The George and Irene Fisk Memorial Fund

George & Irene Fisk(2)

George & Irene Fisk

The George and Irene Fisk Memorial Fund

Shortly after her husband George died in 2005, lrene Fisk, knowing the importance of a good education, decided to make a special gift to the Allegany Area Foundation to promote this cause. lt was determined to use this money, to assist good students who planned to go into the trades or technical areas rather than pursuing the traditional college route. Not desiring any publicity, the donation was made to the Alleqany Area Foundation on the condition that the gift remain confidential until after her death.

George Fisk (1913-2005) was one of a family of six children. While still very young his mother died and in desperation his father placed all the children in the care of relatives and friends. George was passed around for several years, attending twelve different schools during his twelve years of education. He remained dedicated to completing high school however, and graduated in 1930 from Cuba High School. After graduation, he was fortunate to get a job on the Erie Railroad.

lrene Wells (1907-2009) was an only child and was raised on the family farm located on White Creek north of Friendship. Education, also being important to her parents, she went on to attend Alfred University after graduating from Friendship High School. She subsequently graduated with a degree in teaching from Alfred in 1929. She then taught elementary education at several of the one room schools in the Friendship area. In her parents and grandparents time the Wells name was quite well known in Allegany County and the town of Wellsville was named after her grandfather, Gardner Wells.

Sometime in the early thirties George and lrene were introduced by a mutual friend. A courtship ensued and they ultimately were married in 1937. lt was a marriage which was to last nearly 70 years until George’s death in 2005. George and lrene were a wonderful couple who learned the hard lessons of life by living through the Great Depression. The necessity of hard work and frugality were well taught by the times and investing became George’s lifelong hobby. As a consequence the couple managed to accumulate significant assets over the course of their long lives.

They started their marriage on a farm just south of the Wells farm, but soon sold that farm and moved to the family farm to help care for lrene’s parents. George also took a job at Daystrom Furniture in Friendship and worked there until the plant closed. He then worked at Acme Electric in Cuba until he retired. Later in life, lrene took employment at the Allegany County Department of Social Services, where she worked until she retired.

Around 1981 they sold the family farm and moved to Water Street in Friendship. This placed them closer to lrene’s church, the stores and bank, and eliminated the need to take care of the farm. They were now able to travel, which they did extensively, visiting many places in the U.S.A. They very much enjoyed their retirement and lrene was able to devote more time to her church and was organist at the Friendship Catholic church for several years.

Both George and lrene enjoyed good health and were able to remain in their Water Street home until George suffered what was assumed to be a heat stroke while mowing his lawn.  The couple was  eventually forced to relocate to the Wellsville Manor where George could receive more extensive care.  After a few months George passed away in 2005 after several bouts with pneumonia.  Irene then decided to sell her home and continue to stay at the Manor where she lived until 2009, shortly after her one hundred second birthday.

The following letter was written by an individual who was deeply touched by the help she had received from Irene Fisk.

Dear lrene,

100 years – what a LADY!

l’m 54 now, having met you 36 years ago when I was a wayward teenager growing up in Allegany County. You must have been a mere 64 years old then, but you were my guardian angel!

I first met you somewhere in the spring of 1971, I think, when I was, literally, with a foot to the butt, kicked out of my home at 18, weeks before my junior year in high school ended.

I hitch-hiked my way from Fillmore to Wellsville, thinking that the Social Services office was in Wellsville. In Wellsvile, I hiked up the hill to what I thought was the Social Services office, but it was after 5:00 PM and it was closed. I found a very large, old tree past the building at the crest of the cliff overlooking the river. lt had a large, flat rock at its base, and I spent the night there, cold and hungry, trying to get comfortable somewhere between a rock and a hard tree. After the sun came up, it took forever for cars to start arriving in the parking lot and the building to open.

Sometime between 8 and 9 AM, I entered the building to look for the Sociai Services office but couldn’t find it. Alas, I was at the Allegany Courthouse building and the Social Services office was in Belfast, I miles back along the route I had traveled the day before! I walked the entire way back to Belfast, no breakfast. lt took me all morning, but I finally arrived at the Social Services building around lunchtime. I was taken to an office and a lady listened to my story. She introduced lrene Fisk as my social worker. lrene took me to her home that night to stay until I could find a place to stay. I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter, more understanding person to come to my aid!

I survived the flood in June in my biology teacher’s home in Rushford for a week. Then lrene moved me again to stay for a week with a wonderful family in Houghton. with six kids of their own they didn’t really have room for another. At some point in time lrene and the police accompanied me to my parents and I took my clothes and personal belongings. I spent the summer and the fall with a Fillmore family, but by Christmas-time lrene was looking for another family for me to stay with. A registered foster home in Wiscoy as a temporary place to unload my carload of worldly belongings until I moved down the street to stay until May with another family. They moved out of state and I moved back to the foster home. Having won a Regents Scholarship, and graduated third in my senior high school class, lrene convinced me to apply for college and helped me get into Alfred Ag Tech.

The week of graduation, I moved again to stay with another of my high school teachers in the country outside of Hume for the summer until college. The week after I moved in, I became dreadfully sick and was diagnosed with mononucleosis as well as being pregnant,

lrene came to visit me, having received a call from the teacher’s wife. I was pregnant, so sick I could hardly swallow, and mentally spent. lrene told me that she was Catholic, and she didn’t believe in abortion, but in my case, she thought it would be best because I was so sick and I had done so well in school and must go to college. I spent the entire summer recuperating frorn the abortion and the mono.

lrene supported me through the entire year – plus from the time I was kicked out of my home until I graduated from eollege, 6th in a class of 1196 and first in my curriculum, always holdlng me up emotionally and helping me on her own time and with her own money. Back then, ihe Social Services allowance was $82 per month consisting of $65 to be paid to the foster family for room and board and $17 per month for me to use for clothing, school supplies, toiletries and everything else. When I went off to college in the fall, she took me shopping and bought me $200 worth of clothes for college out of her own money.

You may be thinking this letter is about me, but it’s not.  It is a tribute to a lady who, at 65 years old, gave a wayward, intelligent but naive teenage girl the chance to live a normal, fulfilling life. lrene gave me so much of herself. I can only imagine how many others she also helped out of despair and difficulty. She is truly a gem of a lady, and I celebrate her from afar!


Joyce Dargel