February has always been a special month for my uncle and aunt Cletus and Georgina Elsbernd. With Georgina with us only in spirit this year, I want to celebrate their life together with their story.
The romance began on the dance floor in February 1941 and they exchanged wedding vows on February 15, 1944. The couple first met when Cletus Elsbernd and Ted Lechtenberg spotted two pretty girls on the dance floor while attending a dance at the Ft. Atkinson City Hall. When Cletus first came up to ask Georgina Korbel, a native of Calmar to dance, it took no time at all for the Festina native to sweep her off her feet! As the music played, Cletus and Georgina swayed to the music, looking into each other’s eyes as they fell in step, dancing into each other’s hearts and later became not only partners on the dance floor, but partners in life. Cletus and Georgina, both excellent dancers, won many dance contests. They enjoyed dancing throughout their 69 years of marriage.
Georgina, the youngest child of Anna and Charles Humpal, was born at home on February 16, 1920. Georgina was born on the farm presently owned by Lynn and Julie Hageman. It was a miracle that Georgina survived, weighing only 2lbs. 5 oz. when she was born. Two days following Georgina’s birth, her mother, Anna, died from the Flu Epidemic of 1920. John and Mary Korbel, Georgina’s uncle and aunt took her in, struggling to keep her tiny body alive during the bitter cold days of February. For days, John and Mary kept vigil around the clock heating the wood stove/oven to around 96 degrees as doctor’s orders, with tiny Georgina inside the oven. This procedure made the oven into an incubator and saved her life. From then on, Georgina took the Korbel name, but was never formally adopted. Georgina spent most of her life living on the Korbel farm north of Calmar. Georgina received her education at St. Wenceslaus Catholic School in Spillville, the Calmar High School, and then on to A.I. B. in Des Moines. Following her graduation from A.I.B., Georgina returned to Calmar and worked at the Meyer Grocery in Calmar until her marriage to Cletus.
Cletus, the oldest son of Frank and Ida (Heying) Elsbernd, attended St. Mary’s Catholic School in Festina. As a bachelor he rented a farm south of Calmar from Mathilda Stovern. Cletus and Georgina spent their early years of marriage there until moving north of Calmar to the Korbel family farm. Cletus recalls how bitterly cold the Stovern house was. If you left a pan of water setting out overnight it would have been frozen solid by morning, even with the woodstove burning. Life was more difficult back then. There wasn’t plumbing or electricity until years later.
The couple’s first date was to the movie theatre in Calmar. Cletus remembers picking her up that day in his father’s brand new black 1941 Chevrolet. Later, Cletus purchased a used blue 1941 Chevy Special Deluxe. By then, you were unable to purchase a new vehicle during WWII. There were no color choices available. Cletus would have preferred red.
On Tuesday, February 15, 1944 they were married at St. Wenceslaus Church in Spillville by the Rev. J.P. Chihak. Georgina was attired in a lovely white marquisette lace gown. Her attendants, Arlene Taylor (soon to be Mrs. Stanley Klimesh) wore a pink marquisette gown and Ruth Uhlenhake, (soon to be Mrs. Linus Elsbernd) wore a matching gown in the color of blue. Cletus’s brothers Linus and Romauld were groomsmen. After the wedding, about 100 guests gathered at the A.B.C.S. Hall for the reception. Sometime in the afternoon the wedding party drove to Decorah to have formal photos taken at the Harold Ellickson Studio. In the evening everyone enjoyed a dance held in Lawler.
Their marriage was blessed with the birth of seven children: Robert (Michele), Kenneth (Nancy), William, Ronald (Phyllis), twins, Diane (Gerald Langreck) and Daniel, Rick. Tragedy has struck the family twice with the death of Daniel, age 3 of a rare blood disease called Leukemic Reticuloendotheliosis. Kenneth passed away from brain cancer at the age of 43. Cletus and Georgina have 12 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren.
In 1985 Cletus and Georgina moved to the home they built in Calmar. Robert and Michele have recently purchased the farmstead making them the 5th generation on Korbel land. They just completed a new farm pond and are working on other improvements.
Cletus always finds plenty to keep him busy. Six years ago, Cletus mentioned to grandson, Brad, his desire to find and restore a 1941 Chevy Special Deluxe like he once owned. While searching, Brad was able to locate one in Des Moines. Restoration soon began with Cletus doing the sandblasting, Ron, doing the mechanical work and grandson, Brad completing the restoration. Of course, it was painted in Cletus’s favorite red color. Cletus even has custom plates reading DAD’S 41. You will see Cletus in parades, car cruises and just enjoying a leisurely drive around the country side.
The couple’s life together was well lived. We celebrate the time they had together as the month of love approaches and Valentine's day will soon be upon us.