Sipple Stories

Pictures & stories of my Grandparents Joy & Adda Rockwell Sipple, their family and their ancestors.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rex Burnell Sipple

Rex Burnell Sipple was born June 5, 1921 in Grand Island, Hall County, Nebraska the fifth and last child of Adda Francis Rockwell & Joy Franklin Sipple.

Being closest in age to my Mother, Juleen, and younger than her, Rex was always her favorite.

This is one of the few pictures I have of him as a child... He is shown here with my Mother, Juleen. Doesn't he have cute, chubby little cheeks?

Mother has several neat stories about how ornery her brothers were. I will relate a few that involve Rex here:

In those days if you misbehaved in grade school you were sent to the principal's office and whipped with a rubber hose. For whatever reason this would happen quite often to Rex... and then to Mother's embarrassment the principle would come down to her classroom and announce in front of the whole class, "Juleen, I had to whip Rex with the hose again!"

This picture is of Mother (Juleen) & Rex in grade school.

There are two fun Sipple Christmas stories...

The Sipple family was far from rich and grew up during the Depression, so although Grandpa Joy worked as an engineer for the UPRR 7 days a week, 365 days a year, they just got by.

At Christmas time, Grandpa would give each child $1.00 to do their Christmas shopping. One year Rex headed for the candy store first and bought himself some candy, which he ate, and then started buying presents. By the time he got to the last present he needed which was for my Mother, Juleen, he only had a few pennies left and could only afford to get her some little sachets that she could put in her drawer with her hankies (only she didn't have any hankies!) He felt so bad about it that the next Christmas when he got his dollar he bought Mother's present first. He got her some white angora mittens which surely must have taken most of that dollar. I've always wondered what he got for the rest of the family that Christmas.

The second Christmas story involves the gifts the kids got for Christmas. Not the 10 or 20 gifts we get our kids today, each child might get something to wear that Grandma Adda had made for them and one toy. They always got their socks filled with some nuts, a little candy, an apple and an orange which seems funny to us now, but in those days they might only have an apple and an orange at Christmas. These weren't available all through the year to eat.

One Christmas Opal wanted some roller skates like all of her little friends had and Rex wanted a wagon. Their parents evidently didn't know about roller skates or maybe they thought Opal should start out with the safe ones first. She got starter skates, no ball bearings!! The wheels wouldn't roll or spin, they barely turned... safe that way... except all her friends went tearing down the sidewalks really going fast and she could barely make her feet scoot, scoot, scoot. Rex got his wagon but they could only afford a little tiny wagon and of course it was too small for him and the plans he had had for it so he promptly took it down the basement and took all the wheels off.

This is Rex as a teenager with the family dog Pat.

At some point, probably when a teen, Rex got a B B gun and Mother had real roller skates. Mother says that they would roller skate in the basement, so maybe this story took place in the winter. The basement had two large rooms that had two doors so they could roller skate round and round in a circle. Mother was skating round and round and Rex was sitting on the stairs pointing the gun at her. As she came through the door way, he fired and hit her just above her eyebrow. For years she still had a little dent there where he'd hit her but now it has disappeared in the wrinkles of an 90 year old.

When Rex was in high school there are several mentions in Grandpa's journals about "Rex not coming home last night" and one time Grandpa even had to go to Hastings to bail him out of jail. It doesn't say "why" he was in jail... but he did have to go to court later. The journal only says, "Rex had his hearing before County Judge Kirk... was paroled to __________ one year." There is an underline mark, blank, and no name was ever written in it as to who Rex was paroled to. This is one of the many times I wish Grampa Sipple had not been so brief in his journal entries.

When we were growing up, Rex lived in California and we only saw him a couple of times... but we heard all of Mother's stories about her favorite brother.

We had this picture of Rex when he was in the Navy and because he was so handsome and had so many mysteries about him, Rex became someone we sort of idolized... like a movie star, a teen idol... he was handsome, far away, mysterious and had lived a life like no one else we knew. (The mysteries were rumors we'd heard that Rex had been married several times, no one knew for sure as no one here had met any of his wives except for the first one and his last one... and that there were two daughters, one who we knew as our cousin Penny. More on this below *)

Rex Sipple - US Navy

Age in photos about 23

This is another photo taken about 1944 of Rex when he was home on leave from the Navy. Behind him is the Sipple home which was at 823 West 17th Street in Grand Island, NE.

According to Grampa Joy Sipple's 1945 journal, he received a telegram from Rex on June 21st saying "got married yesterday"... This would be Rex's first marriage to Harriett Dowling.

Mother says that while Rex was on leave he met Harriett on one of the California beaches. She had been born in Kearney, NE the daughter of Harry and Jose Dowling. Both being from central Nebraska gave them an instant connection, besides the obvious fact that he was so handsome and she was so beautiful, and they hung out together the rest of his time on leave. After Rex had shipped back out to sea he received a letter from Harriett telling him that she was pregnant. So the next time he came back to port, he married her.

The confusing part of this story... one of the mysteries you might say... is that this child, a girl named Michael Lee Sipple, was born on October 9, 1944 in Long Beach, CA. According to the 1943 journal, Grampa Sipple received a letter from Rex on October 4th in which he says he is "at sea and looks like he won't be back for 4-6 months"... Below are a few notes from the 1943 and 1944 journals mentioning Rex:

1943 Journal

Oct 4
Got letter from Rex
At sea says looks like he won’t get back
To states for 4 or 6 months
(at sea)

Oct 29
Got letter from Rex
Written Oct 1 mailed Oct 4
(at sea)

Nov 3
Got Rex’s allotment ck

Nov 12
Got letter from Rex
Mailed Nov 3 Air Mail

Nov 29
Got V letter from Rex
Written Nov 8
(what was called a V letter was a letter from someone at or over seas)

Dec 3
Rex’s allotment check came

Dec 4
Mother & I went to town
Had supper got Xmas gifts
For Barney tie, socks & kerchiefs $3.25
Clair & Harry tie $1.00
Got Rex’s ring

Jodi's NOTE: I don’t’ know what this “ring” refers to… When Rex joined the Navy he had a girlfriend back in Grand Island named Mary. All through the journal Grampa refer's to Mary, Rex's girl, coming for a visit, coming over for dinner, etc. Mother says that Mary didn’t wait for Rex, she got married, and he was devastated… he never got over it. So had he given her a ring and when she got married his parents went and got it back from her?? Or was this a ring they bought for him for Christmas or for him to give to someone? It is never mentioned again.

Dec 6
Got Xmas card from Rex

1944 Journal:

Jan 1
Rex is in Navy somewhere at sea – last letter rec Nov 29 V

Jan 4
Got Rex allotment check for Dec

Jan 7
Got 3 letters from Rex written or dated Dec 12, mailed Dec 24
Put Rex’s allotment check in bank, now has $120.00

Jan 11
mailed letter to Juleen, Valentine to Rex

Jan 14
Got letter from Sue, said she had letters from Rex, Chas & Opal this week

Jan 18
Got telegram from Rex – Birthday Greetings

Jan 26
Got letters from Rex – at sea – dated 1/14

Jan 27
Got 3 letters from Rex dated 12/19, 12/27, & 1/12

Jan 28
Got letter from Rex – told some country’s he’s been to: North Africa, South Africa, Australia, and Middle East – couldn’t name the ports

Feb 3
Rex’s allotment check came today will take it to bank tomorrow

Feb 9
Got letter from Rex dated 1/21 at sea
I typed 3 page letter to Rex

Feb 23
Rex called at 7 AM from Long Beach Calif said he just arrived there and would be home after he goes on to New York

Feb 24
Got wire from Rex saying orders changed send $100.00 was coming to GI now so we wired it to him

Feb 26
Going to meet #22 think Rex might come then
Stayed at depot till 10 PM but no Rex

Feb 27
Met #22 But no Rex – met eve trains no Rex

Feb 28
Mother & I met #88 But no Rex – sent telegram to Jr. asking about Rex

Mar 1
Got telegram from Rex at Long Beach said will be home about Sunday, Don’t worry
Got Rex’s allotment check

Mar 5
(Sunday) met #8 But no Rex

Mar 6
Mom sent telegram to Jr asking him to call home
Rex hasn’t come yet

Mar 7
Got telegram from Jr saying Rex would be home Wed

Mar 8
(Wed) Mom met #22 Yes Rex came today

Mar 9
Rex down town this eve

Mar 13
Rex left for New Orleans- rode in car to Kansas City with Elmer Mettenbrink – train from K.C. to N.O. Kansas City Southern RR - He came Mar 8 so was home 5 days

Mar 20
Got letter from Rex at New Orleans sent $150 – also package – things he picked up on his trip, money stamps, pitchers and whatnot's

Okay... so this is how I see it... Rex was out to sea from before October 1943 until Feb 23, 1944 when he arrived in Long Beach, CA. He was in Long Beach until March 8... This may be when he met Harriett. BUT... Michael was born the 9th of October which is just over 7 months later... Was she premature? What did she weigh at birth? Or was Harriett already pregnant when she met Rex? Rex is not in California again until June of 1945 when they get married... in between these times he has a girlfriend in New Jersey.

According to the 1944 journal:
Rex left for New Orleans March 13th...
was still there on March 27th..
was in Mobile, AL from March 29th to at least April 4th...
April 20th was at sea...
May 18th was in New York, shipped out to sea May 20th...
June 18th in Chicago...
home June 20th, leaving again June 21st for New York...

Sept 18th Grampa mailed Rex's picture to Pauleen Metras in Newark, NJ, cost $6.

Grampa is receiving letters from and writing letters to Pauline during October, November and December of 1944.

A note on January 1, 1945 says "Rex in the Navy, at sea now."
January 19th says, "Pauline, Rex's girl, called long distance from Newark."

They continue to exchange letters with Pauline during January, February and March. March 18th Rex is home, docked in Portland.
April 9th he leaves for New Orleans.

During the war the soldiers and sailors were not allowed to tell where they were or where they were going... A note in the journal on May 28 says, "Got letter from Rex... on his way somewhere."

Then in June 1945, we find these notes:

Jun 2
Telegram from Rex at Treasure Island says send $200 at once
We wired it

Jun 4
Got Rex’s allotment ck… first one for $35.00
Got letter from Rex

Jun 8
Got letter from Rex

June 10
Wrote letter to Rex

June 14
Got letter from Rex
Sent Rex cashiers for $41.66 that’s all he had left in the bank

Jun 16
Wrote letter to Rex

June 17
Got father’s day card from Rex

Jun 21
Got telegram from Rex saying he got married yesterday

Harriett (Dowling) and Rex Sipple

Jun 22
Got letter from Rex

Jun 24
Wrote letter to Rex

June 29
Got 2 letters from Rex and one from his wife

July 1
Writing letters to Rex & Harriett

Letters flow back and forth between Grampa and Rex and Harriett all summer...
Pauline isn't mentioned again until August:

Aug 13
Got pkg from Pauline
Rex’s picture
Wrote letter to Rex

Aug 14
War is over
Japan accepted unconditional surrender terms

Aug 16
Wrote note to Pauline
Telling her I got the picture

So that is the mystery of Rex's first wife and her daughter named Michael. The other daughter, named Suzanne Adele, is my cousin Penny who Rex's sister, my Aunt Opal, had adopted when he and Harriett divorced around the time of Penny's birth in 1946.

When Opal heard that Rex and Harriett were getting a divorce, she wrote to Harriett and said she knew how hard it would be raising two little girls all alone and that she would like to adopt the baby if Harriett would let her. Harriett wrote back saying, "No... never." But by December Harriett must have found how hard it was raising two little girls all alone and Opal got a telegram saying, "Merry Christmas... come get the baby."

For as long as I can remember I always knew that Penny was adopted and that she was really Rex's daughter. Penny always knew she was adopted too. Opal would tell the story about how she adopted her... "she was my little Penny From Heaven" and so she got her nickname which she has gone by from almost day one. (There was a popular song in the 40s called "Pennies From Heaven")

I don't think Penny knew Rex was her father until she was in high school. Penny never met her real father, Rex, until a couple of years before he passed away in December of 2000. There are a couple reasons for this, I suppose... he lived in California when she was growing up and she lived in Minnesota and then Illinois. They were never back in Nebraska very often or at the same time. But mostly, I think, is the fact that Rex never told his wife Alvina about Michael or Penny... about having daughters... Later he told Mother that he didn't know how to bring it up early on and as time passed it got harder... it had just gone too long now. How do you tell someone something like, "oh, by the way, I have 2 daughters... one of them is Penny who you know as Opal's daughter" 25 or 30 years after you married?? I don't think Alvina even knew Penny was adopted and like I said, Penny never met either of them until just a few years before Rex died.

My Mother, Juleen, always said that Rex never really believed that Michael or Penny were his children. Rex had had the mumps when he was about 15 years old and they had gone down on him, as they say. The doctor had told him that he would probably not be able to have children... so he didn't really think they were his for this reason. This is probably why he never pursued a relationship with them, especially Penny who would have been easier.

On October 12, 1963 Rex married Alvina Enriquez in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sometime in the 1970's, I think it was, Rex and Alvina moved to Colorado and would come to Grand Island to visit once or twice a year. This is when I finally really got to know him and grew to love him even more because of his wonderful personality and infectious laugh... He was still a tease; he was still that ornery little boy inside, the one we'd always heard about.

Then in 1976, Alvina got pregnant and they had a baby boy who they named Wesley Earl. Sadly the baby only lived a couple of days. I always wondered if Rex then finally realized that Michael & Penny really were probably his. But after 30 years of doubts & secrets it was not the time to tell Alvina and so he never did.

About 1997, after Rex & Alvina had met Penny for the first and only time, Mother did get a letter from a niece, Susan in which she asked about Rex's daughter Penny. Rex & Alvina were back for a visit a few days later and not thinking about the question about Penny, Mother gave Rex the letter from Susan to read. He read it and didn't say anything. Then my father gave the letter to Alvina asking her if she wanted to read it. She read it and didn't say a thing either. It wasn't until after Rex & Alvina left that Mother was rereading Susan's letter and noticed the mention of "Rex's daughter Penny" and thought "oh dear... we've spilled the beans... now what?" But no one ever asked and no one ever mentioned anything... so we don't know if Rex and Alvina ever talked about that after they left or not... but Alvina has never said anything to Opal or Mother about knowing Penny was Rex's daughter.

The 5 Sipple children sometime in the ?? 70's ??...

Charles and Rex in the late 1990's...