|CHARLES ALANSON PURKISS
Charlie Purkiss was born May 29, 1910, in Port Huron, Michigan Charlie’s
middle name was obviously from his maternal grandfather – Alanson
Sears Welsher. Less obvious is from whom he inherited his given name,
as neither the Purkiss nor Welsher Family Trees contain the name
Charles. Charlie was the fourth of five children of Fred and Sadie Purkiss.
He had two older sisters, Jessie (age 10) and Ruth (age 5), plus one older
brother, Art (age 8). His brother Wesley was born when Charlie was 3.
Charlie grew up living at 525 15th Street in Port Huron. When he was
three, his younger brother Wesley was born and his sister Ruth died
when he was six. He attended the Harrison School at 15th and Water
Streets through the sixth grade. He went to Washington Junior High
School for grades 7 through 9, and then it was on to the only High
School in town, Port Huron High School. Sometime during his 11th
grade (circa 1926), Charlie quit school to join his father and brother
working full time in the Purkiss Meat Market at 1305 Lapeer Ave.
Interestingly, neither his older brother Arthur, nor his younger brother
Wesley were asked to quit school to work full time in the market, as both
received diplomas from Port Huron High.
|Charlie 4th Grade
|Ruth, Wesley, & Charlie
Just before Ruth's death in 1916
The “Great Depression” began in the United States when Charlie was
in his late teens. Southeastern Michigan, including Port Huron, was hit
pretty hard by it, owing to its dependence on the auto industry.
However, the Purkiss Grocery and Meat Market apparently thrived
during these tough times and Charlie gradually became more involved
in the business side of running the store.
Charlie had a brief marriage (and divorce) during the mid 1930s and then married Helen
Augusta Ernst on Oct 29, 1938. Shortly thereafter, the newlyweds adopted Normajean
and their son Charles Thomas was born on Jan 16, 1940. The family moved into their
brand new home at 1421 22nd Street in 1942.
|Charlie & Helen's
World War II was kind to Charlie and the Purkiss Store until 1944. The wartime economy
put money back in peoples’ pockets and even though there was rationing, the store
continued to thrive. Then, at age 34, a few months shy of passing the draft age, Charlie
received his “Greetings”. He went to U. S. Navy Boot Camp at Great Lakes, Illinois and
was subsequently assigned as a butcher at a Naval Hospital in Sampson, New York. He
was discharged in December 1945, returned to Port Huron and plunged back into the
|The Was is Over
In 1949, Purkiss & Sons, as it was then called,
constructed another addition onto the store on Lapeer
Ave. The original intent was to enlarge the retail space,
but because of some laws in effect at the time, they had
to build it as a warehouse. The plan was to knock down
a wall in a few years after the required time delay.
During the late 1940s and early 50s, Charlie and Helen
were part of a four-couple bridge club that included their
close friends the Radigans, Monzos, and Rousers,
Charlie and Helen’s second son Frederick George was born April 3, 1952. Then on
November 22, 1952, tragedy struck. Even though it was over 55 years ago and I was only 12
at the time, I remember the day very vividly. I was awaken to my Mother’s voice yelling
“Tommy, Normajean, come down here quick”. We ran downstairs to find our Dad lying in
the doorway between the kitchen and dining room. Mom immediately called the family
doctor, Mr. Miles across the street, my Uncle Art, and her sister Dorothy. We all thought that
he was alive as there was movement and sounds coming from him. When the doctor got
there, my Mom, sister and I were moved into the master bedroom and my Uncle came in to
give us the news. Charlie Purkiss was dead.
The Purkiss store only lasted for five years after that.
Charlie’s brother, Art, and his family lived only a few blocks away on 19th Street; their son
Jack was a frequent visitor at Uncle Charlie’s house. In a letter to me in 1992, Jack provided
some illuminating insights into my Dad as a family man and as a business man. In the
letter Jack said that “I always liked to spend the night at your house because your house
had love in it….” He also wrote that “I always thought that if your Dad hadn’t died, Purkiss &
Sons wouldn’t have failed.” He continued, “My Dad was the best meat man I ever knew, but I believe your Dad was the business
head, and when he passed away, Dad just couldn’t handle that end of the business.”
Charlie Purkiss was a well-known and highly respected business man in Port Huron. He was a
prime organizer of a group of independent grocers called “Friendly Dealers” that banned together
to compete against the chains. The Friendly Dealers were able to advertise as a group and deal
as a single entity with the grocery and meat wholesalers, thus lowering their costs and being more
competitive than they could individually.
It seemed like everybody knew and liked Charlie. Wherever we would go in town, people came up
to Charlie to shake his hand and speak with him. Sometimes, my Mother would get miffed,
especially when we were at a restaurant that we couldn’t eat in peace.
There were a bunch of “losers” after Charlie died. First of all, my Mom was a young woman at that
time. She never remarried and lost out on the opportunity to grow old with a loving husband. My
brother Fred was a loser in that he grew up without a Father. Normajean and I lost the chance to
live our teen years with a father’s support. Purkiss and Sons lost their “business head” and went
bankrupt within a few years. Mostly, however, Charlie lost. He didn’t see his kids grow up. He
never retired so he could kick back and enjoy life. He never had an opportunity to be a Grandpa,
with all the wonderful rights and privileges that grandfatherhood entails.
Obviously, however, this was God’s plan and life goes on.
|Charles A. Purkiss