Captain Tirrell J. Ferrenz

Tirrell J. Ferrenz, Captain, Engineers, was a twenty-eight year old architect and lawyer when World War I started.  He was born (July 1889) in Springfield, Ohio, the eldest child of 1st generation German immigrants. He graduated from Springfield High School in 1906 and entered Chicago’s Armour Institute of Engineering, which would later become the engineering school of the Univ. of Illinois, Chicago.


Upon graduation from Armour in 1910 he became a licensed, practicing architect and was employed by a Chicago based structural engineering firm.  Large industrial complexes and manufacturing plants would become his areas of specialization.  In 1913 he began evening classes at the Univ. of Illinois law school.  In 1917 he received his JD, and was admitted to the Illinois bar.


At the outbreak of World War I Tirrell J. Ferrenz enlisted as a sergeant in US Army.  He was immediately sent to Engineering Officers School at Camp Lee, VA.  Upon completion he was promoted to 2nd lieutenant, Engineers and assigned to the newly formed 604th Engineer Regiment at Camp Grant, Illinois.  Over the next year he would be promoted twice.  While the 604th was stationed at Camp Leach, Washington, D.C. Captain Ferrenz was assigned as the regiment’s adjutant – or chief administrative officer - a position he held until after the war when the regiment returned home and was disbanded.  


Immediately after the armistice was signed Captain Ferrenz was detailed for temporary duty with the Allied Armistice Commission.  His duties included calculating the replacement costs of infrastructure destroyed by the German hostilities.  Ironically, historians now recognize the tremendous burden of financial reparations placed upon Germany by the Treaty of Versailles was a significant factor in the equation that would ultimately lead to World War II.


Prior to the war Tirrell J. Ferrenz had been engaged to Mabel Bartholomew, an elementary school teacher, who was originally from Vermont, IL.  Because of wartime uncertainties they ended their engagement when he joined the Army.  However, when he returned to Chicago they were promptly reengaged and ultimately married in July 1920.  They would produce two children, Robert (my father) and Martha. By today’s standards of email and instant messaging, their wartime correspondence (multi-page love letters, brief notes, lines of poetry) is remarkable for both content and volume.


After the war Tirrell J. Ferrenz re-joined his engineering firm.  He also joined the Army Reserve and would serve until 1939, attaining the rank of Major.  Like a great many Americans, he was severely affected by the stock market crash of October of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.  He lost his job and his family of four lost their home in the Chicago suburb of Willamette.  After Mr. Roosevelt’s election and the enactment of The New Deal, the Ferrenz family relocated to Washington, DC where he became an administrator in the new Federal Housing Administration.  He retired in 1955 and died in September of 1973 at the age of eighty-four.  At the time of his death he was survived by both of his children, eight grandchildren, and one great grandson.


After his death a steamer trunk was discovered that contained an enormous quantity of personal and family history related material.  Inside the trunk were his boots, belts, hats, and assorted paraphernalia from his war years.  Additionally, several dozen photographs that he took of the 604th Engineers were inside the trunk.  Many of the photos include a sentence or two on the back that relate to the subject photo.  He also saved a bound record of 604th Engineers – seemingly every significant piece of paper that crossed his desk – approximately 1000 pages - including:  personnel orders, courts martial records, promotions, etc.


Throughout his life he was extremely proud of his military service while a member of 604th Engineers and, when asked, would talk about his wartime experiences – but only in general terms.  As far as he was concerned, former soldiers with war stories to tell, “those who served at the front, typically don’t tell them.  And those soldiers that tell stories most likely made them up.” 


Christopher B. Ferrenz

Chevy Chase, MD

February 2004


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