March 7, 2010

Racine celebrates its Welsh heritage

Hanging the Welsh flag in front of D.P. Wigley Sunday afternoon

On St. Patrick's day, everyone is Irish.

But does the corollary hold true: Is everyone Welsh on St. David's Day?

Apparently not, but that didn't deter anyone from having a good time Sunday at D.P. Wigley's, where a Welsh House Party was marked by a special visitor from Wales, Dafydd Wigley, a descendant of Racine's D.P. Wigley and a former Welsh parliamentarian.

The party was attended by a number of Racine politicians -- State Sen. John Lehman, Mayor John Dickert, State Rep. Cory Mason -- none of whom claimed any Welsh heritage. Monte Osterman, who is running for the County Board, said he might have "a tad" of Welsh blood, on his mother's side.

No matter, the city's Welsh heritage was well served Sunday, first by services at Covenant Presbyterian Church where the St. David's Society of Racine and Vicinity noted the day, and then at the more informal D.P. Wigley event.

Mark and Chris Flynn with Dafydd Wigley

Mark and Chris Flynn, co-owners of D.P. Wigley for 12 years, hosted the party, noting the city's Welsh heritage. In the 1840s -- David and John Jenkins were the first Welshmen to arrive -- one group of immigrants included 81 people from Wales, more than from any other country (far more than even the Danes, who brought kringle with them). D.P. Wigley is one of the oldest businesses in the city -- it began as the Racine City Mill in 1849 on the site of one of Gilbert Knapp's trading posts. Mark claims Welsh blood, and a picture found at D.P. Wigley, of John L. Thomas, somehow also turned up in his own family genealogy. So, says the former P.I. who specialized in missing persons, there's some kinda family relationship there.

Other Welsh-based businesses here, according to Mark and local historian Jerry Karwowski, include Pugh's (oil and marina) which began in 1850, nine years after the first Pughs arrived; Gold Medal Furniture and Mohr-Jones Hardware. By the turn of the century, according to Karwowski, the Welsh were "old money" in Racine, as other immigrants arrived.

Schoolteacher Mary Pugh, and John Roberts, wrote a booklet in 1948 documenting our Welsh heritage. It was called, "1840-1948: More than a Century With the Welsh in Racine." The Welsh were here just six years after the village's founding in 1834. We've had three Welsh mayors, William Vaughan in 1859, who was born in Wales, Gleason Morris, 1939-43, and Owen Davies, 1987-95.

The St. David's Benevolent Society was formed in 1889, "to assist Welshmen in need; to aim to keep the Welsh language alive and in its purity..." Mona Everett of Madison, who came here with her husband, Len, to join the St. David's Day Celebration -- her grandfather emigrated from South Wales to Baltimore in the 18oos -- told me a tale about St. David when I impertinently asked what St. David did to become a saint; after all, St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland, and St. George slew the dragon...

Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, lived from about 500 to 589 AD; he was a preacher who promoted a simple life, one without personal possessions. Mona says: "The best-known miracle associated with Saint David is said to have taken place when he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd at the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi. When those at the back complained that they could not see or hear him, the ground on which he stood is reputed to have risen up to form a small hill so that everyone had a good view. A white dove was seen settling on his shoulder—a sign of God's grace and blessing."

Dafydd Wigley shows his family tree to Mayor John Dickert

The honored guest at Sunday's celebration was Dafydd Wigley, who gladly showed his family tree, and his relationship to Racine's D.P. Wigley.

Dafydd's family tree (click to enlarge) also revealed another interesting relative -- a distant cousin was "Murray the Hump" (Humphrey) -- Al Capone's accountant. Dafydd's wife was a harpist for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and he has visited Racine before, touring D.P. Wigley's historic building in 1995, and another time leaving his card after stopping in after the Flynns had left for the day. This year, when Chris heard he was going to be around for the St. David's Day Celebration, she made sure he'd come here again. He also attended a celebration in Minneapolis this weekend.

Karwowski gave Wigley a book of Racine postcards. And Cory Mason, also representing Rep. Bob Turner, presented him and the St. David Society of Racine and Vicinity with a plaque; the citation commemorated Welsh Heritage Week (March 1-7, as declared by Mayor Dickert) congratulated the Society, and welcomed Dafydd to Racine. The citation noted the long Welsh tradition in Racine, former Welsh mayors and how Dafydd is related to the Racine Wigleys.

For more information on Welsh-American activities, and the 79th annual North American Festival of Wales, to be celebrated in Portland, OR, in September, visit this website.

From a Welsh 1912 book; these four pictures are from Jerry Karwowski

The Welsh Kymric Club's 10th annual banquet, April 12, 1906

This Kymric Club float won first prize on July 4, 1906.
It represented music, art and literature.

Bringing up the rear in the 1909 Homecoming Parade:
The 6P's Band. Pinkham's Punk Pink Pill Peruna Players.
All the Pinkham Band boys were Welsh.


  1. I get it. Dickert was there to make a deal to open a Welsh History Museum in Downtown Racine. It will employee three of Dickert's cousins and will be funded by our tax dollars. How's that for jobs Racine? I just got you three more. Good job Mayor, keep it up.

  2. 12:23 Get a life !!

  3. Actually, I do claim Welsh heritage. I have a great-great-great grandfather John L Thomas who came to Racine in the 1840's, among Racine's first 200 residents at the age of 50, and who later died in 1905 with title of State's oldest person. I don't claim any Wigley relationship, but who knows, with six degrees of separation... but so far I have about 1500 people in my family tree and the only Wigley is my wife, who many customers lovingly call "Mrs. Wigley."

  4. For the folks that missed the gathering --

    Food AAA+
    Drink AAA+
    Entertainment AAA+

    You Welsh Know how to throw a party!!

    Thanks for sharing your heritage with us!

  5. Dickert sticks his nose in everything to get his ugly mug in the picture. Would like to see him at a dog show looking up a dogs butt, da butt would win. His ego, I'm about ready to blow hash! His knowledge of running a city has a lot to be desired big time. A Jerk, you got it.

  6. I didn't know that there were so many Welsh people in Racine.

  7. To find more RACINE HISTORY on RACINE POST.

    THE Labels are: 175th anniversary, Racine history

  8. Stories like these are refreshing. Racine is made up of a fabric of all types of cultures.

    It's good to see something about Racine that isn't "KRINGLE" related.

  9. Pete is truly obsessed with taking pictures of Dickert. I think there is actually something to it.

  10. Help Please:-

    JOHN R JONES, elected County Treasurer of Racine, in 1876 and 1878. John R Jones was born in Montgomeryshire, Wales, October 7 1840 and emigrated to the US in 1856 with his father and mother, William and Anne Jones. He enlisted in the Co. F Wisc V.L in 1862 and served until June 1865. He took part in all the main battles of his Regiment. He was employed as a Painter and as a Clerk in a Paint and Oil establishment.

    He married a Ellen Pugh, a native of Racine in 1869. They had two children: John R Junior born in 1870 and Annie L born in 1875. In 1884, he inherited £650 Stirling from an an uncle's Estate in Llanwrin, Wales.

    In 1860, the family wereliving in Third Ward City of Racine. In 1880, they were in Brooklyn Green. In 1900, they are in Racine 3, living on their own means.

    Their son, in 1900, John R Jones were in Racine 3 with his wife Catherine, born in North Dakota and their two children John R, aged 14 and William F aged 1. In 1910, they were in Racine 2. John R Jones is a Manager of a Coal Yard and his 23 year old son was a Clerk at the Coal Yard. By 1930, John R Jones was aged 60 and Secretary of the Coal Yard, living with his youngest son William F aged 21.

    Any help in tracing descendants of this family would really be appreciated, in particular, hearing from descendants. A family tree is in the process of being prepared and it links up in parallel with Wigley Tree shown above. "Diolch" - Thank You.