Oldest Peace Corps Volunteer Comes to Visit  
Thursday, August 12, 2010

It was a typical John Guy LaPlante inquiry: “I’m about a half-hour from Webster. You going to be around?” Like, a spur of the moment thing.

We always make time for John Guy, once a features editor for the Sunday Telegram, and with relatively short-term residencies in Webster and Dudley.

After all, his friends never know where he’s been, like a solo tour around the world before his last impromptu visit; to a 27-month tour of duty with the Peace Corps in the Ukraine, his most recent experience. He’s been at home in Deep River, Conn., for some time, and might have made Webster much earlier, but … well, it was early on his first morning at home, and he ventured from second-story sleeping quarters to first-floor living space in his condo, tripping down the stairwell, ending up in a somewhat contorted position, and in excruciating pain.

It took some time, but he finally got to a hospital emergency room, and a long recovery followed. So, after more than three years, John Guy decided to pay Jeanne and Ed a visit. He was at the Brookfield Orchards, stocking up on big red apples. “An apple a day … ”

He wasn’t certain that he’d qualify for the Peace Corps in the first place because, after all, his application revealed things like age: the shady side to his 70s. There were positives, though, like life experiences and being bilingual. His assignment required that he learn Russian (“not something to try when you’re in your 70s”), but his volunteer effort, running English and French clubs for adults at a large library, was successful and satisfying. “Eager learners.”

His Webster visit was short, spent mostly over lunch, so John Guy’s experiences came between inquiries, his and ours, family updates and the like. Mr. LaPlante says he was told well into his Peace Corps experience that he was “the oldest living Peace Corps volunteer in the world.” The residuals to Ukraine life were that he lost 25 pounds in 27 months without trying. “You walk no matter where you go, even to get public transportation.” Peace Corps volunteers in the Ukraine are not allowed to drive automobiles. Exercise is automatic, not to mention fourth-story quarters in a building without an elevator, and there are lots of simple foods in the diet, always served on 6-inch plates. “They don’t have 8-inch dinner plates like we do here,” said John Guy. “A full plate isn’t that filling.”

Mr. LaPlante has written several world travel books in the last decade, an upgrade from his nationwide tours in a vintage Volkswagen bus. I sense another one in the making. If “plate” isn’t in the title, it might be in the subtitle, or a chapter.

Robert G. “Rocky” Miller was quite an athlete as a young man, playing for Bartlett High School, the St. Joseph’s Boys Club and other teams in the late 1940s, always posting a good batting average.

A lifelong Webster resident, except for Marine Corps service, Mr. Miller had a tryout pending with the St. Louis Cardinals organization when the military took precedence.

“Rocky” remembered his first grand-slam home run the other afternoon. It was in 1946, and he played for the Filmer School team in the Webster Playgrounds league. Cincy St. Hilaire and one of the Guenthers, probably Bobby, were on the base paths, but he can’t remember who the other runner was. “Filmer didn’t really have a baseball field,” he recalled. “We had to drop a few feet off a stone wall behind the school. Then, we’d walk to a clearing that was still in pretty rough shape.”

Mr. Miller’s declaration came in two parts: Carl Gabor, of Dudley’s Jericho Gabors, was one of his basketball and baseball colleagues at Bartlett High. Mr. Gabor served in the Navy, settled in Oregon, and now telephones “Rocky” maybe once a month. They talk about friends and things that were, life on the right and left coasts, and draw current-day comparisons.

“He asked about you the last time he called,” says Mr. Miller. The response was something about getting old.

Robert J. Decelles, a front end cashier at the Price Chopper in Webster, is starting to cultivate his annual facial growth for Christmas.

Mr. Decelles is generally the store’s Santa Claus, and plays the role for others in his spare time. He moved from stubble to a training beard at the end of July. He’ll sport a true Santa Claus reminder — full, white and real — well before Christmas 2010.

Friend James J. Manzi, one of Webster’s major memorabilia collectors, says he recently added a State Theater advertising piece with a reference to vaudeville.

It was for Monday, Sept. 5, and offered five acts by RKO Keith’s Theatre vaudevillians, reports Mr. Manzi. It’s the kind of poster they placed in store windows all over the area, giving “pay the tax only” tickets to people who owned the businesses.

Mr. Manzi’s collection is catch as catch can, and runs pretty much from the inception of talkies to close of the local theaters. This is his first with a vaudeville line. “There’s no year on any of them,” he laments.

The shows were traditionally a comedian who also served as master of ceremonies, a singer, a dancer, and a couple of specialty performers, such as a magician or a juggler. Fixing the show date might be possible, but Jimmy Manzi figures the live acts trod over Webster’s State Theatre stage in the late 1920s. This fits with a report that RKO Keith’s vaudeville shows dated from Dec. 26, 1928, “and toured for about two years.”

A half dozen reserved auto spaces in the new Pearle L. Crawford Memorial Library parking lot in Dudley say “Green.”

The signs — “Low Emission Vehicles Parking Only” — were installed because the facility qualified for a LEEDS green construction grant, and there are points for certain green doings, says Library Director Matt Hall. The signs are among them, good for 12 points.

The “low emissions” line might encourage green driving, but compliance seems mixed, if a couple of drives through the library lot mean anything.

Last Friday was our first visit to the Willowbrook Restaurant in Mendon, and we were impressed. Good food in a great place, even with a dining room to conjure up thoughts of a shipboard meal. We accompanied Carole and Edward Denette of Uxbridge.

Postings throughout the restaurant announced the 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. “table side magic and balloon sculpting” every Wednesday by Rob Hackenson. “His different styles of magic ensure a memorable experience for all ages.” We’d add a line: Young Mr. Hackenson hails from Dudley.

-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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