It was the first week in June that my neighbor approached me in my side yard, with a picture in his hand. Paul Elice had been walking the roadside on Martin Road picking up the trash in the ditch and road opposite his home when a white paper caught his eye.
Paul showed me what he found and he said, “I thought only you, the town historian, could find the owner of this picture. I hope we can return it to them.” The folder held a graduation picture in a white folder taken by Ernsberger of Auburn, and printed in red lettering on the side stated, "The Class of 1940."
I studied the picture carefully and said to Paul, “Well, this young man is either a Mizro, Martinez, Sierzenga, Podolak or Dec.” I explained to Paul that living in Owasco since 1961, I knew most of the farm families living on the roads around me. John Martinez built the ranch house around the corner on Route 38A, and his older brother Bill lived down the road near the curve in the Martinez family homestead. The Sierzengas lived on Town Hall Road. Where did this picture come from? Which family? The student, if alive, had to be 97 years old!
June is graduation month. I could not help but think of the over 250 Auburn seniors in 2020, and what their graduation would be like with the current pandemic closing every public activity and building. I took the folder, and began the research.
I am indebted to five people who took the time to help. Their kindness and caring was very much appreciated. I called the Cayuga County Historian's Office and talked to Ruth Bradley, the county historian. The office was closed to visitors, but Ruth suggested I talk with Dorie Fielding at the Seymour Library history room. Ruth did not have the high school yearbooks I requested, but assured me the history room did. At the library, I talked with Dorie on the phone and suggested she look in the 1940 yearbooks for West High School or Holy Family. Most of the boys of farm families went to West High.
I then sent the pictures to them — three times. Dorie wrote, “She couldn’t open the file.” Lin Sullivan tried to help by asking me to send the pictures to the library. Three more times. They still could not open the file. The following Tuesday at the Owasco Town Hall, our town clerk, Tammy Flaherty, was the next one to help. She had me send the pictures to her. I sent the pictures to her and she sent them (on the town website) to the history room at Seymour Library. Within two hours, I received a reply from the library. Lin said, “I should be a Canadian Mountie, because I got my man. He is in the 1940 Holy Family yearbook. His name is John Joseph Renahan.”
Renahan? Why, Sophie Martinez Renahan lived on the corner of Honeysuckle Road and 38A in Owasco! She lived the next road over! I worked with her at General Electric in the 1950s. She was John and Bill Martinez’s sister. Linda Coretti, our billing clerk at the town hall (and No. 5 helper), gave me Sophie Martinez Renahan's telephone number from our records.
I called Sophie and told her the chain of events since Paul found the picture by the roadside, and of the many caring people who helped me get the picture back to her. She laughed and explained she knew how the picture was lost, and even remembered driving down Martin Road with her daughter Lisa from Colorado, with her son's twin grandchildren in the back seat. They were looking at the pictures and one must have flown out the open window. She said her husband went by the name “Jake,” and her grandson was named after him.
The three pictures shown with the column are of Jake and his graduation picture, Paul Elice holding the folder, and presenting it back to Sophie. What a heartwarming story this was.
Laurel Auchampaugh is the Owasco historian and can be reached at the Owasco Town Hall from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoons or at email@example.com.
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