John William "Emery" Younkin was born on Sept. 16, 1881 near Kingwood, Somerset County, PA, the son of Daniel M. and Elmira (Zimmerman) Younkin. Enduring the deaths of his wife and daughter, and surviving a maiming workplace injury, he was employed for nearly a half-century with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
On Dec. 20, 1907, when he was age 26, Emery married his first wife, Mary Virginia Garlitz (1889-1920). They had three daughters – Georgia Marie Younkin, Gertrude Etta Christner Eckert Donaldson and Geraldine Virginia "Mickey" Newcomer.
In 1898, Emery began working for the B&O as a "hostler" at Rockwood, and later was promoted to brakeman. While at work on the Somerset & Cambria Branch of the railroad at Somerset, however, in early March 1903, he was injured in a terrible, crippling accident. Reported the Connellsville Courier: "He was out on his first regular trip as brakeman, and while the train was shifting at Somerset station a sudden starting of the engine threw Younkin from the top of a box car to the ground. The car passed over his left leg at the ankle, crushing the foot off and over the side on his right foot, crushing it badly and severing three toes."
He was rushed to Mercy Hospital in Johnstown, PA for treatment. While recovering there, he received a visit from B&O officials, who offered him a substantial amount of money as compensation for his injury. With remarkable long-term vision, he declined, but asked that he be guaranteed a job with the B&O for the rest of his life or as long as he wanted it.
Thus during the Depression, unlike a majority of families in the area, Emery had steady work. To keep him active, the B&O sent him to various places to perform a diversity of jobs, including Connellsville, Rockwood and Sand Patch. The Somerset County Leader once said that "Transferred to the job of repairing water stations and plumbing installations, he has performed these duties … from Hyndman to Confluence and from Rockwood to Johnstown."
Among Emery’s work accomplishments was working on the construction of the B&O’s major railroad tunnel at Sand Patch, Somerset County. The family resided on-site there for some time.
Seen here is a rare photograph of a B&O locomotive at the top of the Allegheny Mountains, nearing Sand Patch.
Emery used a prosthetic leg, and kept three extras on hand – one for work, one for dress-up and one extra just in case. He was nimble and could climb tall ladders of water towers.
Later, he was transferred to Somerset, and then was sent back to Sand Patch, where they resided in the Sand Patch Hotel. Daughters Gertrude and Geraldine were born in Sand Patch in the early 1910s.
In 1913, with his widowed father, Emery and Mary and their elder two daughters attended the first annual Minerd Reunion, held at Ohiopyle's Ferncliff Park in nearby Fayette County. Mary and the girls are seen here in a group photograph taken that day.
Heartache struck on Jan. 14, 1920, when Mary died in the Sand Patch Hotel during a flu epidemic. As she lay dying in her room, her daughters were called home from school to say their final goodbyes. Emery worked feverishly at the wood stove in their room, boiling water for hot compresses. He refused to give up, holding out hope that she would recover, but his effort was in vain. Mary was buried at the Rockwood IOOF Cemetery.
Emery was left alone to raise their three daughters, seen here, from left to right: Gertrude, Mickey and Georgia. After being widowed, Emery worked primarily on the day shift so he could be home with his daughters in the evenings. Even so, he often would get called out at night when “someone was out of water,” recalled a daughter. Later, Emery was transferred from Sand Patch back to Somerset.
Tragedy rocked the family again in October 1924. Strikingly attractive daughter Georgia died suddenly after an infection in the gums of her mouth following dental surgery. She was just age 16. The story was major news in the Somerset Herald, and while the story mis-identified her as 'Margaret,' it went on to say:
Miss Younkin appeared to improve following her admission to the [Somerset] hospital and on Thursday morning when one of her younger sisters called on the telephone she was told that Margaret had passed a comfortable night and that she would be safe in attending school. A few minutes later Mr. Younkin received a telephone call from the hospital advising him that his daughter was in a dying condition, having taken a sudden change. Before Mr. Younkin reached the hospital, distant three or four blocks from his home, he was intercepted on the street by a messenger who told him that his daughter had passed away.
Emery spent seven long years as a widower. At the age of 46, he then married his second wife, 48-year-old Elsie Zufall (1879-1961) on April 15, 1927. She was the daughter of John and Rebecca (Houpt) Zufall of Somerset, PA.
Emery and Elsie had no children. She was a member of the First Christian Church of Somerset. Skilled in water management, he was “a member of the Rockwood Volunteer Fire company for many years,” said the Somerset Daily American.
Each Christmas, Emery received a crate of apples from his cousin Alfred Arthur Younkin, who owned an orchard in the lush growing valley of Wenatchee, WA.
In June 1947, Emery finally retired from the B&O after 49 years of service. He was toasted at a surprise dinner held at the Reformed Church in Rockwood, and it made front page news (seen here) in the Somerset County Leader. At the dinner, stores department head J.M. Minick said that Emery “had earned the respect and good will of all of the men on the division because of his reliability and never-failing good humor in any kind of emergency.”
As a retirement gift, Emery received a platform rocking chair. Said the Leader, “It now occupies a prominent spot in the Younkin living-room where the genial railroader plans to sit back and take things easy.”
Emery enjoyed 13 years of retired life. At age 79, he died on Feb. 18, 1960. He was buried near his parents, first wife and daughter at the Rockwood IOOF Cemetery.
Elsie outlived him by a little over a year. She passed away on June 7, 1961 and is buried with her husband.
Emery is mentioned as an "old time railroader" in the 1957 book, Rockwood Centennial, and in the 1906 History of Bedford and Somerset Counties by William H. Koontz. His daughters were pictured on the front page of the July 1993 issue of the Younkin Family News Bulletin.
~ Daughter Geraldine "Mickey" (Younkin) Newcomer Martin ~
Daughter Geraldine "Mickey" Younkin once worked for the Somerset County Leader, handling legal notices and obituaries.
Her first husband Donald D. Newcomer (1905-1960) served in the US Marine Corps “and was wounded in the Chinese Rebellion,” said the Daily American. Donald passed away at the age of 55 on Nov. 12, 1960, and was buried in the Younkin plot in Rockwood. She later wed (?) Martin.
She is seen at left with sister Gertrude at the 1991 reunion.
~ Daughter Gertrude (Younkin) Christner Eckert Donaldson ~
Daughter Gertrude E. Younkin (1910-2008) was the last surviving member of the Minerd-Miner family to have attended the clan's first reunion at Ohiopyle, Fayette County, in 1913. She was was born in Sand Patch in 1910, and resided in Somerset.
She was married three times -- to Paul Christner, John Eckert and William Donaldson. She and Paul had two sons: Gerald Christner and George Christner.
She was a member of the First United Methodist Church of Somerset and the Ladies Auxiliary of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. In 1991, she and her sister Mickey went to the first Younkin Reunion-East, held at Kingwood Picnic Grove in Somerset County. As she aged, she became "one of the first residents of the Somerset Towers," said the Daily American.
Gertrude passed away at the age of 97 on April 20, 2008, at The Patriot in Somerset. At the National Younkin Reunion held in Somerset County in July 2008, a candle was lit in her memory at a religious service held at the historic Mount Union Church near the town of Casselman. Her name was read aloud by reunion official Everett Sechler, and she further was remembered in brief remarks by Minerd.com founder Mark Miner.
Copyright © 2002, 2007-2008, 2010 Mark A. Miner