Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Man I Wish I Had Known

William Augustus Robbins was his name. He was the father of my husband, Kenneth Charles Robbins. His life ended too soon on May 6, 1948 with intestinal cancer at the age of 60 in Islip, New York when his only child, his son, was almost 16.

Robbie, as his family and friends knew William Augustus, was born to William Walter Robbins and Pauline Wheeler Robbins February 18, 1888 in Babylon, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York.

No one knows how William Walter and Pauline met, but I surmise that it was in New York. Pauline, his mother, had lived in Astoria (Newtown), Queens, New York with her family in 1870, but by 1880, her family had moved to San Francisco, California. Reverend A. L. Brewer married his parents in San Francisco on February 22, 1887.

Robbie probably lived at 528 Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco when he was 2 years old in 1890 but by 1900 at the age of 12 he was an orphan at the Armitage Orphanage in the Second Township of San Mateo, California. He or someone knew he was born on Long Island and his parents were born in the United States. However, the orphanage did not know his age. It was at this time that his mother, Pauline Robbins, was committed to the Napa State Hospital in Napa, California as an inmate and spent the next forty years until her death at that insane asylum. No one knows why the father, William Walter Robbins, did not come for his son.

By 1910, Robbie was 22 and living at 2624 Bancroft as a student and registered Republican voter in Berkeley City, Oakland Township, Alameda County, California. By some miracle or fate, Robbie was a student at UCLA during this time and received his degree in Civil Engineering in 1914.

After his graduation, Robbie sailed to Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, where he was employed by the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company at Puneme, Maui, Territory of Hawaii as a clerk.

On July 31, 1917 Robbie registered for WWI. The 2nd Hawaiian Infantry was organized at Hilo, Territory of Hawaii on July 1, 1917. Robbie was stationed at Schofield Barracks, Territory of Hawaii. On September 16, 1918 he was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant. On January 4, 1919, Robbie was a member of Rosko Company “B”.

In 1920 Robbie at age 31 moved to Wailuku, Maui, Territory of Maui to live with 3 other roommates. Also in that year Robbie was initiated into the Membership on April 10th as a Worthy Noble of the Imperial Council of the Ancient Arabia Order.

By 1924 Robbie departed Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii on November 5, 1924 on the S.S. Wilhelmina and arrived at San Francisco six days later on November 11, 1924.

Somehow and somewhere between 1924 and 1929, Robbie moved again to Long Island, New York to be near other Robbins family members where he was a licensed land surveyor in the Islip, New York area. During those years he met a young lady named Fannie Harriet Love who was a 1925 graduate of Syracuse, New York where her family lived. On June 29, 1929 they were married in Syracuse, New York and began their life together in Islip, New York for the next 19 years. Robbie was 42 and Fannie was 28.

The years between 1929 and 1948 were difficult due to the Great Depression and the coming of WWII, but with their love for each other and love for their families, they did their best. A college degree did not insure that work was always available because people did not have money to buy land and build homes. During the WWII years, Robbie supplemented the family income by working at the Grumman Airplane Factory at a nearby town on Long Island.

In 1932, their only surviving child, a son, was born into their home. He was their pride and joy. He was lucky to have two parents who loved him. In those years of growing up, the family owned only two homes and always lived in the same town. Kenneth always said of his father that he never lost his temper and always spoke with a soft voice.

It was Robbie who paid to have a headstone for his mother at the time of her death so far away in Vacaville, California. Even though his life began as an orphan, Robbie made the most his life with education, adventure, love, and caring for those in his family and his community through his church and his service organizations.

Robbie was buried in the same town where he was born: Babylon, New York. How do I know this much about the father-in-law I never met? It is through beautiful and wonderful conversations with his son, but more so, through the study of genealogy and the information that is available today on the Internet and the help of new friends throughout the country who are willing to help each other break through the “brick walls” of family history.

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