This weekend Mark and I took a road trip to Portland. Saturday night we attended William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (which was actually Julia Caesar) at the University of Portland. Melinda, our youngest, was assistant stage manager as well as part of the costume crew. We stayed with my college friend, Karrie, and her husband, Geoff. This morning they took us out to see Multnomah Falls, and along the way they pointed out Vista House at Crown Point, a rest station and view point about 24 miles east of Portland, on a bluff high above the Columbia River. When it was constructed in the mid-1910s, this would have made for a nice Sunday drive.
The trip got me thinking about Sunday drives my parents took me on in my childhood and about my grandparents, Charlie and Agnes. They used to enjoy a Sunday drive – often on a Wednesday. Charlie was an engineer on the ferryboat, Eureka, and generally had a day off mid-week. They might pack a picnic lunch and find a scenic spot to lay out a blanket and enjoy some tasty treats. As I understand from my father, often as not one of these scenic spots might very well be a cemetery. (Seems I come by my fascination with graveyards honestly.) As they nibbled on a sandwich or a bite of potato salad, they’d survey the names and dates on the stones, and by the time lunch was over they’d have recreated the whole town in their imaginations – who was married to who, who were the movers and shakers, why that young man died at only 17, who would have been the wise old founders of the place – all based on the names and dates etched upon the flat slabs and majestic plinths marking final resting places. I suspect it was a bit more imagination than actual research, but I sure wish Grandma Kircher could somehow communicate her discoveries from those cemetery jaunts.
Ironically, when Grandpa died in 1952 and Grandma ordered the stone to mark his grave, she left the most meager of informational crumbs on the marker for future picnickers (or genealogist-granddaughters!) There were only two words, Charles Kircher, and a cross. No middle name. No dates. I imagine Grandma expected that when the time came to place her marker, it, too, would say nothing more than Agnes Kircher. I don’t know… perhaps she even had her simple black granite piece made when they made Grandpa's. But thank goodness for my Aunt Mary. Before the stone was placed on her mother’s grave, she made sure that both markers showed the years of birth and death for her dear parents. Not much detail to make up a story about, but it’s at least a start – a morsel of information for an intrepid picnicker to find on a Sunday drive.
I read Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings blog from March 23, 2016[i] in which he wrote about his grandfather. Randy doesn’t have a terribly positive impression of this ancestor, but his blog post got me thinking about why we might like some ancestors more than others. Do I have ancestors I don't "like"? Would I like them more or less if I knew more or less about them? Were some of them creeps but those qualities don't show up in the records? Or did one of them do one bad thing, and that's the only record I’ve found, so I have a bad impression, but in reality the rest of their life was good? Or were some of them great in public, in the records I do see, but horrid people behind closed doors? While I ponder the greater implications of those questions on my research, for today’s Sunday Stories I’d like to write about one ancestor I do have a very high opinion of, and I’m pretty sure most everyone who knew her. or who knew of her, would agree.
Mary Agnes Bradley was born “at the foot of the Wildcat”[ii] near Petaluma, California in 1888,[iii] the middle child in a family of seven surviving children, with a few other siblings lost fairly young.[iv] When she was three, her family relocated to Tiburon when the railroad which employed her father moved its headquarters there. Agnes spent the rest of her life in the town on the shore of San Francisco Bay. She married Charles Kircher in 1909[v] and they raised their eight children across the street from the bustling railroad yards, in a three-story house with a view straight out the Golden Gate.
I think her strong Catholic faith was a legacy from her parents, and she lived that faith through good works her entire life. To share just a few of her endeavors…
Agnes was a founding member of the board of the Tiburon Sanitary District, serving as secretary from 1926 to 1958, and later as its president.[vi] She and Charlie were instrumental in getting one of the first sewage treatment plants on San Francisco Bay constructed in Tiburon, knocking on every door and button-holing the citizens of Tiburon to vote for the project. Her family fondly referred to it as “Ma’s Sewer Plant.” We’d pass by it every time we went to visit her when I was a little girl. (In fact when my dad first brought my mother home to meet his folks, he of course had to point out Ma’s Sewer Plant. My mom wondered just what kind of a family this was whose mother had her own sewer plant!)
Agnes was an election judge at the polls in Tiburon.[vii] She was involved with the Tiburon Mothers’ Club.[viii] She was a member of the Young Ladies Institute, a Catholic women’s service organization. She was a manager of the Village Salvage Shop in Tiburon, a joint venture between the local Catholic, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches and the PTA. She served on the juvenile probation committee and the citizens’ advisory committee for planning. She was a charter member of the Tiburon Peninsula Club and the Belevedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society.[ix] For these and countless other efforts, she was named Marin County Senior Citizen of the Year in 1966.[x]
Agnes’ influence continued on to her children and grandchildren. My dad drove people to the Handicapables Luncheons for years in Marin and later delivered Meals on Wheels in Benicia for 20 years. My aunt Mary volunteered at the Gift Shop at Mission San Rafael Arcangel. My sister, Tori, is a regular volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society. I’ve had the chance to be on the board of the Catholic Seafarers’ Center and the Association for Catholic Childhood in Seattle. In fact when ACC was looking for a volunteer to take over as treasurer, I have no doubt that Grandma Kircher, seated on a perch in heaven next next to a choir of angels, had somehow tied an invisible string to my hand and yanked that sucker right up.
But even with all those good works in Agnes’ life, I think the thing that inspires me most was something my dad told me she used to say, “When you come to the “but” in the sentence, stop. ‘She’s a nice girl, but….?’ No. If she’s a nice girl, she’s a nice girl. Period. You don’t need to go beyond the ‘but’.” Words to live by.
I am honored to be the granddaughter of Agnes Bradley Kircher, and I strive to live up to her example.
[ii] Personal recollection of Thomas B Kircher to author
[iii] Church records of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, Petaluma, Sonoma, California
[iv] Household of Patrick Bradley, Year: 1900; Census Place: Belvedere, Marin, California; Roll: 93; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0061; FHL microfilm: 1240093; Household of Patrick Bradley, Year: 1910; Census Place: Sausalito, Marin, California; Roll: T624_88; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 0050; FHL microfilm: 1374101
[v] Marin Tocsin, 9 January 1909, page 1, “Miss Agnes Bradley and Charles A. Kircher Wed”
[vi] Ebb Tide, 1 June 1966
[vii] Marin Journal, Volume 52, Number 33, 13 August 1914
[viii] Sausalito News, Number 5, 29 January 1932
[ix] Marin Independent Journal, 10 May 1966
[x] Ebb Tide, 1 June 1966
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.