Thelma Josephine McKinney Riess

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Thelma Josephine Riess (McKinney)

Birthdate: (90)
Birthplace: Safford, Graham, Arizona, United States
Death: January 16, 1990 (90)
Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona, United States
Place of Burial: Safford, Graham, Arizona, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Joseph Thomas McKinney and Dortha Roxana Rollins-McKinney
Wife of Stephan Ernst Riess
Sister of Dan Carroll McKinney, Sr.; Joseph Madsen McKinney and Gladys Violet McKinney Beals
Half sister of Dortha Evelyn Rollins Eubank and John Delbert Rollins

Occupation: Stenographer in Bakersfield, California, in 1920; Also for a legal firm in Los Angeles, California, in 1930. Married Stephan Ernst Riess from Germany on September 2, 1932, in Los Angeles, California. They had no children. He was a famous geologist.
Managed by: Della Dale Smith-Pistelli
Last Updated:

About Thelma Josephine McKinney Riess

Thelma Josephine McKinney was born in Cochise, Arizona Territory, in November of 1899, to parents Joseph Thomas McKinney, and Dortha Roxana Madsen Rollins McKinney. Joe was originally from Arkansas and Texas, and Dortha was born in Idaho, the daughter of a Danish immigrant father, Christian Madsen, who came to America in 1853 at the age of 9, and a mother of German ancestry, Roxana Louisa Welker, born in Iowa in 1851, while traveling with her parents who were Mormon converts on their way to Salt Lake City, Utah. The Madsen family moved from Idaho to Safford, Arizona, in 1883. Dortha married John Henry Rollins, Jr., in Arizona September 23, 1885, and they had two children, a daughter, Dortha Evelyn Rollins in October of 1886, and a son, John Delbert Rollins, in August of 1888. Then tragically, John Henry was killed in an accident in 1889 and died on Christmas Day at the age of just 24 years old. Dortha, was left a 20-year old widow, to raise their two children on her own.

She did not remarry until 1897, when she married an Arizona sheriff by the name of Joseph Thomas McKinney, on April 15, 1897. Thelma, was the second of four children born to Joe and Dortha, and lived in Arizona with her parents and siblings until her first marriage. I don't know the name of Thelma's first husband, or when they were married, but I was told by family members that they could not have children, so they adopted a daughter. Evidently they had some severe problems with the child, and had to give her up.

In the 1900 U.S. Federal Census for Cochise County, Arizona, Thelma was listed with her family as follows: Joe T. McKinney, 41, Dortha, 31, Daniel C, 2, Thelma, 5 months old, Dortha Evelyn Rollins, 13, and John Delbert Rollins, 11, who were Thelma's half-sister and brother by her mother's first marriage to John Henry Rollins, Jr. Also living in their home was Thomas Young, 27, a "servant." Joe and Dortha had been married for 3 years, he was working as a stock raiser, and Thomas Young was working as a stock herder.

By the 1910 census, the McKinney family was living in Bowie, Cochise County, Arizona, and were listed as follows: Joseph T., 52, Dortha R., 40, Daniel C., 11, Thelma, 10, and Gladys, 6 years old. Another son had been born to Joe and Dortha, Joseph Madsen McKinney, but sadly he died before his 3rd birthday in 1904, shortly before the birth of his sister, Gladys. Joe and Dortha had been married for 13 years. Joe was working as a cattle stock raiser.

Sometime between 1910 and 1915, Dortha and Joe separated and she moved to California and he stayed in Arizona. She may have moved there since her son John Delbert Rollins was working for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, in Needles, California, as early as 1917, and possibly earlier. Also, Dortha's brother, John Christian Madsen, had moved from Arizona to Arvin, Kern County, California, and was working as a farmer there until at least 1921.

I'm not sure when Thelma married or was divorced from her first husband, but as of 1920, she was living with her mother, brother and sister in Bakersfield, Kern County, California, and working as a stenographer. Also living in the home was a cousin, Louyre Rollins Rosenbloom and her cousin's one year old son, John. My great grandmother was working as a nurse and Thelma's brother Dan was a fireman for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, and her younger sister, Gladys, was about 15 years old and probably still in school. Louyre's little son John, died the following year, and she later moved to San Diego, remarried and had another family.

By 1924, A California Voter Registration Record for Los Angeles County, California, showed that Thelma's mother, Dortha, was living at 6715 Pearl Avenue and was a housewife registered to vote as a Democrat. Thelma was living at 6715 Victoria Avenue, and was working as a secretary and was also registered to vote as a Democrat. Her half-sister, Dortha Evelyn Rollins Eubank, was also living at 6715 Victoria Avenue, registered as a Democrat, and was working as a broker (possibly real estate ?). A 1928 California Voter Registration Record for Los Angeles County showed that Thelma was still living at 6715 Victoria Avenue, was registered as a Republican and was still working as a secretary.

In the 1930 census, Thelma, 30, and her mother, Dortha, 61, were still living at 6715 Victoria Avenue, a home they owned without a mortgage, which had a value of $5,500. Also living in their home was my mother, Frances Amelia Eubank, who was just 18 years old. Thelma was working as a stenographer for an attorney, and my mother, Frances, was working as a beauty operator in a beauty shop, but Dortha was not working at the time.

Thelma's half-sister, Dortha Evelyn, was living nearby with her other daughter, Elsie Louise, and son, James Rollins Eubank. Her husband, Stephen James Eubank, had deserted their family in Portland, Oregon, in 1919, about 4 years after the birth of their third child, James Rollins Eubank, in September of 1915, when they were living in Seattle, Washington. Stephen Eubank had been a mining engineer and building contractor. Dortha Evelyn had gone to Bakersfield after her husband deserted the family, and lived with or near Thelma and her their mother, Dortha, in Bakersfield in the early 1920's.

Thelma married her second husband, Stephan Ernst Riess, on September 2, 1932, but before they were married that year, Thelma arrived at the Port of Los Angeles, California, from Ensenada, Mexico, on a ship named "Emma Alexander" arriving on May 30, 1932. The ships record showed she was single, born in Safford, Arizona, November 5, 1906, (which was the wrong year, since she was born in 1899), and her address was 6715 Victoria Street in Los Angeles. This may not have just been a vacation for Thelma, but rather she may have gone to Mexico to get a quicky-divorce from her first husband so that she could marry Stephan in September of 1932.

A 1930 census record showed that Stephan Ernst Riess was born in Germany in 1898, had migrated to America in 1923 or 1924, and was living in Los Angeles at 805 Center Street, which appeared to be an apartment building with about eight units according to the census record. He was 31, single, born in Germany, of parents who were also both born in Germany, and his native language was German, not English. He was listed as a maritime seaman, perhaps because that was how he paid for his passage to America, by working on the ship. He stated that he had immigrated to America in 1923, although his U.S. Naturalization Record dated March 16, 1935, showed he arrived April 7, 1924, in San Pedro, California, although he had arrived on the East Coast a year earlier.

A U.S. Naturalization Record for Stephan showed a Declaration of Intent document with an issue date of January 19, 1924, stating that he was 25 years old, with a medium complexion, 5'11" tall, 160 pounds, with brown hair and gray eyes, born in Bavaria, Germany, on December 26, 1898, now residing on board the ship Concantco, and that he emigrated to the USA from Hamburg, Germany, on the vessel Monticello, which arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, October 20, 1923.

Another U.S. Naturalization Record for Stephan showed an issue date of January 20, 1930, with The Petition for Naturalization stating that he lived at 805 Centre Street, San Pedro, and that he was a white male, with light complexion, blue eyes, brown hair and was 6' tall and weighed 170 pounds and had a tatooed right arm, and was born in Dillingen, Germany, on December 26, 1898, and was not married. He made his declaration of intent on January 12, 1924, in Seattle, Washington in the U.S. District Court, and his previous residence was in Hamburg, Germany, and he came to the USA on a ship named the Robert Luekenbach. There was also a picture of Stephan attached to the petition.

The USA Petition for Citizenship record for Stephan dated March 16, 1935, listed his wife, Thelma, and their marriage date of September 2, 1932, in Los Angeles, California, and stated that they were living at 6715 Victoria Avenue, Los Angeles, which was the home of Thelma and her mother Dortha and my mother in the 1930 census. Thelma's date of birth was listed as November 5, 1900, in Safford, Arizona. Steve's occupation was listed as General Manager, and he stated he was born in Dillingen, Germany on December 26, 1898. His previous residence had been in Hamburg, Germany, when he arrived in American via the port at San Pedro, California, on April 7, 1924, on the ship Robert Luckenbach. The people who were witnesses of this affidavit were Otto Emme an attorney residing at 1934 Hancock Street in Los Angeles and Joseph R. McGuire, also an attorney, residing at 1320 S. Burlington, Los Angeles, California. They stated they had known him since 1928.

A 1936 California Voter Registration Record showed that Mrs. Thelma McKinney Riess was still living at 6715 Victoria Avenue and was registered as a democrat and was a housewife. But by the 1940 census, Thelma and Steve were living in the Santa Susana area of Simi Valley, Ventura County, California, and Thelma's mother, Dortha, was living with them. They were listed in the census record as follows: Thelma, 40, Steve, 41, and Dortha, 72, were living at 14-A Mortimer Park, Simi Valley.

There is a record of Stephan traveling from El Paso, Texas, to Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, via American Airlines on May 26, 1946. Thelma was not on he passenger list with Steve, and their were only 18 passengers and 3 crew members on the plane, so perhaps this was a commuter flight and Steve had business in Mexico. He did drill water wells all over the world during his life. He returned from Mexico on June 15, 1946, traveling from Mexico City to Los Angeles International Airport on Trans American World Airways. His occupation was listed as an engineer on the airline's manifest.

Thelma's mother, Dortha passed away at the age of 84 years old in 1953, and was buried in the Safford City Cemetery in Arizona with her parents. A few years later, probably around 1955, my mom and dad and I lived in Aunt Thelma and Uncle Steve's guest house in Simi Valley for about a year, until my dad found work at a place in the San Fernando Valley, and we moved to our own home there located in Kagel Canyon between the towns of Sylmar and San Fernando.

Uncle Steve found several water wells while living in the Simi Valley, and according to information found about him in an article about his geological work, he sold that property to Texas oil tycoon Clinton Murchison for one million dollars. After Thelma and Steve sold their property in the Simi Valley, they purchased the Fleischman Mansion (formerly owned by the Fleischman Yeast family) in Santa Barbara, California. It was a grand old Spanish hacienda-style adobe house with a red tile roof. The walls were about a foot thick, and the house was laid out in a U-shape, with a beautiful courtyard inside the "U" with orange trees and lots of gorgeous plants and flowers. The living room was on the end of the "U", with a patio that opened out into the courtyard. The library and three bedrooms and bathrooms were located on one side of the "U" and the dining room, kitchen, and maid's quarters were on the other side of the "U". There was a lovely old swimming pool, but Aunt Thelma turned it into a giant fish pond with lots of fish, including koi and many other types of exotic fish. I remember thinking what a shame it was you couldn't go for a swim in their pool!

According to a 1960 U.S. City Directory listing for Santa Barbara, California, Steve and Thelma were living at 4715 Foothill Road, and he was working as a geologist. This was their beautiful home described above. They lived in Santa Barbara until about the mid-1960's when they sold the beautiful Fleischman mansion and purchased a 40-acre mountain top in Ojai, California, where they built another home. Later they sold the Ojai mountain-top home and moved to Oceanside or Escondido to be near my Uncle Jim and Aunt Vera Eubank, which was probably during the late 1970's or early 1980's.

James Rollins Eubank was the son of Dortha Evelyn Rollins Eubank, Dortha's first-born child, and the half-sister of Thelma McKinney Riess. Uncle Steve helped uncle Jim develop several water wells on his 40-acre mountain top property in Oceanside, and those wells are still producing water today for Jim's widow and their family, as well as supplying much needed water for irrigation of crops on their land.

Uncle Steve passed away in 1985. Shortly before her death in 1990, I believe Thelma moved back to Arizona, to live with or near her sister, Gladys Violet McKinney Beals. Thelma was buried in the Safford City Cemetery near her mother Dortha's grave.

Thelma and Steve never had any children, but they had a grand life, thanks to Steve's work as a geologist. They traveled all over the world and had many great adventures. Uncle Steve had the rare gift of being able to find fresh water wells where no others could. That ability brought him a very good income.

Thelma loved birds, and she had a huge collection of them in immense aviaries she had custom-built at her mountain top home in Ojai. She had many exotic birds parrots from South America, as well as cockatiels, and other types of birds, even a peacock or two were roaming her property there.

I remember one funny story about my mother and aunt Thelma, when Thelma and Steve were living in Ojai. My parents had gone there to help Uncle Steve with some work he was doing on a well or something, and Thelma had an old rooster which used to crow very early in the morning, and it kept waking up my mother too early in the day for her taste. So one day, my mom went out and got that old rooster, killed it, cleaned it, and roasted it for dinner. When Thelma found out what my mother had done to that old bird she nearly had a fit, since she loved birds so much. This caused a rift between Thelma and my mother that lasted until Thelma's death and they never spoke again.

At the time of her death, Thelma left most of her money to charity, The Audubon Society, I believe, to the tune of about $5 million dollars....and my mother got a small check of $1,000 from Aunt Thelma's estate, probably just to irritate my mother. I remember my mom endorsing the check and giving it to me because she said she didn't want Aunt Thelma's money! It's so sad that they ended their relationship that way, especially because of some old rooster!

By the way, my mother's version of the story was that Aunt Thelma asked her to kill, clean and roast that old bird for dinner, but I learned many years later from my cousins in Arizona, that my mother's version of the story was much different than Aunt Thelma's who denied ever asking my mom to do away with the bird!

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Thelma Josephine McKinney Riess's Timeline

November 5, 1899
Safford, Graham, Arizona, United States
January 16, 1990
Age 90
Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona, United States
January 1990
Age 90
Safford, Graham, Arizona, United States