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Recalling some forgotten volunteers in Westfield’s history


June 6, 2012
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Sometimes it seems like the universe is directing attention and focus on an unanticipated historic topic. Such was and is the case regarding volunteerism in Westfield. As many readers of BeeLines may know, Marybelle Beigh - the Westfield Historian - is also the proprietor of Parkview Caf, Soda Fountain and Ice Cream Parlor. For reasons of "too much on her plate" and health issues, Beigh has been seeking other options for continuing the operation of Parkview. A friend pointed to a possible solution, directing Beigh to 21 East Caf and Used Bookstore in Dunkirk, which is run solely by volunteers to help support Literacy Volunteers of Chautauqua County. The LVCC volunteers assist either in the bookstore or the caf as well as providing tutoring in literacy and English as a Second Language for which they have received specific training.

A fascinating and informative visit to 21 East inspired Beigh to learn more about volunteer literacy tutoring. In the meantime, while researching an entirely different topic in the March 5, 1969 Westfield Republican, an article - "Literacy Volunteers Train 13 New Teachers" - caught Beigh's attention, especially since it referred to the Literacy Volunteers of Westfield in the lead sentence. Further research was undertaken to determine the starting date for this volunteer group, as well as the names of its organizers.

Research was rewarded with a delightful surprise. In the Jan. 10, 1968 Westfield Republican was found an article headlined "Literacy Training Volunteers Sought" and bylined by Mrs. Ralph Wilson. Beigh wondered aloud, "Is this really the Mrs. Ralph Wilson, or Jan Wilson, whom I know from my very first official BeeLines article about the little private 'museum' at the former Wilson Auto Parts business on South Portage?" Reading through the article provided the answer - yes.

Article Photos

Submitted photo
There was once a Community Center in Westfield back in the 1960s and 1970s located at 3 East Main Street.

In a follow-up phone call to the Wilsons, Jan Wilson provided an interesting brief history about the Literacy Volunteers of Westfield. Mrs. Ralph Wilson and Mrs. Gunnard Carlson - Linda Carlson Dunn's mother - had been the enthusiastic leaders in starting the local volunteer group. They received their training from Literacy Volunteers, Inc., "an independent, non-profit organization with headquarters in Syracuse, N.Y. Its purpose is to teach basic reading and writing to adults and teenagers who can read and write very little or not at all."

According to Jan Wilson, the program was quite successful for a few years, not only doing the literacy tutoring, but training additional tutors for the one-on-one teaching situations. Another surprise was that the Literacy Volunteers of Westfield provided the first training seminar for the Dunkirk-Fredonia group that continues as LVCC at 21 East in Dunkirk today.

With the passing of Mrs. Gunnard Carlson, and the decision of Jan Wilson to go on for her full teaching credentials, the Literacy Volunteers of Westfield was turned over to another director. Perhaps without the enthusiasm of the original directors, or perhaps because there were fewer and fewer local folks who required literacy tutoring, the Westfield organization folded.

Fact Box

Marybelle Beigh is the current Public Historian for the Town and Village of Westfield. Her office is located at 3 East Main Street in Westfield, N.Y, 14787 - inside Parkview Ice Cream Parlor. Her scheduled office hours are Monday through Friday 9 to 11 a.m.; other hours by appointment.

Beigh can be reached at or by calling 326-2457 (office), 326-6171 (home) or 397-9254 (cell).

At a meeting with the current director of LVCC at 21 East, Amanda Walden, Beigh shared the above discovered history, and Walden described the current situation of funding and other issues, such as the possibility of Parkview becoming a "satellite" for LVCC. Although this particular volunteer organization may not be an option at present for Parkview, there are likely many other volunteer service organizations that could possibly utilize the space and benefit from the proceeds of a small caf, soda fountain, bakery and gift shop.

And the universe is continuing to provide more options.

The April 12, 2012 issue of The Westfield Republican had an excellent article - "Volunteer group in Mayville offers weekly visits to lonely senior citizens" by Scott Shelters - pointing out that, "It's a huge need" for more volunteer visitation programs for seniors.

The Office for the Aging sent out flyers suggesting becoming involved by donating time and talents and announced a free luncheon to learn about opportunities to assist older adults in our communities.

Another recent article in the Republican called for volunteers to be hosts at the Westfield-Barcelona Chamber of Commerce Visitors' Booth.

RSVP is a volunteer organization of seniors who have been hosts at the Visitors' Booth, but do many other volunteer activities in the area.

Anyone with ideas, time, and energy for making a volunteer service organization visible on Main Street of Westfield should consider the possibility of a community center, and contact the Westfield Historian. Remember, in the late 1960s and early 1970s there really was a Community Center at 3 East Main Street, where the office of the Westfield Historian is now located in Parkview Caf, Soda Fountain, Bakery, and Gift Shop. The possibilities are seemingly endless.



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