1903 Paul Trapier Gervais was born on Feb. 21, 1903, on the west side of Chicago. His parents were Wainwright Bacot (W.B.) Gervais (1859-1948) and Katherine (Kate) Lebby Gervais (1870-1939), both natives of Charleston, South Carolina, and members of prominent families there. Paul’s older sister, Katherine (Kay) Wainwright Gervais was born on Feb. 5, 1898. Paul’s nickname was Pete, shortened from Petey, probably based in his initials, P.T. W.B. Gervais was the president of the Variety Fire Door Company at 2958 Carroll Ave. in Chicago, and the family lived nearby in the city.
1913 As the business prospered, W.B. and Kate decided to move to suburban Oak Park. They built a house at 160 N. Elmwood, with W.B involved in the design. Kay was fifteen and Paul was ten. The house was next door to 150 N. Elmwood, the home of Robert and Blanche Weyburn Kerr, and there was a yard in between. The Kerrs had taken in Blanche’s divorced sister Jane Weyburn Saxby and her three children, Lewis Weyburn Saxby (1903-1974), Robert John Saxby (1906-1982), and Harriet Helena Saxby (1909-2006), who would later marry Paul Gervais.
1919 At the suggestion of local architect and family friend Charles White, W.B. bought the large Victorian house, built in 1886 by William Henry Stennett, at 201 Linden Ave. It was to be used as investment property, and the family tradition is that Charles White supervised its conversion into a two-flat.
1913-1920 Paul attended public schools in Oak Park, Beye School through eighth grade and then Oak Park and River Forest High School, graduating in the class of 1920. A very close friend was Richard Synyer (Dick) Hill (1901-1961), son of another prominent Oak Park family, that of Calvin Hill, whose home was at 312 N. Euclid. After some time at the high school, Dick attended Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, graduating in 1920. Both young men were accomplished pianists.
1920-1925 Paul and Dick went to college together, and each earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in 1924. During his time in college, Paul made his first trip to Europe, with a passport issued on 22 May 1922, returning from Hamburg to New York City on 18 Sept. 1922.
Paul’s father wanted him to return to Oak Park after graduation and work in the family business. Paul agreed to do so, only on the condition that he have a year studying liberal arts at Trinity College, Oxford University, in England. His passport was issued on 7 July 1924, returning from Cherbourg to New York City on 13 October 1925. Dick Hill also went to Oxford for graduate study, staying two years for a Bachelors in Literature degree. The two young men shared a suite with two bedrooms and a common living room. They had breakfast together each morning and played the piano for an hour or two each day, four-hand piano arrangements of Bach and orchestral works. Paul followed a self-designed program “to broaden his musical experiences and exposure to Europe as well as study.” [Bradley] They took their holidays together, especially enjoying France. After the one year, Paul did return to the family home and began working in the family business.
He became the executive secretary in his father’s business, the Variety Fire Door Company, a position he held for twenty-five years. He then worked briefly as management consultant for Arthur Sylvester. At the time of his death in 1963 he was associated with the R.S. Owens & Company.
Later, in 1939, Dick Hill joined the staff of the music division of the Library of Congress, becoming the leading expert on the national anthem. “In later years when Dick visited Chicago, he would rent a Steinway piano from Lyon and Healy for his hotel room so that he and Pete could play together.” [Bradley]
1925-1927 Unfortunately, Paul developed osteomyelitis and had to have surgery on his skull, requiring many months of recuperation. To aid in his recovery, his parents bought a Steinway parlor grand piano for him to use. W.B. and Kate donated the statue of the Madonna and Child in the Children’s Corner at Grace Episcopal Church in thanksgiving for their son’s recovery.
1935 April 22. At age thirty-two, Paul Gervais married “the girl next door,” Harriet Helena Saxby, age twenty-six, at Unity Temple. She had graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School in 1927 and then attended Rockford College for two years. She had grown up in the Unitarian-Universalist congregation at Unity Temple, and he had grown up attending Grace Episcopal. Officiating were Dr. Denman (the pastor at Unity Temple) and Father Holt (the rector at Grace Episcopal). Helena wore the wedding dress worn by her aunt Blanche Weyburn in her wedding to Bert Kerr in 1896. The wedding photos were taken by Hiram McCullough Jr., whom Helena had met and dated while working at Sears. (Hiram would later become her second husband in 1974.) The Gervais couple lived in the Elwood Apartments, half a block south of both 150 and 160 N. Elmwood Ave. It was the only apartment they could find that was big enough to house Paul’s parlor grand piano.
1936 August 3. Paul and Helena’s first child Katherine Gervais (1936-2004) was born at West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park. That same year Kate Gervais suffered a mild stroke and could not longer live in the two-story house at 160 N. Elmwood. W.B. and Kate took over the first floor apartment in their property at 201 Linden Ave.
1939 September 26. At age sixty-nine Kate Gervais died of a stroke at the Gervais home on Linden Ave. After her death, Kay’s husband, Gray Muzzy, formally asked Paul and Helena to take responsibility for W.B., a role they gladly accepted. So Paul and Helena and their young daughter Katherine moved into the first floor apartment with W.B. It was Katherine who gave her Gervais grandparents the names of Papa and Nana (short a sounds). While living at 201 Linden Ave., Paul and Helena had two more children, Paul Trapier Gervais (1940-present) and John Weyburn Gervais (1944-present).
Paul and Helena Gervais were active in the social and cultural life of Oak Park. In 1947, they joined the Lowell literary club, among whose founders in 1897 were Helena’s aunt, Blanche Weyburn Kerr. They joined the River Forest Tennis Club in 1950. Paul had been a member of the congregation at Grace Episcopal Church since he was ten years old. He sang in the choir, taught Sunday school, served on the vestry, and acted as church treasurer. Helena joined him as a member of the congregation after their marriage in 1936. She managed the United Thank Offering, served on the alter guild, and supported the Episcopalean Sisters of St. Mary. After her second husband’s death in 1982, she became a member of the Aging/Ageless Radicals group, participated in the Thursday morning Bible study group, and supported the Integrity group for gays and lesbians.
Paul and Helena were among the few registered Democrats in Oak Park. They espoused liberal causes, especially the civil rights movement. She later supported the fair housing ordinance in Oak Park in 1968 and the founding of the Oak Park Housing Center in 1972.
Paul and Helena were season ticket holders to the Goodman Theater, a tradition that she continued after his death. They also had season tickets for the entire performance season of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Helena was an active member of the Nineteenth Century Women’s Club (now the Nineteenth Century Club). She served on the board three times, chaired music and social science committees, acted as press person, and chaired the scholarship committee. Later in life she was on the board of the Historical Society of Oak Park & River Forest and was program chair for one year.
The Gervais family enjoyed traveling. Paul, Helena, and the three children took several extensive trips in the United States. In 1956 they made a seventy-day excursion throughout Europe. In 1962 Paul, Helena, and their friend Jan Duncan made a trip to England so that Helena could meet Saxby relatives and visit Oxford.
1948 January 15. At age eighty-eight W.B. Gervais died at Bethany Hospital in Chicago from injuries suffered in an accident at the company plant on December 24, 1947.
1960 May 14. Paul Trapier Gervais (son) married Glynne Constance Thomas (1939-present) in the chapel at Grace Episcopal Church, followed by a reception at 201 Linden.
1963 August 3. Paul Gervais died of a heart attack at age sixty. He was buried in the Weyburn family plot in the Greenwood Cemetery in Rockford, Illinois.
After Paul’s death in 1963 Helena went on a Caribbean cruise with her sister-in-law, Katherine Gervais Muzzy, and they later went twice to Jamaica. In 1964 she returned to Europe for six weeks with her son John, who was a college student at the time. Starting in 1965, she went on four international trips sponsored by the Asculapius Club of local doctors. These trips included the Orient, South America, Spain/ Portugal/Morocco, and Sicily. In the early 1970s she and her friend Ruth McCarter spent four months on an opera and theater tour in Europe. And, in 1973 she took her grandson Lewis Gervais (her son Paul’s oldest child) on a Mediterranean cruise and then to the Holy Land and England.
1964 Helena began assisting Robert Rice, the minister at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple. She helped organize the first tours of the building and in 1969 organized the first tour of Unity Temple that also included the opening of three Wright-designed private homes, the prototype for the annual house tour sponsored by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust since 1975. (For a description of her work involving Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, see Harriet Helena Saxby Gervais McCullough and Frank Lloyd Wright in the Addendum.)
1965 June 20. Paul’s widow, Helena Gervais, provided a memorial stained glass window for the west wall of the chancel of Grace Episcopal Church. It was dedicated to the Glory of God and in memory of Wainwright Bacot Gervais, Katherine Grattan Lebby Gervais, and Paul Trapier Gervais.
1966 August 27. Katherine Gervais married Robert Warren Trezevant (1941-present) at the Friends Meeting House on the campus of Swarthmore College. In the fall, Helena gave them a reception at 201 Linden.
1967 October 7. John Weyburn Gervais married Jane Ellen Beers (1944-present) at St, John’s The Baptist Episcopal Church in York, Pennsylvania.
1974 January 5. Helena Saxby Gervais married Hiram Groome (Mac) McCullough Jr. (1905-1982) at Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park. Hiram had grown up in Evanston, attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana, and graduated from Princeton in 1927. Hiram, after dating Helena when they were young, had married Mary Jane Mundy (1909-1970) from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1935. Hiram and Jane were living in Forest Park when their son John Groome McCullough was born at West Suburban Hospital in July 1936. Their daughter Anne was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1939 and then the family moved to Jane’s hometown of Williamsport. Hiram was called to active duty in the U.S. Army in 1941, served in several locations in the Pacific theater, and retired in 1951 as a Lt. Col., U.S.A.R. There was no contact between the two couples for thirty years. Eventually, after Jane’s death, Hiram started visiting Helena in Oak Park and in Malvern, Pennsylvania, where Katherine Gervais and her husband Robert Warren (Bob) Trezevant (b. 1941, married in 1966) were living. After their marriage in 1974, Hiram and Helena moved to his home in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, where they lived until 1980. During that time Helena was active in the local Episcopal church and the garden club and socialized with neighbors and friends of the McCulloughs. They enjoyed traveling in the United States and attending Princeton reunions. During their eight years together, they took three trips to Europe, including a tour of the continent, a trip to France, and a trip to England.
1977 July/August. Bob and Katherine Trezevant moved with their two children, Warren (b. 1969) and Suzanne (b. 1971) to Oak Park to live in the Gervais family home at 201 Linden Ave. Helana’s friend Marion Herzog was occupying the downstairs apartment in Helena’s absence, and the Trezevants took over the upstairs apartment, buying their share of the property from Helena.
1979 September 13. The family celebrated Helena’s seventieth birthday at 201 Linden during a visit by Helena and Hiram.
1980 Helena and Hiram moved back to her downstairs apartment at 201 Linden. Hiram had a second garage built for his car, replaced the wooden back yard fence with chain link, and had an office built for himself in the basement. They joined the Oak Park Country Club.
1982 August. Hiram McCullough died in Oak Park. His memorial service was at Grace Episcopal Church, and his burial was at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
1989 To celebrate her eightieth birthday, Helena hosted a luncheon for family and friends at the Nineteenth Century Women’s Club, with about eighty people in attendance.
1999 September 18. To celebrate her ninetieth birthday, Helana hosted a dinner buffet at 201 Linden, with guests using both apartments and the front lawn. Warren had prepared a large family tree graphic, and Sue and Katherine had asked family members to submit memories, which they compiled into a book. They also prepared a collage of photographs covering Helena’s life. There were forty-seven relatives present: two Kerrs, ten Saxbys, nineteen Gervais, and 16 McCulloughs.
2004 December 24. Katherine Gervais Trezevant died. Her memorial service was at Unity Temple, and her ashes were buried in the Weyburn family plot in the Greenwood Cemetery in Rockford. (See the Addendum for her obituary, written by her husband.)
2006 February 6. Harriet Helena Saxby Gervais McCullough died at home at age ninety-six. Her funeral service was at Grace Episcopal Church, and her ashes were buried in the Weyburn family plot in the Greenwood Cemetery in Rockford, next to her mother, her aunt, and her first husband.
Harriet Saxby Gervais McCullough a brief biography
Harriet Saxby Gervais McCullough and Frank Lloyd Wright
Helena Saxby Gervais McCullough obituary
Katherine Gervais Trezevant obituary
Brooke, Lee, ed. A celebration of the splendid life of Elsie Lunde Jacobsen. Oak Park: 2004.
Brooke, Lee. Yesterday When I Was Younger: Oak Park, River Forest Oral History. Oak Park: 1989. “Saxby/Weyburn Family,” pp. 271-275.
Ellis, E. DeTreville. Nathaniel Lebby Patriot and Some of His Descendants. Chevy Chase, MD: 1967.
NOTE: Edmund DeTreville Ellis (1890-1995) was the son of Mary (Mamie) Lebby (1857-1943) (the second daughter of Dr. Robert Lebby Jr. and Mary Bee Lebby) and Thomas Edmund Ellis (1858-1919). Thus, he was a first cousin to Katherine Wainwright Gervais and Paul Trapier Gervais, the children of Wainwright Bacot Gervais and Katherine Gratten Lebby.
Gervais, Glynne Thomas. Thomas Family Tree on Ancestry.com.
Kerr/Saxby materials. Historical Society of Oak Park & River Forest.
McCullough, Helena Gervais. Remembrances. Interviews by Katherine Gervais Trezevant. 1995.
McCullough, John G. Hiram McCullough bio 9/10/18.
Oak Leaves, “Wright Tour Draws 1800,” June 25, 1969, pp. 1, 10.
Richard S. Hill: Tributes from Friends. Compiled and edited by Carol June Bradley and James B. Coover. Detroit Studies in Music Bibliography, Number Fifty-Eight. Information Coordinators, Inc. Detroit. 1987. p. 8.
Ruby, Jay. Dear Old Oak Parkers. Documentary Educational Resources CD-ROM, 2007.
Trezevant, Katherine Gervais. Harriet Helena Saxby Gervais McCullough on the occasion of her 90th birthday. Photo scrapbook with narrative.
Yarbrough, Virginia Kuenster. Safe Haven, True Friend: The Story of Our House at 113. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Yarbrough Photoworks, 2018.