It’s a big day for all of us connected with the Sherburne family, for today we mark the 80th birthday of our patriarch, Joel Bradford Sherburne – my dad. Born on June 7, 1934, in Rutland, Vermont, Dad was named “Joel” for a great-uncle and “Bradford” for Pilgrim ancestor Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth. His childhood included both the American Great Depression and World War II, but as the younger son of the small town’s beloved Dr. Sherburne, he was fortunate to have been relatively unscathed by these world events. If there ever was such a thing as a “Beaver Cleaver” worldview, Dad and his brother Donald, who was five years older, probably experienced it as much as anyone. In fact, Uncle Don (now 85) recalls it as “middle class American life at its best; straight out of the Norman Rockwell vision of what America was all about!”
In Dad’s memory, only one family home exists, for they moved into the house at 166 Church Street – where my grandparents would spend the remainder of their lives – in 1936, when Dad was just two years old. Shortly after the family moved in, a housekeeper, Jessie Curtis (who would remain with them the rest of her life), was employed to help Grandma care for the boys and the house, and when Dad was still very small, Grandma went to work “at the office” as Grandpa’s receptionist and bookkeeper. While the family was quite well off for the period, they were not wealthy, and the Depression-era frugality (which fit nicely with their Puritan heritage) was a foundational value for them – “waste not, want not” was a guiding maxim.
The home had three bedrooms, and with Jessie in one of them, that meant the boys had to share – a situation that would have been the norm in a middle class home at that time, but which is probably less common today in families with siblings who are five years apart in age. And while “hand-me-downs” remain pretty common among siblings today for many types of items, at that time most everything Dad received had first passed through his older brother – including sports equipment, such as baseball gloves. Dad is naturally right-handed, but Uncle Don is left-handed, and since these items were purchased for him, Dad learned to do most things with his non-dominant hand. So, while he does write with his right hand, Dad does pretty much everything else – including eat – with his left hand.
Uncle Don was a star student and athlete from day one, so Dad had a tough act to follow, but he managed to hold his own. One thing that helped is that he is more of an outgoing, “people-person” than his “big brother.” Uncle Don, who grew up to become a Professor of Philosophy, is considerably more to the introverted side of the spectrum, with a passion for ideas, while Dad is more the extrovert with a great interest in people and their stories. While as an adult Dad is very soft-spoken and always a polite conversationalist, as a child he must have been considerably more forward, for one of the stories of his childhood that I have most enjoyed hearing over the years occurred in his very first year of school. Imagine my grandmother’s surprise when her younger son came home from first grade asking, “Mother, what does ‘obnoxious, facetious, effervescent little extrovert’ mean? That is what my teacher called me today.” Rather large words for a first-grader to recall, but it does not surprise me at all that he did, for that memory actually illustrates another of Dad’s characteristics – his tremendous fascination with words. Dad is the only person I have known in my lifetime who actually enjoys studying the dictionary, and over the years books related to word derivation have been a staple for his birthday gifts!
Music was ever-present in the Sherburne home, and Dad became not only a reasonably proficient piano and organ player, but he also played a variety of reed instruments, with the saxophone being his favorite. He played in a dance band throughout high school and college, earning some much appreciated spending money from his “gigs.” Neither my grandparents nor my father considered money something that should be given, but rather something that should always be earned. Children were also expected to contribute to the work of the home they lived in, without expectation of payment beyond the clothing, food, and shelter that was being provided, so along with the saxophone playing, Dad also had a variety of jobs throughout the years, including paper delivery and lawn-mowing as a youngster. In the summer of 1951, he ran the candy stand at the Rutland swimming pool complex, which is where he met his bride-to-be.
As salutatorian of his high school class, Dad was offered a scholarship to and entered near-by Middlebury College in the fall of 1952. To supplement his scholarship funding, he waited tables at his Frat House (Alpha Tau Omega) and continued with dance band “gigs” to earn his spending money. Dad flourished intellectually and received a top-notch education at this outstanding small liberal arts college. He entered as an Engineering student, but also with the possible thought of becoming a minister. However, a first-semester Economics course – his first introduction to the subject – changed the course of his life. He was fascinated by the subject and knew immediately that was what he wanted to pursue; by his sophomore year, he had declared an Economics major.
In the summer of 1954, following Dad’s sophomore year, he and Mom were engaged and began planning the wedding that would take place in July 1955. Following their honeymoon, Mom and Dad settled into a small apartment in Middlebury, where Dad completed his senior year and graduated summa cum laude with his Bachelors in Economics. Immediately following his graduation, they made a move to Syracuse, New York, where Dad began his life-long career in Finance with General Electric. I was born there in 1957, followed by my brother in 1961.
The fall of 1959 found our little family taking the next step along the “American Dream” path, as we moved to a “family starter” ranch home, located at 103 Pinewood Drive on the edge of Liverpool, in a cozy, new suburban neighborhood. We were there for five years, before Dad’s promotions took us to Springfield, Massachusetts and later, Lynchburg, Virginia, where Dad expanded into International Finance. The last two decades of his career saw him traveling extensively to places such as Poland, Denmark, and Saudi Arabia to negotiate contracts and help buyers secure funding. In that final decade, when the GE branch that he had worked for was bought out by a European-based company, Dad negotiated an excellent “retirement” package, but continued to work with them as a private consultant until he felt ready to fully retire.
In the years since his retirement, Dad has served as a volunteer in the cardiac rehab unit of their local hospital and enjoyed traveling, social circles involving bridge games and food adventures, and having time to read. The celebration of Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary in 2005 included a cruise to Hawaii, and since cruising is one of their favorite travel experiences, we have planned a four-generation venture that will begin this coming Friday. I am really looking forward to seeing, in a few days, a scene that looks like this one at left.
Happy 80th birthday, Dad! C’ya soon!