Norm Handley at the Spa.
The Handleys and the Spa
By Don Handley
Worcester and had opened a Gulf gas station. My dad went up to live with him, and he started working
at little spas and drug stores, etc. He came across a gentleman named George Holland who was
from Hopedale. One day Holland said to him, "I've got a spot for you in Hopedale, a very prosperous
little town. You'd do well there."
My father came down and investigated. The spot Holland had mentioned was in the Town Hall. He
looked around and he saw that Drapers was booming at that time. Many people were employed there.
So he opened the Town Hall Spa in 1940. He was the first to operate such a business at the Town
Hall. He ran it successfully until 1957. By then, employment at Drapers had declined which caused
business at the Spa to slow down, and he decided to sell. He sold it to Nelson Dion. I remember that
Dion always smoked a pipe, and I think he lived somewhere behind the Town Hall.
At that time the post office was in the Town Hall, right next to the Spa. The Brae-Burn Inn, a boarding
house, was where the parking lot across from where the post office is now. The Brae-Burn Annex was
right next door. It was later torn down when the post office was built. My father and mother settled in
Mendon and remained there.
As a kid, the Spa was very exciting to me. My father ran it from six in the morning until ten or eleven at
night. I very seldom saw my dad at home. During the lunch time, when I was about four to six years
old, my mother would go down from about eleven o'clock to one to help my dad during the rush hour.
In those days there was no daycare, so she dragged me along. I had more fun in the store, as we
often called it, playing with the guys, the regular customers. If I wasn't doing that, I was riding my bike
around on the sidewalk. I had a lot of good friends around there - Jimmy Stock, Johnny Pavlak. I
probably had more friends in Hopedale than I had in Mendon.
Then came the time to go to school. There wasn't any preschool or kindergarten then. We started in
grade one in Mendon. I didn't want anything to do with school. I was having so much fun going down to
the store, playing with the guys, riding my bike, whatever. Whenever I got to school, I'd cry. I didn't like it
there. My dad would be called and he would come to pick me up; him or my mother. This went on for a
period of time. One day my father couldn't get away from the store, so he sent Bobby Brown, a regular
customer at that time, who we called Brownie, to pick me up.
My dad and mom were worried that there was something wrong with me. They took me to the doctor,
Dr. Fuchs in Milford. The doctor said to my father, in his broken English, "Norman, there's nothing
wrong with this boy. He just doesn't want to go to school." The next time my father left me there, that
was the end of the crying. I just didn't want to leave the atmosphere I was in, because I was having so
much fun. Hopedale was always like a second home.
In those days, though, if you didn't live in Hopedale, you weren't too welcome in the town park or the
pond. Out-of-town kids weren't welcome in Hopedale. Very strict in those days. Of course I was okay
because my father had the business.
During World War II, the guys who went away in the service sent my dad pictures. He used to display
them on the wall of the Spa. Of course some of them were injured and some others were killed. Years
later, after we broke up the house, I gave the pictures to Bobby Brown, and now they're at the library.
(See below for some of the pictures.)
Once I was in school, I'd go to the Spa after school. I remember the basketball games upstairs over
the Spa, before the gym was built. With the kids running back and forth, the lights in the Spa would
rattle. You always knew when a basketball game was going on, that's for sure. I'd go upstairs, go in,
get on the sidelines and watch. I recall Dennis Lamothe playing. I think he later went to play baseball
with a St. Louis Cardinals minor league team. His brother, Victor, worked in the post office and was a
regular at the Spa. Bino and Bruno Carniroli were there a lot. Louis Noferi would be there. Actually he
was here at Pop's yesterday, reminiscing about the five-cent Hire's draft root beer from the tub at the
One story I always think of when I see Louie is about Mike Dalio. They were in the same age group.
Back in the forties, kids didn't have access to cars like they do now. Mike had his junior prom coming
up. My dad picked up Mike and his date, took them to the dance, took them to wherever they went after,
and then took them home. Louie always remembers that story because he and Mike were very close
in age and they were friends. In later years Mike was in the catering business and when my dad
passed away in '76, he brought platters and all sorts of stuff for the funeral. He was so appreciative of
what my dad had done for him.
Local kids got along well with my dad. They didn't really have any other place to go in Hopedale at that
time. They had the drug store and the Spa and that was it. Either that or you had to travel to Milford.
I have good memories of all the guys who worked at the post office. There was one named Milford
Sweet. He was handicapped; walked with crutches. Bill Larson was postmaster. All of them would
come in for lunch. The Brae-Burn Annex was next door. I'd go sit on the porch and share stories with
the old-timers. The Legion home was where the police station is now. I'd go and talk to the guys there.
It was like a nice family situation. Charlie Draper lived there. The fire chief, Charlie Watson would be
there often. He'd be smoking his pipe. Dickie Daige was always around, and in the Spa. The guys
from White City would be in. Too many to remember all the names. Larry Heron was a favorite of my
dad. Of course Larry was very badly wounded in World War Ii. He used to come in as a kid, and my
dad said he was a terrific athlete. Baseball, football. He went to high school at St. Mary's in Milford.
Even after being blinded, he could tell what was going on by the sound. My dad would take him for a
ride and Larry would know what part of the shop they were going by.
Dr. Campbell used to come into the store. His house and office was on the other side of the Brae-
Burn Annex. He was the town doctor. Anything that went wrong - Dr. Campbell. George Mongiat was
the druggist. He knew everybody and everyone depended on him. In later years, when I was about 16, I
worked for George at the drug store. They don't come any better than him.
Freddie Stead was another interesting guy. He had been a prisoner of war in World War II. He never
got married. I'm not sure what he did for a living. He might have worked for Drapers. He was extremely
talented about picking stocks to buy. He did very well. He passed all his information on to his cousin,
Victor Lamothe. I can see them like it was yesterday, in a booth at the Spa going over the stocks in the
newspaper. Both of them became very wealthy. When Freddie had been in the prisoner of war camp,
he told himself that if he ever got out of there, he was going to become a wealthy man, and he did.
Freddie had a brother, Louis, who was completely different from him.
Drapers would close for vacation each year on the week of the Fourth. That's when my dad would
close for a vacation. If we had the money, we'd go away, usually to Old Orchard Beach.
Dad had a big jar set up high over the backboard where the counter was. People would throw change,
mostly pennies, up into it. Dad would use the money for flowers when somebody got sick or passed
away. Flowers from the town boys, you might say. Somebody who bought the Spa quite a few years
after my dad sold it, tore that backboard down. There were lots of Indian head pennies behind it. They
were pretty common in the forties, but less so and worth more when they were found. It was just from
people missing the jar.
Dad was a big Red Sox fan. Loved the Red Sox. He'd grown up in the Boston area - Medford,
Somerville. He pitched for Medford High. He graduated in 1926. After high school, he got tied up in one
of the AAA leagues. His greatest event was pitching against the great Jimmy Foxx back in the twenties.
He was always proud of the fact that he had pitched against Jimmy Foxx. He threw his arm out a
couple of years after high school, and his baseball career was just about over.
Another thing I liked about Hopedale was the Community House. Bowling there on Friday nights.
Always something doing there. One of the nicest guys over there was Bullet Callery. He was quite a
landmark in Hopedale. He was one of the first guys I ran into going over there in later years, after my
dad had sold the Spa.
I was twelve when my dad sold the Spa in 1957. By then I had been old enough to wash dishes and
sweep the floor. There was a juke box there. It was quite a different setup at the Spa than it is today.
We had booths, the bar was on the opposite side, and it was a little bit longer. Cooking was done on
a grill behind the counter, which was a lot longer. There was a telephone booth in there. The calls cost
five or ten cents. At home we had a party line.
I remember looking out from the Spa and seeing the Hopedale High seniors taking off on their
Washington trip. Mendon did the same. My brother graduated in 1956. There were 18 in his class and
they went to Washington.
There are three other interesting people at the Town Hall I can remember. Eddie Paradiso ran the
barber shop. Dr. Wentworth, the dentist, was down at the end where the town clerk's office is now, and
Tom Malloy, your uncle, chief of police ,was there. He'd smoke little Italian cigars, and I think he had a
1950 Chevy cruiser. Chet Sanborn, George Ardill and Charlie Dillon were three of the other cops. I
remember my dad telling about Charlie Dillon's son falling through the ice and drowning at
Spindleville Pond. Dad said he was the same age as my brother, so he must have been born in 1938.
My dad felt real, real bad about that. It affected the whole town. Small community, everybody more or
less knew everybody. Sad, sad story.
When I was young, I had a knack for knowing the make and year of a car going by just by hearing it. It
came natural, just by listening to them. Guys used to get a big kick out of that. "That's a '49 Ford," or
"That's a '47 Mercury." Of course you didn't have the foreign cars then. There weren't nearly as many
different cars as there are now.
Eddie Paradiso was a big influence on me. My dad said to me one day, "What do you want to do after
I thought about it for a minute and said, "You know, I think I'll go to school to be a barber."
Dad said, "What do you want to be a barber for?"
I said, "You know, Dad, you go to work before six in the morning until ten or eleven at night, seven days
a week. Your good friend, Eddie Paradiso, the barber, comes to work at eight and leaves at five. He
has Sunday and Monday off. Plus, he's buying a lot of real estate."
Dad said, "You've noticed all that?"
I said, "Yeah, I've noticed that." So after high school, I went to school to be a barber. I'm a registered
barber today in Massachusetts and Florida. I go to Florida for about six months during the winter and I
work there part time in a barber shop. I keep my fingers in it. I worked in the post office, but when I was
younger, on my days off I did a lot of barbering in rest homes. I also ran Pop's in the summer. I always
kept pretty active. Don Handley, August 2013
When I first interviewed Don at the family business, Pop's on North Avenue in Mendon, he said he'd
known many people who would go into the Spa, but the names weren't coming to mind. When I went
back to him with the first draft, I brought a copy of the 1955 Hopedale street listing book. When I
returned a week later, he had written out the following names as ones he'd seen in the book and
remembered as Spa customers. As you read these, keep in mind that nearly all of these were adults in
1955. A few of the same names are in town or in the area now, but in almost all cases, that's the next
Carl Adams, George Allen, Harry Allen, Stan Barrows, John Bresciani, Fred Bresciani, Louie Bresciani,
Arthur Brown, Bob Brown, Frank Care, Charlie Carlson, Arthur Clement, Tom Clement, Eugene
Costanza, Henry Cyr, Dickie Daige, Ed Damon, Tom Damon, Stanley Dec, Zeny Dec, Mike DeLoia, Jim
DiSabito, Charlie Draper, Herbie Durgin, Fred Earle, Bill Elliott, John Farrar, George Farrar, Earl
Flooks, Bill Francis, Charlie Gaffney, Ray Gaffney, Joe Gibbs, Dick Goddard, John Grady, Don Gould,
Joe Grant, John Griggs, Bob Hammond, John Hanley, George Hanley, Don Hazard, Larry Heron,
Arnold Hoel, Charlie Hoel, Bob Holmes, Don Howes, John Johnson, Art Kaizer, Charlie Kayberry,
Eddie Kalpagian, Tom Kelley, Dennis Lamothe, Victor Lamothe, Sumner Lapworth, John Lees, Leon
Lemmon, Bob Lemon, Fred Lescoe, Nick Lioce, Dick Look, Millard Lovejoy, Harry Lutz, Ray Miller, Don
Moore, Arnold Nealley, Bob Noe, Louie Noferi, Francis Noyes, Louie Pagani, Eddie Paradiso, Ben
Phillips, Louie Ramelli, Bill Redden, Lee Robbins, Otis Rose, Vinny Rubeo, Nappy Scribner, Richard
Sardell, Harland Seymour, Al Shimkus, Earl Simmons, Carl Stanas, Fred Stead, Louie Stead, Francis
Stock, Carl Taft, Russ Tiffany, Peter Tolenti, Dick VanderSluis, Bob Weaver, Fred Woolhiser, Al
Zampino and Frank Zersky.
Comments and memories sent after the article above appeared..
Dan, I used to go to the town hall spa from 1948 to 1952. After work setting pins at the Community
House [7 cents a string]. I would stop on my way walking home to 111 Green Street. to have a "devil
dog" and a vanilla fountain coke. I also made a lot of the noise from the upstairs basketball court. The
Draper Gym was finished after I graduated. I knew Norm and he knew me.
history is great but the personal stories add such a punch. Tom Malloy and his little Italian
Dan, this is a wonderful update! I really enjoyed the piece by Don Handley. I recognized a lot of
names, and remember the Spa in spite of my being a tiny sprout (or not even) during most of the
times he described. My dad was a friend of Norm's, so it was great to hear about him, too. As always,
many thanks for the memories, and for the current photos, too, they're really special.
Another note, Dan. Norm Handley rented a part of my Grandfather Blood's house up on North Avenue.
By the time Norm and his family moved in, Grandpa Blood had died but Mom still had partial
ownership----- Grandpa Blood's second wife had major interest 'til she died. I can remember the two
huge maple trees in Grandpa Blood's front yard. Sitting on His porch you could see the taller buildings
Again, your "notes" bring back all sorts of memories. THANKS
Loved the spa picture. Remember Pop well. Went by name Normie didn't he? Remember when he
had to close down the place he was cleaning out the fridge below the counter down at the end by the
back door and WOW. He found his bowling shoes that were lost for more than a decade!!!!
Even years later we'd drive to Mendon to visit. The ice cream cone was a secondary bonus.
Remember his cones were side by side scoops
Thanks for the memory Dan
I loved the story about the Spa and Norm - my father died in 1955 but I remember going to the Spa with
him. I've always remembered that - every time I drive by Pop's, I think of those days. Thanks for the
the Spa during World War II and up until Norm sold it.
They are now on a wall at the Bancroft Library. There
are ten frames with about eighteen pictures in each.
Pop's Popcorn - North Avenue, Mendon
Don looking out the window at Pop's.
Robert E. Mei, 80, of Milford passed away Monday, November 27, 2017 at
Milford Regional Medical Center. He was the husband of Patricia A.
Shirley (Diana) Mei for 67 loving years. He had worked at Joe Texs Auto
Body shop in Mendon for 5 years before retiring. In his retirement, he and
his wife operated Meis Diner in the Hopedale Town Hall for 15 years.