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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

52 Ancestors #52: Lucas Carlisle Kells, Attorney and Father

     My mother had a deep love and admiration for her father, Lucas Carlisle Kells, and frequently talked about him and wished we had known. And perhaps some of my research on the family has been an attempt to know him a little myself.

     Luke, as he was called, was born on 17 June 1882 on the family farm in Melrose, Stearns, Minnesota.  His father, Stephen Avery Kells, had been a Union soldier in the Civil War.  His mother, Isabella Duncan had been a school teacher before marriage. Luke was the second son and third child out of what eventually totaled eight children.  Plus his father had a son and a daughter from his first wife, so ten children in the family altogether. Luke's father, Stephen, was much bothered by physical conditions resulting from his Army service (he got dysentery in the swamps of Georgia while on Sherman's march).  So, Luke never talked much about him to his own children (I was the one who discovered he'd been a Union soldier and on the famous march through Georgia, Luke never told them this).  But he talked much about his mother, Isabella.  She taught him a great appreciation for literature, poetry, philosophy and music.  He passed this on to his own children as well.

     His beloved mother died of breast cancer in February 1897 when Luke was just 15.  His father died a year later in December 1898.  At this point his father's brothers wanted to break the family.  To prevent this his older sister, Madge, married the handyman and raised her younger siblings as her own, thus keeping the family together. Luke worked his way through the University of Minnesota and earned a scholarship to Columbia University where he graduated with a Ph.D in Philosophy. He went to Seattle and was a professor at the University of Washington for a year before deciding to study law, which he did and became a lawyer.  He married Edith Stefani  in August 1916 at the age of 34.

     Luke and Edith had four children, Lyman, the twins, Milton and Margaret, and Doris. During the depression his kind heart often led him to take barter for his services in lieu of money or allow people to owe him rather than pay promptly. This annoyed his wife but endeared him to many.  he loved his children and made the time to play with them.  He encouraged them in education and music, all the children had singing lessons, for instance. He loved to sing himself and also played the harmonica. his niece Cecil wrote to my mother of remembering him, "playing the mouth organ-(with feeling!)" and of once seeing him "singing an old plaintive ballad and I can see a dreamy far-away look on his face and hear the refrain over and over."  He loved to visit the old home in Melrose, going almost every summer, often with Edith and the kids.  He would work on the farm and visit with his brothers and sisters and feel very much at home.

     As a lawyer, Luke was greatly respected for being an honest, able, and caring one. He was also active in the Church, the family having joined the Madrona Presbyterian Church which was only half a block from their house. My mother said that, " when he taught a Sunday School class it wasn't like others because it included a thoughtful, questioning look at Bible stories and teachings while never including prayer. His approach to the Creation Story in terms of millions of years rather than days was a revolutionary idea to us."

     In he 1940's his health started to fail and he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.  Edith took care of him and he declined slowly but eventually came to a point where he didn't know Edith and would get violent. At this point he was sent to Western Washington State Mental Hospital.  He died there on 6 Oct 1946 with his wife and youngest daughter by his side.  He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Seattle with a headstone of granite from Minnesota to mark the grave.  His wife was buried at his side 36 years later and his daughter, Doris', ashes were buried at his feet in 2000.  He was a kind and honest man, one who was very intelligent and cultured but also greatly enjoyed life.  His younger sister, Marian, wrote this of him, "The memory of a good and noble being can not be lost; and Luke had goodness and had nobility."


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  2. Very well written account of the life of Grandfather Kells

  3. Very nice write-up! Here are a couple of other stories I remember hearing.

    Luke walked downtown to his law office every day along with a friend and neighbor, Mr. Dubuar, who was also a lawyer but in another law office. They would talk over affairs of the day and issues in their law practice. Mr. Dubuar's son, James (Jim), who also became a lawyer, told me that his dad was often running late when Luke came by their house in the morning to get him for their walk downtown. But Luke was very patient, and just sat down and looked at the newspaper or asked Jim how things were in school. I'm impressed that they would walk all the way from their house on 32nd Ave in the Madrona neighborhood to downtown Seattle. Looking at it on a map, I'd say it's about 2.25 miles. It's steeply downhill in the last few blocks into downtown. He didn't walk home, though, but took the Cherry St. streetcar home. Mother talked about going to the corner to wait for him to come home from work in the evening sometimes.

    Luke seems to have been a caring husband and father. He called his wife every afternoon to see if there was anything she needed at the store that he could pick up on his way home from work. Mother (his daughter Margaret) talked about going downtown to see her dad at his office when she was worried about something and wanted to talk it over with him. He seems to have always been able to make time for her, and to listen and provide gentle guidance. Grandma (wife Edith) told me once that when Luke was sick with Parkinson's he became violent once and nearly stuck her. A boarder fellow had to intervene and help calm him down. "I never thought Luke would ever lay a hand on me," she told me. That was saying something in those days when domestic violence was frequent and accepted.

    Regarding the church, Mother told me her mother told her years later that Luke was interested in the Unitarian church. But it was downtown, while Madrona Presbyterian was at the end the street they lived on. Luke asked Edith if she's rather go downtown to the Unitarian Church, or to the Presbyterian down the block. She thought it would be a lot easier if the family only had to walk a block to church. That explains why his Sunday School lessons were a little different! And if Grandma hadn't made that practical choice, Wendy's and my parents might never have met!

    About music, Mother told me once "Home, Home on the Range" was a favorite song of her father's. When she was in a nursing home at the end of her life, there was a fellow who came to play the guitar and sing for the residents. When he asked for requests, she asked for "Home, Home on the Range" in remembrance of her dad.