Posted by Newspaper Transcriber on Saturday, October 21, 2006 at 18:14:27 :
Tom Ferenz of Half Moon Bay remembers bedside chats he would share with his great-aunt Helen Critler, when she was living in Three Bells of Montara convalescent home. He remembers her saying, “What’s special about me is, I still have all my marbles.”
Mrs. Critler died April 29 at a convalescent hospital in Belmont where she had lived in recent months. She was 104. And she retained “all her marbles” in very recent conversations with her great-nephew, when she reminisced about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
On April 18, 2006, she attended 100th-anniversary commemorative ceremonies in San Francisco.
She told Ferenz she remembered plaster falling off the walls of the house at Twelfth and Harrison streets. Her mother told her to go outside, in her white nightgown, to stand watch over the family sewing machine, “the only thing they could rescue from the house,” Ferenz said. “The men were telling them to get out of the house before it collapsed.”
Little Helene and her family of seven were left homeless by the historic temblor. She told her grandnephew that she “watched the city burn, with embers falling from the sky.”
The family lived for some months in a “tent city” set up for those made homeless, and then moved into a community in “earthquake shacks” that, Ferenz said, she remembered as pleasant, with a big garden.
She lived in San Francisco until the 1930s, when her parents died, the house was sold and she married. She went on to work for the U.S. Department of Labor for 30 years until retirement.
She remained a San Francisco resident, never learning to drive a car but enjoying needlepoint and trips to Reno. A couple of years ago she settled in Three Bells to be near Coastside relatives.
“When asked what were the characteristics that let her live until she was 104,” Ferenz mused, “she always knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to say it. She was strong-minded, feisty, always believed in herself.”
His aunt did things that were difficult for a woman in her times, he said, such as obtaining a divorce. That resulted in her being excommunicated from her church, though she later returned. “She was a strong Roman Catholic,” said Ferenz.
Ms. Critler is survived by her nephew and his wife, Walter and Patricia Ferenz of Half Moon Bay, and her great-nephew and his family, Tom and Kathleen Ferenz of Half Moon Bay and their children Alex and Nikki Ferenz. She is also survived by other great-nieces and great-nephews.
Ms. Critler had requested to be cremated. No formal services were held but a private family memorial celebration is planned.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Half Moon Bay Review and Pescadero Pebble, Wednesday, May 3, 2006
* * * * * *
Helene Critler -- quake child grew up to be quite a lady
- Carl Nolte, Chronicle Staff Writer
Helene Critler was one of the rarest of old San Franciscans. She had gone through the 1906 earthquake and fire as a little girl, had seen the city burn and ashes falling from the sky, and had lived for many years in an earthquake refugee cottage near the top of Bernal Heights.
She had vivid memories, but refused to talk about them.
"She was sensitive about her age," said Woody La Bounty, a historian of San Francisco neighborhoods who managed to interview her at length last year.
"She didn't like to talk about the past," said Thomas Ferenz, an elementary school teacher who is her great-nephew. "Instead, she liked to talk about current events.''
Mrs. Critler died April 29 at the age of 104 at a retirement home in Montara on the San Mateo coast. She was born in San Francisco in July, 1901, and until her health began to fail, lived all of her life in the city. "She was a real San Francisco lady, tried and true, born and bred,'' said Ferenz.
She grew up in a very different San Francisco, and when she lived on Bernal Heights, the streets were unpaved, many families, including her own, raised chickens in the back yard, and homes at the top of the hill had no indoor plumbing.
The family bathed once a week, on Saturdays, and the smaller kids -- there were five of them in the house -- took baths two at a time in the kitchen sink. "It was a good, wholesome life,'' Mrs. Critler said. She never smoked, never learned to drive a car, married twice -- divorced one husband and outlived another -- and never had children.
Until Ferenz started looking into his family history, Mrs. Critler wouldn't discuss the old days, and particularly the earthquake. One reason was that she had told her friends at the retirement home that she was only 98, much too young to know anything about such ancient events.
As it turned out, though, Mrs. Critler remembered clearly how the April 18 quake knocked the plaster off the walls of the South of Market flat where the family lived. Her father, Theodore Ferenz, an immigrant from Poland, thought the house was about to collapse -- and that the fierce fires that ravaged the city would soon destroy the neighborhood and everything in it.
The family took all they could salvage out on the sidewalk, and little Helene was told to guard the family sewing machine. The neighborhood did burn, and the family lived for some months in a tiny cottage -- the residents called them "refugee shacks" -- provided by the government in a park at 16th and Bryant streets.
In 1907, the family got two refugee shacks that the city was giving away, and had them hauled by horses up the steep hill to Carver Street on Bernal Heights. There the two shacks were cobbled together to make a home for the family.
Mrs. Critler, who got an office job downtown, moved out in the 1920s, but the Ferenz family lived in the shacks at 43 Carver St. until just before World War II when Domicella Ferenz, Mrs. Critler's mother, died.
The two refugee shacks are still there, a private home surrounded by gardens and a stunning view of the city below. More than 5,000 refugee shacks were built in 1906; the old Ferenz home is among a handful that survive.
Mrs. Critler worked for the federal Department of Labor until she reached mandatory retirement in 1966.
Although she had no children, she is survived by two nephews, Walt Ferenz of Half Moon Bay and George Ferenz of San Diego; by seven great-nephews and -nieces; four great-great-nephews and -nieces; and five great-great-great- nephews and -nieces.
A memorial service is pending.
San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, May 10, 2006, Page B - 7
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