Caryn

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My husband’s aunt, Margee Kountz raised her children as a single mom for most of their lives. She was there for them in every way. From early childhood, through the school years, and beyond. She has been a hands-on mom, grandma, and great grandma. As we all know, life isn’t always a bed of roses. It has it’s ups and downs, and especially for kids, we need to help them get through all of it. Margee was very supportive of her family, and took them through most of life’s sad times, and well as celebrating the good times.

I think that one of the greatest joys of Margee’s life was the time she got to spend with her grandchildren. Part of that time was spent helping to raise her son, Dan’s two children, Zech and Staci Kountz, who lost their mother at an early age to cancer. They needed her…all three of them, and she was there for them. To be there for someone like that, even your own child, takes strength…incredible strength. Margee has carried her kids through good times and bad times. It’s what a great mom does, and Margee is a great mom.

Margee is the youngest of her parents, Bob and Nettie Knox, kids, and the last one left now. She was a great sister to Joanne Schulenberg and Linda Cole. While she couldn’t always go see them, she did her best to stay in touch. She saw Joann mere, because she was in a nursing home here in Casper, but Linda lived far away, so it was hard. Nevertheless, Margee loved her sisters dearly, and they loved her. I remember so many years in the past and some of the great gatherings we all had. Margee had learned cake decorating, and often made the birthday cakes for our celebrations. They were beautiful. I miss those gatherings. We had such a great time when we all got together. The family is spread around some, and of course, we get busier by the day, but in my memory files, I still see this family, all together and having a great time. Today is Margee’s 72nd birthday. Happy birthday Margee!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My husband’s uncle, Bobby Cole was a man who liked things to run on a slow, easy pace. That might be why he and his family moved the the dinky town of Kennebec, South Dakota. Bobby’s family was from that area, so it was an area he was comfortable with, and his family all agreed that it felt like home. Growing up in central South Dakota, Bobby liked the country lifestyle, and never really wanted to be anywhere else, even though they moved to Winnemucca, Nevada after a lightning fire destroyed their hotel, taking with it their income. That was a tough time for them. They had a life in Kennebec. They square danced, and socialized with friends. Nevertheless, they made the move to Winnemucca and settled into the area.

Both Bobby and Linda got jobs at the local casinos, and found that they enjoyed their lives there. Winnemucca was a very different place than Kennebec, but they liked the new social side of it. There was always new people to see and meet, and the gambling was fun for them. Like most people, they probably gambled more at first, but after a while, it becomes a normal part of life, and you end up doing it less. For most people, gambling…giving your money away to the casinos gets old, and you do it much less. Whenever we visited, they might play Keno a couple of times, but they would rather be at their house outside of town, visiting with us than hanging out in the casinos.

Bobby and Linda were always fun people to be around, and we enjoyed the visits we made to their home both in Kennebec and Winnemucca. I’m so glad that we took the time to really get to know Bobby, Linda, and their kids, Sheila and Pat. We always felt like we had been a blessing to them, as they were to us. All too soon, Bobby left us, following a courageous battle with cancer on May 30, 2014, while seeking treatment in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Today would have been Bobby’s 78th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Bobby. We love and miss you very much.

As the Third Reich was losing its war against the world, German General Friedrich Paulus, who was commander in chief of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad, urgently requests permission from Adolf Hitler to surrender his position there. Paulus knew they had no chance, but Hitler refused. Of course, we all know that Hitler was insane. He would make his men fight to the death when there was no hope of winning the battle.

Stalingrad was a prized strategic area, and the battle to take the city began in the summer of 1942. German forces assaulted the city, which was a major industrial center, but they had misjudged the Soviets. Despite repeated attempts and having pushed the Soviets almost to the Volga River in mid-October, as well as encircling Stalingrad, the 6th Army, under Paulus, and part of the 4th Panzer Army could not break past the adamantine defense of the Soviet 62nd Army. As their resources diminished. The Germans suffered diminishing resources, partisan guerilla attacks, and the cruelty of the Russian winter, all of which began to take their toll on the Germans. The Soviets made their move on November 19, launching a counteroffensive that began with a massive artillery bombardment of the German position. The assault began when the Soviets attacked the weakest link in the German force-inexperienced Romanian troops. Soviet soldiers took 65,000 soldiers prisoner that day. Then, the Soviets in a bold strategic move, encircled the enemy and launched pincer movements from north and south simultaneously, just as the Germans were encircling Stalingrad. It was at this point that the Germans should have withdrawn, and Paulus requested permission to withdraw, but Hitler wouldn’t allow it. He told his armies to hold out until they could be reinforced. Fresh troops would not arrive until December, and by then it was too late. The Soviet position was too strong, and the Germans were exhausted. They were out of options.

By January 24, the Soviets had overrun Paulus’ last airfield. His position was indefensible and surrender was the only hope for survival. Paulus urgently requested, “Let us surrender!!” Still, Hitler wouldn’t hear of it: “The 6th Army will hold its positions to the last man and the last round.” Paulus held out until January 31, when he finally surrendered. Of more than 280,000 men under Paulus’ command, half were already dead or dying, about 35,000 had been evacuated from the front, and the remaining 91,000 were hauled off to Soviet POW camps. Paulus eventually sold out to the Soviets altogether, joining the National Committee for Free Germany and urging German troops to surrender. Testifying at Nuremberg for the Soviets, he was released and spent the rest of his life in East Germany. Hitler was crazy, and his officers knew it, but there was little they could do about it.

Most of us realize that there are earthquakes going on all the time. Most of them are very small, and often not even felt by anyone. Some are so far out in the ocean that they have little effect of anything. Others are far out in the wilderness or unpopulated areas, and so no one feels them. There are, however, some that are so large and so devastating, that they can never be forgotten. The January 23, 1556 earthquake in Shaanxi, China is just such an earthquake.

The earthquake struck Shaanxi late in the evening, and the aftershocks continuing through the following morning. I’m not sure how the scientists can calculate the magnitude years later, but their investigation revealed that the magnitude of the quake was approximately 8.0 to 8.3. That is, by no means, the strongest quake on record, but it struck right in the middle of a densely populated area with poorly constructed buildings and homes, resulting in a horrific death toll. Making buildings earthquake proof in the 1500s was not even a possibility…at least not to the level of the current building codes. Because of that, the death toll was estimated at a staggering 830,000 people. Of course, counting casualties is often imprecise after large-scale disasters, especially prior to the 20th century. Nevertheless, this disaster is still considered the deadliest of all time.

The earthquake’s epicenter was in the Wei River Valley in the Shaanxi Province, near the cities of Huaxian, Weinan and Huayin. In Huaxian alone, every single building and home collapsed, killing more than half the residents of the city. The death toll there was estimated in the tens of thousands. Similarly, the death toll and economic impact in Weinan and Huayin was also very high. There were places where 60-foot-deep crevices opened in the earth. Serious destruction and death occurred as much as 300 miles away from the epicenter. The earthquake triggered landslides, which also contributed to the massive death toll. Of course, the estimates could be off, but even if the number of deaths caused by the Shaanxi earthquake has been overestimated slightly, it would still rank as the worst disaster in history by a considerable margin.

On January 22, 1905, while Russia was well on its way to losing a war against Japan in the Far East, the country found itself engulfed in internal discontent that finally exploded into violence in Saint Petersburg. The horrific events of the day became known as the Bloody Sunday Massacre. Russia had been under the rule of Romanov Czar Nicholas II who had ascended to the throne in 1894. Czar Nicholas II was a weak-willed man who was more concerned that his line would not continue, because his only son Alexis suffered from hemophilia, than he was about the corruption going on in his own administration. Before long, Nicholas fell under the influence of such unsavory characters as Grigory Rasputin, the so-called mad monk. As corruption and an oppressive regime often do, Russia’s imperialist interests in Manchuria at the turn of the century brought on the Russo-Japanese War, which began in February 1904. Behind the scenes, revolutionary leaders, such as the exiled Vladimir Lenin, were gathering forces of socialist rebellion aimed at toppling the czar.

No one wanted to go to war with Japan, and it was going to take some work to drum up support for the unpopular war. The Russian government allowed a conference of the zemstvos to take the lead. A zemstvo was an institution of local government set up during the great emancipation reform of 1861 and carried out in Imperial Russia by Emperor Alexander II of Russia. The first zemstvo laws went into effect in 1864. After the October Revolution the zemstvo system was shut down by the Bolsheviks and replaced with a multilevel system of workers’ and peasants’ councils…the regional governments instituted by Nicholas’s grandfather Alexander II, in St. Petersburg in November 1904. The demands for reform made at this congress went unmet and more radical socialist and workers’ groups decided to take a different tack.

Things exploded on January 22, 1905, when a group of workers led by the radical priest Georgy Apollonovich Gapon marched to the czar’s Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg to make their demands. the imperial forces immediately opened fire on the demonstrators, killing and wounding hundreds. Strikes and riots broke out throughout the country in outraged response to the massacre. Czar Nicholas responded by promising the formation of a series of representative assemblies, or Dumas, to work toward reform. Unfortunately, he did not follow through with his promise, and internal tension in Russia continued to build over the next decade. As the regime proved unwilling to truly change its repressive ways and radical socialist groups, including Lenin’s Bolsheviks, became stronger, drawing ever closer to their revolutionary goals, the situation grew worse. Finally, more than 10 years later, everything came to a head as Russia’s resources were stretched to the breaking point by the demands of World War I.

My dear uncle, Bill Spencer, who left us on Christmas day, 2020, was such a favorite of mine. We were a lot alike, and we had many of the same interests. It was Uncle Bill who taught me to play cribbage, but was never one to let me win. I learned to play well, and when I won…I knew I had really won. Back when you could get away with letting your kid drive on your lap, or even themselves with you in the car, well before they were of an age to get a permit, he let me drive to their cabin when we visited. Even my dad was ok with it, so I drove the three of us for quite a while. As a mom, when my kids needed family history information, I knew that my Uncle Bill was the guy to go to. He was the family historian from the time he was eight years old, and I quickly became as obsessed as he was. Uncle Bill did his research the old fashioned was, by making trips to different places to look in cemeteries, county and state records offices, and libraries. It was much harder work back then, and those of us who have been the beneficiaries of Uncle Bill’s hard work, can say that he has done a great work.

Uncle Bill is my dad, Allen Spencer’s older brother. Uncle Bill was ten years younger than his sister, Laura Fredrick, and three years older than his younger sister, Ruth Wolfe. The two boys were in the middle. The family lived many years in Holyoke, Minnesota, and ran a farm there. Uncle Bill, being the oldest son, played a big part in the farming. He, along with mostly my dad and Aunt Ruth helped with haying, and growing the the gardens. Their dad worked for the railroad, and so the farm was largely left to my grandmother, Anna Spencer, and the kids. My Aunt Laura was married during a good part of the younger children’s growing up years. Nevertheless, Uncle Bill and Aunt Laura were very close during his childhood years when their mother was working and Aunt Laura took care of him. They grew to have a close friendship, as well as being siblings.

As they grew older, Uncle Bill and my dad were the definitely the boys of the family. They loved getting into all kinds of trouble. The jumped on the moving trains, even though they had a pass to ride. They played with dynamite, even sinking the gatepost couple of inches. They also loved to go fishing, and often brought home a good catch, which all the family got to enjoy. Even though they were typical boys, I guess they weren’t all bad. I’m sure that when Uncle Bill got to Heaven a little less than a month ago, there was a wonderful reunion between the brothers, as they rest of their family too. It makes me sad to know that all of the siblings are gone to Heaven now, but only for myself and those of us left here. For the siblings it a big celebration. They are all together again. Today would have been Uncle Bill’s 99th birthday…and his first birthday in Heaven. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle Bill. We love and miss you very much.

The loss of a loved one, at any age is terribly hard, but when the loved one is only 45 years old, it is even harder. My sister-in-law, Rachel (Franklin) Schulenberg was a sweet, kind, and compassionate woman, who was loved by all who knew her. She married my brother-in-law, Ron Schulenberg on June 12, 2010. Rachel was the love of Ron’s life, and she brought with her the family he didn’t have. Rachel’s daughter, Cassie Iverson had married the week before Rachel and Ron, and she and her husband, Chris would remain in Powell to raise their family, as the children Lucas and Zoey came along. Rachel and her sons, Riley and Tucker, moved to Casper where Ron lived. Rachel and Ron met through her best friend, and his niece, Machelle Moore. It was a match made in Heaven and their wedding was the greatest moment of their lives. Another of the greatest moments of their lives, was when Ron adopted her youngest son, Tucker. The other two children were grown, and Tucker’s dad was unable to be a dad to him, and gave up his rights. Tucker became Tucker Schulenberg, and it was a day of celebration for the whole family.

Rachel was a great mom. She wanted nothing more than to see her kids live out their dreams. She was their biggest cheerleader, and also their greatest comfort. She was there for them, no matter how good things were, or how bad things were. Rachel knew that life happens and everyone makes mistakes, but that never changed the way she felt about the people she loved. She was the kind of person who was there to help them pick up the pieces and make the future better. She was also there to rejoice with them when things were great. Rachel was became a grandmother in 2011 and again in 2015, and those were two of the greatest moments of her life. Her grandchildren, Lucas and Zoey made her life complete. Of course, she always wished they lived a little closer, because she didn’t get to see them as much as she would like, but she saw them as much as she could.

Rachel worked at Walmart for the past year and a half, and she was such a blessing there for coworkers and customers alike. My grandson, Chris Petersen and his fiancée, Karen had the great blessing of seeing her there whenever they shopped for groceries. Rachel was quick to help them with anything they needed, and just to visit with them for a few minutes. She would even step away from her breaks, giving up her breaktime to spend a few minutes with them. It was something that very much endeared Rachel to both of them and to their children. She was their aunt, but she was also their friend. I know many other friends, family members, and customers have the same stories of Rachel’s kindness, helpfulness, and her great smile of greeting.

Rachel was Ron’s other half. She completed him, and gave him the happiest ten years of his entire life. Their marriage on June 12, 2010 filled all of us with gladness, because Ron had found his soulmate…and so had Rachel. They were perfect for each other. Their lives had purpose and most of all love. All too soon, their plans to grow old together were taken from them when Rachel was suddenly taken home to Heaven on January 19, 2021. It was far too soon, as passings are. We will all miss her terribly, and we look forward to seeing her in Heaven when we are reunited there. Rest in peace dear sister. We love and miss you very much.

The Third Reich was filled with people who were nothing less than monsters. Klaus Barbie, the former Nazi Gestapo chief of German-occupied Lyon, France, was one of them. As chief of the secret police in Lyon, Barbie sent 7,500 French Jews and French Resistance partisans to concentration camps, and executed some 4,000 others. He, like the other Nazi officers had no compassion…just a heart filled with hatred. Barbie wasn’t happy with just having them killed, he personally tortured and executed many of his prisoners himself. In 1943, he captured Jean Moulin, the leader of the French Resistance, and had him slowly beaten to death. He took pleasure in the suffering of that good man. In 1944, Barbie rounded up 44 young Jewish children and their seven teachers hiding in a boarding house in Izieu and deported them to the Auschwitz extermination camp. Of the 51 people deported, only one teacher survived. In August 1944, as the Germans prepared to retreat from Lyon, he organized one last deportation train that took hundreds of people to the death camps. He didn’t want to “lose” a single one to the liberation.

Like all cowards, Barbie returned to Germany after the war, and began his disguise. He burned off his SS identification tattoo and assumed a new identity. This was planned as the Germans began to realize that they had lost the war. The plan was to smuggle these former SS officers out of the country, so they could “regroup later, and start the Third Reich or a facsimile of it in the future. After the Americans offered him money and protection in exchange for his intelligence services, Barbie surrendered himself to the US Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) and engaged in underground anti-communist activity in June 1947. Barbie worked as a US agent in Germany for two years, and the Americans shielded him from French prosecutors trying to track him down. That frustrates me, but I suppose they figured it was the lesser of the two evils. They could go after the “bigger fish” in the organization. In 1949, Barbie and his family were smuggled by the Americans to South America.

Once he was in Bolivia, Barbie assumed the name of Klaus Altmann. He settled in Bolivia and continued his work as a US agent. He became a successful businessman and advised the military regimes of Bolivia. In 1971, the oppressive dictator Hugo Banzer Suarez came to power, and Barbie helped him set up brutal internment camps for his many political opponents. During his 32 years in Bolivia, Barbie also served as an officer in the Bolivian secret police, participated in drug-running schemes, and founded a rightist death squad. He regularly traveled to Europe, and even visited France, where he had been tried in absentia in 1952 and 1954 for his war crimes and sentenced to death. He was so bold, thinking that he was invincible, but as it is in most criminals, they get careless. In 1972, the Nazi hunters Serge Klarsfeld and Beatte Kunzel discovered Barbie’s whereabouts in Bolivia, but Banzer Suarez refused to extradite him to France.

In the early 1980s, a liberal Bolivian regime came to power and agreed to extradite Barbie in exchange for French aid. His protection gone, on January 19, 1983, Barbie was arrested. He arrived in France on February 7, 1983. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations had expired on his in-absentia convictions from the 1950s. He was going to have to be tried again. At this point, the United States government formally apologized to France for its conduct in the Barbie case later that year. Even then, because of legal wrangling between the groups representing his victims, the trial was delayed for four years. Finally, on May 11, 1987, the “Butcher of Lyon,” as he was known in France, went on trial for his crimes against humanity. His defense attorneys, three minority lawyers…an Asian, an African, and an Arab, actually made the dramatic case that the French and the Jews were as guilty of crimes against humanity as Barbie or any other Nazi. That was a completely unbelievable atrocity of a defense. Barbie’s lawyers seemed more intent on putting France and Israel on trial than in proving their client’s innocence. Their efforts failed and on July 4, 1987, he was found guilty. For his crimes, the 73-year-old Barbie was sentenced to France’s highest punishment…to spend the rest of his life in prison. He died of cancer in a prison hospital in 1991.

Competition is the driving force behind so many accomplishments, especially world records. On January 18, 1912, after a two-month ordeal, the expedition of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott arrived at the South Pole. Scott was a British naval officer, who began his first Antarctic expedition in 1901 aboard the Discovery. Scott spent three years exploring the area and discovered the Edward VII Peninsula, surveyed the coast of Victoria Land…which were both areas of Antarctica on the Ross Sea, and led limited expeditions into the continent itself.

Soon, skirting the fringes of Antarctica was not enough, and others had taken an interest in the area too. So, in 1911, Scott and Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen began an “undeclared” race to the South Pole. While it was “undeclared,” it was no less a competition, and both men knew it. Sailing his ship into Antarctica’s Bay of Whales, Amundsen set up base camp 60 miles closer to the pole than Scott. In October, both explorers set off. Amundsen was using sleigh dogs and Scott used Siberian motor sledges, Siberian ponies, and dogs. Scott’s journey was fraught with mishaps. The motor sleds broke down, the ponies had to be shot, and the dog teams were sent back as Scott and four companions continued on foot. Nothing was going according to plan.

Nevertheless, on January 18, 1912, Scott’s group finally reached the pole…only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by over a month. Amundsen’s expedition won the race to the pole on December 14, 1911. Encountering good weather on their return trip, they safely reached their base camp in late January. For Scott, it was a day of mixed feelings, I’m sure. They made it to the pole, but they came in second. The return trip was not going to be much better, but it had to be made. The weather was exceptionally bad, and two members of the team died on the journey back to their base camp. Scott and the other two survivors were trapped in their tent by a storm, when they were just 11 miles from their base camp. Scott, who kept a journal of the trip, like most explorers did, wrote a final entry in his diary in late March. The frozen bodies of he and his two compatriots were recovered eight months later. It was a sad ending to their horrific trip.

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