There are stories told around here about how Ferdie Oehlert was the “plant guy”. He was the man you visited when you wanted to buy plants such as tomato seedlings. His home and nursery were located on the east end of Altenburg – an area that I have sometimes referred to as L.A. (Lower Altenburg).
Ferdie’s story is told today because this would have been his 101st anniversary. Ferdinand Oehlert married Sophie Ehlers on October 14, 1917 in Jacob, Illinois. They were married at Christ Lutheran Church in Jacob.
I must discuss some pronunciation. Oehlert is pronouced Ay-lert. Ehlers is pronounced Ay-lers. So, even though the names are spelled quite differently, this marriage had an Ay-lert marrying an Ay-lers.
Let’s take a look at these two who were married on this day in 1917. We will start with the bride. Sophia Ehlers was born on August 6, 1900, so when she was married, she was only 17 years old. Sophia was the daughter of Johann and Sophia (Boehme) Ehlers. Her father was a farmer around Jacob, Illinois. The first census in which we find Sophie was the 1910 census.
The groom was Ferdinand Oehlert, who was born on October 28, 1895, making him almost 22 years old on his wedding day. Ferdinand was the son of Joseph and Maria (Gruenwald) Oehlert and was baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg. We have two photographs of classes of students at Trinity Lutheran School that identify Ferdinand as a boy included in them. First, here is a photograph of Teacher Hemmann’s class. I have placed a red arrow indicating the student that has been identified as Ferdinand.
This photo is claimed to have been taken in 1911, but I have issues with that date. This photo was taken in front of the Kleine Schule (Little School). The Kliene Schule is where the younger students were taught. These children look like they are younger ones. They would be students in grades 1-4. Even if Ferdinand was in the fourth grade, that would put him at about the age of ten. Ferdinand would have been ten years old in 1905. He certainly would not have been 16 years old, which he would have been in 1911.
Here is another class photo including Ferdinand. The teacher in this one was Teacher Fiehler.
This photo is said to have been taken in 1908, and it was taken in front of the Grosse Schule (Big School). The Big School is now the front part of the Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum. Ferdinand is once again indicated by a red arrow. These students would have been in the upper grades. If this photo would have been taken in 1908, Ferdinand would have been thirteen years old. If the previous photo was taken in 1911, Ferdinand would have been in the upper grades before he was in the lower grades. This makes no sense.
The first census in which we find Ferdinand was the 1900 census.
The 1910 census shows much the same information, except for him having more siblings.
A 1915 set of maps shows land ownership in Perry County. The map below shows several plots of land which were owned by people with the name of Oehlert. Ferdinand’s father is shown here as Jos. Oehlert.
After Ferdinand and Sophie were married, we find them in the 1920 census in the Brazeau Township.
Ferdinand is described as a laborer in a flour mill in the 1920 census. That was about the time that the Mueller mill burned (1919). That mill was rebuilt right away, but soon after, it was sold to the Schirmer family. I am not positive who would have been Ferdinand’s boss, but it is almost certain that he worked at this mill located in Altenburg, which was found in the east end of that village.
Next, we have the 1930 census which shows Ferdinand and Sophie with their only child, Frieda.
In that census, Ferdinand is said to have been a farm laborer. When Ferdinand filled out his World War II draft card, it was indicated that he raised plants for a living.
I am a little puzzled that his middle name is given as John, when it was Carl. His signature at the bottom says Ferd. C. Oehlert.
Ferdinand is the man standing on the far left in this photo showing several Oehlert men with some pretty sizable carp.
His father, Joseph, is standing next to him.
A story that I was told about Ferdie was one which described the tomato plants that he sold. It is said that Ferdie knew which type of tomato plant grew the best in Perry County, so that was the only variety of tomato plant that he would sell.
Sophie died in 1968; Ferdinand died in 1975. They are buried together in the Trinity Lutheran Cemetery in Altenburg.
I am going to conclude Ferdie’s story by discussing his death. The record below comes from the Trinity church books. It is the record of Ferdie’s death.
It says that his death, which took place in March, was due to an accident involving a falling tree the previous December. The record also states that Ferdie was first treated in a hospital in Memphis, then later died at a hospital in Perryville. I find it ironic that Altenburg’s “plant guy” suffered a death that was caused by a very large plant.