Tribute to Hellen Davies
Some folks give and then they give some more. Such a rare community patron is Hellen Davies, historian, benefactor, researcher, perpetual teacher, a person with unbridled curiosity and amazement for all things past and present.
It’s safe to say that without her energy and the generosity she and her husband Jack showed toward Lock 52 Historical Society, there would be no historical society in this village. Once it was established, Hellen became the principle researcher giving historically authentic, often amusing talks on so many topics. We wondered what fuels her interest in history.
“Well look at that word,” she said. It ends in “story.” To me history is a big, fascinating story.”
Hellen’s curiosity budded and bloomed ninety years ago when, as a child, she lived and read in the Ward family home in a house that still stands next door to the Montezuma Hotel. It was there that she discovered books and their captivating stories. That there was no electricity in her childhood home was not a deterrent for the tiny bookworm. Nights, long after she was presumed asleep, her mother found her sprawled on the hallway floor, reading in the dim light cast by the kerosene lamp.
Not surprisingly the resolute four-year-old determined herself ready to go to school. When her older brother headed to school one fine September day, Hellen insisted she would go too. A sensitive first-grade teacher allowed her to stay thinking she would soon be bored and anxious to head for home. Anyone who imagined that was in for a surprise. Hellen stayed the day and was eager to get to school the next day. She whipped through her primers and her arithmetic facts, always in a great rush to meet new wonderments that lay ahead.
Year after year she read more and more. Her mother encouraged her and stated only one limitation: in the collection of adult books in her home was a copy of “Anthony Adverse.” Hellen was forbidden to read it, an order she was to disregard some years later.
During her teen years Hellen was smitten with a handsome young man named Jack Davies. Although they were not a couple, not even close friends at the time, hardly even acquaintances, she confessed to confidantes that she would one day marry him. To many that seemed a far-fetched notion, but, remember, also highly unlikely was leaping into first grade at age four. Hellen and Jack married, and he whisked her away to Port Byron where they filled 65 years with family love and happy times and stacks of books, shelves full of books, books on every available surface. Her mantra has always been “So many books. So little time.” All the while words tumble around in her brain like energetic popcorn. Some words are serious, some just for fun. Note the word play when she named Jack’s and her three daughters Penny Lee, Patty Lou, Polly Lyn. Patty Lou was the name of Jack’s old girlfriend – pre-Hellen days of course – but no matter. Their daughters’ names would all have PL initials, a double consonant, end in “y” and use eight letters.
When Hellen enrolled in SUNY/Geneseo her first order of business was to read “Anthony Adverse,” a story she hardly remembers “except some nuns were in it.” Certainly nothing offensive, she thought. But a couple of decades had passed. Victorian affronts faded, and if a book mentioned love affairs, a pregnancy, some wild night life, there was no shame in it by time Hellen was of college age.
Hellen earned her undergraduate degree in library science and followed it with graduate work at SUNY/Cortland. She vowed she would never censor a book, approaching each tome as “a teaching experience.” Words, ideas and research, always her preoccupation, now became her occupation when she was hired to be a school librarian in Weedsport.
Many years later when Jack heard that Mayor Frank Thomas hoped the community would form a historical society, Jack suggested Hellen put her research skills to good use and pursue the Mayor’s idea. Forthwith, she became a founding member and generous contributor to Lock 52 Historical Society. The Society honors her for her generosity, her creative programs and her accurate research.
Her community spirit thrives. When the village entertained the idea of building a memorial honoring military personnel, Hellen became a member of the committee, along with Bill Thurston, Bob Ware, Jay Moose, Joe Felice, Mark Emerson and Lucy Ware who serves as treasurer. Bob Ware said the Stabinsky family put up the main monument, and Boy Scout Troop 56 planted all the shrubbery. But he says “Hellen is the mainstay of the memorial committee, and her donations have been considerable.” It’s been a Davies family affair. Hellen contributed the main flag pole, Patty Lou donated many bricks. Penny Lee purchased the eagle that adorns the top of the pole and Polly Lyn bought a pole for a military flag.
In so many ways Port Byron is fortunate to have a woman with Hellen’s dedication to the community. Her gifts are unending and will always be greatly appreciated by the village and the Town of Mentz.
* * * * * * *
Lock 52 Historical Society of Port Byron
On June 7, 1978 a group of people met in the cafeteria in the old Port Byron Central School on School Street to wind up the business of the Village of Port Byron and the Town of Mentz Bicentennial Committee. Permission was granted by the village and town boards to disband the Bicentennial Committee and form a local historical society. Both groups agreed to transfer the money in the bicentennial’s account to a historical l society account.
At 7:58 p.m. the Village of Port Byron and the Town of Mentz Bicentennial Committee was disbanded and Lock 52 Historical Society of Port Byron was formed. I believe John Kieffer suggested the name, for he designed the logo.
The first Board of Trustees consisted of Hellen Davies, Carlene Flier, John Kieffer, Frank Thomas, Marie Van Detto, Teresa Van Detto, James Vitale, Marie Wenzel and Ronald Wilson. The first officers were Frank Thomas, president; Marie Van Detto, vice-president; Hellen Davies, secretary; John Kieffer, treasurer and Carlene Flier, trustee.
The meetings were 7:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month in the Port Byron Municipal Building. We did not meet in July and August.
In March 1990 Lock 52 Historical Society of Port Byron purchased the Moore House at 73 Pine Street from Merle and Marie Moore. It was thought to be the first frame house built in Port Byron with lumber brought down the Erie Canal, which flowed directly behind the house. But I haven’t seen any written evidence of this.
The original owners of the house were Aholiab and Annis Buck.
The Historical Society grew in number and had many interesting programs, some of which were about Indians of the area, a display of arrowheads, a slide presentation of the Erie Canal, the history of the Port Byron Telephone Company, a history of quilts and quilt patterns, the Warren participation in the Civil War a history of the Warren Mills, a display of dolls in period costumes, Christmas customs, the history of the Rochester, Syracuse and Eastern Trolley, railroad history and many more.
The Historical Society worked with the Gifted-and-Talented Children’s Program under Anne Krieling at the Port Byron Central School. We also had a few active members under the age of 20 and several young people in regular attendance plus visits of the Fourth Grade and later the Third Grade during holiday season for a special program.
Now all that has changed due to the stress of all the required testing the students have to take.
We have lost many members because they have passed away, moved away, are too ill to go out at night, and in many families both parents work and have work to do at home at night. The young people are involved in so many after-school activities they need their time for homework and rest.
We are trying to build up our participating membership again.