Dedications to Three of Plainfield’s Power Couples

As members of the Plainfield Historical Society have been gleaning through our archives, we came across the following three Town Report dedications from the 1970s. No truer words can be used to describe these three dedicated couples, all sadly gone to us, but whose devotion to the town of Plainfield carries on today. This blog is not only dedicated to the Dyers, Rices and Nyes, but to all the Plainfield residents, past and present, who make our town so special. Thank you all.

Ralph and Dorothy Rice Dedication 1971

“Ralph and Dorothy Rice? Why, they’ve always been more than just “good neighbors”: They’ve probably been about the best neighbors most families in this town ever had! It seems to me, back when everyone in town knew everyone else, it was Ralph who was always right there to organize the Bee for any family with troubles”. 

“Back when” has gone by, and so have the work bees, when neighbors did a sick man’s haying or helped rebuild a burnt-out barn. But Ralph and Dorothy Rice are still here, and still “more than good neighbors. I’d say humanitarians might be the better word” says a contemporary. 

Both have “done for the town” as well as for individuals, with an impressive 118 years of elected and appointed township offices between them, to date: Dorothy is still on the Committee for the Whiting Street Fund; Ralph is the Barn and Cattle Inspector. Ralph “got involved” in 1919, with his first election as Selectman, a post he held off and on for 28 of the next 40 years. He was also Tax Collector, Assessor, Fire Chief, Sealer of Weights and Measures, and prepared the town reports. 

Dorothy’s first elected position was in 1922, to the School Committee. She even taught a few days back then. From the late 40’s on she was School Attendance Officer (better known as Truant Officer) for the huge salary of $1 a year – until the local school closed in ’67. She served 15 years as Library Trustee, and has been on the Whiting Street Committee since 1960. 

Ralph was born here, September 15, 1891, at his family’s farm on Jones Avenue (now the Chudy place) – an event duly noted in the Town Report of that year. His second mention in the Town Reports might give his 12 grand children something to chide him about: in all his years of attendance at South School (No. 2 school, on South Street just off Pleasant) for only one term of one year (1900) was he “neither absent nor tardy”, not an outstanding record. But his friends rush to his defense here: “not from lack of tryin’ – probably had late chores – wasn’t so easy getting to school then as it is now, you know”. The point is well taken, and besides Ralph did penance for it, by driving the school bus seven years, in the 20’s and 30’s, and you can bet those students weren’t tardy. 

“Doin’ chores” has been Ralph’s life, as he is first and foremost a farmer, the son and grandson of farmers. After selling “the old place” on Jones Avenue, where he and Dorothy raised six children (five still living) they moved, a few years back, across the road, to what had been his brother Ernest’s farm on Rte. 116, and Ralph still farms it. And Dorothy is still a farmer’s wife, with all the necessary skills: she still braids room-size rugs and makes the finest donuts in town. 

Both are still active in Grange. Ralph has been a member of the local Grange for 66 years; Dorothy Skelton belonged to the Worthington Grange before she married Ralph and moved here in 1918, so is an over-60-years member in her own right. 

Ralph’s Grange-related service is known far beyond this town. One of his first loves has been Fairs. Back in 1960, on the occasion of the Hillside Agricultural Association’s 100th anniversary, Ralph – who has held about every post in the Cummington Fair’s officer roster, including Director – received a plaque for “Longest continuous years of service”. He still serves as Honorary Director, and this year marks his 50th year of “continuous service”. 

Another plaque in his living room is a 1962 award for distinguished service from the Massachusetts State Fair Association, of which he was President and Chairman of the Executive Board. 

Plainfield gives no plaques for distinguished service, yet clearly honor is due. As one of the old-timers says of the Rices, “nobody really knows all the things they’ve done to help people”. Probably not – nor will we ever know all. But what we do know adds up to more than enough to make us proud to dedicate this Town Report – our “plaque” – to Ralph and Dorothy Rice.

C. Frederick and M. Arvilla Dyer Dedication 1972

At Town Meeting last year a citizen remarked that no one took a town office for the salary, as it never covered the hours spent, it was really a “labor of love”. So it has been with C. Frederick and M. Arvilla Dyer.

C. Frederick and M. Arvilla Dyer

Fred was first appointed Town Clerk for 6 months in 1925 to fill an unexpired term. He held that office for 33 years, retiring in 1959. He was elected to the Whiting Street Fund Committee in 1928 and still serves on this. He was also Town Treasurer for 3 years. When the town celebrated its 150th Anniversary in 1935 Fred was the General Chairman.

Villa held her first public office in 1928 when she was elected a Library Trustee for 3 years. Then she was in charge of the pageant at the town’s 150th Anniversary. In 1931 she was appointed Librarian, a position she still holds 42 years later. In this time the Library has grown from one room, opened one afternoon a week, with 2,633 books and a circulation of 3,265, to three rooms, open three afternoons, with 7,085 books and a circulation of 15,763 and is considered one of the finest small libraries in Western Massachusetts. A school library day was started in 1931 and over 2,100 state reading certificates were awarded to the children before it ceased with the closing of the school in 1967. This, also, was a “labor of love”, as the librarian gave her services on this afternoon for nearly 30 years. Fred assisted her as much as possible, usually taking the Saturday evening “stint”. On November 16, 1968 the new children’s library room was dedicated to an astonished M. Arvilla Dyer. This year the “labor of love” continues as Villa gives two hours each week making the library available to the nursery school children.

Fred was born in Plainfield, August 16, 1882, at his family’s home on Central Street (recently owned by Theriault). On his fifth birthday the family moved into their new house next to the Town Hall, where the Dyers still live, where they raised their two daughters and where their three grandchildren spent their early years. Fred attended School No. 1 in the Town Hall. The Town Reports list his first town job as building the fires in School No. 1 from 1895 to 1897 when he left town to attend Northampton High School. He did not return here to live until 1924 when, once again on his birthday, he moved into the Dyer home on Main Street. During the intervening years he attended Northampton Commercial College, worked in a Northampton bookstore and was co-owner of the College Book Store in Amherst. He returned to Plainfield to help his mother with the store and Post Office.

Villa was born in South Williamstown, October 22, 1882, and grew up in Hatfield where she attended Smith Academy. She cannot remember when she first met Fred, for as a girl she spent two weeks every summer with a cousin who lived in the old Rev. Moses Hallock house. After attending North Adams Normal School she taught in Georgia, Tennessee, Puerto Rico and Hawaii before marrying Fred in 1909.

The Dyers have always been active in local organizations. “That is one of the drawbacks to living next to the Town Hall” Villa once remarked. “If you don’t go to everything people say, ‘Where are the Dyers?’ But the Dyers like people and can usually be found at any local gathering. In his eighties, Fred remarked, after being out every evening during the week, “You have to go while you are young.” He has been a Mason for over 50 years. They both joined the Grange in 1924 and have filled many offices. Villa was elected Pianist in 1931, an office she still holds. They are members of Hillside Pomona Grange, Massachusetts State Grange and the National Grange. Villa was always in those Grange plays, often playing the part of the villain, and always supplying costumes from the Dyer attic.

They have given the church almost as much of their energy as they have the town. Fred served as Deacon from 1925 until he became Deacon Emeritus in 1968. Villa was President of the Ladies Benevolent Society for several years. She taught the primary Sunday School from 1925 until she retired in 1961. This, again, was a “labor of love” for both of them. Fred has transported countless children to and from rehearsals and Sunday School events. New ministers and their families were always invited to stay with the Dyers until the Parsonage was ready for occupancy.

During World War Il the Dyers did their bit. Although both were in their sixties, they worked in a defense plant in Greenfield, Fred for 4 years as a “white collar”‘ worker and Villa for 3 running machines. In their spare time Fred caned chairs and refinished furniture while Villa hooked and braided rugs, but their primary interest has always been people. Rarely a Thanksgiving went by without someone being invited to dinner who would otherwise be alone that day.

Thus it is with pride, and in an effort to say “Thank you” for their “labor of love”, that we dedicate this Town Report to C. Frederick and M. Arvilla Dyer, who have served so long as “good and faithful servants” to the Town of Plainfield and who have had so much influence on the lives of the young people of this town.

Mildred and Clayton Nye Dedication 1974

Mildred Atherton married Clayton Nye on July 7, 1924. Since this July thus marks their 50th anniversary as one of the nicest couples in town, it seems particularly appropriate for us to dedicate this annual report to them. 

Clayton moved to Plainfield when he was six years old, living where the Passarella’s now do until 1900 when his family bought the old Atkins place, also on West Hill Road (formerly High Street) where they still live. Clayt went to the No. 5 school, which used to be on the southwest corner of Governor Hill and Summit, and later uptown to school. Yes, he walked as often as not, and managed to be neither late nor tardy for one term each of 1899, 1901 and 1902 despite that. 

Clayt grew up, farmed with his father, and went off to France with the Engineer Corps in World War I. When he came home, he met Mildred. Her family had moved here in 1919, but she had stayed on in Williamsburg to finish high school, then went on to teach for two years in a one room school on Mountain Street, between Haydenville and Whately. 

This educational background earned her the right to substitute teach in Plainfield schools and then get elected to the School Committee, in 1927. She was re-elected 13 times and might still be serving had she not decided that 42 years was really quite enough. Despite this educational background she is still known to call a jennyass a jackass. (Yes, that is sort of a private joke…..) 

Clayt’s official service to the town has included six years as Selectman, several years as moderator at Town Meetings and currently serving on the Veterans Graves Committee. He also drove a van-type school bus for 12 years, on various routes including West Hill Road and over to Alletson’s (now Winters), and out to the Savoy line. And, like most of this town’s older male residents, he worked his share on the roads, this back when Winter Roads were not plowed, but rather packed, and ran through the woods from point to point to avoid drifty areas. (Which explains why the Winter Road access onto West Hill Road ran in from Prospect up Summit to Ritters (Corash’s) then through the spruces down behind the Nye barn to join the “summer road” south of that.) 

Clayt also supplemented income by hauling milk to the Cummington Creamery and around town; working in the Cummington Mill, and doing what odd jobs could be found. Mildred has helped out over the past 33 years baking bread, rolls and pies of regional renown. 

It is Clayt and Mildred’s total participation in the life and functions of this town that has made them very special. They have always been good neighbors, always willing to help. Ask the children of generations of “summer people ”, like the Dilgers (Sue Stevens) and Maurers (Cindy Gibson) what it meant to them to spend a day with Clayton and Mildred. Ask anyone connected with Memorial Day Dinners and Grange Suppers to confirm that Mildred not only helps heavily in the preparation, including doing much of the required baking, but has also washed more dishes for more people at these affairs than anyone else in town; we reckon her service there at 48 years. 

Memorial Day has always been very important to the Nyes. Clayt has marched to the cemetery and participated in the services there most every year since he returned from war. Both joined the American Legion Post 304 when it was organized in 1933, and still belong. Clayt was Legion Commander; Mildred was secretary and is presently treasurer. 

Mildred is so blasted efficient she has secretaried or treasured most local organizations at one time or another; School Committee Secretary and keeper of the financial records for 40 years; L.B.S. Secretary from 1935 to 1968; Grange Secretary since 1933; and Congregational Church Treasurer and Assistant Clerk since 1957. Clayt and the town are both lucky to have a woman like that around. 

Clayt has also served Church and Grange. He has been a Granger for 65 years; served as Master for seven of these and also held several other offices. As for the church, he has served as Moderator for Annual Church Meetings; as Trustee, and is now Senior Deacon and Chairman of the Welcoming Committee. 

As important as all the above is the fact that they are real people, good people, nice to be with and frankly fun to tease. But surely we cannot tease on such a serious occasion as this, so we will not mention the fact that Mildred’s Grange participation includes recognition of her as the area’s leading winner of the rolling pin throw. 

But we will mention the tale about her being able to call the kids home from Packard’s; it is not true. They heard her call at what is now Panzeri’s; they heard her from what is now Seelye’s; and they heard her from what is now Corash’s, but there is no confirmation from any of the three children that her gentle voice ever carried to Packards. 

It is the Nye’s optimistic attitude towards life, and rare sense of humor, that has carried them through a satisfying life that has not been easy, or fancy, in modern day terms. They got electricity in 1948. They still get water from a spring, not well, except when it runs dry. As recently as last year they had occasion to fetch water in containers from a spring 500 ft. off the road on the steepest part of West Hill. They do not have central heating. 

But the wood stove in their kitchen gives off a warm glow, and so do they. It is a happy home, a nice place to be, where at any time an apparent stranger will stop by and say “do you remember me,’the little Fisher boy who used to visit in the 40’s?” And yes, they do remember, because people are most important to them. And that is why they are so important to people, and why we chose this way to say that we, the people of Plainfield, are proud that Clayton and Mildred Nye are part of us.

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One Response to Dedications

  1. Rebecca Mlynarczyk says:

    Thanks, Lori, for republishing the dedications to these amazing Power Couples of Plainfield. Frank and I were blessed to know all of them after buying a home in Plainfield in 1973. These couples passed this value down to their children, some of whom I have also gotten to know over the years. Anna Hathaway, daughter of Ralph and Dorothy Rice, has served the town in many roles including Board of Health (1954-1969); Town Treasurer (1959-1975); Librarian (1976-1986); Postmaster (1986-1994); and Treasurer and Distributor of the Plainfield Post up to the present day. Both daughters of Fred and M. Arvilla Dyer became pillars of the town. Priscilla Dyer Allen spent many summers in town and became the unofficial town historian. Lt. Colonel Arvilla Dyer returned to live with her parents in Plainfield after retiring from the army, and served the town in innumerable ways before her death in 2004. Like Anna Hathaway, Thelma Nye Pilgrim, continues to live in Plainfield, where she is active in town affairs and serves as a trustee of the Plainfield Historical Society. Service to the town was such an important value for these power couples and their children as it continues to be for the many who serve Plainfield in various capacities today.

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