The Walldogs mural found on the side of a building at the Shipshewana South Campground on State Road 5 is entitled “Heminger Garage.” No other clues are given, other than a car which looks to be 1930s-vintage. (My husband has a 1932 Ford hot rod, so I know about these things!)
Who was Mr. Heminger? My old friend google.com was no help on this one, nor were any local websites. Turning to ancestry.com, I made a little headway. Searching the 1940 census, a certain Willard Heminger was the only head of household by that name in Shipshewana, and bingo!—his occupation was “owner/mechanic.”
So then I went back in time, to start at the beginning…
Willard Francis Heminger was born in Ohio in 1894. At the time of the 1900 census the family still lived in Ohio, but by 1910, they had settled in Oakland County, Michigan.
Somehow Willard made his way to northeastern Indiana as a young adult. On his 1917 World War One draft card, he is 22 and a “machine (wood worker)” at the Crow Motor Car Company in Elkhart. Perhaps this is where his love of cars was born. He is listed as medium height and build with brown eyes and medium-dark hair. He claims exemption from military service due to being a member of the Brethren Church.
A newspaper article I came across on ancestry.com told more about this time in his life. This is quoted from the Indianapolis Star (May 21, 1918):
“Hoosiers on Trial. A precedent in military courts-martial may be established at Camp Zachary Taylor when a civilian minister appears as counsel for two soldiers on trial. The Rev. M.H. Deeter, pastor of the Church of the Brethren at Elkhart, Indiana, will represent Willard F. Heminger of Elkhart and George Studebaker of Magley, Indiana, conscientious objectors, who will be tried on charges of violation of the Sixty-Fourth and Sixty-fifth articles of war. They refused to obey the lawful commands of commissioned and non-commissioned officers… The cases were then set for Tuesday.”
I didn’t see any records as to what happened at the trial. Perhaps Willard avoided conviction by agreeing, as some other Mennonites did, to be transferred into a noncombatant unit.
In 1920 Willard is living in Berrien County, Michigan, boarding with the Wilheier family and working as a machinist in a machine shop. He must have been engaged, as he was married later that year to SaDessa James in Elkhart, Indiana, and they settled in Indiana.
By the 1930 census, Willard and SaDessa had three small children and were living in a rented house in Shipshewana. He was listed as the proprietor of a garage and a war veteran.
By 1940, the census shows that Willard and family lived in a house on Middlebury Street. Willard was listed as “owner/mechanic—auto garage.” He had worked 56 hours the previous week, and 52 weeks the previous year—reinforcing the idea that owning one’s own business is not a life of leisure. Willard had just an 8th grade education. Again, he is listed as a war veteran.
Willard shows up in the records a few more times, next in the “Old Man’s Draft” for World War Two. His draft card shows that he is 47 and lives in Shipshewana. He is 5’5”, 170 pounds, with brown eyes and black/gray hair. He no longer owns his own garage, but works for the International Machine Tool Corporation in Elkhart.
City directories show that Willard continued to work as a mechanic or machinist in the Elkhart area into the 1960s. He died in 1968 and is buried at Rice Cemetery in Elkhart with wife SaDessa and their baby daughter Wanda.
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