The Simleness Family’s Oakland Connection

Today, as I get ready to head down to Oakland, CA, for a conference on Saturday about The Great Migration, I am thinking about the members of the Simleness family who made Oakland their home for so many years.

The immigrant ancestors of the family, Ole and Britha, arrived in America from Norway in 1889/1900, and they settled in Hayward, Freeborn County, Minnesota. They followed their first-born child, who made the journey about six years earlier, and  were accompanied by five of their eight other children. The last three immigrated later. This couple’s youngest child, Isaac Simleness, my husband’s grandfather, was the only child to be born in the United States, just a few short months after his parents’ arrival.

About ten years later, Ole died of lung fever. All except the two youngest were out of the home. By the early 1920s, Bertha, along with four of her children and their living spouses, moved to the Piedmont area of Oakland, California, leaving behind forever the harsh, cold winters of southern Minnesota. Isaac Simleness and his wife Josephine were among them.

Isaac and Josephine raised two children in Oakland–Everett and Janet, both graduates of Piedmont High. Everett enlisted in the navy after Pearl Harbor was bombed, not yet eighteen years of age. He was stationed at Humboldt Bay in Northern California. There he met, fell in love with and married the love of his life, Peggie Jean Hibbert, on 19 June 1943 in Eureka, Humboldt County, California. After discharge, Everett and Peggie moved back to Oakland where she gave birth to their first two sons in 1948 and 1949, barely over a year apart.

Over time, members of the family either died or moved away, but the family’s connection to Oakland still exists in the history of the Piedmont area and in the memorials  to those who lived out their lives there. Bertha Simleness, Sina and her second husband Alex Milton, Mary and her husband Peter Fosse are all buried in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery.  The ashes of Jan and her husband Bill Pray are interred in the Columbarium near the cemetery.

It has been a while since I have been in Oakland. I hope to be able to pay my respects to my husband’s ancestors while there.