The Fulton Elks’ Rich History

One of my favorite childhood memories is Fulton’s May Day celebration. Often the first outdoor event of the year, May Day is a weekend of amusement rides, contests, yummy food and entertainment. But for decades the most exciting part for kids has been May Day’s bicycle giveaway. When I was in grade school, each spring students got a ticket and if you were a lucky winner, you got a new set of wheels to carry you through the last weeks of school and straight into the long summer.

May Day was the brainchild of our local Elks Lodge, which planned those fun events and raised money to pay for the shiny new bikes. Fifty plus years later, I still remember the excitement as April turned to May. A book recently loaned to me explained how May Day and the Elks got their start.

The book, “History of the Order of the Elks” begins in 1868, in New York City, where a group of actors regularly got together at a tavern. Often out of work, the men found ways to support each other during lean times. When money was more plentiful the group helped others in need, and soon they formalized their gathering into an official organization. When it came time to name their group, the men narrowed their choices down to two: the bison and the elk. In a slim margin of victory—bison, seven votes, and elk, eight—the group became the Elks.

The lodge’s original charter rules still ring true today. In part they state that the Elks are “an organization of American citizens who love their country and desire to preserve its cherished institutions; who love their fellow man and seek to promote his well-being; and who love the joyousness of life and endeavor to contribute to it, as well as to share it.”

That first New York City group became known as Lodge No. 1 and as the Elk’s popularity spread throughout the country, those Lodge numbers grew. In 1903, a group of Fultonians started Lodge # 830, pledging to abide by the Elks rules.

There was, however, one Elks rule which is no longer true today. For decades, all Elks Lodges were exclusively male organizations. That changed on a national level in the 1990s. Current Fulton Lodge Secretary, 35-year member Dean Salisbury, showed me records from the Lodge’s history. Dean explained: “In our city, Patricia Kitts was its first woman member, back in 1997. A few old-timers dropped out because of the change, but including women has really been a benefit to the Lodge. Women who’ve joined here do so for the same reason the founders started the Elks: to help our community.”

Dean shared more about how the Fulton Elks serve our area, including their support for veterans, helping local cemeteries maintain their grounds, a youth hoops contest, a soccer contest and a college scholarship program. “For many years,” Dean noted, “our youth programs won awards on a national level.”

Along with talking with Dean, old newspapers helped me learn more about the Elks, including its May Day program.  Beginning in Fulton in 1951, May Day originally invited high school and grammar school students throughout Oswego County. The weekend began with a “parade featuring local school bands, color guards, firemen and auxiliaries, veterans’ organizations, fraternal organizations and industry taking part.” The second day of the event offered its first All-American Soap Box Derby, with winners of the local contest heading to Akron, Ohio, for the national derby.

By the time I was old enough to hope I’d win one of those bikes, the mid-‘60s, May Day was a must-attend event for kids. A 1964 newspaper article noted that invitations had been sent out to the city’s CYO, YMCA, Scouts and schools. Children were invited to take part in the Youth Day Poster and Essay contests, with cash awards for the winners.

By 1972, Elks programs for Fulton youth were expanded to a full week. Included was a City Government program, where students visited a Common Council meeting to participate in municipal business. By the end of the week, Saturday, there was the usual ceremonies and contest and, of course, the 12 bicycles to be given away, two for each elementary grade level.

While talking about the Elks’ history in Fulton, Dean Salisbury gave me a tour of the lodge, located on Pierce Drive. “We’ve been here since 2002,” he said. “Before that, actually since the early 1900s, the lodge was on South First Street.” On our tour, Dean pointed out the fireplace and chandelier that were brought over from the Elks’ original location.

Also on display were brass memorial plaques, which listed over 100 names of original Fulton members, their date of induction and date of passing. Another artifact on display was a series of signatures from famous visitors to our local lodge over the years, including President Theodore Roosevelt, Governor Thomas Dewey and composer John Phillips Sousa. “They would be boating down the Oswego River and stop at our Fulton locks,” Dean said. “If they were an Elk in their hometown, they’d sign in at our lodge.”

On the day I visited the Elks, lodge treasurer Silvan Johnson was at her desk paying bills. I asked Silvan why she and her husband Paul joined 10 years ago. Her answer echoed the lodge’s founding ethics: “We joined to be able to give something back to the community, to be part of something bigger than just us—to help people.”

Dean agreed, “I wanted to use my time on something worthy, something to help my community of Fulton.”

As the Fulton Elks begin their 68th year of May Day, which will take place May 3 and 4 at the Lodge on Pierce Drive, I take a moment to remember the lodge members who’ve been providing support for Fultonians of all ages.

This 1982 photo show lucky Fulton children who won bicycles at the Elks’ annual May Day celebration.

This 1982 photo show lucky Fulton children who won bicycles at the Elks’ annual May Day celebration.

Coach Tom Carroll

Our teachers and coaches are among the most important role models who guide us through childhood and, from time to time, I like to feature one in this column. Today I’m remembering Tom Carroll, a Fulton physical education teacher and coach. Among the many young people who Coach Carroll worked with are three Fultonians and lifelong friends: Doug Blake, Steve Janas and Mike Pollock, who shared their memories of Tom Carroll with me. But before discussing Tom specifically, we talked about those influential adults in general.

“We looked up to all our coaches,” Mike said. “They each brought something to our practices that helped shape the players we became.”

“During our football years our coaches were Roger Neilson, Buck Godici, Floyd Boynton and Tom Carroll,” Steve explained.

“They balanced each other out,” Doug said. “One of the things I remember about Coach Carroll was his sense of humor. He made it fun—and football practice is not fun.”

To find out how Tom Carroll developed his coaching style, I needed to learn about his life before working with Fulton students, and Tom’s son, Tim, shared some details about his father’s younger years. Tom was born in Watertown, but his family moved to Fulton when he was a child and it was during his school years here that he participated in several sports, including football.

Around the time of his high school graduation, Tom and his friends were hearing about the escalating Korean War. They all signed up to serve in the military, with Tom entering the Marine Corps. The GI Bill provided him an education at Ithaca College, where he continued his passion for sports as a member of their football team. Tom then had a long career teaching and coaching, including in Mexico and then in Fulton.

It was as head coach for Mexico’s football team, beginning in 1961, where Tom honed his coaching skills. In his first season, though in previous years they’d struggled to win, Mexico went undefeated in Oswego County. I asked Tim how his father turned the team around so fast.

“Dad brought his training from the Marines to coaching,” Tim explained. “He developed a strong practice schedule and expected the team to follow his rules. I heard a story about a couple of his Mexico team players getting caught smoking. Dad’s punishment was to make them smoke a bunch of cigarettes with a bucket on their head, so they’d get a full exposure to smoke. He’d learned that in the Marines.

“But Dad wasn’t only about hard and fast rules; he was also a peacemaker of sorts. He was able to talk to people, often talking them down when they were angry. When we lived in Mexico, I remember hearing from my bedroom window an upset mother who’d come to confront my father late at night. She thought her son wasn’t getting enough playing time on the football team and was yelling at my dad. He brought her inside, got her a cup of coffee and talked with her to help her better understand the circumstances.”

Tom brought his successful coaching strategies to Fulton in 1967, where he taught physical education and health and became an assistant football coach. “The coaches taught us the elements of the game,” Doug said, “and Coach Carroll knew his X’s and O’s. But he was also easy to talk to. He got his point across without being mean.”

Like many coaches, Tom cared about his players beyond the football field. “When I graduated high school, I wanted to go to Ithaca College and play football,” Steve remembered. “Coach Carroll put in a good word for me at his alma mater.”

Tom’s interest in helping others went beyond school. “Dad had service in his blood,” Tim said, “and he found many ways to serve. He’d struggled with drinking and got help for himself, then took a job with the Employment Assistance Program, where he counseled others who were struggling. He was also a man of faith, which got him through a lot of his trials, and he became very involved with the church.

“Dad made sure we kids went to Mass regularly, including holy days. I remember being on the baseball field in the middle of a game and Dad showed up to take me to Mass. He motioned me to come off the field and, even though my coach was yelling at Dad to keep me in the game, I knew my father wouldn’t budge. But Dad also believed that if you got to church before communion you could leave right after communion—it was about the sacrament to him—so I was back on the field and had only missed a few innings.”

Tom also coached the high school’s golf team, a sport for which he had a lifelong passion. After retiring from teaching in 1973, Carroll became an unofficial ambassador at Fulton’s Battle Island Golf Course, often helping others improve their lives beyond the golf greens. Tom’s friend and coworker, Sonny Allen, shared this story at Carroll’s funeral, in 2009:

“I would visit him at Battle Island where he was the starter. A starter is responsible for determining where and when a person can begin his golf game. Many times someone would be upset with his position in line or scheduled time to go. By the time he left the first tee, Tom would have the person relaxed and friendly.”

When Tom’s health declined, he was visited by many fellow teachers, former students and friends. Among them were Mike, Steve and Doug. “We went together to see him,” Mike said, “and we had some good laughs remembering our football days. But we also knew that Tom was a coach who saw what sports could mean beyond the playing field. He showed us how to be teammates, but he was teaching us more than that. He was teaching us about life.”

Tom Carroll, a Fulton teacher and coach, is remembered in today’s column

Tom Carroll, a Fulton teacher and coach, is remembered in today’s column

Shakespeare in Fulton

Our city has always offered a variety of leisure activities for its residents. Sports enthusiasts enjoy golf courses, basketball leagues, the Pathfinder Fish & Game Club or gardening. Community-minded organizations like Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary continue to find meaningful ways to support our city. But until recently I never knew that for over one hundred years Fulton was home to a group of women devoted to the work of William Shakespeare.

Founded in 1909, Fulton’s Shakespeare Club was the brainchild of Mrs. William Sylvester. According to Club paperwork loaned to me, Mrs. Sylvester sought to provide culture for women in our city and she began by suggesting to members of her First Baptist Church that they form a group to discuss Shakespeare’s writings.

The club’s format was established in its first few years, with the women meeting on a weekday afternoon to read a Shakespearean play aloud. During its first year, the club devoted its attention to “Romeo & Juliet.” Spending an entire year on one author, let alone one play, seemed extraordinary to me, but a newspaper article about the club noted that in the early 1900s reading Shakespeare was a cultural fad.

I learned more about the club’s meetings. When roll call was taken, each member answered with a quotation from the book or play being read. In later years, members responded by naming a Native American tribe or a landmark in New York State.

As the group gained popularity, more women wanted to join. Early on in the club’s existence it was determined that a membership of 20 women would be maintained. When a new person was invited, she needed the approval of all other members before being allowed to join. Daughters often followed their mothers into the club, which was the case for Darle DeLorme, whose mother, Jane Shaver, invited her to become a member. Recently, Darle shared her memories of the group:

“Meetings were held in the homes of members. Every month, one woman would act as hostess.  Tables were set beautifully. Table clothes were ironed, silver was polished, and candlesticks were placed. Favorite desserts were baked; tea and coffee were served.  The tradition of a turn-of-the-century tea party became the hallmark of the Shakespeare meeting.”

As Darle explained, after refreshments, the club president would thank the hostess, and the meeting was called to order.  Each month a different member presented a program of her choice. Among the club paperwork I reviewed was a scrapbook covering highlights of the group’s ten decades. Inside the book’s front cover I found a folded map of “Shakespeare’s Britain,” a colorful illustration of the villages and points of interest mentioned in his many plays.

By the 1930s, club minutes noted that the group had read 16 plays in its first 25 years.  As the club matured, it ventured from Shakespeare’s writings to include reviews on other authors or destinations of interest for travelers. There were even discussions on Broadway plays, artists and musicians. In 1934, club members decided to begin each meeting with ten minutes of current event discussion.

The variety of topics enjoyed by the Shakespeare Club is evident in the overview of their 1934-35 year. Its October program explored the effect of geological conditions on the Settlement of New York. A month later, the club discussed Women Sculptors of America. January 1935’s meeting covered current politics with “The New Deal: Is it Proving a Benefit to the Nation?” Local history was a worthy topic, too, when a club member presented her paper on “Fulton from 1800 to the Present Time.”

Three decades later, a summary of the 1964-65 year included a study of South America’s plants, birds and animals; a review of Milton Eisenhower’s book, The Wine is Bitter,” about Vice President Richard Nixon; and a talk by young Alan Drohan, an American Foreign Exchange student who’d spent a semester in Denmark.

The group even took outings, including, in the 1930s, visits to the Oswego Country Club, Fayetteville’s The Carolina, and Green Gate in Camillus. In November of 1980, two carloads traveled to the Syracuse Stage for a production of “The Comedy of Errors.” Shakespeare’s play was favorably critiqued by the 11 club members in attendance and the trip’s organizer even managed to get the group backstage to meet the play’s leading man!

The Shakespeare Club occasionally donated books of historical interest to the Fulton Public Library, often in memory of a recently deceased member. In 1990, the group chose The Irish Novel: A Critical History, by James Cahalan, in memory of Rita Rowland. “She was proud of her Irish ancestry and was a talented amateur writer and poet,” club member Janice Fay noted in a newspaper article.

Janice was also a writer, as is evident by her 1961 “Sketch of Sally,” an obituary of sorts for her friend and fellow Shakespeare Club member Sarah Schulz McCarty Smith Stacy. Here’s some of what Janice wrote about Sarah:

“Her adult life was full of much happiness, but she bore more than her share of tragedy. Three times she was widowed, yet she remained outwardly a blithe spirit. Her philosophy may be found in some words of counsel she gave about a dear friend who died suddenly. Mourn in private, was her advice; grief is apt to leave others nonplussed if one displays large quantities of it.”

By the new millennium, women’s lives were vastly different from those of one hundred years before. Many women were working outside the home and a free afternoon was rare. In 2017, members of the Shakespeare Club voted to dissolve, and, as Darle noted, “the last official meeting was held in May of 2018.  Fond relationships within the group blossomed and became dear through the years.  Though literature was the focus, friendships were woven into the fiber of the 1909 Shakespeare Club.”

For more than 100 years, a group of Fulton women gathered to discuss the works of William Shakespeare and other topics, as shown in this 1965 photo.

For more than 100 years, a group of Fulton women gathered to discuss the works of William Shakespeare and other topics, as shown in this 1965 photo.