Marie Lewis was born 15 May 1902 in Whitehall Township, Muskegon County, Michigan to George Emmett Lewis and Mary J. Wilkinson. She was the seventh of thirteen children (two died as infants), and the first daughter of the family. Her siblings were: George R. (1892 – 1913); Harrison (1894 – 1984); Alvin L. (1895 – 1895); Horace Russel (1897 – 1992); David Alexander (1899 - 1995): Donald (1901 – 1989); Percy (1903 – 1980); Leslie W. (1907 – 1942); Bessie (1909 – 1909); Bertha Katherine (Mrs. Louis F. Janda) (1911 – 1990); and James Preston Lewis (1913 – 1991); one sibling still lives, as of the year 2004.
It is likely that Marie was born at home, which would have probably been a house located on the corner of Colby and Franklin Streets in Whitehall Village. Her maternal grandparents lived next door on Franklin Street. When the 1910 Federal Census was taken, Marie's family was living on Langston Street. A few years later, they were living in the city of Muskegon Heights. Because Marie's father and maternal grandfather (John Wilkinson, Sr.) were carpenters, I believe it was their pattern to build a home, live in it a while, and then sell it. It was in Muskegon Heights that Marie met her future husband, William Bryan Robbins, on her way to the funeral of her Grandfather Wilkinson in September 1917. Bill was a chauffer, and was probably driving the hearse. They corresponded during his Army service during World War I, and when he returned they were married on Christmas Day 1919, at the home of her parents (1132 Hoyt Street). Marie and Bill were living with her parents and seven of her siblings when the 1920 Federal Census was taken. At this time, she worked as a stock clerk in a card factory. At the end of World War I, during the Influenza Epidemic, she had worked in a restaurant, where the employees had to continually wear face masks.
Eventually, Marie and Bill had their own home. For a while, they lived in the City of Muskegon. In 1930, they were living on East Broadway in Norton Township. By 1942, they were living in Coopersville, Ottawa County, Michigan.
Marie and Bill had three sons and two daughters. During the Depression years, Marie worked hard outside the home to support her family. Her husband Bill had been gassed during the war, and consequently, his health was often too poor for him to work. She used to make paper doilies, and her children would find wildflowers to wrap in them; then they would go door-to-door to sell the bouquets to bring in an income. She kept a garden, too, to help with the grocery bill.
When they lived in Conklin, in Ottawa County, Marie had her own business, Marie’s Gift Shop, right on Main Street. Here she sold her handmade goods, and accepted items on consignment. In later years, she worked at Lillie’s Department Store in Coopersville. She saved up to buy a beautiful tablecloth and napkin set. These were later passed on to one of her granddaughters, who turned the timeworn pieces of fabric into family mementos by fashioning them into Christmas angel decorations. These were given to some of Marie’s great-granddaughters, including myself.
Marie is remembered as being a warm, loving mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. My grandfather remembered that when he was a little boy, she would bring dinner up to him in his room, after his father had sent him to bed without supper. She was only 4’ 10” tall, so her grandchildren and great-grandchildren all competed to see who could be the next one to get taller than Grandma! I grew up out West, and so my earliest memory of her is when my parents and I went to Michigan for the funeral of her husband, Bill. My grandparents picked us up from the airport in Grand Rapids and drove us to her home in Conklin. I was very little and didn’t understand all that was going on, but when my grandfather pulled up into the driveway, he told me, “Run up to great-grandma and give her a great big hug.” I did, and I still remember her warm arms around me.
My other memories are of when I was an older child and we went to visit the extended family in Michigan one Christmas, and again the following summer. Marie was living with my grandparents in their home in Coopersville. Her memory was beginning to fade, and she was physically frail. Later she had to be placed in Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walker Township, Kent County, Michigan. She died there of respiratory arrest due to pneumonia on 3 February 1986, and was buried four days later next to her husband in the Coopersville Cemetery. (obituary)
She has a Women’s Auxiliary marker posted at her grave; she was the wife and mother of U.S. Veterans (all three sons served in World War II; one of those sons also served in the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts). A large family stone with the inscription ROBBINS is at the foot of the graves of Marie and Bill.
Robert Lewis Robbins - my paternal grandfather
Shirley Marie Robbins was born 14 Aug 1925 in Muskegon, Muskegon County, Michigan. Shirley owned an antique store in Sawyer, Michigan; her apartment was upstairs, and had beautiful woodwork. My parents, siblings and I visited her in 1979 at this home. She had some antique furniture in her home that had been made by her maternal grandfather, George Emmett Lewis – such as a child’s highchair that turned into a rocking chair. The building Shirley lived in had at one time been owned by gangster Al Capone, who owned a lot of property along Lake Michigan, which he used as hideouts; possibly they were used to store the illegal liquor he smuggled from Canada during Prohibition. Shirley died 17 February 1992, of cancer, in Diana, Harrison County, Texas. She was buried in Colleyville, Texas. She had been married and had a son and step-daughter.
More about my great-grandmother, Marie Lewis, can be found in the biographies of her parents, George Emmett Lewis and Mary J. Wilkinson, her husband William Bryan Robbins, and their son Robert Lewis Robbins.
All photos are courtesy of Bob Robbins, except the ones of Coopersville Cemetery, which were taken by yours truly. Many, many thanks to my parents, grandparents and aunts for all the ways in which they contributed to this page.
created: 29 Dec 2003
updated: 20 Aug 2004
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©Miriam Midkiff, 2003 - 2006