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The Hagaman-Tasmanian connection

The Hagaman-Tasmanian connection

Chance letter began friendship
The Hagaman-Tasmanian connection
Image of Mendets, from the book "Hardware merchandising March-June 1917" (1917)
Photographer: Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr

A box of Mendets forged an improbable link in 1925 between an American in Hagaman and an Australian more than 10,000 miles away in the island state of Tasmania.

Collette Manufacturing Company of Amsterdam produced Mendets, bolt-like contraptions to plug holes in pots and pans.  Cobleskill native Clarence Collette founded the firm.  Collette’s also manufactured juvenile sporting goods, paper clips and other products.  Their main plant was on Clizbe Avenue in Amsterdam.

Arlyn (Lynn) Smith of West Galway responded to a recent column on Collette’s with a story of her own.

Smith’s mother, Marjorie Eckler, was 15 in 1925 when a girlfriend of hers was working at Collette’s making Mendets.  Marjorie lived on Rogge Road in Hagaman.  She was not working for Collette’s herself as she was still in school.

Smith said, “My mother and her friend thought it would be fun to put their names and addresses in the boxes of Mendets, hoping someone would write to them.”

A year or two later, Smith’s mother received a letter from a girl in Wilmot, Tasmania, who worked at one of two hardware stores in that little town.  A customer asked for Mendets, which the girl’s store didn’t have. She was sent to the other hardware shop which, it turned out, did stock Mendets.

Smith said, “She opened the box to see what they were and she found my mother’s name and address.”

Smith’s mother and the Tasmanian woman, Maggie Arnold, became pen pals, writing to each other every Sunday until Maggie died.

“They both married and had children and we all became family,” Smith said. Maggie Arnold later worked as a postmistress in Tasmania. Marjorie Eckler married Leland Johnson on June 15, 1929.  They had four children. The Johnsons and their family lived on a farm on Truax Road in the town of Amsterdam.

Smith said her mother eventually did work for Collette’s sewing baseballs, sometimes at home. Smith sewed one baseball at home herself as a child but sewed it backwards. Her mother took the baseball to work and her boss said it was a great job.

In the late 1970s, Maggie Arnold from Tasmania came to America and visited Marjorie Johnson and her family. A year or so later Arnold and some of her family came back.

“At this point my husband Bob and I decided that we would like to take my Mom and Dad and ourselves over there to visit them,” Smith said.

They made the trip in 1980 and Smith said they “had the time of their lives for two weeks.” It was the only airplane trip Smith’s parents ever made.

Tasmania is a large island 150 miles south of the Australian mainland. The population today is more than 500,000, 40 percent of whom live in the greater Hobart area, the state capital. Protected areas of Tasmania cover about 40 percent of the land with many national parks and World Heritage Sites.

Marjorie’s husband, Leland, died in 1985, five years after the Tasmanian trip. Maggie Arnold passed away next. Marjorie Johnson died in 1996.

“Maggie’s daughter Elaine Wheatley of Devonport, Tasmania, and I still write to each other but not every Sunday," Smith said. "It’s been a great friendship over the seas and over the years. And it all started many years ago with a box of Mendets.”

ANOTHER COLLETTE’S MEMORY

Fort Johnson native Dave Noyes worked on footballs for Collette’s in 1947 as a high school student. He was paid in cash, some of which went into his bank account “with amount entered via ink pen (still have those bank books).” Noyes now lives in Colorado.

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