Les and Mary Marstellar describe their lives as “ordinary,” but that word doesn’t feel right when applied to these two Fredonia residents.
So, as I often do when a word seems inappropriate, I picked up my trusty old Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. It begins by saying that “ordinary” means “of a kind to be expected in the normal order of events.” But it continues: “of common quality, rank, or ability; deficient in quality; poor, inferior; lacking in refinement.”
No one who knows Les and Mary would ever think of using those words to describe their lives. Not even Les or Mary themselves, and much less those who know them best: their two children, five grandchildren, two great grandchildren, friends, and neighbors.
On the surface, their lives seem normal for the times in which they live. Both grew up in small communities: Les (born in 1916) in Fredonia, and Mary (1931) in Mercer, and both went to one-room schools.
Les has lived his entire life in Fredonia, except for four years of military service. After graduating from Fredonia Delaware Vocational School, he worked on his father’s farm. Les’s father, J. R. Marstellar, owned Maple Grove Dairy, which had a retail milk route. After a couple years, Les got a job as salesman at Willis Chevrolet in Mercer, and worked there until he enlisted in the Army Air Corps on September 8, 1941.
Les trained as an airplane mechanic at Sheppard Field in Texas. He was so good that he was retained there as an instructor, then reassigned as an instructor to Amarillo Air Base. In May, 1945, Staff Sergeant Marstellar was transferred the 509 Composite Air Group on Tinian Island in the South Pacific. That was the Atomic Bomb Group. Les’s commander was Col. Paul Tibbets, who piloted the Enola Gay when it dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan.
“It was all top secret,” Les said. “We didn’t know anything about it until the bomb was dropped.”
Les returned to Fredonia in November, 1945, and worked for a while on the farm before becoming Willis Chevrolet’s service manager.
“About three years later, I got the urge to farm again,” he said, “so I went back to that. I did some plumbing and heating work on the side, then went into business for myself.”
Les also drove school bus for a while, and that turned out to be one of the most important jobs he ever had. One of his passengers was Mary Kelso, whom he married in 1949.
Their son Ed was born in 1950, and daughter Lynn in 1952.
“I decided that since I was married, I should have a job that had some benefits,” Les said. “So I took the exam for rural carrier here in Fredonia. I didn’t get the job, but I served as sub rural carrier for five years. Then I took the exam for postmaster. I was postmaster in Fredonia for 14 years, until I retired in January, 1979.”
All that time, Mary served her family as housewife and mother. She was an excellent seamstress who had her own little business sewing for other people”
“We were a very ordinary family,” said her daughter, Lynn Rodemoyer. “My father was an extremely hard worker. My mother was the housekeeper; she didn’t work outside the home. We didn’t have a lot of money, but I wouldn’t say we ever really missed out on anything.”
Lynn uses glowing terms to describe her parents.
“I’ve seen my parents do so many things on their own, make something out of nothing, because that’s all we had. If we needed something, they made it out of scraps or whatever they had. My mother always made my clothes. It’s one of the things I treasure now, even though as a kid I hated that. I can remember one of the greatest thrills of my life was as a junior high school student going to Treasure Island and buying a store-bought dress.”
Because they didn’t have a lot of money, the Marstellar family traveled very little.
“We went to Florida once, to Niagara Falls once, and to the Grand Canyon once,” Mary said.
Lynn’s brother Ed remembers one special thing about those trips. Last week, he stopped in to visit his parents as they were preparing to leave for a trip to Missouri. He handed his mother and his father one dollar each.
“You always gave Lynn and me a dollar each for souvenirs on our family trips,” he said. “So I’m returning the favor – even though a dollar doesn’t buy as much now as it did back then.”
“Our Sunday afternoon entertainment,” Lynn said, “was to go for a ride in the car and get an ice cream cone later. At the time we probably didn’t think it was much of an entertainment, but now we can both see how much that was worth.”
Les has been a member of the Fredonia Methodist Church for 85 years, and Mary for as long as they have been married – 61 years. Both have taught Sunday School, and Les has served as church treasurer for 25 years and as a trustee.
“Church has always been the uppermost thing in our lives,” Mary said.
Both belonged to the Coolspring Grange until it disbanded, and have served the Fredonia community in countless ways. Les has served on the Fredonia Municipal Authority and the Board of Directors of the Millbank Cemetery. Mary has served as clerk of the Election Board in Fredonia for 30 years.
Les has been a member of the Fredonia Lions Club since 1966. He has an amazing record of perfect attendance for 40 years, has served as president and on various committees, and has received the Melvin Jones Award, the highest honor in the Lions Club. But the Lions Club is more than a service organization for Les.
“I tell everyone the Lions’ Den is his second home,” Mary said. “One of my nephews said I should be glad it isn’t his first home.”
Occasionally that seems like a tough call. When it comes to making a choice between Lions Club service and family activities, Les sometimes needs Mary’s persuasion to make the right decision.
“Last year,” Lynn said, “my oldest son flew into Youngstown for the air show and was part of the static line display. It was also Fredonia’s Old Home Week. My father says to my mother, ‘ I can’t go to the air show on Saturday because it’s the chicken barbecue, and I’ve got to be here.’ My mother said to him. ‘You are 92 years old and you are going to the air show. The Lion’s club can get along without you one day.’ So he went to the air show.”
Les has participated in many activities with the Lions Club, such as the food concession at the Fredonia rodeos and the chicken barbecues. He still is in charge of property and maintenance at the Lions Den, sets up the tables for meals, and keeps the place clean.
He has also worked on special Lions Club projects, including the construction of the gazebo on the Fredonia town square in 1988, which was destroyed recently when workers were trimming trees.
“I was sort of the project engineer,” Les said. “Three of us from the Lions Club built it. The other two are deceased, so if the town decides to rebuilt it, I’m the one to do it.”
Considering that he will be celebrating his 94th birthday on October 17, you might think he isn’t serious. “My father is an amazing man,” Lynn said. “One time, my husband’s brother was roofing their house, so he went out to give them a hand. And my husband’s brother has said to this day, ‘I will never forget him coming up that ladder, carrying shingles, saying this is the way you do it.'”
Les continues to serve his neighbors any way he can.
“My father takes the snow blower and clears the neighborhood sidewalks,” Lynn said. “There’s a couple down the street. The gentleman must be 25 or 30 years younger than my father, but my father clears the sidewalks for them.”
So, how do you decide whether the lives of Mary and Les Marstellar are ordinary or extraordinary? One way would be to observe their relationships with other people, especially the group of friends from the Grange.
“When we were first married, we were the young people of the Grange,” Mary said. “The Grange disbanded, but 16 of us met every New Year’s Eve for more than 50 years to play cards. There was no smoking and no booze. And there were no deaths and no divorces through all those years. Whenever we sent flowers to someone for an anniversary or something, we always signed the card ‘The Young People of the Grange.’ My kids have been hysterical over that.”
But the best measure of the quality and success of people’s lives is the attitude and gratitude of their own children. Lynn sums it up this way: “If I can give to my children half of what my parents have given to me, I will feel that I have been a good parent.”
That, like Ed’s dollars for souvenirs, was an extraordinary tribute.
In return, Les and Mary are very proud of their children and grandchildren.
Ed taught math at Fredonia’s Lakeview High School for 33 years. His son Bret is serving on a U. S. Navy nuclear submarine, and son Jay is a school teacher. Ed’s daughter Kristin Morrison is an attorney in Ohio.
Lynn is a very active homemaker. Her son Mark Rodemoyer is an air force pilot, and son Kurt is a supervisor at Estes Trucking.
Ordinary? Not in this family.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 4, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2010