May 212013
 

The wedding party. John West, the minister who married us, had a profound influence on our lives for several years, including baptizing our daughter Jennifer.

The wedding party. John West, the minister who married us, had a profound influence on our lives for several years, including baptizing our daughter Jennifer.

We were married at the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church on September 7, 1974. Our only witnesses were the minister, Jon West and Beth’s best friend Jean Dunning. After the ceremony we drove with Jean up to Torrance to drop her off with a friend and then proceeded on to Santa Barbara where we spent the night at the Santa Barbara Inn. Our dinner was lobster at a local fish restaurant.
Yes, we really were that happy on our wedding day!

Yes, we really were that happy on our wedding day!

This was Beth's first trip up the California coast and she enjoyed stopping at nearly every overlook. As the years went by, and her myotonic dystrophy took hold, she would sleep in the car and miss all these sights.

This was Beth’s first trip up the California coast and she enjoyed stopping at nearly every overlook. As the years went by, and her myotonic dystrophy took hold, she would sleep in the car and miss all these sights.

The next day we drove up Highway 1 to Monterey where we stayed at the Olympia Lodge which was actually in Pacific Grove just south of Monterey. We had dinner at the Sardine Factory (we each had the stuffed flounder along with a variety of appetizers). Beth wasn’t especially fond of the octopus in the appetizers but we ate everything else. The only thing that spoiled the evening was they put us at a very bad table next to the kitchen door and even took our candle away to give it to another table. The next time we went up there I called the restaurant and told them what a terrible time we had and they tried to make it up by giving us a very special table and a personal waiter for the evening. The next morning we had breakfast at a place that no longer exists called Slats. We did a lot of sightseeing along the shore and at Fisherman’s Wharf.
On our balcony at the Olympia Lodge in Pacific Grove, just south of Monterey.

On our balcony at the Olympia Lodge in Pacific Grove, just south of Monterey.

Lunch at Nepenthe.  From then on, when we would go up the California coast we always had to stop here for an Ambrosia Burger

Lunch at Nepenthe. From then on, when we would go up the California coast we always had to stop here for an Ambrosia Burger.

Then it was off to San Francisco. We spent three incredible days and nights at the Alta Mira hotel overlooking the village of Sausalito. That hotel is no longer in existence as a public facility although it is still being used for some kind of retreat. Our room had a view in 3 directions, all the way from Belvedere to the north to the Golden Gate Bridge to the Southwest. Each day we would have breakfast at the hotel–I especially remember the first day because we had Eggs Alta Mira, their version of Eggs Benedict. After breakfast we would walk down a steep flight of stairs to the harbor where we would catch the ferry and cross over to San Francisco.
Cold and windy but too much in love to care. We stopped at this overlook on our way to the Alta Mira hotel in Sausalito.

Cold and windy but too much in love to care. We stopped at this overlook on our way to the Alta Mira hotel in Sausalito.

We didn’t know our way around San Francisco very well so we would just ride the cable cars and drop in wherever we saw something interesting. It was probably for the best as we would talk about those days for many years to come. On one of the 3 days we drove over to the Napa Valley which back then was not very well developed for tourism. We visited Christian Brothers, Charles Krug, Mondavi, and Beaulieu wineries. There were no restaurants in the area, so we bought some cheese and bread at a little deli and had a picnic along the Russian River. By then it was getting late but we still decided to drive the coast highway back to San Francisco–that could have been the end of our marriage and our lives. The fog rolled in and visibility was so bad that I could not see the side of the road and Beth had to open the car door and lean out and watch the white line and tell me when I was getting too close to the side of the road. There was no guard rail along most of the road and it was a several hundred foot drop to the ocean below. Somehow we made it back. We had dinner in the hotel one of the evenings, but on the other evenings we went to a restaurant on Sausalito harbor called the Spinnaker. Neither of us knew much about wine then but our waiter did and he did a great job of educating us the evening before we took our wine tour and then talked with us about our experiences the next evening.

Heading out to dinner at the Ahwahnee Hotel. They had a very strict dress code.

Heading out to dinner at the Ahwahnee Hotel. They had a very strict dress code.

Our last two nights were at the Ahwahnee Hotel at Yosemite Park. The meals at the hotel were fabulous of course and they had windows that must have been 30 feet tall in the main dining room so you could look out across the valley and see the waterfalls. We visited the sequoias just outside the park and took hikes including one very slippery climb up to Vernal Falls where we encountered a crowd of people running back the other direction because there was a bear behind them.
Beth was always fascinated with trees and they were a principal subject of her art. Here among the sequoias she was truly in her element.

Beth was always fascinated with trees and they were a principal subject of her art. Here among the sequoias she was truly in her element.

Then we drove back to San Diego to begin living the next 38 years as Beth and Mike Shirk.

Dec 202012
 
Beth's parents, Edward F. Williams and Laura May (Stehly) Williams about 1942.

Beth’s parents, Edward F. Williams and Laura May (Stehly) Williams about 1942.

Elizabeth Ann Williams (Beth) was born February 18, 1947 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Laura May (Stehly) Williams and Edward Franklin Williams. Her ancestry has been very difficult to unravel because her mother did not want Elizabeth and her siblings to know anything about their grandmother. Her grandmother, Margaret (Yochum) Stehly, was placed in the Allentown Hospital for the Insane sometime between 1921 and 1930 and she remained there until her death in 1963.

Elizabeth’s mother was one of four children, Dorothy (b 1916), Laura (b 1918), Florence (b 1920), and Frederick (b 1921) . When their mother, Margaret,  was committed, all of the children except Laura were placed in the Lutheran  Orphans Home in Topton, PA.  Laura spent her childhood living with her grandfather and her father, Merritt Bainbridge Stehly, evidently serving as a housekeeper and cook. When she was 18 she began working as a waitress in a cafeteria and it was in that capacity that she met Edward  Williams who was an engineering student at Lehigh University.  They were married June 28, 1942.

Edward enlisted in the military during World War II and afterward worked for the Air Force.  Beth’s sister, Susan, Beth, and her brother Edward were born in Pennsylvania.  Beth’s father moved the family to Chicago as a result of his work sometime around 1954.  They lived in a suburb south of Chicago – Midlothian, Illinois.

Dec 182012
 

Welcome to the memorial website honoring the life of my late wife Elizabeth Ann (Williams) Shirk. This is an ongoing project so please drop by fro time to time. If you have information to add that you think I might find useful, please do so by commenting on this post.

Part of the reason for establishing the site is to try to fill in some of the blanks in my wife’s ancestry. She died of a hereditary disease–myotonic muscular dystrophy type I. No one in her family knew that this disease was a threat to them even though it is autosomal dominant, which means that either her mother or father must have had the disease, along with at least one of their ancestors, etc. There will never be a way to know for certain which of her parents had the disease, however what we know of her mother’s family would tend to point in that direction. Her mother was one of four siblings, three of whom died in their sixties. Myotonic dystrophy is known to shorten lifespan by a variety of means–respiratory failure, cardiac arrest, increased chance of cancer are some of the more common. In addition, her maternal grandmother died at age 63 in an Allentown, PA, insane asylum where she had resided for most of her adult life after the birth of her four children. Myotonic dystrophy can cause significant mental issues that in an earlier time might have been misunderstood.

Art will be a major theme of the site, as that was a major theme of Elizabeth Shirk’s life. She was an artist from the time she was a young child until shortly before her death. In fact, it may have been that the realization she no longer could create art hastened the time when she simply stopped breathing.