Over the years some Fairview women had ten or more children during their lifetimes. Farm families in particular found that many children were of great help with the never-ending chores. But none can come close to the number set by Bess Fall.
Bess was born in 1895. Her maiden name was Goldstein and as a girl she was living with her parents in Denver, Colorado when a fire destroyed her home and made her an orphan. In those days children who presented a problem to society were sent to institutions. Orphans fell into that category. Bess was sent by train to a Jewish orphanage in Philadelphia where she remained until she was old enough to leave. If a child could find employment at 16 that was the earliest he or she could leave. It is unclear if Bess was allowed to stay until she completed her nurse’s training at 19 years of age (in 1914).
That same year she married Garson Fall who was 10 years older than she. They met through the various religious facilities there. He had been serving as the assistant superintendent of the Jewish Foster Home, also in Philadelphia. He liked children and in connection with the Big Brothers Association he had been given charge of the Star Garden Recreation Center there. During the next ten years the couple had two boys of their own… Garson Jr., born in 1916 and Irwin, born in 1920.
Here in Erie County Isador Sobel, a very influential lawyer, proposed the local chapter of the B’nai B’rith sponsor an orphanage for children from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. These locations had children waiting to enter such institutions. The need was great.
In 1912 the first facility opened in Helen Stone Schluraff’s childhood home (later it was the house associated with the Avonia Egg Market). Three children were practically at the door waiting to come in when the operation began. The first year 20 children were living there. They walked from the house to the Avonia School just a short distance north. At the same time ground was broken for a fine campus just beyond the western edge of Fairview Borough, along the north side of Route 20 (today the surviving building is the Towne Terrace Inn). During the next 12 years the orphanage had several superintendents and expanded to include two dormitories, a power plant between the dorms and several small buildings. In 1924 the position was offered to Garson Fall.
What it meant to Bess was a disruption of her own family life. For a time, until the gymnasium was built, her two boys slept in the boys’ dorm. When the gym was built in 1927 it included an apartment for the Fall family. (In the photo the girls’ dorm is left, boys’ dorm is right. The power plant is between.)
Bess not only assisted her husband, she held a position of her own. She served as Head Matron, which meant she counseled children, listened and and responded to their concerns. She also served as the Assistant Nurse, so she attended to their scrapes and bruises as well. She was a seamstress and made clothing for the children. Occasionally it seemed she favored the girls over the boys, finding it easier to be more help – more motherly – to them.
During World War II she joined the local chapter of the Red Cross and knitted, made bandages, and more. She and Garson opened the facility to 100 refugee children during one summer of that war. The children were given a summer experience that (it was hoped) would take the grim image of war from their memories, at least for a little while. Like the children who lived there, the refugee children had a regular routine with chores, play time, even some study. They liked swimming in the lake best.
As the years passed the number of boys and girls who passed through the halls were hundreds, sixty at a time. The children were encouraged to finish high school and leave at 18, not 16. They were encouraged to work to their capacity on schoolwork, sports, and more. When one of the children made special friends with a “towny” they were allowed to spend time away from the facility with their friends. The girls went to sleepovers. The boys played sports, and all entered competitions. Everyone played an instrument, either piano or stringed instrument. Garson and Bess both felt the children should feel as though they were part of a very large family, not an orphanage, so they had many privileges not offered at all orphanages.
As the world learned what was happening to the Jewish population in Germany, those precious orphaned children in the United States were taken in by extended families rather than be sent to institutions. By the late 1940s very few children were coming to live with Garson and Bess.
Then Bess became ill, suffering from cancer. She died in 1949 and Garson went on alone for a short while then closed the facility.
The children who were there in the early to mid-1940s, grown and retrospective, held at least one reunion. They credited Garson and Bess for preparing them for life. That is the job of a parent. That and sending children off to school with big homemade cookies in their lunches. Bess did that too.