Biography of Elmer Lavinius Luck

Sheila Luck

Edmonton, Alberta


Please see the accompanying dissertation. Hover over any image to see an enlarged version. Right-click and open in new window to see larger version.


My grandfather, Elmer Lavinius Luck, was born May 1, 1883 in Beeton, Ontario, Canada. His father Levinus Henry Luck was a school teacher, perhaps setting an example for his only child Elmer to follow. As a young man he attended Albert College in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. He graduated with several prizes for academic excellence, as well as serving as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. He also was by now an accomplished performer on both the mandolin and banjo, which he had begun playing at a young age.

Using his scholarship funds he attended the University of Toronto from 1901-1906 earning a BA in Modern Languages. According to his 1906 yearbook, he was a cartoonist for the university literary magazine, and president of the Mandolin Club for two years. His first wife, Annie Ethel Egan and he were married December 22, 1906 and their two daughters were born in 1907 and 1910. Elmer began working on his second degree from the University of Toronto in 1908, graduating in 1910 with an MA in Modern Languages. After working as a schoolteacher for the next two years, he resigned the summer of 1912 and moved his young family to Germany to, in his words, "make my dream come true and study New Philology at the University of Leipzig". As well as being an intellectual, Elmer had business acumen; he funded this adventure with money he earned from savvy real estate dealings.

Sadly, his wife Ethel would die in Leipzig on April 2, 1914. Suffering from "concealed Tuberculosis" as it was called, she languished for a full year, enduring three surgeries. Unimaginably to me, Elmer still managed to complete his doctorate by the summer of 1914, despite the trauma of becoming a widower. On August 4, 1914, Great Britain, ergo Canada, declared war on Germany. Any Canadian citizens then living in Germany, being enemy aliens, were expelled. This included the student Elmer Luck, ten days shy of being formally awarded his doctorate from the University of Leipzig. After house arrest, he was formally arrested and detained at Chemnitz. He was released in April of 1915, returning to Canada under a prisoner-of-war exchange. Once home, being declared unfit for duty, he gave talks about his war experience and donated all the proceeds from these talks to the Red Cross.

He also remarried, wedding Mary Elizabeth Flint, my grandmother, on August 11, 1915. She was a fellow Canadian whom he had met in Leipzig. Mary was studying piano at the Royal Conservatory along with her sister, who was there studying the violin. Elmer and Mary had three children together, the middle one being my father, Elmer Clarence. The rest of his life was spent in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where, as well as teaching Modern Languages at Victoria High School, he maintained a very active involvement in the musical community of Edmonton. For several years he was the director of three different mandolin orchestras. He played organ in his church, and conducted a choir. By 1931 his health had seriously declined, and he died in hospital in Edmonton, February 10, 1932, at the age of 49. My father was then six years old.

When my father died in 1990, my eldest sister was delegated family archivist and the bound thesis we had all been told about growing up remained in a box in her basement. Six years ago I decided to scan the thesis, worried about a flooded basement and hence the possible ruination of the almost one hundred years old original and only thesis. The family lore, repeated for decades, was that the topic of the thesis had something to do with Beowulf. Imagine my surprise to discover this was not correct! As I began investigating my grandfather's life I realized that this work, that had cost this man so much, had never been published, never been read, let alone shared with other scholars. What has compelled me to try and get this thesis published is an admiration I feel for my grandfather's resolve and commitment in pursuing his goal. The subject is lofty and esoteric and though unlikely to become popular, this thesis deserves to be appreciated and studied by fellow academics and anyone with an interest in phonology and dialects. By facilitating this I hope I will have made my grandfather's dream realized after all.