Once again, I get to balance family legend and real history in this blog. According to family lore, my paternal great-grandfather Milton Raymond Guenther (who reportedly was called Timmy for some bizarre reason that was never explained to me) was a ne’er do well who couldn’t keep a job. Of course, the family lore came from my paternal grandmother, who didn’t have nice things to say about most of the people in my grandfather’s family.
Milton Raymond Guenther (1871-1944) was the eldest son of Charles Henry Guenther (1849-1938) and Catherine Rebecca Schaeffer Guenther (1851-1938) and husband of Clara Edna Miller Guenther (1883-1957). Like his mother (see the Prosperity: Catherine Rebecca Schaeffer Guenther and Real Estate blog from February 2020), Clara owned the property in the family, which might have been perceived as a reason why he didn’t amount to anything.
Reading city directories, U.S. census records, and Raymond’s death certificate provide clues to his occupations. He first appears in the 1891 city directory as an Assistant Pressman for the World, one of the local papers. He has the same occupation in 1892, then in 1893 he has risen in the ranks to be a reporter for the World. However, while he still held that position in 1895, by the end of the decade he no longer is employed by the newspaper and has become a laborer for the railroad company (probably the Reading Railroad; his father was a boilermaker for them).
Raymond Guenther continued to be a laborer in the railway shops in 1910, but by 1920 he is identified in the census as a laborer in a paper mill. City directories during the first two decades of the twentieth century merely identify him as a laborer. According to the 1930 census, he changed occupations–or at least work locations–again, as he was now a laborer in a hosiery mill (probably Berkshire Knitting Mill in Wyomissing where his son Paul was a clerk).
In 1931 and 1932, however, his fortunes changed, as the city directory listed him and his wife Clara in the section “Confectionery and Ice Cream–Retail” and identified him as a confectioner in the directory. By 1934, he was back to being a laborer (perhaps the failed confectionery business during the Great Depression was another reason why my grandmother saw him as a ne’er do well), a career he continued to hold for the remainder of his life. His death certificate dated April 23, 1944 stated that he was a maintenance man at Berkshire Knitting Mill; by this time, his son Paul had started moving up the executive ranks and would ultimately retire as a vice president.
While Raymond was predominantly a laborer, his wife Clara was more than a housewife. The family home was in her name; only when property was sold did his name appear on the deed. She purchased the property at 1100 North 13th Street from Solomon Rickenbach in November 1929 for $12,000, selling the previous home at 1212 Robeson Street to him for $8,000 (she had purchased the home on Robeson Street four years earlier for $7,000). She remained in the home on 13th Street until her death in 1957. In 1942 and 1943, while her husband worked at Berkshire Knitting Mill, she operated a dry cleaning establishment out of the home, appearing separately from her husband in the city directory.