Dr. Wilber Dayton Jr. Interview (1997)

DFH Issue 1 Volume 18

In 1997, I interviewed Wilber Dayton, Jr. for Volume 2 Issue 2 of an earlier version of the Dayton Family History.  Since most of you were not subscribers back then, I repeat it here in this issue as follows:

Interview with Dr. Wilber T. Dayton, Jr.: Remembrances of Dad & Mom

Dr. Dayton, or Wib as the family fondly knows him, was one of the early professors of the Wesleyan Methodist Denomination to receive an earned doctorate – Th.D.  He taught 15 ½ years at Marion College, 13 ½ years at Asbury Theological Seminary, was President of Houghton College for 4 years, Professor of Wesley Biblical Seminary for 11 years and short-term missionary teacher India and South America.  He is the author of books, articles, etc. He is presently enjoying retirement in Macon, GA with his wife Edna.1

I recently interviewed Wib along the theme of his remembrances of his parents – Wilber T, Sr. and Jessie Belle Dayton.  As usual, Wib’s comments are very insightful and give a very comprehensive view using his mastery of language and wit.

DFH: Wilber, Sr.’s parents were both dead by the time he was 13.  Where did he and his brothers & sisters stay, who took care of them, what did he do in his teenage years?

WIB: Thanks for the information that my Dad lost both parents by the time he was 132.  That means that it was over 20 years before Dad married Mom.  I can only assume from what I’ve heard that five children were left to fend for themselves in the old Dayton Place in West Hadley Hill. They probably had to take over the farming and housework to keep eating and wearing clothes.  I don’t know whether there were any relatives close enough to help or not.  I would judge that people were pretty scarce in the area in those days to help with their social, physical and spiritual health.  I never heard much discussion of home training in Dad’s youth.  (I think there was a James Dayton of some prominence in the early days of the Champlain Conference, but I never got a clear picture of his relationship to us3 or to the Judd Dayton who lived around the corner from us in Corinth. Mother was about 10 years younger than Dad and was not married until about 244.  There was no abundance of people for mates – especially of vitally Christian ones.  Rurals spread the Gospel with the Bible and Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible5 – and a concordance.  I don’t know if it was early enough to have made much effect on my parents – except I was told that Mom’s Dad could read only the Bible, and that Dad quit school in the 7th grade when the teacher got far enough into the arithmetic book that she turned back into the part they already had.  Mother finished the 8th grade, I think.  I think Dad had a fairly good ability to handle intellectual concepts, but worked day and night and didn’t have too much relief or encouragement.  Mom was faithful with the Bible and Hurlbut.  She dreamed about being a teacher.  She was practiced and helpful in spiritual matters and carried her end of the load. 

DFH: How did Wilber and Jessie Belle meet?

WIB: I don’t know how the parents met.  I suppose in the small community the few people had contacts.  I remember once that Mother got to thinking that Dad was a “decent man” that was worth considering.  If the standard was respect for virginity, the field was not very broad.  If I understand correctly, both of my parents were patiently waiting longer than usual to find someone that they could trust.  And they were both more spiritual in their choices than their brothers and sisters.  I don’t know how deeply spiritual both of my parents were at the time, but they did cling to the standards of pure marriage, as far as I know, though not all brothers and sisters benefited by the same convictions.

DFH: It is said that his occupations included farmer, woodsman and laborer at International Paper Co.  Can you elaborate on his work life?

WIB: Farming and cutting wood were natural things for people who didn’t have time or inclination to escape the hard work that they grew up with.  So Dad sharpened his skills and worked real hard to make out with thrift to get ahead as he could, and the cash crop was cutting wood.  After he’d get up and do the chores, he’d wade through the snow with his double-bladed axe to a wood lot and cut down and cut up the wood in 4 ft. lengths split and piled in 4×8 piles.  Then he’d hurry back through the snow to do the evening chores.  If he had good luck, he probably made 50 cents for his day’s work.  Some of the money he later gave to help my education was probably saved from his wood cutting.

          As the family grew, he finally thought he would venture to move to Corinth and see if he could better things for himself and the family.  So he bought a lot down in Palmer Falls and bought a load of cut and prepared lumber from Sears and Roebuck and put it together in a house that we lived in for a year or two until he decided to sell out and get a house that he fixed up in downtown Corinth.  He made more money at the Paper Mill but still economy was needed and he worked at odd jobs and raised potatoes and vegetables.  He found the tour work exhausting because when he was home in daylight, he worked all the time and he couldn’t bear to work at night cooped up over a pulp machine.  So he worked on the woodyard at 42 cents an hour for many years.  I used to cash his weekly checks for $20.16 less 25 cents for insurance or $19.91.  So he kept working on neighbors’ yards and gardens and raised potatoes, etc. to get a little extra money to put into the family of 5 children and the bank.  Dad worked in the woodyard at the mill until he was too old.  Then for years he cleaned up offices and recreation facilities until about 80.  Finally the mill thought they couldn’t justify keeping him employed.  So they let him go and gave his job to three younger men.  Finally, at nearly 87, when his body lay in state at the little Corinth house, an amazing number of people came by to express their respect for him and his family.  Even the Catholic priest said more complementary things than Dad ever testified to verbally in Church.

DFH:  What were his and Jessie Belle’s education?

WIB:  He took advantage of the school system until in the seventh grade he ran out of the part of the arithmetic book that the teacher could handle.  When she turned back to the earlier part of the book, he figured he had better use of his time.  Mother faithfully finished the eighth grade.  She appears to have liked school and expressed her desire to be a teacher.  But there was little opportunity, especially when 3 of the 4 parents were already dead before such decisions were possible.

DFH:  Did he ever have a car?  A driver’s license?  How did he get around?

WIB:  No, Dad never had a car in his own possession.  When Dad was in his 60’s, Mom and I thought about getting a cheap used car to go where the bicycle wouldn’t take us.  But when I decided to sample college, that’s where the money went.  Chop and Chip had cars but they were seldom at home any more for convenience of their cars.  So we walked, rode bicycles or used public transportation or friends.  And after the first year in college, I learned to hitch-hike until I was married and had to get a car to go to South Dakota to teach in Wessington Springs Junior College in the dust bowl days.

No, Dad never had a driver’s license.  Born in 1870, he probably wouldn’t have needed a license when he was young.  And the 5 orphans were probably slow getting where they needed or could afford cars.  I don’t know when horse and buggy came into their lives.  But it must have at least by the time of Dad’s marriage at age 34.  At least, I remember tales of horse and sleigh rides which one of the first babies was dumped into a snowdrift, and other incidents of farming with a horse called Pontiac.  Probably Dad disposed of the horse and buggy when he moved to town when I was about 2 – 78 years ago.   At least, I have no memory of seeing the horse.  And I do remember a favored anecdote of an event that took place probably before I was born.  Dad had got down to Greenwich – about 40 miles south of Hadley Hill to help Aunt Jennie (then Roach) on the farm.  In the days of barter, or exchange of gifts, they gave him a heifer to take back to Hadley Hill.   Whatever strain it may have been on his “Dayton ingenuity” Dad saw only one way to get the heifer home.  He tied a rope to the heifer and took off on foot for the 40 miles.  As he passed through one of the towns on the way, someone rebuked him for forcing the beast to trot so far.  His response was that he wasn’t forcing the heifer.  She was forcing him.  So far as I know, Dad never bought a car or applied for a license.  But he must have had a horse or horses that could meet the rural needs of the family. 

DFH:  Did he have any debts or mortgage?

WIB:  If Dad ever had debts or mortgages, it was probably before my days or memory.  I don’t know how he came to live in the old Dayton Place after his marriage.  Uncle Delbert had apparently left the area to make his fortunes elsewhere.  I’ve heard tales of his settling a while in Florida in a bean patch that later became a city.  And he apparently died in Cedar Ridge, Iowa, where I attended the funeral of his only daughter, Ida.  Jim never did marry.  I saw Jim as an old man living on the farm in Greenwich with widowed Jenny.  Aunt Carrie married Dee Harris of Corinth.  They apparently lived a fugal and successful life on a farm in the town of Day – west of West Hadley Hill.  They had one son who died in his youth.  So Dad was the last and most fruitful successor of the Charles Dayton – grandfather.

DFH:  Was he a hunter or fisherman?

WIB:  So far as I know Dad was not a hunter or a fisherman. Though I am his only son who was content to miss deer season every year, Dad and I were otherwise occupied.

DFH:  Did he have any personal interests other than gardening?

WIB:  It is hard for me to report on Dad’s other interests.  I never saw Dad until he was nearly 50 and by that time his interests were pretty well fixed on the survival or development of life and the welfare of his children.  His interests broadened as his children scattered and broadened their interests and capacities.  Basically his interests were people, I think.

DFH:  Did Jessie have any unusual talents or interests?

WIB:  Jessie had a happier childhood with more parental helps.  She took the lead in many aspects of parenting and leadership.  Though she was very aware of professional limitations, she had a lot of practical wisdom that made her a good counselor and disciplinarian.  She saved a lot with her abilities as cook and homemaker and seamstress.  She never lost her interest in people and her desire to be a teacher – though she never had the opportunity for professional training.  Her spiritual example and discipline were more effective and stable than most.

DFH:  You and all your brothers and sister have/had a very strong Christian faith and spiritual daily walk.  What was the extent of your parents spiritual guidance and training?

WIB:  The faithfulness and consistency of the emphasis on spiritual values and rightness of obedience to God was a strength.  The only alternative to holiness was hell , and we didn’t want that.  And a part of the obedience was to attend all the services where these things were emphasized.  Whatever differences existed in the prevailing interpretations of the gospel; we had no doubt of the essentials of the gospels.  The influence of the home was always solidly for the gospel.

DFH:  What church(es) did they attend?

WIB:  The Corinth Wesleyan Church was about my only memory of home influence.  For a while Dad and, I guess, Mom felt less than fully satisfied with Corinth Wesleyan.  But instead of forsaking it, they mostly added Hadley – 5 miles away.  So I went to Sunday School, Preaching Service, and Class Meeting in the morning at Corinth, the same three on Sunday afternoon at Hadley, and back to Corinth for Young Peoples Prayer Service, Young Peoples Meeting and the Evening Preaching Service.  That was normally only nine hours and travel time and altar services.  But most of the time we were served only 6 or 7 hours at Corinth – except for special Revival Services.  But on the whole the church life was positive and helpful.

DFH:  Did either Wilber or Jessie Belle have a favorite hymn and/or Bible verse(s).

WIB:  I don’t seem to be able to recall favorite hymns or verses.  Maybe “Standing on the Promises”, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”, “Rock of Ages” or other “experience” hymns.  Maybe Psalm 23.

DFH:  Who was the family disciplinarian?  What type of discipline was used?  (I know – you were all too perfect to receive any discipline!)

WIB:  Mother was the family disciplinarian of my memory at least.  She was very conscientious and thorough about insisting on the benefits to us.  If she thought misbehavior reflected a willfulness that needed to be broken, she would not “spare the rod and spoil the child.”  The only specific memory I have of the “rod” was when Mom took a leather belt and gave me a little lacing.  She was terribly mortified and apologized when she discovered that there was a buckle on the end of the belt that contacted me.  The only time I remember Dad trying to discipline me was when I must have been about 3 years old.  He was in the process of moving the outdoor privy to clean it out.  I was adding to his frustration by trying to use the privy.  He took a little switch to correct the balance of power.  I have no evil memories of either episode.

DFH:  Did your parents give any financial support for your college education?

WIB:  Yes, my parents did give what they could to my college education.  They had helped my older sister go to the State College in Albany with what the state made available, so they squeezed $500 from their life savings to help with my college expenses at Houghton.  Of course, in the 30’s, it covered vastly more of the tuition than today.  And it showed their heart’s support.

DFH:  Were the children given an allowance? 

WIB: No, allowances for children were not so common 60 or 70 years ago as now.  And money could not be spared out of the paycheck for family.  I did mow lawns and peddle papers about 7 years to save about $400 from which I was refunded about $300 after the bank failed.  That was largely what made college possible.

DFH:  Wilber seemed like a very serious, quiet man.  What was his temperament like?

WIB:  Yes, Dad was a serious and quiet man.  The frustrations and agonies of the parentless and deprived youth cast a shadow over his adult life that burst out in spells of melancholy and despondency.  This was a great burden to Mom and a great pain to Dad.  But, otherwise he was of a good disposition and a good citizen and church member.

DFH:  Describe Jessie Belle’s temperament.

WIB:  Mom was well balanced in temperament.  She was concerned about the problems of others and tried hard to help, but she mostly kept her balance and was kind and understanding.  Her friends and relatives often sought her out for advice.

DFH:  Are any of Jessie Belle’s cooking recipes still around?

WIB:  I doubt if there are many of Mom’s recipes around.  She mostly cooked by memory and instinct.  I can’t remember whether she used a cookbook or file.  She did make delicious meals for healthy appetites, but it is hard to measure a dash of salt a bit of something else as she remembered it.

[EDITORS NOTE:  What about the blueberry grunt?  This was a blueberry muffin about 1 ½ feet in diameter and about 6 inches high.  It was made with a dough that was probably like a Bisquick.  It makes me hungry just thinking about it! Thanks for that one grandma!]

DFH:  Jessie had a life-threatening illness and then lived a normal life span.  Tell me about it!

WIB:  Yes, Mom had ailing health for a long time which she mostly called Female Trouble, which I got the impression that it dated to some extent from Chip’s difficult birth – her abdomen opened clear through.  For many years she had a colostomy, but was put back together for 2 or more decades of mature living.  I think that cancer developed in the need for surgery until it became necessary.

DFH:  How would you describe Wilber and Jessie’s intellect?  Dad (Paul Dayton) always talks about “Dayton Ingenuity.”

WIB:  It is hard to describe the intellect of my parents.  I think they both functioned pretty well in the essentials of life.  They make the best of the situations that overtake them and make life worth living.  They recognize their shortcomings and lack of opportunities.  But they stick to their convictions and never give up.  They didn’t have all of the stimulation or opportunities of our day, but were able to cope with life as they saw it.  And they survived in spite of the difficulties and made possible a better chance for our generations.  And they kept the faith and, I believe, made it to heaven.  They must have been smarter than a lot of godless people who aren’t wise unto salvation.  Given the chance, Dad could probably do better with abstract theory and Mom might be more practical.  But I appreciate both.  Maybe that’s what Paul means by “Dayton Ingenuity”-the ability to triumph over circumstances and “do it anyway.”

Wilber and Edna Dayton

DFH:  Did Wilber ever talk about his parents?

WIB:  No, I don’t remember Dad ever talking about his parents.  I think they died too early to have the impact they probably desired upon the children.  And if the statement I’ll quote is true and not misunderstood that Rev. James Dayton is an ancestor of Chop and me, the early death of grandfather Charles Dayton may have stifled the Christian influence from James Dayton on the development of the orphans (including Dad).

DFH:  Are there any family stories or family lore that need to be handed down to the next generation?

WIB:  I don’t know if there are family stories or family lore that I know that future generations should hear.  Would the accounts of Dad’s trotting the heifer home – 40 miles – by “Dayton Ingenuity” be worthy?  Or would you be more interested in Uncle Chop’s engaging in a mile race of swimming in the Hudson River at Corinth as a young man?  He won third place.  How many finished?  Three.  But he accomplished his goal.  A work-horse completing the race with play-boys who lived in the water.

DFH: Thank you for your candid answers.  I can’t wait until I see them again and thank them for my Dayton heritage.

1(b. 1916 – d. 1999)

2 He was orphaned March 17, 1883

3 He was 1st cousin twice removed from Wilber Sr.  He was a Wesleyan Methodist Minister in the late 19th century. (b.1820-d.1892)

4August 31, 1904

5Hurlbut’s Stories of the Bible was used by Jessie Belle to teach her children.  The book was inherited by Paul Dayton and has now been handed down to Stephen Dayton, and designated for his son Sam.

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