When M. Bela Kerekes traveled up the Grand River on a Side Wheel Riverboat and settled in Lowell, he put down deep roots. This family has touched so many periods of history, documented events and happenings, and has left artifacts for us today.
M. Bela Kerekes, who lived from 1829 - 1921, was the son of Paul and Polixena Kerekes deMoha nee Foldvary deTaneso, both of whom were members of the oldest titled families in Transylvania, which was at the time, part of Hungary. While just a young man, M. Bela was caught in the Hungarian revolution. In defending his homeland and family he was forced to take the lives of those attacking his family, and he found his mother and baby brother murdered. Following this trauma Bela found himself with no means to support himself, so he enlisted to go to Cuba with General Lopez in an attempt to free Cuba from Spanish control. Kerekes was taken captive and first sent to Spain and then to a prison in Ceuta, Africa. In his own words, from here “finally by the kind intervention of U.S. President Franklin Pierce, I was liberated with the rest of my countrymen”. He was brought to the United States, arriving on the ship Angiolina. Eventually he settled east of Lowell, just outside the city limits. His work was, as his advertisement read, “Carriage, house, sign and ornamental painter - graining, paper hanging, gilding, and kalsomining, done with neatness and dispatch. Shop west side, over Kraft’s wagon shop - 1st door south of Barbin’s blacksmith shop.”
M. Bela’s children were Nora, Rose and Bela A. Kerekes. Nora died at 17, and Rose married and moved to Lake Odessa. Son Bela lived from 1857 to 1921. He is listed as a painter and a farmer in the census. Bela had two sons and a daughter. Bessie married Ernest Flyover and worked as a teacher. His sons were William and Benjamin, and this generation carried on the family’s impact on Lowell.
William, known as Bill, lived from 1890 until 1962. He first started working at the post office in 1907, and in 1940 he began as Assistant Postmaster. In 1948, he was named Lowell Postmaster. Bill’s sons Paul, Carl, and Lloyd are discussed in the second round of ABC’s, in “S is for Schussaway.”
Benjamin Bela Kerekes, who went by Ben, was born in 1892. He operated a harness shop on the Kerekes property. Ben helped preserve the history of the local Odawa people by bringing attention to evidence and artifacts found on the family property. In 1941 and 1965 the Grand Rapids Press wrote articles on the Kerekes findings. These included a bent tree directional marker, a rock earthen fireplace built into the hillside, over 150 arrowheads, and the memories of the pioneer Kerekes family members who frequently saw campfires in the woods and heard people in the woods speaking in the native language. The Kerekes family also purchased an Odawa canoe that had belonged to Seth Robinson. It had been made by his wife’s Odawa family as a wedding gift. It was described as 16 1/2 foot long, made from a solid trunk of a tulip tree and hollowed out by burning and chipping.
The manipulated tree pointed the way to the Flat River. The tree was described as an elm and looked like the letter ’n’. In 1941 it was said “the tree’s trunk, more than two feet in diameter, rises eight feet out of the hillside and dips back in a sharp angle to within eighteen inches of the ground. Then it turns again and reaches an estimated sixty feet into the air.” While it was still standing in 1965, it was dead.
The many generations of the adventurous Kerekes family are an important part of Lowell history, and they also helped preserve local history. There are still descendants here, most with different surnames, however, a part of the Kerekes land is today still owned by a Kerekes.
Original Kerekes log cabin
Old post office with Bill Kerekes
Fishing from Kerekes boat on Grand River
Kerekes Harness Shop Tool Chest
Fishing poles made by Ben Kerekes