Happy Father’s Day, Rheuna

June 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

RhuenaAlthough Susan was the only surviving child of Rheuna and Mary Lawrence, Rheuna was a father figure to many other family members throughout his life.

According to a document written in 2000 by Allyn A. Young, the granddaughter of Rheuna’s niece Georgia Jefferson, Rheuna was supporting his family at a very early age. The 1850 census reveals that Rheuna’s widowed mother Susan Minerva had three of her own children (Rufus, Luetta, and infant John) and a nephew living with her in Clark County, Ohio, that year.  Her oldest son, 13 year old Rheuna, was living with a neighbor presumably earning money to support the family.  Historian Joseph Wallace wrote in Past and Present of the City of Springfield and Sangamon County Illinois (1904) that Rheuna was earning “fair journeyman’s wages” as a mason at age 14 and migrated to Chicago at age 16 where he continued to practice his trade and to send money to his mother.

Attracted by the city’s burgeoning building industry, 20 year old Rheuna moved to Springfield. Here he accumulated a sizable fortune as an intuitive entrepreneur and astute opportunist.  A symbol of that wealth was the 13 room mansion he built for his immediate and extended family.  Both his mother and mother-in-law lived their last years in that home.  Florence Lawrence, daughter of Rheuna’s brother Rufus, moved into the house when she was 19 years old and stayed with the family the rest of her life. 

The most significant example of Rheuna’s role as surrogate father was his generosity toward his “baby” brother John and his family. According to Allyn Young, Rheuna paid for John’s watch maker training at the Illinois Watch Factory in Springfield.  When John died at an early age, Rheuna invited his young widow and their six year old daughter Georgia to live in the Springfield home.  Eventually Rheuna bought a house in Chicago for Georgia and her mother.

Rheuna Lawrence held many titles in his lifetime.   Among them were mayor, school board president, bank president, and commission chair. When I couple all of his kindnesses to his family with the many ways he supported Susan and her first husband Edwin Dana (see Chapters 2 and 3 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House), I would add another title: Super Dad.  Happy Father’s Day, Rheuna.

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