Life in Conklin and Bill's Later Years, 1928-1968

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In 1928, Bill and son Glenn decided to open a store in Conklin, a village twenty miles west of Grand Rapids.  This was a sizable store featuring groceries, meat, and dry goods.  Walter had left home by this time and James remained in Grand Rapids to finish high school, living with his grandfather Merrill and his mother's sisters at their home at 107 Logan Street SE.

Bill and Emma lived first in a house on Conklin's Main Street and later in an upstairs apartment directly behind the store. At the rear of the store was an outdoor privy which served both the business and the apartment and a water pump (all water had to be carried into the house). 

The McNitt family in the 1930 census
The McNitt family in the 1930 census of Conklin

A description of the Conklin store has survived in an article from The Coopersville Observer dated July 31, 1931:

"He [Bill] was fortunate in being able to secure the large and well lighted brick store room formerly occupied by R. H. Smith Mercantile Co., and the wide knowledge of merchandising gained during his experience as salesman and in the conduct of his Grand Rapids business has stood him in good stead in his business venture in Conklin.

In his store there is abundant opportunity for the display of his choice and varied stock of merchandise and he has utilized this opportunity to the utmost with the result that he has given his customers a store that is up to the minute both in quality of goods handled and in present day merchandising methods. He believes in putting the goods he has for sale where the prospective customer can see for themselves and this belief he has put into practice.  His method of doing business is meeting with the success it warrants."

This was not the best of times to be in business, as the 1929 stock market crash had led the nation into the Depression and few customers had much extra money.  On the other hand, the store dealt more with necessities than with frills.  Everybody had to eat so the store continued to do some business, but they oftren had to take a dozen eggs or other farm products in payment and it became necessary to cut back on paid staff.  James helped out in the store during vacations and then full-time after he graduated from high school in 1931. Glenn eventually found it necessary to go back on the road as a salesman. 

The McNitt family always had food on the table and never starved, even in the depths of the Depression.  Bill still managed to get away each fall for deer hunting. He was accompanied by Charlie Batson, the local Ford dealer, and others. Many years the family had canned venison throughout the winter. One has to wonder, however, how many friends and neighbors received free food in times of need or had their debts forgiven in part during these tough economic times.

Bill McNitt and Emma Merrill McNitt  Emma Merrill McNitt 
Emma and Bill, ca. 1934; Emma, ca. 1934

In the mid-1930s, Emma developed heart problems and passed away at the relatively young age of 52 on May 2, 1935.  Her services were held at the Conklin Congregational Church, then she was interred in Rest Lawn Memorial Park at 3550 Eastern Avenue SE in Grand Rapids.  Due to her early death, she never knew any of the eight grandchildren that she and Bill were eventually to have.

Emma McNitt's death certificate  Congegational Church of Conklin, Michigan
Emma's death certificate; the Congregational Church at Conklin

Emma's death was followed fairly closely by the passing of Bill's sister Grace Plowman on September 21, 1937, and that of his mother Ella on January 3, 1938.  As time passed, the other major figures in this story also died - Roando Merrill on March 10, 1942; Elmer Merrill on March 2, 1951; Myrnie Merrill on October 24, 1959; and Leena Merrill on April 3, 1967.  All are buried in Rest Lawn Memorial Park, with the exception of Grace, who is buried at Perry in Shiawassee County, with her husband James.

At some point before the 1940 census, Bill retired from running the store in Conklin.  He continued to live in that town for most of the rest of his life, however, occupying an upstairs apartment over one of the main street stores.  His two sisters-in-law, Myrnie and Leena Merrill (neither of whom married), filled in for their sister in hosting family events such as James' wedding reception or the annual family Christmas Eve gatherings.  Bill continued to hunt and fish with his friends and to spend time with his family until he developed cancer of the larynx late in his life.  After battling that for several years, he died on May 13, 1968 at his son Glenn's home near Hamilton, Michigan.  He is buried next to Emma at Rest Lawn Cemetery in Grand Rapids.

James and Bill McNitt on vacation in Florida
Bill and son James on vacation in Florida, ca. 1939

Bill McNitt in the 1940 census of Conklin, Michigan
Bill in the 1940 ccensus of Conklin

  Draft Registration Card  Draft Registration Card - back side
Draft registration card, 1942

Bill, James, and Billy McNitt  Bill McNitt
Bill, son James, and grandson Billy, August 1949; Bill reading and smoking a cigar, 1960

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