Someone has fitted the box for this ivory necklace with protective inserts fashioned from pieces of cardboard cut from a cereal box and wrapped in linen. The final owner, Albert LePage, marked the lid with instructions for handling it:
“This is the top of this box. Please do not turn over. Please be most careful with it.”
Albert’s handwritten note inside the box explains the necklace’s significance:
“This strand of solid ivory beads … was given to me by a Miss Cruse, a blind girl from Patoka, Illinois, with a promise I never sell or give them to anyone. That promise I have kept since 1931. … Miss Cruse was a writer for a worldwide braille newspaper. The beads were sent to Miss Cruse by one of her blind pen pals from India.”
But the note raises more questions than it answers. Who was Miss Cruse? What was the name of the braille newspaper that employed her? Who was her pen pal in India? And perhaps the biggest question of all — Why did she give the necklace to Albert?
Who was Miss Cruse?
Born in Illinois in 1892, Georgia Cruse had her sight for the first seventeen years of her life. Census records suggest that Charles and Alice Cruse of Patoka, Illinois, adopted Georgia sometime after she reached the age of eight.
Georgia excelled at school and helped out in her dad’s restaurant, the Bon-Ton. She was waiting on a customer one day when all of a sudden a soda water bottle exploded. The glass hit Georgia on the eye. An operation in St. Louis failed to restore her sight.
Georgia rallied and grew up to become a beloved member of Patoka society. Particularly active in the Ladies Fancy Work Club, she served as the organization’s president, wrote papers for group discussion, and championed the club’s commitment to community beautification.
Georgia had a lovely voice. She sang at her cousin’s wedding and visited the couple several times in Muskegon, Michigan. There she met Olaf Ingvald Settem, who would later become her husband.
Why did she give the necklace to Albert?
Before living happily ever after with Ingvald, Georgia had to overcome yet another encounter with adversity. In March of 1931, at the age of 38, she had a serious operation to remove a tumor. Complications landed Georgia in the hospital three more times where she underwent at least four more operations over the ensuing year. Georgia drew dangerously close to death more than once. Perhaps this is why she decided to give away the necklace, surely a prized possession, to someone she could trust to take care of it if she died.
A little about Albert LePage
Albert and Sarepta Anna were both 25 years old when they married in 1907. They lived in East St. Louis, where Albert owned a bakery. On New Year’s Day in 1915, Albert started a new career as a salesman with the Armour and Company meat company. The childless couple moved to Edwardsville before the end of the year.
But in 1916, the National Guard of Missouri called up their reserves. Albert joined Company E and served in Laredo, Texas, on the Mexican border. Albert left the service in 1919 and resumed his career as a traveling meat salesman with Armour. His territory encompassed rural Illinois east of the metro St. Louis area, including Patoka.
It is easy to imagine Albert, a lonely itinerant salesman in his forties, stopping in for lunch at the Bon-Ton restaurant and striking up a conversation with Georgia, an accomplished and lively woman eleven years his junior. By the time the gravely ill Georgia gave him her necklace for safekeeping, they must have become close friends.
The end of the story
Georgia finally recovered from her illness in the spring of 1932. On March 18, 1933, at the age of 40, she married Olaf Ingvald Settem. Georgia and Ingvald lived in Patoka until her father passed away in 1941. They then moved to Muskegon where they remained until Georgia died in 1986 at the age of 94.
In the meantime, Albert quit the meat industry by 1940 and went into business for himself selling auto accessories. His wife Anna died in 1958. Albert retired in 1960 and dedicated himself to his hobby of raising cactus plants, which he had first encountered back when he was stationed in Texas with the National Guard. Albert died in 1965 at the age of 83.
What braille newspaper did Georgia write for? Who was her pen pal in India?
Unfortunately the answers to these questions remain a mystery. However, two 1937 articles by Georgia Cruse Settem in the Christian Science Sentinel substantiate the fact that Georgia enjoyed a career as a published author. True to her nature, Georgia dealt with the topic of “Overcoming Limitation,” writing:
“[E]very problem is one of limitation in one form or another … These phases of error are but false beliefs … that there is another power and presence more powerful than good, and that it limits one’s efforts to achieve happiness.”
Footnote: Sources consulted for this article include several newspapers, primarily the Edwardsville Intelligencer and the Patoka Register, and United States census records. Georgia Settem’s obituary and 50th anniversary announcement were obtained with the assistance of Hackley Public Library and the Muskegon County Genealogical Society in Muskegon, Michigan. Settem’s articles in the Christian Science Sentinel were obtained with the assistance of Principia College in Elsah, Illinois.