The Patriot Pen has been traveling this past week. It took a ride on the rails to meander down memory lane in honor of a centenarian. It had been more than fifty years since I last rode the California Zephyr, Capitol Limited and the Pennsylvanian when departing home to serve in the Navy. Then as now these trains carried me back to South Central Pennsylvania and the birthplace of Joseph Sylvester “Wes” Dell.
Uncle Wes was born in Roaring Spring, Blair County, Pennsylvania on 11 January 1920 to Harvey Franklin and Edith Pearl (Snare) Dell. He was their third son. He joined his parents and older brother, Luther, as his oldest brother, Elmer, had died in infancy. He and his family would live in the home of his nativity at 536 Cherry Street for eight years before they moved to Duncansville where he would spend most of his life.
It was in Duncansville that he would grow to manhood on West Fourteenth Street while attending the old elementary school on Fourth Avenue. Later he would board the bus to attend Hollidaysburg High School where he would graduate in 1938. During his years in high school, he played intramural basketball and was a member of the Astronomy Club for one year, the Hi-Y Club for two years, the Glee Club for three years and the Future Farmers of America for four years.
Sometime during these high school years, probably at the Duncansville Evangelical Lutheran Church, he met the love of his life. Katherine Naomi Detrich (16 March 1924-10 December 2009) was the daughter of Benjamin Franklin and Grace Pearl (Glunt) Detrich. She was four years behind him in school. Her entry in the Chimney Rock Year Book of Hollidaysburg High School states that she was Homeroom Vice President for three years and that she was a member of the Library Club for one year, the Movie Appreciation Club for one year, Parliamentarian Club for two years, Girls Glee Club for three years, and the Rod and Gun Club for three years.
After high school, Uncle Wes found employment with the Gildea Bus Company (Blue and White) until he entered the Army on 4 July 1942 just seven months after Pearl Harbor. In the Army he served as an mechanic and quickly showed his abilities as within three months he was promoted to Corporal and was assigned duties as an instructor.
It was in October 1942 that he returned home on leave to elope with his Kate. They along with his brother and sister-in-law, Luther and Florence, traveled to Winchester, Virginia where Wes and Kate were married by the Rev Carl A Honeycutt on 10 October 1942. Now the license testifies of a little fib on the part of these lovebirds as Kate’s age is recorded as being twenty-one which was a little stretch from her true age of eighteen. Shortly after his returned to base, he received the best wedding gift possible as he was promoted to Sergeant. He would stay in Maryland for another eighteen months before being deployed overseas to Terceira Island, Azores. Wes was honorably discharged on 14 November 1945 at Andrews Field in Washington, D.C. having served three years and four months during World War II. After his discharge he returned home to Duncansville and his beloved Kate.
Wes went into the hardware business and was the owner of Dell’s Hardware on Third Avenue for thirty-five years. The building that housed his business is no longer there but it remains in our memory. Their home on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Fifteenth Street still stands and the new owners seem to care for it. Yesterday as I meandered down memory lane on my way to the birthday celebration I stopped to take a picture of his former home and that of his parents just a block away.
Many fond memories floated back to my conscientiousness of bygone years. One memory was of silver dollars which Uncle Wes gave me and my siblings at Christmas time and which he called “big nickels.” Another was of my 4-H project to raise vegetables. He said I could plant them in his garden area but I could not plant corn. He and Kate did not want to see corn stalks outside their kitchen window. Lastly, was of the photo album he gave me which contained the pictures of our ancestors.
During these years, they continued to attend the Lutheran Church and to sing. Kate was a member of the church choir for fifty years. Wes sang with the Jaffe Shrine Chanters. They would live in Duncansville for sixty years before Kate’s Multiple Sclerosis forced them to the Presbyterian Village in Hollidaysburg because he could no longer care for her at home. There he would remain at her side every day until her passing in 2009. Since then he spends his days eating, sleeping and reading his Bible.
As family and friends began to prepare for his 100th birthday, he asked, “Who would come?” Well, we did come to honor him who had touched our lives and made each of us better by his presence. Yesterday, at the Duncansville Lutheran Church, 148 gathered to honor him with a turkey dinner, a proclamation from the Mayor of Duncansville, the presentation of a flag for his service to his country, a testimonial to his life and service and, yes, to sing Happy Birthday to a centenarian.
God bless you, Joseph Sylvester “Wes” Dell and thank you for sharing your life with us.