Country musician Ty James put on a cowboy hat, strapped on his guitar and opened the Westmoreland Historical Society’s Flag Day celebration with a stirring rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.
“I had a great time and truly appreciated the warm, favorable reception,” James told me afterward. “Seeing the folks, especially those slightly older, getting into my kind of country was a rewarding treat and gratifying experience.”
More than 150 people attended our Westmoreland Historical Society which we called “Flag Day, free ice cream, and flying saucers” on our group’s page at Facebook.com/WestmorelandHistoricalSociety. We observed the holiday with traditional activities such as an ice cream social, sack races and horseshoes on the lawn. For a unique crowd-pleasing twist, our guest speaker was Sam Falvo, the state director of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON.)
Every chair was filled for Sam’s presentation on the mysterious Walesville plane crash of July 2, 1954. Attendees heard the intriguing story of how an Air Force jet’s hot pursuit of an unidentified flying object resulted in a tragic crash that has puzzled residents to this day.
“My presentation was met with great enthusiasm by the crowd, and all seemed to have some personal knowledge of the crash,” Falvo told me after his talk.
He said he was especially pleased to have the chance to meet the great granddaughter of Mary Peck, whose house caught fire after being hit by pieces of the jet.
“It actually helped me with my personal research. Her recollections of the crash which filled in a piece of the incident, I was not aware of previously,” Sam said in a follow-up email.
Life-long Westmoreland resident Joyce Clinch told me she especially enjoyed the speaker because of his interesting approach to the topic.
“And the ice cream was also good,” she added.
In what’s become a tradition for the Westmoreland Historical Society, we invited this year’s reigning Oneida County Dairy Princess, Kathleen Gallagher, to serve up the sundaes. It was also an opportunity for her to promote the state and local dairy industry during what was Oneida County Dairy Month.
Westmoreland Town Historian Nancy Pritchard said she believes that is an important part of our annual celebration.
“There used to be many dairy farms in town,” Pritchard said. “The Oneida County Dairy Princess does a good job representing that by serving the ice cream.”
The center of our celebration was our famous “Schoolhouse #18.” This one-room replica was donated to us by the family of Beverly Zingerline who had it built outside her home on Dix Road. We call it “Schoolhouse #18” because there were 17 known one-room school houses in Westmoreland, which makes this scrupulously authentic recreation our unofficial eighteenth.
“So many people came to see inside the schoolhouse for the first time, and even more came back to visit it again,” said Sandy Rolewicz, who along with Sharon Yager, conducted tours in period costume.
“My children really enjoyed visiting the schoolhouse. It’s one of those places we’ve always been curious about and always wanted to visit,” said Jessica Reynolds-Amuso a candidate for Oneida Family Court Judge.
“The volunteers in the schoolhouse were fantastic. They answered all the questions that kids had and even rang the school bell for us. We had so much fun,” Reynolds-Amuso added.
We were especially grateful for the enormous effort Personal Graphics on Route 233 in Westmoreland put into replacing our schoolhouse sign, which had been destroyed in a spring wind storm. They worked overtime to make sure it was replaced just in time for our Flag Day celebration and it looked great.
We also want to thank our sponsors North Star Orchards and Whitestown Automotive, Snyder’s Flooring, Community Bank, N.A., Tents 4 You, and Stewart’s Shops, sponsor of our ice cream social. Because of their generous support we were able to offer this event free to the community.
My friend Steve Keblish who came all the way from Utica said, “It was a delight to meet people from all over the area, and to see the schoolhouse.”
Steve is one of the most patriotic people I know. He served in the Army in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Quatar, and is now a Captain in the Army National Guard. He said he appreciated that Westmoreland was observing the holiday and enjoyed the “great history, music and camaraderie.”
Another hometown aspect was that Scott Tarkowski, president of the Westmoreland Summer Activities Association, sold hotdogs to raise money for the Westmoreland Town Pool. The Westmoreland Pop Warner was represented by Erin Dixon and Danielle Magnusson. Plus we had several volunteers for the event: Tyler and Kellen Klopfanstein, Sabrina Christensen, and Donna Morreall. Musician Brian Mulkerne also performed at our event.
It was a perfect country Flag Day celebration.
“I like Westmoreland,” James told me while surveying the crowd. “So many fine local folks have come out in support of their country, flag, community and historical society. Small-town Americana is how I grew up, identify, prefer it and always will, and it was a pleasure to be a part of the Westmoreland community for this great, patriotic event.”
“I like the fact that the community comes together,” Betty Barron observed. “It shows that we appreciate our history. We are a community that thinks of each other and enjoys celebrating together.”
Ron Klopfanstein is a seventh generation Westmoreland native, president of the Westmoreland Historical Society, member of the Westmoreland Town Pool board, and a 1st degree Westmoreland Mason. He teaches English at Utica College and Mohawk Valley Community College. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/BeMoreWestmo.