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[Zerr Family History] St. Charles, MO Zerr Family History by Mark May 25, 2005, 01:27:35 PM
Ralph and Clara Zerr History
Zerr Family History A review of the Zerr family mirrors the average life in the United States from the 1920's to the 1970's.  Starting a family in the 1930's at the beginning of the great depression was a formidable challenge since there was very little money, few jobs and a bleak future.


A review of the Zerr family mirrors the average life in the United States from the 1920's to the 1970's.  Starting a family in the 1930's at the beginning of the great depression was a formidable challenge since there was very little money, few jobs and a bleak future.  During the 1930's and 1940's the Zerr family struggled financially.  While no one went hungry, food was not plentiful and clothes were in short supply.  Hand-me-downs were the order of the day.  New store bought clothes were few and far between.  Shoes were either too long or too short.  When holes were worn through the soles, the usual solution was to insert a piece of cardboard and make them do.  I don?t ever remember any of us children ever getting a new bicycle.  When children were old enough to work they were expected to help with family expenses.  Lucille, Ralph and Margaret regularly helped with family expenses in addition they generously bought their younger siblings by buying clothes, shoes, paying dental bills, etc...  There were no family vacations.  Lucille took us to St, Louis as often as possible to see the Cardinals or Browns play at Sportsman Park.  We usually went by bus and streetcar which, for us, was quite an adventure.

In the 1950's the financial picture improved.  Occasionally money was available to go to a movie.  The upstairs of the house on Tompkins St. was finished and divided into three rooms.  Prior to that, the upstairs was very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer.  One winter it was so cold that Bernie used a lamp to warm his bed and promptly set his bed on fire.  With 8 children in the family the older children looked after the younger ones.  They were taught to have compassion for others and to be unselfish.  All the children had boundless energy and even at age 60 and 70 they still were not able to sit still.  All 8 of them always have to be doing something.

When you read this you may get the impression that these hard times during the 30's, 40's 50's were terrible or unpleasant times, if you do you misunderstand that the lack of material things did not deter us from enjoying our youth.  While we never went on ?vacations?, we took many drives out in the country visiting our grandparents? farms, our uncles and aunts, and spent a lot of weekends at our clubhouse on the Cuiver River, near St. Paul.  In the winter our Dad would pull us, on our sleds, behind the car, one hand holding on to the rear bumper and one hand on the sled. Sometimes two or three sleds would be pulled, with snow from the tires blasting in our face and down our necks, holding on for dear life.  It was exciting and dangerous and one learned real fast never to let go of that rear bumper.  In the summer we would go to Steeds Island, which is now Earth City across the Missouri River from downtown St. Charles, or some other slough on the Missouri River and go swimming.  Several times we were not allowed to go into the water until our Dad ?cleared? the water of cottonmouth water moccasins. Later on, when more money was available we went swimming at the only city pool, at Blanchette Park.

I don?t ever remember our Mom or Dad kissing or hugging us but I knew beyond any doubt that they loved us.  Our lives centered around our religious faith.  Almost every one of our relatives were devout Catholics.  As far back as I could trace, each generation had a Zerr or Schneider who was a Priest or Nun.  Many Sundays were spent visiting our great Aunt Sister Frowine, or our Aunts, Sister Clementine and Sister Florina.  It was interesting to hear about the Catholic Schools in the early 1900's. At First, children were taught in German, later on they were taught in both German and English and around the 1930's they were taught only in English.  I was amused to find that in the 30's and 40's when families went to church they were expected to pay a monthly pew rental fee.  Each family was assigned a specific pew and no one else was supposed to set in that pew.

Every month, the day before first Friday, we would walk to church and go to confession.  The next day we would walk back down to church for Mass and Communion.  Of course no one ate meat on Fridays.  That was the day we took cheese sandwiches to school.

Once or twice a year we would be taken on a pilgrimage to Starkenburg, Missouri with Aunt Clementine and Uncle Ernie.  This was a day of praying and singing while walking through the woods that surrounded the church.

At St. Peter?s Church it was considered an honor if you were chosen to be an altar boy.  You were very privileged if you got to serve high Mass for a Bishop or a Cardinal. They had very strict rules for boys who wanted to serve Mass.  You had to memorize many of the Latin prayers.  Being an altar boy did have its ups and downs.  During one Sunday Mass Bernie accidentally kicked over the collection basket and hundreds of coins tumbled down the altar steps during the most sacred part of Mass, the Concentration, causing a very loud noise, much to the dismay of Father Kraus.  After that he mostly served Mass for Father Ruff.

In doing research for this history, I was told that the decision to have Sister Florina enter the convent was made by her father and the Nun who was the Principal at her school.  It was not Sister Florina?s decision.  In order to verify this fact Margaret visited Sister Florina in March of 2000 at the Precious Blood convent in O?Fallon and asked her if this was true.  This is Sister Florina?s version of what happened.

Sister Florina graduated from the 8th grade in 1922.  The Principal at her school told George Zerr, her dad, ?Your daughter belongs in the convent.?  To which her Dad replied, ?If she?s going in the convent she needs more education.?  At that time All Saints Parish in St. Peter?s had a two year high school, so Sister Florina went for one year.  A Nun told her, ?You?ll change your mind is you wait until after high school.?  So it was decided that she would enter the convent.  Margaret asked her is it was her decision or her Dad?s.  She said ?it was half and half.?  She was asked if she ever regretted it.  She said ?Oh no, I?ve been very happy in the convent.?  She also said that she only got into trouble once in high school.  She said that she was being taught by Sister Aloysuis.  She had this big stick about 2 inches in diameter.  She would use it on kids when they wouldn?t do it right.  Sister Florina said this one girl had a hard time learning and she was always getting whipped.  One day Sister Florina got tired of that so when everyone went outside for recess she took the stick and hid it way back in the cupboard where the teacher couldn?t see it.  The teacher missed it but didn?t say anything for a few days.  Finally the teacher said ?Whoever took the stick should get it and put it back, now.?  Sister Florina said that everyone held their breath.  So she got the stick and gave it back to the teacher.  The teacher asked her why she did that.  Sister Florina told her that she didn?t like to see her whipping that girl all the time.  Sister Florina said that the Nun didn?t use the stick very much after that.


Ralph Zerr and Clara Schneider were born in 1902 on farms in St. Charles County, Missouri just south of St. Peters.  In the 1940's, St. Peter?s was a little farming community consisting of   3 or 4 streets, a couple of stores and a grain elevator.  The population was about 300.

In those days, children who came from farming families were needed to work on the farms so Ralph completed the 8th grade and Clara went to school and completed the 6th grade at All Saints Parish elementary school in St. Peters.  At that point they were taken out of school and worked full time on their farms.  Later on, Ralph got a job in St. Peters at Schneider Implement Co.   Schneider Implement purchased the first car in St. Peters.  It was delivered in a box car from the railroad and the first time they drove it through town it scared all the horses.

Ralph and Clara were married in 1928 and moved to St. Charles.   They lived above an automobile agency that Ralph owned at Kings Highway and Fifth Street.  He sold new cars and operated a repair garage at this location from 1929 until 1948 when his failing health forced him to give up the business.  When the family moved to their first home boxing matches were held above the garage for a number of years.

In 1930 their one and only house was built near the city limits at 1120 Tompkins St.  This house was built by Uncle Elmer.  Oak lumber from Grandpa George Zerr?s farm was used.  It is incredibly hard wood; to this day it is impossible to drive a nail into this wood.  It was the only house on the block and the roads were dirt.  A cistern was located in the

The most daunting challenge was sharing one bathroom among 10 people.   There was no shower in the house until the 1960's.  They learned to share at an early age.  Since there was only one bath tub and no shower it was understood that a bath was taken mainly on Saturdays, which was fine with Bob.  Later on a shower head with a curtain around it was installed in the basement.

Food was in short supply, although no one went without a meal.  Children were not required to be at supper but if you were not there it was that much more for everybody else.  Needless to say, they didn?t miss many meals.  Menus were designed around what fruits and vegetables were in season.  If tomatoes, beans, potatoes, onions, etc. were given to the family from the farm or neighbors, that?s what was served, meal after meal until it was gone.  They always had Graham crackers and milk for a snack when they came home from school.  There always seemed to be plenty of bologna lunch meat on hand.  Bernie distinctly remembers taking bologna sandwiches to school every day [except Fridays] for 12 years.  Since there was no sandwich bags or cling wrap, Mom would wrap the sandwiches in bread wrappers.

They would get chickens from the farm and kids were taught to butcher chickens and pluck the feathers.  For awhile they raised chickens under the back porch.  They also ate raccoon, opossum and whatever somebody would shoot.

RALPH ZERR SR. [1902 - 1975]

Ralph Zerr touched many lives and made a lasting impression on everyone he came in contact with.  It is hard to describe what a remarkable person he was.  He was the consummate role model for his family.  He never complained and even though he didn?t have a lot of worldly possessions he seemed totally satisfied with his lot in life.

His life was centered around his immediate family.  Since he was of German heritage he rarely showed emotions and never cried.  Although he never hugged his kids or told them that he loved them, they knew that, in fact, he did.  He was patient, generous, understanding and compassionate but a firm disciplinarian.  His word was the law, when he directed his children to do something, it was non- negotiable.  He did not believe in the ?Spare the Rod ?theory.  When you got a ?licking? it was a very long time before you stepped out of line.

He was over 6 ft. tall and weighed over 200 pounds.  He was very strong and the thing that caught your attention was his huge hands.  He had thick black hair and showed no sign of balding at age 72.  He was a self taught person and could repair anything.  He was well read and good at math.

He worked long hours at his garage, usually 12 to 14 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week.  When he did find time to spend with his family it was an enjoyable experience.  Occasionally he would stop by St. Charles Dairy and treat the kids to an ice cream cone. It was great fun when he would take a weekend off and take the family to the ?clubhouse? on the Cuiver River to go fishing and roam around the countryside.

He was a strong believer in conservation long before the philosophy became popular.  He would take one or two kids with him and spend many an hour in the country banding birds so their migratory patterns could be followed and recorded.

After he was forced to give up the garage business because of failing health he became an expert at growing flowers and won many blue ribbons at the county fair.  When time permitted, he volunteered at the blood bank and donated many pints of blood.

He never slowed down, continually helping others, especially elderly ladies in the neighborhood.  He died suddenly on July 31, 1975 of an aortic aneurism.


Like her husband, she never complained and seemed happy with her lot in life.  She wasn?t very tall [about 5'3'?] but had boundless energy.  She awoke about 5 A.M. every morning to make breakfast for Ralph and help her 3 girls and 5 boys get ready for school.

Her life revolved around her family and she had little time or desire for anything else.  No matter how she felt physically, she tenaciously cooked, washed and ironed clothes and all the other chores that were necessary to keep an energetic family of 10 going.  At first there wasn?t a clothes dryer, so after the clothes were washed, they had to be hung on a clothes line in the back yard, or in the basement.  It looked funny to see a pair of frozen underwear hanging on the line in the back yard.

Because there were lots of fruits and vegetables from the farm she spent a lot of time canning.  Occasionally she would make lye soap in a big kettle in the back yard.

When the 8th child was born Dad thought it would be good to get some help for Mom so a Nanny? was hired for a brief period of time.  He hired a relative, Annie Ohmes, who lived in St. Peters.  She was very compassionate and her kindness tended to get people into trouble.  On one night Bob conned Annie into doing his homework.  Of course the Nun at school knew right away that Bob didn?t do the homework so she confronted Bob.  Bob, being a quick thinker, especially when he was in trouble, said that Margaret did his homework.  Consequently Margaret was hauled into the Principal?s office.  Margaret tells Mom, Mom tells Dad......

Because Clara never drove a car lots of things were delivered to the house.  A milkman would deliver milk to the house a couple of times a week and a bread man came by once a week.  Invariably, the kids would talk her into buying a coffee cake or doughnuts or some other treat.  She never voted or expressed any interest in politics or any outside activity.  After all the children were grown up and left home, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was in poor health until she died on May 23rd, 1988.


Lucille was born in 1928 in St. Peters. Missouri.  She was the oldest of the children.  When she was one year old her parents moved to St. Charles where they lived above the garage they owned.

She was the perfect big sister, unselfishly caring for her brothers and sisters.  She was the perfect role model.  Lucille got excellent grades in school and the rest of her siblings were expected to follow her example.  She played the trumpet in the high school band.

After she graduated from high school she went to work at a shoe factory in St. Charles, working on the assembly line.  She worked there for about a year and then went to work at St. Charles Savings Bank for about 5 years.

In January of 1952, at age 23, she entered the Notre Dame convent in St. Louis, Missouri.  After she took her vows she began teaching at various schools in Missouri and Illinois.  She also served as principal at several parishes.

Lucille introduced her siblings to baseball, it was an interest they enjoyed the rest of their lives.  She provided a special treat by taking her brothers and sisters to major league games in St. Louis.  At that time there were two major league teams, the Brown and Cardinals.  The Cardinals always had the better team, except for 1944, so we mainly went to see the Cardinals play.  You could set in the bleachers for 50 cents.

Lucille would pack some snacks and take us by bus part of the way, to Wellston, and then we would transfer to a streetcar.  This was our first experience riding public transportation.  On rare occasions we would catch a foul ball and get an autograph from on of the players.  Other times we would stay after a game and wait for the players to come out so we could talk to them.  Somehow Lucille knew where the players parked their cars.  It was always a wonderful experience and one on few times we did something together besides visiting relatives.

Lucille spent the money she earned on things for her brothers and sisters, like shoes clothes or money so we could go the dentist.

When Lucille?s mother suffered a severe stroke and became bedridden, Lucille sacrificed her religious duties and cared for her mother 24 hours a day for several years. After her mother died Lucille returned to her religious vocation in Cape Girardeau, Missouri where she works with boundless energy at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Annunciation.


Ralph was born in 1930 in St. Charles, Missouri.  Being the oldest boy he was expected to look out for his younger brothers and sisters and fulfilled those responsibilities with great devotion.

The grand design of his Dad seemed to eventually have all the boys work in his automobile repair garage.  Thank God Ralph was the oldest boy because none of the other boys in the family had the slightest interest in becoming a mechanic.  He started to work in the garage at age 12 and worked long, tedious hours under severe weather conditions.

Sometimes he was needed to work on his grandfather?s farm and spent entire summers working from sun up until sun set, threshing wheat, combining corn, etc.

Later on he became a service manager for several automobile agencies.  He retired from Union Electric.

When his siblings needed things, Ralph was always there to take care of their needs.  If it were not for Ralph, his siblings never would have enjoyed a new suit, a wrist watch or a baseball glove.

Ralph was the person who got his brothers and sisters interested in sports and scouts and other hobbies in order to keep them from getting into trouble.

Ralph married Joyce Godar in 1957.  They have two daughters, Janet and Cathy.


Bob was born at home on November 24th, 1934.  He was baptized on December 2nd of that year, made his first confession and first Holy Communion in 1942, and received the sacrament of Confirmation in October of 1946.  He received the Last Rites [the Anointing of the Sick] in March of 1948, was ordained a Priest in 1962 and married in 1972.  It?s rare for a person to receive all seven sacraments.

His older brother and sisters were studious and obedient, Bob, on the other hand, marched to a different drummer.  He was rebellious and inquisitive and always seemed to need a challenge.

He went to St. Peter School until 1949 when at age 15 he entered the Seminary.  On the surface he seemed the least likely of the Zerr kids to enter the religious life, but of course God works in mysterious ways.  Bob started his priestly studies at Our Lady of Good Counsel Seminary in Normandy, Missouri from 1949 to 1955.  Dad felt it was cheaper to send Bob to the Seminary than to feed him.  In 1955 Bob transferred to the very strict Passionate Novitiate in St. Paul, Kansas.  And then he transferred to the Immaculate Conception Seminary at Conception, Missouri from 1956 until 1962.

He was ordained a Priest on June 2nd, 1962 in Belleville, Illinois and assigned to parishes in that area.  In 1968 he was sent to Guatemala as a missionary and learned to speak Spanish fluently.  While there he ministered to spiritual and physical needs of the poorest of the poor.  Although he was a Catholic Priest, the people looked to him for medical help and he told gut wrenching stories of delivering babies and pulling teeth, building co-ops and a myriad other responsibilities.  At the time he was there, Guatemala was a very politically unstable country.  Clergymen were being murdered and religious people were being targeted as a threat to the government.

Bob was kind enough to write some things about his early childhood and we have included the following comments in Bob?s own words.  ?From the very first day I brought chaos. I searched for it and found it, perhaps too often.  I was born in the midst of the Great Depression.  Dr. Vincent Schneider, MD, assisted my mother.  Her family doctor, Dr. Jenkins was out of town on a Thanksgiving vacation.  Lucille was in the first grade and had to share with her class the menu for Thanksgiving.  She told her class ?My Dad made hash for Thanksgiving dinner since my brother was born the day before.?  Since my father did not have to pay a cent for my delivery, Lucille always says ?You get what you pay for.?

?I was the only one in the family who received all seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.  For me the greatest sacrament, after Holy Communion, is the sacrament of Reconciliation [Confession] because I could be forgiven for my many sins.  I have been truly been blessed with dear parents and siblings.?

?My early childhood included numerous mishaps.  When I was about age 3 I ran a stick down my throat.  I fell from the second floor of the Horstmeyer house while it was being built and knocked myself completely out.?

?When I was a little older I was allowed to stay at Uncle Ernie and Aunt Clementine?s.  One day Aunt Clementine asked me to take Uncle Ernie his lunch at the grain elevator where he worked for about 60 years.  I did so and while there I decided to climb down inside the elevator and check it out.  While in there, a large truck drove in and dumped the entire load on top of me, covering me up to my neck.  One of the workers, Alfie Ell?s son started the auger and began to suck me and the wheat into the pipe that carried the wheat to the railroad box car.  I began to scream and was able to grab a hold of a piece of wire that was hanging down just close enough for me to hold on with one hand.  To make a long story short Ernie and his fellow workers were able to dig me out.  Ernie was so shook up he had to be sent home.?

?I remember the first and only summer I worked at the Kings Highway garage.  My pay was a bottle of soda each day.  My first assignment given to me by my Dad was to fill up a customer?s car with gas.  Gasoline was 12 cents a gallon, but I didn?t collect the money from the driver.  When Dad asked me for the money I told him that he only told me to fill up the gas tank and didn?t say anything about collecting any cash.?

Bob left the priesthood in 1972 and married Sarah Heroy in New York, on June 17, 1972.  He has two sons, William and Christopher.  On May 6, 1995 he married Margaret Korb.

Bob has the most education of any of the siblings.  He holds degrees in Philosophy, Theology, Business and Accounting and obtained a Masters degree in Education in 1962 and is currently working on his MS in Psychology.

Bob has spent the last 30 years in caring for his sister Rita and his son Christopher. He has them over to his house every weekend.  He has devoted his entire life helping others.


Rita was born in 1937, the youngest daughter and 5th of 8 children.  She went to St. Peter School until her freshman year.  At age 14 she entered the Notre Dame convent in St. Louis, Missouri.  After she completed her training and took her vows she served at a number of parishes in Missouri and a parish in San Antonio, Texas.  Mental illness [Schizophrenia] forced her to leave the convent in August, 1962.

She stayed with Bernie and Diana in California for a year and taught school and worked at a hospital.  She returned to Missouri and married Jim Kullman in 1970.  Shortly thereafter they moved to Kansas City.  They were divorced in 1983.  Her brother Bob became her legal guardian and cared for her for many years until she became a ward of the state and lived in a structured home in Liberty, Missouri. She enjoyed spending time at Bernie and Diana?s summer home in St. Clair Missouri.


Bernie was born March 28, 1938; he was the 6th of 8 children.  This was just as the Great Depression was ending and the Second World War was beginning.

His older brothers and sisters were expected to look after him and did so with great   devotion.  His oldest brother Ralph decided the best way to keep him out of trouble was to get him interested in sports.  The only organized sport available to 8 year old boys in St. Charles in the 1940's was little league baseball.  It worked like a charm; he ate slept and drank baseball.  His Dad said he had baseball on the brain.  His schooling suffered because he spent more time on the ball field than he did doing his homework.  No one seemed to mind [except the Nuns] since he stayed out of trouble most of the time.

Through the generosity of the Notre Dame Sisters he was able to graduate from High School but with just barely passing grades.  His class was the last to graduate from St. Peter High School.  The following year Duchesne High School was completed.

After high school he worked several jobs in Missouri but because Uncle Sam had a compulsory draft for the military he decided to join the Navy and get his military obligation out of the way.  After boot camp in San Diego his was sent to The Los Alamitos Naval Air Station outside of Long Beach, California.   The Navy, in their infinite wisdom, trained him as a firefighter.  Part of their duties was to respond to aircraft crashes.  He worked 24 hours on and then 24 hours off.  Spending 24 hours sitting on a fire truck, between two runways could be very boring unless a plane crashed.

He witnessed numerous fatal crashes, a reality check for a 19 yr. old kid.  The most memorable crash was a mid air collision between to aircraft over Los Angeles.  This accident happened on February 1, 1958.  This was the night that the first Russian satellite had been launched.  Newspapers and T V stations told people to look southward in the sky around 9p.m.  Instead, what they saw was a fireball when the two planes collided.  Because thousands of people saw this disaster many people rushed to the scene, which clogged the streets and prevented emergency equipment from getting through.  49 military people perished and one survived.

Although he never saw a ship while he was in the Navy he learned a profession in which he would work for 34 years.  After he completed his military obligation in 1961 he called home to see how the job market was in Missouri.  This was during a recession and his father told him that is he could find a job in California he would be better off staying in California.  He did and the day after he was released from the military he went to work as a firefighter fro North American Aviation [Rockwell] at Los Angeles International Airport.  Two years later he joined the Westminster Fire Department as a rookie firefighter and worked there for 15 years attaining the rank of battalion chief.

In 1963 he met Diana Cyronek and they were married on April 18th, 1964.  They had 4 children, Bridget, Brenda, Peter and Tim.  In 1977 he earned a BA Degree from Cal State Long Beach.  They moved to Morro Bay in the fall of 1977 when he became of Fire Chief.  In 1987 he earned a Master?s Degree in Public Administration from the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution. He retired from the fire department on July 4, 1991.

After that he spent each fall coaching basketball at public schools and also coached baseball at Morro Bay High School.

Last updated: May 25, 2005, 01:27:35 PM Reviewed by: Mark

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