Felses Give Town Spectacular Fourth  
Thursday, July 23, 2009


Let’s offer a few notes and observations, starting with a municipal “thank you” to Gerald and Marilyn Fels, sponsors of the July 3 fireworks program at Memorial Beach in Webster. It was a spectacular kickoff to Independence Day.

Jerry and Marilyn brought happiness and awe to thousands of people in one evening, and the magnificence of their contribution remains in public discussion all these days later. There’s no modern parallel to their benevolence, though veterans groups and others contributed to Fourth of July celebrations in the years after World War II. The search goes back to the days of Slater Mills dominance in the World War I era, when Horatio Nelson and Mabel Hunt Slater celebrated with pyrotechnic displays on the lawns to the Knolls, their long-gone East Village manor, now a shopping center anchored by a Price Chopper.

There’s a big difference, though. The Slaters entertained their employees and guests, probably to build good will; while the Felses entertained the region, probably because it was yet another way to share their blessings.



State Secretary of Transportation James Aloise came to Webster July 1 to award a $994,415 state grant to install historically correct lighting standards on Main Street, for traffic control updates and some road and sidewalk work in the vicinity of Town Hall. Nineteen new lights will be added to the 13 installed in recent years. While the transportation money will make the light standards uniform, it’s hard to imagine how they will revitalize the downtown business scene. The new fixtures might improve illumination along Main Street, but they don’t appear too different from those that were in place around World War II.



Romuald J. Kokernak provided a bit of Webster history about a certain piece of property and a tie to Goodness Bros. Opera Tablets on a recent evening. Starting from 1927, when his late father, Raymond J. Kokernak, established the YD Garage (Yankee Division being his World War I military unit) on a corner lot at Lake Street and Eastern Avenue, the property had footings for a one-time building on its south side, near Goodness Street. Mr. Kokernak provided this as background to our story last month about Goodness Bros. and the empty tablets box Helen Lipski found while spring cleaning her home. The elder Mr. Kokernak knew Charles A. Goodness, who once lived on the street bearing his name, and remembered that the footings on his business lot were for a building used by Dr. Goodness, as he called himself. The YD Garage burned down one Thanksgiving and Romuald Kokernak, by then the successor to the business, built a home in its place. The footings were removed for a garden. “My wife likes to dig around in the garden, and we wondered why she kept finding old apothecary bottles out there.” Could the secret to Opera Tablets be in Peggy Kokernak’s garden?



“I opened my first downtown business 25 years ago today,” Ellis F. “Cappy” Bateman said on July 6. “It was 1984.” The business, B & B Trading, was a spinoff from Bateman’s Electrical Shop, established around 1932 by his late father, Raymond L. “Bill” Bateman, in a family-owned building on Dudley Hill. The electrical contracting shop remains in place, 77 years and counting. The trading store was in an alleyway behind F. W. Green, a dime to a dollar store. Mr. Bateman expanded his offerings, adding space for B & B Electric and Webster Electrical Supply. The combined operations now occupy adjoining two- and three-story blocks. Great selections, quantities, and bargain prices seem to be the hallmarks to Mr. Bateman’s business philosophy. Economic conditions are such that the three businesses simply observed the quarter-century mark of the first business without any special celebration, unless you count Mr. Bateman’s visit to the Sterling Realty Co. office on Thompson Road, where he and his buddy Roger Dubois, the retired Dudley building inspector, enjoyed coffee brewed by Mark Becker or Carla Manzi.



Red Cross founder Clara Barton’s death on April 12, 1912, was diverted from the front pages of the nations newspapers by the sinking of the Titanic early on the morning of April 15, 1912, says Chairman Robert J. Miller of the Webster Board of Selectmen, attributing the thought to the late Evelyn Thompson-Arpe, a native of Oxford and a longtime Webster resident.

“She was just 12 years old when Clara Barton died and remembered the order to the funeral, even all the hymns that were played, through the rest of her life.” Mrs. Arpe always believed the Titanic disaster overshadowed follow-up stories about Miss Barton’s death, according to Mr. Miller.

Known as “the Angel of the Battlefield” for her humanitarian work during the Civil War, Clara Barton first worked as an elementary teacher in Oxford, her hometown.
-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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