Anna Bertog’s parents, Heinrich and Julia, were proprietors of an inn in Germany. Fearful of the growing militarism as the 19th century gave way to the 20th, they wanted to get their children away from the volatile atmosphere spreading across Europe. Anna was ten-years-old when they left for America in 1902, and so frightened that she had to be blindfolded just to walk up the gangplank of the ship. After disembarking in Baltimore, the Bertogs eventually settled in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
When Anna turned eighteen, she attended the Snow College of Dressmaking in Rockford, Illinois, living first with her sister Edita (Edith) and then staying at the YWCA.
Quite some time earlier and many miles away, James Mackey, Sr. was born in Ireland in 1820. Reaching adulthood, he married his sweetheart, Lucy, and they immigrated to America where James Jr. was born. The Mackeys came to Rockford from Plymouth, Wisconsin in 1878. Nine years later, James Jr. married seventeen-year-old Emilie Krueger, whose parents hailed from Niden, Germany. Into James Jr. and Emilie’s growing family was born Willard Mackey. With the deaths of both James’s, senior and junior, in 1904, young Willard became the man of the house.
The Mackeys had a farmhouse in Rockford, circa 1890, complete with a hickory nut grove. The family’s famed hickory nut cake recipe survives. The Mackeys helped sponsor the building of a one-room school on Prairie Road in Rockford called the Oak Grove School. This former schoolhouse was later renovated into a private home.
Growing up, Willard was described as “bookish,” always to be found in the orchard sitting under a tree reading a book. As a young man, he became an active member of the Blackhawk Canoe Club. Canoeing was not only a popular form of exercise but was also an enjoyable way to take a date for a leisurely, serene excursion on the beautiful, winding Rock River.
Willard often canoed as far as Oregon, Illinois, past the imposing Blackhawk statue on the banks of the river. This 48-foot “Eternal Indian” sculpture, dedicated in 1911, was erected in honor of the Native American chief whose name was also appropriated by the canoe club. Willard met Anna during this period and many times the young and spirited Anna Bertog was by Willard’s side on these excursions, a somewhat dangerous endeavor for her because she had never learned how to swim!
Willard and Anna married on September 16, 1914. During the prosperity of post-war 1920s Rockford, five factories (Free Sewing Machine Company, Haddorff Piano, Landstrom Furniture Company, Rockford Varnish, and National Lock) formed an alliance called Consolidated Industries. Willard, known as “Mac” to his friends and colleagues, had worked at the sewing machine company; he now became the purchasing agent for this conglomeration.
The young couple lived on Albert Avenue across from Sunset Park in Rockford’s west side. In addition to being a homemaker, Anna was also on staff at Snow’s College.
Around 1920, the Mackeys moved to 2040 Oxford Street in northwest Rockford. This move was short-lived when the family rented a bungalow on Mulberry Street in 1921 near the P.R. Walker School so the Mackey children could easily walk there. Up to this point, the Mackeys had never owned an automobile, but Willard purchased his first car in 1922.
In the spring of 1923, the family moved yet again, this time settling in for a much longer stay. The Mackey clan filled a four-bedroom home at 315 Sheridan Street on Rockford’s northwest side.
Owing to her training and college background as well as her husband’s connection to the Free Sewing Machine Company, Anna always had an electric sewing machine in the house. This was quite a luxury to many young families of these early modern times. As a purchasing agent, Willard would receive gifts from salesmen and clients. One such gift was a children’s slide, which the Mackey youngsters greatly enjoyed in their Sheridan Street backyard.
Willard taught his children canoeing and rented a boathouse with access to the Rock River from a family on National Avenue. The Mackeys loved to ice skate on the frozen river in the long and lingering winter months.
Anna and Willard moved to a home on Hilton Avenue in 1943. In 1960, Willard retired, and he and Anna moved to N. Fort Meyers, Florida to escape the often harsh Midwestern winters. Here they spent their golden years enjoying sunshine, boating, fishing, and each other. The longtime couple, having successfully joined and multiplied their combined German-Irish roots, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1964.
~Written by Doug Janicke, intern in Collections Department at Midway Village Museum & MLIS Graduate Student