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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Old autograph book or love story?

By Barry Schrader.................................Feburary 15, 2011

This column could just be about a long-ago autograph book, or it could turn into a love story.
Digging through some family files while looking for a particular photograph last week, I came across a small autograph book with the inscription inside: “To Emma, a Christmas present from your mother” dated 1880.
Knowing the family’s history, I can imagine it was the only gift – aside from maybe an orange or apple – that my grandmother received that year when she was 11 years old.
By perusing the autographs that filled 64 pages I learned the names of many of her schoolmates in that small, country school in Afton Township that she attended, as well as her teacher’s name.

Emma Potter and Orval Stryker

Then there were several relatives who signed it, and even though the ink has faded, one can still tell that penmanship was taught at an early age and most of the entries are very nicely written.
Something else I discovered, to my surprise, was the following message written by a boy who signed his name Orval Stryker: “When this you see, please think of me, and think of a friend that think(s) of the(e)” dated February 1881. Then, 46 pages later, he made another entry in her book, this time writing: “Whats in your mind, let no one know, nor to your friend your secrets know; for when that friend becomes your foe, then all the world your secrets know. Orval Stryker.”
Doesn’t sound very romantic, but the fact he was the only boy who wrote in it twice must indicate something. Maybe puppy love at her age of 11 and him just 13? Sorry to say, I have never found any other note or letters written between them.
But seven years later, in December 1888, Emma Potter and Orval Stryker were married in Waterman. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1938, and he passed away in 1941. Grandma Stryker lived until 1963, passing away the same week I graduated from Northern Illinois University. She had told me how proud she was to see her grandson finish college.
It is easy to conclude that young Emma and Orval crossed paths many times outside that one-room school, since their parents farmed along Waterman Road a couple of miles apart, and the two families worshiped at Waterman Methodist Church.
But I like to think that their first “up close” personal encounter might have been when she walked up to him at school and asked that he write something to her.
Her teacher at the Afton school also made an entry that said: “May the white hands of the Angels, Guide you to that land of light; Strew your pathway there with roses; To that land where there is no night. Your loving teacher, Ella Sawyer.”
I think the best place for that little book would be the Waterman Area Heritage Society’s museum. It is full of early day family names such as Minnihan, Ferguson, Woods, Wiltberger, Kauffman, Phelps, Baxter, Burr, Rollins, Tuttle, Tallman and Sawyer.
I wish I had asked grandma when she was still alive how she met grandpa and when they first dated. It would have made a nice Valentine’s Day memory.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115