“Gone but not forgotten” — Those words are inscribed on a recently installed grave marker in Oakland Cemetery. They honor the resting place of Grace Schuneman, who died 100 years ago when she was 28 years old.
The new addition is the culmination of several years of research by Robert Rasmussen, a 72-year-old New Brighten resident with familial ties to Hutchinson. When he started, his goal had been to learn more about his family history.
“I’d always been interested,” he said. “I’ve been to Hutchinson many, many times — all the time growing up due to family in town. And I visited to pay respects. My dad’s father was buried down there.”
Rasmussen, a history teacher, knew where to start in 2002. He searched obituaries, newspaper headlines and other records to learn about his father’s side of the family. Along the way, he learned about Becky Bryant, who would have been known as Becky Felepe in Hutchinson in the 1940s when her parents sold a shoe store and moved to California.
“She’s really like a second cousin. I think of her like an aunt,” Rasmussen said. “I tracked her down in 2004 and she invited me out to meet her. She and her husband (Warren) were just phenomenal.”
They helped Rasmussen with his research, making it the effort of two branches of the family. Over time, the story of Charles Schuneman came together.
AN EARLY HUTCHINSON BUSINESS OWNER
Charles Schuneman was born April 10, 1871, in Germany to Louis and Metta Schuneman. The family immigrated to the United States in 1885 and arrived in New York when Charles was 14. Their journey brought them to Chicago by train, then to Minneapolis. Over time the family moved to Hutchinson, and in 1901 Charles opened the Charles Schuneman Hardware Store where Robert Michael’s Hair Salon now stands on Main Street.
Charles ran the business for about 10 years before moving to Fergus Falls to take a job as a traveling salesman. J. Weinstein later occupied the building.
It was while in Fergus Falls that Charles met Grace Elizabeth Maire. They married Aug. 3, 1913, in Minneapolis. Charles was 42 and Grace was 22.
The Fergus Falls newspaper said at the time, “Grace was an accomplished young lady of this city and held in very high esteem by her numerous friends here.” Grace attended grade and high school in Fergus Fall, and went on to pursue higher education at Northwestern Conservatory of Music in Fergus Falls.
“For a person of her time, Grace was very highly educated,” Rasmussen noted in his research documents.
Charles and Grace moved between Fergus Falls and Minneapolis as they started their family. Their son, Charles Henri, was born in 1914. The family lived briefly in Hutchinson before Grace died due to pernicious anemia caused by an abscess on her spine on Aug. 28, 1919, at the age of 28. Her husband was at her bedside when she died, as he had been for the past three weeks. Grace was in Fergus Falls when a tornado destroyed property belonging to her mother and brothers. Because her brother died the week after the tornado, it was thought to be connected to her condition.
“Grace was remembered as a woman with great charm, with a sympathetic and kindly manner,” Rasmussen wrote. “Her ever-cordial greetings and desire to be of service whenever needed was noted, as well as her skills as a loving and caring mother.”
Her obituary said, “In the three years she has lived here (in Hutchinson) she has made friends with everyone she met, and was admired for her affection she had for her little son Charles and her motherly qualities.”
She was known as an active member of the church and worked on the Girls’ Guild and other organizations.
The funeral was held at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Hutchinson, and Grace was buried in Oakland Cemetery. However, decades later when Rasmussen went in search of her grave he couldn’t find it. Searching for Charles’ grave wouldn’t have helped, as he was buried in Minneapolis.
It wasn’t until later, when records were digitized, that the pieces came together. Grace’s grave had never been marked, though he was at last able to find the plot, which included two other empty graves. But that still left one big question: Why?
“These were not poor people,” Rasmussen said. “I have no idea why it was unmarked. I think the husband was in such grief.”
In his research documents, Rasmussen notes Charles had a hard time dealing with his wife’s death, and his life went downhill. He moved several times, working a variety of sales jobs and as a detective for the Burns Agency. He fell ill in 1933. His condition became critical following a variety of heart conditions and he died Oct. 29, 1933, when he was 62.
Charles never remarried.
“However strange as it may sound, in the 1933 Minneapolis city directory he listed his wife Grace living with him even though she had been dead for 14 years,” Rasmussen noted.
In 2019, Rasmussen took it upon himself to honor Grace’s memory and reunite her with Charles. He purchased the plot with Grace’s grave, and he and Becky purchased a marker bearing the names of both Grace and Charles. The marker was placed one month before the 100th anniversary of when Grace was buried without a gravestone.
“At least they’re united,” Rasmussen said. “At least she’s not out there by herself.”
What happened to Charles Jr.?
The story of Charles’ and Grace’s son, Charles Jr., went on, though Rasmussen hasn’t been able to learn as much as he would like.
“Charles (the father) couldn’t handle it. When his wife died he would have been 47 with a 5-year-old son, and back in those days many fathers didn’t raise sons. Family members volunteered to take (Charles Jr.),” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen notes in his documents that Charles Sr. was not a good father to Charles Jr. after his wife’s death, only taking care of the boy sporadically.
“One time when Charles was ill he stayed with the family of Henry Felepe, including one time when he had chicken pox,” Rasmussen wrote. “His cousin, Becky Felepe Bryant, remembers young Charles as being a very sad and mixed up young boy.”
Charles Jr. had excellent attendance in school but his grades were straight Cs his last year, except for a B in writing.
“(Charles Jr.) transferred from family to family. He dropped out of school. He got jobs working at local farms in Hutchinson,” Rasmussen said.
But from there it became harder and harder to track where Charles Jr. may have lived or what he may have done. Families he worked for while still a teenager don’t appear to have taken him on, but Rasmussen has learned of rumors.
“A family in Glencoe ... may have adopted him, or Charles just may have taken their last name and dropped Schuneman,” Rasmussen said. “It is believed that the desire to be part of a family possibly led young Charles to enlist in the army.”
It is believed Charles may have fought in World War II, Rasmussen found, but family lost track of him in the mid 1930s.
“If he did fight, it is possible that he was killed in action,” Rasmussen wrote. “There is no trace of him in any public records since the war ended ... or he did indeed change his name.”