by Cate Murway
She was born on a Sunday, “bonny and blithe and good and gay.”
Sarah Alida [Ellis] Carter was Valedictorian of her Bristol High School class and she was the proud recipient of the Joseph Ridgway Grundy Medal for Outstanding Academic Achievement.
The term is an anglicized derivation of the Latin vale dicere "to say farewell", historically rooted in the valedictorian's traditional role as the final inspirational and persuasive speaker at the graduation ceremony. Sarah was the highest academically ranked student in the class.
Her mother’s brother, Uncle William [Will’s] daughter, her cousin, Jayne Lynch was the salutatorian, the first speaker at the ceremony with the theme of growth, outlook towards the future, and thankfulness. In spring 1940, the local Bristol Courier newspaper headline stated ‘Cousins Vie for Honors’.
Sarah’s father, Francis Glascott Ellis came from the neighboring historic town of Hulmeville that was originally called Milford in the late eighteenth century. Francis and his brothers, Harry, Daniel and Milton and their sister, Alida were raised by their widowed mother after their 39 year old father became a fatality on a high-risk construction site.
Francis and his brother, Milton attended Girard College, preparing them for useful, productive lives. Girard College was formed by an unprecedented act of American philanthropy, constructed and endowed from the fortune of Stephen Girard [1750 – 1831] who built the school for “poor, orphaned or fatherless white boys who would live on campus”.
Her mother, Katherine “Katie” [Lynch] and her family, including siblings, Mary, Sarah “Sally”, James, John and William were from Minersville, PA, a region plentiful in anthracite coal deposits. “Mr. Grundy traveled to Minersville to entice people to come work in his factory. My parents met at a time when there was a temperance movement and they both belonged to the Temperance League.”
When her parents married, they first lived on Lafayette Street in her maternal grandmother’s home where Sarah was born. Dr. Frank Lehman had an office on Radcliffe Street and Sarah’s Welsh grandmother, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lynch, a mid-wife, helped him with the delivery.
“A set of twins died at a few days old and her next pregnancy, my mother had twins again, my brother, John and my sister, Elizabeth, then Kathryn, William and then me.”
Midwives, as a profession, were usually married women who themselves had given birth and knew the need for quality care to save the lives of not just the mother, but also the newborn.
Sarah spoke of her great-Aunt Lizzie, “She would stay and help with delivery, take care of the house, take care of the other kids and do the housework.”
Sarah’s father worked for Thomas L. Leedom & Company that produced the finest Wilton rugs, close, short, cut-pile carpets. Her mother worked at the Grundy Textile Mill Complex.
“I remember the Depression very well. I remember how tough the times were. My father lost his job at Leedom’s. I would go to the store for $.25 of soup meat. Charles Bassett was a huckster and he sold fresh vegetables and fruit from his wagon.”
Sarah attended the Washington Street and Jefferson Avenue schools, and then from eighth grade until her graduation, she was a Bristol Junior High School student. She sang in the girls’ chorus and was the president of the Mixed Chorus.
“My mother’s brother John was a singer and my grandmother would sing hymns from the Methodist Church and Civil War songs. Her brother was in the Civil War.”
Her extra-curricular activities included the Girl Reserves, Latin Club, National Honor Society, Girls’ Glee Club and editor of the Rambler, the school newspaper, and she was on the Editorial Staff of the senior yearbook.
While still in school, Sarah worked as a sales clerk in the W.T. Grant store and J.G. McCrory's 5&10 on Mill Street on Friday nights and Saturdays. She earned $.22 an hour at Grant’s and then $.25 an hour at McCrory’s.
Sarah and her husband Morris Wagner “Bud” Carter met while they were classmates in High School. “He was smart and I liked him.” They went to the Grand Theatre on Mill Street on dates.
The theatre ran top film fare from MGM, WB, Fox, and RKO through the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Bud played several sports. Who’s on first in the diamond sport? Bud Carter handled the initial sack in baseball. He played basketball, football, soccer, and he threw discus in track and field.
His father, Morris L. Carter, delivered mail in the 6th Ward in Harriman.
Sarah earned her Temple degree in Education and Bud graduated from LaSalle College. The teachers from Bristol High had secured a scholarship for him to earn his degree in Chemistry.
Bud played Spring football for Coach James H. Henry on the LaSalle squad.
Sarah traveled by train so they could be married in a chapel in Corpus Christi, Texas on the same day Bud was commissioned, August 2, 1944.
He was on a 20 day leave and they lived on the base in a Quonset hut. He had forwarded money to her sister, Katherine to purchase the engagement ring.
Bud Carter was a 1st Lt. Marine in the Air Corps and she is proud that his name is commemorated on the Veterans Memorial.
World War II saw the Marine Corps' air arm expand rapidly and extensively.
While Bud was serving in the South Pacific theatre and in China, Sarah completed her degree, taught in the Morrisville schools and substituted in Bristol Township.
When her soldier husband returned from the war, he worked in a lab at the US Steel Mill and Sarah did some accounting work in the Bristol Freight Office on Pond Street in the summers. “The freight train was still on the ground then, on the street level.”
They bought property on Old Orchard Lane near the Lower Bucks Hospital. Sarah recalled Bud’s words, ‘I think I could build a house’. “He built a lot of it after he bought a book on how to build a house.”
They raised their three children there. The eldest is Delaware resident, Morris Eugene Carter who retired from HUD; their late son, Jonathan, and their daughter, Sarah Katherine “Sally”.
Sarah is widowed and currently resides with Sally and her husband, Thomas St. Clair Carter, a member of the family who owns the William H. Carter Funeral home. Their daughter, Dr. Caitlin Sarah Carter, BHS '04, who will be married in June, was a recent BHS Valedictorian and Sarah presented her with the Grundy gold medal she had been awarded at her graduation.
Sarah smiles as she shares her fond memories of growing up in historic Bristol on the Delaware.
“Great Aunt Sarah lived on Pond Street and I remember swinging on the porch swing. Everyone called each other by Mrs.”
Summer days were filled with playing jacks and jump rope, and tea parties with her dolls.
“My mother always baked her traditional Welsh currant bread in a big pan and then she added more to the recipe, like dried fruit and raisins and she made what the English called ‘plum pudding’.”
They shopped at the Lanza Italian Bakery on Pond Street and at the Frank’s and Caucci’s corner stores on Lafayette and Pond Streets to buy groceries.
As a young girl, she wore the dresses with the matching pants that her father’s sister, Alida ‘Aunt Lidy’, who worked for the PA RR ticket office, had sewn for her, along with her button shoes and brown cotton stockings.
They shopped at the Smith Model Shop and Wagman’s, the modern ladies' speciality shop, for dresses, and at Popkin’s and Buddy Green’s Shoe Stores.
Her parents had never owned a car.
Their first car was a Ford, purchased with cash from a dealership on Lincoln Avenue.
“We hardly made payments on anything. We just saved until we had the money.”
Sarah did eventually learn how to drive.
Sarah has 5 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren who continue to make her smile.
Before she got her very first library card, Sarah needed to read for the librarian to prove that she could read. “I loved learning. I’m still reading books.”
Reading and learning remain a passion. “I always loved to learn.”
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