April 30, 1893 – July 6, 1951
(original research inspired by Grunow Mausoleum entry on @postsinthegraveyard)
William Carl August Grunow was born to a German-immigrant father and Illinois-born mother at the end of the nineteenth century. His early life was marked by a great deal of loss. He was the oldest of five siblings, but his sisters Lillian and Charlotte both died before they turned five. His father died in 1905 when William was twelve, and his mother died ten years later, leaving young William alone with his two youngest siblings, both brothers. Sadly, his youngest sibling, Arthur, died the next year at age eleven leaving brothers William and August alone.
As well as his immediate family, his mother’s parents had both passed away relatively young, too, so there was no familial support system to help, at least none that’s apparent in the records. The Grunows, however, seem to have had close ties with their community and been very involved in civic and fraternal society life. Upon his death, William’s father August was remembered (Chicago Tribune, March 1, 1905):
GRUNOW–August, beloved husband of Louisa [nee Reuter], at residence, 180 N. Curtis-st. Funeral Friday, March 3, at 12 o’clock to St. Peter’s church, Noble-st. and Chicago-av., thence by carriages to Waldheim cemetery. Member of Humboldt Park Council No. 1662, Royal Areanum; Humboldt Tent No. 26, K. O. T. M.; and Steuben Lodge No. 147, Knights of Pythias.
And his mother Louise had the following obituary in the Chicago Tribune (July 19, 1915)
GRUNOW–Louise Grunow, nee Reuter, Sunday, July 18, age 42 years. Widow of late August Grunow, beloved mother of William, August, and Arthur. Funeral from late residence, 1641 N. Crawford-av., formerly 40th-av., Wednesday, July 21 at 1 p. m., to St. Peter’s church, Le Moyne and Spaulding-av., thence by carriages to Waldheim cemetery.
Arthur also had a remembrance in the Tribune (September 15, 1916)
GRUNOW–Arthur Grunow, beloved son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Grunow, brother of William and August. Funeral by carriages from late residence, 1041 N. Crawford-av., to Waldheim cemetery, Sunday, Sept. 17, 1:30 p. m.
The family must have done well. Either Louise had money from her parents or August Sr. had done well for himself as a cigar-maker, for the 1910 census (when William was 16) lists his mother as having her own income; the family is living in a house they own free and clear. At sixteen, William is working as a bank manager (one guesses a small branch but it’s 1910! Who knows!) It is easy to infer the family was well-connected when even after suffering such devastating losses, they were not financially endangered. Which is a good thing for William who not only had to deal with losing his mother in July 1915, but then had to arrange for his little brother Arthur’s funeral after his death in 1916.
A little less than a year later, in June 1917, William married Valborg “Val” Winnan, Sometime after that, he enlists in the army as an officer in the Quartermaster Corps, listed as a 1st lieutenant on the passenger manifest when he returned to the US from France on May 17, 1919 on a zeppelin!
Whatever bank and wartime experience he had led to his post-war position as an accountant during his early years of marriage, working for the man who would become his business partner in 1927 in the Grigsby-Grunow Co. which made Majestic radios. The 1930 census shows the Grunows living large in River Forest in a mansion filled with servants. Other sources state that Grunow built this estate, and the family owned it until the 1950s when it was sold to notorious mob kingpin Anthony “The Big Tuna” Accardo. (I know where this mansion is and have passed it fairly frequently, and it is aggressively lavish.)
It took some time for the Great Depression to catch up with the Grunows’ booming lifestyle. It seems bonkers that a year after the market crash, here they are with, according to the census list, eight servants plus the butler’s wife — all of them immigrants or foreign nationals including a parlormaid from the Irish Free State — along with William, Val, and their young daughter Valerie.
Sadly, William and Val had only recently experienced a much more personal great loss when their daughter Lois died at seven years old in 1929, possibly after being misdiagnosed (her obituary states the cause of death as appendicitis). For whatever reason, the Grunows chose to establish a trust in their daughter’s name to fund a memorial clinic in Phoenix. They did have property in Phoenix at the time, so perhaps Grunow had it built there due to some reason related to his late daughter. The Lois Grunow Memorial Center is still operating. In 1948 he also gave $50K to establish the Lois Grunow Surgical Research Fund at Northwestern though I can find no reference to it on Northwestern’s website.
A year after the 1930 census logged the Grunows’ privileged lifestyle, William was forced out as president of his own company and by 1935, it went bankrupt, a late victim of the Great Depression. A separate utilities company he founded on his own in 1933 (using that sweet sweet radio money) also went bankrupt by 1939. (The ad above is for a radio built by Grunow’s company rather than for a Majestic.)
To continue his posh life style and to fund a new venture, William sold off what was likely a lavish estate in Phoenix, AZ, and started another company, this time in Wisconsin and this time having nothing to do with electrical things. No, this time the business was poultry, one of the first large-scale factory farms named Val-Lo-Will after his three children (Valerie, Lois, and William Jr.). The 500-acre estate was located in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin but the Grunows still maintained their estate in River Forest as their primary residence.
William died at the age of 58 of a heart attack, collapsing naked in his room at the Stevens Hotel in Chicago while an unknown woman called for help. This is not shocking for either the time nor the kind of man William was (ambitious, accomplished, driven, wealthy), but poor Val to have this fact written up in the papers for all to read!
(The Stevens Hotel was the largest hotel on the planet for forty years, and it’s still standing and operating today as a hotel. It was later renamed the Conrad Hilton Hotel, scene of the notorious 1968 Democratic National Convention so cool location to die scandalously.)
Val lived another 32 years, passing away at 89, enjoying many years with her two surviving children and six grandchildren. She never remarried.
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- The Incredibles, OakPark.com, September 6, 2005
- William Grunow Obituary, The Janesville Daily Gazette, July 6, 1951
- Skyscrapers, Chicagology
- Valborg (Winnan) Grunow Obituary, The Lake Geneva Regional News, December 29, 1983
- Lois Grunow Obituary, The Lake Geneva Regional News, June 20, 1929