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Summary of My Family's History



One of the reasons that I decided to take this trip was to learn about my family's history.  I've always been interested in where I came from but, working at an 8-to-5 job for many years, never had time to do much research.  After my mother passed away a few years ago, I decided to make time for it and to document as much as I could about my family's history for the benefit of future generations in my family... and to satisfy my own curiosity.


I've spent several months so far traveling around the U.S. researching the history on both my mother's and father's side.  As I've learned, both families have had interesting histories.  Most of my mother's ancestors were homesteaders from Norway who moved to the upper Midwest in the late 1800s.  Some of my father's ancestors came from England, arriving a few years after the Mayflower, while others came more recently from Switzerland.  The two lines shared several things in common though, including the immigrant's work ethic and a desire for land... a desire that, with each generation, pushed them further and further west across America in search of a place of their own.


I've summarized what I've learned about my family's history with two maps showing where they came from and how they moved across America, culminating in 1943 when my Mom met my Dad at a U.S.O. dance in Dickinson, North Dakota (since it was on the July 4th weekend, you could say that the sparks really flew!)  I've summarized these stories with maps and photos on two pages: 

Below, I've summarized the stories of my father and mother, describing some of the family stories that have been passed down through the generations.  


My Father

My Dad, Donald Leu, grew up in Seattle, Washington in the 1920s.  He moved with his family to the small logging town of Skykomish, Washington during the Great Depression, where his father, George, worked as a grocer.  My Dad was attending his first year of college when World War II broke out.  Being in college, my Dad was placed in the Navy V-12 Officer Training program (like in the movie, "An Officer and a Gentleman") and was sent to Dickinson College in North Dakota, where he met my Mom.  They got married a year later in Florida where my Dad was training for the Scouts & Raiders (today's Navy SEALs) and, in 1945, was sent to interior China to train the Chinese Nationalists who were battling the Japanese.


After returning to the U.S., my Dad got a doctorate in Education and, with a growing family, moved to Michigan where he became a professor of Education.  Our family later moved to San Jose when I was eight years old, then my parents moved to Portland, Oregon.  During this time, my Dad was recognized as one of the top educational planners in the U.S.  My Dad passed away in November of 2002.  I've posted a brief biography of him at News: March 28, 2003.


My Mother

My Mother, Anne Leu, was born in North Dakota and grew up on a farm.  When she was a young girl, her father lost their farm during the Depression and they moved to the small towns of Wing and Wilton before moving to Bismarck when she was about 10.  Her father, a carpenter, died when she was 13.  Shortly afterwards, her mother, Helga, went to work to support the three girls, my Mother being the eldest.  In 1943, a month after graduating from Bismarck High School, she visited a girlfriend in Dickinson, North Dakota during the Fourth of July weekend and they decided to go to a U.S.O. Dance.  That evening, my Mother met my Dad, who was in Dickinson with the Navy V-12 Officer Training Program, they went horseback riding the next day and the rest, as they say, is history.


After my folks got married, my mother raised a family of five kids (one girl and four boys, me being the youngest) while my Dad worked at various universities around the country as a professor of Education and educational consultant.  Although my Mom didn't embrace camping as much as my Dad, together they drove us all over the country on numerous trips with the five kids packed in the back of the family station wagon.  Her main priority in life was to raise a good family and, if I may boast a bit, I think she did a wonderful job.  My mother passed away three years ago during a winter trip to Las Vegas.  She was a wonderful person and a wonderful mother.


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Left:  My Mom and Dad in Dickinson, North Dakota, in 1943, a few months after they met at a USO dance.  My Dad, who was in Dickinson training to be a Naval officer, is wearing his Western Washington University sweater that he still has.




Here's a summary of my four grandparents and where they came from.  Being the youngest of the five kids in my family, I have only dim memories of two of my grandparents (George Leu and Helga Swang) and no memories of the other two (Minnie May Plane and Edward Reinhard) since they died before I was born.


My Father's Parents


George Leu (my grandfather)

My great-grandfather, George Leu Sr., was born in the Schaffhausen canton in northern Switzerland.  As a teenager in the 1880s, George became angry about an inheritance that he thought he should have received, stole $400 from the family, and hopped on a boat bound for America.  He made his way to Toledo, Ohio because his former neighbors in Switzerland, the Schneiders, had moved to America years before and had settled there.  A few years after arriving in Toledo, George married the Schneider's daughter, Emma.  They named their oldest son (my grandfather) George Jr., and the family moved to Cleveland.


My grandfather loved baseball and played briefly with the Cleveland Indians when he was a teenager, around 1905.  His parents forbid him to play baseball, though, and didn't realize that George Jr. had been playing baseball with the Indians until he was hit by a pitch and sent to the hospital.


Around 1910, George Jr.'s brother, Cliff Leu, got into a dispute with his parents and ran away from home, hopping on a train bound for Seattle, Washington.  George Jr. got on the next train to Seattle, determined to bring Cliff back to Cleveland.  When George reached Seattle, he found Cliff in the first place he looked, the Pike Place Market where he learned that Cliff had changed his name from Leu to Lee.  George Leu decided to stay in Seattle and became a grocer and, at age 25, he married my grandmother, Minnie May Plane.


Minnie May Plane (my grandmother)

Minnie May Plane was born in Michigan in the small town of Mayville, Michigan in 1892.  Her father, a French-Canadian fur trapper named Everette Plane, died when she was eight years old, much to the great despair of her mother, also named Minnie May.  The elder Minnie May, having lost both parents just a few years earlier and now her husband, decided to leave Michigan with her eight-year-old daughter and together they rode the train to Seattle, where they had relatives.  Twelve years later, on Minnie May Plane's 20th birthday, she married my grandfather, George Leu.  Minnie May Sr., by the way, married three more times but never found the true love that she had known with her first husband in Michigan.


George & Minnie's Family

While Minnie May Jr. stayed home and raised a family of six children, George became a prominent grocer in the Seattle area in the 1920s, becoming president of the Puget Sound Independent Grocers Association.  However, George lost his business during the Great Depression because he had extended credit to many of his customers, which they were unable to pay.  In desperation, the Leus moved their young family to the small logging town of Skykomish, Washington, where George opened up a store he named "Leu's Grocery."  The Depression was tough for the Leus and the family lived in near-poverty conditions (my Dad recalls the family living in a shack for a while in the forest), but George and Minnie worked hard to raise their family and to put food on the table each night.  George operated his store in Skykomish for the next 25 years.


Minnie, who helped run the grocery store occasionally, died in 1957.  George suffered a stroke the next year and was confined to a wheelchair.  Our family, living in Michigan, visited George in a Rest Home in 1965 near Seattle, a brief visit that was, unfortunately, the only memory that I have of George because he died three months later at age 78.  My Dad told me that George loved it whenever my family visited him in the Rest Home and he often had a tear in his eye when we said goodbye.


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Above left:  My grandparents at Leu's Market in Skykomish, Washington, around 1950.  George moved his family here during the Depression after his store in Seattle failed because of the credit he'd extended to his customers.  The family was desperately poor during the Depression but, because of George and Minnie's hard work, they scraped through it.

Above right:  Three generations at Leu's Market.  That's my Dad and Mom with their first child, Doti (my sister).  This was taken just before my Dad, who was a Navy Seal, went to China during World War II.



My Mother's Parents


Edward Reinhard (my grandfather)

My mother's father was born in Westbrook, Minnesota in 1894 into a large family.  In 1907, at age 13, he moved with his family to the small town of Regan, North Dakota where his parents, Henry and Petrina Reinhard, homesteaded on 160 acres.  Edward was a farmer and in 1923, married my grandmother, Helga Swang.  The following year, my mother was born, the first of their three children (all girls).


Edward died in a car accident in 1937 when my mother was 13, leaving Helga a widow with three daughters to raise during the Depression.


Helga Swang (my grandmother)

My mother's mother, Helga Swang (pronounced "Swong"), was born in a sod house in South Dakota in 1898.  Her parents, Nels and Anna Swang, had arrived in South Dakota separately by covered wagon in the 1880s and grew up on homesteads a few miles apart just north of the town of Webster where they met and married.  Shortly after Helga was born, Anna and Nels Swang moved the family to Fessenden, North Dakota, where Nels was an engineer with the Soo Railroad Line.  A few years after moving to Fessenden, Anna and Nels divorced and Anna was left to raise her five children, including Helga, alone.  


Helga graduated from Fessenden High School in 1915 and, with the career opportunities for single women being limited at that time to becoming a nurse, secretary, or teacher, she chose the latter and taught in a tiny one-room "country school" (as opposed to a "town school," as they were called) on the North Dakota plains.  In 1921, Helga graduated from Teacher's College at Minot, North Dakota and moved to the small town of Regan, North Dakota, where she had gotten a job teaching the primary grades (Kindergarten through 4th grade) in the 3-room Canfield Consolidated School.  She taught here for a year before marrying my grandfather, Edward, a local farmer, in 1923.  They continued to live near Regan for several years where Edward farmed and Helga raised her three girls, before moving to Bismarck during the Great Depression.


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Left:  Helga at the Canfield School, near Regan, North Dakota.  This was taken about 1922, a year before she married Edward Reinhard, a local farmer.  After they married, she moved to his farm nearby.


Edward and Helga's Family

A year after getting married, in 1924, Edward and Helga had their first child, a girl whom they named Anna after Helga's mother.  Edward and Helga had two more daughters, Elizabeth (Betty) and Corrine (Corky) before Edward died in 1937.  My mother went to Bismarck High School, was a good student, and played a violin in the orchestra.  During the summer of 1943, shortly after graduating from high school, my mother met my father in Dickinson and they married the following year.


My mother's sister Corrine died in 1995 and my mother passed away in 1999.  Elizabeth, my Aunt Betty, still lives in Capistrano Beach, California.


For photos and maps of the Swangs, Reinhards, Leus, and Planes, see