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March 29, 2010

My Turn: A retired pastor reminisces

— This week's "My Turn" column is by the Rev. Ken Baldwin, a retired pastor from the United Presbyterian Church and the United Methodist Church.

A lot happened in the early 1920s _ the Teapot Dome scandal, the founding of our Oneonta Rotary Club and Yours Truly first saw the light of day.

The League of Nations was trashed, Broadway and a fine array of musicals came into being, several written and composed by the young musician George Gershwin.

Who will ever forget "Rhapsody in Blue," "An American in Paris," "Porgy and Bess" and others?

Then came the 1928 election where Herbert Hoover bested Al Smith with religious prejudice against the Catholic faith much in evidence.

In 1929, economic life for most Americans took quite a tumble. As a youngster I can remember it quite well _ no nickel or dime from my father, only a penny to buy some green spearmint leaves at the corner candy store for me and my buddies.

The former president of the New York Stock Exchange moved to Fayetteville from Manhattan and built a nice, small house next door to us.

In 1930, a suburb of Syracuse, Fayetteville, where I grew up, built the first centralized school in New York state in the middle of a cow pasture on the edge of the village, with many feeling it was education tomfoolery.

Several school buses were in use ("for Pete's sake, why can't they walk the way I did?), and there was a new-fangled social studies textbook out of Columbia University ("no damn good. It doesn't tell you how to milk a cow).

In our family of six, I lost an older brother to polio, and my father, who owned and ran the local store, extended credit to many, which was good, but his generosity built up a lot of ledger bills producing little cash.

We had sandlot baseball, Boy Scouts and nearby streams and woods to explore. The day after the 1932 election, I asked my father who had won the presidency, and he replied over his oatmeal without missing a spoonful, "Hoover didn't." I got the message.

I built a soap-box derby racer and competed on a hill in Syracuse. I served as mayor of the city for a day in a Boy Scout project, which was fun. A couple of years of high school baseball taught us the role of teamwork. It was great to travel to New York City and see Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth play.

I enlisted in December 1941 after listening to FDR's "Date of Infamy" speech to Congress, serving three years in the Pacific in the Army, mostly in the Philippines (I wasn't wounded and didn't get malaria, praise God). My service was followed by a degree in chemical engineering from Syracuse University.

Remember rationing, and women in defense industry jobs? I remember walking through Harlem with Mayor John Lindsay in the late '60s to calm riots.

Nancy and I, married 62 years, have done a lot of traveling _ Alaska, southern California, Florida, the Maritime provinces, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Italy, Sicily, Israel, Bermuda _ it's wonderful to taste other cultures and locales. She deserves a lot of credit _ pastors' wives sometimes take a lot of guff.

Oneonta is a fine small city here in the western Catskills. Let's all appreciate it and contribute in ways large and small, to help it grow and flourish far into the future. May there be many sturdy and prosperous years for all.

To write for "My Turn," contact Editor Sam Pollak at or 432-1000, ext. 208.