Retired 24th Judicial District of Jefferson Parish Judge Joseph F. Grefer and his granddaughter Emily Grefer, who currently lives in Edinburgh, Scotland shared a visit to the Gretna Historical Society Museum Complex where the judge is a popular member of the preservation society. They were especially interested in visiting the Creole Cottage known as the Kitty Strehle House so the 91-year-old judge could share his memories of a rocking chair that is featured in the bedroom there.
The house was named for Miss Catherine Strehle who was called “Aunt Kitty” by her family. She was an educator who taught school for 57 years and had a Jefferson Parish school once named after her, Catherine Strehle Elementary. She died in 1939 at age 81 shortly after a fall from her porch.
Born in 1930, “Joe” Grefer was related to the Strehle family and in Kitty Strehle’s first grade class at Gretna No. 2 Elementary School when he was six years-old. In the afternoons, routinely all the children took a nap. She rocked young Joe in her lap to sleep every day in the same rocking chair featured in the Kitty house today.
Judge Joe said his cousin, Lois McCune, also an educator, inherited the rocker from their cousin, Kitty Strehle and upon McCune’s death, it was passed down to him. The chair has special memories for the 91 year-old. He, and his late wife donated the chair to the Gretna Historical Society for the museum.
Joe Grefer’s and Kitty Strehle’s mothers were friends and their fathers hunted together. Sadly both fathers died very young.
Emily Grefer, a graduate of Dominican High School in 2012 and LSU in 2016 is 27 years old and works as a marketing consultant in Scotland. Raised in Gretna, she is the oldest daughter of Judge Joe’s youngest son, Judicial District Court Judge Stephen C. Grefer and Maureen Grefer.
“After college, I wanted to continue traveling, so I did my master’s degree at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland! I really loved it, so I stayed for another four years, and counting!” Emily said.
“I loved being able to spend an afternoon touring the Gretna Historical Society with my grandfather. He was really fond of his Great Aunt Kitty, so it was especially interesting to see where she lived. I never knew how important she was to so many Gretna students until we saw the newspaper clippings honoring her retirement. My grandfather said that when she taught him, she would rock him to sleep during nap time, much to the dismay of a few other students! So to sit in and see her rocking chair so many years later was a very special experience,” she said.
There is a lot more history in the Grefer family tree, including scary stories about the “Grefer House” and Julia Grefer Faucher, Judge Joe’s great grandmother. According to information from Judge Joe and pictures from the Gretna Historical Society, the house was built in 1827 and sold in 1860. It was resold in 1875 to the Grefer family where they lived until 1953. The story goes, as the spooky pictures show, is that the ghost of Julia is still roaming the house. If you look closely at the two photos, you can see what appears to be the silhouette of a woman in the window.
The home is still there, but is now part of the Rathborne property. It was located on Grefer Lane between the railroad tracks and the river. The street sign has been removed but the home remains. Judge Grefer said you could probably go inside if you asked!