Rotary Club of Jamestown’s October 5th Meeting

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Rotary Club of Jamestown - Elizabeth Fenton 2

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Rotary Club of Jamestown

When Joni Blackman — a longtime Rotarian and the director of the Fenton History Center since 2004 — gets passionate about a topic, she takes it all the way. For the Rotary Club of Jamestown’s Oct. 5 meeting, members traveled to the Fenton Mausoleum at Lake View Cemetery. There, they met Blackman, who was dressed up as Reuben Fenton’s second wife, Elizabeth Scudder Fenton. In character, Blackman told Mrs. Fenton’s story to a rapt audience of more than 50 Rotarians. With her husband, Mrs. Fenton said, she had “caught myself a real gem” — Fenton was eager to make a name for himself by helping others, a quality Mrs. Fenton loved. She spoke about her husband’s time as the Town of Carroll supervisor, as a U.S. Congressman, as Governor of New York, as a U.S. Senator, and as the founder of the Republican Party in Chautauqua County. But she also spoke about her husband as a sort of one-man business incubator: Fenton would regularly make loans of $1,000 — the equivalent of about $25,000 today — to entrepreneurs and allow them to live at the mansion while they launched their business ventures. Mrs. Fenton also spoke of her husband’s legacy: during his tenure as Governor, Cornell University was founded, a free public school system was initiated, and relief measures were sanctioned that benefited veterans. When Fenton died, Jamestown all but shut down for three days. More than 10,000 people lined the streets between the Fenton mansion and Lake View Cemetery to see him laid to rest. After Mrs. Fenton finished speaking, she invited Rotarians to see the inside of the Fenton Mausoleum, the only mausoleum at Lake View Cemetery to contain a basement.