May 7, 2010

The Half-Shire newsletter that went out this week is long overdue. The feature news items cover the summer through holiday events at the society. Because it has been so many months we had the sad duty to report over 24 deaths of members or friends of the society. As we went to print we received the news of the deaths of Alice Campbell Gasperini, Julia Gawronski and out secretary and founder George O. Widrig. Fuller mention of these former members will be made in the next issue.

The next issue is already being laid out, with material already on hand and a general outline. The cover story of this upcoming newsletter will feature an article on George and his life and contributions to the region.

George O. Widrig was born in May 1931 the son of James and Avis (Donovan) Widrig. His father was a railroad engineer headquartered in the bustling railroad intersection of Richland. George grew up and spent his life in the Richland, he knew everyone by name in the community throughout his nearly 80 years, and he knew their lineage also. He was educated in Richland School, a graduate of the Pulaski Academy and Central School in 1948, and he later went on to take his degree in Art Education at Oswego State.

George taught a number of years in Mexico school. Health issues periodically troubled him through his life, and he retired at a younger age and devoted himself to his research, painting, music and gardening. For many years George also took care of his mother Avis.

Avis and George, along with Avis’ cousin Floyd Kent and his daughter Marie and two others had talked throughout 1972 about forming a historical society on this end of the county. On November 15, the six met at the home of Floyd and Marie and by nights’ end Half-Shire Historical Society had been born.

Our group was founded as a sort of “secessionist movement”, the charter members all felt that the Oswego County Historical Society had not represented the east end for some time. Like the earlier secessionists of 1847 and 1852 who sought to split the county, the Half-Shire founders wanted to form an eastern historical society that would better reflect the rural heritage that differs substantially from the Oswego River valley.

Nearly 40 years later, George was one of two living, and the last of the founders to be actively engaged in our day to day affairs. Serving as Secretary, and for the past year employed by the society through Experience Works, George got the mail daily, sorted it and sent it off to either myself or the Treasurer, he worked at the Court house during winter months answering correspondence, developing research notebooks and pasting up obituaries. Even in his last months when he was in steep decline, George continued to take care of the mail and help with research.

In his capacity as society secretary George particularly excelled. His near daily notes of thanks, and letters to researchers were done in a true nineteenth century manner, with class and efficiency.

In the weeks following is death, we have broken George’s duties up and awarded them to five people. Erin Bacon was appointed the new Deputy historian for Richland Town, and will be working in George’s editing chair, reviewing all periodicals. Erma Schroeder will be taking over the obituary collection and its upkeep, Paula Sachel has taken over George’s Experience works job and works from the court house for the time being, Fay Ann Yerdon Colvin is targeted to fill in as Recording Secretary for meetings while Nancy Smith has agreed to become corresponding Secretary to handle the mail and send out notes.

This writer, who has served and worked alongside George almost daily since 1994 is at a true loss, George was always a phone call away with a research problem, and his knowledge of Richland history was unsurpassed. I have lost a very close friend and fellow historian, whom I will miss greatly for a long time.

The Society met last on April 24th and served over 35 meals. We selected a bid for masonry work to the back of the building, including the covering of long ago windows in the back. Reports were given from committees and the town representatives, and the next meeting was scheduled for Saturday May 22, at the Richland headquarters at 1pm following a noon meal. All are welcome.

In other news, Half-Shire is pleased tot learn we have been approved as an AmeriCorps work site. We should learn in the next few weeks who our summer intern will be. Interviews were started on April 30,

Half-Shire can be reached at P.O. 73, 1100 County Rte. 48 in Richland, NY 13144. Our email is halfshire@hotmail.com and out website is at www.halfshire.com

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