Finding my Sutter roots: Walenstadt, Switzerland

Lake Walensee, Walendstadt
My husband, Gary Brandt, and I on the shore of Lake Walensee in Walenstadt, Switzerland.

My husband, Gary Brandt, and I recently spent time in Switzerland in what I’m calling our “Finding Our Roots” trip.

Both Gary and I have family roots in Switzerland, and we set out to visit some of our ancestors’ birthplaces. One of them was Walenstadt, from whence came my great-great-great-grandmother Ursula Marie Hugg, who emigrated from there to the United States.

Before I go into the family history, let me describe for you the beauty of the area.

Walenstadt (pronunced vah-len-schtadt) is located in the Canton of St. Gallen. (A canton is what we’d refer to as a state in this country.)

Lake Walensee
A man rows a boat in Lake Walensee.

The town sits on the northeastern edge of beautiful Lake Walensee, (pronounced vah-len-see) surrounded by amazing mountains (Churfirsten on the north and Murtschenstock on the south). The population of Walenstadt is about 5,500 and consists of a few hotels and small businesses and homes.  Summer cottages dot the shores of the lakefront with forests and farms encircling the lake.

Lake Walensee
The beachfront of Lake Walensee with majestic Churfirsten mountains in the background.

We drove down from the city of St. Gallen (stay tuned for a blog on that city), and we parked at a little beachfront park, where kids were playing on the sand and families were picnicking on a sunny, 60-degree day.

The beauty practically took my breath away: the deep blue water, the snow-capped mountains high above everywhere you looked, the trees blossoming with green leaves.


Hotel Seehoff
The Hotel Seehoff with outdoor patio.

We arrived in late morning and walked around the lake side, took photos, and then sat down for lunch in the covered patio area of the Hotel Seehof. I couldn’t resist ordering the Wiener Schnitzel (a traditional dish of breaded veal) with potatoes, carrots and green beans. So delicious. I ordered it with a Coca Cola, because that’s what I’d been seeing everyone in Switzerland drinking. The Coke comes in glass bottles there! Loved it.

Wiener Schnitzel
My amazing lunch of Wiener Schnitzel, vegetables and a bottle of Coca Cola!

Gary ordered the Club Sandwich. It was huge, with layers of pineapple, chicken and thick bacon. He declared it the best Club Sandwich he’d ever had.

The view of the lake and the mountains from our table was picture perfect. Gary told our waitress, a middle-aged woman who spoke decent English, that my family came from Walenstadt. (By the way, German is the spoken language in this part of Switzerland.)

Waitress at Hotel Seehof
The friendly waitress at the Hotel Seehof restaurant who recognized some of my family’s surnames.

Our waitress then brought over another waitress who spoke better English and wore a beaming smile. I showed her a paper I’d brought that had some of my family tree on it, and she told me there are families named Hugg (pronounced Hoog) and Schlegel in the area. I suspect those are common last names in Switzerland, as is Sutter.

Here’s the family history:

Usula Marie Hugg was born in Walenstadt  on June 20, 1830 to Josef Hugg and Maria Anna Schlegel.

Maria Shlegel Hugg
My great-great-great-great-grandmother Maria Schlegel Hugg.

Ursula married her husband, Charles Frederick Sophus Enger,  in St. Louis, Mo., on Oct. 3, 1850.  He was 30 (having been born in Schleswig-Holstein, Prussia in 1820). She was 20. From there, they settled in Burlington, Iowa, my hometown. How they met, why they lived in Burlington, I don’t know and may never know.

Regardless, Ursula and Charles had eight children: Lena, Sophia, Charles, Joseph, John, Mary Ann (Anna), George and Albert.

From left, four generations: Ursula Hugg Enger, Gertrude Sutter, Anna Schlacter Sutter, Sophie Enger Schlacter.

Sophia married a man named Adrian Schlachter and they had a daughter named Anna. Anna married my great-grandfather,  Joseph Robert Sutter, and that’s how the two families became aligned. Anna and Joseph’s children were Clarence Joseph, Ray (my grandfather), Gertrude and Ursula.

Charles Enger (the father) died in 1906 and his wife, Ursula Hugg Enger, died in 1907.

Back to our day in Walenstadt: After our delicious lunch, we walked along the northern edge of the waterfront, watching the kids and adults enjoying their day at the lake. We looked at the signs about the area, written in German (I took photos in hopes of translating them later).

Swiss Reformed Church in the town of Walenstadt, Switzerland.
Swiss Reformed Church in the town of Walenstadt, Switzerland.

As we were driving away through the town, we passed a beautiful old stone Swiss Reformed Church, and I had Gary stop the car so I could take pictures.

Lake Walensee
View of Lake Walensee as we drove west along the southern shore, on our way to Bern.

It was a memorable day, and I tried to just soak it all in. As we drove away on our way to Bern, I thought about about how my great-great-grandmother left this beautiful area either as a child or a young woman, and probably never returned. Did she miss those mountains and that clear blue water and think about them? Undoubtedly!





St. Joseph’s strong connection to the Sutter family

St. Joseph
Christ learning carpentry from St. Joseph Photo credit: Fr. Lawrence Lew O.P.


March 19 is St. Joseph’s Day  and I got to thinking about all the Sutters who have “Joseph” as either their first or middle name.

I’m not sure why that is, and all my ancestors that I could ask are gone.  The family tree I have goes back just to 1816, with the birth of my great-great-great-grandfather, Ambrose Sutter, born about 1816 in the canton of St. Gallen, Switzerland.

He and his wife, Amelia Gaertner (also listed as Amanza and Amanda) had a son they named Robert Joseph Sutter, born Nov. 1, 1845 also in the canton of St. Gallen.

Why Joseph? Perhaps for religious reasons. St. Joseph of course was the husband of Mary the Blessed Virgin Mother and the foster father of Jesus.  In the Old Testament, Joseph is the 11th son of Jacob, and Joseph has been immortalized for modern-day audiences in the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

According to the website Behind the Name,  Josef is the spelling that Germans used, and German is the language spoken in northeastern Switzerland.  Perhaps Robert Joseph anglicized his middle name when he came to the United States.

Joseph Sutter, Robert Sutter
From left at back, Joseph R. Sutter and sister Anna around 1890. In front, Robert Joseph, Ida, Anna holding Robert Boniface.

Robert Joseph and his wife, Christina Dallinger, immigrated to Burlington, Iowa, and named their first-born son, Joseph Robert Sutter, my great-grandfather, who went on to found Sutter Drug Co.

Joe and his wife had two sons: Clarence Joseph (called C.J.) and Raymond Otto, my grandfather.

C.J. Sutter and Raymond Otto Sutter
Clarence Joseph and Raymond Otto Sutter in 1950 at Sutter Drug cigar counter. 

Ray and his wife, Rubye, named their first-born Raymond Joseph, who was my father. Everyone called him “Joe,” no doubt to differentiate him from his father, Ray. My dad always listed his name as R. Joseph or R. Joe on documents.

David, Joe, parents Rubye and Ray, Bill Sutter in the 1940s.

The name Joseph continued into a fourth generation of Sutters, when my parents named my brother, Andrew Joseph aka Drew.

Drew Sutter Jane Sutter
Drew (Andrew Joseph) and me at Mosquito Park in Burlington, Iowa.

To go back to St. Joseph, he was a carpenter and is the patron saint of all workers. I like that connection, as I know my family and ancestors to be hard workers, too. Certainly my great-grandfather was industrious, not just founding Sutter Drugs but growing it into a successful business with various locations, with his legacy carried on by his sons and grandsons as pharmacists.

Click here to learn more about St. Joseph.


Des Moines County Historical Society seeks wedding photos

1920s flapper wedding dress
Rubye Ekstrom married Raymond Sutter on Sept. 24, 1924.

I just love this photo of my maternal grandmother, Rubye Ekstrom Sutter. She married my grandfather, Raymond Otto Sutter, on Sept. 24, 1924 at St. John the Baptist Church in Burlington, Iowa.

How cool that she wore a flapper-style hat and dress. She was 25 years old. I don’t have a lot of memories of her, as she died on her 60th birthday on May 13, 1964, when I was 5 years old. I do recall that when I visited her at her home at 1515 N. Eighth St., that we would walk down the alley to Heinie’s Grocery at Ninth and Oak streets where she’d buy candy for me.

I have this photo in a frame in my office, and I recently shared it with the Des Moines County Historical Society, for its upcoming “Desserts by Design.”

I’ve never attended the event, as I haven’t been in Burlington when it’s been held in the past. It’s an annual event (held April 19 in 2018) and sounds delicious! This year’s theme is “Wedding Customs: 1900 to 1950.” The planning committee is seeking photos from 1900 to 1950, including photos of the bride and groom, the wedding party or the general event.

wedding party 1952
Barbara Louden married R. Joseph (Joe) Sutter on Sept. 27, 1952. Harriet Jones and Pat Curley were attendants.

I also shared this photo of my parents from their wedding, which was Sept. 27, 1952 also at St. John’s. According to the  news clipping that I have, my mother wore a “white strapless ballerina gown of nylon tulle and imported Chantilly lace over satin, the bride carried an arrangement of white roses centered with a white orchid.  Her gown was styled with a basque bodice with a white lace Spencer jacket with long pointed sleeves and bouffant skirt bordered with Chantilly lace. A bonnet of white satin with lace ruffles and seed pearl held her fingertip veil of imported silk illusion in place.”

I just love how newspapers used to write these long stories about weddings, what the bridal party wore, who attended, etc.

The maid of honor was my mother’s good friend, Harriet Jones (who later became Harriet Shetler), and friend Pat Curley was the bridesmaid. Too bad this photo isn’t in color, as the newspaper stated: “They were dressed in companion gowns of Nile green and emerald green with short-sleeved Spencer jackets and matching tiaras. They carried bouquets of rust pompons with wheat and green velvet leaves.” I’m sure my mother picked that color scheme with the idea that the colors epitomized a fall wedding.

Do you have wedding photos from that era? If so, you can email them to or Or you can take them to the Heritage Center Museum, 501 N. Fourth, to be digitized on site. They need submissions by March 1 to be considered for the slide show that will play during the event.

Questions or for more information on the event, call 319-752-7449.

Joe Sutter’s B&L science award connects Iowa to Rochester

Bausch+Lomb, University of Rochester
Joe Sutter won this award in the early 1940s while a student at Burlington, Iowa, High School.

A few years ago when my siblings and I were going through some things of my dad (Joe) after he passed away, we found a small brown case. When we opened it up, we found a gold medallion featuring a woman who appeared to be dressed in a traditional Greek robe.

Engraved on the medallion were the words “Bausch & Lomb Honorary Science Award.” We asked our mother about it. “Oh yes,” she recalled. “Your dad won that when he was in high school.” My mother didn’t know my dad then, but she recalled that his mother, Rubye Ekstrom Sutter, had told her that when Dad won the award, he was so modest that he came home from school, didn’t mention it, and just started mowing the lawn at their home on Summer Street.  Apparently he told his parents about it later!

The award specifically caught my attention because I now live in Rochester, N.Y., where Bausch & Lomb was founded and still has a plant.

Turns out that Bausch + Lomb (as the company is now called) has been giving out this science award to high school juniors since 1933. The history is on the company’s website; the criteria involves academic excellence in rigorous  high school science classes.

This is one of the few photos I have of my dad when he was in high school. He looks snazzy in his band uniform.

I’m sure my dad did well in his science classes; it was in his blood as he was the son and grandson of pharmacists (Ray and Joseph R. respectively) and he was bound for the University of Iowa Pharmacy College. Interestingly, by being awarded the B&L honor, he was eligible to compete for a scholarship at the University of Rochester. I doubt that he had any interest in leaving Iowa for upstate New York, and he didn’t have a clue that his future daughter would end up living here.

When I worked at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, we had a saying that “There’s always a Rochester connection” when it came to big, national news stories. So it’s amusing to me that my dad had a Rochester connection, but unfortunately I never knew about it until after he passed away.  He never mentioned it and I’m sure the award was long forgotten.

Looking at the medallion, I’m wondering who is this woman on it? Anyone got a clue?


My dad’s award came nestled in this nice wood case on a bed of velvet.

Remembering Ray Sutter, my grandfather

Raymond Sutter in the Sutter Drug Store in West Burlington in the 1960s.

I’ve written several columns about my father,  Raymond Joseph (Joe) Sutter, so for Father’s Day, I’ve decided to write about my grandfather, Raymond Otto Sutter.

I remember Grandpa Sutter quite well, as he was a part of my life until I was almost 17 years old. Ray was the second son of Joseph. R. Sutter, my great-grandfather, who founded Sutter Drug Co. Ray was the first of the Sutters to graduate from the University of Iowa; he graduated in June 1921 with what was then called a PHG (Pharmacy Graduate) degree.

Ray Sutter on Jefferson Street in the 1920s.

A newspaper article touted his accomplishments, including being vice president of the senior class, chairman of the Iowa Memorial Union drive conducted in the College of Pharmacy, and a member of Delta Tau Delta and Phi Delta Chi.

“Perhaps the honor that he values highest is the membership that he won in the American Pharmaceutical Association that was given in recognition of a thesis on organic drugs, a prize that was offered by Dean Teeters of the university, ” the article stated. Ray was put in charge of the Sutter Drug store located at Eighth and Jefferson streets, which had been purchased in 1920 when it was Froid’s Drug Store.

When I was a kid, Grandpa lived in the house at 1515 N. Eighth St., not far from where my family lived at 912 N. Seventh St. He inherited the house from his father, who had built it in the 1920s, overlooking the Mississippi River. His father died in 1948, and in 1949, Grandpa oversaw a major remodeling of the flagship store at the corner of Jefferson and Third streets. Plans for that remodeling were at least being discussed in 1948, and it fell to Grandpa to see them through, which by all accounts, was a big deal for downtown Burlington. Hundreds came for a three-day celebration; it didn’t hurt that the store remodeling was revealed in August, and air conditioning had been installed!

Ray Sutter around 1940. I think he looks very handsome with his mustache!

Grandpa’s wife, Rubye (my grandmother), died on her 65th birthday in 1964. Grandpa was very active in the Knights of Columbus (fourth degree) and the Rotary club and Elks and Eagles lodges.

I remember he loved to grow roses and play cards, as noted in a 1972 article written by Lloyd Maffitt for The Hawk Eye newspaper. “I love to play rummy,” (Sutter) declared. “I love gardening, too — I gave up golf for gardening.”

Despite dramatic changes in the pharmaceutical profession, “we still have a few old-time customers who come in for refills on prescriptions that no one else has used for years. They request elixers given them by family doctors who died 30 years ago.”

Rubye and Ray Sutter in 1947 in the yard of their home at 537 Summer St., where they lived before moving to North Eighth.

“The introduction of antibiotics is by far the biggest improvement I’ve seen in my 50 years of pharmacy,” Sutter declared. 

And what will be the next major pharmaceutical breakthrough? “I don’t know,” said Sutter with a smile. “But when it comes, we’ll be ready for it.”

When I was in high school and I worked at the soda fountain, Grandpa Sutter was getting rather frail. But he still came to the drug store every day, although he no longer filled prescriptions. He would walk up the tiny staircase to the office that overlooked the store, and come down at lunch time for a sandwich and a cup of coffee. He always had a great smile and sense of humor.

He passed away at age 75 on Oct. 21, 1975 at Burlington Memorial Hospital.

Sutter’s Swedish S cookies are Christmas tradition

The Swedish S cookies melt in your mouth.
The Swedish S cookies melt in your mouth.

Every family has their favorite holiday recipes, passed down through the generations. In my family, one of them is the Swedish S cookie. When I was a small child, I thought that every family had a cookie made into the letter of their last name, because we Sutters had the Swedish S cookie. S would be for Sutter, right?

You can see this cookie gun is quite old!
You can see this cookie gun is quite old!



“Swedish S’s” as we call them are a melt-in-your-mouth butter cookie. I’ve heard them called Spritz cookies when they’re not shaped as an S. Every Christmas, the Swedish S cookies were a staple. My mother would make a couple batches (each batch makes about 170 cookies!), using the cookie gun that had been used by my paternal grandmother, Rubye Ekstrom Sutter.

The cookie gun has a variety of attachments to make different shapes of cookies.
The cookie gun has a variety of attachments to make different shapes of cookies.

Now I make them every Christmas using the hand-written recipe from my mother and that same cookie gun. My Rochester, N.Y., family and friends love the Swedish S’s, too. My grandmother was Swedish and I assume this is her family’s recipe.

Cookies ready for baking.
Cookies ready for baking.

Here’s the recipe for Swedish S’s:

1 lb. butter (as my mother says, “Be sure to use real butter!”), just soft enough for mixing, not melted.

2 cups powdered sugar

2 eggs at room temperature

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. almond extract

4 1/2 to 5 cups flour

1 rounding tsp. baking powder (be sure baking powder is not outdated)

Cream butter and sugar together in bowl of electric mixer. Add eggs and flavoring, and mix. Mix baking powder into flour, and add flour slowly to mix all ingredients thoroughly. Chill dough for about 10 minutes in refrigerator. Put dough through cookie press and form cookies on parchment paper-covered baking sheets.

Bake in oven that’s been pre-heated to 375 degrees. Bake until cookies are lightly brown on top, about 8 minutes.

My grandmother, Rubye, died in 1964 on her 60th birthday. I was only 5 years old. But her legacy lives on in so many ways, especially these cookies. I think she would get a kick out of that!

I’d love to hear about your family’s cookie baking traditions.

My grandparents Rubye Ekstrom Sutter and Ray Sutter in the 1940s.
My grandparents Rubye Ekstrom Sutter and Ray Sutter in the 1940s.

Meet Le Lucht, granddaughter of Robert Boniface Sutter

From left at back, Joseph R. Sutter and sister Anna around 1890. In front, Robert Joseph , Ida, Anna holding Robert Boniface.
From left at back, Joseph R. Sutter and sister Anna around 1890. In front, Robert Joseph , Ida, Anna holding Robert Boniface.

What a blast I had meeting a cousin whom I didn’t know I had. Her name is Le Scurr Lucht, and her grandfather is the baby in the photo above.

Her grandfather is Robert Boniface Sutter, and he is the half-brother of my great-grandfather, Joseph Robert Sutter, also in the photo at back left. Robert Joseph Sutter was their father, but they had different mothers. Joseph’s mother (Christine Dahlinger Sutter) died in 1879 and Robert married Anna Miele. She was the mother of Le’s grandfather and his sister, ida.

Le Lucht, right, and me at the Burlington Public Library. (Photo shot by Russ Fry.)
Le Scurr Lucht, right, and me at the Burlington Public Library. (Photo shot by Russ Fry.)

Anyway, I was so excited to hear from Le this past summer when she called me out of the blue one day. She had purchased a copy of my book on Sutter Drug Co., and called to see if I had any other photos of her dad as a child. Unfortunately, I do not, but we talked about getting together sometime in Burlington.

That sometime happened in September, when Le drove seven hours (that’s dedication!) from Minnesota to meet me when I was in Burlington for a few days. We sat at a table at the Burlington Public Library for a few hours, sharing our family history (le brought photos, newspaper clippings, funeral programs, etc.), then we drove over to Sacred Heart Cemetery so I could show her the Sutter graves. ( Many other Sutters — including Robert — and relatives are buried at Aspen Grove Cemetery.)

Here are the highlights of some of the things I learned from Le:

Robert Boniface Sutter
Robert Boniface Sutter


Le’s mother was named Catherine Louise Sutter and she was the daughter of Robert Boniface and Henrietta Adams Sutter. Robert worked for the Burlington Railroad for 44 years. Le told me that Robert’s work took the family to Galesburg, Ottumwa, Burlington and Hannibal. He was critically injured in an accident on Friday, June 12, 1953 at the Burlington Shops in Hannibal, Mo., where he was a foreman.

According to a newspaper clipping, Robert “sustained a broken leg, broken hip and seven broken ribs when a corner of a heavy machine reportedly struck him as it fell.” He lived for six weeks

Henrietta Adams Sutter
Henrietta Adams Sutter

after the accident before dying on July 23, 1953. Le was 4 years old then.

Le’s mother, Catherine, married Howard Scurr on Feb. 26, 1940 in Ottumwa. Howard was a dentist, and Catherine was a nurse. He and Catherine had two sons and two daughters, and Le is one of the daughters; her full name is Henrietta Le.

They lived in Oskaloosa until Howard bought a dental practice in the F&M Bank building in Burlington, and Le finished her last two years of high school at Burlington High. Both are deceased.

Catherine Sutter Scurr
Catherine Sutter Scurr

Le met her future husband, Larry Lucht, when they were both teens. They live in Worthington, Minn., where he’s a lawyer and she taught Spanish for many years and now is involved in diversity programs at a local college. (You can read more about Le’s career here.) They have two sons and a daughter.

Le and I are going to work on creating a more extended family tree. Both of us are puzzled as to why the extended family of Sutters grew apart; perhaps it was because Joseph Robert was 17 years  older than Robert Boniface. Now it’s time for their descendants to get to know each other.

More to come!