- Associated Press - Saturday, December 3, 2016

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. (AP) - Jack Kalkman was truly surrounded by family when he was baptized at Assumption Catholic Church in St. Paul on Nov. 27.

The 10-week-old boy was the 75th baby in his family to wear a baptism gown fashioned from an ancestor’s wedding dress, the Pioneer Press (https://bit.ly/2gMjt5d ) reported. It is a sepia-toned cotton garment, tissue-paper-thin, dressed up with buttons and lace and held together in places with yellowing strips of tape.

“No pressure or anything, Jack,” said his mom, Deanna Kalkman of Mendota Heights, as she and her mother, Linda Schaefer of Sunfish Lake, dressed him in the gown a few weeks ago for a test run.

The boy fussed but did not spit up.

Praise the Lord!

It was Nov. 23, 1915 - 101 years ago - when Jack’s great, great grandparents, Bridget “Bea” Kivel and John Hubert Haas, were married in a Catholic church in Belle Plaine, Minn. In 1915, the Cathedral of St. Paul (in its current location) was brand new; women did not yet have the right to vote; World War I was underway. A quart of milk cost about nine cents, according to online reports. Woodrow Wilson was president. T.S. Eliot’s book “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Other Poems” was a best-seller. It was the year that a young Babe Ruth hit his first home run in the major leagues.

A year later, on Dec. 23, 1916, the couple welcomed their first child, Jane “Marie” Haas.

“The wedding dress was made into her baptismal gown,” said Schaefer (Jane Marie’s niece).

Since that first baptism, all of the babies in this branch of the family tree have worn the gown: This includes all four of Bea and John’s children, including their son Roy, who was born in 1922 and died in France on Aug. 13, 1944, while fighting for the Allies in World War II. Jane Marie, their first child, was married in 1941 and had eight children. These children grew up to have children of their own . so many babies, so many blessings and just one tiny garment.

“It’s survived so many years,” Kalkman said.

The gown has not only weathered the babies, but travel, too: It’s been loaned to relatives as far away as California.

But as the gown becomes increasingly fragile with age and precious with memories, transporting it is a nerve-wracking process for the most recent keeper of the dress - Schaefer’s mother, Ardell Haas (who married into the tradition - her husband, the late Harold Haas, was one of the first babies to wear the dress).

“The last baby to wear it was my niece’s son, Jude, in Kansas City, earlier this year,” Schaefer said. “My mom wouldn’t put it in the mail. It had to be driven by my brother.”

The gown travels in a Nordstrom box, protected in layers of tissue paper. It also comes with a list of each baby that has worn it as well as either their birth date or baptismal date. In that first decade, Jane Marie shared the gown with her siblings - John, Harold and Roy. In the 1940s, the gown was worn by John (Jack), Sharon, Roy Robert, Margaret, Roy William and Mary Jane. In the 1950s, it was time for Sheila, Linda, Kathleen, Paula, Mary Beth, Jeanne, James, Patricia, Denise (Dede) and Janet. In the 1960s, the gown outfitted Elizabeth (Betsy) and Carolyn (Carrie); In the 1970s, it was brought out for Sarah, Kristina (Tina), Stacy, Kimberly, Jeffrey, Jamie, Lawrence (Larry), Joseph, Michelle, Paul, Ryan and Jonathon. In the 1980s, it was worn by Michael, Daniel, Deanna, Brian, Anthony, Mark, Daniel, Scott, Nicholas, Shannon, Angela, Brittany, Scott and Brett. In the 1990s, it was shared by Ryan, Jason, Dustin, Bridget, Alicia, Celine and Karl. In the first decade of the 2000s, the baptismal babies were Shane, Oliver, Abby, Kastin, Alexis, Clara, Mallory, Gage, Allison, Quentin, Samuel and Brooklyn. And most recently, in this decade, the dress has been worn by Natalie, Addison, Eleanor, Charlotte, Emma, Michael and Jude.

Jack’s mother and father, Nick Kalkman, dressed their son in the sacred gown, just as Deanna’s mother and father, Joe Schaefer, dressed her in it back in 1981, just as her mother wore it in 1951, just like her dad wore it in 1920 . with all that family history, it will be a day of looking back as well as looking ahead.

“My grandpa has passed away,” Kalkman said. “But I just love knowing that my grandpa once wore this, too. In a way, it’s connecting them, even though Jack will never know him.”

After the baptism, the heirloom was tucked away again.

“I will be the protector of the gown until it’s needed for the 76th baby,” Schaefer said, “which I hope will be for my son’s baby, due June 2017!”


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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