Welcome to the History Corner!
Celebrating the rich history of Port Byron, New York, an old Erie Canal village in the Town of Mentz. This site is dedicated to the legacy and heritage of our community as well as a variety of regional historical tidbits. I hope you enjoy your visit and will stop by again.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

NSDAR Literacy Promotion Contest

I am deeply honored to share that the program organized in November 2010 to honor the late Pearl Kilmer Wilson's contributions to the "Mail-It" program, has received national recognition by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution in their literacy promotion contest.

When the contest was announced we didn't know if the program we held, which focused on the elderly and visually impaired, how it would stack up as compared to other more traditional programs centered on reading involving the youth.  Our program seemed to fit the contest guidelines like a glove, so we decided to give it a try.  I am pleased to report that the program placed as follows:

Contest Results
1st Place  - New York State
1st Place  - North East Division, which includes the States of NY, VT, NH, ME, MA, CT, and RI
2nd Place - National

To fully understand why reading became so important  (page 2) to Pearl, I'd like to share her story:

Pearl as a youngster worked for her family as a mule driver on the Erie Canal.  This was a task traditionally performed by young boys for hire but she always stayed with her family.

She traveled the canal from Rochester to Syracuse and from Syracuse to Albany, following the Hudson river to New York City with her father William. She had a life long fascination over shoes and her days on the canal is likely the reason.  Shoes wore out frequently due to the many miles traveled.  

           c. 1903
Pearl with her sisters
Myrtle, Pearl (center), Georgiana

While it was hard work, Pearl found the traveling to be very exciting.  One of her adventures included a boat accident.  Upon arriving at a lock, they found the lock tender was on a lunch break. A gentleman nearby assured her father he could operate the lock to get them on their way without delay. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned and the boat made contact with the chamber wall.
Pearl laughed, saying she was so scared by the water rushing into the boat, that she jumped onto a small table that was nearby.  She added that by the time her father reached her, the table was floating in the water!

They continued their journey, patching the hole with burlap bags, mud and straw.  They traveled all the way down the Hudson river, the patch holding until such time they could get a repair at a dry dock.  For a short time she lived on one of the piers while her Grandfather was employed at New York Central Harbor.  The tugboat used to come to the pier to pick up the school children and take them to the dock where a teacher waited to take them to class. At the end of the session, the teacher would take them back to meet the tug for their return trip home.  Pearl often joked about being tagged by the city kids as one of the "boat kids". 

Completing her primary education was not meant to be.  However, when she married and started to raise a growing family, an unexpected opportunity would present itself.  Now with four children, she decided it was time to return to school.  She studied anatomy with her son George while he was taking a similar class in high school.  In 1932 she graduated from the Woman's Union College at Auburn, NY as a practical nurse.

Pearl's interest in reading would blossom after complications that resulted from a car accident in 1956.  Once she learned of a new service called "Mail-It" offered by the Finger Lakes Library System, she was one of the first to sign up.  The program would later face budget cuts.

At the age of 91, she campaigned to save the program.  The 3rd grade students at Owasco Elementary  School in Auburn, NY picked up her story and decided to write to several Senators to rally support. In response to their efforts, U.S. Sen. Frank Horton presented the 3rd grade class with an American Flag that flew over the Capital on July 4, 1984. Thankfully, the "MAIL IT" program was continued.

In honor of the 25th anniversary of Pearl's fight, I organized an event with the help of my siblings.  The program united Senator Michael F. Nozzolio and the Owasco Elementary School with Pearl's descendants at the Mentz Town Hall.  The afternoon was held in her honor, celebrating her life and her love of reading.  Another flag that had flown over the capital was donated, this time presented by Senator Nozzolio to our local library.  Attendees made donations which was used to purchase several large print books for the Port Byron Library.  Pearl would have been pleased to see her family gift so many wonderful books to her home town library.

Pearl's famous phrase was "you can travel the world by reading a book".

On behalf of Pearl's descendants, we thank the NSDAR for recognizing our program held in honor of Pearl's fight to save the "Mail-It" program.