Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Jacob Haish Memorial Hospital Corporation

John "Jack" Nelson (left) and Gordon Melms (right) pictured at Oak Crest Retirement Center in DeKalb. Both men were members of the Jacob Haish Memorial Hospital Corporation until it dissolved in 2006. | Photo by Jessi LaRue
In his will, Jacob Haish specified that he desired his funds to provide a library and a hospital for his beloved DeKalb. His remaining wealth would prove to stretch far; The Haish Memorial Library (DeKalb Public Library,) the former DeKalb Public Hospital (Barb City Manor) and the emergency wing at Kishwaukee Hospital (Northwestern Medicine) were established due to his philanthropy.

These donations were possible not only because of Haish's money, but because of a group of locals who determined where the money would go, and how it would be handled. That group, first formed in 1952, was the Jacob Haish Memorial Hospital Corporation board.

The memorial group "quietly over the years made grants totaling $2.5 million to projects board members felt satisfied the intent of Haish's will," according to a 2006 Kishwaukee Hospital news release. On top of the hospitals and the library, the group gave grants to Community Coordinated Child Care (4-C) and Children's Learning Center.

John "Jack" Nelson, the most recent president of the Haish Memorial Corporation, said they would also occasionally pay hospital bills for people in need.

"The board met as needed, maybe two to three times a year," Nelson said. "We would accumulate 10-12 hospital bills that needed payment, and have a meeting to talk about it."

Nelson said that in order to spend money, the group needed court approval each time, by filling out a "cy pres" petition.

Cy pres: "as near as possible" (

"I think we were quite conservative in protecting the estate," Nelson said.

The biggest "denial" for a money request? Haish's distant family members who were looking for a payout. They would not receive a dime, due to a line in Haish's will that explicitly said "I have purposely refrained from making any bequests to any of my relatives for the reason that I have from time to time during my life made such gifts to them as I desire them to have."

"He had already taken care of the family," said Gordon Melms, a longtime memorial board member.

For years, the group also paid to put flowers on Jacob and Sophia's gravesite in DeKalb. That stopped when the money in the foundation was gone.

"If you think about it, because of his money, Jacob lived almost another 100 years," said Haish family descendant Jennie Marshall Cummings.

The final dollars, a total of $450,000, went toward the emergency wing at the Kishwaukee Hospital.

"We put [the memorial board] out of business with that donation," Nelson said with a laugh. "Because the money was gone."

Melms said the group, along with the DeKalb County Community Foundation, were instrumental in ensuring that the estate helped as many people as possible. He said many of the members stuck with the group because it had such an important impact.

"I didn't know Jacob, but I admired him," Nelson said. "Jacob did a lot for the community. We felt we were doing something beneficial to the community. It's gratifying to say we've done what we think is best for the community, and what Jacob would have wanted."

- - -

A few facts about the Jacob Haish Memorial Corporation, as provided by John "Jack" Nelson, the last president of the group:

Original board of directors:
R.J. Lindstrom
Paul A. Nehring
Floyd O. Crego
Ray C. Nelson
Harry W. McEwen

Tenure as president: 
Ray C. Nelson, former assistant county farm agent: 17 years, 11 as president
C. Edward Raymond, former Daily Chronicle owner/publisher: 47 years, 31 as president
John R. Nelson, former president of the DeKalb Poultry Association: 33 years, 12 as president

Past directors:
Russell J. Lindstrom
Ray C. Nelson
C. Edward Raymond
C.J. Schulenberg
Eugene Harmison
George Twewilliger
Phillip Simon
Herman Cortelyou
E.E. Miller
Benjamin W. Gordon
Lawrence Hackamack
Leone Wayman

Most recent board members (when group disbanded in 2006)
John R. Nelson
Marjorie Lehan
Dianne Thomas Schmitt
Patricia Elsner
Gordon Melms
Karen Mason
Frank Roberts
Sharon Stefani - secretary to the board

The Jacob Haish Memorial Fund 2006 payout calculation. Click image to enlarge. | Provided by John "Jack" Nelson

A 2006 letter from Kevin Poorten, Kishwaukee Hospital President/CEO confirming the board's donation to the hospital. Click image to enlarge. | Provided by John "Jack" Nelson
Micki Chulick, 4-C Executive Director, thanks the board for their various donations in this letter from 2006. Click image to enlarge. | Provided by John "Jack" Nelson

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Nephews of Haish's housekeeper share her story

Anna Anderson and her brother Charlie. | Photo provided by John Anderson, of DeKalb.
Anna Anderson is known to some as Jacob Haish's longtime housekeeper, someone who was close enough to Jacob and Sophia that she was given lifetime use of the mansion after their passing.

To others, she's remembered as a sweet, hardworking aunt.

I met with John Anderson, of DeKalb, and Jim Anderson, who currently resides in Utah. Anna was their great aunt. Anna was the sister of their grandfather, who was also named John Anderson. 

Anna's nephews remember her as a "quiet" woman. Although she was an immigrant, both John and Jim remember that she could speak English very well.

"She had a funny voice," Jim recalls. "I remember her voice, it was a little bit on the deeper side."

John said he recalls her being a "big boned" woman.

"Well, all the family is big Swedes," Jim said with a laugh.

Anna was born May 28, 1881 in Skane, Sweden, according to her obituary in the Daily Chronicle. She died Nov. 8, 1953.

John said he believes it was Jacob's wife who hired Anna.

"[Sophia Haish] told a friend she needed a housekeeper and she said 'I've got just the person -- my sister Anna,'" John said. "I'm not sure what [Anna] did before that."

Anna Anderson (in front wearing a corsage on her chest) and some of her family members. | Photo provided by John Anderson, of DeKalb.
John shared a letter, which was written by Genevieve Jacobson, a niece of Anna's, to document family history. The information regarding Anna is in full below:

"I don't know when Aunt Anna came over [from Sweden] but she must have been older because she was engaged to be married. She broke the engagement because she felt he drank too much. It is my understanding he was so despondent he was sick in bed for two months afterwards. Aunt Anna also worked for wealthy people and Mother said they were all so fond of her. After our father and mother got married though, she came to DeKalb and for a while was very unhappy.

Dad's aunt got her a job with Jacob Haish (one of the inventors of barbed wire,) who had an elegant home on the corner of Third and Pine in DeKalb, Illinois. It was modeled after a German castle and he even had artists from Germany come over and paint his childhood scenes on the walls and domes of the ceilings. She was sort of a practical nurse as they were both getting up in age. He lived to be 99. The work was pretty hard because he was more or less bedridden the last few years, and at one time, she thought she couldn't take it any longer. Mrs. Haish had died probably 8 years previously. Anyhow, Mr. Haish's lawyer advised her not to leave because she would be well taken care of when he died -- which she was. The home and everything in it was hers as long as she lived. Anything she wanted, all she had to do was ask for it -- automobile, living expenses, trips, clothes, upkeep of the grounds, decorating, etc.

I think Aunt Anna lived about 27 years after Mr. Haish died, so I guess it was worth it. After he died, she did marry but it didn't last long. She got a divorce and he was sent on his way (sort of a hushed up affair.) She didn't have to even go to court. Haish's lawyer was also the judge, so all she had to do was sign the papers, and it was all over." 

John explained what he recollected about Anna's divorce.

"After Jacob died, she did get married and he just thought she was going to be full of money, because she lived in this big house and everything." John said. "That's all he wanted was the money. So she went to the lawyer and told him about it, and he had it annulled."

Jim said they've never been able to even find a record of this marriage.

Anna's brother John Anderson (left) and Jacob Haish (right) pose for a photograph in front of the Haish mansion. The photograph was taken by Anna Anderson, "who was usually the one taking the photos," said John Anderson, the grandson of John in the photo. | Photo provided by John Anderson, of DeKalb.
Jim and John have faint memories of visiting the Haish mansion once it belonged to their great aunt. 

Jim recalls seeing the third floor of the mansion, with a stage area for a band or orchestra. 

"There was also a side room with a barber chair," Jim said. "I just assumed he had his hair cut there."

The Andersons would have family reunions at the Haish mansion in the summertime. Jim also once attended a Thanksgiving dinner that Anna hosted there. John was in California at the time, but Jim still remembers the dinner they had that night.

"I remember [Anna's] pudding," Jim said. "My wife, I always give her a hard time, because I can't remember how [Anna] made it. I know it had brandy in it and it tasted really good. I can't remember if it was dates or fig. It was great!"

John wonders if Mrs. Haish or Anna would have done the cooking for the household.

"All I know is that [Jacob Haish] hired a housekeeper, and that just evolved into more work as [the Haishs] got older," John said.

Jim recalled that the Ellwood family had a housekeeper that close friends with Anna. Her name was Emma, and she was a fellow Swedish immigrant. 

"They were very close," Jim said.

John said Anna is remembered as a friendly person, up until she passed away in 1953, almost 30 years after Jacob Haish's death.

"[Jim] has a good friend that was raised in that neighborhood," John said. "Aunt Anna would come up from the grocery store in her car, and when they'd see the car there, they'd go help her take the groceries in. She was always good for some cookies."

Anna Anderson's death certificate | DeKalb County Clerk's Office
Anna Anderson's obituary, as it appeared in the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.