Tag Archives: Rita Mary Laurence

1948: Aunt Rita at nineteen

On 31 Oct. 1948, my mom’s younger sister — Rita Mary Laurence –sat down and penned a letter to a family friend, who recently shared a copy with me.

Although it was Halloween night, Aunt Rita must not have greeted the trick-or-treaters because she didn’t  mention any ghouls or goblins in her missive.

Aunt Rita’s college home

Aunt Rita visited us at Whispering Chimneys, our farm in Altamont, N.Y.  (circa 1953). That’s me as a child sitting on my aunt Rita Mary Laurence’s lap. Next to me is my maternal grandmother Elizabeth and in front of her, on the step, is my maternal grandfather Tony. The others are my grandparents’ friends. Scan of a family photo by Molly Charboneau

What she did write provides a window into her life when she was a 19-year-old college student living at 63 Van Schoick Ave. in Albany, New York.

Dear Alicia, What have you been doing for excitement lately???? As you can see from my address, I’ve changed my residence in Albany again. This place is really wonderful — I’m practically one of the family — more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Training for a medical career

Aunt Rita’s new home was near the college where she was studying to be a blood bank technician. She was clearly excited to be preparing for her professional career.

They’ve really been giving us the business at school this year — I think all the prof’s are going test crazy or at least it seems that way to me.

But truthfully it’s really fun — at the lab we’ve done all kinds of blood tests — we work on each other when we do venipuncture — lose more blood that way — We’ve also fixed, cut , and stained tissue sections for examination…

Wanderlust takes hold

And then came the hint of wanderlust that would send Rita cross-country six years later for a job in San Diego — a move that left my high-strung grandmother beside herself.

Tell your mother to start looking for a job for me — of course I don’t get thru here for 1 1/2 years yet but when I do I don’t want to stay in this next of the woods any longer than necessary — !!!!!!!!!

Alicia’s mother was a childhood friend of my maternal grandmother — Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence — from Gloversville, New York. She had moved miles away to Florida and here was Aunt Rita considering doing the same.

But first — about a month after writing this letter — Rita would stand up as maid of honor at my parents’ November 1948 wedding.

We’ve got everything almost set for Peg’s wedding — I’m to be maid of honor — that should be priceless to say the least — Guess that’s all for now…Write soon — don’t follow my example. Love, Rita.

A precious letter in Rita’s voice

For a few years after college Aunt Rita remained geographically close to our family. She was around for my birth (when she stayed with my mom and dad to help out) and my early childhood, as shown above (when I lived at Whispering Chimneys with my parents and maternal grandparents).

I even remember going with my grandmother to visit Aunt Rita’s basement apartment in Albany when I was little. Used to country living, I was scared by the rickety metal doors on the sidewalk near the corner store — until my grandmother explained they covered stairs to the basement, just like at Dorothy’s farmhouse in Wizard of Oz.

But in 1955, Rita finally made the fateful trip to California, got a job, set up house and never looked back — and my later memories of her are from photos, home movies, family stories, presents at Christmas, and her occasional visits back east.

So the gift of this letter — from a young Aunt Rita in her own voice — is precious indeed.

Up next, one more maid of honor: My maternal grandmother in 1938. Please stop back.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Bridesmaids revisited #tbt

Lately I have been writing about family reunions and social gatherings — those landmark events that bring together relatives, in-laws and family friends in celebration of life’s special occasions.

So I was delighted when my sister Amy sent me a photo recently of my dad and me at my youngest sister’s wedding 30 years ago — just in time for #throwbackthursday. Dad was the father of the bride and I was maid of honor.

Father of the bride and maid of honor (1987). My dad Norm Charboneau and I share a relaxed moment at my youngest sister’s wedding 30 years ago. Photo by Norma Tagliaferro

Dad, 63,  was still working but preparing for retirement. On the table in front of him, as always, was his trusty camera — evidence of his lifelong passion for photography.

At 37, I was not yet bitten by the genealogy bug — but  I was becoming nostalgic.  On my left wrist I wore a vintage wind-up dress watch my mom gave me — a gift to her from Dad. And my antique necklace resembled the one my mom’s sister, Rita Mary Laurence, wore as maid of honor at my parents’ 1948 wedding.

Meeting extended family

A new family connection took root that day when I met some of my Welsh-Irish collateral relatives for the first time — my dad’s cousin Jane (Owen) Dukovic, her husband Jim and their son John.

Jane is a daughter of Arthur T. Owen, a brother of my paternal grandmother Mary (Owen) Charboneau. I didn’t know it then, but Jane is also the family historian for the Owen-Dempsey branch of the family.

Several years later, when I began doing genealogy research in earnest, Jane’s knowledge, photos and carefully-crafted family trees proved invaluable. And that family connection has continued to grow — as evidenced by the great turnout at a recent reunion of  Dempsey and Owen descendents.

Aunt Rita as maid of honor

The bride and her maid of honor (1948). My aunt Rita Mary Laurence, right, adjusts my mom Peg’s veil before her November 1948 wedding in Gloversville, N.Y. Scan of a family photo by Molly Charboneau

My Aunt Rita was maid of honor for my mother — her only sibling — wearing an aqua gown with matching jewelry. She was 19 and training for a career as a blood bank technician. My mom, Peg, was 22 and working as a music educator.

On 31 Oct. 1948 — shortly before my parents’ wedding — Rita wrote with her usual wry humor about the upcoming nuptials in a letter to a family friend, who was kind enough to send me a copy.

We’ve got everything almost set for Peg’s wedding — I’m to be maid of honor — this should be priceless to say the least.

The happy couple are center stage at a wedding. But supporting cast is also important — at major events, in a family’s history and in life — as captured in this pair of #throwbackthursday photos and the stories behind them.

Up next: Having introduced Aunt Rita’s letter, let’s hear what else she had to say about her life at the time. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Sharing the legacy of childless relatives

As I research and write about my family history, I come across collateral relatives on both sides of my family — some single, some married — who had no children to pass on their legacy.

http://frontpagegloversville.squarespace.com/pictoral-history/gloversville-1900-1949/19580616
Gloversville Business School (1900-1949). My great grand-aunt Rosie Curcio, a single career woman born in 1906, trained here and worked in glove factory offices until her retirement at age 70. Photo: Front Page Gloversville

Far from being lonely without offspring, these relatives often led varied and interesting lives while maintaining ties with their families of origin.

During the 2016 A to Z blogging challenge, I wrote about several of them as a way of honoring and remembering their lives, since they have no descendants to take on the task.

Alas, that post received few visits. So here, again, are a few of these relatives who stand out — a couple of whom I have written about before.

Aunt Rita: bloodbank professional

My mother’s sister, Rita Mary Laurence, left New York State for southern California in 1955 for a job as a blood bank technician. She worked in San Diego and Los Angeles, created an independent life for herself far from family, and even met Albert Schweitzer’s daughter when she toured the lab where Aunt Rita worked.

Aunt Rosie: glove factory office worker

Another of my maternal relatives, Rose Curcio, was also a single career woman in Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. She was my great grandaunt — a younger sister of my maternal great grandmother Mamie (Curcio) Laurence.

Born into a huge Italian-American family in 1906 — to parents who survived early married life in Manhattan’s notorious Five Points area — Aunt Rosie studied at the Gloversville Business School, then worked in glove factory offices until her retirement at age 70.

Aunt Rosie helped support her family of origin during her working life — and gave money to her union family members when they were forced out on strike by the glove factory owners.

My mom and I interviewed Aunt Rosie in the early 1990s. Still sharp at 95, she shared what she knew about our common ancestors and painted a colorful picture of life in Gloversville’s Italian-American community. She remained close to her siblings and their families and lived to be 105.  There will be more on Aunt Rosie in future posts.

Uncle Fred: WW II veteran

And one holiday season I wrote about my uncle Frederic Mason Charboneau, one of my dad’s brothers, and his lively letters home during his U.S. Army service in WW II — to begin sharing his story since he and his wife had no children.

Who are the childless relatives in your family? What do you know about them? How did they interact with your direct ancestors? Their stories can provide a fuller picture of your ancestral background if you are willing to go look for them.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Including and honoring childless relatives

Letter I: Ninth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Including childless relatives in my family history research is a way of honoring and remembering their lives, since they have no descendants to take on the task.

Yet far from being lonely without offspring, these relatives often led varied and interesting lives while maintaining ties with their families of origin. Here are a few who stand out, a couple of whom I have written about before.

http://frontpagegloversville.squarespace.com/pictoral-history/gloversville-1900-1949/19580616
Gloversville Business School, Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. (1900-1949)  My great grand-aunt Rosie Curcio, a single career woman born in 1906, trained here and worked in glove factory offices until her retirement at age 70. Photo: Front Page Gloversville

My mother’s sister, Rita Mary Laurence, left New York State for southern California in 1955 for a job as a blood bank technician. She worked in San Diego and Los Angeles, created an independent life for herself far from family, and even met Albert Schweitzer’s daughter when she toured the lab where Aunt Rita worked.

Another of my maternal relatives, Rose Curcio — sister of my great grandmother Mamie (Curcio) Laurence — was also a single career woman. Born in 1906, she studied at the Gloversville Business School then worked in glove factory offices until her retirement at age 70. Aunt Rosie remained close to her siblings and their families and lived to be 105.

And one holiday season I wrote about my uncle Frederic Mason Charboneau, one of my dad’s brothers, and his lively letters home during his U.S. Army service in WW II — to begin sharing his story since he and his wife had no children.

Who are the childless relatives in your family? What do you know about them? How did they interact with your direct ancestors? Their stories can provide a fuller picture of your ancestral background if you are willing to go look for them.

Up next: Joseph Mimm’s bucket list. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Remembering Aunt Rita

On Veterans Day this year I found myself thinking about my aunt Rita Mary Laurence — my mom’s younger sister — born on 7 May 1929 in Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y.

Aunt Rita was not actually in the military, but she rendered service nevertheless. During the Vietnam War, she worked at the blood bank in the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego, California, also known as Balboa Hospital — then the largest military hospital in the world.

Laurence, Rita Mary Hyland Lab Schweitzer img084That is also where she died unexpectedly after a brief illness on 1 July 1966 — and her effervescent presence was missed. Aunt Rita was a unique and memorable relative with a story worth sharing.

Aunt Rita’s lighter side

My Aunt Rita moved to California in 1955 when I was a child and took a job as Senior Technologist at the San Diego Blood Bank. She had gone on a trip there with a friend, fallen in love with the city and decided to stay.

And California seemed to suit her. I remember Aunt Rita flying home for vacations looking slim and tanned, sporting stylish cat eye glasses and colorful casual wear.

“You would have loved Rita,” my dad told me years later. “She was funny and unconventional.” Indeed, from the few times she visited what I remember most was her infectious humor and acerbic wit.

On one trip east, Aunt Rita had her red Triumph convertible shipped, too, so she could show off the kind of car she drove — thrilling us children and scandalizing my maternal grandmother by roaring up the driveway at the farm in a cloud of dust just before a family picnic.

“The car was so small you had to pack the trunk as if it was a suitcase,” was how my mom summed it up — a far cry from our sensible Ford station wagon, but perfect for a maverick, wisecracking aunt who liked to travel light.

College educated, self-supporting and independent, Aunt Rita was one of my role models during adolescence — clearing a path that I  would later travel as the turbulent 1960s unfolded.

All business in her career

"San Diego, CA Old Naval Hospital Administration Building 1955" by Adam from Champaign, Illinois, USA - San Diego, CA Old Naval Hospital Administration Building 1955Uploaded by xnatedawgx. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San_Diego,_CA_Old_Naval_Hospital_Administration_Building_1955.jpg#/media/File:San_Diego,_CA_Old_Naval_Hospital_Administration_Building_1955.jpg
Old Naval Hospital Administration Building in San Diego, Calif. (1955). During the Vietnam War, my aunt Rita Mary Laurence worked at the blood bank in this hospital — then the largest military hospital in the world. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

If Aunt Rita was a cutup in her private life, she was all business in her blood banking career.

According to her obituary, after college, “She received her training under Dr. John J. Clemmer, at Bender Hygienic Laboratory in Albany, N.Y.” I have an Albany Times-Union photo from that time showing Aunt Rita with some of the first donors to the N.Y. State Division of Employment’s new blood bank.

After that, she went to work at the San Diego Blood Bank, where she was Senior Technologist from 1955 to 1960. She joined the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) in 1959.

Her next career move was to Los Angeles for a job with Hyland, a serum supplier. During her tenure there, a news photographer snapped the impressive photo shown above of Aunt Rita in a crisp, white lab coat meeting with biochemist Rhena Echert-Schweitzer, daughter of Nobel prize winner Albert Schweitzer.

In 1965, Aunt Rita returned to the San Diego Blood Bank where, says her obituary, “As the dynamic and active Laboratory Supervisor she was responsible for collecting and processing 35,000 units of blood annually and supplying the blood needs of 37 hospitals throughout San Diego County.”

From there she went to her last job at the U.S. Naval Hospital, where she worked as a Medical Technologist in the Blood Bank Section of the Bureau of Medicine & Surgery, Laboratory Service, Clinical Pathology Branch.

Well known and beloved at the time of her death, Aunt Rita was honored through a Rita Laurence Memorial Fund set up by the California Blood Bank System — and a Rita Laurence Memorial Scholarship created by her family to help Gloversville High School students majoring in science in college.

Aunt Rita is remembered fondly in our family as an independent free spirit who carved out her niche in a world where self-supporting career women were just coming into their own.

There will be more on Aunt Rita in future posts.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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