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January 7, 2001

Spiritual Reunion

Former Lily Dale Residents Gather For Reflection

Lily Dale - You can never go home, Thomas Wolfe once tod the world. But, those with roots in Lily Dale say the novelist was dead wrong.

Weeks ago, before the first snowfall, some 55 former and current Lily Dale residents gathered in the woodland community along the Upper Cassadaga Lake.

Some came from neighboring communities, others journied from sites as distant as Arizona, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico and Texas. They had once lived in the nationally-recognized Spiritualist community during summers or as year-round residents.

For some who live so far away, returning to Lily Dale was a kind of pilgrimage, Judy Darling Principe said. She first had the idea of gathering together former Lily Dale residents some time ago during lunch with a childhood friend.

In 1931, Lyceum students line up with instructor Lorraine Stegmeier (circled) for a march
to the auditorium, a Friday morning ritual of the Lily Dale Assembly.

In the months that followed, addresses were tracked down and invitations mailed through efforts of Judith Brillian Elliott of Brocton, and Donna Wooley Anderson of Gerry.

Beach beauties in the
olden days gather for
a picture in front of
the town's most
happening place
at the time.
For two days, the visitors roamed streets and woodland trails where anciet trees still bear intials carved years ago. They ploughed through mounds of sand on the beach, the same beach they had coveted in childhood. Well, almost the same. The rambling beach club and bowling alley building is gone, replaced by a small structure that houses restrooms.

But, for the most part, they found Lily Dale unchanged. During summer months, residents still plant and tend gardens in plots behind the community picnic building, and neighbors continue to "borrow" fresh corn and other produce from one another, just as they did in days past.

For Phoenix police officer Joanne Cory and her sister, Judith Mauch of Prescott, the visit was their first return to Lily Dale. Forty years ago, Ralph and Marion Maltbie and their caughters had lived on Cleveland Avenue.

"The house is still there," Mrs. Cory said, pointing across the park to a Victorian-style home encircled by a sunporch with 1920 vintage window panes. "It looks almost the same ... it's like coming home."

Mrs. Cory said at first she was crushed when her parents first moved to the town from Pennsylvania.

Larry Rinaldo, a geologist with the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, and a
Lily Dale paper boy, receive his first
"professional" haircut given by his sister,
Beverly Rinaldo Kilbe.
"I was used to cities. Then, overnight there I was in this little country community, in a school with only a 100 or so kids. I didn't forgive my parents for a very long time. But during the nine short years I lived here, I acqired a basic moral approach to life that has remained with me. I don't think I would have been the same person if I had not experienced Lily Dale."

"One thing is certain," she added. "Lily Dale kids didn't get away with anything in those days. Many of us had family members who were mediums. Both my mother and grandmother, Vera Wright were mediums. No matter how hard we tried, it was literally impossible to skip Lyceum classes. They always' knew," she added, with a whimsical smile.

Mrs. Principe, now of Highland Beach, Fla., and her cousin, Susan Ostertag Thorp of Stockton, shared a humorous story about a medium in their family. Grandma Mable Kellerby, it seems, liked to paint. "We loved her to death, and none of us had the heart to tell her what was obvious - that she would never be an artist," Mrs. Principe said.

Judith Darling Principe of Florida and her niece,
Nancy Ochs Chinchillo, of Fairfax, Va., leaf through
a photo album.
"So, we kind of fibbed, and let her think her work - including a canvas we referred to as 'Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring' was great. We named the Princess after a character in the Howdy-Doody television show," Mrs. Principe continued. "Somewhere along the line, my grandmother hung the painting from a nail driven through the princess' head. After her death, when the painting was turned over to an antique dealer, we all heaved a sigh of relief."

Several years ago, during a stop at an area antique shop, Mrs. Principe and her cousin were laughing about the painting, when suddenly she bumped into something propped against the wall. She looked down and there she was, the Princess, her eyes staring back.

"Grandma Kellerby had the last laugh after all," Mrs. Principe said. "I told Sue we had to buy it ... we wouldn't dare leave without it, so I ended up spending more than $30 for the Princess with a nail hole in her head."

Ronald DeChard, a 62-year-old Fourth Street resident, is the only member of the 2000 group who has remained in Lily Dale throughout his life. "I've lived in the Dale since my parents, the late Alexander and Gladys DeChard, both mediums, moved here right after I was born," he said.

Ronald DeChard, in foreground,
a lifelong resident of Lily Dale,
joins his friends on the porch of
the Maplewood Hotel.
Elaine Stegmeier Goodrich,
82, who mother once headed
the Lyceum program, shares
photos of the "good old days,"
with Reva Pastor of
Cassadaga and Karen Loomis
of Wheaton, Ill.
Today, DeChard, his wife Carol and sons Jason and Ronald continue to live in the same white clapboard familyhome on the corner of Fourth and East streets directly across from the Andrew Jackson Davis Lyceum building where the reunion was headquartered.

Eighty-two-year-old Elaine Goodrich of Cheektowago found many memories in the Lyceum. It was her mother, the late Lorraine Stegmeier, who headed the Lyceum program for many years.

Lyceum classes, comparable to Sunday school, "were really almost mandated," Mrs. Goodrich said. "Children of all ages were required to attend Lyceum each morning during the summer season. If they failed, their families had to pay a fee. I remember my mother taking me to Lily Dale every summer. Each Friday morning, students lined up outside the Lyceum and singing 'Onward Christian Soldiers,' marched to the auditorium where they staged special programs."

Mrs. Anderson recalled that "no one, but no one would dare miss the Friday morning programs, anymore than I would dare to miss pushing the button on the 6 o'clock siren."

Elmer Wooley, 89,
of Gerry, former chief
of the Lily Dale Fire
Department, looks at
photos of a fire that
leveled the famous Fox
Cottage on East Street.
Her father, 89-year-old Elmer Wooley of Gerry, a former Lily Dale fire chief, smiled as his daughter told the story.

"Each night, promptly at 6 o'clock," she said, "the siren had to go off, and since my father was the chief, I was responsible for pushing the button at the fire hall. We lived on Library Street and I had to race across Lily Dale to First Street, run in the door and frantically push the button. I never had a second to spare, because I watched television until the last minute."

"All that running paid off," she added. "Later, on the boys always picked me for the baseball team, because I was the fastest runner around."

"I remember, during the Korean War," she added, "my mother was terribly worried about my brother Richard Lundstrom who served as a medic. One day, she confided her concerns to Winnie McAndrew, a medic who lived nearby. Mrs. McAndrew had assured my mother that she would hear about my brother, that day, and sure encough, later that same day a message was received from the Red Cross indicating he was OK."

Donna Wooley Anderson of Gerry proves her
memory is good, as she chaulks up "pearls of
widson," dating back to Lyceum days.
The successful get-together triggered plans for a 2002 reunion. Heading the event is DeChard, who says he's already up to his ears in plans.

For Karen Brumagin Loomis of Wheaton, Ill., the reunion was a special occasion. And, she's looking forward to the 2002 gathering. "Because of this event," she said, "my cousin Eddie Brumagin and I got together again. It's been years since we were kids in Lily Dale. Our home on Cottage Row has been in the family for five generations, and it always seems so good to get back. We're lucky that we really can go back home."