life and Times of
John & Helen Fuss
2: The Bachelor Years
Helen's Early Years
Helen was born on October 24,
1902, the daughter of Jacob Rowe Ohler and Annie Reese
Stansbury Ohler, his wife. Her birth occurred in the
two-story brick farm house located on the Emmitsburg-Harney Road about
two and a half miles east of Emmitsburg.
Rowe Ohler, as he was commonly
called, had also been born and raised on this
farm. His mother was a Rowe and had inherited the
land. Rowe's father, Samuel Ohler, cleared most of
the land and brought it into production. The
relatively flat land proved to be one of the best farms in the
area. J. Rowe and Annie Ohler had three other
daughters besides Helen, born as follows:
- Emma Belle born November
- Ada Ruth born November 1,
- Lydia Rosanna born June 16,
- Helen Virginia born October
Rowe was a prosperous farmer.
He had a full-time hired man and hired others for seasonal
work, perhaps because he
had no sons of his own to help him on the farm.
When Helen was five years old,
her mother Annie developed a form of blood poisoning,
which was thought to have originated from an insect
bite on her arm. The local doctors could not properly diagnose
or treat it, so Annie was transported by train to Johns
Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where she was a patient for
several weeks. She nearly died, and was incapacitated
for some time both before
she went to the hospital and after she returned home.
Although she recovered, her left hand and fingers
were permanently impaired and she never regained the use
of them. This experience was very traumatic for young
Helen's grandparents moved
from the farm to a house on the top of the hill just
to the west of the farm when Rowe and Annie were
married. They both died before Helen was six years
By 1909 a new two-story eight-room brick house was constructed at the site on the
hill and the Ohler family moved there. Rowe was
considered a rather prosperous man. In addition to his
home farm, he acquired two additional working
farms. All three of these farms were operated by
tenants, who gave half of the crops to
the owner as was the custom of the day. Rowe visited his farms
nearly every day.
Rowe also owned some other
tracts of land. He had holdings in bank stock and was
later elected to the Board of Directors of the
Emmitsburg Bank, and he also owned some other
securities. The ownership of the bank stock caused
considerable difficulty when the bank merged into the Central Trust Company
and failed in the
Great Depression. Because the stock was assessable,
the proceeds from the sale of the farms had to be used
to pay the assessment on the bank stock.
During Helen's early years,
these investments provided a better life style than was typical
for the day. Helen was brought up as a Methodist
and was a life long member of Toms Creek
Methodist Church. Her mother was a Methodist,
father was a Lutheran who was very active in the Elias
Lutheran Church in Emmitsburg. On most Sundays each
parent went to their respective churches. On occasions
when the weather was bad or for special services such
as Christmas, the parents and the entire family would
go to the same church.
Helen's education began at
the one-room Ohler School which was on a one-acre
tract immediately across the road from the house
where she lived. In the seventh grade, she went to
Emmitsburg High School and traveled each day by horse
and buggy. It appears that she herself drove the horse
the school and left the animal in a livery stable
near the school. When the weather was poor, she stayed
overnight with relatives in Emmitsburg. She graduated
from the high school in 1919.
One of her boyfriends in high
school was Bill Hays. She often recalled riding on a
bicycle with him once during lunch time.
When they tried to navigate through some mud, she was thrown from the
bicycle and was very embarrassed.
Upon completion of high
school, she went to Irving College in Mechanicsburg,
Pennsylvania, which offered both two- and four-year
courses. However, it seems that it was primarily a
finishing school for young ladies, and most of
students appeared to have taken the two-year course which Helen
completed. There was apparently a heavy emphasis on home
economics in order to prepare the young ladies to become a good
wives and homemakers.
Upon completion of the college
course, she returned home to live with her parents.
those days, females worked outside the home only as
teachers, nurses, or domestics. It was expected that
most young women would stay and work at home until they married.
Helen was given an opportunity
to teach school. In those days, only a high school
diploma was required to teach. By this time, the
one-room schools such as Ohler's had been closed and
all students in the Emmitsburg District traveled to
Emmitsburg to a consolidated school. Helen taught the
fourth grade for the second half of the year in 1924 and
also substituted on other occasions.
During Helen's teenage and
unmarried years, the Ohler family vacationed each year
in Atlantic City where they would spend up to two weeks
in mid-summer. Annie Ohler's favorite pasttime there was to sit in the auction houses and watch
other people bid on various items.
Swimming suits in those days
covered virtually the entire body. On one occasion,
Helen was on the beach when she felt a tap on her
shoulder. It was a policeman who told her that she
would have to roll her suit down, because she had exposed
more than her ankle and it was against the beach
regulations to do so.
The Ohler family led an active social life.
They visited regularly with
their relatives in the Emmitsburg, Keysville,
and Taneytown areas. This was made possible by
the arrival of the automobile. Helen's first automobile ride
occurred when George Miller, a wealthy inventor from Canton,
Ohio, came to Emmitsburg in his automobile and took
everyone for a ride. Rowe Ohler acquired an
automobile of his own sometime later, which made it
easier for the family to get around.
Helen seems to have been rather
popular with the young men and had a number
of boyfriends. One of them was a boy named Sauble from Taneytown
who drowned. Another was Clarence Waybright, who
came from a family who
had been neighbors to the Ohlers for generations.
John Fuss was also from a
neighboring family and lived about a mile away. He was almost six years older than
Helen, and had his
eye on her ever since she was a young girl. He sang on
the choir and she sat in the second seat on the
opposite side of the church, and he would often
try to get her attention. When she would smile
at him, he assumed it meant that she would agree to go
out on a date with him. He had his first date with her when
she was 16 and they dated off and on for a number of
Helen also said that John seemed
to always be ready to help untie her horse at church when she was ready to leave.
John often told the story of one of their earlier dates
when they went somewhere on a Sunday afternoon. As they were returning
to Helen's home, they knew that her parents would be on the
porch, so they stopped some distance from the house to
kiss. However, their caution was wasted. When they
arrived at Helen's house, her mother told John that it
was not necessary for them to stop away from the
house. He took this to mean that it was all
right to kiss Helen in their presence. John said he never
forgot that incident. The romance continued off and on for
ten years. John often said that he "worked ten years to
get his little girl," referring to Helen's
small size as she weighed only about 100 pounds at the
time of her marriage.
In 1926, John went to
California for the winter. When he left, he telephoned
Helen and said he was going. She
simply said goodbye and did not say much more. While
he was in California, however, she wrote to him, and
this encouraged him to come back home,
rather than to stay and seek his fortunes in
While John had other
girlfriends and Helen had other boyfriends, John
always said that he only really wanted one woman as
his wife and that was Helen. After years of dating,
Helen finally consented. John and Helen were married
March 1, 1929. From that day forward, their lives were
Chapter 4: The Marriage
other chapters in the life and times of John and Helen Fuss
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