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Alphonse Degrugillier

Alphonse Louis Joseph Degrugillier was born in Ferfay, a small village in the coal mining region of Pas-de-Calais Department in northern France in March of 1860. The broader Degrugillier family appears to have been centered in the town of Burbure about 10 km northeast of Ferfay. Other Degrugilliers there included Alphonse's probable parents, Jean-Baptiste Joseph Degrugillier (1822-1904) and Rosalie Joseph Bailleul (1818-1874); they were farmers, but some of his relatives worked in the local coal mine.

Alphonse worked at the mine as well, but when he was 17 he was injured in a mining accident. A broken conveyor belt threw him into a pulley, crushing a knee so badly that his leg had to be amputated. In compensation the mining company provided him with business training and a secure but boring job tallying rail cars. After he worked at this job for a short time the mining company offered him the opportunity to choose between a lifetime pension and a lump sum payment. He decided to take the payment and to emigrate to Argentina in 1887. However, in a last minute change of plans he decided to join another family from the area, the Desannoys, who were about to leave for America. During the voyage he became better acquainted with a younger daughter of the family, Aline (Eileen) Camille Desannoy (1870-1958). Still accompanying the Desannoys, he arrived in Seneca, Illinois, where work was available for coal miners, and in 1888 he and Aline Desannoy were married.

After a couple of years, labor unrest in Illinois and the news that good jobs were opening up for miners in the developing iron mining industry in Northern Minnesota caused the family group to relocate to Soudan (Breitung), Minnesota. There Alphonse worked for the Oliver Iron Mining Company for 35 years, from 1890 until his retirement in 1925. At first he worked in the open pit, and then underground, but his disability made this difficult. The company then employed him as a blacksmith and eventually found him a less physically demanding maintenance job in the dry house.

During these years in Soudan he and his wife Aline raised a large family. Nine children were born to them, seven growing to adulthood: Marie (Mary) Agatha (1891-1985), Jeanne (1893-1894), Henri (1897-1929), Maurice Adelard (1900-1968), Alice Jeanne (1903-2003), Alphonse Linwood (1907-1991), Adeline (1909), Paul David (1912-1963), and Aline (1914-1915).

Alphonse was an expert gardener, growing many vegetables to help feed his family, and was renowned for his ornamental flowers, regularly winning prizes in local competitions. His other love, and his hobby of many years, was his mineral collection. From his early years with the Oliver Mining Company, he collected not only the attractive quartz crystals for which the Soudan mine is known, but also other mineral specimens that interested him. When the mining engineers picked up samples of something interesting, Alphonse would collect one for himself. Even when he no longer worked underground, his interest in minerals was well known, and his friends would bring him specimens they knew he would appreciate. The collection grew, and when he died on October 4, 1941 it was left to his daughter Alice, the child who had shared his interest in minerals, and who had been his helper in maintaining the collection.

Over the years some of his specimens had been given to various family members and friends, but the rest had been packed away untouched. In 1997, Alice Degrugillier Matson decided that the best possible repository for her father's collection was the Soudan mine itself, where park visitors might observe and learn from these specimens collected during its earlier years of mining activity. Today the collection forms the bulk of specimens currently on display at the mine visitors' center.

US Federal Census.
Minnesota Territorial Census.
Minnesota Death Index.
Minnesota Birth Index.
Soudan Mine Visitors' Center.
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