Last week's history mystery letter from Rodney Fuller, asking if there had been a street name change from Davis Street to Beckman Avenue between 1910 and 1915, mushroomed into a whole series of connections, coincidences and correspondence over the next few days.
As described in part one of this BeeLines story, yes, the name of the street was changed in mid-1914 according to Village Board minutes to honor John Backman, grandfather of Jay Stratton, because Backman had built more than half the houses on then Davis Street.
Dorothy Dibble, who presently lives at 29 Beckman - the home of Rodney Fuller's grandparents, Louis and Ellen Fuller between 1913 and 1959 - noted when the Dibbles purchased the house, older neighbors referred to it as the "Judge" Fuller house. Jay Stratton wrote to Rodney Fuller of his childhood memories playing at 29 Backman. And Fuller had shared I was the only other person he ever met who had the same name as his mother - Marybelle.
Rodney Fuller’s grandmother, Ellen Smedley Fuller, shown in 1954 at 29 Backman Ave., Westfield, N.Y.
When I finally had a chance to tell my mother, Fran Anderson, about the details of the email exchanges with Fuller, my mouth about dropped to the floor when I got to the part about the common first name of Marybelle.
"Fuller," Anderson said. "She was the wife of Dick Fuller, and his mother was Mrs. Ellen Fuller, and she was my seventh grade teacher and my Sunday school teacher."
Anderson then went on to say Ellen Fuller's husband was known as "Judge" Fuller because he had been a Justice of the Peace for many years. Ellen and Judge Fuller had four children whom Anderson knew well when she was in school - at that time she was Frances Dibble. Ellen named the children Julia, Jeanette, Richard "Dick," and William, being sure to get them in birth order. And she commented at least three of them - Dick, Jeanette and William - had red hair. This was an interesting comment because Dorothy Dibble had heard from neighbors it was nice there were more red-heads in the old Judge Fuller house, as Dorothy and some of her children also had strawberry blonde to red hair.
The office of the Westfield Historian is located at 117 Union St., in the small green building on the north side of driveway. Office hours are by appointment; call or email a request. The Westfield Historian phone number is 326-2457 and email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next "coincidence" was that Dick Fuller was "buddies" with Burdette Anderson - another Swede like John Backman - who was Fran Anderson's second husband, and they were both "wise guys" at school. Dick was in a lot of Frances Dibble's classes at school, but we have not yet confirmed what year Dick graduated.
Frances Blackburn - Don Blackburn was her first husband - was a "Grants Girl," working at the five and dime store, Grants, before I was born in 1940, and met Marybelle Fuller about that time. When I was born, my mother decided to put together Mary and Belle to make my name, as my paternal great-grandmother was Martha Belle, my paternal grandmother was Mary and my maternal grandmother was Carrie Mary. Since she had already met someone with the name Marybelle, it seemed a good name.
Fran Anderson mentioned a number of other things about Rodney Fuller's father, and then said when she and Burdette were traveling in, and later moved to, Florida between 1970 and 1984, they had located Dick Fuller living in Florida, but his wife at that time was not Marybelle. One more thing stood out in her memory - June 13, 1987, one day before her 70th birthday, her brother, Floyd Dibble, died, and she read that Rodney's father, Dick Fuller, died the same day.
In my next email to Rodney Fuller, describing the talk with my mother, I concluded with the comment, "Mother is now racking her brain as she thinks that one of my classmates, Carol Penharlow, has something to do with the Fuller family. Does her name 'ring a bell' to you?"
The next email reply from Fuller requested future correspondences include his sister, Elizabeth, as he had been copying her on all the preceding info and was fully, "as interested in, or perhaps even more interested in all of the family tidbits." Fuller shared a lot more family information that continued to have connections or "coincidences" and then confirmed his father did retire and move to Florida.
"Cancer took our mother from us in 1957, just after I had turned 16," Fuller wrote. "Elizabeth was much, much younger than that."
The family was living in Grand Rapids, Mich., at that time, and grandmother Ellen Fuller stayed with them to care for the children. But their father decided to take a job in Corry, Pa., and move Rodney and Elizabeth back to live with their grandmother and Aunt Jeanette at 29 Backman at the end of Rodney's junior year of high school. Rodney completed high school at Westfield Academy and Central School and graduated in 1959. Carol Penharlow and Rodney Fuller were "sweethearts" that year, and for the next year they attended colleges in separate cities - Rodney in Chicago and Carol in Buffalo. But after the next summer, they "drifted apart."
The sharing is continuing among Rodney Fuller, his sister Elizabeth, Dorothy and Ed Dibble, Fran Anderson and myself as we continue to research and ask questions, like what the interior of 29 Beckman looks like compared to Rod's and Elizabeth's different memories, and more about the street changes in the "Westfield Terrace" area enclosed by Spring, Third, Union, Kent and Academy Streets. Is another BeeLines history story in the brewing?