Whately mourns community pillar Fred W. Bardwell
WHATELY — Whether as a town official, church volunteer or grange member, Fred W. Bardwell of Whately was an integral part of the small farm town where he was always willing to lend a hand or tell the town’s history.
The lifelong Whately resident died Monday at the age of 87, leaving behind a community he spent most of his life serving.
Bardwell and his twin brother, Fay Smith Bardwell, were born July 24, 1925 in their small home on Haydenville Road in West Whately. Bardwell spent his entire life at the home, where he and his wife of 50 years, Adelia (Allis) Bardwell raised two sons, Keith and Robert.
“Fred is part of the fabric of the community,” said Selectman Jonathan Edwards. “Between him and Adelia, he touched so many lives. A lot of people in Whately will feel the impact of losing Fred.”
As a Grange member, a member of the Franklin County Harvest Club, Rotarian, selectmen and Planning Board member, Bardwell became known for his service to the community and his willingness to help anyone at any moment.
“He was definitely committed to the community,” said Paul Fleuriel Jr., town moderator and Grange member. “He was a gentleman to deal with. He was always supportive of getting things done in town.”
Growing up on a small family farm, Bardwell’s community service started early. As a young boy, he participated in the Boy Scouts, Sunday School and Christian Endeavor.
Bardwell attended Whately schools and later went on to Smith Vocational School in Northampton, where he solidified his skills in carpentry and wallpapering. He spent much of his career as an interior designer. The day before his wedding at the Whately Congregational Church, Bardwell repainted the church walls. He also helped redecorate the Historical Society’s headquarters at the Center School.
Beside the Bardwell home is a famous red barn pictured in many postcards and photographs. It was built in the early 1900s by Bardwell’s father. In 2000, the barn began deteriorating and Bardwell restored the farm.
“Whenever someone needed something, he was there to do it. He was a jack-of-all-trades,” recalled his wife.
From the time he completed high school, Bardwell worked as the school bus driver, a job he became well known for among Whately students.
Bardwell was also an avid antiques collector. He and Adelia would often spent summer vacations searching for treasures across New England. Their favorite spot was Cape Cod, where Bardwell began collecting antique bells. In total, Bardwell had 500 bells sitting in a tall cabinet brought from Cape Cod.
From 1968 to 1971, Bardwell was chairman of the Whately Bicentennial Committee. From the living room of the Bardwells’ home, the five-member committee planned a year full of events, including snowmobile races, chicken barbecues and a parade. Bardwell was instrumental in bringing Julian Whately, a descendent of Thomas Whately of England, after whom the town is named, to the bicentennial festivities. Later, Bardwell, along with other townspeople, brought bicentennial gifts to the White House and met President Richard Nixon.
Bardwell is also known as the man who knew where every family plot was located in the three town cemeteries. Starting in 1980, Bardwell served as cemetery commissioner, a job he inherited from his father and brother. Back then, cemetery commissioners were responsible for mowing the cemetery lawns, picking out plots and digging graves.
“He knew exactly where to dig,” said Keith Bardwell.
From 1978 until his death, Bardwell served on the Planning Board. Bardwell entered town politics in 1982. He served three terms as selectman and he chaired the board seven out of nine years. He also served on the Franklin County Selectmen’s Association.
While he was a selectman, the town’s water supply was threatened by pesticides at the Quonquont Farm seeping into a pond on the property and killing fish. Bardwell was working in the cemetery at the center of town when the two other selectmen found him and told them they were having an emergency meeting.
As chairman of the Board of Selectmen, he also served as police chief. One night, Bardwell was called to Westbrook Road, where he found a box of puppies. A few days later, he found a second box full of young pups. So the Bardwells made a corral for the puppies in the front yard. Every puppy found a new home in Whately.
Bardwell was also a member of the First Congregational Church of Whately, where he served on the parish committee, clerk of the church and as a deacon.
Bardwell was the unofficial town historian and a member of the Whately Historical Society.
“He was a very interesting guy,” said the Rev. Cynthia Crosson-Harrington of the First Congregational Church of Whately. “He would mesmerize you with his stories. He always had the history of Whately at his fingertips.”
The historical society’s curator, Gail Tilton, remembered Bardwell as a details man.
“I loved that he remembered back 80 years. He knows all the details and names and knows how everything happened in town,” Tilton said. “He was always helpful and willing to talk and connect you with other people.”
The 1991 annual report dedicated to Bardwell said it best: Fred Bardwell “has touched the lives of Whately residents in countless ways. His activities and interests have benefited all segments of Whately’s population, young and old and in between. Whately is truly a fine place to live and is so in part due to Fred’s community spirit.”