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Sharing Memories of Community and Service with Mabel Fay
Tuesday October 28, 2008
By Cookie Steponaitis
May Fay came to Vergennes from Massachusetts in 1940 and entered the old Vergennes High School that fall. She played the trumpet from the seventh grade through high school. She also was a baton twirler in her Massachusetts high school and gave private lessons here in Vergennes. Graduating in June, 1941 she attended Castleton State College that fall and was serving dinner in the dining room when word came that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. People listening to the radio heard the news in the late afternoon Eastern Time. By that time, the attack had been over in Hawaii for hours and on that single day May’s life as well as America’s was forever changed. America entered World War II ranking fifteenth in the world as a power and emerged in 1945 as the leading world power.
May decided to enlist in the WAVE branch of the U.S. Navy; the letters standing for Women’s Auxiliary Volunteer Emergency Service. Her first few steps in the military world included the same basic training of her male counterparts. Boot camp was at Hunter College and, “Let me tell you,” recalled May, “we marched everywhere. In the rain, up the stairs, to meals and anywhere we marched.” After that, it was off to Yeoman’s Training at Iowa State College where May experienced her first Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays away from home. Hoping to be assigned to medical secretarial work, May was surprised when the military had other plans. She was trained to be a cryptographer and given a top secret clearance. In fact, May was not allowed to speak of her duties until the early 1960’s when her oath of secrecy was lifted.
The military life also resulted in May meeting her first husband James Reese, a tall Texan while singing around a piano in the USO canteen. The couple married in Vergennes in 1945 and both May and her husband enrolled at UVM that fall on the GI Bill. Over the course of their 51 years of marriage they would live in five states because Jim was a career Coast Guardsman. They would raise a family of four children, James, Robert, John and Judy. Throughout the years the Reese family often spent a week or two on Lake Champlain and kept in touch with many old friends. Both were eager to come back to this area and in 1988 they retired to Vergennes. While May speaks of pride and love for her family, she is quick to point out the blessings she has in her second marriage to Glenn Fay who lost his wife six months after May’s husband died in 1996. She and Glenn had known each other since high school and were married six years ago in 2002. The Fay household is a lively place with happy gatherings of three generations.
May’s other careers included a twenty five year stint as a secretary and editorial assistant at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. She was the first secretary for the team that created ALVIN, the underwater research submarine that found the wreck of the Titanic. May also worked as a medical secretary and for several years as a payroll officer. Not one to slow down in her 80’s, May has continued to serve as a volunteer for the Bixby Library for the past eighteen years as well as helping take care of a couple of “elderly ladies.” She still belongs to a unit of ex-WAVES called the “Green Mountain Girls.”
While her travels have brought her to many different parts of America, May can think of no other place on the planet that she could rather live and calls Vergennes and Vermont a “ place of beauty, peace, and unsurpassed community.: She adores snow and even admits to a secret passion for shoveling it. “ Now don’t get me wrong,” she comments, “I know how to dress for it and before I go out, I am properly outfitted.”
When asked about changes to Vergennes and the community, May shared several memories. “In 1943,” she remembered, “our telephone number was one ring three.” She now looks at the cell phone with amazement as people whizz around in cars driving and talking at the same time. She also remembered with pleasure the many square dances that were everywhere in Bristol, at the Ferrisburgh Grange and other sites. She and her husband Glenn, also a World War II veteran, helped in the old Week’s School band, with Glenn playing the trumpet and May drum majoring.
At the conclusion of our meeting May looked at me and asked quite seriously,
“Are you sure there is something in all of this that you would want to write about? I have been blessed with a wonderful life and I am basically a positive and patriotic person, that’s all.” This reporter came away from the interview feeling blessed to have shared in May’s story. There is a sense of patriotism, selflessness, and tenacity to people that News Anchor Tom Brokaw refers to as, “The Greatest Generation.” May and her peers continue to quietly lead and demonstrate to all who come in contact with them that people of any age can serve, lead and make a difference in the daily lives of our town, communities and our nation.
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