Post-war Letter Wends its Way Home  
Thursday, October 23, 2008

The late Wilfred R. Lavallee Jr. was a young sailor, just out of Webster’s Bartlett High School, when he mailed a letter to Miss DesAnges Genereux, his former history teacher, in 1949.

The letter from 59 years ago was recently returned to his widow, Jeannette A. (Bouvier) Lavallee. It was written before they were married, and before they raised a nice family to be proud about, including Webster Selectman Deborah A. Keefe.

Why would a young sailor take time to write to a former teacher? Well, Mr. Lavallee wasn’t the only serviceman to remember Miss Genereux, and this says something about the educator, who included a current events component in her presentations. She taught English and history for several decades from 1923.

Somebody in teacher Genereux’s family preserved a packet of the letters she had collected and, at some point, the stamps on some of them were sought by others. This was probably the route the late Mr. Lavallee’s letter took in more recent times. Stella Miller acquired the letter, learned that another woman with a Miller surname, being the former Annette Bouvier, was Mrs. Lavallee’s sister, and the correspondence was on its way to the Lavallee home after almost six decades.

When she received it, Jeannette Lavalle had a reaction of, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe it.”

Mr. Lavallee explained in the letter what he was doing and various other things. It might be seen as a day in the life of a young sailor, and was probably shared with students in Miss Genereux’s history classes in 1949.

Besides a stint in the Navy, Mr. Lavallee served in the Air Force and contributed to municipal life as an elected parks commissioner and later as a member of the Public Library board of trustees. He was chairman of the panel when he was taken by death in October 2002.

There’s talk these days about an addition to the Chester C. Corbin Public Library or, even, a new facility. The state seeded planning money some time ago and the progress line now reads: Architect and Project Manager.

Kenneth C. Best, of the Newton architectural firm of Drummey Rosanne Anderson, and Robert White as project manager will be introduced Nov. 15 at a public meeting at the Webster library. They’ll be there from 10 to 11:30 a.m. to register the library opinions of townspeople. By the way, Drummey Rosanne Anderson, without commas, brings a great reputation to Webster. The firm served as architect for the Bartlett Senior-Junior High School building.

Terese and Leonard Boutin of Putnam were going through some old papers recently when they came upon a 1945 schedule of Shortline Bus Co., which ran from Worcester to Webster and on into Connecticut.

Leonard lived in Grosvenordale at the time and was a guitar student at a music studio in Webster. He knew all of the bus times and charges by heart. This accounts, maybe, for the 63-year-old pamphlet’s excellent condition. Mr. Boutin never used it.

Massachusetts offices for the bus company were in Worcester, and the headquarters served as a hub for connecting lines. Shortline service was from the Oxford News in Oxford, a terminal at 128 Main St. in Webster, Peloquin’s Spa in North Grosvenordale, and the Putnam Inn in Putnam. The Webster terminal was in a storefront in the Maanexit Hotel. The location is now a Dunkin’ Donuts shop and parking lot.

There was also a Worcester-to-Springfield run with agencies at A.M. Latour and Bouley’s in Spencer, Varney’s in East Brookfield, Desplaine’s in North Brookfield, Bristol’s in West Brookfield, Ballou’s in Ware, Chapdelaine’s in West Warren, and Forest Lake Dairy in Palmer. The Shortline sold commuter tickets by the dozen, and they were good for 30 days.

The Boutins also found a miniature Tom Mix comic book circulated in 1982 by Ralston Purina, the hot breakfast food, for “Ralston Straight Shooters.”

The miniature three-colored comic book, “Tom Mix and the Taking of Grizzly Grebb,” says: “Tom Mix was a real cowboy, a real western lawman. A movie company discovered him in Oklahoma, and soon his western movies became classics in the 1920s. In 1933 Ralston Purina began sponsoring the Tom Mix radio program. It was about his adventures and ideals — like being a straight shooter, fair and honest to all.”

The return address simply read, “From Peewee,” and it was enough to identify former resident Julian P. Kaczynski, who ran a Webster barbershop by the same name — Peewee’s — for decades. There was another one for postal purposes.

Mr. Kaczynski and his wife, Rosemarie M. Kaczynski, sold their Webster home a couple of years ago and relocated to the Cooperstown, N.Y., area, where their daughter and son-in-law, Julie and Dwayne Sharratt, own Beaver Valley Campgrounds. It’s just a few miles from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Julian and Rosemarie help out with the chores five or so months of the year, and then they winter in Davenport, Fla.

The oversized envelope had a copy of the Oneonta, N.Y., Daily Star with a story about heavyweight pumpkins, one of Peewee’s new interests. Another report from the Cooperstown Town Crier followed. The biggest pumpkin weighed 1,248 pounds. Size is half of the event. The other is a regatta for hollowed-out pumpkins on Lake Oneonta. A Cooperstown car dealership, Smith Ford, sponsored the winning pumpkin in this year’s regatta, according to The Star.

Peewee sent a review of the pumpkin sail, held Sept. 28.

People around here have long been aware of John J. Mrazik’s interest in railroad history. The retired Bartlett High School teacher, coach and athletics director has authored magazine articles on New England railroads and has appeared before area groups. Now, he’s branching out.

Mr. Mrazik spoke to a large group of retired people last week in Meriden, Conn., and flavored his presentation with Webster stories about Ralph Jardine and Joe Patenaude. Mr. Jardine was a turn-of-the-century railroad engineer who was fired for drinking on the job. He retaliated by stealing an engine out of the Worcester railroad yards and drove it into Webster, colliding with a passenger train waiting to take on passengers. No one was injured, but Mr. Jardine was arrested on charges including drunken railway driving.

Joseph A. Patenaude, and I can’t claim any ties, was chairman of the Webster selectmen in 1936 when a flood inundated the Pearl Street area in town. The waters stayed in adjacent homes after the flood receded because the nearby railroad line was higher than the road. Mr. Patenaude reacted by dynamiting the railway tracks, ending the problem.

Both incidents were reported in poetic form by the late Laurence J. Daly, editor of the Webster Times for almost 50 years to his death in 1953.

The Meriden crowd “just loved” the poetry, Mr. Mrazik said.
-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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