One thing that came out of the closing of Behnke’s was getting to know Vincent. When we announced we would be closing the nursery, he was among the first to start asking about purchasing some of the fixtures around the nursery.
Last week out of the blue, I got a message on Facebook from Dagmar Nearpass talking about her father, who worked around 1955 for my grandfather. She sent the picture above and mentioned that they lived in a brick Cape Cod house up the big hill from the nursery. At first, I was puzzled and thought, the only brick Cape Cod on Wicomico Avenue was the one I grew up in, right on the nursery. I started looking more closely at the photo and thought, that is my house! And I remember when I was a little girl thinking it was a BIG hill we had to walk up to get to the house.
Dagmar and I started writing back and forth, and I learned they came from Germany and were sponsored by a farmer in the area. Her father, Gustav A. Pohlig, worked on this farm after they immigrated to the US. She thought it was great living on the farm at four years old, but not so much for her parents, as the pipes would freeze. They lived in the white addition off the house. Somehow, they met my grandfather, who found out her father was a Master Gardener from Germany. Dagmar said her father worked at Behnke’s for about a year or so between 1955 to 1956. She remembered Albert Behnke as being really kind and letting her roam the nursery against her father’s wishes. She told me she fell into one of the ponds one winter, and a customer had to pull her out by the back of her coat.
Gustav had to quit school and become a Master Gardener* in Germany, then was drafted, and captured during World War II, wound up as a POW in Australia for six years. Back in Germany, back to college, became a teacher. (*The Master Gardener program in Germany is a professional apprenticeship-style program combining classwork and hands-on work, for people who intend to become professional horticulturists.) He decided to bring his family to the USA in 1954, which led him to that farm and then Behnke Nurseries. Dagmar told me that when hired by my grandparents, he was given his first respectable job and provided the house to live in, which allowed her parents to finally buy a used car. When the family left Behnke’s, they went to another German-owned nursery in Whitestone, NY, then onto another one in Waterloo, NY. From there, he was finally able to get back into teaching.
I have written before about how my grandparents also immigrated from Germany and started Behnke’s in 1930. They would frequently sponsor young nurserymen from Holland and Germany to get work experience, which was a big deal in the day. The problem was they would have to find somewhere to live. My grandparents had a small home on the property and built this brick house around 1954 to house the men they would have working for them. If you read my original article about “This Old House,” you will see I mentioned two brothers who worked for us and lived there before my Aunt and Uncle moved in. The Pohligs moved in even before the brothers. For the 14 years I lived in the house, we always had men from other countries staying in our basement. It was like having roommates since they had used the kitchen and often would eat their meals with us.
Above is a page out of Pohlig’s personal photo album, which shows some of the photos from around the property and one of my grandfather’s Cadillacs. This whole week has been one of discovery. Discovery of yet another family my grandparents touched. Seeing the pages of their photo album reminded me that we are all connected in one way or another. I am so thrilled Dagmar reached out to me and shared a bit of her family history and memories. She also shared her father’s obituary, which she felt could tell more about his life since he wrote it before he passed away in 2014 at 97.
Waterloo – Gustav A. Pohlig, 97, of Kings Row, Waterloo passed away Wednesday (July 16, 2014) at Geneva General Hospital.
A celebration of Mr. Pohlig’s life will be Saturday (July 26, 2014), 2:30 p.m. at the Geneva Presbyterian Church, 24 Park Place, Geneva with Rev. Debra Lind-Schmitz officiating.
Kindly consider memorials to the Geneva Presbyterian Church, 24 Park Place, Geneva 14456 or the charity of ones choice in memory of Gustav. Born on November 6, 1916 in Langenberg, Germany the son of Ernst and Annelise Pohlig. He grew up in Darmstadt, where he attended school until 1933, when the economic depression forced him to drop out. He became a nursery man and worked at various nurseries until 1938 when he was drafted. He was in France and then fighting in North Africa where he was captured by the British. He spent 6 years in a POW camp in Australia. During that time he finished high school.
After this he returned back to Germany in 1947. Pohlig attended Teacher’s College and taught in Giessen, Germany until 1954. In 1949 he married Christine Sanner. They had two daughters, Dagmar (Nearpass) and Ulrike Pohlig. In 1954, the family came to the U.S. Gustav worked as a nurseryman in Beltsville MD., New York City and in Waterloo. After taking college courses and getting his Masters Degree, he taught 6th grade in Waterloo until 1980. An avid stamp collector, he authored numerous philatelic articles and two books on POW correspondence.
He became a Rotarian in Waterloo and served as president. He was also president of the Geneva Rotary which he faithfully attended. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. He loved to garden. He was married for 65 years to the same woman, something he noted often to whomever he spoke to. Gustav is survived by his loving wife Christine S. Pohlig; two daughters, Dagmar Nearpass, Ulrike Pohlig; three grandchildren and eight great- grandchildren.
Stephanie Fleming, Beyond Behnke’s