I realized that I have never introduced my children, Erin and Kristine, to my father, Arie Russell Reyst. So for my girls, here is what I know, both from memory and recently learned.
Arie Russell Reyst was born April 22, 1913 in Detroit, Michigan the second of 5 children born to Cornelius and Jennie (Adriana Marie Smouter) Reyst. I have been told that originally he was named William Russell, but his name was changed shortly after birth upon the request of a relative, and officially recorded with the City of Detroit as Arie Russell. I knew the name Arie was Dutch (see Note 1 below), but I didn’t know the reason for the change until recently learning that his grandfather was Arie Smouter. My father was best known to family and friends as “Harry”; I don’t know how this nickname originated.
At the time Arie was born, his family was living at 251 Hibbard in Detroit (now called Marina Drive) between Jefferson Avenue and the Detroit River, what is now Henderson Park. This would have been in the quadrant of Jefferson Avenue, E. Grand Blvd, Mack Avenue and Conner Street. By 1920, the family had moved to their permanent residence at 7422 St. Thomas (originally numbered 434), one block from St. Cyril Street near Harper and Van Dyke Avenues. The house was a modest brick and frame house, with 3 bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a large kitchen, one bath, a basement, an unattached garage, and a small fenced in back lot.
I know little of my father’s childhood. The earliest picture I have ever seen of him was his graduation picture from Henry Ford Trade School, which he attended during his high school years. He enrolled in September 1926 and graduated in June 1930. His studies at the Henry Ford Trade School helped him procure jobs as a tool and die draftsman for various small tool and die shops that supported the automotive industry in Detroit, before finally landing a position at Fisher Body (a division of General Motors) at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan in the early 1960s.
Just as many of my father’s relatives that immigrated from The Netherlands, his church, the Reformed Church of America, often referred to back then as the Dutch Reformed Church, was an integral back of his life from childhood. My father was baptized, raised, confirmed, married, and a member till his death of the First Reformed Church of Detroit. He was active in his church, proud of his Sunday School attendance, and even managed the church softball team for several years in the early 1960s.
What I remember most about my dad was his smile and likeable personality. But true to his dutch nature, he was a strict patriarch. His first love was his family, not just my mom, me and my sisters, but also his parents, siblings, my mom’s large family, and various aunts and uncles. We were always visiting someone. Growing up in our household, Sundays were always reserved for family. Even if we were not expecting company, we were to be available in case someone stopped by.
Harry also loved his cars, driving, anything automotive. My mother often said that my father was prone to the 18 month itch…it was time to start looking for that new car! It was not unusual on a Sunday for us to venture out on a family excursion. Often, you didn’t know where you were headed, but I saw a lot of the city and surrounding area those first 9 years. His dream was to one day own a Cadillac.
Arie was always active, dabbling in various sports. Something I definitely did not inherit from him. He was a natural ice skater. Something else I didn’t inherit, but Kristine you glide on rollerblades just like he did on ice skates. He also loved to swim, bowl, play softball, golf, bike, even tried horseback riding. He taught himself to play the organ well with just a few lessons. I remember the organs in our house gradually getting bigger as he became more interested in playing. After he died, I took lessons for awhile; I wasn’t too bad at it, but I didn’t have the love for it that he did.
His biggest disappointment in life probably would have been not being able to serve in WWII. Much to the horror of my mom, who was a young mom, he tried enlisting in the Navy at age 28. But he was turned away when they discovered he was color-blind (I think he was red-green color deficient).
The one vice Harry did have was smoking. He was a moderate cigarette smoker, even quit a few times, but always came back. Occasionally I also remember him smoking a pipe filled with cherry tobacco.
Alas, My father would pass away on July 30, 1964, at the age of 51, following complications from a massive coronary suffered on July 26th. He was buried on August 1st at Forest Lawn Cemetery (located on Van Dyke Avenue near 6 Mile Road) in Detroit, just 11 days before my sister’s (Kathleen’s) wedding.
Note 1: Actually the name Arie comes from Hebrew and means “like a beautiful melody”.