Grace Kull, November 17, 2010

Title

Grace Kull, November 17, 2010

Subject

Brooklyn, NY
Newark, NJ
World War II
The Great Depression

Description

Grace Kull was born in Brooklyn in 1922, and then lived most of her young life in New Jersey. In 1956, she, her husband Albert, and their three young children made the move to Cooperstown, New York. Grace initially had her doubts about the move, despite her husband’s assurances that Cooperstown would be a good place to raise their family. She quickly fell in love with the area, and still resides in the same house that she and her husband purchased in the 1950s.
Shortly after the family had settled into the community, Grace found herself involved with numerous projects. She was first asked to assist in a couple of studies being conducted by doctors at Bassett Hospital. Later on, she joined the staff at the Fenimore House where she helped coordinate programs and became a part of the guide staff. At the conclusion of these two employments, Mrs. Kull and her husband began a bed and breakfast business out of their home that continued for many years until she decided to retire from that venture. In her later years, Grace was involved in several organizations in the community, including six years serving on the Village Board of Trustees.
Much of this interview is centered on Grace Kull’s life in Cooperstown and her interactions with her family and the community. Some interesting stories include descriptions of the Cooperstown Bicentennial Celebration, the new Badger Park, and her recent campaign to raise money to provide the basic necessity of clean water for developing countries through the construction of wells.

Creator

Amanda Manahan

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2010-11-17

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
27.4mB
audio/mpeg
27.4mB
audio/mpeg
20mB
audio/mpeg
1.42mB
image/jpeg
610kB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

10-120

Coverage

Upstate New York
1922-2010
Cooperstown, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Amanda Manahan

Interviewee

Grace Kull

Location

19 Church St.
Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

GK = Grace Kull
AM = Amanda Manahan

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

AM:
This is the November 17, 2010 interview of Mrs. Grace Kull by Amanda Manahan for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork course recorded at 19 Church Street, Cooperstown, New York.
Well thank you taking the time to visit with me and agreeing to be interviewed. I was wondering if you could first just start off by telling me when and where you were born.
GK:
Oh, I was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1922, which makes me eighty-eight years old this year.
AM:
Great. You mentioned earlier that you moved from Brooklyn, and you didn’t really remember Brooklyn. When did you move to New Jersey?
GK:
Oh, between Brooklyn and New Jersey, there were lots of other places that the family lived. We lived in… Well, I can’t bring up the big places right now. We moved to Newark, NJ when I was about ten years old and I lived there until I was married, and then we bought our first home in a little town called Island, New Jersey and lived there about five years until we moved up to Cooperstown. We moved here in 1956.
AM:
Great. Can you tell me about your parents?
GK:
My parents were very interesting. My father was a Catholic priest in Portugal. He left Portugal and he left the priesthood and came to the United States. He lived in a house next door to where my mother’s family lived and my mother was born while he was… I’m getting ahead of myself. He came here as a little boy with his aunt and uncle, and he lived here until he was twelve years old. He lived in the house next door to my grandmother’s— my mother’s mother. My mother was born when he was ten years old so he knew her as a child. Then he went back to Portugal and he was a bright young boy, and he had been here in the States and he had had an education here. When he went back to Portugal, it was in just in a little fishing village and there was nothing for him to do. So, his mother got the parish priests involved to teach him, and they began to teach him to be an altar boy. And they said he was a very, very bright boy and he should go into the priesthood. My father says that he never really had the calling, but it was the only way he could get an education. So, he went into the seminary and he did become a priest. But still at a very young age of twenty-six, he came back to the United States and then he went to visit my grandmother—my mother’s family—and my mother was then a lovely little sixteen-year-old girl. He never went back to Portugal. Two years later, she was very young—eighteen— they were married. They had five children; there were five of us.
AM:
So with your dad growing up in Portugal, or at least being influenced, how did that affect your life and your family traditions?
GK:
Well, we were very Americanized. We didn’t even, unfortunately learn, to speak Portuguese and looking back I wish I had. In those days, you didn’t want to be foreign. You wanted to be American. My mother was born here, so she was certainly Americanized, and I don’t think it influenced us to be more in with our foreign background.
AM:
Did you practice Catholicism as a child?
GK:
Yes. I think my grandmother—my mother’s mother—probably insisted on that the children were brought up as Catholics and so we were. But my father never spoke about his life as a priest. So we didn’t. It was just a fact of life. I knew that, but it was just a fact of life. It wasn’t anything to me unusual.
AM:
Was your mother Catholic too?
GK:
Oh, yes. But up to a point, we didn’t practice. We weren’t, you know, super religious. I brought my children up as Catholics. I have three children, but all three of them are not practicing Catholicism anymore, either.
AM:
Why is that? Because it wasn’t ingrained in you as much so as a child?
GK:
Well, probably. They got to the point where they could think for themselves and they saw a lot that they didn’t agree with. I think this happens to a lot of young people nowadays.
AM:
When your dad left the priesthood and came to the States, what did he do for a living then?
GK:
Well, there were several things. My mother had five brothers and he had known them as kids and he got in with them again when he came back. They went into business together. One was an import/export business to Portugal. I’m not sure exactly what they imported or exported. They also bought a hotel in Brooklyn. They owned a hotel. And then the Depression came and they lost everything. We were very hard hit by the Depression.
AM:
Did that spur on any of your moves? Did the Depression affect where you were living? Did you have to move because of it?
GK:
Yeah, yeah we did. I had a very bad, one extremely bad experience with the Depression. I was, I think, in the sixth grade and we had all our furniture taken away because my parents apparently had signed the lease with the landlord that if they didn’t pay their rent, if they couldn’t pay their rent, he could take the furniture. And so he did at one point when they couldn’t pay the rent. So we were pretty hard hit. At that time, my mother’s family sent furniture down to us. We had to move of course then to another house. They sent furniture for us. But that to me was a very traumatic time, and I even remember that I wouldn’t go back to school. I was embarrassed, and I don’t know why I’m telling all of this. One of the teachers at school, her name was Ms. Carmen. I will never forget her. To me at that point, she seemed like an old lady, but she was probably young. I don’t know. She came to the house. She spoke to me and she said, “You know, this is happening to a lot of people. There’s nothing to be ashamed about.” I did go back to school. That was a very traumatic time.
AM:
Did you have any other friends that you knew of that were going through that at the same time?
GK:
Well, I had friends, but I didn’t know of any that went through anything like that at that time. Maybe there were other people, but I didn’t know them.
AM:
Maybe they were trying to keep it to themselves as well?
GK:
Yes, as I was.
AM:
Can you tell me about your siblings?
GK:
My mother had five children in seven years. So that’s a lot of babies close together. My oldest sister is exactly five years older than I was. We were both born in March. She and I are the only two living now. She’s always telling that everything good in the family, she’s got the brains, and she’s very good looking, and very smart. She went to college. She’s the only one of us that went to college because she wanted to. She worked, and she took out loans, and things like that. She taught science—biology—for forty years. And then my next sibling was another sister. She was the outgoing one in the family. She always made friends easily. She could speak with adults. I always felt a little, you know, shy when I was with adults. But she was very outgoing and everybody liked her. My first sister’s Eleanor; she’s Sylvia. Then my brother, his name his Lloyd, but we called him Bud, he went to aeronautical school. It was right before the war so when he went into the army, he went into the Air Corps. Then I came, I was the fourth. I went to business school and hated every minute. The only thing I ever learned, or remember, was how to type. I had very bad penmanship, anyway, and I had to do shorthand. In those days, you did shorthand. I don’t know if they do that nowadays. But I could not read back my own, you know, shorthand and it was a disaster. But I met my husband in high school. We were both in high school together and he went to business school with me just to go. Neither one of us wanted to go and neither one of us learned anything but we went together. That was what we wanted to do. Then my younger brother John is the one who right out of high school went into the army in World War II and was a wonderful, great kid. He was good looking. Funny. Smart. He was killed in the Battle of the Bulge, which is sad. So that’s my siblings.
AM:
How close were you to John?
GK:
Well, I was close to John because I was close in age. We went to high school together. I knew his friends, and, yeah, we were close. It was a blow. It was terrible when it happened.
AM:
Did his friends reach out to you and your family after that?
GK:
Oh, yes. He was very popular. The book that I put together of his letters. I had some of the letters his friends wrote to my mother after he was killed and you can see how close they felt to him. He was sort of the leader of the pack. I can remember in high school he would get in trouble. Nothing bad but he was always the ring leader of the group that was getting in trouble. Very, very bright boy. Very smart. It was a great loss.
AM:
How did your siblings interact with each other at school? Were you all pretty close?
GK:
I didn’t expect that we’d be getting into this. I said that my mother had all of us kids in so close together. Every summer, all of us would go to my grandmother’s, she lived in New London, Connecticut. My grandmother and my mother’s two sisters lived together. Aunt Grace, the one I was named after, never married or had children, but my other aunt was married and her husband and she and Aunt Grace and my grandmother all lived together. We’d go up there every summer and they lived right near the river, the Thames River, where we’d go swimming everyday and it was great. It was really a wonderful… We had a good childhood in that we… I never felt poor except for the time where they took our furniture away. I think that’s why it was such a shock. But anyway, at some point, and I’m not sure how old they were, my grandmother said that she would take a couple of the kids when my mother and father were having such a hard time during the Depression. So my grandmother took the two little kids, my sister Sylvia and my brother Bud, and my mother kept the oldest and the two youngest. So, I didn’t really grow up, except for in the summertime, with my middle brother and little sister. They stayed there—it was only supposed to be for a couple of years—but they stayed there, both of them, until they graduated from high school. So I didn’t go to school with them, but I went to school with John. My oldest sister was five years older than I so I really didn’t go to school with her either. So that’s why John and I were so close.
AM:
How did your family react when your brother was sent off [to war]? Was it a surprise?
GK:
Oh it wasn’t a surprise because all the boys were going. Everybody was being drafted. And you were just waiting for your time to come. You knew you were going. It was a lot different than it is now. Every one of my cousins, every one of my friends, all the boys were… And all the girls were left home. Most of them went right out of high school. They were all kids. My husband was lucky. He went to officer’s... He was very, very smart too and the boys with high I.Q.s, now some of them fell through the cracks, but some of them were lucky enough to be sent to officers’ training and he went to officers’ training and became a 2nd Lieutenant. They were called 90 day wonders. They went for three months. But that made it a lot easier on us and him. He went overseas and he was overseas for about 18 months. He was there when our first child was born so didn’t see him until after he was a year old. They were very different times than they are now. I don’t think young people realize what our generation did go through. So many boys didn’t come back or came back wounded. As I say, just about everyone in my family, all of the boys, cousins and everybody went in the army or the navy.
AM:
Did they serve about the same amount of time, all of them?
GK:
Oh, yeah. They all went in when they were just out of high school and most of them were there until the end of the war.
AM:
How did you meet your husband?
GK:
We went to high school together. He was a year older than I and a year ahead of me in school, but we were on the library staff. Like a library club that we went to. And his sister, who is a year, well not quite a year younger than I, but she was a year behind me in high school. But I became very close to her [inaudible]. She moved up the Cooperstown. She lived here. We were friends all of our lives. She just died this past May.
AM:
When were you and your husband married?
GK:
We were married in 1942. He was Methodist, so we were married in a Methodist church. At that time, it didn’t seem to matter to me but I guess you’re engrained enough with the Catholicism and all that really gets to you. After a while, it began to bother me that I wasn’t married in a Catholic church. When he was in the army, we went to a chaplain there and were married again. It was just, you know, a quickie marriage. There was a young soldier and his wife who just happened to be there and they stood up for us. I don’t even know their names. I don’t even know who they were. But it just satisfied me to, you know, get married again.
AM:
Was it something that your family values had an effect on to get married in the Catholic Church?
GK:
No, I don’t think they even knew that we did it. It was just me. It was just to satisfy me.
AM:
What activities were you involved in throughout high school?
GK:
In high school? Oh, I was the hockey player—field hockey. I was on the championship team. Drama club, dance group… We did modern dancing where one would perform barefooted and in leotards and we were considered kind of strange by the other kids in school. I had a good time in high school. I don’t remember much, but what I learned, it comes out every once in a while, so it must have gone in there. They were good years.
AM:
What high school did you go to?
GK:
It was called Southside High School in Newark, New Jersey. But now it’s called… I can’t even remember the name of it, but it’s an African name. Now, it’s apparently an all-black neighborhood and the name was changed.
AM:
How big was your school?
GK:
Oh, it was big. I can’t even remember how many kids in my grade were in class, but it was, you know, a couple hundred. It was a big school.
AM:
That’s a decent size. After you graduated, did you maintain contact with any of your friends other than you sister-in-law?
GK:
I’m still in contact with two of my friends. One that I actually went to grade school with. They both live in Florida now and one that was actually on the hockey team with me. The one who I went to grade school with, her name is Dorothy. She was a Jewish girl. Her father was a rabbi and I used to go to their house over the holidays and stuff. I didn’t think of it at the time, but looking back I think her family was pretty accepting of, you know, they were very Orthodox Jewish for having a little Catholic girlfriend. We’re still friends and we write and stuff. But the other one who I’m friendly with from high school, we didn’t get together again until our 50th high school reunion and that’s when we began to correspond. Now we correspond with the internet all the time. Every day, really. It’s kind of nice.
AM:
So, being on the hockey team as a girl, was that a common thing?
GK:
Oh, yes. The high school had a hockey team. It was a long time ago, but it wasn’t that long ago. I mean in my mind. All the schools had hockey teams, girl hockey teams. I’m trying to think of other sports the girls… I’m not aware of any others they were involved in.
AM:
So, once you and your husband were married… Can you tell me about your children?
GK:
I have three wonderful children. I was very involved as a young mother in Brownies and Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts. When we moved to Cooperstown, my youngest Diane was just five. Six, I guess. So, they went to school here. The boys were a little older. They all did very well in school. I didn’t want to move here. I thought it would be a terrible place for kids to grow up. We came here because of my husband’s job. After he got out of the army. The first job he got out of the army, he sold TV tubes. Now they don’t use TV tubes anymore. You buy a TV and when it’s gone, it’s gone. But in those days, they would put new tubes in, even the new big picture tube. He travelled around to, you know, dealers and sold. So, we were the first in our family and in the neighborhood to have a TV set because he was in the business. So, the family and the immediate friends used to come to our house all the time to see Milton Berle and those early shows. It was interesting. But then when we moved up here, he got another job then as what’s called a bank vault inspector. He went to different banks and would keep their security cameras and their safes and the time locks and all those things in working order. He travelled around New York State and did the Cooperstown banks, and thought this would be a great place for the kids to grow up. He fell in love with Cooperstown as so many people do. But when I came up for the first time, it was in February and it was the February thaw and the snow was all dirty. We stayed at the Tunnicliff Inn. I said, “I don’t want to move up here. What will the kids do?” There was one school, there aren’t any blacks, [and] there aren’t any different kids. It’s all the same kids, they’ll grow up with all their lives and won’t know anybody else. So he said, “Well, let’s just try it until school lets out and then we can move anywhere else you want.” Well, of course, by the time I went through a summer, I was hooked too on Cooperstown. It was the best move we ever made. The kids did well in school. Being in a smaller school, it’s should be like you’re a big fish in a small pond, not like where I grew up where [I was] a little fish in a big pond. So, the kids had a really good education, and did well in high school. And then my oldest son, Steven, went to the Coast Guard Academy after high school. He was accepted at the Coast Guard Academy. David, who I don’t think really wanted to go, but wanted to show he could do the same thing as his brother did. He was accepted. So, both boys went to the Coast Guard Academy and Steven really liked it. David hated it, and he only went two years. Then he transferred to Syracuse University. Luckily, he didn’t lose any of the courses that he took at the academy. When Steven got out of the Coast Guard Academy, he had to give four years for his education, so he had to stay in the Coast Guard for four years. Most of that time, he was on an icebreaker up in Antarctica. Then, David went to Syracuse University, and he got married very young. It turned out to be a very good marriage. Both of them were young, but it’s been great. They’re wonderful together. Then, Diane is the youngest, and she went to Buffalo State. She was an art teacher. She just retired. Steven is still semi-retired. Steven, after he got out of the academy, he decided he wanted to go into medicine. At that point, he was kind of old to go starting into med school because he had to go back to take courses. Medical, pre-med, and then medical school. But he did. He became a doctor. He’s a gynecologist/obstetrician. David, he did writing and he wrote textbooks and computer textbooks—data processing. [He] worked with computers all the while. Then, Diane was the art teacher. Also, Steven has two children. Do you want me to keep going on the family?
AM:
Sure.
GK:
Steven has two children. Andy’s [START OF TRACK 2, 0:00] a lawyer. Mary Ann and she’s a nurse. And David has two children. Jenny is a pediatrician, and Ben lives in California. He writes for TV and movies. Diane had two children, but they’re younger because they’re both adopted. John was born in Peru. They had to go down and get him in Peru. We’re lucky; they’re two wonderful, wonderful kids. John is now in his third year of college. He goes to Fredonia. Eliza just started college up in Buffalo State and [she’s] very happy. They’re both glad that they chose the schools that they chose and the courses that they are taking. That’s my family.
AM:
So, were your only reservations to moving to Cooperstown your kids and what you felt they would experience?
GK:
Yes. I thought it was the end of the world. When we came along Route 20 and it seemed so long before we got here and there was nothing here. You know, when you come up from a big city, it’s a culture shock, really. I got opportunities here that I never would have had if I lived any place else. The kind of jobs that I had, I was lucky to get here. They were all very good, very interesting jobs.
AM:
What jobs did you have before moving to Cooperstown?
GK:
I didn’t have a job. I was a stay-at-home mother down in New Jersey.
AM:
Were any of your children born in Cooperstown?
GK:
No. They were all born in a hospital in Newark, New Jersey. All twelve of my mother’s grandchildren were born in the same hospital. We had the same doctor. We all lived close together [down the river]. Young adults with our families and got together a lot. We were a close family. I have four great-grandchildren now, too. Two boys… Andy has two boys and Jenny has two girls.
AM:
How did your move to Cooperstown affect the rest of the family?
GK:
Well, the one it affected the most was my sister-in-law, Bert, because that’s Al’s sister. She wasn’t married and my children were almost the same as [if] they were her children. She was very close and very good to them. When we moved, she was very sad, [and] very unhappy. But that’s when I wrote letters to her all the time, telling her everything that the kids did. Those are the ones that I put together into a book eventually. We, you know, can reminisce over that. She eventually moved up here when she retired. She worked for Bristol-Myers. She was an executive secretary in New York City at the corporate headquarters. When she retired, she moved up here to be close to us. Her parents had died, and she lived here until this past May when she died.
AM:
How long did you stay at the Tunnicliff Inn?
GK:
Oh, just a couple of days. I thought it was so dismal. We had to go down the hall to the bathroom. It wasn’t a good experience.
AM:
How has the building changed since then? Has the building changed since then?
GK:
The Tunnicliff? I think so. They’ve modernized and oh yeah, I’m sure. Don’t forget, this was over fifty years ago.
AM:
Where did you move to? Did you move into this house?
GK:
We moved into this house. It was a wreck. We rented it for two years, and then the people were going to sell it. We decided, well we knew what it needed, so we bought it. We’ve been doing things ever since. We never quite finished. It’s turned out, too, [to] be a very good location because you can walk anywhere. The kids could walk to school. Because Al was on the road a lot. His travels… He was home every weekend, but lots of time during the week he was away. So, we could all walk wherever we wanted to go and it’s, you know, very centrally located. It turned out to be a good spot.
AM:
What changes have you made to the house?
GK:
Just about everything. We put on a porch, we put on a TV room, [and] we put on the deck. Al did all the knotty pine in here, which he did under duress. He didn’t like doing it. He never liked it. He wasn’t one of these men who liked to do this kind of thing, but it was the only way we could get it done for him to do it himself. And he learned as he went along.
AM:
Can you tell me about this mural on your wall here?
GK:
Well, my daughter is an art teacher, so she is very… She’s an artist. During the bicentennial in 2007, I was the trustee at the time—village trustee. The mayor appointed me the chair person of the Bicentennial Committee. We wanted to make money to pay for all the activities we wanted to have for the year, and so we made what was called a cache, which is an envelope that you put stamps on. It’s like a first cover… There are different kinds and mostly they’re very attractive looking [with] pictures on them. So, we wanted to do something to tie in with the early Cooperstown and found this picture in one of the old magazines that NYSHA [has]. [We] decided to use that as our main, not exactly logo, but we used it for the front of the cache and we used it for the front of the program. So, when I had my walls redone in my dining room a couple years ago, I wanted to have something put on and decided to use the picture from the cache, which is the early Cooperstown lake. So my daughter painted it on the wall and it’s quite nice.
AM:
Where does she teach now?
GK:
Well, she taught at Milford. She taught art for twenty-five years, but she taught down in Westchester County for a long time before she moved up to Cooperstown. Then she taught at Milford School.
AM:
Can you tell me about your work experiences here in Cooperstown?
GK:
My work experiences? Oh, sure. In those early days, when I lived here, the hospital was much smaller than it is now. Much more family-oriented. My first job, I actually was called from the hospital and asked if I wanted this job because I was active in a lot of… = I volunteered at a lot different things and one of them was the youth center. There was a Cooperstown youth center at the time. And Dr. Cannon was the pediatrician and he was on the youth commission with me. So, he’s the one who asked would I want this job. What it was, was just to keep the information on a study that they were doing on the incidence of streptococci in school children and their siblings. A nurse would go around to the houses and culture the throats of the kids, and then they would be cultured in school and then I would keep track of who had whatever, you know. It was on a grant. The hospital got a grant. And so, that was for about four years and then the grant ran out. But meanwhile I was volunteering at the children’s ward and the pediatric ward at the hospital. There were two doctors, Dr. Mary Goodwin and Dr. Cam Goodwin who were the head of the pediatric department. Dr. Mary used to come in sometimes when I was there and she would say, “Someday, you’re going to work for me.” And I thought that was just, you know, something she said, but it was nice. But then she got a grant for an experimental teaching machine to try to teach kids with very… They call it dyslexia. The very severe reading problems. They used this machine, which was a computerized typewriter set into a booth with one-way mirrors. The kid could go in there and type. The computer was set up so that what they typed sometimes would come up in a picture or play back and they would get [it in all senses]. The thing, there were two little boys who were supposed to go to... They were autistic and they were supposed to go to the state hospital, and while they were waiting for their bed, Dr. Goodwin suggested that they come in and try the computerized typewriter and they did, and when they did the one boy typed all traffic signs. Stop. Go. You know, No Turns, or whatever. The other boy typed all TV commercials. Nobody knew that anything was going into these kids. That they were getting anything at all. Then to be able to bring it out. Of course they spelled phonetically, they didn’t spell the things right. But then, everybody got excited and they began to bring the autistic kids into our typewriter. So, that was a very interesting job and it was very educational.
AM:
When did this occur?
GK:
This was in the seventies [1970s]. Then that grant ran out. The two doctors retired. The Dr. Goodwins retired and they moved to Baltimore. So, then I got a job as a guide at the Fenimore House. They had a program there in the summertime where they would bring school teachers from all around the state. About thirty at a time for a week’s program, where they would teach them how to do everything that they needed to know to put on an exhibition. They would do silk screening, they would do photography, and they would do stenciling. So I had learned all of these [things]. Milo Stewart, Sr. was the head of the education department and he was the head of that program, so I asked him if I could take it and he said yes, so I took it and learned all of these things. Then, each person who took that had to go back to their own communities and do a workshop there, probably in their own school. I was asked to do one with the Presbyterian Church kids, and so I was a little nervous about it. I went up to the Fenimore House and talked to Milo’s secretary and she said, “Don’t worry, they’re going to hire somebody who will be able to help you.” And the next thing I know, I was asked if I wanted the job of being coordinator for those programs. And of course, I jumped at the chance. We lent all of the equipment to the people who were going to do these workshops. We gave them a stipend and we gave them money for all the chemicals and things they needed to process pictures. So, I saw that they got all of those things and made up their budgets. It was really a very good program. And every summer then, they would come and we’d spend that whole month up at the Girl Scout camp teaching. It was a great time. I worked with a wonderful man, Bruce Reinhold, who is very creative, and very inventive, and lots of fun. We worked real well together. That grant ran out. But then, I was hired by the museum to stay on and I was Bruce’s assistant. Bruce had all of these ideas, and I worked with him, but he started the Candlelight Evening at The Farmers’ Museum. We started the first Christmas at Fenimore House; the first Victorian Christmas tree and got the garden clubs to come in and decorate the rooms. The first Harvest Festival and the first Fourth of July Celebration. And these were really all Bruce’s ideas. He’s a very bright, very creative man, and I just worked along with him. So that was a good job. I retired from there in, I think it was 1988. Then I started a B&B [Bed and Breakfast] in my house—my home here. Did that for twelve years, and thoroughly enjoyed that. So, now I’m retired.
AM:
What interested you the most working at the Fenimore?
GK:
Well, I liked that it was such a variety. I did so many things. I had the freedom. Milo was a great boss because he would give us the freedom to do these things. You know, you get the ideas and as it grows… and that was good. Then after I retired from the B&B, I did because my husband got sick, and I couldn’t do it by myself. We did it together. Then I one day got a phone call from a man who I’d known for years and he said, “Grace, do you ever think of being a trustee for the village?” And I said, “No…” He said, “Would you think about it?” “Well, I don’t know. I will think about it.” So I asked around what it involved, and all, and it didn’t seem like it involved much. So I ran and I won the election, and I ran twice. So six years I was as a trustee. That was an experience. It was good. I was glad I did it and I was glad to have done something for the village. But I’m glad I’m out of it. So now I just go to book club, garden club, women’s club. Play with the computer, read.
AM:
Did you have any interesting guests while you ran your Bed and Breakfast?
GK:
Well, I suppose my greatest claim to fame would be I had the son of… I can’t think of his name. He was a ball player who nobody liked. He was an old ball player… It slips my mind, so that’s not much of a story. And I had a woman who was one of the Georgia Peaches when there were the women’s ball clubs. She was very interesting. Of course, she was an old lady like me now. But she stayed here. I’m still very friendly with some of the people who I had as guests. They still come and visit me when they’re in town. They stay in other places. I had one young couple… Well, they’re still young compared to me. They were very young when they started coming here and they come up every year to celebrate his birthday. They stay someplace else, but we all go out to celebrate his birthday together. I’ve made a lot of nice friends. There are some people who came every year just to go to the opera. The same people who would come back during the opera time. It was very interesting.
AM:
Have you ever been to the opera?
GK:
Oh, yeah.
AM:
What did you think of it?
GK:
It’s great. I’m not a real opera buff, but my husband was. He loved opera. I liked some of the melodious operas, but some of them I don’t.
AM:
Any recent ones that you’ve gone to that you enjoyed?
GK:
No, I haven’t been recently. We also had the man stay here, who had written one of the modern operas… What’s that woman who killed her mother with an axe?
AM:
Lizzie Borden?
GK:
Lizzie Borden. He wrote that opera. He stayed here, and that was interesting because he said that the director had put a different interpretation in some of the things. It was interesting to hear his side of what was happening.
AM:
I didn’t know anybody made an opera about that.
GK:
Yeah, isn’t that strange? Of course, we went to that one because we felt we should. It was a very strange opera.
AM:
You mentioned a book club. What other activities did you do in Cooperstown—extracurricular?
GK:
There’s lots of activities, if you want to find them.
AM:
Any in particular that you enjoyed?
GK:
Well, I enjoyed book club. I haven’t actually been there in a couple months now, but we meet in the library and read a different book every month and then discuss it. That’s interesting. The women’s club is interesting. They usually have a program of some kind that’s interesting. I was the vice president there for two terms and the vice president is the one… Well they’re co-vice presidents, and Bert and I were co-vice presidents. They get their programs arranged. That was nice. We did good programs. Really nice programs. And then every year they have a lunch and a fashion show at the Otesaga. We had to twice, arrange the program for that. That was fun. It’s been interesting. There’s lots you can do in Cooperstown.
AM:
When you were on the Board of Trustees, you served six years? What were some of the major projects that you were involved in?
GK:
Well, I think the one dearest to my heart is the Badger Park, where we got the playground up behind, what was the Great American, and is now the Price Chopper. Very much involved in that. The changes in the library. There were a lot of changes, both physical and in the running of the library. I was on the Library Board for the whole six years, I guess. There are many committees and the mayor changes you around at her discretion, or his discretion. So, you serve on many different committees and I was on the Park Committee and that’s how I got involved with the parks. I was on the Library Committee. Then I also served on the Police Committee, Zebra Mussel Committee… We’re trying to keep zebra mussels out of the lake, unsuccessfully. What other committees… Oh, Pedestrian Safety. Fireman’s… we met at the firehouse. It was all interesting.
AM:
Can you tell me about Badger Park? What’s the story behind [it]?
GK:
Well, first of all, there was this man named Bob Seaver. I worked with him when we had the program for the autistic children and so I knew him very well. His middle name was Badger, Robert Badger Seaver. He wrote articles every once in a while for the newspaper. They were very interesting [articles] about the area and so forth. He signed them “The Badger.” So, he went by the Badger. He owned this property—two acres behind Price Chopper, and he gave it to the village. There were a group of people who were interested in doing something with it, so they cleared it out. There had been an old greenhouse back there. They cleaned it all. Boy Scouts involved, and they did a lot of things. They called it the Village Gardens, and they were going to put in a butterfly garden and different gardens. Somehow or another they lost interest or people moved away or whatever happened. There was nothing done anymore. So then, when I was on the Parks Board, we became interested in putting in a playground because there were some young families, and young mothers who asked about a playground in Cooperstown. So we looked into things and decided that would be a good place to have one. So the first thing that we did was have a mural painted on the wall. The back of the Great American was this long, yellow, ugly wall. There was a man—I saw it in the newspaper—who was up here painting a mural for some other school, so I got in touch with him. We got a grant to pay for him to come here. He’s from New York City, and he had been a graffiti artist. He started by painting graffiti in the subways. Since some of his art now is in the Museum of Modern Art… So, we got him to come up and he knew someone who lives here, so he stayed there. We didn’t have to pay for his, you know, board but we had to pay him a stipend. He got some of the high school kids to help him. So they painted a… Looks like an extension of the park. It looks like hills and trees. So, that was the first thing that we did. The trustees can’t raise money, but there’s always Friends of the Library, Friends of the Park. They’re the groups that raise money. So, the Friends of the Park were wonderful. They raised quite a bit of money for the playground. Then, we got this company to come and we got volunteers to work with them. They built the little playground itself. There’s [a] swing set, and there’s a climbing thing. There was a Boy Scout who was working for his Eagle Badge, and he cleared out a lot of the area. They have a picnic area there. But then, I also wanted to change the name from Village Gardens, which it wasn’t a garden place anymore, to more a playground name. Meanwhile, Bob Seaver died. Unfortunately, it was after he died that I pushed to get the name changed from Village Gardens to Badger Park. So, it’s now known as Badger Park. His family is very pleased about that, but I was disappointed that he didn’t live to know about it. His only stipulation when he gave them the property was that the village put a skating rink in there. So, they put [START OF TRACK 3, 0:00] in an ice skating rink. In the wintertime, it’s used a lot for hockey. It’s almost like a winter wonderland in the evenings when the lights are on and the snow… It’s really very beautiful and it’s used a lot. That’s Badger Park.
AM:
So I assume Mr. Seaver’s nickname was Badger then?
GK:
No, he just used that as a penname, I guess, when he wrote his articles. That really was his middle name. It’s a family name. His name was Robert Badger Seaver, but he wasn’t called Badger. He was always called Bob. He was a very interesting man too.
AM:
Did he live here his whole life, do you know?
GK:

His family did. I think they were from Massachusetts. I think he went to Amherst. He has family still living here now: his wife… I think his children all live other places.
AM:
Can you tell me about the Cooperstown Bicentennial?
GK:
Yes, that was an interesting year. We didn’t do something every single month of the year, but we did it, every so often, something. Then we had the main celebration in September of 2007. That whole week, there was something going on every single day and night. We started out with a parade, which was a huge parade. The biggest Cooperstown’s ever seen. The people mobbed to come here. It started up by Bruce Hall and came down. The streets were lined all the way down, and it was just fantastic. We had the Budweiser Clydesdales. I think that was the big draw of people [who] wanted to see the Clydesdales. So I was the Co-Martial [with] the mayor, who was Carol Waller and I. I came in first on the fire engine—on the old, old fire engine that they don’t use anymore except for parades. I rode on the back of that. She came in on the Budweiser beer wagon that was drawn by the Budweiser horses. In between, we had loads of floats and bands and marches. It was great. After the parade, we had, what we called “Picnic In the Park” down at Lakefront Park. Different organizations—like the Youth’s Baseball, and the Lions, and the Leos—they sold food, you know, hamburgers, hotdogs, ice cream and stuff. We had entertainment: jugglers, and this man that plays the guitar and sings—Skip West, he plays around. We had one of those big plastic jumping castles, you know, for the kids to jump in. It was really a great day. The whole week we had different things going on. One day, there was a woman who teaches early movies, and apparently Cooperstown was very much a part of early movies, which is interesting to know. I didn’t know that, either. So, she had come to Cooperstown to do some research and she met some of the people here at the library. When she found out we were having this bicentennial, she offered to come up. This is from, I think, North Carolina. I’ve forgotten exactly, but it was a distance. She offered to come up and put on programs at [the] Fenimore House, which she did on early movies. She showed some early movies, and we had, I don’t know if you know him… Tim Iversen. He teaches at the school. He played the music like they did in the old time movies. That was one of the things that we did. There was a very active group of skiers… There was a ski tow here when my kids were little. They’d take them up on the bus on Saturdays to ski at [inaudible] Mount Otsego. One of the men who was very involved in that offered to do a program on Mount Otsego, and he did that down at the village library. A lot of people who were involved at that time came to it, and they had a great time. The Hall of Fame put on a program, and the hotel put on a country day on the lawn. They had games set up, and sold hotdogs and hamburgers, and they had an oompah band. So all the different organizations that I asked to do something did something, and it was great. The school did a type of thing that we’re doing here. They interviewed older people and made a disk of that. So it was a very, very productive year.
AM:
Did The Farmers’ Museum do something?
GK:
Yes. Well, that happened to be the same time as Harvest Festival. We had a cake-baking contest—not for the taste of it, but for the look of it. We held it up there in the, what is the Dr. Jones’s…
AM:
The Louis C. Jones’s Center…
GK:
Yeah, the Louis Jones’s. And people baked cakes that had something to do with the Bicentennial. Well, before we served them—because it wasn’t by taste, it was by look—people just voted for which they thought was first place, second place... We had paper and pencil and they just jotted it down. The one that got the most votes won. I’m trying to think of what else… I think there was something else that went on at the… Oh, yeah, some of the graduate students put together a really nice exhibit that we had. We started out at the first of the year having an open house down at the ballroom at the library. You know, it’s upstairs in the library. They put an exhibit of early Cooperstown up in there. Gretchen was our keynote speaker. She gave a wonderful talk, and ended up with making a toast and saying “Huzzah! Huzzah!” And everybody was yelling “Huzzah! Huzzah!” So, everybody was involved. It was really a wonderful experience.
AM:
Did you have much of interaction with the students while you worked at Fenimore?
GK:
I did. After I learned how to use the camera and develop pictures… and we developed black and white slides. The pre-computer days. So, I helped teach the students photography and how to do the black and white slides and put together a slideshow, which involved a lot of equipment in those days. The big reel-to-reel recorders; they look like a suitcase with, you know, two big reels. I don’t know if you’ve seen one. Then we had what was called a dissolve unit, which had these two reel-to-reels that would dissolve into… Or rather it would be two projectors that would dissolve into one so that the pictures, you know, sort of looked like they were moving. So I helped teach those things to the students.
AM:
Neat. Yeah, I’d be interested to see when that transition between the projectors and the computers… how that worked out and you were able to teach that. It’s very technical.
GK:
Yeah, well, there was a little theater downstairs in Fenimore House, and there was always some kind of a show going on that had to do with whatever was going on at the museum. That had a bank of probably six reel-to-reels and the projectors and the dissolves. So, we would have a show like every so often that people could come in and see the show. Milo Stewart, he was the one that really put that stuff together. He was the brain behind all that. But I knew how things worked, so I was troubleshooter and would have to come down when they were having problems. Just before I left is when they were beginning to get into computers and Milo got into doing things with the computer. But I wasn’t involved with that. That wasn’t at my time.
AM:
So, were you two the only ones who really knew, if something happened to the videos, were you two the only ones that could deal…?
GK:
Well, there were a couple of other people, but that was part of my job, I guess because I worked with the guide staff a lot. The guides used to have programs for kids—I guess they still do—where they come in a do workshops like learn[ing] quilting, and [inaudible], and stenciling, and you know, different things like that. I worked closely with the guide staff. It was very interesting because it was always something different.
AM:
Can you tell me about the process of publishing your books?
GK:
Well, that was during the time that I had my bed and breakfast. My son-in-law was involved with a group of kids from BOCES, and BOCES at risk kids. They taught them in a different way. They had a different type of program for them. They used to bring a man, an author from New York City—his name was Fielding Dawson—and he would spend about two weeks with the kids doing creative writing. He stayed here, with me, at my B&B. It was off-season, so you know, we had a lot of time to talk and visit. I told him about my letters that I had written to my sister-in-law. When she moved up here, she brought them with her because she had saved them all. We were going to just read them and then burn them. But after reading them and getting such a kick out of them because there were things that we had forgotten—you know, things that the kids had done—lots of them were so funny, and lots of things that happened in Cooperstown… It was almost a history of that time period. So, I told Fielding about the letters, and he read some of them, and he said that, “These have to be published.” He got me the publisher, who was a man named Darryl Kelly out in Ohio. I hadn’t written those with any intention of being published at all. Then my brother [had] written letters from the day that he went into the army to just a few weeks before he died. They were very good. Lots of them were funny. Lots told of the life in the army. So, Fielding thought of those, and said “We’ll get those published, too.” They were. That was very interesting. And what’s interesting about my brother’s letters is that I started to, with a computer, look up the men that he mentioned who were boys then. I’ve been in contact with almost every one that he mentioned in the book, who are now old men. I’m in touch with the daughter of a woman who tended John’s grave in Luxemburg. The grand niece of his commanding officer. So, it’s been quite an interesting experience.
AM:
Can you explain your current fundraising campaign?
GK:
Oh, yeah. Well, I saw an Oprah show, and they said how there’s so many places in these developing countries where they don’t have clean water. They have to walk, some of them, for miles and miles, and then it’s just polluted, dirty water that they get. She was saying how it only costs about five thousand dollars to have a well dug, and I thought that’s not an awful lot of money to bring such a basic necessity as water. So, I decided when I finished my last year of being a trustee… We were paid the grand total of a thousand dollars a year to be a trustee. So, I decided to start a fund by using my last thousand dollars as trustee, and see if I could raise the rest of the money to dig a well. People responded so… It was great. I was telling the principal of the school about it, and she said that the school would get involved. She was very pleased to have the school involved because they can tie it in to all different subject matter. They had a penny drive, where the kids raised seven hundred dollars in pennies towards the fund. I went out and talked to them about it. Then we gave the class that raised the most a pizza party. The class that raised the second amount—I thought this should have been the first prize because the principal went in and cooked them breakfast one morning. She made waffles and pancakes. Then the third class got ice cream. So, you know, it was a lot of fun. The kids were really, really interested. Now, actually, the well is being dug. It takes a while after you raise the money and send it in. I worked with a group called Charity Water, and I researched and looked at different ones and I chose that one because every cent that you raise goes for the well. They raised the rest of their money by other means and added other donations to that and in kind donations. After they get the money, they decide where the need is the most, and our well is being dug on the Ivory Coast of Africa. It’s being dug as we speak. When it’s finished, they will send us pictures through the… air somehow…
AM:
Oh, by satellite or GPS?
GK:
Yeah, I guess it is by satellite. [They send pictures] of the village, and of the people, and of our well, and they put a plaque there to say who raised the money. I mentioned the elementary school here. So, that’s kind of exciting to know. And I would like to start another drive.
AM:
Did you cooperate with the whole elementary school or was it a particular grade?
GK:
The whole school. The elementary school. Mrs. Goreman, Tracy Goreman, is the principal and she was wonderful. Another young teacher, who is the guidance counselor—her name escapes me now—she helped. There’s a lot of cooperation, and people around town… What I did was I emailed everybody on my email list, and the way I presented it was: Twenty dollars will give water to two hundred people. I said, “How easy to just give up a lunch or give up for going to the movies and buying popcorn. Donate that twenty dollars to give water to these people.” A lot of people gave more than twenty dollars. Some people gave a hundred dollars. One person gave me three hundred dollars. So, there was a lot of help.
AM:
That’s quite a project, and I’m glad that the community’s involved in that.
GK:
Right, right. I was even thinking of maybe doing one with the high school and the graduate program.
AM:
I think that would be a good thing.
GK:
See if we can get some contributions, because actually when you think about it, it is so basic. The need is so basic. I forget the statistic of how many kids die daily, you know, from polluted water. And we all have so much.
AM:
Well, I wish you luck with your next campaign.
GK:
Thank you. I don’t know when or where it will be. It’s in my mind.
AM:
Definitely, if you ever want any help with that. I would like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
GK:
Well, you’re welcome. I didn’t know we were going to get so involved in some of the things I’ve told you. But that’s okay.
AM:
It’s a process. Well, thank you again.

Duration

30:00
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Citation

Amanda Manahan, “Grace Kull, November 17, 2010,” CGP Community Stories, accessed September 16, 2021, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/90.