The Women's Club of Fulton

Throughout my years running Camp Hollis I was privileged to work with many wonderful organizations and businesses that supported the Oswego County camp.  When my career shifted to writing, I visited some of those same groups, this time to provide them with a presentation on local history. Recently, I was invited to a Women’s Club of Fulton luncheon and as I listened to reports of their community-minded work, I became curious how the group was founded. Once I started researching, I learned a lot!

Past Women’s Club President Carmella Demperio shared the Club’s early history with me, pointing out how much our world has changed since the group formed in 1946. “Our club was first known as the Women’s Club of the Chamber of Commerce,” Carm explained. “At the time, Fulton’s Chamber was made up of just men in the business community and at their January 1946 dinner meeting, members’ spouses were invited. The idea to form a women’s group was discussed.”

By the end of that month, 75 women pledged to join the new club, with members signing their name as “Mrs. Edward Smith” or “Miss Jones,” identifying themselves by their husband or father. Dues of $1.00 were collected and a discussion commenced on having a Valentine’s Day party for preschool children. There was also talk of holding card parties and a social tea.

Before long, those types of events weren’t all that the Women’s Club members discussed. Thanks to the Fulton Historical Society, I was able to review the Club’s archives, including its constitution, which listed three concerns the group focused on: educational, civic and philanthropic. A 1951 newspaper article covered how the Club addressed those issues, beginning each meeting with a segment called “Know Your Fulton Better.” In addition, “the group is considering the problems of juvenile delinquency, betterment of public health, prevention of disease, and educational and social problems.…[They] also participated in a Syracuse University study of 1,000 Fulton students.”

To learn more about the Club I talked with members Carol Dexter and her mom, Bobby Dexter. Bobby is currently the woman who has been involved with the group the longest, beginning in 1950. “I joined when a friend of mine, Jeannette Demenkoff, suggested we attend a meeting,” Bobby recalled. “We met on the second floor of the Chamber of Commerce office building on South First Street.”

Bobby would have been involved with the club’s 1951 decision to join the nationwide effort “Crusade For Freedom,” which, according to its mission, attempted to “bring truth to people behind the Iron Curtain.” But over the years, the Club has focused most of its efforts on local issues, often spearheading major fundraisers like charity balls and bazaars. When Fulton united to build a new hospital, the Women’s Club became a major contributor to the Cracker Barrel Fair. “We sponsored the Pie & Coffee Booth,” Carol mentioned, “pledging to raise money over several years for the hospital’s construction.”

During those years Carol helped collect the money the Club raised at the Fair, which led to her becoming its Treasurer, a position she’s held since 2008. She showed me a binder of their financial records and explained that the Club budgets each year to support groups that serve Fultonians. “Where there’s a need, we try to fill it,” she said. Here’s a partial list of organizations which annually have been recipients of the Club’s generosity: Friends of Fulton History, the Fulton Library, the Salvation Army, the YMCA, Fulton schools, and city projects like Lake Neatahwanta’s restoration. Over two dozen such organizations were supported in 2018.

One of the premiere examples of the Women’s Club’s support is its college scholarship program, now in its 40th year. The Club provides a Fulton high school senior who is attending a two-year college with a two-year scholarship.  I asked a few recipients what the Club’s support meant to them.

“The scholarship supported my dream of going into law enforcement,” said Jeff Grimshaw, a 1976 recipient. “I lived the dream of a 23-year career that got me into the FBI National Academy and the top rank of Lieutenant at the Oswego County Sheriff’s Department. I always considered it an honor to receive that scholarship.”

 “The Women’s Club scholarship investment boosted my belief in myself,” 1970 recipient Roberta (Robin) Frawley Christenson commented. “I recently retired from a long, gratifying career in non-profit leadership. Paying it forward, I am active in the Woman’s Club of Albany, which awards scholarships to college-bound kids. Thank you, Women’s Club of Fulton.”

The Club continues to find meaningful ways to support our community. When a Club member arrived at Camp Hollis each year with boxes of arts & crafts and sports supplies (and a check to cover other expenses), I knew they’d researched what it took to run a summer camp. After I wrote a book about the Oswego County Search & Rescue Team, the Club invited me to give a talk about the group. A few members of the team attended and after my talk, a Club member asked what sorts of supplies the team needed. They mentioned items like flashlight batteries and compasses. Soon after, I learned that the Women’s Club had submitted their decorated Christmas tree for the Fulton Historical Society’s Parade of Trees. Adorned with necessary items for the Search Team’s work, the women later donated those important decorations to the team.

Monthly meeting after monthly meeting, the Women’s Club hosts many organizations working to better our city and surrounding areas. Carol mentioned a recent presentation about the Block Builders neighborhood initiative and another on Civil Air Patrol. In the Club’s paperwork, I read about a presentation on local Civil War hero Dr. Mary Walker. How far the Women’s Club of Fulton has come, from a time when women were only known by their husband’s name, to today, when the club honors women making their own history.

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From the Comforts of Home

A few blogs back I shared stories of people who once received food deliveries at their homes. That blog focused on products our families bought from local dairies and vendors like Charles Chips. Many readers related to those memories and I received more comments about the bygone days of home delivery. Today’s blog features a few of those remembrances, starting with one more Charles Chips story, this one told by Fultonian Tom Frawley.

“I vividly remember sitting on our back porch and waiting for our Charlie Chips deliveryman, Dick Hitchcock, to arrive,” Tom said. “One time, we opened the big can of chips while still on the porch and ate every one before bringing the empty can into the house. Mom was not happy.”

Fortunately, there were other deliveries to the Frawleys that pleased Tom’s mom. Like the loaves of rye bread delivered from Syracuse once a week. “I was very young,” Tom said, “but I recall being with my mom and standing outside my grandmother’s house, receiving the fresh rye bread out of the van. We toasted it at our coal/wood stove and it remains the gold standard for the best toast ever: singed on the outside and perfect inside.”

The Frawleys had their milk delivered by a Mr. Sheldon and Tom can still picture the wooden milk box lined with a thick layer of cardboard that sat just inside their kitchen door. But Mr. Sheldon delivered more than milk. “One hot and humid day, he’d pulled the paper tab on a pint bottle of ice cold chocolate milk and handed it to me. Best chocolate milk I ever had!”

There was one more memory Tom shared of their dairy delivery man. “Mr. Sheldon would often let us ride on the little running board on his pickup truck. Mind you, the ‘ride’ lasted for about 20 feet as he backed up before heading down our driveway, but it was so much fun.”

There was one entrepreneur who visited the Frawley home occasionally, but not to sell a product. “I recall the junkman coming to our farmhouse looking for rags, newspapers and metal,” Tom said. He also remembered a delivery of sorts that didn’t take place in the Frawley neighborhood, but it did make an appearance near his St. Mary’s School. “Once, Mom bought me an ice cream cone at the Mr. Softee truck, which would park on East Third Street. Ice cream was a rare treat when I was a kid, saved for special occasions like birthday parties, so getting a cone on a hot afternoon was a true memory maker.”

After hearing Tom’s home delivery memories and those of other Fultonians, I recalled a story we received for the Fulton Library’s Memoir Project. In 2014, the library was collecting stories about our city’s factories and businesses, and one of the most unusual memoirs about small companies focused on the once-popular home service known as Tupperware. Written by Ursula & Joe Wolcik, their story featured Ursula’s mother, who had a 40-year career selling Tupperware in Fulton.  The Wolcik’s recollection is packed with memories.

“In 1955, my mother, Ruth Miller, went to a Tupperware party,” Ursula recalled. “The dealer explained how you could have a tossed salad one night, put the leftovers in a small Wonderlier bowl, refrigerate it, and then have it again the next night. That Tupperware bowl would keep the salad just as crisp as the first night. Mom ordered the bowls and tried it. That sold her and though she was already working for an insurance company, Mom soon became a Tupperware agent.”

Eleven years later, Ruth left the insurance company to become a Tupperware manager and, as the Wolcik’s noted, there were advantages to be in management. “Every two years, you were given a brand new company car to use for your business. Over the course of her time as a Tupperware manager, Mom was awarded 15 cars, most of which were Ford station wagons.”

Tupperware offered their salespeople and managers many contests and challenges, with gifts awarded based on the volume sold. Each year, Ursula’s mom received a catalog, which Ursula described as “like a Sears catalog, but not as thick. It was filled with toys, kitchenware and other items. Mom told me to look through it and mark the items I wanted.”

Along with prizes, Tupperware helped Ruth keep a home, send her daughter to college and even helped pay for Ursula’s wedding. “My husband, Joe, remembers marrying into ‘The Tupperware Family,’” Ursula said, “but he didn’t realize what that meant until we were preparing to move into our first apartment. One night, we were at Mom’s house for dinner. Joe looked around the house at the many boxes of Tupperware displays and products and stated, ‘We aren’t going to have any of this stuff in our house.’ Mom and I smiled – there were already at least five boxes at our new apartment!”

In their memoir, Ursula and Joe cover Tupperware’s unique history, describing how plastic changed our lives. The company released new products every year. There were items specific to holidays, summer picnics and such. Ultimately, as the Wolciks explained, though Tupperware made its fortune in people’s homes, those memorable parties nearly disappeared when the company branched out to opening kiosks at malls and shopping centers. Now that I think about it, I can’t remember the last time I heard about someone hosting a Tupperware party. That’s one more reason why we should hold tight to our memories of when good food and friendly service came right to our front door.

To read Ursula and Joe Wolcik’s full memoir of Tupperware, visit the Fulton Public Library and ask to see the Memoir Project book, “Fulton: The Businesses and Schools That Built Our Community.”

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A View From the Top

When I think back on my summer vacations as a kid, I remember that last day of school seeming like I’d just been sprung from jail. Ahead were months of long days when I could do whatever I wanted (as long as Mom said it was okay). I grew up outside Fulton, on the Chase Road, so there were plenty of woods to explore or I could have hung out with the Richardson boys on their farm across the way. But when I got old enough, my favorite summer activity was riding my bicycle to the West Side Pool in Fulton.

A trip to the pool at Recreation Park was an all-day event. My brother and I packed a few PB & J sandwiches, a towel, and a T-shirt for the evening ride home. Slipped into the tiny pocket in our swimsuits was one dime: the cost of admission to the pool. Not a bad price for a day of fun.

As soon as those summer mornings started heating up, my brother and I hopped on our bikes, getting an easy start on the gradual downhill slope that took us to the end of Chase Road and onto Hannibal Street. We really didn’t have to start pumping until we turned onto Broadway (now known as Route 3), which took us to the park. By the time we’d finish pedaling, we’d worked up a sweat.

After stuffing our lunch and gear into a locker in the always-chilly changing room, we headed into the pool area, which to ten-year-old me seemed like an entire amusement park. I looked for my friends, hoping to find some deck space near them to claim as my own. The pool itself had two sections: a shallow end for toddlers and non-swimmers, and the deep end for everyone else. It was a good day when I passed the swim test and slipped under the buoy rope that put me in the deep end. I was an official swimmer!

There was actually a third section to the West Side Pool, the diving area, and entering it was another rite of passage. As soon as I became a confident swimmer I spent lots of time on the low diving boards. They were fun and just enough of a challenge to make me feel like I was no longer a little kid. My brother and I had already ventured onto the diving boards at Fair Haven Beach’s channel, so I already knew the routine of waiting in line to step onto the board, walking to its end, jumping or—if I felt really brave—diving in, swimming to the ladder and getting back in line for the tenth, twentieth or fiftieth time.  

As happy as I was with my low-diving fun, something towered above me, a constant reminder that I still had mountains to climb and fears to overcome. It was the high dive board. As an adult, I know that board was probably fifteen or so feet above the water, but when I was a kid it looked like the top of the Empire State Building. I got dizzy just looking up at it. 

For years, I watched the older kids casually climb rung after rung of the high dive ladder, then confidently walk to its edge to launch themselves into the air—all as if were a walk in the park. From the safety of my place on the deck, I watched person after self-assured person, trying to imagine myself as one of them. Thinking about high diving didn’t end when I headed home on my bike. Lying in bed after a day at the pool, I’d fall asleep thinking about those brave divers, which often led to a recurring nightmare: me on the West Side Pool high dive, petrified. 

I was twelve years old when I finally convinced myself it was time to overcome my high altitude fears. Of course, I had a lot of help (if you want to call it help) from my friends who’d called me every name in the book for being afraid. One by one, they’d all taken their first plunge and if I didn’t want to be left behind, I’d need to take mine.

One sunny day, I decided it was time. I waited until there was a long line at the bottom of the ladder, which would give me plenty of wiggle room if I talked myself out of taking the plunge. When my turn came to ascend, I mimicked what I’d seen, assuredly grabbing each rung one at a time, pulling myself up. From down below, nobody could see that I was gripping those rungs so tight because my sweaty palms could have caused a fall to my death.

At the top, I stepped onto the board, trying to get a feel for what looked like too thin of a walkway. One step at a time, each followed by a pause to breathe, I inched my way to the end of the board. And froze. Guys on the ladder got impatient and yelled “C’mon! Whataya waiting for?” Finally, the catcalls became worse than my fears of a painful belly flop and I jumped. In the two seconds it took me to hit water, I saw my twelve-year-old life tragically end and my never-to-be future vanish.

But, amazingly, I rose to the water’s surface, all in one piece. I’d survived! As I swam to the ladder and stepped onto solid concrete, I felt some pride. But I also knew that once was enough. Accomplishing a daring feat was one thing; experiencing that queasy fear over and over again was another. I never set foot on the high dive again.

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