Synopsis of Jack's Life | Early Years | San Francisco Vorfelds
The Janssen family consisted not only of the six Janssen children, but Margaret and Pauline Bomke, nieces whose mother died when they were little girls. Frieda attended Honolulu's Normal school when she was about 16. This teachers' college sat on the slopes of Punchbowl. She boarded near Kawaiahao Church. The other Janssen girls (Wilhelmine, Alice, and Henrietta) also attended the college, and finally the family moved from Kauai to Kahuku,Oahu, where John worked at the sugar plantation. Frieda married Walter Vorfeld June 17, 1911, in the Lutheran Church in Honolulu.
The Vorfelds moved fairly often. Jack was about three when they moved from Kahuku to Magazine street. They next bought a home on Young Street, near Pawaa Junction, and perhaps three years later moved to Dewey Court in Waikiki. Next they moved nearby to Dewey Street, remaining until he was about 12.
Then came a three-year stay on Kuhio after, after which they moved to Green Street. They had the same landlord they'd had in Waikiki: Captain Macaulay. Jack learned to swim at Hauula Beach, and fine-tuned his skills at Waikiki. When he was small, there were only two hotels on Waikiki: the Moana and Halekulani. Even today, he is a strong, vigorous swimmer.
As he grew older, he loved traveling by train to Kahuku on the OR&L (Oahu Railway and Land), from the depot in Chinatown. He'd board the narrow gauge train which went to Waianae, around Kaena Point to Waialua and Waimea, ending up in Kahuku. This scenic trip took about an ninety minutes.
Often in the summers, Jack and other children hiked up to Sacred Falls to swim in the deep blue, icy waters. He and his father went pheasant hunting both in Kahuku and Waimanalo.
Grandpa Janssen's first car was a spiffy Model T. Later he bought an Essex, and Jack practiced driving it in the pastures of Waimanalo near the plantation. In 1924 Daddy Walter bought a Chevrolet Touring Car, and like the Model T and Essex, it had a cloth top and no windows.
When Jack was 15, Robert T. Vorfeld was born. Jack and Charlotte (Sissie) were naturals as baby-sitters, and because this meant they had to be at home more, all their friends congregated at the Green Street house. Teenagers loved sitting around singing popular songs of the 1920's while talented friend and neighbor Frank Wood played the piano. Frank's parents came from England, and everyone loved their British accents.
Shave Ice and Pineapples
Riding the ice wagon was a special treat for little Jack. Every day at Dewey Court the horse-drawn ice wagon stopped at every home in the group of courts (like today's cul de sacs). Since refrigerators hadn't yet been invented, everyone used iceboxes. Young Jack awakened every day at 5 am, ran out and caught the wagon at its first stop, plopped himself on the back, and stayed on it until it arrived back home about 30 minutes later. The driver used a saw to cut up the ice, and Jack got to shape the ice into balls and suck on them to his heart's content. Arriving back home, he woke everyone up, had his breakfast, and went off to school.
About every five years the family traveled to San Francisco. Once they were living temporarily with Aunt Frances and Uncle Bill Janssen in Kaimuki when it was time to go to the Mainland. The Sunday before their Wednesday departure, Jack and cousin Henry Webber from Kauai went to an abandoned pineapple field in Wilhelmina Rise. They found some small, delicious pineapples, and proceeded to stuff themselves. That night, Jack had intense abdominal pain and was rushed to the hospital. Afraid that he was going to ruin his family's trip, he was relieved when the doctor said his only problem was having eaten too many pineapples!
Punahou, Central, Lincoln, and St. Louis College
Punahou was the school of choice when Jack was five. He remembers that many Californians sent their children to board at Punahou because of its high academic standards.
After three years, he transferred to Central Grammar School, across the street from St. Andrew's Cathedral. He stayed at Central until Lincoln Grammar School became an English Standard School, then moved to Lincoln, staying through the 8th grade.
In 1926 he began high school at St. Louis College, a boys school located near the Nuuanu River and Aala Park. Two years later St. Louis relocated in Kaimuki. Jack decided to turn out for football his sophomore year and that year he went from third string center to second string center. No big games, though, with McKinley or Punahou. They were playing for the championship, and the team winning the final game with Kamehameha would be champions.
The day of the final game, the first string center's father died. Jack played the entire game, his team won, and he received his letter. He played every game for the next two years and his last year, 1929-1930, he was All Star Center for the Islands. Santa Clara Junior College and Notre Dame University offered him scholarships, but he wanted an engineering career. He started at Oakland Polytechnic college of Engineering in California, but after a year gave in to homesickness and moved back to Hawaii. Read more about this at Maxine's Site.
Uncle Fred, The Cesspool, and the BB Gun
The Vorfelds' home on Young Street had a cesspool (an underground tank used for sewage from sinks, toilets, etc.). About 20 feet deep, it had been covered with grass for years, and no one knew its location. Or cared. The cesspool also contained deadly sewage gas. A lush mango tree located in the back yard towered over the house. Young Jack enjoyed the swing in the tree. He loved soaring high, then jumping out while 'way up in the air. One day the happy five-year-old completed one of his energetic jumps.
He landed right on top of the cesspool. The force of his landing disintegrated its top, and he began sliding into the murky, smelly, dangerous tank. Uncle Fred (four years older than Jack) happened to be playing in the area, and quickly reached down, grabbed Jack, and pulled him up. If Fred had not been there, he wouldn't have been found until it was too late.
This uncle-nephew duo were like brothers, and sometimes acted accordingly. Jack got in big trouble when the Vorfelds lived in Waikiki. Uncle Bill and Aunt Frances Janssen lived next door. Fred was visiting the Vorfeld home. The boys took turns mowing the lawn.
Jack saw Fred bend over, and decided this was a perfect time to try out his BB gun. He picked it up, aimed at Fred's fanny, shot, and then - because Fred was bigger - ran and hid.
Uninjured but angry, Fred promptly ran in and reported the incident to Auntie Frieda. When Daddy Walter came home and learned of his firstborn's actions, he sat him down and gave him a strong, solemn lecture. This devastated Jack, who hated disappointing his father. He would have much preferred a spanking.
Swimming, Diving, and Fishing in Waikiki
Fort DeRussy played a major role in Jack's early recreation. For a time the Vorfelds lived about two blocks from one of the world's most beautiful beaches. Children were allowed to use Ft. DeRussy's facilities, including a small, dredged-out area that had diving boards, rafts, and a pool for little children.
Jack London, a military diving champion, taught Jack Vorfeld how to dive. The training went well until he was diagnosed with an ear abscess. Surgery followed, and it was a while before he went diving again.
At the end of the dredged-out area, Ewa side, was a dock/stand from which people went fishing. Brothers Buster and Buddy Crabbe lived nearby. They were a bit older than Jack, but liked him, and enjoyed acting as big brothers. One day Jack hooked a good-sized papio, but couldn't hold the pole by himself. The Crabbe boys came to the rescue. Jack jumped into the water, grabbed the fish, waded to shore, and ran home to show the fish to his mother. He completely forgot the fishing pole! A champion swimmer, Buster Crabbe later became a movie star, and was best known for his role as Tarzan.
The Vorfelds had a small boat anchored in Waikiki in a cove where the now stands. One time the elder Janssens spent a week's vacation at the Vorfeld home. The first weekend John Janssen and his son-in-law, Walter, decided to take the boat out to the reef for some serious fishing. Jack wanted to go, but they explained that the waters were too dangerous. They returned later with a large catch of fish.
One of them took Jack asided, handed him some money, and told him to give it to the Japanese fishermen down the beach. Top secret, Jack! A couple of days later Jack returned home from school. His mother said, "Come and look at all the fish Grandpa caught today!" Jack looked in the refrigerator, turned to Grandpa Janssen, and said, "Same way you caught 'em last Sunday?" Jack's mother understood immediately. Jack was a bit unpopular with Daddy Walter and Grandpa for a few days.
Grandma Janssen was already with the Vorfelds one Christmas holiday when Jack was a boy. Granpa planned to drive from Waimanalo on the 24th, but because of severe rainstorms, no one could drive the muddy Maunawili Road (the Little Pali).
Christmas Eve the front door opened and Grandpa Janssen walked in, grinning.
"How did you get here?" they asked.
"I flew over," he said. Martin Jensen, a barnstormer from California, flew to Waimanalo with the mail, and Grandpa talked him into taking him as a passenger on the return trip.
They landed in Kapiolani Park. Grandpa caught a streetcar to the Vorfelds. He was the first person in the family to ride in a plane.
Jensen, incidentally, originally barnstormed from California to Hawaii, first landing (rumor has it) in some trees on Molokai. Other links to information about Jensen:
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