Posted on 01 October 2009.
Honoring a mother
By Judy Reed
When Gary Gust heard that the city of Cedar Springs wanted his property at the end of Maple and Second Street for a staging area, he knew what he wanted to do with it. He and his wife, Lolly, and his sister, Joanne, decided to donate the property, with one stipulation. “I wanted them to build some sort of structure, such as a gazebo, and put a plaque on the building dedicating it to our mother,” explained Gary.
The city agreed to dedicate a structure to Clara Gust, 88, and is waiting to find out whether they will get a grant to help with the project.
“I am honored,” noted Clara.
Clara has seen a lot in the years she has lived in Cedar Springs. The youngest of seven children, she moved here in the 1930s with her parents, George and Nellie Ruth (Lockwood) Sillaway, from Ada. Her father was a station agent for the Grand Trunk Railroad, and he was offered a job here in Cedar Springs. “He had a choice between Greenville and Cedar Springs, and chose Cedar because it was smaller,” explained Clara.
She said he had worked at many of the little towns along the line, including Ovid, Langsburg, Greenville, Ada, and Fowlerville.
“I could ride for free,” remembered Clara. “They would put me on the train in Ovid, and I would ride to Ada by myself to visit Grandpa and Grandma.”
The family remembers Sillaway fondly. “He was a good father,” recalled Clara.
“He was a heck of a good card player,” remarked Gary, about his grandfather. “He taught me all about math.”
Joanne called him a “Democrat’s democrat.”
Sillaway was the last station agent in Cedar Springs, and his depot was located near where Speedway used to be, near Morley Park. He retired on May 11, 1946, with 47 years of service. It was just three weeks after that the railroad stopped service through Cedar Springs. “He always said it couldn’t run without him because it closed right after he retired,” remarked Clara with a laugh.
Sillaway, who had worked for the railroad since he was 18, told the Clipper at that time that he did not know it was going to close. “I would gladly have stayed on to conclude the business of the Grand Trunk had I known it would be such a short time,” he said.
Sillaway died in 1975. He and Clara’s mother, Nellie, were married 67 years.
Clara was a teenager when she moved to Cedar Springs, and started high school here. She liked the town, and the school right away. “The kids were friendly, and the teachers were good,” she recalled. She said Steve Partington was superintendent at the time. And she was editor of the yearbook. “I always wanted to be a journalist,” she noted.
Clara graduated in 1939, the same year as the first Red Flannel Festival. She was at that festival, and every one since.
“I remember the first Red Flannel Festival,” she said. “They all wore the lumberjack suits. It was nothing exciting.” Clara said she knew and went to school with the first Red Flannel Queen, Maxine Smith. “They held the pageant in the theatre building,” she added.
After high school, Clara held several jobs, including working at the drycleaners owned by Archie Bremmer, Skinners drugstore, and Montgomery Wards in Grand Rapids. She married Roger Gust, whom she had met in high school, in 1943. They moved in with Roger’s parents, Albert and Marguerite Gust, on 17 Mile, in Nelson Township, and built their own house next door in 1947. Together they had three children, Gary, Joanne, and Beverly, who passed away one year ago in April. Clara was later divorced, and never remarried. “One man was enough,” she quipped.
Clara took time off from work to raise her children, and then later worked selling Red Flannels at Hush Puppy in Rockford. She also was a substitute in Dr. Teusink’s office, and worked at Pollock’s store. Later she did payroll for Gust Construction.
Clara is very proud of her children, grandchildren, and seven great-grandchilden, which range in age from three months to age 18. Some of them have followed in her footsteps, and taken their academics seriously. Clara graduated as salutatorian, her daughter Bev was salutatorian, and two grandchildren, Jeff and Michelle, were also salutatorians. “And there are several great-grandchildren coming up through the ranks,” said Gary’s wife, Lolly.
Clara is looking forward to the impending dedication of the property for the staging area, where she will get a photograph with all her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
According to Gary, the property was once part of the right of way for the GR&I railroad. The building was an old freight depot. “When the railroad left, other people acquired it,” he explained. He said that the Gusts acquired it from an oil company. At one time they used it for Gust Construction’s carpentry shop, but that’s now been moved to the main office, and they no longer need the property. So donating it to the city seemed like the logical thing to do.
The city currently has $57,000 put away for the project, but hopes that a possible grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund will give them more to work with.