Grandma Leora’s Seven Younger Brothers

Leora (Goff) Wilson was my grandmother. She’s the dark-haired girl in the back row, the oldest in the family, born in 1890. She is the heroine of Leora’s Early Years: Guthrie County Roots, Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Depression Years of the Great Depression and Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II.

Here’s a photo of the family taken July 4, 1907, Audubon, Iowa.

The only family portrait of all of the M.S. Goff family. Back: Jennings (11), Georgia (13), Merl (15), Leora (16), Wayne (14), Rolla (almost 9). Front: Ruby (almost 7), Milton Sheridan “Sherd” (about 42), Perry (almost 4), Clarence (almost 2), Laura (about 39 and pregnant with Virgil), Willis (5).

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

The three oldest sons–Merl, Wayne, and Jennings (born in 1892, 1893, and 1896)–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. I know very little about Rolla (born in 1898), the middle Goff son. The photo below is from WWII. 
Rolla Goff

The three youngest sons were allowed to attend high school–Willis, Perry, and Clarence.

Perry Alfred Goff (1903-1982) “Played the horses” and became a waiter in restaurants from New York City to Florida.

Perry dropped out as a sophomore, shortly after he had an appendicitis attack. 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.

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.
When their father died in 1930, C.Z. bought a house so that Laura, Jennings (a widower) 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.





These Goff brothers were my mother’s uncles, who visited their mother and oldest sister (my Grandma Leora) 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 home 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. Wayne, Ruby and Willis were visiting from California. Jennings and Clarence came from Omaha. (This was the only time this many got together!)
1979 (2)
Brothers Willis, Merl, and Clarence Goff with their oldest sister, Leora (Goff) Wilson. 1979, Iowa. (Willis from California, Merl and Clarence from Omaha.)



  1. It’s interesting how committed that large family was to remaining connected, even when many lived away from home. It’s also interesting that the one son was kicked out of the house after he dropped out of school, forcing him to become self-supporting. Such a contrast to so many young people today, who are allowed to remain at home long after they should be on their own!

    • Mom said that all the boys but Merl were kicked out at one time or another! One of the younger ones “rode the rails” as a young man, but was later became a success.

  2. Their story definitely reflects a different era, one of transition away from farming. Large families like that became less common. Quite a variety of life outcomes for those boys!

    • I was amazed at how Sherd Goff’s attitude changed. He’s counted on his farm as the best way to make a living, but he went broke from trying probably three times. Growing up, I thought of all these men as Grandma’s age, but the younger three are at least a dozen years younger. And I didn’t figure it out until recently that the ones successful in business were the younger ones who were finally welcome to finish high school.

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