The Extended Batke Family with Link neighbors

The Extended Batke Family with Link neighbors
Pictured in the photo: (Back row, standing, left to right) Herman Fredrick, Anna Batke, Henry Batke, Sr., Selma Batke, Henry Robert Batke, William Batke and Arthur Engler. (Front row/sitting, left to right) Donald Fredrick, Robert Fredrick, Katherine Batke Fredrick, Ruth Batke, Edwin Batke, Katherine Reck Batke, Jerald Batke, Edna Kwiatkowski Batke, Mary Batke Engler and Elaine Engler. Taken c1940, possibly to celebrate Henry and Katherine’s 30th wedding anniversary, October 22, 1940. Photo courtesy: Don Fredrick.

About Henry Batke and Katherine Reck

Heinrich Batke, the son of Martin Batke (c1848-b1912) and Anna Lock (1848-1939) was born in Chortitza, Russia on September 7, 1877. Also in Russia, Catharina Reck was born on October 14, 1890. Her parents were John Reck and Renata Shirk. Henry and Katherine married in Russia on September 22, 1910. On July 13, 1912, Henry, his wife and seven month old daughter, Katherine, sailed from the Port of Bremen, Germany on the ship Pallanza. They traveled to Quebec City, Canada arriving on July 28, 1912. They immediately left on a special Canadian Pacific Railroad train to Saskatchewan, Canada. The Batkes homesteaded in Lydiard, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan between 1913 and 1918. On October 3, 1917 Henry Batke became a citizen of Canada. Due to England's sovereignty over Canada, he became a British citizen. Finding farming in Canada difficult, on December 7, 1921 the Batke family, now also including Mary, William and Selma, left for Yellow Pine, Alabama. After the birth of Anna and much hardship in Alabama, the family moved to St. Joseph, Michigan where children Henry, Ruth and Edwin were born. Henry, a furniture maker in Russia, became a machine operator at the 1900 Corporation, a fore-runner of Whirlpool, in St. Joseph. After Henry's death on April 7, 1949, Katherine Reck Batke married Gustav Schmeichel in 1959. Katherine Reck Batke Schmeichel died at the Claremont Nursing Home in Benton, Michigan on October 28, 1979.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Anna Batke Pesko quoted in The Herald-Palladium, May 2, 2010

In the 21st century, how poor is poor?

Definition of poverty has shifted as government has increased safety net
By JOHN MATUSZAK - Assistant Local News Editor, The Herald-Palladium
Published: Sunday, May 2, 2010 1:07 PM EDT

Are the poor in America better off today than 75 or 100 years ago?  Statistics on the amount of government assistance available to those in need indicate that the social safety net is stronger than ever.  And that need for help may be closer to home than most people think. Figures show that 58 percent of Americans will fall below the poverty line at some time in their lives. Double-digit unemployment rates have brought that reality home to many and have created a need for widespread aid in unemployment benefits and other programs. But an ambivalence about helping the poor persists in American society. A recent New York Times-CBS poll showed that 38 percent of Americans believe that providing government help to the poor encourages them to stay poor. Still, the safety net continues to grow.

For the first time in our history, government spending on social programs as a percentage of the gross domestic product - encompassing health care, pensions, education, welfare and transportation - has surpassed 30 percent, according to a March 10 article at For 2010 the percentage will be 32.2 percent, up from 26.3 percent just two years ago. About 30 percent of that increase is the result of higher spending for unemployment benefits, the report says. In 1929, less than 1 percent of GDP was going toward government assistance to the poor. Near the end of the Great Depression, in 1940, assistance was 14 percent of GDP.  It was a result of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal legislation in the 1930s that the social safety net was born. It signaled a commitment by the federal government to help the indigent, children, the elderly, the handicapped and the unemployed. Prior to that time, the responsibility was left to local governments and private charities, with often less than adequate results.

Poorhouse to welfare
If you were down and out in America in the 19th century, you couldn't expect help from the federal government, or even much at the local level. "If you were out of work, you were out of luck," said Chris Paine, a professor of American history at Lake Michigan College. And with the frequent cycles of economic boom and bust during this period, many Americans did find themselves facing hard times.  The prevailing attitude in the young, upwardly mobile republic, dating from Puritan times, was that if you were poor "it was your fault, not society's," Paine said. Communities debated helping the "worthy" poor, as opposed to the supposed lazy, "unworthy" poor.

Industrialization in the 18th and 19th centuries spurred massive migrations from farms to cities, weakening family ties and increasing the need for community intervention in helping people who could not work.  Before the mid-1800s, those who found themselves in dire financial straits could apply for "outdoor relief" from the Overseer of the Poor, who used tax money to offer food, fuel, clothing or medical help.  The destitute (and their families) could be auctioned off to the lowest bidder for a period of indentured servitude.  Sometimes a bidder would agree to house a group of paupers, a forerunner of the poorhouses that were established later in the century, modeled on Britain's almshouses.  The poorhouse system existed from before the Civil War all the way into the 1950s, when most of the places had been converted to old-age homes.  Some of these poorhouses were remembered as a welcome refuge. Residents at other homes reported abuse and neglect. A federal study of 2,000 poorhouses in the 1920s found many institutions were vermin-infested firetraps.  In the end, local support proved to be inadequate, particularly as the Great Depression swelled the number of people seeking aid.

In 1929, only 3.2 percent of the work force was unemployed, and the government spent $500 million, or 0.73 percent of GDP, on public assistance for the nation's 12.2 million poor.  By 1933, unemployment had skyrocketed to 25 percent. By the end of the decade, the government was investing $5 billion a year in aid.  Legislation during the Roosevelt presidency provided work for the unemployed, Social Security for the elderly, workers compensation for the injured and unemployment benefits for people unable to find a job.  America was one of the last countries to institute these reforms.  "The modern welfare state is a European invention," Paine said.

Helping yourself, others
But even with the New Deal programs during the 1930s, most people still got by on a combination of self-reliance and community spirit.  "My father said, 'Friends made during the Depression were friends for life,'" said Jean Hayden, a member of the St. Joseph-Lincoln Senior Center.  Hayden and others at the center said people move around too much today to have that kind of neighborhood bond - hence the increased reliance on the government.  People today don't have the same opportunity to help each other, Hayden said. "They're all in the same boat."  People were more reluctant to accept charity back then.  "My father was too proud to stand in the soup line" after he lost his job at a St. Joseph foundry, Eleanor Splese said.  But often people were forced to accept relief to survive. "My father felt this big" when he was forced to accept charity, remembered Anna Pesko, holding two fingers close together.

Families found other ways to make ends meet. They raised chickens, fished, grew vegetables and fruit they canned and preserved. They practiced recycling by reusing almost everything. Although they were then children, the seniors remember the evidence of hard times - and government help - around them.  Splese remembers men building roads in front of her house under Roosevelt's WPA Splese recalled.  Paul Willer, raised in Fort Wayne, Ind., recalls the Civilian Conservation Corps camp a few miles down the road from his home. The CCC put millions of young men to work building schools, parks and hiking trails across the country.  His father was a teacher and didn't get a paycheck during the summer. So he and a neighbor planted a garden in a lot between their houses to put more food on the table.  Willer acknowledged the necessity of aid during today's tough times.  "Where would we be without the government systems? There would be anarchy," he said.

Winning War on Poverty?
President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty and Great Society in the 1960s created numerous other programs, including health care for the elderly and the poor through Medicare and Medicaid, further expanding the social safety net.  In 1970, social safety net spending was at 18.2 percent as a percentage of the GDP.  Have these efforts over the years nudged people out of poverty?  In the late '50s, 22.4 percent, or 39.5 million Americans, lived in poverty, according to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. By 1973 that number had dropped to 11.1 percent, or 22.9 million.  Over the next three decades, the figures have fluctuated to a high of 15.2 percent in 1983 to 11.13 percent in 2000.

In 2008, the poverty rate stood at 13.2 percent, or 39 million people living in poverty - the same absolute number as almost 50 years ago but far lower when population change is considered.  The outlook for minorities is much more bleak, with nearly a quarter of blacks and Hispanics living in poverty, compared with 8.6 percent of whites. One-third of black and Hispanic children are poor, compared with 19 percent of children overall.  A single person under the age of 65 and earning $11,201 a year is considered to be below the poverty line. A single parent with two children bringing in $17,345 a year (including government assistance) is considered poor. Children make up a large percentage of those living in poverty. The number isn't going down.

Over the last several years, food banks have reported a growing demand for their services, particularly among the so-called working poor. Other social service agencies have seen a similar surge in requests for assistance.  In 2009, almost a quarter of Berrien County's 160,000 residents received some form of public assistance in paying for food, day care, medical treatment and disability payments, according to Human Services Director Jerry Frank. There are 29,000 people in the county eligible for food assistance.  The average person getting food assistance receives $123 a month. For families with children, it's $398 a month.  That's not a lot, Frank conceded, but he said Berrien County does a good job of collaborating with other agencies, from employment to the health department to child support enforcement, to help people get by. The social safety net is not meant to be a way of life, he said.

The county offers "temporary assistance to get people back on their feet," Frank said. "We have strong programs to help families get through their most difficult times."  What is unprecedented today is the demand created in a state such as Michigan, which has lost 800,000 jobs since 2000 and has the nation's highest unemployment rate, at 14.1 percent.  Today's poor obviously enjoy a standard of living higher than that of previous generations, LMC's Paine said. Such undreamed-of luxuries as air conditioning and television are now regarded as necessities. But that doesn't mean that many aren't worried about whether the refrigerator will be empty by the end of the month.  Despite the existence of the social safety net, there is still a reluctance about receiving, and giving, government aid.  "The stigma is still around, although not as great as in the 19th century" and later, Paine said. "There is still in most people's minds a question about who deserves it and who doesn't."

Anna Batke Pesko is the daughter of Henry Batke.  Anna Pesko's daughter, Linda, noted: "Not long ago, I had to take my mom to the local Senior Center for pictures.  A fellow from the local newspaper had interviewed some of the folks about what it was like in their younger years in relation to being poor.  Mom got a line in the article; unfortunately, the pics didn't make it in."

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