September 10, 2007


Union Fair recalls simpler times

Union Fair

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Carol Niggli of Marathon views a community quilt that was pieced together after last year’s Union Fair in Marathon. Contributors to the quilt project could make a quilt square at home or bring their fabric to the Civic Building Saturday and use a sewing machine, Niggle said.    

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — Jerry and Norma Hults came from Georgia to attend the 1890 Union Fair on Saturday.
As one of the fair’s original organizers, Jerry Hults remembers its inception in 1983 as a way to sell 400 chicken halves he helped cook July 4.
Hults and others couldn’t sell all the chickens, so they decided to freeze them and came up with the idea of the fair.
Ever since, the fair has been providing this small village a sense of community, said Tom Dumas, a Virgil resident and former executive director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County who has judged vegetable competitions at the Union Fair for many years.
There are not many of these small town fairs remaining, he said. “Most of the people live here,” Dumas said. “They come to see who has the best flower, the best vegetable.”
The fair also celebrates a bygone spirit of simpler days.
Every participant, from the 2007 Maple Festival Queen to the First Baptist Church with its water wagons, walked, rode in a horse-drawn carriage or rode horses in the parade. No motorized vehicles were allowed.
While the parade passed, community volunteers were manning food booths and exhibits in the civic center.
Rena Janke was in charge of multiple exhibits. One was a community quilt and another was heritage recipes, which were favorite sweets ancestors had baked.
Janke, who moved to Marathon in 1981 from Tennessee, has volunteered at the Union Fair for 14 or 15 years.
She said the fair “gives people a reason to see their neighbors.”
The quilt, she said, was started last year and participants of the fair were asked to bring in a quilt square at least 13 inches by 13 inches. But at the fair a row of tables had sewing machines and fairgoers could make a square with donated scraps of fabric. Janke said one girl about 9 years old sat on her lap to make a square. Janke said by the end of the fair there were 40 new squares.
She sewed the squares together and hopes that perhaps local seniors will take on the task of quilting the covers.
The goal is to raffle off the quilt to benefit either the Marathon Area Historical Society or Peck Memorial Library.
The high temperatures and humidity Saturday did not keep fairgoers away.
The Merihews, of Marathon, said they are regular attendees.
“We usually come down every year,” David Merihew said. “We live here in town.”
“It’s a nice day to get out and see some neighbors,” Becky Merihew said.
Their children Molly, 5, and Kari, 6, said they like to see the horses in the parade. Kari, a Brownie, also marched in the parade. Molly also liked the roosters that were on exhibit.
David Merihew said he liked the food the best. He was enjoying a barbecue sandwich.
“I just like getting out and seeing everybody,” Becky Merihew said.


Fair recognizes Marathon’s volunteers

The 2007 theme of “community servants” was highlighted Saturday in the Union Fair parade with the choice of grand marshal.
Doug Chidester, a Whitney Point resident, received the honor.
Marathon Town Supervisor Chuck Adams said Chidester led the crew that refurbished the Village Green flagpole, which was rededicated just before the parade began. Adams said he sandblasted the metal pole and painted it with epoxy paint.
Union Fair organizer Connie White said the flagpole was first placed on the Village Green in 1914 by sons of Civil War veterans.
Chidester unveiled a bronze plaque for the flagpole rededication during the ceremony.
“It’s not just about flagpoles,” White said of Chidester’s community service.
She said he has also dressed up as the Easter Bunny and visits senior citizens. Later, in introducing him in the parade, White said Chidester always makes sure the gazebo on the Village Green looks nice and the plants are watered.
Chidester, who was a sergeant in the Marine Corps, does those things on his own time, she said. He works for the village electric department.
“Some say Doug is hyperactive or a workaholic,” White said.
“I’m very flattered,” Chidester said. “For everything in life, God gave me the strength to do it.”
— Ida Pease



Former students gather for Blodgett Mills schoolhouse reunion

Staff Reporter

BLODGETT MILLS — About 60 former students and teachers reminisced Saturday about the neighborhood school that was at the four corners of the hamlet until it was torn down the last week of December 1968.
In the 1940s, former students recalled, the school had housed students from first through eighth grades, but in the 1950s they remembered first through sixth grades being there.
“It was a fun time in my life,” said Vivian Widger Foster, who attended in the 1940s and then went on to Cortland High School. “I hated going to high school. I got lost all the time.”
Foster said she had maybe four or five classmates by eighth grade. She recalled having four grades in one classroom. By comparison Cortland was huge. A friend, Eva Underwood, helped her get around that high school building, which is now the Cortland County Office Building.
A group of older students organized the first reunion last year to reminisce about the school. After the success of that reunion, a group of younger students organized it this year.
Barbara Truman Angell, who started school in Blodgett Mills around 1936 and still lives in Blodgett Mills, said she was schooled in Texas while her father worked to build oil refineries there. When she reached eighth grade she intentionally failed the Regents in math, her best subject, because she was afraid she would be the only one going on to Cortland. Instead she ended up having to take eighth-grade math and algebra at the same time.
Wayne Chamberlain, who started at the Blodgett Mills school in 1953, recalled the grades were grouped in twos and three classrooms were used and the fourth room was used for a gym. He talked about his favorite teacher, Josephine Foreman, who had taught at the school since 1945 and continued teaching for a while in McGraw. The old school bell was given to her after the school was closed. Before her death, she gave the bell back and now it is in the McGraw Elementary School library, Chamberlain said.
“She let her hair down when she got mad,” said Chamberlain, noting her hair, usually kept in a bun at the back of her head, fell down to her waist.
“She was a nice lady,” Chamberlain said. “We all cried when we left there and went to McGraw,” he added. He said she would help any student needing help. “She was a caring teacher.”
Sue Powers, who started school in Blodgett Mills in 1955, said Foreman was very good to the students and would discuss any problems students had with them. She recalled bringing apples and other fruit to the teachers.
“I’m glad they have this,” Powers said. “It brings back a lot of memories.”