Servatzius May

My great grandfather, Servatzius May, was born August 3, 1878 in Kottenheim, Germany. His parents were Mathias and Katherina (nee Küveler) May of Kottenheim. Servatzius was their youngest child. Katherina was 45 years old when she had Servatzius.

Servatzius had two older sisters: Barbara and Anna. He had two older brothers: Johann and Michael.

Life in Kottenheim

When Servatzius was 11, his mother died. A year after her death, his sister Anna married Lorenz “Laurence” Krausert and immigrated to America settling in Ashton, Iowa.

The next year, his father, Mathias died. A year after his death, his brother John marries Anna Maria Schmitt. The May children had lost both of their parents within a two year time period and life as Millers in Kottenheim, Germany was growing increasingly difficult. At this point, all of the remaining children of Mathias and Katherina, (except Barbara who married Johann Berg on October 25, 1883 and had already started a family) decide to immigrate to America.

Immigrating to America

On October 18, 1893, Servatius May, along with his older brothers, Michael and Johann, and Johann’s wife Anna, all boarded the SS Pennsylvania in Antwerp, Belgium and headed for America. Servatius was 15 years old. The brothers were destined for Ashton to meet up with their sister Maria and her husband Lorenz Krausert. The family maintains that the ship met with some rough seas and that Servatius was nearly swept off the ship by a wave were it not for his brothers who grabbed hold of his ankles.

Servatius would make his home as a farmer in Osceola Co., Iowa. He fell in love with a local girl from one of the main homesteading families in the county. He and Mary Johannes were married February 10, 1904. Of the three brothers, Servatzius was the only one to stay in Iowa.

Mike May moved to South Dakota after marrying Anna Spieler in 1900. His farm is still ran by his descendants in 2013.

Johann “John” May immigrated with his family to Canada some time between 1910 and 1912.

This is the only photo I have of the three brothers.

Johann Servatzius Mike May

  John, Serv, and Mike May

They grew glorious mustaches!

Servatzius May Illness

When he was 55, Servatzius became ill and went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for treatment. While there, he wrote to his brother Mike in South Dakota:

May 30, 1934

Dear Brother and family,

I want to let you know that they sent me to here to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. I have stomach problems for a tumor. It is the size of a fist.  To be an operation friday. Not to give up hope. We want to hope. The weather is stormy. Hoping for better weather soon. They say they couldn’t work for two days, but that is Minnesota. They have more storms in May. Yesterday the Heifer came in and did good.  I need another pencil as this one broke as it would do in school.

Now I will end this letter and send greetings to family.

Your brother,

S. May

Two days after this letter, Servatzius had a surgery to remove his appendix.

Days later, Servatzius’s daughter, Elizabeth, wrote another letter to Mike in South Dakota:

Dear Uncle Mike and Family,

Dad had his operation Friday. They just took out his appendix. The appendix were infected and this caused an obstruction of the stomach. They opened his stomach but found everything OK. He had quite a lot of pain the first days but he is feeling fine now. He is awful restless. We surely are glad it turned out the way it did, because, he himself, thought it was cancer and the doctor told me before the operation he wa afraid cancer was started. We surely are glad it turned out to be what it was. He surely is lonesome. I’ve been here all the time with him and go up whenever there are visiting hours and he said I should come up otherwise too. He said,  “they’ll kick you out if they don’t want you here“.  The folks are driving up today or tomorrow to visit him.

It surely was dry in Iowa this spring. We didn’t have a single rain. I believe that maybe we finally got rain these last days there. I suppose it has been dry there too.

Did you know Grandpa Arning? He is Ben Arning’s Dad. He had dropsy and died suddenly with a heart attack.

I surely was glad my school was out when we found Dad had to have an operation. Mother wanted to come but Dad thought she shouldn’t. He said he would be alright if she would just come to visit him. I’m surely glad she didn’t because I believe it would have gotten the best of her. A person surely doesn’t know what a person goes through with an operation. It just about go the best of me and I always thought I could stand a lot.  Mother is better off to see him as he is now since he isn’t so sick, because she worries enough the way it is.

Huns, I mean, John, is home now. We were  milking 20 cows and it was too much for them alone. They are all just coming in so we’ve been getting a lot of milk. The cream check when we left was $44 from two weeks and the butter was off that.

It would be nice if you could write a letter to Dad while he is here. It’ll be about two weeks yet. He won’t be in the hospital all that time though. He will be in till about Wednesday or Thursday – June 13 or 14, and then he’ll have to stay in town 3 or 4 days they said. If you write send the letter to this address and he’ll surely get it:

1004 West Center St.

Rochester, Minnesota

He wrote that letter (the letter shared above) the day when he had to go to the hospital. I didn’t send it till I found how things would be going. I’m surely glad to let you know that he is looking good and he says he is feeling good, too.

I must close now.

Yours Truly,

Elizabeth May

Serve’s operation was a success.  But while recuperating in the hospital, he developed pneumonia.  Twelve days after his surgery, he died from pneumonia on June 13, 1934.

Still growing...




Jennifer Ebeling
Jennifer Ebeling is a proud Minnesotan and U of MN alumni. Gooooooo Gophers! Each week, Jennifer produces and hosts Still Growing - a gardening podcast dedicated to helping you and your garden grow. The show is an in-depth interview format. Guests featured on the show share a passion for gardening and include authors, bloggers, professional gardeners, etc. Listeners and guests of the show can join the Still Growing community on Facebook. It's a place to ask questions, share garden stories, interact with great guests featured on the show, and continue to grow and learn. Jennifer and her husband Philip have four children, a big golden lab named Sonny, and live in lovely Maple Grove, Minnesota. P.S. When she's not teaching her four kids a new card game - or teaching them how to drive a car - Jennifer loves inspiring individuals and groups to maximize and personalize their home & garden.
Jennifer Ebeling
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6 Comments

  1. Ruth Packard on May 8, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Oh, Jennifer, I was so relieved to read Serv’s surgery was successful. How tragic then for pneumonia to take his life. So sad. Was his wife able to keep the farm?

    I spend hours in census records, old documents, faded photographs, and worn letters. I love every minute of it! Thank you for posting the results of your research!

    • 6ftmama on May 24, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      Ruth – I know you get it. Thank you for your comment. Highest regards – Jennifer

  2. Amy Putkonen on May 9, 2013 at 5:28 am

    Wow. What a great story. If he had swept off that boat, you would not be here. What a sad ending to his life. His wife must have been very upset that she was not able to say goodbye. That is so hard when that happens. Yesterday, I was going through some old stuff and I found a photo my dad had given me of his mother’s family when she was young. I don’t even know the names of who is in the photo, so I emailed my dad to ask him to help me identify them. Perhaps I will call him and ask him to tell me the stories of the people in her family and record it. That would be really cool.

    Thanks for posting this. Perfect timing for me.

    • 6ftmama on May 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm

      Hi Amy –
      Yes, those stories are treasures and it’s important to go after them. I don’t have many regrets, but I do wish I had spent more time at the feet of my grandparents and asking them questions about their people.

  3. Michele Bergh on May 12, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    How special to have the content from all those letters. What a nice recording of past events.

    • 6ftmama on May 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm

      Yes, it is. I’ll have to show you one of the originals. The handwriting is gorgeous – could be turned into a wallpaper or framed.

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