The collection is divided into the following series: Papers of Kurt P. Oppermann and his family, the Oppermann Fur Company Records. Materials Kurt largely collected include: Historic Preservation Materials, Miscellaneous Materials, Saginaw Michigan, Materials, and the Papers of Other Saginawians, including: Bude Volusin; Mabel C. (Scott) De Fere; Marion C. Weir; and Frank Selzer.
The collection provides detailed, personal information about Kurt and his family who were pivotal in the fur and newspaper business, as well as in the musical and social life of Saginaw in the late 19th and early 20th century. His interest in history prompted him to collect photographs, blueprints, and other information on Saginaw history, families, and buildings. This is a valuable collection to study family letters and relationships, Germans in Saginaw, Saginaw history, Saginaw buildings, and the fur business in the late 19th and early 20th century.
The Papers of Kurt P. Oppermann are divided into the following subseries: Biographical Materials (.5 cubic ft. in 1 box), including obituaries, funeral cards, published histories on the family, and Kurt’s Account Book, 1939-1941; his Diaries, 1920, 1926, 1936, 1946, and 1970; high school class notes, 1911-1912, and a Seemann and Peters stock certificate, 1946.
Photographic Materials (2 cubic ft. in 4 boxes), includes a wide variety of photographic materials with images of the extended Oppermann, Nerretes, and Peters families and their friends from the 19th century through 1973. Twentieth century reproductions of 18th and 19th century images of Oppermann ancestors are also included. The subseries include an ambrotype, cartes-de-visite, daguerreotypes, glass-plate negatives, various types of film negatives, positive prints, tin types, and both photographic and negative albums. Many of these photographic materials are partially identified. Images show family members in formal poses, in the family yard at 130 N. 6th Street, Saginaw, on fishing trips, at Kurt’s Arrowhead Farm, various trips Kurt took throughout Michigan and Germany from the 1930s through the 1960s, the interior and exterior of the Oppermann family mansion, and Dr. and Mrs. Karl Kangler richly dressed in Arabic costumes for a costume party. The 19th century Cartes-de-visite Album contains images of Oppermann, Nerretes, and Peters family members. Some of the photographs were taken by the Goodridge Bros. and by Armstrong and Rudd’s Gallery. A photograph album, late nineteenth century, is also included with the volumes at the end of the collection.
Personal Correspondence to Oppermann Family Members (approximately 3.25 cubic ft. in 7 boxes) is the next series. The Oppermanns wrote extensively over decades to each other. They loved each other very much and wrote fairly long, detailed letters covering a wide variety of family news such as illnesses, deaths, weddings, homework, bumps and bruises, as well as religious, social, musical, and fur business news.
All correspondence within each subseries in this collection is in chronological order.
Kurt’s letters to his family are divided into: Letters to One or Both Parent and/or Siblings, 1914-1934, and undated (approximately 1 cubic ft. in 1 box); Letters to Friends and Family, 1914-1916, 1918, 1926, 1929 (1 folder); and letters to Letto (Lydia), 1929-1930 (2 additional folders).
Letters to Kurt from his parents are next and include: Letters from both of his parents, 1917; Letters from his Fathers, 1912-1930 (Scattered) and undated (2 folders); and from his Mother, 1914-1935 (approximately 1 cubic ft. in 1 box). Letters between Kurt’s Mother, Nettie (Peters) Oppermann, and her family and friends before her marriage, 1887-1890, and between Nettie and her new husband, Gustav Oppermann, and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Peters, Sr., and her siblings, 1891-1894 (4 folders) are next. These letters are particularly affectionate and tender, proving that her family embraced Gustav into their family and that they loved each other very much.
Letters to and from Kurt and his siblings are next and in general are quite affectionate and full of news of jobs, family members, and the health and accomplishments of their children and grandchildren. The only negatives in the letters occur in the late 1930s over concerns the siblings had that Art was ruining the family fur business and what Kurt should do to save it. Clearly Kurt was believed by his siblings to be the only one with a chance of saving the business, the family reputation, and Art. A description of the letters of the Oppermann siblings is as follows:
Letters of Arthur “Art” P. Oppermann and his wife, Hulda with Kurt, 1910-1927 (Scattered), and undated, and a letter Art sent to the editor of the Saturday Evening Post rebutting insults about Germans and American neutrality, 1915. The letters between Art and Kurt end in 1927. Before 1927 many of the letters talk about family news and the fur business. After 1927, their relationship deteriorated. This was in part due to the other siblings’ widely held view that Art had ruined the family fur business and Art’s bitterness towards Kurt as a result of Kurt’s actions to try to save the business. (5 folders).
Letters with Eugene “Gene” P. Oppermann and his wife, Stella, 1916-1942 (Scattered, 1 folder). Gene and Kurt were quite close and lived together in the old Oppermann family home from 1936 until Gene married. In his letters, Gene encouraged Kurt by November 16, 1936 to push Art onto “the right track” to avoid the disgrace and destitution of the family and for Kurt to impose a system on the business to get it going. He supported Kurt in staying in the family home because he was the only single sibling and had been shunted for years between Saginaw and New York on family business. The letters document a positive, close brotherly relationship between Kurt and Gene.
Letters with Helen “Letto” (Oppermann) Edgerly, 1916-1964, and 1974, and undated (5 folders). She maintained a pleasant relationship with Kurt all her life although they were often physically separated by thousands of miles after 1925.
Letters with Paul “Barney” P. Oppermann, 1916-1975 (Scattered), and undated. (4 folders) These letters like the ones between Kurt and Pat are affectionate, but not unusual.
Letter with Peters “Pat” Oppermann, 1916-1974 or 1975 (Scattered, 1 folder). Like the letters between Barney, these letters are affectionate, but not unusual.
Letters with Robert “Bob” P. Oppermann, and his wife, Stella, 1916-1974. (Scattered, 5 folders). Included here are weekly reports to Bob from Kurt from January through March 1937 that mention the strikes and shutdown automobile plants and the effect of that and the generally poor economy on the Oppermann business. In March 1937 Bob mentioned Kurt’s 18 acres and Kurt mentioned how he needed the good air there.
The subseries concludes with Personal Correspondence [with] Extended Oppermann Family Members. This includes Kurt’s aunts, uncles, cousins, and a niece, 1916-1961. Most of this correspondence consists mainly of family news, with some holiday or birthday greetings. Some of the correspondence with his cousin, Helmut Oppermann, in Germany is in German and some is about family genealogy.
Political Correspondence consists of one folder each of correspondence with Charles “Charlie” Koehler, a Saginaw City Councilman and friend of Kurt’s, 1947-1960; a letter from Kurt to Adolph (surname unknown) protesting his being treated as a city employee, 1942, in regards to being in or helping to organized an orchestra; and correspondence with Stephen J. Roth, the Attorney General of Michigan, 1949-1950.
General Correspondence between Kurt and his friends covers a wide variety of general family and personal news. Like all the correspondence in this collection, it is filed chronologically. It is divided in two sections. First, correspondence with Kurt’s friends with whom he had regular but sporadic correspondence, perhaps one or two letters a year for a decade or so (approximately 1.75 cubic ft. in 4 boxes). The correspondence is fairly regular, 1909-1942, and particularly good during World War I. It is more scattered, 1943-1974, and undated. Some of his good friends that he had extensive correspondence with during the 1920 and 1930s include: Dick Townsend, Jo Polak, Van George, Ben Bartlett, Hazel McMullen, Helen and Jane Runyon, Kate Wolf, Marguerite Geoffrey, Lucile Whitman, George Long, J.W. “Wes” Harrison, Howard “Howdy” Ewen, and Mabel (Scott) de Fere.
Kurt’s brother, Barney, with whom Kurt was very close, also knew and was friends with most of Kurt’s friends of this period. Harriet, Dorothy and Lucile, possibly nurses or patients are sometimes referred to as “the three maidens”. Many of these friends also spent time recovering from illness at Castle Point, and many of them knew each other.
The second section is General Correspondence of friends with whom Kurt extensively corresponded over long periods, on specific topics of research, and with whom he exchanged multiple letters monthly (1 cubic ft. in 2 boxes.) Kurt was friends with all the women, but they were mostly just penpals. His correspondents include: Catherine Ditzler, 1916-1934 (the correspondence ends after she married in June 16, 1934); Dr. W. W. Florer, 1950-1954, and undated, with whom Kurt discussed historic settlement near and in Saginaw; William D. Fueher, 1953, re: German Language in public schools and German communities in Michigan; Jenny Heyne, 1914-1925; Dr. Carl Ibershoff, 1919-1951 (Scattered) and undated (some materials in German); Mollie Jensen, a friend of Kurt’s ex-girlfriend, Christine, who wrote to Kurt through a third friend to avoid scenes with her jealous husband, Norman, whom she finally divorced in 1929, 1927-1934, and undated (2 folders); Myron E. Leppy, 1926-1930; Rita Moloney, 1930-1932, 1939; and Sinfonia Fraternity at the University of Michigan, 1915-1931 (Scattered). Also there is correspondence with Dorothy Miller, 1921-1922, 1925, and undated. Dorothy’s letters indicate that she was Kurt’s girlfriend, but this may have been a long-distance emotional relationship only.
The second largest series in the collection is that of the Oppermann Fur Company Business Records. The records are divided by format into loose papers and smaller volumes that fit into the boxes, and then oversized volumes.
The papers, 1915-1937 and undated (4.5 cubic ft. in 9 boxes) are filed alphabetically by the type of material, and then chronologically. A wide variety of financial records is represented here, including accounts, a ledger, inventories, job receipt books (documenting customers and work they wanted done or items created), mailing lists, lists of prospective customers, publications, sales records, tax receipts, and work notes, among others. It is clear that Kurt examined these records in his effort to try to save the business and that he inherited them when the business closed.
A great strength of this series is the Business Correspondence, 1918-1925. It is divided first in to Business Correspondence with Companies, and then with Customers. Kurt kept the records in roughly alphabetical and chronological order for 1920, 1921, and 1919-1925. The companies include suppliers of furs, leather, beadwork, embroidery silk, buttons, tanning and curing supplies, as well as stationery, food, tools, and office supplies. Companies with whom they conducted extensive or specialized business, such as women’s clothing, and Charles F. Wagner, a fur merchant with Wagner, Jodie and Co., 1919-1924, and with G. Gaudig and Blum Corp., 1923-1925, are filed separately. Many of the fur related businesses had beautiful stationery with various animals and furs, as well as images of their establishments. Filed with some of the correspondence are catalog books, fliers, business cards, and swatches of material.
Sixteen Oversized Volumes of business records, 1888-1934 (approximately 5 cubic ft.), document both the Saginaw and Flint Oppermann fur stores. The volumes are physically located at the end of the collection. The volumes include an Account Receivable Book, Day Books, a HUGE, very heavy Scrapbook of advertising and fur business information on the Oppermanns, A. J. Jaeckel and Company, and other fur companies mainly in New York City, Job Receipt Books, and Ledgers, two of which are indexed, and two others which include inventories of the Flint Store. Many of the advertisements in the Scrapbook are from various Saginaw newspapers.
A third series in the collection is Historic Preservation Materials (.5 cubic ft. in 1 box). This consists of materials Kurt accumulated or generated to create public interest and organizations, including the Heritage Foundation Association, the Saginaw Historical Building Foundation, and the Saginaw Historical Heritage Committee, all of which Kurt helped found, to save old Saginaw buildings, 1949-1962. Among the buildings of interest to him and his friends were the Webber House, which is extensively documented here, the Saginaw Civic Center, the Old Saginaw Auditorium, and the Arthur P. Hill High School. Unfortunately for Kurt, many people in Saginaw had little money or interest at the time to save the buildings which were destroyed. Also documented here are the efforts of white people in historic areas of Saginaw to prevent their property from being purchased by African Americans in the early 1960s. This effort is documented in the Johnson-Lapeer-Janes Neighborhood folders. At first Kurt created an advertising draft that was blatantly racist to get supporters. The draft was amended after advice from a friend of Kurt’s who was on the city commission.
The Miscellaneous series (.5 cubic ft. in 1 box) includes mostly Kurt’s correspondence with various people, including his apartment manager, letters to the editor of the Saginaw News, 1936-1957 (Scattered) on a variety of topics, and a collection of lovely, undated greeting cards, as well as one folder of Kurt’s miscellaneous poetry, 1911-1973, and undated.
The Saginaw, Michigan, Materials (1 cubic ft. in 2 boxes) consists of advertising fliers on auctions, 1960-1965; and meeting minutes and attachments of various Saginaw committees and boards, including the Christian Business Men’s Committee; the Saginaw Board of Appeals on Zoning, 1955-1960 and 1968; Saginaw City Council, 1953-1959 (Scattered); and information on Saginaw Schools and the Saginaw Sewer Construction Progress Reports, December 1955-February 1959.
A few legal-size items, mainly legal items, are found in Box 30 due to their size. Items of particular interest include correspondence regarding Kurt’s tuberculosis claim, 1924-1969 (Scattered); legal papers of Kurt and other family members, 1936-1968; and Oppermann Fur Co. Advertisements, Sketches, and Fur Business related Materials, 1920-1939, and undated.
The last series in the collection is Papers of Other Saginawians. Mabel C. (Scott) De Fere’s papers came to Kurt after she died. Other papers, including those of the family of Bude Volusin Kurt either collected or people gave the papers to him knowing of his interest in Saginaw history. Included here are some letters of the family of Bude Volusin, a Saginaw architect and builder, 1853-1871 (some in German). The papers of Kurt’s longtime friend and Saginaw teacher Mabel C. (Scott) De Fere (April 10, 1899-March 15, 1968) include her Correspondence, Biographical Materials, Certificates, a Diploma, and Teaching Materials as well as numerous Photographs and other materials documenting her family and friends in Bergland, Michigan. Mabel married Tom De Fere by 1926. They divorced by June 4, 1936. One letter notes that Kurt and Mabel became engaged on January 5, 1939, but they apparently never married. Mabel loaned Kurt over $700 by 1942, at which time Kurt considered her co-owner of Kurt’s Arrowhead farm. The papers of Marion C. Weir consist mostly of his published and unpublished poetry and correspondence with Kurt, 1917-1959. His published poetry was published by the Oppermann Fur Company. Lastly, in the Oversized Volumes there is an account book of Frank Selzer, a Saginaw artist and probably a lithographer, 1930-1941, documenting companies, people and newspapers for which/whom he did artwork.
Due to size, a few items have been placed in Oversized Folders immediately before the Oversized Volumes. These include Folder #1, Webber House Blueprints (copies, 2), 1960; Oppermann Fur Co., Advertising, Sketches, etc., 1926, 1933-1934, and undated; and Certificates and a Diploma of Mabel C. (Scott) de Fere, 1914, 1916-1917, and 1936.