Today is our traditional Memorial Day, the last Monday in May. We take moments to ponder, and be thankful for, the impact of family, friends and strangers on our lives. May they Rest In Peace.
The ancestor I chose for this year’s Memorial Day story is Michael Joseph Risch, my first cousin twice removed, the cousin of my grandmother, Tillie Kuhn Weber and the nephew of Mary Anna Risch Kuhn, my great grandmother. Michael was born 30 Nov 1888 in New Alsace, Indiana and died 31 July 1921, in Connersville, Indiana. I don’t have confirmation yet that he was a veteran of World War I. Although this photo on the left shows him in uniform, along side his wife and father. Rather than as a war hero, I am writing his memorial today featuring his bravery in a matter that was completely unanticipated. He gave his life in an attempt to rescue a drowning friend.
Michael’s birthplace was in New Alsace, Dearborn County, Indiana, where his Risch grandparents settled upon immigrating from Baden, Germany in the late 1820s. At about 20 years of age he moved to the second county north, Fayette. There he married Clara Ariens. Within the next seven years, Michael and Clara had four children.
Clara and these small children lost Michael when he was 32 years of age. He drowned on July 31, 1921, in the feeder dam of the Whitewater River near his home in Connersville, Indiana. Michael was out for a Sunday afternoon of fishing when his friend became distressed in the water. He reacted quickly, as described well in the local newspaper:
“A Brave Effort”
“Risch fought courageously to reach the side of the drowning man. Burdened by heavy clothing, Risch was almost exhausted when he reached the struggling form of Daniels. But despite his state of exhaustion, he continued to try to quiet and calm the drowning man and, unconscious of his own perilous position and rapidly waning strength, he gripped Daniels hand or some portion of his clothing. As it is told, during the struggle in the deep water, Daniels was partly revived and after Risch sank beneath the surface the other managed to reach a place of safety. Men were soon on the scene, but they were too late. When the body of Risch was placed upon the bank of the river, those attempting to revive him soon realized that the spark of life was extinct.”
In honor of Michael’s heroism, The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission of Pittsburgh, PA, awarded a bronze medal and death benefits at the rate of $80 a month until his children were 16 years of age.
I am sure this tragedy echoed within the family and friends of Michael Joseph Risch, from Fayette County to Dearborn County to Marion County, Indiana to Hamilton County, Ohio. I don’t know how well, if at all, my grandmother knew this cousin who would have been one year older, living approximately 60 miles away. Perhaps I’ll meet a direct descendant soon who will fill in more details. If you are interested in the family information I have so far surrounding Michael Risch, I would be happy to share.
The decisions we make in a split second can effect not only our own lives, but those of many surrounding us. In this case, due to his courage and loyalty, Michael’s life stopped early and abruptly and his friend’s continued.
Thanks for spending some time at Indiana Ties!