for years at their downtown Market Street store.

Butch and Judy’s son, Mark, graduated from the maritime academy at Texas A&M, and he married another maritime graduate, Jennifer Beck from Midlothian.

They now live, along with son, Drew, in the home that W.A. Kelso, Jr. and Sr. had built for Drew’s great-grandparents.

Jennifer and Mark Kelso with Drew

Jennifer and Mark Kelso with Drew
April, 2012 photo courtesy Mark Kelso

The jingle of cash registers of islanders paying bar tabs, restaurant checks and settling up gambling debts was especially prolific during the 1940s and early into the 1950s.

Lots of rather shallow reasons for Galveston’s earning the moniker of Playground of the South have been advanced over the years. But there’s one that has lurched in the background but has never been spoken about, not even as loud as a stage whisper.

America’s troubles of those generations had passed down and compounded almost as an accountant’s accrual.

The city’s balance sheet was full of a multitude of parents, grandparents, sons and daughters, and friends who were either casualties of World War I, or the financial despair of the Great Depression, the five years of World War II, even the Korean Conflict that immediately followed.

They played to forget.

While most of the members of those families have moved on, there is a very special core that never will. This branch of the Kobargs and Kelsos are a strong part of that special core.

Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories
May 23 , 2012 column
Copyright William S. Cherry. All rights reserved

Galveston, Texas

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