By: Rich Tarrant
While my niece, Barb Akers, was manning the old news desk at the Vermilion History Museum last week she began looking through some old manila envelops in a bookcase near the desk and came across the photo accompanying this week’s column. Though I don’t believe she immediately recognized any of the persons pictured. But when I, and my sister, Nancy Alice, saw it – we did. Pictured are: Frank Blattner, George Villa and Fred Fischer respectively.
I don’t know about my sister, but I have some rather vivid memories of each of these fellas. Fred Fischer, as many people may recall was, among other things, a well-liked and highly respected Mayor of Vermilion Village for a decade. George Villa along with his brother Joe were extremely affable men who came to town from Pennsylvania shortly after WW2 and, unlike some folks who came to town and had a hard time being accepted by the natives, they somehow managed to quickly establish themselves as genuine Vermilionites. Frank Blattner truly a “home grown” boy – one of the town’s first Eagle Scouts – worked as a plumber for Brushaber Plumbing.
Looking as this photo now it occurs to me that one of the big things all these guys had in common was their attitude. They were all calm and very good-humored gentlemen; at least most of the time.
I know that Mayor Fischer was both fair-minded and progressive. Things that needed doing in the town got done when he was at the helm. Among those things was to build the road (Thompson Street) and bridge over Edson Creek between Jefferson Street and Adams Street. It was an important improvement for both convenience and safety reasons. But that was only one of his many accomplishments. Considering the fact that the elected officials were part-time and paid very little it was a wonder that anything was ever accomplished. Fischer worked for the B&O Railroad for 45 years and still found the time to be extremely active in the community. This photo, for instance, was captured in front of his home at 409 Washington Street. After his retirement Fred and his companions could often be found passing the time on a bench in Exchange Park during the summer months. It was a good place to discuss events of the day. Were it not for the fact that his wife, Hattie, having been hit and killed by a car very near the park back in 1968 he’d likely been spending his time on his front porch with her instead.
Frank Blattner lived just up the street from the Fischer residence – the second house north of the railroad tracks on the same side of the street. His father, Lewis “Charles” worked at, and later purchased, the Blattner Hardware Store on Liberty Avenue from his uncle. That may be how and where Frank became involved in the plumbing trade. His wife, Bessie, was a familiar face to the many children who ate in the school as a cafeteria cook at South Street School. Their only child, a daughter named Barbara was a very popular Vermilion gal. Frank, a laid back soul, was customarily seen puffing on a pipe that he held between his teeth. On his way home every night from work he’d stop off at Stan Kowalski’s Liberty Tavern for a glass of beer and news (men don’t gossip) from around town before dinner.
George Villa worked as an electrician at Crystal Beach Amusement Park, the American Shipyard and later Sawmill Creek. He was also a dedicated member of the American Legion. He, and his brother Joe were one of a kind. They were hard not to like.
When my father passed away at the tender age of 86 in 1985 George dressed in the class “A” uniform he had worn while in the service and stood as honor guard aside my dad’s casket during the funeral service. No one asked him to do this. It was just that his respect for my father (a WW1 veteran) was so great that he felt duty bound to do so. But that’s the kind of person he was. If you were his friend you were his friend forever.
Now back to the publicity photograph. That is, of course, what it was. They were promoting Poppy Day sponsored by the local Legion chapter. On the Friday before Memorial Day and on Veteran’s Day members of the Legion along with their children could be found standing on the corner with a handful of artificial poppies and a container similar to that held by Mr. Blattner in the picture seeking donations. The funds would benefit veterans and active duty soldiers and sailors. And in short order, everyone in town wore one of the poppies.
Yeah, looking back at the yesteryear frozen in this photo these were some of the people I knew as a young man: Fred, George, and Frank. It didn’t matter that I was significantly younger, or that they were significantly older. And it didn’t matter that their war preceded mine by two decades: not at all. We were all Americans, of course. But, most of all, we were friends then and forever.
Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org