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Kathryn Lomerson, 4th generation Royal Oaker now living in Chesaning, Mich., reminisced about the early days of Royal Oak in conversations whose content and tone are relayed in this article.


   Kathryn Lomerson

    When a 99-year-old is asked to reminisce, it often happens that the information comes forth in stream of consciousness format. Timelines move back-and-forth. Names of people and places are remembered, forgotten, then remembered again. Memories of private and public events are sometimes sharp, sometimes blurred.

     So it was when Kathryn Lomerson – 4th generation Royal Oaker (McClure/Alger) -- chatted with her daughter, Claudia Rhode, and with historical society volunteers Don and Adair Calder. Here, I try to relay the beautiful flow of memories which provide word pictures of life in historical Royal Oak
    “I met my husband on a blind date.” He was from Lake Orion. His family, or relatives, owned the farm that is now Oakland Mall.
    Parades in Royal Oak were with big touring cars, with Civil War veterans riding in them. One car was a Franklin with a lady in a big hat and the man wearing a duster. Another car was a steam car that made popping noises. That was about 1913.
    Some of the parades on holidays had races on Main, between Fourth and Fifth. There were fat ladies and sack races. “I rode the fire engine one time.”
    On the west side of Main was an old Catholic church. Uncle took her by horse and buggy to the Methodist church.
    Grandfather was born in a log cabin on land which is now Red Run Golf Course. Grandmother was “possibly born in Clawson area.”
    Took fast streetcars between Ferndale and Royal Oak. “Rocked back and forth.” Remembers heavy cigar smoke. Grandfather was taken by funeral streetcar from Birmingham to Royal Oak Cemetery.

A saloon with gambling   
Remembers Hilzinger farm on Main Street. “Had a pond on it, with a boat.” Remembers the Starr family and cowbells. Used to have one of the bells but “don’t know where it went.” Remembers Almon Starr house.
    There was a store at Lincoln and Washington called Robinsons. Mrs. Lockbieler sold patterns and materials. It was heated by a stove. There was also a lamp store.
    Hermann’s Bakery “used to be Dondero’s. We had fresh bread every day from Dondero’s.” There was a hotel where farmers stayed on their way to Eastern Market with produce. It was a saloon with gambling.”
    Fire station on Main had a jail in it.
    Great grandfather came over from Ireland every couple of years, brought bibles to pass out to the neighbors. Grandfather attended “many prayer meetings every day.”
    Went to high school in what had been Barton Junior High, on Main Street. Graduated in January 1927. Started school in kindergarten at Union School on Washington and Lincoln.
    Entertainment was Fourth of July races, movies in Detroit, Bob Lo moonlight cruise dancing. Went to Graystone Ballroom in Detroit, and the Walled Lake Casino dance hall. Movie house on Main Street. Then the Baldwin with dancers and dog acts and balancing plates on a stick. “The air in the theater was bad.”
    Hagelstein’s Bakery was begun at Lincoln and Washington. Lawson and Lapham coal companies. Billings had live baby chicks for sale. Relatives brought the chicks home and made pets out of them.

Job lost during Depression
    Husband worked for Walter Hagen Golf Company, “but business got bad in the Depression and he was let go.” In the Depression they bought their house on Lincoln and Lafayette for $1,600 – “$600 down and a $1,000 mortgage.”
    When World War I ended, there was a big celebration – bonfire near the bandstand, lots of hugging – but the celebration was a couple of days premature. When the soldiers came home, there was a severe epidemic of flu “with many dying.”
    Kathryn recalled such other details as “difficulty with drinking water in Royal Oak”; that Crooks Road was originally named Starr; old-fashioned skates “that screwed onto your boots”; a building boom in Royal Oak resulting from the opening of the Ford plant in Highland Park – “workers came from Romeo and outlying areas”; Indians “flopping down and sleeping on the floor (of hotel) as they followed the creeks.”
Throughout the conversations, she remembered the names of teachers: Principal Miss Crane, Katherine Gunn, George Dyer. The second day of the conversation she named in order her teachers from kindergarten through sixth grade: Misses Younglove, Seiffert, Lucille Walker, Soloman (“from the UP who got TB”), (“Maybe Miss Soloman” in the 4th grade), Miss Kate Jewell Orr, Mr. Carter. “He would start a story in the morning and finish it in the afternoon. Quite a story teller.”

Kathryn is now 101.
    These interviews occurred in January 2008. For this column, I reached out to daughter Claudia Rhode, who provided the following update.
    “Mother is now 101 and looking forward to September 4th when she will add another year to her amazing total. She is VERY healthy and only takes one maintenance medication. She does not live with me. She lives alone with two hours of help in the morning and two hours at dinner time. Her home is six blocks away from ours.”
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This is Main Street just north of Eleven mile in the early 1900s. The house, in which Kathryn Lomerson lived early in life, was located on the Finn Farm.


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