Posted on USAToday.com 8/31/2004, from Associated Press
Couple finally reunited, 88 years after wife's death
By Mike Augsperger, The Hawk Eye
WINFIELD, Iowa -- Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. James and Mary Denslow finally will spend the rest of eternity together.
The couple have been separated for a century -- him buried for 111 years in an unmarked grave near Unionville, Mo., and her ashes stored for 88 years in the basements of Winfield banks. It took reading several newspaper articles, surfing the Internet keystroke by keystroke and a little luck to find a living relative who could take Mary on one final journey.
At a weekend funeral ceremony in Lemons, Mo., her great-grandson, Philip Denslow of Atlanta, placed her ashes alongside her husband's grave.
The man who remembers his ancestors only through pictures also will buy a tombstone for the couple. It's a chapter closed for Denslow, who for several years has been looking for information about his family history.
A genealogical sleuthing expedition will end for William and Carol Klopfenstein of Winfield, who spent several months searching for living relatives of Mary Denslow.
Mary Etta Park Denslow died at 8:30 a.m. on April 26, 1916, said a telegram inside the black tin box roughly the size of a thick, square Bible that was delivered to her son, Lorenzo Denslow. He was school superintendent in this southeast Iowa town from 1913 to 1916.
The box said it contained the remains of Mary. She had been cremated, a procedure that was then in its infant stages in America.
Lorenzo was a good friend of J.M. Lindley, head of the Bank of Winfield. Researchers believe Lorenzo was a busy man and asked Lindley to hold his mother's ashes for safekeeping.
Apparently, Lorenzo never got around to taking care of the ashes. They remained in a basement for 88 years after Mary died at age 53. She had been in California at the time, visiting her nieces.
Mary had been ill most of the fall and winter, but felt better and took the trip. But once there, she became sick again and died within a week.
When the Bank of Winfield went under during The Depression, Peoples State Bank was formed and moved to a new building. Mary followed, but she was forgotten.
Mick Garris, the bank's chief executive officer, said his son, Troy, was cleaning the bank's basement in the late 1980s and found the box filled with Mary's ashes. He ran out of the basement white as a sheet to tell his father about the discovery.
"He was pretty shook up about it," Garris said.
They tried to find someone to claim the remains, but couldn't. The bank continued to hold the ashes for safekeeping, and thought about Mary again a few years ago when a new building was built.
Garris asked William Klopfenstein, one of the bank's directors, what he should do with the ashes. Klopfenstein told his wife, Carol, a genealogy researcher. The two began searching for a relative.
The two ran into several dead ends, but also some promising leads. Eventually the pieces of the puzzle started to come together, and she found Philip Denslow.
"It's just such a challenge, sometimes harder than finding a needle in a haystack," Carol Klopfenstein said. "I'm just pleased that Phil finally said he wanted to come. I've been waiting for when he could."
Denslow was reared in California, but moved to Atlanta eight years ago to live near his wife's children and grandchildren. He began searching several years ago for some of his family history, but didn't find as much as he had hoped.
He posted a note on a genealogy Web site that eventually was found by Carol Klopfenstein.
"I had just about forgotten about that posting," Denslow said. "My message sat there for a few years and she happened to find it. She had really run out of options."
Klopfenstein sent him an e-mail asking if he was the grandson of Lorenzo. He replied that he was.
Then she told him about his great-grandmother's ashes in the basement of a bank.
"It did take me a couple of days to absorb the message," he said.
Denslow later contacted his mother, asking if she knew any information about his father's side of the family. She remembered a box filled with items, which reaped more benefits regarding the family history, and the burial site of his great-grandfather that was next to a brother, Joseph.
The Klopfensteins contacted the cemetery caretakers, who said there was an open plot next to James Denslow. They helped arrange a graveside service.
A long-lost distant relative, who is a minister, conducted the internment ceremony. At the service, Denslow read some of his grandfather's stories about Mary.
"Mother was one of the world's greatest souls," Denslow read. "She was always doing good for someone. Mother was always kind to people and never knowingly did any person any harm. She practiced the golden rule if ever anyone did."