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The Story of Berniece Dora 
(Pelsma) Carson

By Dorothy (Carson) Baber

Berniece Dora (Pelsma) Carson was born Aug. 3, 1898 in Chicago, Ill. and died Sept. 21, 1981 in Lemon Grove, San Diego County, CA. She is seen here with her husband, George W. Carson.

Her father Klass Pelsma, was born Aug. 22, 1866 in Wakarusa, Indiana, and died Dec. 29, 1939.

Her mother was Effie Ruhama Minard, was born Nov. 12, 1876 and passed away Aug. 9, 1950 in Cleveland, OH.  Place of birth was Black Oak Missouri. (She was 17 when she married Klass, who was 30.)

She had two sisters, Elma Jane Pelsma, was born Nov. 22, 1893, in Westville, Indiana, and died 1970 in Topeka, KS.

Second sister, Maude Frances Pelsma, was born May 6, 1895 in Crocker, Indiana and died in somewhere in Florida in 1974.

Twin brother, Bernard George Pelsma, died Feb. 23, 1966 in San Diego County and is buried in Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery.

The story was told by Berniece that when the twins were born, a gypsy woman visited their mother. She heard the twins crying and asked their names. Effie told her they had no names yet. The gypsy woman said, "If you let me name them, I will provide them with layettes." That is how they were named Berniece and Bernard. Of course, you will note that Klass’ mother was named Dora.

After twins were born, Klass decided that Maude, the middle daughter, was the only child that was his.  He packed up, took Maude and abandoned the rest of the family.  Effie sent daughter Elma to the store to get milk, and the grocer said the bill had been shut off. “You no longer have credit,” said the grocer. That was how Klass left her.  

Effie divorced Klass but we are not sure when. At the time he died, some attorneys wanted to find the date of divorce to settle his estate.  Klass Pelsma apparently owned stock and there should have been money. Son Ralph remembers that his mother, Berniece, received a settlement of $1.00.  She sent him to the store to buy a carton of cigarettes; Lucky Strikes were 10 cents a pack at that time.  If there was more money the lawyer fees must have eaten it up.

Bird's eye view of Topeka

Sometime after Klass abandoned the family and took Maude, Effie kept the boy, Bernard, and left Berniece and Elma with her sister, "Frankie" (Minard) Dumars and niece Mattie Dumars.  Frankie and Mattie didn’t really want the girls; when Elma was 10 and Berniece was five, someone heard that Effie was living in San Francisco with a man named Rucker (we don’t know if they were married).  Frankie and Mattie put Elma and Berniece on a train to San Francisco with a note that had Effie’s address on it.  A man on the train struck up a conversation with them and said he lived in same boarding or rooming house that Effie lived in.  The girls had a packed sack lunch and Berniece’s memory was that he threw their sack lunch out of the window, took them to dining car and bought them lunch.

They lived with their mother in San Francisco for just a few months. Berniece was allegedly a hand full. They were sent back to Topeka where they were made wards of the court and put into an orphanage. Elma was rescued from the orphanage by her future mother-in-law, Mrs. H. H. Hunter, who was a social worker and the head of the orphanage.  She took a fancy to Elma and said the girls were not the “regular run” of children she received.  She found a foster mother, Mrs. Peters, for her and she went to live in Washington KS; later the family moved to Manhattan KS where Elma graduated from high school and went to college for a short time.

Berniece left the orphanage to live with Aunt Emma Frances "Frankie" (Minard) Dumars, a strict Quaker woman.  She did not see her sister Elma again for about six years when at age 18, Elma returned to Topeka to search for her sister.  Elma had been intending to go to college but when she found her younger sister, she gave up her plans and stayed to support her sister.  Elma married Edwin Hunter on March 11, 1913 and Berniece lived with them.   Elma said later that Berniece "would have been better off to be raised by strangers."

In 1917, Elma and Berniece asked a friend who was visiting Chicago to look for a listing of their father K. W. Pelsma in the city directory.  They were obsessive about wanting to find their family.  They wrote a letter to him in Franklin Park asking for Maude, Bernard and Effie’s location.  He ignored the letter but did give it to Maude to do with as she pleased.  Maude, who was by then living with her mother, her step-father Oscar Thomann and brother Bernard in North Chicago, gave the letter to Effie.  Effie wrote to Elma and Berniece and immediately went to Kansas to see them.

It seems that coincidence or fate played a big part in the family being reunited.  In Chicago, Maude was going with a young man, Hermes Smith, whom she later married.  Hermes attended a basketball game at the YMCA where one of the players was a boy named Bernard Pelsma.  The two compared notes and he was so sure that there was some relationship that he got Bern’s address.  He and Maude looked up Bernard and found him to be her brother and found her mother too.  Maude went to live with them and spent weekends with her father.

[Seen at right, Berniece re-united with her twin brother Bernard Pelsma, in January 1944, in Berniece's home in San Diego.]

Klass Pelsma never wanted to reunite with any of his children.

At one time Effie was working as a waitress, and Oscar Thomann was a chef. We believe that is how they met. According to Elma, this was in California. It is believed that Oscar had worked at the Parker House in Chicago.  They opened a restaurant in Ft. Collins, Colorado, known as The Pheasant or Peacock Café. The story is that it featured the first neon sign in Ft. Collins. There was no way to turn it off and on, so it was lit 24 hours a day until it burned out. 

Berniece met George W. Carson, who lived in the Hunter’s neighborhood, during a tennis match in Topeka. George was born April 27, 1897, in Atlanta, Cowley County, KS.  He died in September 25 1985 in El Cajon, San Diego County, CA. They got married Jan. 19, 1918 in Topeka, KS, when George was called to serve in the Army during World War I.

Seen at left, Berniece poses playfully with a favorite automobile.

Berniece and George had three children -- Dorothy Louise Carson, born May 10, 1920 in Junction City, KS; Lura Berniece Carson Scott, born May 12, 1921 in Junction City, KS and passed away October 23, 2002 in La Mesa, San Diego County, CA; and son Ralph Edwin Carson, was born August 20,1925 in Topeka, KS.

George Carson went into the National Guard* after he returned from France and mustered out of the Army. While George was in France, he was sending his salary back to Berniece in Topeka with hopes of having a nest egg when he returned home. When he came back to his wife, he found he had the best dressed bride in Loman Hill.  He had to pay the Army back some money instead.

A story related by Ralph, son of Berniece, is that his mother felt she needed a piano while in Loman Hill. They bought an upright player piano and drug it all around the country. While in Winfield, KS. the piano was traded for cases of soda pop.

Berniece and George Carson and son Ralph moved from Winfield KS to Washington State in 1943, lived their briefly before moving on to San Diego CA, where their daughters were living, later that year.  Ralph joined the United States Marine Corps in 1943 and served in the South Pacific during World War II.

*recently Jean Baber (grandaughter) submitted pictures of Ft. Doniphan in Oklahoma while George was stationed there to the Kansas National Guard Museum in Topeka. KS.

Copyright © 2009 Dorothy (Carson) Baber. Published with permission.