NEW ULM - The daughter of an Orphan Train rider who lives in Sleepy Eye signed her recently self-published book, "Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York," on Saturday at the Country Loft and Sven & Ole's Books.
In her book dedication, life-long Sleepy Eye resident Renee Wendinger said her mother, Sophia (Kaminsky) Hillesheim-Kral, who lives in Sleepy Eye and is one of the few surviving Orphan Train riders, inspired her to write the book.
The task took her 3-1/2 years.
Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Sleepy Eye native Renee Wendinger, the daughter of Orphan Train rider Sophia Kaminsky Hillesheim-Kral, signs her book “Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York” Saturday at the Country Loft, New Ulm.
Wendinger cited the words of journalist Hodding Carter in her dedication: "There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One is roots. The other, wings."
Wendinger said writing the 179-page book that includes many historical photos was a journey in itself, somewhat similar to the Orphan Trains that carried more than 200,000 children from New York to new lives in rural America.
Except that her route was from Minnesota to New York City and back, at her own expense.
The book is a collection of stories of children who faced nearly insurmountable odds.
Stories of stirring human interest in the book include agonizing letters written by desperate mothers in search of their children, news stories of the latest Orphan Train and the newsboys (young boys peddling newspapers in New York City) as a way to survive while often living in the street.
Wendinger's mother was born April 22 or 23, 1915 at Villa Avenue, Bronx, New York.
Her biological parents were William Kaminsky and Maria/Merry.
One parent was born in Germany in 1896.
As many struggling immigrants did in that era, Maria relinquished five-month-old Sophia to the New York Foundling Hospital.
Sophia's foster/adoptive parents were Joseph and Mary (Melich) Duda of Minneapolis and Anna Greim of Springfield.
The Dudas received Sophia when she was two years old.
Two years later, Greim saved her from a return trip to New York.
In 1936, Sophia married Charles Hillesheim in Springfield. The couple raised five children. Hillesheim died in 1966.
In 1985, Sophia married Raymond Kral in Sleepy Eye. He died in 2007.
Another local Orphan Train rider was the late Gaetano (Guy) DeLeo of New Ulm.
The son of Antoinette, a New York opera singer from Florence, Italy and Brazilian coffee plantation owner Philipo DeLeo, Guy DeLeo led his 16-piece orchestra to become show and dance band well-known throughout the upper Midwest.
DeLeo's foster parents were Peter and Celia Jutz of New Ulm.
Wendell and Mary Lamm of Madelia were the foster/adoptive parents of Orphan Train rider Anna (Haberbosch) Lamm.
One of the earlier Orphan Train riders was John M. Arsers of northern Italy.
Harshly treated by a stepmother, Arsers was put on a Paris-bound sailboat when he was just a few years old.
Arsers played the triangle on Paris streets for money.
At age 10, Arsers was put on a steamship with children bound for the United States.
In New York City, he played music and slept on steps and in apartment doorways.
Riding a train to Chicago and points west, Arsers' foster/adoptive parents were Mr. and Mrs. Orin Mildrum of Cresco/Riceville, Iowa.
In 1886, at age 21, Arsers became teacher and director of cornet bands in Iowa and Minnesota.
Well-known as a bandmaster, Arsers died in 1941 at age 76 in Osage, Iowa.
All of his children and grandchildren were musicians, including Sam and John Arsers, who live in New Ulm.
Newsboys chronicled in the book include Horatio Alger, a Harvard graduate who studied under Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
A 19-century American author, Alger wote 135 dime novels. His writing included rags to riches stories of down-and-out boys reaching middle-class wealth by hard work, courage, determination, and concern for others.
A speaker on orphan trains and President of the Orphan Train Riders from New York Organization, Wendinger presents historical slide symposiums to educators, schools, community and civic organizations, libraries and historical groups.
Three weeks ago, Wendinger was interviewed by three historians at WVOX radio in New Rochelle, N.Y.
She seemed to enjoy the experience.
"It was awesome. It validated a lot of the work I did," Wendinger added.
She will sign her book at the Brown County Museum, 1-4 p.m., Friday, Nov. 27.
Wendinger will present a slide show in the New Ulm Public Library at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 8.
For more information, visit www.theorphantrain. com
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org