Today, we Take Five with
C. W. “Bill” Lattin
AHS Alumni, Teacher, County Historian, community advocate, and this year’s AHS Alumni Foundation’s “Eagle In The Spotlight.” Interview conducted by Marissa (Minier) Olles.
I sat down recently with C. Wilson (Bill) Lattin for a discussion about his life, family, and career. I’ve known Bill personally for many years now, and my family has had the pleasure and honor of being able to call him a friend. The Foundation is proud to name him as our Eagle in the Spotlight for this year’s newsletter.
Bill’s career and involvement with the Orleans County and Albion Central School District community is not one that can be summed up in few words.
The 1963 ACS graduate and former Albion teacher, who has been a caretaker of Orleans County’s history for more than 36 years, retired on Dec. 31, 2014.
Bill’s many duties as historian included lecturing to service organizations, historical societies and school children. He has led numerous tours about local history, visiting cemeteries, churches and historic sites.
Besides his time as historian, Bill was curator and director at the Cobblestone Society Museum until recently retiring from that position.
He also was a long-time Gaines Town Board member.
Friends of Hoag Library commended Bill for his many lectures at the library.
He also was named a “Heritage Hero” in April 2014 by Genesee Community College and Orleans Hub for a lifetime of working to preserve and promote the county’s history.
Bill is tirelessly dedicated to his school community, as well. His projects include working with Albion High School students on the annual, and very popular, Albion Ghost Walk at Mount Albion Cemetery. He has also led preservation projects with Middle School students for the former Alms “Poor House”, the precursor to the county nursing home in Albion.
Let’s Take 5 with Bill!
1. What did you enjoy most about being a teacher at Albion? Do you have any interesting or funny stories you’d care to share?
Bill taught at Albion for 10 years, and he knew that when he contemplated a teaching career, it should center around art.
Bill related that his favorite thing about being a teacher was the great students. He taught both junior high and high school students in art and mechanical drawing, beginning in 1969. Bill, as a young teacher fresh out of Buffalo State College, was not far removed in age from his oldest students. He remembers that they were studious, and it made for a great introduction to teaching for him. He recalled that the junior high classes were split into small groups, so the classes were comfortable and he could help students individually. “I was able to accomplish more with the kids.” As a faculty member when the high school was being planned, he was part of then concept for the art rooms at the new building. Bill taught mechanical drawing the same way it was taught in the 1800s, and even before he was done teaching, he saw the trend toward a more technological approach.
Bill related an amusing, and somewhat shocking, story from his time teaching in the early 1970s. His classroom was in an old art room on the third floor by the back staircase of what is now the Middle School. He had a young male student who took mechanical drawing with him, and then stayed at this desk for the next class, which was also with Bill in the same room. This student had a friend who continually “popped in” to visit with his pal during the class changeover. This friend, whom Bill declared did not belong in the classroom, continued to sneak in, no matter how many times Bill shooed him away. Even after the bell rang this fellow found himself in the wrong classroom. Well, Bill had another student, a husky football player, who had been observing this Sysphean scene all year, and he frequently offered to help toss out the offender. “You want me to get him for ya?” Bill always declined the offer, but finally, under great duress and utterly exasperated with the visitor’s repeated attempts to sneak in, Bill gave the young football player the go-ahead. Bill admits it was in poor judgement, and he realized his gaff nearly immediately. The football player grabbed the student, hoisted him over the third floor stair railing by the ankles, and held him dangling helplessly over the edge. The footballer turned to Bill and grinned, “Should I let him go?” Bill clutched at his pounding heart and gasped “No! No! Put him down!” The student lived to see another day, but he certainly never set foot in Bill’s classroom again.
2. What do you remember most fondly as a student at Albion? Were there any particular teachers or experiences that helped motivate your career choice?
Bill’s fondest memories are those of his junior and senior years when he was given carte blanche to design and create stage sets for choruses, plays, musicals, and other artistic performances. Doreen Sundell, art teacher, was the overseer for his independent study in this area. He recalls working on the sets and pieces both during and after school, and he spent many hours drawing and constructing, a task that allowed him to use his creative skills and practice the arts. Bill shared with us this photo of one of the scenes he created. This photo, dated May 1963, shows the set in use behind the school band.
MORE ABOUT THE PHOTO: The band was playing under the direction of Moses Sherman. As for the set pieces, Bill painted on cardboard black, then white for the music symbols. He then wired everything together the way he wanted it while it was lying flat on the floor. Once it was ready, he hoisted it up into position.
One amusing story from this period Bill described involved a Chickering grand piano, glue, and a brick. Mary Trumble, vocal music teacher, noted that there were some missing ivories on the piano. Bill offered to take some off of the old piano he had at home. He swore it was no problem – he went home, pried off the necessary pieces, and brought them into school. He glued them on and placed a brick on the keys to hold the ivories in place until the glue dried. He left it overnight, and when he returned the next morning to remove the brick, he found that–horror of horrors–the glue had seeped into all the keys and glued them together in a big chunk! Sweating, since it was the day of a concert, Bill slyly borrowed a thin file and hacksaw from the industrial art shop. He quickly used the tools to carefully separate the keys, and no one was the wiser. The show must, and did, go on.
When asked if there were any particular teachers or experiences that made an impact on his career choice, he told us about a Mrs. Helena Hogan, his 8th-grade English teacher. He remembers her as “one of the most disagreeable people I’d ever met,” and he noted that many former students of hers would agree. Bill takes us back to a day he remembers from junior high with Mrs. Hogan. He was scheduled to have a minor surgery that would require him to miss a day of school. Trying to think ahead, knowing how this brusque tutor might react, he asked her in a pleasant manner, plenty of time in advance, if he might have the homework assignment so he would not be behind in his studies after his day at home recovering. “You can get that from anyone in the class,” snorted Mrs. Hogan. The negativity he felt from that confrontation led him to promise that he would never turn away a student asking for help. He vowed to be an approachable teacher to all students, at all times.
3. What do you find most special about Orleans County history and what did you find most interesting or rewarding about your position as County Historian?
“Isn’t every community special?” remarked Bill when posed this question. When he thought more about this area in particular, he reminded us of his deep involvement with the Cobblestone Society Museum. We have a great number of Cobblestone buildings unique to New York State, plus Medina sandstone is achieving more recognition in recent years. Also, our community is where it is today in large part because of the Erie Barge Canal. It’s an important part of our heritage, because it helped pioneer farmers of this area get established in the early 19th century, said Bill. Travel and commerce to and from this area exploded once the canal was opened up.
Bill noted that he particularly enjoyed seeing his information get out to the public through the media, and commanding a generally favorable reaction. Originally, the County Legislature (which at the time was called the Board of Supervisors), asked Bill to continue publishing a weekly history column, which kept him working and researching. He learned so much, even incidental “stuff” not worth publishing, but that Bill was glad to learn for himself. It kept him abreast of things happening in the history world.
Bill said, “It has been rewarding to use history, use the facts, use our heritage in a kind of creative way.” This is where many of Bill’s ideas for books turned into reality over the years. The themes were his brainchild. Many of the publications were related to architecture, a particular love of Bill’s. He tried to “point up and utilize our assets in this community. Many of Bill’s books were created and distributed partially in hopes of sparking interest in other communities. Bill is working on another book as we go to press.
In this photo, provided by Tom Rivers, Bill is presenting various artifacts during a talk he gave on the Civil War and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Mount Albion Cemetery in February 2014
4. If you had to choose one or two people who has the most influence on your life your diverse career paths, and the man you have become, whom would you choose, and why?
Bill sees his father as one of the people who helped shape the path his career would take. Bill’s father was County Historian from 1958-1975. He had office hours afternoons in the basement of the courthouse, and Bill would often walk there after school and spend time perusing the interesting papers and artifacts in the office.
Although his father was a farmer he had a “certain amount of sensitivity for our history.” He saw the intrigue with antiques and artifacts. Bill remembers that both of his parents were interested in antiques and local history. His mother and his great-aunts expressed an interest in art and restoration art, among other things.
Helping on the family farm, Bill had the opportunity to watch 19th century farming methods in use before the modern-day machinery took over.
Bill’s children and grandchildren show an affinity for history as well. His daughter Allison Lattin, who is married to Shawn Fitzgerald and has one daughter, works for the Parks and Recreation Department in the state capitol, and her job entails visiting historic sites to evaluate the restoration and preservation efforts.
His daughter Adrienne Kirby, who is married to Justin Kirby and has two sons and two daughters, also shares with her sister an appreciation for family heirlooms.
5. What advice/words of wisdom do you have for our current students and recent graduates?
Bill, as he is known to do under varied situations, took many moments of careful consideration when we posed this question, and not only did he have several items to share, but he continued to ponder the question over the next several days and provided even more insight for us.
We share with you Bill’s thoughts.
“Take time to smell the peonies, and pet the dog. Life is so fleeting, and through it we run into so many people. Some become friends. When young we have our own mission, and we don’t take time to appreciate the friends we have. Sometimes there are people who want to be friends, but we don’t give them enough time.”
“Being an only child, my best friends was a dog when I was growing up. She adored me, and I didn’t always appreciate the adoration.” Bill remembers coming home to visit from college one weekend, and the dog was terribly happy and excited to see him. Bill was busy settling into the house, and his mother had to gently remind him to “pet the dog.”
“We take for granted the goodwill, and don’t take advantage of the goodwill that is there. In the modern age, we’ve neglected good manners. Everyone had their own priorities. You have to make your priorities meaningful.”
He feels that the world is full of too much violence today, and that we should focus on things that make people happy.
He also gave some advice to his small granddaughter that his family noted as being sage. She was throwing a temper tantrum because she didn’t get her own way, and Bill told her, “Sometimes you are much too rigid in your thinking. Open up to new ideas!” His reminder to be more expansive in our thinking, more liberal and less conservative, is something we should all remember.
Bill leaves us with two quotes that have resonated with him over the years.
The first is found in the version of Morning Prayer – commonly called The Sedona Rite – is in accordance with the rubrics of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church: “We have done those things that we ought not to have done, and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done.”
In the book “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” Mark Twain writes: “Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”