By Anita Messina
An expert Sudoku player, skilled at crossword puzzles and an eager listener to books on tape, June’s brain waves keep on a-tumbling. “Now don’t make me sound like Wonder Woman,” she warns when learning that her personal history was about to be chronicled. “I’m no Wonder Woman.”
Really? We’ll see about that.
Mentz’s first woman supervisor survived the Gypsies, Tony Savarese’s dare devil roller skate antics and independent preschool meanderings on every inch of village sidewalks, growing strong to become one of Port Byron’s women of influence. As a small child the entire village was her realm. The only time an adult intervened was when the Gypsies came. If she was close enough to the garage and gas station her father ran – near where Wright’s Garage is now on Rt. 31 -- she said, “He locked me in a back room until the Gypsies left. Back then everyone said the gypsies stole little children. And another time Mr. Blake took me into his drugstore. And once Guy Parsons – he ran a grocery store near the drugstore – brought me in, gave me a paper bag and told me to walk around the candy aisle and choose whatever candy I wanted and put it into the paper bag.
“The whole village watched out for children back then. I know exactly what Hilary Clinton meant when she said ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ I miss the village I knew as a child. I miss the innocence of Port Byron.
“We always were outside playing. In the morning I’d put my roller skates on, turn the key to clamp them on tight and not take them off until I went home at the end of the day. The slate sidewalks on Main Street were the best to skate on. And Tony Savarese! Now he could really roller skate. Girls would lie down on the sidewalk, and he would jump right over them.”
Waiting for Tony to clear them in his long jumps wasn’t nearly as scary as the attic at home. Her four brothers taunted her with tales of their deceased grandmother’s teeth, which they insisted were there and began to click and clack whenever anyone went up. She was at least five years old before she stopped flattening herself against the wall, giving herself plenty of distance whenever she had to go by the stairs to the attic, hoping she wouldn’t hear the clack and chatter of Grandma’s teeth.
June said, “We spent a lot of time at Herbie Lade’s house. He was my best friend when we were little. He lived with his grandparents across from the Baptist Church on Rochester Street. We called him “Junior.” He had all kinds of toys we could play with, and he was generous with his toys. He wasn’t a selfish child. Friendship continued into adulthood and through his tenure as the village’s postmaster.
“When I was a child Christmas wasn’t the extravagant holiday it is now. Easter wasn’t either. But we all looked forward to Halloween. We’d run up to peoples’ doors, knock and run away. I don’t remember people giving out candy. It was just a night for tricks. We’d run up and down the street and throw toilet paper over the electric wires. And Alice Powers was always the one to insist we had to tip the outhouse over. She’d say, ‘It’s Halloween. We gotta tip the outhouse over.’ One year her brother Ed was in there, and he got tipped over too. But I never had any part of that ‘we gotta tip over the outhouse.’” A little girl with a conscience, June stayed in good graces with Alice’s parents. The Powers owned a candy store next to the Legion.
Too soon the time came to hang up her roller skate key and follow her seven older siblings to school. She speaks fondly of Lindy McBath’s art classes. June claims to have no artistic talent; nevertheless she enjoyed those classes. Above her bed is a pleasing oil painting of the family home, painted by June. She has few school memories that stand out vividly. She remembers her sixth grade teacher, Theresa VanDetto. Miss VanDetto, June said, never raised her voice. “She was a good, steady teacher.” Another strong memory is the day the school principal, Professor A. A. Gates, summoned all the children to assembly. He talked about the school fire that shocked the village. She remembers his poignant words: “What we need this Christmas is a new school.”
After 12th grade June began nurse’s training. “I graduated from nurse’s training in ’47 but I never worked at it. I became a stay-at-home mom.” When George Seamans returned home from his service in WWII, he and June married and lived in the apartment above Howard Wethey’s store (a dry goods store now occupied by Nino’s Pizza shop). They lived there a short time while George rehabbed the house that was to be their home.
“We lived at 11 Pine Street. My husband George – nobody called him that, everybody called him ‘Nate.’ George and I had three boys: Glen, John and Ramon. There’s no ‘y’ in Ramon.
“Glen was named after his uncle, Tex Pultz, who was a paratrooper in WWII. He was killed in Naples, Italy on a jump. He made eight previous jumps before that final one.” Tex Pultz Parkway is named in his honor. June said, “We nicknamed him ‘Tex’ because he loved reading cowboy stories.
“I was always called by store owners who were looking for someone to hire. Claire Travor who was Town Clerk and also the owner of the Shoppers’ Guide hired me to replace his front office person, Lola Wilt, who left to be county deputy treasurer in Auburn. Claire also conducted his Town Clerk responsibilities there at the Shoppers’ Guide so besides the Shoppers’ Guide business I learned how to do some of the things that a Town Clerk does. When Claire died I made up my mind to run for Town Clerk. That was a challenge because I was a Democrat, and the whole town was Republican. Still is. But I was voted in. Even Republicans voted for me. I was Town Clerk for eight years then on the Town Board for two years then decided I would run against Eloise Warren for Town Supervisor.” The popular no-nonsense, hard-working public servant won.
“I was the first woman and the first Democrat to be Town Supervisor!” She is most appreciative of a personal letter U. S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan sent, commending her on her resounding victory in this Republican stronghold.
June says her term just went by smoothly with one exception. The town was in a frenzy when Jack Crandall proposed a trash burning plant be built. Some saw the value. Most did not, and after prolonged and heated controversy, the proposal was defeated.
After many energetic years of service, June is now enjoying peaceful days with her brainy puzzles and her audio books. Her sense of humor is quick and her memories -- except for the teeth in the attic – are happy ones.