[Editor's note: This feature highlights the life of Mary Ella Nevin, the teacher who started the GDS Fair. In the next edition watch for a feature on the 100-year history of the GDS Fair. The GDS Fair is underway in downtown Newfoundland, and runs through Sunday, September 3rd.]
NEWFOUNDLAND - A teacher, Miss Mary Ella Nevin (who went by her middle name, Ella) is credited with starting the Greene-Dreher-Sterling (GDS) Fair. Now a century old, the fair in Newfoundland had a humble origin as a school project to showcase her students’ handiwork. This was in October 1915, at the Greene Dreher Joint Vocational School, better known as the Newfoundland School.
She did so with the blessing of her principal was Harold H. White.
The school, which opened in 1909, sat right where the present Wallenpaupack South Elementary School stands, in front of the present day fair grounds.
Miss Nevin was celebrated in her lifetime for devotion to her students through three generations spanning her 48-year teaching career.
“She was a real nice lady,” Phyllis Jones, a long-time director and volunteer at the GDS Fair, said. Mrs. Jones, who was working the Information Booth at the 2017 fair, said that she grew up not far from the Nevin farm, which was on Nevin Road. Miss Nevin gave her a horseshoe from the farm. The house is still there, she said. Mrs. Jones’ older sister had Miss Nevin as a teacher.
Miss Nevin’s legacy is still remembered at the fair. A showcase of memorabilia from the GDS Fair in Bob Staph Memorial Hall (an exhibit building), which Mrs. Jones keeps up, contains pictures and information about the teacher that started it all.
She was born October 7, 1869 in Angels, a hamlet just west of Newfoundland. Her father, Benjamin Nevin, was a farmer; her mother was Eliza (Hopps). Benjamin was born in 1827, in Sterling Township, Wayne County, Pa.; he died in 1895 and was laid to rest at Pine Grove Cemetery, South Sterling.
Their daughter Ella was one of six children: Her older siblings were Annie, Mary E. and William H. Born after her were Emma J. and Samuel.
Their mother died in 1876, possibly in childbirth, as Samuel was four in the 1880 census. Eliza was laid to rest at Pine Grove Cemetery. Ella was only about five years of age when her mother died.
Benjamin Nevin married again, to Jane (Sayre) Schreck; this added two stepchildren to the home, Charles Schreck and his sister, Estella Schreck. Born in 1841, Jane Sayre was first married to Franklin Schreck. Jane died on April 1, 1906.
Ella’s sister Emma was also listed as a teacher in the 1900 census. At that time, only Ella and Emma lived at home, along with their aunt, Hannah Nevin.
The homestead was listed as being at 6 Gouldsboro Road (Route 507). An 1872 map shows “B. Nivin” located on what is now known as Nevin Road, closely paralleling Route 507. This area was part of Sterling Township until Dreher Township was formed in 1877.
M. Ella Nevin started teaching when she was 18. In 1897 she left to take the senior course at Bloomsburg State Teachers' College for a year to improve her skills.
Miss Nevin was a primary teacher in several local, one-room schools before coming to Newfoundland in 1900, where she remained until her retirement. For several years, she traveled in a horse and buggy to her school houses.
Her record as a teacher was as follows:
Jericho School… 1887-1890… 3 years
Newfoundland School… 1893-1897… 7 years
Mount Pocono School… 1898-1899… 1 year
Crosses School… 1899-1900… 1 year
Newfoundland School… 1900-1936… 36 years.
She had 60 pupils in her first class at Jericho, having charge of all eight grades. The students came from the rich farming lands surrounding Newfoundland at that time.
A story in The Scranton Republican, dated June 4, 1936, on the occasion of her retirement, stated, “Miss Nevin is a teacher in the classical meaning of the word. Her position was not a job. It was her life. Her personality, her sense of justice and honesty and her fine sweet spirit became a part of the character of the hundreds of pupils who studied under her… Her pupils, honorable and thorough, were her creations. She fashioned them to her knowledge, kindness and understanding.”
She combined a child's love for play with education. “The children immediately took to this method of teaching and many a difficult problem was solved in the easy way of play. Other ideas that she evolved have become standard practices in education.”
Sense of humor
Her sense of humor was used to advantage, and she allowed her pet collie, “Shep” in the classroom.
She told the students to ignore her dog, and Shep was a “model pupil” for two years. This all unraveled when the pupils put on a class play entitled, “Pilgrims and Indians.” Shep decided that the Pilgrims needed his assistance, and commenced to chasing the Indians, amid shouts and screams around the classroom. Shep was immediately dispelled.
Miss Nevin was in charge of the Primary Department (first five grades) which met at the new high school. She was very active with the regional teacher institutes. A news item in the Honesdale Citizen from October 1910 stated she had 19 boys and 19 girls; the boys had 100% attendance and the girls, 99%. “Miss Nevin is a very successful teacher among the little folks,” the Dreher columnist added.
She retired in 1936 after a 48-year teaching career.
A major addition was being added that year to the high school erected in Newfoundland, which was to named the M. Ella Nevin Building in her honor.
“Done my very best”
Upon her retirement, she was honored at a banquet at the Lancaster, in South Sterling. She told the reporter for The Scranton Republican, “It will seem strange to me to be out of school. Everyone has been very nice to me. I always have done my very best…”
Never married, Miss Nevin came to own, and resided at the 300-acre homestead. Her nephew Albert Carr (her sister Annie’s son) lived with her.
She continued each year to exhibit her needlework, handicraft, preserves and flowers at the Greene-Dreher-Sterling Fair, which to her must have held a unique and special meaning. The 1931 Premium List for the GDS Fair lists her name, showing she was still active in committee work.
Miss Mary Ella Nevin, teacher to generations and the founder of the GDS Fair, lived to age 84, died at home in Angels, at noon, Tuesday, January 1, 1952. She had been in declining health for five years.
On Friday, January 4th, classes at Greene-Dreher-Sterling School were dismissed at noon in her memory. Honorary pallbearers were Joseph Jacobs, supervising principal of Greene-Dreher-Sterling schools; Dr. Charles Dissinger, superintendent of schools, Pike County; Horner Gilpin, president, board of education; Homer Ammerman, superintendent of schools, Wayne County; and Paul T. Ryder, assistant superintendent of schools, in Wayne County.
Acting pallbearers were her nephews, Glenn and Ray Nevin, Nevin Gilpin, Stephen Carr, Albert and Bruce Bird. Rev. Harry Roof, pastor of South Sterling Methodist charge, officiated.
She was laid to rest at Pine Grove Cemetery, South Sterling.
Of Rabbits, Rain & Rhode Island Reds: The 75 History of the Greene-Dreher-Sterling Fair 1917-1992 by Peggy Bancroft
Greene-Dreher Historical Society
The Scranton Republican, June 4, 1936 (newspapers.com)
Wayne County Historical Society