Those of you who have read these columns over the years know that I like to write occasionally about famous, or nearly famous Weedsport residents. This month's article is one that would have seemed more likely to come out of Hollywood, California, than Weedsport, New York.
As Adolph Hitler started his relentless and cruel attempt to take over the world, starting first in Europe, countless innocent people were torn from their homes and treated with unbelievable cruelty in many different ways. One of the families so affected were Nicholas and Gerda Suszynska, of Poland. Both were college-educated; he taught in an agricultural school and she taught math in a high school. In 1940, when the Russians invaded Poland, Mr. Suszynska joined the Polish army and was subsequently captured by the Russians and sent to work in a camp in Siberia. Eventually, the whole family was sent to Siberia, where they were reunited with their father. After unbelievable hardships, including hunger and cold during which the two smaller children died, they were finally released in 1945 after an agreement was reached between the U.S. and Russian governments. After traveling through India and China, mostly on foot, they came to America to live as displaced persons. Now the Susczinskis, they settled on a small farm on River Road in the hamlet of Emerson and the two younger girls, Alexandra and Mary, enrolled in Weedsport Central School. They were well-received in the Weedsport community and were once again a happy family.
Fast-forward six years to 1951, when Mary, by then a beautiful honey-haired 16-year-old sophomore at Weedsport, became elected to be New York State Fair Queen in a statewide beauty contest. Besides the honor of being the queen, she received a week's vacation in Bermuda for her and her sister, traveling via Pan Am Clipper — a far cry from walking across China! Her wardrobe, which included her coronation gown, was furnished by Flah and Co., of Syracuse. She participated in the opening ceremony held in the state fair coliseum and toured the fairgrounds for two days, performing many queenly duties, including passing out the prizes at the annual IndyCar race.
The fair's opening ceremony was attended by Weedsport Mayor Lester Partelow, Postmaster J. Austin Howe, school Principal William F. Lampman, Lions Club President Merle Johnston, Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, Syracuse Mayor Thomas Corcoran and many other dignitaries. Mary noted during her remarks that she was confident that she should would become a U.S. citizen before the end of the year. A reception in her honor for the public was held locally the next week in the school auditorium, and checks were presented to her from the village residents and her school classmates. The family enjoyed a happy life in Weedsport. Eventually, the girls married and moved away, and the parents went to their reward, resting in Weedsport's St. Joseph's cemetery.
Is this not a story worthy of Hollywood? The photo with this column shows Mary receiving checks from Mayor Partelow, representing the village, and Dick Lippoldt, for the school student government, while her mother looks on.