During the recent elections we were reminded that Fairview had some outstanding women in this category too. Three quickly come to mind.
Originally the township and borough operated their own schools, creating the need for two school boards. Here Jackson Koehler can claim some of this history. His two daughters bought property near the lake off Melhorn Road. The “Yellow Barn” on Route 5, which is decorated to advertise Koehler Beer, marks Melhorn Road.
Koehler’s daughter Ida was married to Eugene King. Their daughter Florence grew up enjoying the lake and all the grounds around a “camp house,” later upgraded to a summer place and finally a year-round home. Florence married Stephen Jones under a bower on the property in 1930 and a good number of weddings followed among the Koehler descendants in the next several years. While Stephen worked in Erie his family lived on the property year-round and it was during this time that Florence was elected to the township school board, the first woman to be elected to that board. She served one term, then when her husband accepted a commission in the U.S. Navy as World War II approached, she traveled with him whenever possible.
About a decade earlier, in 1923, Catherine Faner Walker was elected to the borough school board. Again, she was the first woman to serve in that capacity in the borough and remained on the board for 18 years. Catherine was a Presbyterian and actively involved in the Chautauqua program that was brought to town by the Presbyterian minister Rev. Calvin Reed for the first time that same year. The Chautauqua program was thriving during the summer in nearby New York State – and in about 30 other states. Beginning that winter (1923-24) many enlightenment programs were sent out to small communities for several days each. This outreach program lasted through the 1930 season when the popularity of radio and the improved roads in the county were among the factors of its demise. During those seven seasons Catherine and her husband Vincent (Titan Tool) supported the program to the extent that they offered a room and breakfast to the visiting performers. The Walkers were one of several families to do so. Catherine (Cassie) was considered to be ahead of her time – a leader in the community. Her death at 98 years of age in 1984 was well noted.
The woman who made the biggest splash in an elected capacity was Helen Stone Schluraff. She was the granddaughter of Amos Stone who in the 1850s built a fine brick house along Avonia Road just north of the railroad tracks (also remembered as the location for the Avonia Egg Market).
Helen grew up with many advantages, attended Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA and in 1904 married an up and coming young Erie businessman, Verne Schluraff. He owned and operated a floral business. In the next 11 years the Schluraffs had two children, a boy and a girl, then ended their marriage. Verne turned over the children and the business to Helen who now found herself as the breadwinner for her family.
It was 1915. Women did not yet have the vote. But Helen set to work to learn the business and make it grow. A West County agent for Helen’s business, Marion Taylor, called her a “go-getter.” Helen gathered together working women to meet and exchange ideas, which grew to become the Erie chapter of the Business and Professional Women. She served as its president and in time also held state and national offices. She joined the suffrage movement. After the 19th Amendment was passed she helped organize both the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, becoming its first president, and Zonta, also serving it as president.
Helen could not be stopped. She worked for and with women and just naturally became involved in politics. She was a Republican and her support was vital in at least one important race.
After the stock market crash in 1929 her Republican friends began to talk about her running for County Commissioner, the form of county government at that time. It was an astonishing idea. No woman had ever served in that capacity before in Pennsylvania. But they convinced her and in 1931 she ran and won. The job soon overtook her floral business until she was working nearly full time to assist her county-wide constituents. She ran and won twice more, creating an impressive list of accomplishments while in office. During those 12 years she also held a slot on Gov. Gifford Pinchot’s Board of Public Assistance.
She was 60 years old at the end of her third term and began a state-wide interest in Republican politics. She held various state offices with the party, continuing to work for women and for Republicans. In 1960 she met with a group of active women in Fairview and inspired them to organize a Republican women’s group.
Helen died in 1964 at 80 years of age. Her portrait was the first of a woman to hang in the Erie County Court House and remains there today. It is a vivid reminder of one of Fairview’s outstanding women.