FULTON, NY – The businesses and schools that built Fulton are featured in the Fulton Public Library’s second memoir project and its authors gathered recently to celebrate the book’s completion.
Fulton Public Library Director Betty Maute welcomed the approximately 75 audience members to the Cayuga Community College event center and introduced the project’s coordinator, writer Jim Farfaglia.
“As each story comes in you wonder if it’s ever going to come all together, and it finally has,” the local author said.
The book contains more than 40 stories written by residents and community members recalling Fulton’s days as a manufacturing hub and the schools that shaped their lives.
More than 20 excerpts were read throughout the evening’s presentation and Farfaglia provided segues between stories.
The evening began with Joyce Cook’s offering of The Fulton Public Library in Transition. As the retired library director, Cook was there from 1987 – 2001.
Her story outlines the creation of the library a hundred years before she retired and brings us to the installation of its computers.
“The first library was in one of the long narrow rooms over one of the stores in the Dizzy Block at 7 South First St.,” the librarian said. “By 1901 it had about 4,000 books donated in that reading room.”
Due to a grant request to Andrew Carnegie, the creation of The Fulton Public Library may have been one reason why the west side of the river, Oswego Falls, and the east side of the river, the village of Fulton, joined together as the city of Fulton in 1902.
“Soon after, the Carnegie Foundation awarded the new city $15,000 to build a new library,” Cook said.
She added that when the library cornerstone was laid in 1905 her grandmother went to the dedication ceremony.
“She was probably 9 years old, they had walked the kids down from the old Fulton school next to where the Education Center is now. She said it was hot, and the speakers were very dull,” Cook said, “and she told me she wore a yellow dress.”
Though there are many more businesses featured in the book, the excerpts read Thursday were grouped by major manufacturers Nestles’, Sealright and Birdseye; then several local businesses.
In “You’re Don’s Kid” Colleen O’Brien wrote about being a chocolate taste tester and the “blind triangle.”
“Small Town Secretary” Rita Frawley was one of the first to sign up for this year’s book. In her story, as read by Friends of Fulton Library Sally Downs, she talks about the many jobs she did in Fulton as a secretary including in the manager’s office at Nestles’.
On behalf of Doug Stay, who lived in Fulton and managed Sealright from 1982 to 2012, Leo Chirello described “How the People of Fulton Made Sealright a Success” and the evolution of the working class people held accountable for plant productivity and the managers who motivated them.
Fultonian Wilma Nichols wrote about her first job as a teenager working at Sealright in “Lift Those Cartons – Maybe,” as read by Downs; and in “A Look Inside Sealright/Huhtamaki’s History,” Dave Coant – a 25-year employee who still works at the plant, wrote of the plant’s history and provided a written tour of the facility.
“On my very first night at work there was an old timer who came to me on the first night and said, ‘Son, don’t get too comfortable here, the doors are going to be closing in six months,'” Coant said, to the chuckling crowd. “I still run into that gentlemen at Mimi’s from time-to-time and I tell him, ‘We’re still in business.'”
Moving to Birdseye, “The Company Man,” as written by professor Vance Marriner, conveyed his father’s drive to teach his son about life by getting him a job working on the bean conveyor.
“Technically my father got me the job, but frankly no string pulling was necessary. During peak season in those days Birdseye hired almost any person who was willing to work,” Marriner said.
Standing with a dozen other people the job was standing alongside a conveyer belt watching beans go by.
“We were tasked with picking out anything that wasn’t a bean,” the professor said to the laughter of the knowing crowd. “That might be a branch or a leaf, or it might be a bug or a snake.”
“The job was as boring and generally awful as it sounds,” he added. “I eventually moved … to more glamorous jobs like placing boxes into metal trays, stacking cases onto pallets and loading steaming hot trays of spinach onto a cart. … My father later admitted he made sure I got assigned the most humble jobs in the place. Partially to avoid any suspicion of favoritism, but mostly because he wanted to toughen me up and teach me some life lessons about what hard work was all about.”
Representing some of Fulton’s small businesses, in the book Virginia Messerschmidt and Fred Cavalier write about Fulton’s Ice Men; Mary Meyer’s memoir “Number Please” tells of connecting callers and their intended party as a telephone operator; Joe and Ursula Wolcik, in “Tupperware’s Party PlanExperience” shared a delightful story about a customer hermetically sealing a whole chicken into the cutting edge Ultra 21 bake ware.
Hargrave’s Drug Store patriarch Sal Lanzafame, in “Taking Care of Fulton With a Personal Touch,” talks about acquiring the local landmark.
“When I started at Hargrave’s I was welcomed by Harry Montgomery,” reader on behalf of Lanzafame Mark McClave said. “‘How would you like to own this place,’ Harry asked. ‘I should only be that lucky,’ I replied.”
Just a few years later the pharmacist would be funding the $25,000 with loans from three different banks.
“No one would give me a loan,” McClave said. “Maybe because I was only 24 years old. … Mr. Goss, president of Fulton Savings Bank … ended up giving me the (remaining) $5,000 I needed so I could buy the pharmacy … and he told me, ‘You’ll have this paid off in three years.’ … And I did.”
B&T Sports Shop current owners Vic Runeare and Anita Westbrook worked with Farfaglia to write the history of the shop; and Jim and Will Chapman, in “Foster’s on the Dizzy Block,” recalled the iconic downtown ice cream and soda store.
The second half of the evening focused on school memories – Sue Witmer’s “Cayuga Community Coller’s Fulton Campus”; Linda Hughes’ story of “The Benefits of a County School Education”; Jo Ann Butler’s “Erie Street chool: A Baby Boomette’s View”; Mary Kimball, “Powerful Lessons From Catholic School”; and Lennie Laboda’s “Memories of Holy Family School.”
Jerry Kasperek recalled “Good Old Fulton High” and recent graduate Janel Sullivan wrote a more recent memoir “Most Spirited: A Memoir of G. Ray Bodley.”
Elsie Tucci’s excerpt from “Walking to School,”; Audrey Smelski’s “The General Knowledge Challenge”; along with Tom Frawley’s “From Shop Class to Tech Class”; Sue Martin’s “The Teacher Who ‘Smized'”; and Paul McKinney’s ‘A Phone Call From Mrs. Hamer” rounded out the evening.
In addition to the writers and their friends and families, members of Mrs. Crisafulli’s high school English class were on hand for the night’s readings.
As each local memoirist read an excerpt from her or his story a little more of history danced to life in turn tripping more memories around the room.
During a brief intermission, refreshments were served provided by The Friends of the Fulton Public Library. “They baked them,” Maute said.
Next year’s project theme will be Fulton’s community service providers: police, firefighters, elected officials, emergency personnel, road crews, etc.
In his opening remarks, Cayuga Community College Interim Dean John Lamphere shared his law enforcement experience and his own lineage of lawmen including his father, brother, cousin, and grandfather who he said was the third game warden ever hired in New York.
“I’m from Weedsport originally,” Lamphere said. “I was the Eugene Sullivan of the Cayuga County Sheriff’s office, I was the undersheriff. I retired to go into academia.”
He then offered the college’s community room to the Friends of Fulton Library whenever they need it, free of charge, “but you have to feed me,” he added evoking chuckles from the audience.
Book orders can be placed by calling or visiting the Fulton Public Library.