It has been said that to know where you are going, you must first understand where you are. To understand that you must appreciate where you came from.
Miami, Florida – Hurricane season brought more than high winds and property damage that year. To Anthony and Grace Halsema their first child was born: Anthony Lambert Halsema, Jr. Shortly following Tony Jr.’s birth, more tropical winds caused the fledgling family to welcome four relatives into their home. As Tony Jr. and his family grew (eventually including Lester Joseph 8/27/28, Grace Marie 7/4/30 and Donald Francis 11/19/31) his parents often either took family members in or cared for them in illness while working hard to provide a modest living for themselves.
The family weathered the Great Depression better than most, even though Tony Sr. lost his General Contracting business in December 1933 when runs on the banks bankrupted them. A capable carpenter by trade, Tony Sr. picked up his toolbox and went door to door to eek out a living for his young family and to help provide for his aging mother and niece. These examples left an indelible impression on Tony Jr. who, as an adult, worked hard to provide for his family, volunteered to improve the lives of others and followed a strong moral code. (He does however refuse to eat grape jelly to this day, as it was the only flavor available to his family during the Great Depression.)
In the 30’s the simple life was reality, not a reality show. The Halsema children grew up doing chores, playing outside, fishing occasionally and watching the China Clippers land in the bay in Coconut Grove. Their father worked long hours and Saturdays and their mother took care of them, her mother-in-law and other family members when they needed it. If there was a little money, they children watch the Saturday matinee movies. The family became very involved in their church, Gesu, a Catholic Church run by the Jesuits and all 4 children went to school there as well.
The 1940’s brought War II and all it’s devastation. Tony promised his mother he would not join the service until after he graduated high school, even though he turned 18 in October of his senior year. (Rumor has it that Tony was not fond of school. His offspring and their offspring find this point very interesting.) True to his word, Tony enlisted in the Navy in June 1944 immediately after graduation. His naval career was short, thanks to peace breaking out on May 8,1945. During the two years he did serve, Tony spent time in training and eventually was shipped out to Guam, where he served as a telephone operator and became far too friendly with the local foot fungus. Chance is a strange thing. From Guam he was sent to Saipan, where he was almost recruited for duty on a mine sweeping ship. His rating was not quite high enough and the ship sailed on without him. He found out later that the ship had hit a mine in the Sea of Japan. All hands were lost, including one of his high school classmates. After his discharge, Tony returned to his family in Miami and began working with diesel engines.
Fast forward to the 1950s, where we see our young Tony (skinny and with a mop of black hair) volunteering with immigrant children at Gesu Catholic Church. One of his fellow volunteers is a transplanted New Yorker, Jacqueline Frances Green. Jackie has just found out that Jack, her escort for the Christmas dance at the Miami Shores Country Club, has been told he has to work late and won’t be able to take her. Tony doesn’t want Jackie to miss the dance so he offers offhandedly (or so he says) to escort her in Jack’s place. Years later Tony’s mother told Jackie that Tony had run out and bought new shoes for the date. Anyone knowing Tony personally will recognize the huge significance in the act and wonder if poor Jack really had to work late after all.
The dance was apparently a huge success as Tony and Jackie decided to make the date a lifetime one in 1955. Tony was working on the night crew as a mechanic for Pan Am. A month before the wedding, Tony Sr. died quickly and unexpectedly from a heart attack. He was almost 66. Tony and Jackie wanted to postpone the wedding, but the family insisted that it go on as planned. So in Gesu Catholic Church on July 16, 1955, Tony and Jackie became partners for life.
Tony and Jackie settled into married life and began raising a family almost immediately. Seven boys and two girls completed their family. Grace Leonardi Halsema and Vivian Ximanes Halsema were at the house often. Tony worked two jobs for many years to support his large family. His younger children hardly remember him when they lived in Miami. The family was big and boisterous and while money often seemed to be an issue, there was always more than enough love to go around. When his daughter Maureen was in 2nd grade another child teased her about not having the newest shoes or nicest clothes. The other girl said, “Your parents can’t even love you that much if they have to divide it among nine of you.” Tony found his daughter hiding in tears that night. To a 2nd grader he was big (6’2), gruff and sometimes scary. After Maureen choked her way through the story, Tony got on his knees and told her “Do you want to know a secret? Most people don’t know this, but your mother and I do. Love never divides, it always multiplies. So, if there are eleven of us, we must have more love than anyone.”
The family stayed in Miami, with Tony working for Pan AM until 1976. In 1976 the family moved to Memphis where Tony jr. worked for Federal Express until retiring and moving back to Florida in 1995.