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Superior History: Stories from Division Street

Ray Shaw during his oral history interview.

MARQUETTE – Ray Shaw didn’t always live on Division Street in Marquette, but he moved to the neighborhood with his grandmother when he was two, owned a farm there, met his wife there, and was living there when he died last February at age 93. He was a great storyteller–we’ve already shared his stories of AuTrain and memories of his life on the ore boats and the docks–so it’s no surprise that he had many stories of the Division Street neighborhood as well.

Sophia Chudyk (1867-1952) was a Ukrainian immigrant whose husband was a tailor. Unfortunately, he developed a dust allergy so they bought a 20 acre farm off of Division Street. He died soon after they bought the farm, but she and Ray’s grandmother, Anna Marie Doucette, became good friends.

As Ray told the story, Sophia once made the newspapers in 1922 when her farm was raided and a still was found. She explained that her son Alex, then about age eight, had been walking in the Carney swamp with a neighbor boy when they found the still and brought it back to the farm. Sophia herself called the sheriff herself to report the find, and though the investigators tore the farm apart looking for more evidence, they were eventually persuaded that the boys’ story was true.

Sophia also told Ray and his mother that when the railroad section crew went through they would sometimes give her the old cedar ties they were replacing so she could split them and use them for fence posts and firewood. One day when she was there with the horse and wagon to get a load of the old ties, she told the section foreman about the ordeal she went through when her son found that old still. His jaw dropped and she never got another tie. They formed an assumption about whose still it had been.

In 1952 Ray Shaw bought the farm from Sophia Chudyk. He walked all over the area, including in the nearby Old Catholic Cemetery (now the Pioneer Cemetery). He remembers seeing modern red granite gravestones still being maintained as late as 1952. One older friend told him that his wife had a stillbirth during the depression. With no funds to afford a proper burial, he made a little box in his basement and walked to the cemetery and buried his baby himself.

On a lighter note, Clem LaRue told him that in 1933, at the height of the depression, he and his brother Pete volunteered to brush out the cemetery. At noon they heard church bells ringing all over town and stopped and leaned on their shovels. They realized Prohibition had ended, and ruefully realized that they didn’t even have a nickel to buy a pint of beer to celebrate.

It didn’t take long after buying the Division Street farm from Mrs. Chudyk that Ray Shaw realized he couldn’t make a living off it and rented it out, saving only a small cottage by the start of the driveway for himself. Later on he rented that cottage to a woman from Engadine named Julia Halverson, who needed a place to stay while her daughter was having surgery at the hospital in Marquette. She was someone who appreciated the woods as much as he did and after knowing her for 15 months he finally decided to move the relationship to the next level. In his words “I knew I had a good thing going for me and I shouldn’t take the chance of losing it.” Although he was 42 and she was 40 when they married, they had 48 years together before her death in 2017.

At the time of his death, Ray Shaw was living in an apartment just across Division Street from his old farm. In the apartment he had an aerial photo of the farm on his wall. He explained that one day he was on the farm when a helicopter flew over. He didn’t think much of it at the time but a month later a man showed up at his door with the picture and offered to sell it to him for $85. Ray laughed, saying “he was smart–he came by the same day the government checks came.”

Ray Shaw was born to a single mother, raised on welfare assistance by his grandmother, who dropped out of school after eighth grade. He loved his wife and he loved working in the woods. He led a life of joy and meaning, repeatedly saying “things worked out all right for me in my life.” His life reminds us that everyone has a story to tell. Write your own and collect the ones from your family before it’s too late. If you need help getting started check out the Storycorps website for lists of questions and resources.

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