DUBUQUE, Iowa — In 2002, 6-year-old Nicholas Avenarius had a theory for why his great-great grandfather’s pocket watch should someday be his.

“Because I like it,” he told the Telegraph Herald at the time.

Flash-forward 15 years to a 21-year-old Nicholas sitting in his grandfather Paul Demkier’s living room in Dubuque, looking nervous to even touch the family heirloom. It’s now traveled through five generations.

“I’ve never really touched it,” Nicholas admitted Wednesday. “I don’t want to break it. Usually we keep it in this little bag and locked up.”

The 14-carat gold pocket watch and case was given by family matriarch Elisie Demkier to her son John Demkier on his 21st birthday. It is engraved with the words “J. Demkier, from his mother on his 21st birthday, May 2, 1889.”

Coincidentally, Nicholas was born May 2, 1996, exactly 128 years after his great-great grandfather John. Nicholas’ mother, Dawn Avenarius, was born in 1968, 100 years after John.

Tradition calls for the firstborn son to receive the watch from his father on the son’s 21st birthday. John gave the watch to his son Harold, who passed it on to Paul. But Paul had no sons, so the watch went to Dawn.

“When (my father) first gave me the watch, it didn’t mean that much because I didn’t have kids yet,” Dawn said. “But when I had Nicholas and saw the dates, I couldn’t believe it.”

The original certificate providing a serial number from the Dueber Watch Case Manufacturing Co. is in rough shape. But it still is legible after almost 13 decades.

Paul said he had the watch cleaned and a new crystal put in when he passed it on to Dawn.

“It’s really neat that I’m the first mother who got to give (the pocket watch) to her son since Elisie,” Dawn said. “Now he has a daughter he might give it to someday.”

Nicholas said he’d be happy to pass the watch to his 2-year-old daughter, Ella. But if he has a son, the watch will go to him.

“That’s been the tradition,” he said.

Paul said he had the watch appraised years ago and knows that it’s worth “enough.”

“We just told (Nicholas) that he can’t use it toward a new truck,” Dawn said while laughing. “Oh, I’d kill him if he even thought about it.”

The Demkier family seems to pass down more than pocket watches. Paul retired from John Deere Dubuque Works on Jan. 1, 2000. Dawn and Nicholas both work there now.

Dawn works in the skid-steer department and Nicholas is a welder.

“We’re so proud of (Nicholas),” Dawn said. “He finished Hempstead in 2014 and then the welding program at NICC. He’s just a great worker and a great father. He deserves this.”

Nicholas said the watch and its velvet carrying case will probably go back into the safe-deposit box. But the new homeowner recently received a safe as a housewarming gift from his mother.

“Once you get everything organized we can probably move it over there,” Dawn said.

Paul, who turns 72 today, said they just don’t make things like they used to.

“(The pocket watch) is warrantied for 20 years and it’s still ticking,” he said.


Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Telegraph Herald.