Focus on Fostoria - Dec0405

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Published on 12/04/05 in the Fostoria Focus
Gray steps down as president of Fostoria Area Historical Society
By LEONARD SKONECKI Focus Correspondent

A long chapter came to a close for the Fostoria Area Historical Society at its September meeting. George Gray, the group’s longtime president, stepped down from that position. “I think it’s time for a younger person to take this on now,” said George, who is 87. “I’ve always loved local history and it’s been wonderful to have been involved with the society and the museum all these years.”
George comes by his love of local history in part because his family has been so important to Fostoria’s development.
“My grandfather brought the Gray Printing Co. over from Medina in 1888 after they had a fire over there. I’ve always liked history. I majored in American history at Oberlin College.”
When he graduated college, George thought his career was on its way, but there was a slight detour.
“After I got out of college, of course, war was declared in 1941. I got in the National Guard in the fall of 1940, thinking I was getting in on the ground floor. “I went down to Camp Shelby, Miss., with the National Guard and then was inducted into the Army. I was a battery clerk.
“It was then I got acquainted with Ida Mary and we got married two years later, during the war.” The Historical Society was a shared passion for the Grays. Ida Mary was the FAHS treasurer for many, many years.
The Fostoria Area Historical Society was established in the early 1970s. George was only starting to get involved at that time.
“We had the ‘76 celebration downstairs. Mary Fish was the president,” he said. “I got involved a little bit then, but I was still president of Gray Printing Co. full-time.
” It was in 1978 or 1979 that George began to devote more of his time to the historical society. George has some favorite exhibits at the museum.
“Our Allen Motor Car has a crank starter. We had that in a parade once a long time ago,” he said. “It ran pretty good.”
The museum’s Allen car was built in Fostoria in 1918.
George also enjoys the music room where there are many photographs and instruments from the Jack Wainwright era.
“I particularly liked the parts connected with music since I’ve been in music all my life. I started on the piano, then the mandolin and then the bassoon,” he said.
“I got a scholarship to Oberlin College as a result of my bassoon ability,” he said. “I had a scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky, but Oberlin was closer and that was where my parents and grandparents went to school.”
Jack Wainwright did much to introduce the teaching of instrumental music in the schools across the nation.
“I knew Jack Wainwright very well,” said George. “He was a very good friend of my father. He was the one who got the national high school band championship in Chicago in 1923.
“We have photographs of that band. Jimmy Guernsey and Ernie Duffield were in the band too. That’s the reason music is interesting to me. We also had the national band convention here once and we have a picture of that, too,” he said.
“We had three boys and each one was involved in music,” he said.
The bassoon might seem like an odd choice for an instrument.
“I started in the French horn but my lips couldn’t take it. So I dropped that. When E.E. Smith came here in 1932 or ‘33, we got out a bassoon.
“I thought it was a crazy looking instrument to try, but it ended up being the one I played. After I played it through high school, I bought a bassoon and took it to Oberlin College and played in the band and symphony orchestra there.
“The bassoon took a back seat when I became a father,” he said. “It laid up in the dormer for a while until the community band got started under Dick Downs. I tried to play it again, but my lips and lungs weren’t what they used to be once I got to be age 65 or 75. But I still have the bassoon.”
The Charles Foster Room contains many photographs and artifacts related to the Foster family. “We have a lot of the Foster furniture. I have a lot of memories of that, too,” George said. “We had most of that in storage in Toledo until we found out this building (the old municipal building on North Street) was going to be available,” he said. “We cleared out all the Civil Defense equipment and the Police Department still had the jail on the first floor full of stolen goods, bicycles, televisions so on. We didn’t get that cleared up for a few years.
“Then a few years ago, we got a generous donation from Don Miller to turn the jail into the Judy Miller Room for meetings,” he said. “That was a wonderful gesture on his part.”
George wasn’t always the society’s president. Mary Fish was president when George got involved. Lawrence Henry also served as president.
Mary Fish was the driving force behind the formation of the Historical Society which was established in 1972 with 15 members.
George has always realized the importance of instilling an appreciation of history in young people. Each year he takes the fourth grade classes of the Fostoria Community Schools through the museum for a personally guided tour.
“I started doing that around 10 years ago. I enjoy the young people,” he said. “Some of them have quite a few questions to ask.”
While George is stepping down from his duties as president of the Historical Society, he will still be active in the organization.
And he remains active in other ways. He attends meetings of the Fostoria Rail Preservation Society, sings in the First Presbyterian Choir and the local Barbershoppers, is active in the Shepherd Center and organizes the annual Salvation Army kettle drive.
“Fostoria’s history has meant a lot to me over the years,” George said. “I hope that more people will get involved in the Historical Society.”

Skonecki named group’s new leader

The board of the Fostoria Area Historical Society accepted the resignation of George Gray, its longtime president, at the group’s September meeting and elected Leonard Skonecki to replace him.
Leonard was born in Fostoria and graduated from St. Wendelin in 1968.
He lived in Toledo from 1968 to 1979 and then in Dayton until 1995 when he returned to Fostoria.
“I have very much enjoyed the Historical Society and the museum, but I’m happy to see someone take it over. Leonard is a wonderful fellow,” George said.
“Filling George’s shoes will be a big job,” said Leonard. “I appreciate the board’s confidence.”
One of Leonard’s goals it to try get more younger people involved in the Historical Society.
He said the most pressing need right now is for a treasurer. Anyone wishing to take on that job can call 419-435-3588