My wife and I visited Mildred Williams just as she began to celebrate her 105th birthday with her family and friends. It was a sort of review of a whole lifetime since I had known her most of my own life, which was a major part of her life. She was one of my Sunday school teachers at the Presbyterian Church in my early years and an ever-present figure throughout our church life.
She told of her memories as life around her changed over more than a century. She had grown up on a large dairy farm in Indiana County where she and her seven siblings also raised and sold potatoes and fruit. She either walked or rode horseback to Marion Center High School so she could participate in chorus and other school activities. She enrolled at Indiana State Teachers College and began a short career of teaching in local one-room schools.
After her marriage to George Williams, she came to Brockway as he followed his career in banking. In her new town, she immersed herself in the community and was honored over the years for her efforts in conservation, the local Girl Scouts, and a wide variety of community and church activities. She had many memories to share with others. Mildred passed away on October 10, 2017, at the age of 107.
I have now been interviewing people for about 30 years, many of whom have since passed away bringing a conclusion to their tales from the past. The first of these interviews may have been with the late Ed and LaReve Anderson, a farm couple from Anderson Road in the Lanes Mills area. They had expanded their labors by establishing a Brockway feed store to their lives. They purchased the Glass Company office building, now home to Napa Auto Parts on Main Street, and renovated it into the “Farm and Home Center” selling Agway products. When they retired, they sold the store to Gene Edgington (and later sold to Terry Felt). They had many memories to share with others.
The late Leon “Robbie” Robertson was an engineer for Brockway Glass who developed long-lasting furnaces for the benefit of the company. A story goes that he was so anxious to have a particular furnace back into operation, that he was the first to crawl in, inspect it, and take pictures. When he crawled out, those waiting all walked around to the back where a big hole was being dug. When they all looked down in the hole, there was a laborer standing at the bottom with his head on his hands, sleeping on his shovel. As they watched, he awakened, looked up, and it was reported that no one has ever seen dirt fly out of a hole any faster than what that guy pitched. Robbie and his co-workers had many other memories to share with others.
The late Irv Keith came to Brockway from Altoona and opened a tin shop in a former theater building on Main Street where his family members continue to work today. In his earlier years, he had traveled across central Pennsylvania leaving his mark on places like Fraternity Row in State College and on many church steeples. He was credited with saving the lives of other workers on different occasions when they “froze” high off the ground. Many years later, he saved a third person from a car fire while out for a drive down along the Clarion River. The driver was dragged from the car just before it exploded as often seen in TV shows. Irv had many other memories to share with others.
The late Betty Kearney grew up on a small farm that straddled the little creek where the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church and Day Care Center are now located. After high school, she joined the WAVES, a branch of the U.S. Navy for women and served for several years, mostly in the Washington, D.C., area. Back in Brockway later, she became a secretary for the Glass Company. She decided to take flying lessons and logged the number of flying hours to become licensed, but soon quit, because there weren’t enough places around to land if she had trouble.
Betty found that she had a “natural swing” for golf and was instrumental in developing the plans for the Brockway Glass Course which was always her favorite over all other local courses. When she relocated to Florida for the winter, she found a residence along the 9th hole at Lake Worth. Betty had many other memories to share with others.
I did a long-distance phone interview with the late Dr. Donald Romeo who grew up in the big brick house next door to Brockway’s Dollar Store, the house torn down recently. After observing the action at the DuBois Hospital where his little sister Cecelia was being treated for pneumonia, he chose to become a doctor. Eventually he settled in Las Vegas where he became the house physician at several of the big hotels and administered to show business legends such as Elvis Presley, Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Ann Margaret and Debbie Reynolds. He was also the ringside physician for highly publicized fights involving Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Robinson, Gene Fulmer, and Mohammed Ali. Doc Romeo had many memories to share with others.
Sometimes, an interview didn’t happen as I had hoped. I wanted to tell the life story of the late Tony Modaffare, who had become a daily fixture on the streets and a Brockway legend in his own right. I had known Tony for many years but I put off calling for an interview. Unlike most people who greet others with the phrase, “Hello, how are ya”, Tony would open with “Gonna Rain?” You had to listen closely since his voice was kinda squeaky, and he had a personal accent that was difficult to understand. I passed up that interview until it was too late. I can only imagine how many memories he had to share with others.
That’s my point! There are people around us every day who do have great stories to tell, but it takes someone to be interested enough ask. That’s usually left to family, friends, and neighbors to pose the questions … and then go the extra mile to record on paper or other media for the future. Just think how many other memories remain out there to be shared!