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Grandpa Thure Cerling, Part 1: a faith based story from the Story Powerline
Tuesday, August 4, 2020 by Becky Cerling Powers

People can learn a lot from their family stories. The story of how my grandfather handled disaster during the Great Depression of the 1930s, helps me understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.”  

My grandfather Thure (pronounced Turry) Cerling was the firstborn child of Swedish immigrants living on the south side of Chicago in the early 1900s. He grew up poor, streetwise and ambitious. He determined to make himself a millionaire by age 30. (With inflation, that would be over $14 million today.)

Thure had a long way to go. His father was a struggling carpenter with a wife and three children to support on an undependable income. So Thure attended high school at night because he had to work as an errand boy to help support his family during the day. When he was 16, his mother developed stomach cancer. His family needed even more income for her medical expenses. So Thure had to quit high school. Over the next eight years, Thure worked, completed a carpenter’s apprenticeship, and, during World War I, served in the Navy.

When he came home from the war in Europe, he got down to the business of turning his drive and talent into a million dollars.

Thure noticed that although his father was an expert master carpenter, his dad was usually scrambling for cash. His father didn’t know how to advertise his services or manage his business. He would spend days or weeks looking for a job, do the work and get paid. But then he had no more income until he found another job. To Albert Cerling, advertising, budgets and bookkeeping were all mysteries.

So Thure set up a new construction company with his father and another carpenter as the builders and himself as their business manager. He arranged work contracts, so the two carpenters were busy all the time. He bought their supplies to save them time, and he kept the books. Before long he developed so much additional business that he could hire even more people and kept them all busy, too.

As Thure prospered, he married and built a home for his wife and children in the suburb of Elmhurst. He built hundreds of houses on speculation, and in this way, he reached his goal. By age 30 he had over a million dollars (on paper at least) in stocks and in second mortgages on the houses his company built. So, in 1928, at age 33, he moved with his wife and five children to Texas to buy an orange grove and retire as a “gentleman farmer.”

But that winter his fortune began collapsing like a row of dominoes. First the Great Depression began in the construction industry. So many houses started coming back to Thure from defaulted second mortgages that he had to pack up his family and return to Elmhurst.

Then in 1929 the stock market crashed. Thure’s stock portfolio vaporized. Banks began foreclosing thousands of first home mortgages. So any second mortgages Thure held on houses that defaulted their first mortgage became worthless paper. Soon, instead of having money, he owed money – lots of money.

Thure’s parents were Christians who took him to church every Sunday when he was growing up. Now his childhood faith was being tested. Where would he put his trust? In God, or in his own scheming?

To Be Continued….

Today’s prayer: “Lord, here is my trouble today: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_____________. Please show me how to think about it. Please help me want to be right with You more than making a fast escape, more than looking good to other people, more than getting even, and more than feeling sorry for myself. Please help me honor you in this situation.”

© 2020 Becky Cerling Powers

Reprint with attribution only

For the next few months I will be posting stories that help us understand the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mountain. For faith-based family stories to share with friends and older children, check out my books: Laura’s Children: the hidden story of a Chinese orphanage and My Roots Go Back to Loving and other stories from Year of the Family in the Bookstore.

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