The story of Miss Thecla Richter – a nurse from West Bend who served in WWI | By Lee Krueger

West Bend, WI – Local historian Lee Krueger from Little Cedar Lake is looking to highlight his great aunt Thecla Richter, who served as a nurse during WWI.

Thecla Richter

During the years after “The Great War” Thecla Richter was asked to make a number of presentations telling about her time in France as a Red Cross Nurse.  The following introduction to one of these talks was written by Edith Heidner, noted West Bend historian and good friend of Ms. Richter.

Thecla Richter

World War One started in 1914. At that time the countries involved included Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain. Assisting Great Britain were her colonies which included Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Canada.

The year of 1916 was a horrible year in the War with a staggering loss of life. The battles of Verdun and Sommes, alone, had resulted in over two million casualties. It appeared that this horrific loss of life would continue into 1917.

The United States did not enter the war until April 6, 1917. After the declaration of war it would take a number of months to organize the U.S. effort and to get troops and supplies ready to be deployed to Europe.

Small groups of civilians could react more quickly and, immediately after our country’s declaring war on Germany, a group of doctors affiliated with Northwestern University organized a medical unit to give service during this World War.

Representatives of this group were sent to the various hospitals associated with Northwestern University to obtain volunteers to join the unit.  The personnel of this newly formed unit were to consist of 35 doctors, 60 nurses and 200 enlisted men.

The newly formed medical team was on its way to Europe within a month.  But, because there were no American units on European soil, the deployment plan had the group joining the Red Cross, being assigned to and working with British units that were already deployed.

This Red Cross medical unit included Thecla Richter, a West Bend nurse, who felt the need to serve her country and who had recently graduated from the Northwestern University School of Nursing.

Women Veterans of World War One

Checking the veterans files of the Washington County Historical Society and the Washington County Veterans Service Office, besides Thecla Richter, only seven Washington County women can be identified as having been in the military during World War One.  Only Ms. Richter was from West Bend. Some of these women served overseas. And, some served stateside. Most served as nurses.  They are listed below along with a few bits of personal information that can be found:

Ada M. (Martin) Hyde.  Mrs. Hyde was born on September 15, 1888.  She was the daughter of Mrs. J. W. Martin of Hartford.  Ms. Hyde completed her nurses training at Trinity Hospital in Milwaukee. She served as a Red Cross nurse at the New York City Debarkation Hospital No. 3.  She later transferred to Fort Bayard, New Mexico. Following a several month assignment in New Mexico she served with the U.S. Army in France.

Mrs. Hyde was one of the first young ladies of Hartford to offer her services as an Army nurse.  Following the war she married Paul Hyde.  Later in life, her residence was listed as Bay City, Michigan.  She died on July 17, 1972 in Hampton Bay, Michigan.

Erna (Meinshock) Pexton.  Mrs. Pexton was born on May 11, 1896 in West Bend.  She is the daughter of Julius and Augusta (Wilke) Meinshock.  Later in life Ms. Meinshock married Sydney Pexton of Los Angeles, California. Her date of death is listed as August 12, 1946. She is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery Memorial Park in Los Angeles. She served in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.

Olive Sewell.  Ms. Sewell was born in Minnesota on January 27, 1893. Some records show her name as “Sandusky.”  Her parents are listed as being born in the U.S. but names are not given.

After Army Red Cross service for sixteen months, twelve of which were spent in base hospitals in France, Mrs. Sewell lived in Milwaukee. She arrived in West Bend around 1920 and assumed the duties of the visiting or county nurse for Washington County.

A newspaper article, circa 1920, stated, “Miss Sewell comes to this county well qualified for the work.  She is a graduate of the Minneapolis City hospital and a post graduate of the Providence, R.I. Hospital.” A news article in the Hartford Times noted Mrs. Sewell for setting up a number of free clinics in different parts of the county. She was also known for her regular visits to all the county schools.

Marian E. (Campbell) Grogan.  Mrs. Grogan was born on April 13, 1896 in Litchfield, MN.  She attended Carleton College and graduated from the University of Minnesota.  She served in the U.S. Navy during World War I. On May 21, 1921 she married Robert S. Grogan at Parkers Prairie, MN.

In 1932 the couple moved to West Bend where Mrs. Grogan taught in a one-room schoolhouse south of the city.  She later served as librarian for the West Bend Public Library from 1960 to 1970.  Mrs. Grogan died on July 5, 1989 and is buried at the Union Cemetery.

Teresa M. (Toner) Shinners.  Mrs. Shinners was born on July 19, 1893 in Erin and was the daughter of Thomas Toner.  A news article tells of her teaching for a short while in the Erin area and then entering Trinity Hospital in Milwaukee.  Her Milwaukee Sentinel obituary stated that she was a member of the first graduating nursing class at Marquette University.  According to the Hartford Times, Mrs. Shinners enlisted as a Red Cross nurse for overseas duty in the spring of 1918.  Washington County records show that she was in the Nurse Corps of the U.S. Army.

Known by the nickname of Tessie, she married Frank Shinners, the couple having four children. Mrs. Shinners died in Milwaukee on October 12, 1990.

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Ella A. (Wickmann) Joys.  Mrs. Joys was born in the town of Polk on November 24, 1885.  Little information can be found on her, but the November 21, 1918 West Bend Pilot did list her as a “person who was from the town or village of Barton who was on active duty during the war.”

Mrs. Joys’ county service records do not list her branch of service or whether she was actually in the military. Records show that she married John Joys. She died in April of 1987 in Milwaukee.

Rosemary M. (Opgenorth) Johannes.  Mrs. Johannes was born in the town of Kewaskum on May 19, 1895, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Opgenorth.  She graduated from Kewaskum High School in 1913 and served as an Army Nurse at Fort Sheridan, IL, in Boston, MA and at Camp Dodge, IA.

Mrs. Johannes moved to Ashton, IA after her marriage to William Johannes, the couple having three daughters.  Mrs. Johannes died on February 9, 1944 and is buried at St Mary’s Cemetery in Ashton, Iowa.

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