Monday, March 2, 2015

Amanuensis Monday - Howard Matthews' Story #13 - More from Wyoming Seminary

1928 Franklin

In the 13th installment of my grandfather's story he recounts more of his time at Wyoming Seminary, and his preparations for Wesleyan University.

Towards the end of my senior year at Wyoming Dr. Sprague asked me if I possessed evening clothes and if not, would I care to come to his home that evening to try on a tuxedo and full-dress outfit that had belonged to a wealthy resident of Wilkes-Barre, now deceased. The idea of wearing a dead man's clothing did not exactly enthuse me, but upon Dr. Sprague's insisting that a man shouldn't go to college without proper clothing, I agreed to appear and in due course I stripped to my underwear in the Sprague parlor and tried them on.  They did fit fairly well and only slight alteration would be needed, so I became the proud owner of the two outfits and I wore them at Wesleyan Glee Club concerts and dances my first two years of college.  Eventually they wore out and I never again possessed more than a tuxedo for formal wear.

My roommates in the Belfry suite were Ben Cowan, who was a member of the Varsity football squad and Business Manager of the yearbook; and Ted Hughes with whom I roomed at Wesleyan also. Ted was the school electrician at Seminary and one of his duties was to pull the switch at 10 pm, the official lights out time in the dormitory rooms. Out of sympathy for us older fellows who couldn’t go to sleep that early the wiring for the Belfry suite became mixed up with the hall lights circuit, adding an extra hour of light to our work days.

The three of us were a little older than most of the students but this did not deprive us of either the normal horseplay that went on or the assessed penalties that were meted out. Water fights were a favorite late evening sport. One evening as we were throwing water bombs at the boys who roomed in the back wing of our dorm, one of our bombs hit a faculty member who was just arriving for the 10 pm bed-check. We were summoned to the President’s office the next day. The President asked which one of us hurled the bomb that hit the Professor and when there was no answer he said he would have to throw all three of us out of school. We then explained that since all three were throwing we didn’t know which one hit him. Thereupon Doc gave us 10 demerits apiece and told us to walk them off by doing “guard duty” on the back campus. This kept us too busy to get off campus during the hours between end of classes and dinner time.

Eight men from the class of 1924 chose to go to Wesleyan: Bennett, Bittenbender, Bronson, Hughes, Matthews, Olmstead, Price and Stone.

I prepared financially for Wesleyan by selling Fuller Brushes. In ten weeks I was able to clear $750. Fortunately, my brother Charles and his good wife Nellie provided me free room and board that summer and each following summer of my college career. At that time Wesleyan’s tuition fee was $400 and I was given a half scholarship, but with the added costs of  a room in Clark Hall, books, clothing, travel, etc. my $750 was soon over-committed. Fortunately I was pledged to a wonderful fraternity, Phi Nu Theta (Eclectic), the oldest of the 12 then at Wesleyan, and earned my meals by waiting on table in its dining club, 3 meals a day, 7 days per week. I continued that job in my sophomore year and then was elected Steward of the Eating Club for the next two years. This involved billing and collecting the weekly board fee from our members, paying the staff and the bills of the food suppliers.  Thus my food was earned the entire four years. The rest of my cash needs were my by summer jobs and loans.

One of my Fuller Brush customers in Carbondale was Mrs. W.A. Manville, a well-to-do widow. When I delivered her order she asked whether I could drive a car as she had just lost her chauffeur. So for the remaining few weeks of the summer of 1924 I did part-time driving for her. In the spring of the next year (my first at Wesleyan) she wrote and asked if I would drive her full-time the following summer. I demurred, saying that my summer earnings had to be at least $750. She replied that she would pay me that much, so I accepted and drove for her each summer for 4 years. This helped me not only financially but also educationally and socially.  She was a wonderful person, a Virginian, well-educated and widely travelled, and she was an excellent conversationalist. Her car was a Franklin; she purchased a new one every year and in them I drove her and her friends over a good part of northeastern USA and Canada. She did not believe in a partly filled car. Consequently, on those trips she sat in the front seat next to me and the back seat would be occupied by her sister, Mrs. Robert Jadwin, wife of the president of the First National Back, by Harriet Pascoe, a wealthy maiden lady, and by Jane Butler another maiden lady, a real Yankee. All were interesting people and their conversations, which I could not avoid hearing, were, to me, an education in the niceties of life enjoyed by high-minded, wealthy, Christian people. I was not treated as a chauffeur. On these long trips I arranged for the hotel reservations, looked after their luggage, stayed at the same hotels and had my meals with them. Between longer trips I took care of Mrs. Manville's yard, drove her on shopping tips to Scranton and New York City, drover her and her friends to their country club for lunch, and kept the Franklin shined.

Miss Harriet Pascoe knew of my limited resources and she volunteered to help with loans whenever I needed help. By the time I was graduated in 1928 I owed her several hundred dollars and, in addition, I owed the Methodist Church Student Loan Fund $600. When I repaid her, Miss Pascoe remarked that she had given similar loans to several young people but that I was the only one who had repaid the loans. Years later I learned that in her will was a statement, "If Howard Matthews owes anything on the loans I have made him, it is forgiven."

A couple of years later, before we were married, when Dagmar came to Carbondale to meet my family, she met these two delightful ladies also. And in the 50's after we came to live in Middletown, May Manville and her niece Mary Jadwin visited us at 33 Lawn Avenue. Mrs. Manville stayed overnight and the next day we took her back to Mary's home in Woodbridge.

Next time, he's off to Wesleyan.