Sharing stories and memories with Orville Eckler
Elementary sweethearts Orville Eckler and Grace Fusco Chimeri, take pause during a walk down Memory Lane. (Photo by Janine Giordano)
There were certain things I knew right off the bat with Orville Eckler from the minute tour guide Tom Shypski reprimanded us in the back to quit dawdling.
First, Orville always wore a smile and had a funny story or kind word to say.
Second, he was the sentimental kind.
Third, his glass is probably always half full.
And, last, I bet he got in trouble a lot in school.
I got to know Orville and his lovely wife, Eloise, during the Richfield Springs School tour on Saturday, August 21, the night after the all inclusive eleven year reunion gala. We had met briefly there, at the golf course, but he had become a tiny thumbprint in a catalogue of faces and names scribbled in my notebook and imprinted in my memory.
At first, it was hard to concentrate on the fabulous job our tour guide was doing, with this man I had met the night before constantly regaling me with antics every time he passed a landmark from his youth. After the third time we were told to keep moving I realized it was too late. I too had been captivated by the charm of Orville Eckler.
Story after story filled the corridor as Orville transported me back through the years to his high school days. A peek in a doorway here, a pause by his locker so his wife could snap a photo, a misty gaze as he got lost in a memory when he thought no one was looking... all of this had me following him just as easily as many of his classmates probably did way back when. He is that kind of guy, the kind you want to hang around; the kind of guy you just have to call friend.
Born June 11, 1943 to Harold and Dorothy Van Valkenburg Eckler, Orville was the youngest of four siblings. At the age of two his mom became a single parent, and she and her brood moved to Warren, where he was raised on his grandparents’ farm. “It took us many years to understand how lucky we all were to grow up where we did and to really appreciate the farm,” Eckler said.
The next thirteen years is filled with snapshot memories: building a swimming hole with Don Oldick, Keith Sheldon and Billy Eisler; “borrowing” Nancy Ostrander Hugick’s father’s boat so often the boys were finally given “an old rotten row boat that was headed for the bottom of the lake.” Eckler learned to play cards at the Warren Grange, got his first shotgun “at the ripe old age of nine” and “bagged my first deer at eleven with my brother-in-law Ward Goodale, and watched as the school bus went by as we dragged it back to the farm.”
School was as exciting, when his family moved to Richfield upon the death of his grandfather and sale of the farm. He and his mom and stepfather moved into the Schuyler House, which had been purchased by his sister Shirley, and Ward. “I was like a kid in the candy store. I loved living at the hotel -best pizza in town- plus learned to short order cook,” he said. There was that half full glass I mentioned earlier.
He worked hard during his youth between the hotel and a position at Vertucci’s Gulf Gas Station. He talked his mom into splitting the cost of a ‘57 Chevy Hardtop, which he would drag race in the evenings by the Mill Stone.
Even though he worked most school nights and weekends, Eckler said it limited his road time and girl time, But I still somehow managed to fit it all in. I didn’t do homework and if I really needed something turned in I would call my cousin and best friend, Ken Pratt, whose mom and my aunt happened to be the school nurse. He would come to the gas station and do the homework for me, and a couple of times I got a better grade than he did. He wasn’t happy.”
There were a few teachers Eckler recalled fondly, including Barbara Moxley, his junior and senior English teacher. “She got me graduated and I owe her and Ken a debt,” he confessed. Dorothy Davis was another English teacher who “was a peach.” Then there is his favorite, Emma Rapenske, “The only teacher to sign my year book,” who was responsible for Eckler being able to type, he added. “Thanks, Emma. I know you wanted to attend the reunion but had a commitment. You’re forgiven.”
Shypski’s tour brought to mind Richard Lagoe, the Industrial Arts teacher back in Orville’s day. He talked about how “we would crank up the voltage on those motors we made, and Chuck Hazelton comes to mind. We got shocked a lot that year.”
Another faculty member Orville holds dear is Dorothy Einsiedel. “I was quite smitten and decided that I still am,” he said.
Speaking of smitten...Orville finally had the opportunity to heal a part of his heart that had been broken by Grace (Fusco) Chimeri. “A couple of girls had broken my heart, but Grace gave me the big one,” he confessed. “I remember pulling her pigtail in kindergarten, and crawling through partitions that kept the boys and girls separated.” Her family up and left in fifth grade and Orville never had the chance to talk to her again. Until the reunion. “I can’t tell you what it was like to go in the kindergarten room with Grace and revisit our past and have Eloise take a picture of us in that room,” he said.
He owed this special reunion to Cindy Hoffman, who ran into Grace at the Tally-Ho just weeks before the reunion. It was that chance encounter that led Grace to the reunion, and back to Orville... and his wife Eloise, who took this part of the reunion really well.
There are dozens of names and stories filling Orville’s life, but the most important is his wife, Eloise, with whom he “became entwined in 1975 and the rest is a love story,” he said. Their life has been full of hurtles, including the loss of her daughter Jennifer 16 years ago, but their love, and her son Steven, has seen them through. “Eloise is a very special person and people who know her understand what I am saying,” he added.
Well, Orville, I would say, after meeting you both, you are absolutely right about your bride.
And I would also say this, the two of you are perfectly matched.