A Married Gay Couple Attends a German Catholic Family Reunion

As I’ve explained before, my father’s side of the family were English/Scottish, and my ancestry-minded sister, Mary Beth Colpitts, has traced the Whaleys back to the Battle of Hastings and before; see “A Whaley at the Battle of Hastings: The Fun of Genealogy,” February 22, 2016; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2016/02/a-whaley-at-battle-of-hastings-fun-of.html].

My mother’s side of the family, the Kunkels, were pure Germans, coming to this country from Bavaria in the 1840s and settling in the City of Jasper in southern Indiana.  They were devout Catholics, and many of their descendants still are, producing very large families.  Here is a picture of my mother, Lenore Kunkel Whaley, with me and my great grandparents, Philip and Matilda Kunkel.  I vaguely remember them because they had a large parrot who screamed “Pa, Phone!” whenever the telephone rang.

Their son Jerome Kunkel, who, later in life (when he decided to run for mayor of Jasper and won) changed his first name to Roman, was my grandfather, and he married Caroline Hoffman.  Together they had nine children: eight girls and one boy.  Eventually their offspring produced 37 children, giving Mary Beth and me dozens of Kunkel cousins (with none at all on the Whaley side).  My father started dating my mother when they both attended Jasper High School in late 1930’s, and the first time he came over to the Kunkel household filled with all these girls running around, he thought there was a party going on!

The Kunkel Children (the oldest, Maxine is missing), my mother is at the far right

This summer the Kunkel clan decided to have a family reunion in Jasper, and my husband, David Vargo, bravely consented to go with me and meet all these relatives.  The year before he’d met some of them when my cousin Jane turned 70 and she was surprised by a visit to her home in Beaumont, Texas, by David and me, her daughter, and four of her eight siblings.  On Friday, August 5th, David and I hopped in the car for the four hour drive to Jasper.  David was most impressed by how beautiful southern Indiana is.

I was a bit worried how a gay married couple would fit into the very heterosexual and Catholic group that was gathering in Jasper.  When I attended the 1988 Kunkel reunion I’d had some trouble with one of my uncles who I’d always had a great relationship with in the past, but who was suddenly sneering at me and unwilling to talk once he discovered I was gay.  However that generation had passed, and the current crop of Kunkels was very welcoming to both David and me.  The reunion was ably put together by my cousin Marsha Tellstrom and her crew, and they did a terrific job.   In the photo at the top of this post, David (far right) and I are having a great time with my cousins Phil Rohleder (far left) and Brenda Seybold.  Various family members took me aside to mention that there were other gays in the family who were not in attendance, some of whom I knew to be gay, and others not.  There is a large difference between attitudes towards gays in 2016 and 1988, for which hallelujah!

The reunion was timed to coincide with the Jasper Strassenfest, an annual festival celebrating German heritage and culture, and featuring much beer, polkas, and happy crowds in the downtown square.  The Kunkel clan had a dinner gathering Friday night, which was good fun,  and then most of us repaired to the festival, but the big event for our weekend happened the next day when everyone gathered for the Kunkel Reunion Dinner.  Since the older Kunkels were mostly gone, the first photo lineup was the gathering of the 37 first cousins, in order of age, and I was distressingly near the top (seventh in line if all had been there). 

This was followed by the next generation and then the next, all lining up in increasing numbers.  Finally the first cousins posed with their spouses, and, as you can see in the photo below, I (accidentally I assure you—because I’m usually such a shy retiring type) happened to be seated in a bright light, and David (in the orange shirt) proudly took his place behind me.

Earlier that day David and I had ventured into the wilds of southern Indiana to find the tiny little Cox Cemetery where my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents are buried at the top of a hill overlooking a peaceful woods (“Where I can hear the foxhounds run,” my grandfather, John Whaley, a hunter, had predicted).  It was moving to stand next to my parents’ graves and remember these wonderful people (about whom I’ve written so many blog posts).

The picture below was taken in 1922 at the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of my great-grandfather, Irvin Whaley and his wife Nancy Cox.  Irvin is the old man circled in the second row (Nancy is to his right), and my grandfather, John Whaley (a widower in 1922) is circled at the far left of the row (hat in hand).  My father, Robert Whaley, is the cute, curly-headed boy circled in the front row.  John’s wife (my father’s mother) Mary had died earlier that same year (see “My Missing Grandmother,” below).

[Click to enlarge]

On Sunday David and I drove home.  He had met an overwhelming number of my Kunkel relatives, and they all had treated us both with affection and much good humor.  That side trip to the Whaley side of the family in the Cox Cemetery tied both of my family trees together in a way that I will think about in a deep and satisfying way for a long time.

It was a great trip, and I’ll close this post with a picture of my Kunkel grandparents, Carrie and Roman Kunkel, clowning with each other in their youth.  They always knew how to have a good time.

Related Posts:

A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-guide-to-best-of-my-blog.html

“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010, http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2010/01/my-competitive-parents.html

“My Mother's Sense of Humor,” April 4, 2010; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2010/04/my-mothers-sense-of-humor.html

“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2010/06/bob-and-kink-get-married.html

“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2010/03/bob-whaley-boy-lawyer.html

“My Missing Grandmother,” December 26 2012; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2010/12/my-missing-grandmother.html


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