Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mayor Allen W. Woodruff

I think it was 1936 that Dad ran for mayor. The powers-that-be in Watervliet were led by C.I.Monroe, the president of the First National Bank. Their candidate for mayor was F.W.Emerson (who lived next door to Grandpa and Grandma Woodruff, incidently). I don't know why Dad took on "the machine" but he won much to our delight. We boys chanted "bye, bye C.I." The main thing I remember about the honor of being the Mayor's son was that if there was a road-kill skunk or something on some street a citizen would call the Mayor and the Mayor would send his sons with a shovel to dispose of the critter. (there were no full-time city employees). As Mayor he also became a member of the Board of Supervisors for the County thus spent considerable time in St Joe helping to run the County.
The question of whether he was elegible to be Mayor became an issue because the house straddles the city limits-township line and in fact runs through the east bedroom. It was determined that he was eligible because he allegedly slept on the right side of the bed (which presumably left Mother in the Township but nobody made an issue of where she voted).
Dad was still mayor when I went to college. There was an article in the News-Palladium "Mayor's Son Wins Scholarship" caused by a press release from the School of Mines. That my father was the Mayor of a town of 1,200 people called "Watervliet" back in Michigan was the source of considerable hilarity among the sophistcates at the Beta House. You can imagine how many different ways there were to pronounce "Watervliet"....
In those Depression era days most of the public infrastructure and maintenace work was done by "WPA'" workers. The Works Progress Administration was a federally funded " New Deal" program for the poor and unemployed that provided manpower for public works projects.. There were even WPA artists who painted murals in public buildings. There was always a certain amount of humor extant about how hard these people worked. A WPA job of any length or magnitude would have a 30s version of a "PortaJon" on the job site. The joke went: "How many WPAers does it take to mow a lawn? Answer: "Four. One to come, one to go, one to shit and one to mow."
One of the monuments to Dad's administration was the Town Dump created in the "useless" marsh at the confluence of Mill Creek and the Paw Paw River below the bank east of Main Street. Believe it or not it was an "improvement" so that instead of just throwing trash over the bank or into the river or  wherever there was a place where the public could come and dump their trash (garbage was usually fed to the hogs) There was usually a sign pointing to where to dump stuff. That whatever leached out of the dump flowed into the Paw Paw River was no problem since just downstream was the economic crown jewel of Watervliet, the papermill. 100% of the papermill waste flowed into the Paw Paw from big pipes. The effluent created a dead river all the way to St Joe.
There was another New Deal agency, the Public Works Administration, which funded among many, many other things, a sewage disposal plant for Watervliet. Dad was also responsible for making that happen. It was only a primary treatment plant but that was a vast improvement over raw sewage flowing into th river. I was always amazed when visiting the plant how many used condoms were caught on the debris grate where the sewer discharged into the plant. Signs of Watervliet's secret lives.
When Dick became mayor he was just carrying on a long tradition. A.N.Woodruff was the first president of the Village of Watervliet when it was first incorporated. (original email June 3, 2008)

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