Notable Neighbor: Banner highlights late Medina icon, Dan Spaghett
MEDINA – Only a few days remain until this year’s Hometown Hero banners come down for the winter. But before that happens, Mary Woodruff would like to call attention to two very special veterans who are honored in Medina’s downtown.
One is Dan Paul, known to the Medina community as Dan Spaghett, and the other is Civil War soldier and Shelby farmer Asa Hill.
Woodruff first got the idea for the banners after she attended a ceremony in Alfred Station where her father-in-law Willis Burr Woodruff was one of the town’s residents whose banner was on display in a local gymnasium. Burr served in Africa during World War II. He came to Medina as manager of the Agway plant in Knowlesville.
When Woodruff walked into that room with all the banners, she was awestruck, she said.
She came home and immediately started making plans to start a Hometown Heroes program in Medina.
The results have been overwhelming, not only the number of banners which have been purchased, but the stories of the veterans honored.
Two very special banners hanging this year are those of Civil War soldier Asa Hill and Medina’s legendary Dan Spaghett.
When Woodruff posted on Facebook she was looking for comments from people who had memories to share of Hill and Dan, whose real name was Dan Paul, she was overwhelmed with responses.
Most people didn’t know much about Dan, except he was our town “hobo” and always wore his long coat. His portrait is prominently displayed at the Rudy’s diner in Medina.
Legendary Locals of Orleans County, a book by Holly Canham, has the most information known about Dan, who was born in 1892 (location unknown) and died in 1976.
Legendary Locals says he came to Medina as a young boy to work on railroad maintenance gangs. He stayed with the Paul family and adopted their surname. He was a veteran who served in World War I, returning to Medina after the war, at which time it was said he displayed signs of trauma.
He was never seen without his long coat and felt hat, even in summer. It was often said his coat was lined with money, and Legendary Locals reports when he was once hospitalized they found considerable amounts of money hidden in the folds of his coat. Later in life, while at the VA, many uncashed pension checks were found in his coat. It was also reported his only known possession was a trunk full of lacy items, such as doilies, which it is suspected his mother made and which he occasionally gave as a gift.
In spite of his reclusive lifestyle, he was trusted by Medina merchants, for whom he often ran errands, made bank deposits, delivered telegrams and performed handyman jobs.
The most often-told tales about Dan involved his walks to Lake Ontario to bathe in the lake.
Dan’s banner was suggested and paid for by Lee and Maureen Blackburn, Medina natives who now live in Fredonia.
Their reasons for remembering Dan with a banner were because he was friendly and honest, but most of all, because he was a veteran, Maureen said.
“Dan was a regular strolling along Main Street,” she wrote in an e-mail to Woodruff. “Sensing the reluctance of my two daughters when Dan approached, we stopped and waited for him to greet us. The girls weren’t sure of this exchange, but I assured them he was a friend. He greeted them and, as he often did, played a slight-of-hand coin trick. They loved it. Being preschool age, it was natural they were hesitant, and only with an adult nearby would this be ok. This was over 50 years ago and I can still see the image of two little girls enjoying Dan’s kindness.”
Donna Piedmont Bryant recalled Dan walked to Shadigee every day to wash his feet.
“We often picked him up and gave him a ride,” she said. “My dad and he would have a great visit. He got to ride up front and we had to get in the back seat.”
Anita Wigley Weese shared her memories of Dan when she worked at G.C. Murphy’s in the early 1970s.
“Dan would always hang around there,” she said. “He was never any trouble, just sat around quietly and smiled. One day some kids started picking on him. Dan went into the stairwell and grabbed the broom that was always kept there. He took off chasing them and swinging the broom at them. I can still see that.”
Joann Sellers’s memory of Dan is when her family would go downtown and the kids would stay in the car.
“Dan would come up to the car and we would roll down the window just a little and he would give us one piece of Juicy Fruit gum,” she said.
Laurey Kenward said Dan had lived in a run-down house on Park Avenue, a couple of blocks from her family. It was a corner house one block east of Davis Avenue, and she said it was torn down after his death.
Fran Kenward’s memories of Dan are when they had first moved to Medina in 1966 and walked uptown every day with her children, age 1 and 4.
“We were always greeted by Dan when we walked through Murphy’s,” Kenward said. “He was one of the most friendly people in town. He would walk to the stop light with us and would sing to us. What a wonderful voice he had.”
Gloria Fierch remembers Dan very well. She said Dan used to walk by their house on Paddy Hill every night in the summer.
“We assumed he spent the night on Erin Road in this little old house,” she said. “I think he stayed with this little old bag lady, Mrs. Barney, but I’m not sure. He was a very fascinating man.”
Donna Graves said Dan is buried in the front of Boxwood Cemetery and each time she visits her parents’ graveside, she visits his. She asks everyone to stop by and say a prayer “for a very memorable man to many of us.”
There were many more responses to Woodruff’s request for memories, most of whom recalled Dan’s walking to the lake, his honesty, his attention to children and his beautiful voice.
The story of Asa Hill will be shared in a future story.