500 and counting
Prodigious Guettler clan flourishes along Treasure Coast
BY PATTIE DURHAM
When Edward and Elizabeth Guettler and seven of their children left Minnesota to join sons George Frank and Leo in sunny Fort Pierce, little did anyone in the city know how this one family would grow and reach out to so many residents in so many ways.
If you have your air conditioning serviced, you might be helped by a descendent of Edward and Elizabeth. Likewise, if you need some land cleared, you might call a Guettler. Many of the large buildings around town have been constructed by Jacquin and Sons, also descendants of these two Minnesotans. Buying citrus? You might meet a Guettler. If James Taylor had been elected to the St. Lucie County Commission in 2018, there would have been two descendants of Edward and Elizabeth in the commission chambers as Commissioner Fran Hutchinson is also a Guettler. And so it goes.
At a Guettler Family Reunion in 1993, more than 500 descendants of Edward and Elizabeth gathered on the grounds of St. Anastasia Church and school. Some attended from Minnesota, some from Georgia and some from Chipley, Florida, but most were living in St. Lucie County. That was more than 25 years ago. There are many more than 500 Guettler relatives living in St. Lucie County today.
The father, mother and seven children came to Fort Pierce in the mid-1920s to join their sons who had preceded them. Edward and sons, Frank and Vincent, joined George and Leo in the ice cream business, Peerless Ice Cream, located on Seventh Street, just north of Orange Avenue. Within a few years, George left the business to concentrate on agriculture, raising cows and chickens on a large tract of land west of 33rd Street, while brothers Leo and Frank opened lumber mills in Fort Pierce and Indiantown, respectively.
Jeanie Guettler Lattner, who dedicated two years to chronicling the families, says she and her siblings, the 13 children of Vincent and Lillian Guettler, loved it when their father came home from Peerless. He would clean the machines out each night and bring home the ice cream he had scooped out of them before cleaning. Then after a bowl of ice cream, the family would gather to say their prayers together, ending the prayer session with a rushed chorus of “God bless Daddy, Mama, Betty, Gerald, Paul, Pat, Jeanie, Dorothy, Edward, Tootsie (Dolores), Bernie, Margaret, Teresa, Kathleen and Karl.” If you can imagine removing the commas and reciting this Waltonesque version of good-night with hardly a pause or breath, that is the way the children said it. Even today, Jeanie has to recite it in that fashion so she can remember it correctly, noting that her sister, Dolores, was always “Tootsie.”
Her father, Jeanie said, spied her mother in a group of girls attending a festival near his hometown of Cologne, Minnesota, and said to his friends, “That’s the girl I am going to marry.” The girl, Lillian Heitkamp, lived on a farm out in the countryside. Her father was an Episcopalian and wasn’t too keen on his daughter dating a Catholic guy. One evening, Vincent picked up Lillian for a date and said, “Look around, this is the last time you are going to see this,” as they drove through the fields. They went to his sister’s home to get dressed properly for a train ride — women in that time had to wear nice dresses, heels, hats and gloves to travel — and headed to Florida.
Lillian lived in a rooming house near the ice cream factory and worked each day making sodas and sundaes for customers in the small ice cream shop at the front of the business. One day, the sheriff stopped by, Jeanie said. He told Vincent and his parents that he had received a telegram from a sheriff in Minnesota who said he was coming to Fort Pierce to look for Lillian Heitkamp and return her to her father, as she had run away.
The two young people desperately wanted to get married so they could stay together, but Lillian was only 20 and couldn’t marry without her father’s signature. Later that day, Edward and Elizabeth took the young couple on a trip to Georgia, as they had discovered Lillian could marry there without parental permission. They found a Catholic priest in Brunswick, Georgia, who married the couple on Nov. 18, 1926.
This union lasted for 70 years and produced 13 children.
But this branch of the Guettler family was not the only one to produce many children. All of the others did as well — with Leo Guettler raising the largest number of children, 16, two of whom were adopted. All of these Guettlers filled the pews at St. Anastasia Catholic Church and the classrooms at St. Anastasia Catholic School. Anyone who attended Catholic school in Fort Pierce most likely had one, or maybe even two, of Edward and Elizabeth’s vast family in their class.
The older cousins laugh when they recall that there might be eight or more students in their grade at the Catholic high school, but the others would all be cousins which left them no one to date. In the late 1950s, Leo moved his family to Chipley, Florida. There are probably plenty of Guettler descendants working in various careers in Chipley, too.