Those Goff Brothers of Guthrie County, Iowa

audubon (1)
Sherd and Laura Goff family, taken July 4, 1907, Audubon, Iowa. Back: Jennings, Georgia, Merl, Leora, Wayne, Rolla. Front: Ruby, M.S. “Sherd,” Perry, Clarence, Laura, Willis.

By 1911, when he bought a farm at Wichita, Iowa, Sherd Goff had not allowed his older children to go to high school.

The three oldest sons–Merl, Wayne, and Jennings–were farming when drafted in WWI.

Guthrie Center
While their sons were still in France, Sherd and Laura bought a Victorian house in the county seat town of Guthrie Center. Their three youngest sons got to attend high school–Willis, Perry, and Clarence.
Perry dropped out as a sophomore, shortly after he had an appendicitis. He also worked late at Cronk’s Cafe and it was hard for him to get up in the morning, so his dad kicked him out of the house–not an uncommon occurrence in this household.
Perry Alfred Goff (1903-1982) “Played the horses” and became a waiter in restaurants from New York City to Florida.

Their Only High School Graduates

 Willis was 21 when he finally graduated! But when they lived on the farm, his father had only allowed him to go to school in the winter.
Clarence–the seventh son as my grandmother pointed out–was just 17 and the youngest in his class when he became their valedictorian. He was awarded a scholarship but they decided he was too young to take advantage of it, so Willis used it and studied chemistry at the University of Iowa.
Willis Walter Goff (1902-2001) 1923 graduate of Guthrie Center High School. Owned a business in Southern California. Married and had two daughters–Connie and Shirley.

Having that high school education was a big benefit to these two brothers. They were the most successful ones out of a family of ten. Willis went into cosmetics in Southern California.

CZ 001 (3)
Clarence Zenas (C.Z.) Goff (1905-1989) 1923 valedictorian of Guthrie Center High School. Became President of Timkin heating and cooling company.
 After riding the rails for a while, Clarence (C.Z.) eventually became owner of a heating and cooling company (Timpkin) in Omaha, and was really able to see the extended family through the Depression.
Brother Jennings was widowed in 1924, with two small children. They lived with Sherd and Laura from then on.
Then in 1930, Sherd Goff died while showing his grandsons how to shock oats near the town of Dexter, Iowa. C.Z. bought a house so that Laura, Jennings and his children, and oldest brother Merl could move to Omaha. He also provided jobs to Jennings and Merl, and regularly helped out his sister’s growing family during those bleak years.
1923Graduation (2)
1923 high school graduation announcement, Guthrie Center, Iowa.

These Goff brothers were my mother’s uncles, who visited their mother and oldest sister (my grandmother) regularly at Guthrie Center, Iowa.


Perry and Rolla were the only two I don’t remember. They never married, but arranged to have their remains sent to Guthrie Center from the east coast for my grandmother to bury.


Merl seemed to love arguing about politics. Wayne and Willis were the most outgoing to young great nieces.


J.B., Rolla, and Perry died in their seventies. C.Z. lived to be 84. (Rolla and Perry are buried at Guthrie Center.)


Three brothers lived into their nineties–Wayne to 93, Merl to 94, and Willis to 99.

1957 (3)
Goff siblings with their mother: Leora (Goff) Wilson, Jennings (J.B.), their mother Laura Goff, Clarence (C.Z.), Wayne, Ruby (Goff) Blockley, Willis, Merl. 1957, Guthrie Center, Iowa.
1979 (2)
Brothers Willis, Merl, and Clarence Goff with their oldest sister, Leora (Goff) Wilson. 1979, Iowa.






  1. Wow! It’s amazing how unimportant an education was considered back in the day!

    Which cosmetics company did Willis work for….do you know?

    • Sherd promised money to his older kids to make up for no high school, but the Depression hit, so no money. Willis ran his own company! I don’t know what he called it.

  2. That’s a big, nice family! Back in the day, work came first then education (as a luxury of sort). Today, it’s visa versa – Nobody wants to work!

    • I’ve just wondered what Clabe and Leora Wilson thought when their two older sons joined the Navy and their Uncle Perry showed them around NYC in 1934: They wrote home that Uncle Perry had not only given them a tour of the city, zipped around on the subway and up the Empire State building on a fast elevator, he’d bought them a fifth of wine for $4 and all the beer they could drink. Delbert was 19, but Donald wasn’t quite 18. Uncle Perry had paid for everything. “What the hell,”he told them, “I made 128 bucks on the horses yesterday.”

  3. Joy, another great story. I had only heard short story’s about the great uncles.

    • Thank you, Leora. It’s interesting that I have memories of most of them–at Grandma’s house in Guthrie, probably while Great Grandmother was still living. She died the December after we’d graduated from high school.

  4. This is a very tangible glimpse into a midwestern family history–how they lived, their troubles, and how they spread out from and/or returned from home. It’s almost a microcosm of a group of Americans. The photos are great, too.
    When I looked at the first photo I thought about how hard it must have felt just to clothe all those kids, not to mention feed and shelter them. Then I read how hard the dad was on the boys. I can’t really blame him. It was a hard life, and there were so many of them. I’m sure he needed a lot of help on the farm. And then the war took away three of the able-bodied. Then the depression did another number on the family so close on the heels of WWI.

    • The three lost didn’t happen until WWII. Those first three did return home. Great Grandpa Goff was an ambitious man and many of his “enterprises” went sour, so he was a grouch even as an older man, according to my mother. She hated it when he scolded her much younger brother for eating his raspberries off the vine! It sure has been interesting to imagine into some of those stories.

      • I didn’t word that well. Yes, what I meant was lost to the farm. Without them working the farm, there must have been drastic changes at home. I hear you on his bitterness. My great-grandfather pointed a shotgun at my 4 year old uncle for taking an apple from one of his grandfather’s apple trees.

      • I should tell you that Great Grandfather Sherd kicked his all of his boys out, so two had started bachelor farming. My grandmother and her husband (Leora and Clabe) took over their popcorn farm when they drafted for WWI. (My mother was born there!) All of them eventually lost their land in the slump of farm prices after the war, and they were over-extended. Leora and Clabe lost theirs too.

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