by Marcia Krafjack
reprinted with permission


Marcia, a member of the Manchester Historical Society, summarized this story from interviews with Jerry Williams in 2008 and 2009. Marcia went to St. James School on Park Street in Manchester during the late 1940s with Joy Henderson, the daughter of Jerry and Marva Williams. “I used to ride my bike over to a friend's house in Orford Village and then we would go to pick up Joy and others. We would play in the neighborhood there. I was probably in high school when I realized how involved Mr. Williams was in sports and in the community, and I’m fortunate to have this opportunity to help him tell his story to the public.”

[Ed. Note: This article was originally published in two parts in the Journal Inquirer. These have been combined for use in this web site.]

Jerry Williams' Early Days

I was born February 5, 1926 in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, a small town about thirty-six miles from Hot Springs. My parents, Flossie and Jacob, had a farm and grew wheat, cotton, potatoes, and a variety of things. I had three brothers, and we were all one-and-a-half years apart. I was the oldest – a skinny kid, kind of on the wild side and feisty, but a good kid. You could compare me to a wild horse, as I just loved to run and run. I liked school and played a lot of baseball and basketball. People used to say I was pretty good at these sports.

My brothers and I got along great. Bernard was in the middle and was kind of tough. He wasn’t a bully but he had a temper on him. He liked to “mix it up,” take care of everything, and he always looked after all of us. The youngest, Clyde, was thin and we babied him a bit. When he was small, he liked to ride around on my father’s shoulders.

My father had nineteen brothers and sisters, including a twin, Joseph. It was hard keeping track of all those kids. A lot of them died before I was born. I would ask my father who a certain person was and he would say, “That’s your cousin” and I would say, “What you’re telling me here is ‘Don’t even try courting anyone in this town!’” They called our town Williams Town because there were so many of us. The girls would get married and have a different name and that was even more confusing.

It was a difficult time back then during the Depression years. We were fortunate to live on a farm and have food available. We were all loving people and we would all gather for picnics and have good times. My younger brother passed away in 1986. My middle brother has lived in Kansas for many years. He is the Pastor of the Little Church of God and Christ in Liberal, Kansas.

My father got up early and went to bed early. He always said, “If you work hard, you’ll be tired and ready for a good night’s sleep. Then you will have lots of pep in the morning.” We needed lots of energy for working on the farm, doing our schoolwork and playing sports, which we all loved to do.

Our grammar school was named Williams School and only went through grade six and then we went to grades seven through ten at the Peake School. We walked one mile to school and had our lunch there. That’s as far as school went in our town. I then went to Arkansas Baptist, a boarding school in Little Rock, to finish high school. I was a bit homesick at first because no one from my school came with me. When I graduated, I was almost eighteen and knew I would soon have to register for the Army.

Coming to Connecticut

I finished school and came to Connecticut for defense work with a few friends from boarding school. We went to an old CCC Camp in Nepaug Village in Unionville, CT. The Civilian Conservation Corps was started in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The camps taught many skills such as building roads, dams, and fighting fires. They relieved poverty and unemployment during the Depression. We worked eight hours a day and lived in dormitory-type quarters. It was discontinued in 1942 due to the need for men in the service.

After being trained for machine work, I was sent to Hamilton Standard here in Connecticut. Others went to Pratt and Whitney and other defense companies. My middle brother went to Kansas and my younger brother worked in defense in California. People in defense work were sent all over the country. My parents left the farm and moved to California. They both worked in defense plants for over a year. The money was good. My father’s twin brother, Joseph, stayed on the farm and watched over things. My parents got homesick and went home for a visit. My maternal grandmother said, “They’re never going to get them back out there again.” She was right. They stayed on the farm and for a time did a bit of truck patching which was growing small patches of corn, watermelon, and various vegetables to feed the family. They didn’t do much farming after that. My brothers and I were gone, and it was hard to get help.

Military Service and Coming Home

Soon after starting work, I got my papers for military service. I filled them out and sent them back. It took the Army only two months to call me. I was inducted into the Army and sent to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, where I continued my training. From there I went to Fort McClellan, Alabama, and then to Fort Swift, Texas. It was toward the end of World War II, so I remained in the States and was discharged after ten months.

I realized I was now a man and had to get out on my own. I came back to Connecticut and rented a room on Garden Street in Hartford. I worked as a temporary substitute mail carrier in Hartford.

While working for the Post Office, some friends invited me to go to a Social Club with them. I didn’t want to go but luckily I did as I met Marva there, and the rest is history. We were married in Manchester in 1945 and I moved into this house [Waddell Road] that Marva had rented before we were married. She was doing defense work at Hamilton Standard.

I didn’t stay long at the Post Office. I wanted to do something else. I took advantage of the G.I. Bill and went to school at General Motors Institute in Michigan. The government paid my way. I completed a course in Dealer Parts Department Management. Marva stayed behind to keep the and her job. When I finished school, I went to work at Gorman Motors on West Middle Turnpike and eventually became parts manager.

I got to know a lot of the customers and one of them asked me if I would be interested in a job at Hamilton Standard. He put me in touch with someone at Hamilton and I got a job in Material Control. I said to myself, “Don’t blow this, as it may be a job for your life.” When you get a job you have to learn things and be aggressive to get ahead. I went through the different steps and some of them I didn’t like, but you get through it. Marva would ask how I was doing and I always said I was doing well. I was promoted to lead man and continued to progress. I became a member of the Management Club. I worked there for thirty-six years and retired as Materials Manager in Electronic Control Systems.

Orford Village

Our house was part of a development called Orford Village. It was owned by the Federal Government and rented out to defense workers. A few blocks west more homes for defense workers were built and called Silver Lane Homes. They weren’t built as well as Orford Village and the rooms were much smaller. They are all gone now. People bought many of them and moved them near lakes for use as cottages. Orford Village homes were more permanent and we and many other renters eventually bought them with the help of the G.I. Bill.

In all the time we lived in Manchester, there was only one racial incident. A petition was circulated among the white neighbors to keep us out of Orford Village, but no one signed and that was the end of it. We remained and made a lot of friends here. I’m still living in the same house.

Sports

I continued playing baseball and basketball in boarding school and in the service. When I moved to Manchester, I discovered they had several baseball teams in the Manchester Twilight League. I tried out and played with almost every team. I played most nights and on more than one team at a time. Some of the teams were Nassiff Arms, Garden Grove, Moriarty Brothers, The Rockville Hillbillies, and The West Side. These teams were considered semi-pro teams at that time.

I could have played pro ball, but back in those days not many players of color went into the pros. The money wasn’t good and we were raising a family. I played with Bobby Knight in the National Guard and with Dick Cobb who became a teacher and coach at Manchester High School. I played and coached basketball with Moriarty Brothers and played baseball and basketball with Nassiff Arms and Hamilton Standard. I played with so many teams. If someone called and asked me to play, I went. I also coached some of the kids in town in Little League. Some of them are now retired and I would see them on the golf course.

Continuing Jerry's Story

Marva was still working at Hamilton and when the kids came along, she joined the nursing staff at Manchester Memorial Hospital and worked between kids. She mostly worked the night shift and was at home with the kids during the day. She didn’t get much sleep during those years. I would get the kids up and ready for school. I made their lunches. They still tease me about that. Oh, those were some lunches, peanut butter and jelly or honey mostly. When they were grown, I once asked our oldest, Joy, if she ate peanut butter now and she said, “No, Dad, not too much!” I also made lamb sandwiches – they were the worst! Joy told Marva to tell me not to make any more lamb sandwiches!

When the kids started coming, we needed more space and we added a second floor to the house. Joy, our oldest, went to Mt. St. Joseph Academy in West Hartford for high school and has a degree from St. Joseph College in West Hartford. She then graduated from Harvard Graduate School. She was interested in medicine and science and did a lot of lab type work. She met her husband at Harvard. They live in Massachusetts.

Jerry, Jr., married after high school and lived with his family in student housing while he attended UConn. In 1967, at age twenty, he unexpectedly passed away at the end of his sophomore year. He had stopped to see Marva at two p.m., and said he would be back. She had a phone call shortly after from his wife saying Jerry had collapsed and was in an ambulance en route to the hospital. Marva hurried to the hospital, but was too late. He had a ruptured aneurysm. He left a wife and small daughter.

Judy was a dancer from day one. She has dancing in her bones. She has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and an undergraduate degree from Boston Conservatory. She became a dance teacher and has taught all over the world. She founded and directed The Movement Lab, an educational dance institute in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. In 2008, she was inducted into the Manchester Arts Hall of Fame by the Manchester Arts Council. In 2007, the United Nations awarded Judy the Friendship Ambassador Award for over twenty years of creative global outreach in goodwill through dance.

Jebby went to Bradford Junior College in Massachusetts. She wanted to try everything and decided to take time off to find herself. Marva asked her, “When did you get lost?” She told Jebby if she lost herself again, Marva would find her! She was only about eighteen when she went traveling with a girlfriend. They traveled all around, went to Mexico and finally she stayed in Laguna Beach in California where she found a job. She graduated from the University of California, Irvine Division, in Orange County. She works in education in Los Angeles.

My family also includes five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Playing Golf and Other Activities

In the 1950’s, I figured I was too old to play basketball and baseball and so I took up golf. You try to play with a foursome. We played where you could get a steady slot and a good starting time. Golf is more an individual game than baseball. You’ve got to keep a cool head. It’s a game that’s within yourself. I played at Tallwood, Blackledge, Twin Hills, and of course, Manchester Country Club. I stopped playing last year because of my bad knees. I needed knee surgery and went for pre-operative testing. Instead of knee surgery, I had an angiogram, which showed blockage to the heart. I had double bypass surgery. I’d like to play golf again; we’ll see.

Marva was very active in the Democratic Party in town and the Mother’s Circle at church. There were several groups within the Mother’s Circle. They met monthly in each others’ homes to pray and discuss any problems with the school and with their children. They were both social and informative meetings. They all helped each other out. In those days all the mothers knew all the kids. She was a member of the Manchester Historical Society and the Church Guild, which helped out the church with any issues.

Manchester had two Catholic churches at that time – St. James in the Main St. business area and St. Bridget in the north end of town. The Church of the Assumption, in the west side of town, started as a mission church of St. James Parish. Two priests from St. James, Father Edgar Farrell and Father Francis Butler, did pretty well developing the church. A lot of people from that area of town joined that mission and did a lot of work getting the church established. To make money to help build the church, we decided to sell bricks and a lot of people rang doorbells selling the bricks and did very well. Alice Jarvis donated over a million dollars. That was a huge help in building the church. Father Joseph Farrell, brother to Father Edgar Farrell, then took over the new church as the first pastor. The church was incorporated June 16, 1955. The church was then run by a priest and a pastoral person who helped out. Many times this would be a student from the seminary.

I was in the first group of Eucharistic Ministers at the Assumption Church. After a training period, you are able to help the priest in duties such as serving communion. I did that for six years and then turned my duties over to someone else and they then worked in three-year shifts.

Knights of Columbus and Special Olympics

In 1955, a friend asked me to join the Knights of Columbus, Campbell Council #573. Over one hundred men from different towns met and got to know one another. The Knights of Columbus is an organization of Catholic men dedicated to charity, fraternity, patriotism, and family life. They are active today. I took classes and was accepted into the group. I was the first man of color in the group from Assumption church. I was in the organization about ten years when I was appointed Grand Knight. My duties were to run the council meetings and work with committee members on projects. I was kept busy with all the responsibilities. I became a member of the Manchester Area Conference of Churches through the K of C.

I was a Past Grand Knight when I was named Host Chairman of the Special Olympics in Manchester in 1995. The Knights of Columbus sponsored the games along with Eunice Schriver who came to town for the big event. The United States hosted 109 countries in 139 towns in Connecticut. Manchester hosted about 107 athletes from South Africa. They and their coaches and reporters stayed in local homes. They stayed in Manchester but the games were held in New Haven. Manchester entertained the group with trips to the Lutz Museum, Cheney Mills and a party in Center Park. The K of C held a breakfast at the Elks Club and the Manchester Area Conference of Churches helped. This was the first time the games were international. I set up committees and had people help in different areas. Manchester got so much publicity. Many townspeople turned out for the events.

A Busy Retirement

I was an honoree of the West Side Old Timers, a group of West Side athletes and those who played with West Side teams. I was on their steering committee a number of years. This group disbanded about two years ago. I also served on the Manchester Scholarship Board of Directors.

When the kids were grown and gone, Marva and I did a lot of traveling. We started in 1987. We went to Mexico, Acupulco, the Caribbean, and Alaska. Every time a new ship came out, Marva was ready to go. She loved cruises.

I was president of the Manchester Chapter of The Holy Family Retreat for Laymen for twenty years. Once you got in, you couldn’t get out! I was also a member of the Manchester Community Council on Economic Opportunity. I stayed with that group for two years.

After I retired from Hamilton, I worked from 1994 to 2008 as a school-crossing guard, mostly at Nathan Hale School on Spruce Street. It was good to get out and talk to people. I talked with everyone and got to know the families. The kids would leave for middle school and I would ask the younger kids how their older brothers and sisters were doing. That always brought a smile to their face. At Christmas, the school sent me a Christmas card with everyone’s signature on it.

I keep busy. I’m on the board of directors of MARC, Inc, and I’m still a member of the Knights of Columbus. I’m in a small Bible Study group that meets once a week in each others’ homes. I help out at a MACC shelter once a month. Also, once a month I work at another shelter setting up tables for meals and picking up the food in Windsor Locks.You have to keep active and keep the old noggin going!

Losing My Wife

Marva passed away December 3, 2005. We had been married fifty-nine years. It was hard. I have a small den in the back of the house. My TV and computer are there and there are family pictures on all the walls that bring back good memories. When I get a little blue or lonesome, I go in and look at all the pictures and I perk up.

I did all the cleaning until I had the heart surgery and then Judy talked me into getting a housekeeper. I told her I would try it and all I needed was once a month. The housekeeper cleans, vacuums, and dusts. I do the laundry. I’m in a routine. I had a hard time fitting the sheets around the corners of the mattress! Marva always took care of that and did the cooking. Now I eat out more. It’s a change for me.

Advice to Youth

I would tell young people today to do everything they can. Anything that you have in your bones that you like and want to do, just do it. Cram it in now because one of these days you’re not going to be able to do it. It’s like cramming something into a jar – get it done. Take advantage of any opportunity that comes along. Find a way to do it. Marva and I were able to raise a wonderful family and still be active in the community and our church. I tell everybody “Get it in, get it in.” It can be done. You’re only here for a short time.

Things change in towns over the course of many years. No matter where you live, north, south, east, west, you no longer see your old drugstore on Main Street. You no longer see groups of people on the street talking and laughing together as we did on Main Street on Thursday nights when all the stores were open. We can’t expect things to go back to those times. Life changes and so you have to learn to adapt to new ways. I still think of Manchester as a “City of Village Charm”. I love this town.

Marcia Krafjack thanks the Historical Society’s John Spaulding and Susan Barlow for their assistance in completing this story. Anyone interested in participating in the Historical Society’s oral history program, can contact the Society by clicking here.

       



Reproduced 2011 from www.mhs1955.com with permission of its webmaster Dick Jenkins.
All content ©