Family Ties Lead To A Lasting Legacy
Ask Jerome Lothamer why he decided to designate The Henry Ford for a Gift Annuity in his name and his eyes light up as a wide smile peeks through his bearded face.
"I like history," says Jerome, who works as a clerk at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, "and I just think it's a very worthy and important thing to do. History is preserved for us at both The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village, and I just think it's a very good thing which needs to be supported.
"And as far as myself," he continues, "the Gift Annuity guarantees me a regular income for as long as I live. So with this gift I was able to achieve two goals that are very important to me."
Jerome's family has quite a backstory: It is not only an integral part of the history of one of the most significant buildings in Greenfield Village, but also has ties to Henry Ford himself.
"My maternal grandfather, Florian Taubitz, was born in 1862," Jerome says, "one year before Henry Ford. Both of them were students at the Scotch Settlement School and they became friends."
Lessons at the school were taught in one room by John Chapman, a large man who utilized his size to great advantage when it came to intimidating disobedient students. Henry Ford clearly didn't fall into that category; not only did he thrive in Chapman's classroom, but he often referred to him as his favorite school teacher.
In 1932, decades after Ford and Taubitz left the Scotch Settlement School and that building had been moved to Greenfield Village, Henry Ford paid Taubitz a visit at his farm on Ford Road, where he lived with his wife Mary and their three daughters, the youngest of whom, Alma, was Jerome Lothamer's mother.
Jerome says visits from Mr. Ford to his grandfather's farm weren't at all unusual.
"My mother told me Mr. Ford would come over from time to time and visit my grandfather," he says. "They remained friends from their days together in school."
But the purpose of this particular visit was different, because Ford's old friend and his family were now living in what used to be the house that belonged to John Chapman during the 1870s.
"When my mother was a little girl," Jerome says, "Ford Road was just a narrow gravel road. But in 1932 it was widened to its present size. The spot where my grandfather's house stood was in the way of where the expanded road was going to go. When Henry Ford heard about it, he came to my grandfather and asked if he could have the house for Greenfield Village."
Florian Taubitz was only too happy to accommodate his old classmate, particularly when he was told what he'd be getting in return.
"My grandfather agreed to give Mr. Ford the house," Jerome says with a grin, "and in exchange Mr. Ford offered my grandfather a new car."
The two old friends quickly came to an agreement, sealed with a handshake.
And it turns out Chapman House isn't the only relic from the Taubitz family that thrives to this very day on the grounds of Greenfield Village.
"There was a line from a poem Mr. Ford really liked, The Village Blacksmith, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow," Jerome says, "and it begins with the line, 'Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithie stands.'
"Mr. Ford wanted to have a chestnut tree next to the blacksmith shop in Greenfield Village," he continues, "and he knew there was a chestnut tree on my grandfather's farm so he asked him if he could have it."
Once again, Florian Taubitz readily agreed, and today the chestnut tree still stands right where Henry Ford transplanted it, behind the blacksmith shop. It's a sweet and personal touchstone for Jerome, who reveals there's yet another significant tree that connects him with his family's legacy.
"I can find the exact spot where the Chapman House stood when it was on Ford Road," he explains, as he leafs through an album of old family photographs, "because my mother told me when she was a child, if she looked out her back window there was a pear tree standing there.
"Well, that tree is still there after all these years. The house was on Ford Road, halfway between Southfield and Evergreen. And if you're driving west on Ford Road, right after you pass Artesian, you can spot a pear tree standing back a few feet from the road."
And there's another powerful family connection in Jerome's own downtown neighborhood: the Ford Memorial United Methodist Church is right down the street, and it stands on the same spot where Jerome's grandfather and Henry Ford learned their lessons from John Chapman at the Scotch Settlement School. And Chapman is buried in the cemetery next door.
So for Jerome Lothamer, a drive along Ford Road or even a simple stroll down the street are quite literally sentimental journeys, as is any visit to The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village.
"What I feel about that place," he says, "it's hard to put into words."
But easy for anyone to understand.