97 years of Wonderful Stories
Virginia Forwood Pate Wetter has so much to share. This excerpt doesn’t do it justice. Here she talks about her birth, early childhood, Havre de Grace when there was NO Route 40, being a mom, the pronounciation of Havre de Grace, and loving the days of The GRAW (Havre de Grace Race Track),
She is humorous and wise with an excellent memory. And she kept me on my toes throughout the interview. I have a difficult time multi-tasking, in this case thinking about the conversation and answering questions when I’m trying hard to ‘listen.’ So every now and then, Virginia would really catch me in a faux pas! I loved it. I cannot say enough about what a real pleasure it was to meet her. I thank Cecil Hill, Charlie Mike and Amanda McFadden for bring her name to my attention!
A little background on this dynamic personality, she attended the College of William and Mary. Her career included public relations for Standard Oil Company, and President -general manager of WASA and WHDG radio stations in Havre de Grace. When her first husband died unexpectedly, leaving her with three teenagers and a radio station, she never shirked the challenge.
(She) … is recognized as one of an elite group of women who pioneered in the management ranks of what had long been almost exclusively a man’s world and renowned for her service to the industry in general. … She was one of the first broadcasters to recognize the emerging potential of cable television, and secured an early franchise later sold to Comcast Inc. Virginia Wetter was the first woman elected to the Radio Board of the National Association of Broadcasters …
… and so very much more. She has been a Director of Harford County Heart Association and Cancer Society, Susquehanna Council of Girl Scouts, and a Member of the Harford County Board of Education to name a few of her community passions.
Virginia was a 2014 Honoree of the Giants of Broadcasting and Electronic Arts, an annual celebration of the distinguished individuals who have for the past century been the creators, the innovators, the entrepreneurs, the performers and the journalists who have brought the electronic arts to the prominence they occupy in the United States and the world today, and who have set the stage for the future.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy this excerpt. Plus I can tell you that if you subscribe to our paid membership (2 full-length interviews and transcripts each month), you’ll love it when you listen to her full interview. I actually would love to go back and do another interview if time permits (and Virginia will put up with me)!
In the meantime, enjoy the vibrant, witty and wise sharings of Virginia Wetter. She is an inspiration!
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RESOURCE: Story of the Deadly HdG Fireworks Blast and how Jason Pate went to the Mayor and City Council for the ‘correct pronunciation’ of Havre de Grace to use on the radio station.
Virginia Forwood Pate Wetter
Born: 8/10/1919 at Havre de Grace Interviewed: 9/29/2016
I was born on August 10, 1919.
(Oh, when was WWI?)
Well, haha, my mother always said I was the result of the ‘false Armistice.’ News came to this country on November 10th that the war was over. All the businesses shut down. Everybody was sent home to celebrate. My father worked up in Chester, Pennsylvania, but mother was still down here in Havre de Grace. So he came home and, of course, the real Armistice was the next day on, November 11th. But nine months later to the day, I was born on August 10th. (laughter)
(What a great way to start a story!)
Well, that’s what happened. Mother always told me that.
(Did you have any siblings?)
I had a brother, younger, his name was Lawrence. We called him Larry. He died of lung cancer in 1987. He was a delightful person. I think everybody in town new him better than they knew me. And everybody loved Larry.
(You maiden name is?) Forwood
(Are your parents from the area?)
My mother’s family on the maternal side comes down from one of the first five families that settled here. Well, it started with Adam Shafer and his wife. He had a daughter who married Nicholas Sutor. Nicholas Sutor had several children and was instrumental in starting St. Johns Episcopal Church.
Let me get this straight. His daughter, Suzanna, married Thomas Cook of Virginia, supposedly one of the first families of Virginia. She had two daughters; one of them married a Pfaffenbach. And the Pfaffenbach name was pretty well known in this town up until I guess Arnold Pfaffenbach died. I’m not sure when that was, I guess sometime in the 80s –90s.
And the other one married a Charshee. And Bennett Charshee, Jr. was my grandfather. My mother was Anita Charshee who married Walter Forwood.
Anyway, through that side of the family, as I said, it was maternal and doesn’t carry the name through each generation. We go back that far.
Arnold never married. He had a sister Sarah who left here. She probably married but, of course, she wouldn’t carry the name. Arnold played the organ at the Grace Reformed Church. The minister in the latter years of Arnold’s life was Mr. Rousenbusch(sp?), who named his son after Arnold – the young Arnold Rousenbusch(sp?). He’d be a little older than you now – in his 70s. They long since have gone.
Nowadays, that’s one of the big differences. Families don’t stay in the same place. The children all move away, even my family.
My father was from Bel Air, Md. His family was English through and through. They came here in the 1690s from England and settled in Pennsylvania and drifted down to Delaware and into Maryland. As a matter of fact, going out Route 52 out of Wilmington, there was a Forwood High School. It had actually has been made into a retirement place. My husband and I visited and it was absolutely charming.
(Shares a picture of her great grandfather, Parker Forwood.)
So daddy married mother, who was from Havre de Grace, and he moved down here, never left. He was a business man in town – automobile business. At one time he was treasurer of Havre de Grace.
(Of the city of Havre de Grace?)
Havre de Grass…. Even Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary said that the correct pronunciation was ‘grass’….
But my husband, Jason Pate, got the Mayor and city council to rule on what it was so that he would say it right on the air. And the mayor and city council, in their great wisdom, said it was “Havre de Grace”. I kept saying to him, “Jason, all you have to do is look it up in the big Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and it will tell you that it is pronounced Havre de grass”, being the closest to the French pronunciation, which would be Havre de Grace (short ‘a’ with c).
(In the French do they pronounce the ‘c’)
It’s not ‘Graw”… the race track people started that. They called the race track “The Graw.” No, Havre de Graw is too far off. Well, that’s what Jason did. He got the mayor and city council to rule on it. Utter lack of knowledge, they wouldn’t look anything up.
(Were you born here in Havre de Grace?)
I was born in Burns Apartments. I remember when my mother called me and said, ”I hate to tell you but your birthplace burned down.” There’d been a fire the night before.
(What are your earliest memories as a child.)
… Living in Burns apartment (chuckle) which this husband (points at picture), Ed Wetter, finds amazing. But I remember distinctly waking up in the crib, knowing it was Christmas morning. Where my crib was in my mother and father’s room looked down the hall to the living room. I crawled to the other end of the crib so I couldn’t look down the hall because I didn’t want to see the Christmas tree until they got me up and took me to see it.
I remember also, across the street from Burns Apartments, and this house is still there, it’s probably apartments now. It was Hecht’s Hotel. We used to go over to Hecht’s Hotel on Sundays for dinner. They had a hardware store. That’s right. His name was Emanuel. There was Lawrence and Lee. I’m not sure which one had it. Maybe even the three… I’m not sure.
I was around three when I didn’t want to see the tree. By the time I was four, my mother and father had started building a bungalow, as they called them in those days, way downtown on Washington Street just a block from the park. And we moved in with my grandmother in order to save money that they put into the house. When I was five, we moved to 810 South Washington Street. My brother Larry was born in April.
Well, we happened to be in a neighborhood that had quite a few children. The family across the street had 3 children including a girl around my age. I remember Mrs. Anderson invited my mother and me over one afternoon and she served us tea and cinnamon toast. So Jean Anderson and I sat at a little table. Being children, a lot of the cinnamon and sugar spilled off the toast onto our plates. So after we finished our toast, we picked up our plates and licked the cinnamon. Our mothers were horrified. I mean we were only four!
(What was it like moving to South Washington.)
Well, it was very nice having our own house. So many children who lived on the block – the three Anderson children, a little boy named Freddy (?) who lived next to them. Then down the street were Taylor, Jimmy Lyon – Tadd, as we called him, was my age, Jimmy was Larry’s age. So we went out in the morning and we played, at one house or another but all in that same block.
Even when Jason Pate and I moved into this house, we built this house and moved into it. There were a bunch of children in this neighborhood. We got up in the morning, the mothers got up in the morning, gave their children breakfast, opened the back door, let ‘em out. They came back when they were hungry at lunch time. They played all over the neighborhood from one house to the other. We had a little dog. So the little dog went with them because you could let dogs out then. And she came home with them because she wanted lunch too. No, it was very different.
(What did you do as a kid for fun?)
I read a lot. I was an avid reader. I must have started reading before I went to school. We didn’t have kindergarten. But mother was good at reading to me and helping me to get started.
I don’t know we were always busy. We used our imagination a lot. We played grown-up, went up and down the street or the back yard or something in our mothers’ high heels. We played we were grown-up. We found lots of things to do.
(Were you old enough to be aware of the depression?)
Very much so! One of my vivid memories of the depression … I still have the book, “Shakespeare for Children.” Several of his plays written so a child could understand them.
We paid each time we went for the Shakespeare class at the parish house at St. Johns Episcopal Church. The class was taught by Kathryn Tydings, one of Senator Tydings’ sisters.
The banks froze! My father didn’t have anything other than what he had in his pants pocket. I had to stop taking classes from Miss Tydings. I was ten or eleven.
I don’t remember a whole lot about my life being impacted. We seemed to get through it. My father had a garage on old Route 40, out near the elementary school today. He also served Esso Gasoline, so big trucks stopped there. At that time Union Avenue was Route 40. That was old Route 40 and became Route 7 (as we know it today).
The town kind of ended at Juniata Street then. You know how you turn off Route 40 today to go to Swan Creek. Well that road back there was Route 40, it went through Aberdeen. My father’s garage was at the corner of Revolution and Juniata (Route 40) – right where you’d go back to the elementary school now.
(Now you also were here during the race track days, what did you think of those days?)
Lots of nice things, the race track was wonderful. Getting up to go to early church on Easter if it happened to fall when the races were on, we’d go to the 6 a.m. sunrise service. Then right after the service, we’d drive straight out to the race track and get up against the fence and watch them exercising the horses.
Oh no, we enjoyed it. Many people came to the races. It really was a boost to the town both in the spring and fall. My mother made all her spending money during the races. She had our attic fixed up with a double bed and two single beds. We all moved upstairs and she rented out the three bedrooms in the bungalow downstairs. And the same people so often came back year to year, or recommended you to someone.
Of course it was a boon. It was the do-gooders – the don’t drink – don’t smoke – don’t gamble, that did in the race track. And we let ‘em do it. The silent majority and the vocal minority…. It did close up overnight, but it was getting run down. I mean there weren’t as many people coming because of these people. General Milton Reckord and Senator Millard Tydings made a deal. They gave away – or sold – (I don’t know how they did it) the racing days that the State of Maryland gave to Havre de Grace. We knew after it was a done deal! We didn’t know it was happening. Yeah, it was done overnight!
They had just built a new clubhouse! (How sad!) I think it was.