Together, siblings remember life apartWhen their parents died within 17 months of each other in the late 1930s, the Hunter children — Robert “Bob,” Shirley, Richard “Dick,” Marjorie “Marge” and George — were separated. They left their home on Banks Avenue in Superior to take five different paths.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
When their parents died within 17 months of each other in the late 1930s, the Hunter children — Robert “Bob,” Shirley, Richard “Dick,” Marjorie “Marge” and George — were separated. They left their home on Banks Avenue in Superior to take five different paths.
Two went to Fairlawn Children’s Home; two went to live with aunts and uncles. Eventually two were adopted, and the youngest was cut off from his siblings for more than a decade.
But Shirley Hunter never gave up. Through school, marriage and children, she waited, watching from afar, until she could bring her family together again.
Saturday, the three surviving siblings — Shirley, Marge and George — gathered at Fairlawn to pool their memories and pass them on to younger generations.
“The message that filtered down was ‘You hang onto family no matter what,’” said Randine Petersen, Shirley’s daughter.
Lulu Hunter was 39 when she died of a stroke, leaving behind five children. Shirley, the second oldest, was 11 at the time. George, the youngest, was 3.
“My dad kept us together,” Shirley said. But their father, Gordon, died of pancreatic cancer in 1939, 17 months after his wife. Standing by his bedside, Shirley remembered him telling her “I’m going to be with your mother.”
George’s wife, Karen, recalls Shirley talking about her father’s death.
“He said to you, ‘It’s up to you oldest children to keep you all together,’” Karen said.
But it was an impossible task.
George and Dick went to live at Fairlawn. Bob stayed with relatives in Superior. An aunt and uncle from Duluth took Shirley in.
“I was just a maid” to them, she said.
Marge, 10, was adopted by an older couple in South Range.
“Twenty-five dollars they paid for me,” she said. “They got me cheap.”
The Superior native admitted she was spoiled.
“They were good people,” Marge said. “I got anything I wanted.” That included accordion lessons.
At Fairlawn, George remembers trying to run away.
“I started to,” he said, but he only got about half a block before staff caught up with him and brought him back to the mansion. He remembered being lined up with the other children to be viewed by prospective parents. Each time, George wondered “How come no one took me?”
Finally, the Hanson family took him and, four years later, officially adopted him.
“It was terrific,” he said. The Hansons gave him love and support. He learned to play piano, football and basketball. But they took something away, as well — his Hunter family.
“They didn’t want us to visit at all,” Marge said. For 15 years, they were cut off from George. But his athletic career left them a trail to follow. Bob sat with the crowd to watch his brother’s football games at Central High School, although he never approached George. When their youngest brother began to play basketball at the University of Minnesota, Shirley was able to keep track of him.
The day George turned 21, he got a call from Shirley.
“I said ‘You don’t know me, but I’m your sister,’” she recalled. “He said, ‘I’ll be right out.’”
“After Shirley called him he was so excited,” Karen said. “It makes me cry, he was so excited.”
The next day they met at Shirley’s home in St. Louis Park, Minn.
“It was love at first site,” said Karen, who was dating George at the time. “Everyone fell in love with each other.”
“Because we’re family,” Randine said.
Not every path led to a happy ending. Dick, who had mental health issues, lived at Fairlawn until he was 18. Then he was released to his siblings. Bob, a college graduate and former military pilot, stepped in and Dick lived with him for a number of years. Then Bob left the area, and the family circle, for 25 years.
“He left when I was 1-year-old,” Randine said. “He came back when my son was 1-year-old.”
Shirley, a nurse with two small children, took Dick in. But his mental health issues were too much for her to deal with. Dick went to live at Chippewa County Hospital in Chippewa Falls. Randine said her mother would bring the family to Chippewa Falls often for visits. They would spend the day together and go out to dinner. But Dick spent the rest of his adult life at the hospital.
Randine has asked her mother to write down a family history, in particular to keep Dick’s story from being lost. But Shirley has had to stop often because it brings up tears.
Bob did reunite with his family. Like Shirley, he used to phone to start the process.
“He called me and said ‘Hi, do you know who this is?’” Marge said. She answered, “No.” But when she realized it was her oldest brother, they called Shirley.
“He came to our house,” Karen said. “Our kids fell in love with him.”
Love for each other was evident as the three remaining siblings sat together Saturday in Fairlawn. They talked of the past as their children and grandchildren toured the mansion and chatted together.
The family traveled five different paths, Randine said, but Shirley was the glue that held them together.
“This is the mother hen,” George said, and he is thankful for that.
“You can’t go back and change anything,” Shirley said. But in the end, she decided, “we all came out real good.”
Her tenacity and love left an impression on the following generations, letting actions speak louder than any words.
“It was the example,” Randine said. “She took care of her family.”
Saturday, her family said “Thanks” with an action of their own. They took the Hunter siblings out to Riverside Cemetery, new headstones had been placed on the formerly unmarked graves of their parents.