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Ella to Ella: Six generations of one family

by Sheila Gardner

Ella Anderson Dillwith has her father’s chin, her mother’s nose, her great-great-grandmother’s name and a Carson Valley lineage that dates back six generations.

That heritage was celebrated Sunday at the Carson Valley Historical Society’s Women’s History Remembering Project.

Baby Ella, born Aug. 7, 1999, never met her namesake, Ella Marquat Anderson, who died in 1971. The original Ella is one of the first 23 honorees in the women’s history project, nominated by her granddaughter, Leola Anderson Tucker of Gardnerville.

By far the youngest observer of the 120 or so people at Sunday’s reception at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center, 7-month-old Ella gurgled happily amid the hoopla, secure in the arms of her grandfather, Dennis Bruns, or her parents, Lee and Jenny Dillwith.

Great-great-grandmother Ella was born June 21, 1894, in Genoa, the second of six daughters born to Henry Marquat and Marie Wennhold Marquat. She married Charles Andersen in January 1913. Somehow, the spelling of her last name was recorded as “Anderson,” and has stayed that way. Ella gave birth to her first child in November of that year and had three children by May 1916.

She was 40 when she became pregnant in 1934 and, much to her surprise, gave birth to twins. According to Tucker, Dr. Ernest Hand, who delivered the babies, told her grandmother he thought it would be better at her age if she didn’t know ahead of time she was having twins.

Ella’s parenting days spanned 1913 to 1960, when Tucker graduated from high school, a whopping 47-year commitment to child rearing.

She died Feb. 2, 1971, at age 77, before baby Ella’s own mother was born.

“I never knew my great-grandmother,” Jenny Dillwith said. “We want to remember her through Ella. She’s the sixth generation of our family to be born in the Carson Valley. Plus, I love the name Ella.”

There’s nothing like learning history from the families of the people who made it happen.

The festivities at the museum provided a chance for some of the oldest names in Carson Valley to mix with the new. Peggy Knox, who coordinated the event, has lived in the area for less than two years, and the history project afforded her and others to visit with Henningsens, Springmeyers, Hellwinkels and Bordas.

Little Griffin Frensdorff watched contentedly from a seat high atop an old buggy displayed in the great hall as his grandmother, Virginia Henningsen, accepted her certificate and a beautiful long-stemmed rose.

The ladies who received the honors couldn’t quite figure out what the fuss was all about.

But anyone who has worked with Diane Malone at the Carson Valley Community Food Closet or watched Ellie O’Toole fight valiantly to make progress on the Sierra Assisted Living Foundation’s cooperative housing complex before she succumbed to cancer earlier this year would understand.

The hundreds of school children who learned Native American traditions from Theresa Smokey Jackson and the people who loved Frieda Godecke’s affectionate written accounts of Carson Valley’s early days will make sure that these special women are never forgotten.

If you ever enjoyed Gorgonia Borda’s legendary Basque hospitality at the now-closed East Fork Hotel, or heard her son John tell stories about his mother, you know why she was nominated.

The criteria for inclusion in the project was mercifully free of conditions. All you had to do to be accepted was to be a woman with ties to the Carson Valley and be nominated. As a result, children nominated their parents and vice versa, friends nominated friends.

Knox said she was pleased with the results for this first year. She and her committee hope to get an earlier start for the class of 2001. The Carson Valley women’s project coincides with the opening of the state exhibit “Nevada Women on the Road to Change, 1860-1920,” which is on display at the museum in Gardnerville through June.

n Sheila Gardner is editor of The Record-Courier.