This year’s high school graduation at the Fonda-Fultonville school district will mark the start of a unique legacy left by a village couple known for hard work and community service.
About a dozen students unlikely to afford college on their will have opportunity to continue their studies with free tuition with a new scholarship named after its donors, William Barent Wemple and Elizabeth Ashley Burton Wemple.
School officials have said the gift of $1.83 million is remarkable in its size alone.
The Wemples stipulated in their will that the scholarship would be active once their heirs were dead; school officials learned about it last fall following the death of the Wemples’ son, Frank Wemple, in 2006.
But some who knew the prominent, upper-class family are not surprised that the donation, spelled out in the Wemples’ last will and testament, went unheralded for more than 30 years.
“Today , people seem to be more interested in saying they did something,” said Rose Aversa, who grew up next door to the Wemples on Montgomery Terrace in Fonda. “The old way was you don’t talk about what you do. You just do it.”
Aversa, now 79, was one of many in the community who witnessed the generosity of Elizabeth Ashley Burton Wemple and the work ethic of her husband, W. Barent Wemple.
She said W. Barent Wemple spent much of his time working, while his wife arranged household affairs and was constantly involved in community service work.
Many of Ashley Wemple’s acts went unnoticed, Aversa said, except the fact that she allowed all the neighborhood children to play in their yard on Montgomery Terrace.
“She was really gracious,” Aversa said.
According to his obituary, W. Barent Wemple, born on Nov. 30, 1895, was a descendant of one the earliest Dutch families in the Mohawk Valley. His ancestor Jan B. Wemple, who arrived in America in 1640, was one of 15 founders of Schenectady. His name is among those found on the bronze tablet in the First Dutch Reformed Church in Schenectady’s Stockade.
W. Barent Wemple went to school at the Albany Boys Academy, lived in New York City, and moved to Fonda when his father, William Barent Wemple, bought the Fonda-based Mohawk Valley Democrat newspaper.
W. Barent Wemple graduated in the Fonda High School class of 1913, went to Union College and graduated in 1917, according to his obituary, published in the Mohawk Valley Democrat, the paper he ultimately took over as its publisher.
He served as secretary of the Mohawk-Glen Development Corp., which succeeded in getting the Keymark Corp. to locate in the village. Keymark, which manufactures extruded aluminum products, remains in Fonda today and is one of Montgomery County’s largest employers.
When he was 41, W. Barent Wemple became a director of the former National Mohawk River Bank of Fonda and later, its president. The bank merged with Central National Bank of Canajoharie, where he served as a director, and chairman of its building committee, according to his obituary.
He was a director of the former FJ & G Railroad and of the Fulton County Coal and Oil Co.
He served as a trustee of the village of Fonda and a member of the former Fonda Planning Board. He was a member of the board of education and a member of the first Montgomery County Economic Development Committee.
The long list of W. Barent Wemple’s associations include service as president of the Consolidated Board of Health of the Town of Mohawk and village of Fonda and as member and treasurer of the Fonda Boy Scout Troop Committee.
He was a member of the Reformed Church of Fonda, the Fultonville Masonic Lodge No. 531, and vice-president of the Montgomery County Historical Society.
W. Barent Wemple also served as vice president of the New York State Historical Association, and was a member of the New York Press Association, the National Newspaper Association, the Gloversville YMCA, the Sigma Phi Society and the Antlers Country Club.
“He was a gentleman, the way that term was used at the time,” said Violet Fallone, a former Montgomery County Historian who also lived on the same street as the Wemples.
“He was always dressed well with a tie, he looked like a gentleman,” Fallone said.
From descriptions from both Fallone and Aversa, it appears W. Barent Wemple was what today would be called a workaholic and a fairly reserved person.
“He actually was never a person to mingle too much. He was very much involved with his newspaper and spent a good deal of time in his office,” Fallone said.
“I think he was probably a little bit harder to know; he was probably not as outgoing as she, but both were a delight to have in the community.
Wemple’s wife, Elizabeth Ashley Burton Wemple, was “always doing something for somebody, she was,” Fallone said of her former neighbor.
Ashley Burton Wemple, as she was known, was born on May 7, 1895. She and her parents, Frank and Emma McNab Burton, were descendants of the early European immigrants who became prominent in the leather tanning and glove-making business in Gloversville.
She was born on the former McNab homestead on North McNab Avenue and West Fulton Street.
That land was later donated to the city of Gloversville by her parents which now serves as the site of the McNab Elementary School, according to her obituary.
Ashley Burton Wemple studied in Gloversville schools and went to high school at The Willard School in Berlin, Germany, later studying at Smith College in Massachusetts and then at the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing, where she became a registered nurse.
Ashley Burton Wemple was a member of the Nathan Littauer Hospital’s board of trustees, commissioner of the Girl Scouts of Fulton County, president of the Alliance Francaise and the Every Monday Club of Gloversville, according to her obituary.
Her activities, described as “innumerable” after she died, included membership on the boards of education of the Fonda School and later of the Fonda-Fultonville school districts once they consolidated.
Her memberships included the PTA, the Caughnawaga Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Century Club of Amsterdam, and the Antlers Country Club.
Ashley Burton Wemple also served as a trustee and secretary-treasurer of the Frothingham Free Library and as a member of the Mohawk Valley Library Association, according to her obituary.
married in 1930
Elizabeth Ashley Burton and W. Barent Wemple were married on July 26, 1930.
They had two children; one, William Jr., was struck and killed at age 8 by a sand truck on Park Street in the village. He was on the way to third grade at the Fonda Elementary School, according to genealogical materials.
Their son Frank, was born on Oct. 12, 1935, and attended Bard College and Columbia University. He worked with his father at the newspaper, according to his 2006 obituary.
Elizabeth Ashley Burton Wemple died at age 69 in November of 1964, 14 years before her husband, who died in August of 1978 at age 82.
Rose Aversa, who still lives in the home next door to the former Wemple home, said she recalls W. Barent Wemple living alone after his wife’s death.
“After she died, he didn’t do much. He gave up the paper and he just kind of walked,” Aversa said. “He kept to himself. In fact, he kept the light on at night he just kind of withdrew to himself.”
Though gone for decades, the Burtons will be memorialized through their gift to students, which, though surprising to residents when announced, doesn’t surprise people who knew them.
The Fonda-Fultonville School District expects to distribute about 12 scholarships of $7,000, the cost of tuition at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
The family left a request that the scholarships be distributed equally among males and females and based on student financial need.
The fund itself requires that at least 5 percent of its value go to Fonda-Fultonville graduates pursuing higher education and, depending on its management, could endure for decades, officials said.